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January 30, 2014

Innovating Around Financial Concerns

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:45 AM

Innovations in Payment Processing - WorldPay [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FReLTlATyYQ]

This past holiday shopping season was a bit of a wake-up call for the tens of millions (possibly hundreds of millions) of consumers whose credit card data was reportedly hacked off store computers from a 17-year-old boy sitting a continent away. That indeed was a clarifying event as far as the retail industry was concerned.

We live in an age that is exciting because of all the technological possibilities. One of the basic requests of digital consumers, however, is that such levels of excitement not include heart palpitations when you realize a hacker has stolen your credit card information. If multinational retail chains can tap into Big Data to give us excellent deals and a wide array of products that we love, then can't they use such information to ward off criminals as well?

Perhaps credit cards have become too easy a target. In Europe, cards come equipped with digital chips that significantly deter would-be data thieves. The same is not true of the North American market -- and thieves around the world apparently have learned of the more relaxed security standards. So what's a store to do?

For starters, many retailers have already begun issuing smarter cards. There are new standards of security thanks to dual and multi-factor authentication standards. In fact, if financial services institutions that issue that cards can implement even two of the three following features, then consumers will be on their way to being more secure. What's interesting is that these applications can be used in digital and virtual currencies as well - but more on that in a minute. Think of security this way: what you have (the physical ownership of a card or currency), what you know (the PIN or Password) and what you are (biometrics).

Another idea that is generating interest is the so-called cyber-currency. They are digital units of measure that exist in cyberspace. They aren't printed by central banks and are therefore unregulated as such. An advantage of this characteristic is that a thief can't counterfeit things like Bitcoins with a color copier. Nor does a consumer need a credit card, because if the retailer accepts a cyber-currency, the payment is made instantaneously. What's appealing about this payment system is that it takes the actual card reading hardware out of the equation. And from what we've learned from these high-profile data breaches, the hardware can be the weak link in a transaction. It can be easily breached or manipulated to morph into a unit that scans and relays consumer data directly to the thieves.

We've been working with the prestigious European Business Awards to gauge what sorts of characteristics a winning company has in common with its peers. We learned that such companies - no matter how large or old - recognize technology to be a vital part of everything they do. For a retailer, that means using technology to better the customer experience but also to protect that consumer.

When an enterprise invests in technology to help them with that journey, they form a holistic view of what every part of their organization needs. My hunch is that the most innovative companies of tomorrow will come to test new payment methods that boost their connections to customers. Trust is something a business must earn. If a business can demonstrate that it's one step ahead of cyber-criminals because of its commitment to a new payment system, the brand can only strengthen in the eyes of the consumer base.

Of course, tomorrow's payment system might be different from business to business. One size does not fit all.

January 28, 2014

Creating Cohesive Conglomerates

Posted by Soundararajan S (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:16 AM

Episode 173 - Conglomerate performance post-financial crisis [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z3f5io3h2Q]

In the field of organizational theory and management, no entity has been both highly respected and at the same time roundly derided as the conglomerate. In the 1950s, these large companies came into their own. It would not be unheard of for a conglomerate to manufacture everything from breakfast cereal to car batteries and ladies' shoes (and every product in between).

For generations, shareholders loved conglomerates. They were companies that were involved in so many businesses that no matter what happened in certain markets or economies, the conglomerate could weather the storm because of the sheer variety and expansiveness of its exposures to different sectors.

Like any popular concept or organizational model, the conglomerate began to show its age. It slowly fell out of favor when management experts began saying that enterprises were more valuable when they concentrated on a core competency. One well-known conglomerate sold off many of its business lines if that line wasn't either first or second in its particular sector. You can well imagine that the president of a business that was third in its sector did everything he could to ensure it grew enough to keep that subsidiary from being put on the auction block.

There's a saying that everything old is new again. The reason that the conglomerate is going to become a popular management model isn't simply because its time has come again. It's because the structure of an organization that's focused on innovation and market disruption/creation can, perhaps, work more effectively if it's in a number of disparate business lines. In fact, the very act of building tomorrow's enterprise includes redefining the marketplace.

A conglomerate is also an entirely different proposition today than it was one generation ago. Because everything within our organizations are more connected than ever before, it's OK to dabble and experiment in new markets and extend your reach beyond your core competency. There are certain backroom endeavors that are streamlined by the right software solutions, so it doesn't matter if a subsidiary's accountants, for example, are dealing with manufacturing tennis rackets or jet planes.

Mark my words: the next few years will see the tech-savvy conglomerate make its big comeback.

January 24, 2014

How Banks Are In the World's Future

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:51 AM

How Banks Are In the World's Future

Christine Lagarde : [Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christinelagarde/4325212919/sizes/z/]

Christine Lagarde's inspirational address at the World Economic Forum pointed to some cold, hard facts about the year ahead: First, every country - whether developed or frontier market - must work to ensure that reforms stemming from the Global Economic Crisis take root.

Second, a strong and lasting economic recovery occur leveraging factors from a number of fronts: fiscal, structural, and financial. I think a very important player in the global economic comeback is the financial services institution.

To be sure, regulators and policy-makers from every country have worked very hard during the past five years to prevent, as Lagarde termed it, the Great Depression Part II. But it's the role of banks, and particularly the consumer-oriented commercial banks, that are vital to creating an atmosphere that encourages people of all socio-economic levels to save for retirement, invest for their families, and borrow funds to buy homes and build businesses. A statesman once said that the business of his country "is business." I see what he means. When people of all stripes are saving and spending with banks as their user-friendly intermediaries, the entire economy benefits from their actions.

We used to look at financial services as a rarified sector. Banks were special stewards of the communities they served. The local banker knew the people in his town not unlike the local storeowner. Banks lent money with the assumption that a lot of the economic activity those funds created aided the local population. As mom-and-pop stores gave way to impersonal retail chain stores, so, too, did community banks become parts of large national and international chains. Sometimes certain financial products that were offering to a community didn't quite fit the consumers there, but it didn't really matter: The economies of scale achieved by enormous banking chains justified the one-size-fits-all approach.

Yet retail chains and banks both discovered that to succeed in a new era they must get to know their consumers again. The partners we work with are keen on understanding how their customers bank and what kinds of services they will require - often before they even need them. The world has been buzzing about Amazon.com's latest efforts to create customer profiles that help the company anticipate what those people will order in the next few weeks. By shipping products before they're even ordered, the retailer thinks it can cut down even further on delivery times. Smart banks essentially are doing this. If they know a customer has opened a checking account for a small business, they connect the dots to the extent where they offer that person a small business loan and begin to discuss wealth management and tax preparation services. The customer is often quite impressed if she begins to develop the perception that the bank is responsive to her needs and expectations.

To that end, a bank also has to get to know itself. That's why it's important that financial services institutions begin to be as responsive to themselves as they are to their customers. What I mean is that they need to develop robust stress tests and asset-quality reviews so that they can restore their long-term viability and health.

Another thing buzzing about is Lagarde's mention of how low-income countries have become a bright spot for the rest of the world's financial system. The frontier and emerging markets are creating a whole new banking system. They have been amazingly adept at fashioning communications and marketing tools with new consumers through their penchant for mobile telephony. Even if these customers don't have Internet connections, they can still perform a wide array of banking functions over their mobiles. Did you know that Africa is posting a rise in annual output of 5 percent? That's more promising than some of the most developed regions!

Consider what the prime minister of Japan, the world's third-largest economy, told Davos participants today: that Japan is breaking free from chronic deflation and getting back on track with fiscal consolidation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a special address that Japan is engineering a dramatic turnaround. The country is posting positive expansion in the first three quarters of 2013 all the way from negative GDP growth in 2012. They couldn't have done it without the inclusion of everyone who uses banks to realize their dreams. When financial services institutions respond deftly to consumer's needs, they create an atmosphere in which all things become possible.

Banks serve such an important role not only in the world economy, but our individual communities. They help create job growth and encourage people to lift themselves out of poverty.

January 16, 2014

Make Those 2014 Goals Both Worthy and Achievable

Posted by Ravi Kumar S. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:15 PM

The Year in Technology: Follow the @Money [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7S7MnY75yA]

As leaders, we only get so many chances to follow through on our intentions and plans.

Star Trek fans know a bit about the importance of delivering on what you promise. The chief engineer of the Enterprise, Commander Scott, likes to say that if you make your promises a bit underwhelming, then when you save the ship at the last minute with a few deft moves, you'll be seen as a miracle-worker.

That's why it pays to be extra mindful of project planning our innovation journeys at the beginning of the year. Now let's face it: Everyone wants to innovate and be cherished by his or her peers as an innovator. But don't enunciate your plans until you know what your enterprise wants.

Make sure that your ideas focus on core innovations. Ask yourself: Why is your enterprise in business in the first place? Sometimes organizations lose touch with their core competencies. They spend a lot of time and effort searching for innovations that don't really aid their core mission. I recall a famous CEO at the dawn of the Internet boom being asked if his old-line industrial company would embrace the Web. He responded that his company would only utilize the Web so far as it would help them achieve gains in the business lines they were in.

The beginning of the year is a time to grapple with realities. We're pressured on all fronts - team mates, clients, business partners - to announce what I like to call "unachievable breakthroughs". It's a mindset that's fixated on wowing people rather than really discerning what exactly the organization needs. Shoot for the stars, but be realistic about doing so. (Maybe choose a closer star to begin with.)

The new year will see more changes and transformations in the technology sector than even officers of the Starship Enterprise could imagine. So start out the year with a plan for your innovation journey around which you and your whole team can easily and enthusiastically rally even in the face of constant and unrelenting change.

Top Innovations of the Year

Posted by Soundararajan S (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:58 AM

2013 technology innovation highlights [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eYT_Dw8rfM]

Talk about thinking outside the box! Here are some of my favorite innovations of 2013. This list is by no means exhaustive. It's meant as a springboard to think about what impressed you in 2013 ... and what might be the ingredients of those big innovation during the coming year.

I would suggest that we not subscribe solely to the notion that an innovation has to be an earth-shattering event. Most of the world's most ingenious and most lasting innovations arrive without a huge fanfare. But they stand the test of time and end up changing the way we live and do business.

Robotic Insects (Transportation & Engineering):Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of wings that he'd witnessed in nature. He did so in the believed that one day they could be attached to a human. The developers of today's robotic insects take the same kind of inspiration from the natural world. Aerial drones have many potential applications - from crime fighting to freight delivery. But sometimes remote-controlled drones bump into snowstorms, mountains, or buildings. What's cool about robotic insects is that they mimic the resiliency of flies and bees; that is, they can bump into things and keep on flying. I am, like the rest of the world, excited by a recent news story in which Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos said he's working on tiny, propeller-driven drone aircraft to make same-day delivery a reality.

Smart TV Ads (Media & Telecommunications): The advantage of advertising online is that you can target your wares and services to people more likely to buy them. This, of course, is a revolutionary development in the world of advertising, which used to be about taking out mass ads in magazines, newspapers, and television and hoping - not unlike a fisherman - that you'd get a few nibbles. This past year we've seen some of the most concrete steps yet taken towards using TV as another medium on which enterprises can target ads. Over the past decade, subscription-based models and on-demand programs have continued to eat away at the dominance of the traditional networks. What that means in part is that a company can parse the data from someone's television programming orders and customize suites of commercials to fit that particular household. If, for example, a viewer is watching lots of sporting events, then manufacturers of recreational products and even beer brewers can send that TV more ads. Smart TVs are here to stay.

Bitcoin Takes Hold (Global Finance): What the capital markets have experienced since the onset of the global economic crisis more than five years ago is the realization that having a currency that isn't pegged to one country or another is pretty desirable. The basic concept is a very old one - paper currencies used to be directly tied to the value of a precious metal silver or gold. Today that's not the case, so the value of these currencies can ebb and flow like the sea. Cyber-currencies like Bitcoin are based on traditional concepts like being based on a metal, but they are also exceptionally modern in that they take the physical aspect of money out of the equation. They're based entirely in the world of cyberspace. And, because there are limits on how many of them will ever exist, a central banks can't print more of them and therefore depreciate their value. People who track currencies like the American dollar, British pound, or Indian rupee know that state-owned paper money can be a roller coaster ride. Granted, Bitcoin has its share of issues its creators need to work out - security being foremost on the list - but we think that having an alternative to paper money is a neat innovation in the world of finance.

Internet of Things Becomes Reality (Technology): We've been dreaming about the Internet of Things for years. But in 2013 we saw the first widespread application of the concept and, frankly, it's an exciting glimpse of what we're all going to be enjoying in the not-too-distant future. You need two very important elements for the IoT to be universally accepted and utilized: mobility and connectivity. What we saw in 2013 is that smartphone and tablet computing platforms are pulling away from the traditional desktop and laptop. They're becoming the platforms of choice. Because that's happening, and because most any device is now being manufactured with the anticipation of being able to be controlled remotely, the IoT is finally coming into its own.

What does your list of top picks of 2013 innovations look like?

January 13, 2014

Pervasive Computing Counts Us In, Not Out

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:01 PM

New Bio-metric Pulse RFID Chip New World Order Tracking Technology ! [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRYbAfqejpI]

Until recently, there was an understanding in the computer world that chips would follow a fairly agreed upon path when it came to increased power and decreased size. By stacking chips on top of one another, however, we suddenly have a marvelous market disruption. Developments are going a lot more quickly. That's because a stack of 150 or so chips with enhanced connectivity and speed would be able to fit into a space of a mere two or three chips.

There are many in traditional industrial roles who are biting their fingernails in fits of anxiety. Might a stack of super-chips have the processing power and speed to replace them?

Throughout history, people have always regarded technological progress as a double-edged sword. The fact is, despite the tasks that a stack of super-chips could perform across industries and sectors, the preponderance of computing power has always translated into the development of new markets filled with new jobs. Take data scientists, game developers, and UX specialists as cases in point. Similarly, instead of limiting human potential, pervasive computing can complement it.

That's one of the reasons the national laboratory in Taiwan is spending upwards of $16 million over the course of a decade on what's coming to be known as Monolithic 3D-IC technology. According to a recent report, the laboratory is hoping that its discoveries can become commercial realities over the next five years. The expectation is that chip manufacturers will embrace the 'stackable' technology.

Pervasive computing is remarkable in that old-line markets that never had a need for computing power are now waking up to technology. It's sort of like an old man who sees his grandchildren busily doing homework on their tablets. He assumes he has no need for such a device. But when he buys a tablet on a whim, he discovers that his life becomes a lot more exciting and manageable. He also imagines what his business would have been like had such technology existed 30 or 40 years ago.

My prediction is that pervasive computing will result in several of us carrying around a small yet powerful microchip in the not-too-distant future. Not on our mobiles or even smart watches but on our persons. From that one chip our doctors can monitor our health levels. We can find our children when they stray in a crowded shopping mall. And we will no longer need a briefcase for important documents because we'll be downloading them onto those stackable chips from the ever-present cloud.

Therein lies the most appealing aspect of pervasive computing: It will become so powerful and all encompassing, we will forget it's even there. When a technology evolves to the point of seamlessness, it allows individuals and enterprises alike to utilize it without thinking about it. And that's when we can take a collective step forward and begin developing even newer technologies.

January 10, 2014

Game Theory & the Future of Financial Services

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:58 AM

Applying Game Theory to Your Trading [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhNzdHlDE4U]

One of the more talked-about movies of the winter season is "The Wolf of Wall Street," a high-octane story about the greed and excesses of a bunch of poorly behaved stockbrokers in the early 1990s.

An academic view of the movie would remind us that game theory - the same tenets of which explain why cricket players decide on certain strategies in order to win their matches - is front and center in any story about the stock market. That's because the capital markets are very much the end result of passionate, very emotional decisions as to how best to invest money. Financial services firms have been trying to tap into how their customers think and act as a way of better serving them - and, of course, improving their bottom lines.

One of the most exciting developments in the field of behavioral science involves looking at how game theory can be used to explain a host of human interactions. Video games have gotten very sophisticated over the past few decades. Their graphics are such that they appear incredibly realistic. But they're also sophisticated in how they connect large numbers of people from all different parts of the world. Some of the most popular video games require online gamers to work together to accomplish a certain task.

In the early days of this type of game structure, the companies found that certain gamers would act maliciously simply because they didn't know their other teammates, who might each be sitting on a different continent. Then the companies brought in behavioral scientists to decipher why people were acting the way they did in an attempt to create a nice experience for everyone. One of the byproducts of their studies was that what motivates online gamers is not much different from what motivates people in the offline.

Of course, Nobel Prize-winning economists have utilized game theory for generations to explain why the financial markets move the way they do. (Their movements are what makes "The Wolf of Wall Street" such a controversial movie.) But game theory applied to millions of online video gamers has significantly increased the scope of how scientists can investigate what moves us.

Big Data has become one of the most important aspects of a company succeeding in the modern marketplace. That's why, I think, the study of video gamers is so relevant to the investment banking and capital markets arms of the financial services vertical (along with the study of retail and corporate customer behavior). Instead of creating a virtual set of experimental subjects, the people who play large-scale, globally based video games are real. So these huge field experiments allow enterprises to study and anticipate complex social interactions that produce purchase of products and retail trends.

My sense is that the coming year will see studies like the ones surrounding video gamers becoming even more preponderant. We're looking at a new paradigm of finding ways to tap into the mind of the modern consumer. Plus, the fact that financial services companies can learn from what video game companies have produced also hints at the interplay of ideas across sectors and industries.

Think back to just a few years ago, when economists at universities would undertake studies that existed for the most part in their separate silos. Seldom did major findings find applications in the world of consumers and retail, not to mention financial services, in a rapid and seamless manner. It usually took years for ideas such as game theory to be utilized by enterprises in order to better suit their consumers. Now, however, Big Data and the ability to parse it allow us to look at vast chunks of society and analyze how these swathes of humanity think and act in various situations. And the outcomes have almost real time applications to enterprises that are looking to better engage the digital consumer. It's gotten to the point where any consumer (or would-be consumer) with an Internet connection can now aide companies that want to refine their products and services.

The key now is how these companies will get to that data and how they'll analyze it. The coming year will be filled with exciting, innovative solutions to commercial problems that used to give enterprises more pain than gain.

January 8, 2014

How The Internet of Things Will Transform Us All

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:57 AM

Designing for the Internet of Things: Rodolphe el-Khoury at TEDxToronto [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcUvg9jcfG8]

The Internet of Things: Talk about a broad topic! Just what do technologists mean when they refer to a "thing"? Whatever the subtleties involved in defining it, one aspect of the Internet of Things is that it will be a transformative force in our society.

How we get there is another story. So what we need to start out with is sensors. For anything to be connected remotely to the Internet and to smash the old paradigm of a cable-dominated world, we have to have sensors that not only work well but can work with just about any device.

Therein lies the secret to the success of the Internet of Things: That just about any device that hitherto existed on its own can, with the flick of a sensor, connect itself to the Internet and be controlled and manipulated remotely. Just think about being halfway around the world and being able to unlock your door to let in your spouse who has lost her keys.

Sensors have a lot more potential than just the home, of course. Sophisticated sensors will be able to detect whether someone has a heart murmur or a cancer-causing gene. Yet the underlying promise is the same: Someone, somewhere, can use the Internet to hook up to something with a sensor that relays vital information.

Connectivity is an integral part of the equation. What fascinates me is that connectivity will be taking on a whole new level of meaning. That is to say, the connection might occur where you assume it would take place: within the "thing" itself. But the connection might also happen in a hub, smartphone, or even a base station. The last of the three is the neatest of them all - a base station has the power to collect information from multiple sources and devices and transmit that data to a cloud.

Retailers are especially keen on this kind of connectivity because of the many advantages they can receive with real-time inventory, distribution, and even spotting consumer trends before the competition does.

And the best part of it all - most worthwhile, useful IoT devices will not leave one lighter by a couple million dollars. In fact, think about how much money a retailer could save if, implanted in their perishable food items, were small transmitters that relayed to the store when those items were about to ripen. The food distributors could get perfectly times and sized orders that would trickle back right to the growers, who wouldn't waste so much as a square foot of farmland on crops that he didn't need to grow. In order to have that many chips, you'd have to have a technology that is easily attainable just about anywhere and by anyone.

Finally, let us not forget security. If you're a heart patient and your doctor has implanted a chip in your body to detect a number of vital health statistics, you don't exactly want your data transmission being able to be deciphered by the local newspaper! That's why enterprises that can ensure IoT security will be among the most formidable in the coming year...and decade.

January 6, 2014

Welcome To 2014, The Year of Social Media Dominance

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:39 AM

Social Media for the Enterprise - A Business Case [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjX3160MEPQ]

A little known but fascinating part of British history is that during the 18th century, the king forbade colonists in North America from congregating in groups of more than 50 people (excepting, of course, religious gatherings). The king's concern was that when a large number of people got together to air their grievances, revolutionary uprisings could take shape quite rapidly.

What this lesson shows is that we've long known about the social potency of a huge crowd. Enter social media, which allows online "gatherings" of hundreds of millions of people within minutes. As a global community, we're still coming to terms with just how powerful this new tool can be. That's why it's extremely important for organizations of all stripes to make certain they have the right systems and controls in place to make social media work for them - not against them.

The most glaring example of what can be a runaway freight train is the executive who sent a short message via Twitter that was offensive on many levels. What astounds me is that this particular woman worked as - get ready for this - a public relations executive. Although I certainly don't approve of her message on any level, at the very least I could see someone unfamiliar with the power of social media more likely to make such a blunder.

Yet this woman works in the communications field. So the fact that she used ugly language over a global social network is even more incredulous. Now here's the most amazing part: She sent the tweet and then proceeded to get on a long flight during which she didn't have access to the Internet. During that flight - from London to South Africa - the tweet went viral and spread more quickly than perhaps no other social media message in history.

When she landed in South Africa and turned on her smartphone, she must have been surprised at how quickly her message was re-broadcast and commented upon. People on every continent were chiming in. And the company that she worked for, an enterprise that specializes in corporate branding and messaging, publicly fired her in an effort to distance itself from her caustic remarks.

I presume that because the company that once employed her knows quite a bit about public relations and damage control in the modern age, that it minimized the damage to its reputation. Can you imagine if the company didn't act quickly? The worldwide outcry could have rightly turned to the enterprise as well as its rogue executive.

In some ways, the near-unbelievable power and efficiency of social media is a double-edged sword. Social networks give prominent platforms to every single consumer. So it allows savvy companies with the right software solutions to tap into consumer sentiment and expectations on a level never before experienced. Instead of companies telling its customers what will be next year's trend, the customers - over the course of millions of tweets and emails - relay to the organization what they're most likely going to want to buy in the coming year.

But woe to the organization that ignores the social media tool that it has at its disposal. A disgruntled customer could conceivably fabricate lies about an enterprise over social media. Those remarks, however untrue, could spread like wildfire around the world. That's why it pays for global enterprises to have online consumer strategies that are modern, complete, and take into account everything that could and usually does go wrong online.

We're all making a lot of predictions during this season. One prediction I have concerning the coming year is that social media "events" like the one involving the PR executive will become more commonplace. And the messages will go viral with even more force and speed. It's up to the corporate world to dedicate the right portion of its IT budgets to making sure they have safeguards against rogue employees and disgruntled customers. Not being prepared in the new year is getting ever more costly.

January 3, 2014

How To Make 2014 a Banner Tech Year

Posted by Soundararajan S (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:50 AM

Being "Intrapreneurial": How to increase innovation in any organization [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1XGPJC0alU]

Self-evaluation forms. Project plans. Long meetings with department heads. And, of course, the various brainstorming sessions. Sounds like we have all the trappings of a new corporate year.

For most of us, the year that begins in January is a chance at renewal - an opportunity to assess what we've accomplished and to chart an ambitious course on our respective journeys. As business leaders we're expected to develop new products and services with very little outside assistance. A test of a team's effectiveness is its ability to operate independently and deliver outside-the-box results ... often within strict budgetary and time constraints.

For engineering and other technology leaders, the challenge is even more complex and challenging. For the right things to happen, we try to get everyone on our team to brainstorm and to throw their own ideas into the ring. I've found that a lot of a team's efforts and energies can go towards synchronizing all that brainstorming into one, clear pipeline. If you can finesse your team's activities effectively, you can make sure that its major decisions occur when all stakeholders are prepared to be making them.

In some ways, I'm describing the very essence of how innovation occurs within a large enterprise. Everyone needs to act and think like an entrepreneur but within guidelines to which everyone can adhere.

How do you plan to innovate in the coming year? And how are you going to do so with flawless teamwork?

I once knew a very successful businessman who started up his own business. He got off to a rocky start, much like anyone in a new marketplace trying to compete against more established, well-financed players. He knew that part of his success would be predicated on his ability to go at it alone. If he could build the business on his own and with relatively little assistance, the market would reward him.

His was a chicken-or-egg scenario, however. He needed to demonstrate his flair for entrepreneurship. But he also needed enough critical mass to get the business off the ground, which, of course, took seed funding. He later told me that the best and most lasting takeaway from that experience was how he learned to balance being fairly self-sufficient with not being afraid to ask potential business partners for the right amount of funding.

The lesson here for those of us operating within large organizations is that we should learn to balance our innovation journeys in much the same way. We want to allow our team sufficient leeway to approach matters from a fresh perspective. We also want to make certain that the methodology is such that everyone has the proper tools and understanding of the mission so that the team's time and energy is utilized most efficiently.

Try tapping into your organization's depth of expertise in places where you otherwise wouldn't look. I've discovered that colleagues who are in leadership roles somewhat different than mine can become the best mentors. Suppose you're in marketing. It would be quite simple to approach other people in the marketing department. But maybe the next time you ran into someone you knew in engineering, you sat down with her and discussed some of the issues your team was confronting.

Now extend that principle to the entire team. Suppose everyone on the team approached someone in the organization outside of his or her areas of expertise. Chances are you'd bring a lot ore to the table the next time you meet. It's human nature to be receptive to a colleague who solicits your knowledge and expertise. So your team's innovation journey will deepen quite effortlessly by tapping into outside resources.

The practice of expanding your knowledge base also serves as an indirect way of keeping everyone on the team in synch. Because they're all aware of outside contributions, they'll work harder to communicate amongst themselves. The ensuing process - of building up and processing a basket of ideas - will result in everyone acknowledging that they've come to the team's make-or-break moment. That's when you take your journey of innovation to a whole new level.

January 1, 2014

Rise of the Hackathon

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:14 AM

Wesleyan Senior Week Hackathon 2013 [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24UJulhFo7I]

If only life were as fun and exciting as being a contestant on a television game show!

Imagine that every time you had to make an important decision, a studio audience would be cheering you on. When you answer a question correctly, you would win a fabulous prize. And the show's host would help guide you through life's many challenges.

Unfortunately our lives don't come equipped with the trappings of a lavishly produced game show. But our lives sure would be neat if they did. One result, I think, is that we would all be encouraged to be a lot more innovative. Nothing motivates a person quite like an assortment of cash prizes and the rousing cheers of a studio audience.

Enter the hackathon. These events have taken the world by storm, and one of the reasons for their runaway popularity is because they come pretty close to treating participants as though they were part of a really fun game show. The premise of a hackathon is simple: Lock the entrants in a large room for, say, 12 hours. At the end of that period, judges go around and review the apps they've developed in that short and exciting timeframe.

Some people thrive under pressure and tight deadlines. If you want proof, then consider how many amazing new applications have come out of hackathons. What's even more remarkable is that some of these inventors are barely out of middle school. It's amazing what people can do when you impose the structure of a television game show on a bright and talented crowd (as well as to throw in a lot of coffee and energy drinks to fuel their all-night brainstorming).

An example of a digital innovation that came out of a hackathon is a company called GroupMe. Like many of the world's best innovations, its elegance is found in its simplicity. Anyone can go to the company's Web page, type in her telephone number, and then receive a special telephone number from the company. When the user responds by text to that number, she instantly creates a specialized SMS (short message service) group. All she needs to do is to add more telephone numbers of friends or colleagues in order to build that specialized group. She can also use a conference call feature that will dial up every member's phone so that everyone can chat at the same time.

It's amazing to think that GroupMe was invented during a short but exciting hackathon just a few years ago. Now it's a full blown company. Thanks to the hackathon event, the idea attracted the attention of investors who helped get the fledgling platform off the ground and turned it into a lucrative enterprise. Hackathons might have had their start in Bangalore and Silicon Valley, but they're becoming popular even in the technology centers of Europe. But more on that later.

The structure of a hackathon challenges the notion that everything we do in business can be done efficiently in a virtual manner. A spirited contest like a hackathon brings together a bunch of talented people into one room. They get to meet each other. They bring various toys like water guns and Nerf balls that serve as ways to relax and brainstorm when they're up against tight deadlines. Such camaraderie can't be replicated in an online community.

The world of venture capital has changed a lot since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. Investors don't blindly throw big money at an invention simply because it comes out of a dorm room or is entirely Internet-based. Today, investors want to see the inklings of a revenue stream before they commit big capital to a start-up company. One reason why the people who participate in hackathons tend to be so successful is that they focus on creating economic, value-added innovations. These contests are for real, not show.

A friend told me about a hackathon being staged somewhere in an old, European capital. The event, he said, would be good for the region because it turned its business culture on its head. Whereas people in that region were accustomed to working for venerable businesses that had been around for centuries, a hackathon would encourage the youth of that area to think like entrepreneurs and disrupt their marketplace.

Just think: In a region where tradition and the status quo are valued parts of the business culture, all-night hackathons might produce some exciting new enterprises that transform the world.

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