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January 29, 2015

Of T-Rexes and Velociraptors

Posted by Holly Benson (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:51 AM

I recently had the honor to represent Infosys on a panel discussion on 'Leadership 2020: Leading Business Simplification' for SAPRadio's 'Game-Changers' program. The SAP moderator led with an observation that Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found that companies who effectively manage complexity see at least a 25% increase in profit margins. She suggested that simplification was the #1 issue facing businesses today.

When it was my turn to speak, I noted that simplification was only part of the issue, and was joined in top-of-mind C-level concerns by imperatives for agility and innovation. This is very much in line with Infosys' New and Renew strategy. Leaders - whether in Infosys or in client organizations - need to be able to simultaneously lead a thrust towards simplification, in the 'Renew' elements of their operation, and a thrust towards agility and innovation, in the 'New' elements. This is a complex leadership challenge. The lesson from our panel discussion, on which all the panelists agreed, was that it took skills ranging from vision and trend-spotting, to decisiveness, to empathy, to courage and iconoclasm. In other words, it took leadership skills distinct from managerial skills.

Leading simultaneous simplification, agility, and innovation also poses a complex organizational design challenge. The type of structures, staffing models and policies that optimize scale and operational efficiency are antithetical to those needed to optimize innovation. Just like many start-ups struggle when they first try to scale and routinize their start-up operations, because they were designed for another purpose, many of today's giant corporations - whose designs are optimized for scale and standardization - are struggling to find ways to foster agility and innovation. How can you have both in the same corporate entity? In fact, can you have both?

On the radio show, I likened it to a comparison of T-Rexes and Velociraptors. T-Rexes, who roamed the earth around 66 million years ago, were the super-predators of the dinosaur world, superlatively designed killing and eating machines. Gigantic, powerful, and ruthless, they dominated the Cretaceous landscape. Velociraptors -- small, agile, and fast (not much larger than a human, in fact) -- were a different model. So what happened evolutionarily? For any of you who do not know, there was a massive extinction event around 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. T-Rexes did not evolve into something even larger and more powerful; in fact, they were the end of their line, and they were superceded in the evolutionary trace by what we know today as crocodiles, lizards and, yes, birds. Small and adaptable won out. The danger of being big was that the T-Rexes were perfectly designed for a particular environment, but unable to adapt swiftly when the environment changed.

There is a lesson for business in that paleontological record. Corporations have to find a way to have both types of organizations - simplified, scaled and standardized operations with world class operational efficiency for things that require it in the status quo, plus small, agile innovation engines that can help them evolve - all under the same corporate banner. They are doing that in several ways. Some are literally creating differentiated organizations with radically-different structures, staffing and policies tailored to different strategic needs. Others are forming networks with start-ups and innovators to introduce speed and agility. Others are literally splintering and disaggregating into smaller independent pieces. Infosys, of course, is helping clients do all of these things.

The challenge for any large, successful organization is how to lead through the organizational and human complexity associated with concurrent needs for 'New' and 'Renew' -- how to simultaneously foster both simplification and innovation, how to both optimize the status quo and evolve nimbly towards an emerging future. The winners will figure out how it's done. I'm confident we've got the insight and skills to help our clients make that turn. I'm also confident we'll be among that group ourselves. We just we need to realize it may take new leadership models, and new organizational models, to make it happen.

January 26, 2015

IoT To Enhance Customer Experience in Hospitality and Travel

Posted by Kumar Paramasivam (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:47 AM



The Internet of Things explained [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_LT_ZKlVQw]

If ever there were industries ready for the Internet of Things - or, as I prefer to call it, the Internet of Everything - it's the transportation and hospitality sectors. Hotel chains have long focused on improving their customer experience and IoT is there to help! There is a continuous feed of news from Consumer Electronics Show that focuses on the fact that the connected theme pervades all industries. The Internet of Things and automation in all walks of life - be it self-driving cars or self-curing machines - is center-stage. There's so much hype. But how much of this hoopla will the companies behind it all deliver to us, the consumers?

Intel has come out with a genie device that you can pop in to just about anything and voila - it turns into a connected device. It is increasingly becoming clear that soon we will have such devices in all walks of life. Beyond connected toaster ovens, I want to know how the hospitality and transportation industries can really leverage the IoT in smart and savvy ways. As I was getting ready for my upcoming travel to another conference I began contemplating what would be the impact of this theme. Here are a few scenarios:

Hotels:

  • When checking in to your hotel you don't stop by at the reception; your electronic key is dispatched to your smart device of choice on the day of arrival
  • The door to your hotel room opens automatically once it recognizes you by your smart device (phone or wearable)
  • Based on your past stays the hotel recognizes that you like the room temperature to be at 70 degrees and adjusts it in such a way that based on your check in time the change in temperature is effected with minimal use of energy
  • Forgot your toothbrush? Press a button and the robotic bellhop glides its way up (or down) to your room
  • The pantry in the room recognizes you and the coffee maker brews the flavor of your liking at your command
  • The connected mirror in your room displays the temperature outside and provides a view of the weather for the day. Swipe it further see your calendar for the day. (Just make sure you're wearing your bathrobe if it's a two-way device!)
  • As you get to the breakfast bar, the connected menu offers you a few choices and cooks your order to your calorie limit and preference. Or you go one from one bay to another until your plate tells you it is time to stop adding more food to your plate! (No cheating if you're on a diet...)
  • As you get to your table to enjoy the smartly assembled breakfast plate, an even smarter display slides out and plays your preferred TV show or digital publication. The smart display also lets you know that your colleague is just a few tables away and offers you to join the person
  • That same display also tells you that you are to leave in the next few minutes as your car is approaching to take you to your business destination

Airline Travel:

  • Packing your luggage - the built in suitcase display tells you automatically how much does it weigh
  • As you bring your luggage over to the check-in counter and swipe your ticket the receptacle auto-accepts and codes the luggage sensor with your destination details
  • The automated iris scanners let you through the security gate bypassing the need to have a security agent verify your travel documents
  • The electronic ticket flashes up automatically to the front of your device as you pass through the Robot Gate Agent
  • A seat lights up as you approach indicating that it is yours
  • In mid-flight the robot steward brings your snacks and drinks
  • At arrival your luggage finds you rather than you looking for it

True, the scenarios I've just described are not being played out at the moment. But I am sure some of it is going to become reality in the near future. What does this mean for hotels and airlines? It's a wake-up call. Industry leaders need to begin focusing on how to leverage the power of connected devices to improve the overall customer experience.

January 21, 2015

WEF 2015: Incubating Innovation

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:59 AM



Davos 2015 -- What to expect [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH_ENRldd0E]

The world has been a troubling place lately. I don't need to go into the details if you've read even one newspaper or watched a newscast on the web or TV during the last week. But, as they say, it's always darkest right before the dawn.

It's in that spirit that the world's business, political, and cultural leaders will converge on a quaint Swiss town of Davos this week to discuss how they can, collectively, improve the state of the world. That's been the World Economic Forum's slogan for decades now, and its prestige as a conclave of problem-solvers increases every year. This year, among the many challenges and issues its attendees will be discussing, is innovation and how best to incubate it.

There is a fascinating new study by business professors at the Lahore School of Economics, Columbia, and Yale that shows how innovation might be right in the face of you and your enterprise. It's just a matter of capturing it that's the challenge. The example they used in their study involved soccer balls. Did you know that 30 million soccer balls - some 40 percent of the global production - come out of the Pakistani city of Sialkot?

The academic research honed in on a production issue: Every time the laborers stamped the hexagons and pentagons that must later be stitched together to form a ball, they leave behind scrap material that can't be used for anything. So the professors decided in their experiment to fashion sheets of Rexine, the leather-like substance that soccer balls are made of, to fit more pentagonal and hexagonal stamps so less waste material wound up on the floors of the manufacturing plants. They figured this one shape change would translate into 1 percent in cost savings for each ball manufacturer.

Because soccer balls usually have profit margins of around 8 percent, their new innovation to the stamping process could eventually bring a 15 percent increase in profits. They gave their new innovation away for free to 35 randomly selected factories. Recently, when they came back less than a year and a half later, they found that just six companies were using the innovation - even though it indeed had proven itself as a cost-saver. What was going on? Well, it seems that soccer balls in this Pakistani city are made mostly by hand, and laborers are paid by the number of pieces they cut. It didn't matter to them if there was a little less scrap material lying around at the end of the day.

What world leaders attending the WEF in Switzerland can learn from this interesting study is that an innovation is only as good as its effective use. The problem in the case of the soccer balls was that the owners of the factories were not incentivizing their employees to use the new stamping patterns and sheets to save on scrap. Those that did found considerable cost savings.

I hope that this week, participants who are trudging through the snow of Davos on their way to the Congress Hall can talk about ways they and their companies and countries can team up to make the innovations that we have more effective. We live in a complicated world. Let's team up at the WEF and learn how to put innovation to work to improve the state of it.

January 20, 2015

The Full Potential of IoT

Posted by Prasad Joshi (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:50 AM



Are driverless cars in the horizon? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnLqt4jLYdg]

This Christmas our family got together and as a tradition we watched a James Bond movie. My nephew, who is an energetic seven-year old, was very excited about the film. Next morning, it was gifts time and Santa was pleased with all of us. I got a Moto360 smartwatch. My nephew had a ball mimicking James Bond with it. He found out that he could talk to the watch and the watch could do things for him. The watch could tell him football scores, the temperature outside (and inside) and lots more. There was our very own James Bond Jr.! And then he suddenly saw my car start. Confounded, he started to look around only to find me playing with my phone and the secret was out. Before we knew it, he was changing TV channels using my phone, watching a DVRed football game on it and playing songs from my PC to his bedroom speakers, all controlled by his tablet.

Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT). Today's world is all about things that are interconnected. I can monitor my home security and change my thermostat setting while I am drinking coffee at the local coffee shop. And this is just the beginning. Wearables and applications using those wearables are gaining momentum. Using a phone to interact with a car is passé. This year's Consumer Electronics Show showcased smart cars: autonomous vehicles that create video conferencing and collaboration environment as you go places.

You see, the rise of wearables doesn't just include people. Machines, too, are wearing sensors! There is so much potential here and enterprises are only now beginning to grasp everything that the IoT is capable of. When you start thinking about these possibilities - begin with the 3Vs of Big Data. When you consider how the volume, the velocity, and the variety of information affects how an enterprise does business, then IoT becomes the perfect place to innovate and develop new ways of reaching your consumer base.

There is a confluence of technologies at play to make IoT real. Enormous commodity computing power with massive storage is real with cloud scale infrastructure. Network pipes and their speeds are ever evolving. Who remembers the sounds of a telephone modem (52 Kbps) on which most homes began the ecommerce revolution in the 90's? Today, gestures, speech, touch make interaction so much more natural.

We are starting to see businesses launch products and services using IoT. Think about employee health, for example. Global enterprises spend a lot of money and time addressing health and safety in the workplace. IoT can help those companies become more proactive and preventative. We're working with one of the world's premiere mining companies to innovate ways to monitor employee safety. A Canadian start up iLOC created a smartwatch, fully self-contained with cellular connectivity, motivated by special needs children. The same technology behind keeping a worker safe is used to keep machinery running like a Swiss watch. From an oil pipeline to a network of ATMs, we're monitoring them to prevent failure.

With smart meters, utility companies already know a lot about power usage in neighborhoods and can offer incentives to customers. Now, to that add the data being gathered by 'things' in the home/factory/office space. Actual use hours, temperature preferences, times spent in certain areas of the location. The role of 'things' and sensors is evolving and creating enormous possibilities for commerce. Of course, we will have to deal with issues of security, privacy and the extent of autonomous control extended to 'things.'

Sensors, IoT, massive computing take us closer to realizing artificial intelligence (AI). Ray Kurzweil writes, "As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually everyone's mental capabilities will be enhanced by it". The promise is real and potential is huge. Recently, one of my friends justified his Nest purchase by telling me that it reflects well on the wall and creates a conversation. True, a connected and learning thermostat impresses a lot of people. It shouldn't, because we can do - and are already doing - so much more with a connected world.

January 16, 2015

Online Retailers Take On Groceries

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:25 AM



Can online grocery shopping really save you money? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEtreaNHrg8]

If there is a poster child for the advantage of having a robust bricks-and-mortar infrastructure in the competitive world of online commerce, it's the grocery store.

Just ask anyone at this week's annual meeting of the best and brightest in the retail world, the Big Show. That's what the National Retail Federation calls its terrific gathering of speakers, exhibitors, entrepreneurs, and, of course, the globe's leading retailers.

On its own, selling food is one of the most challenging businesses in the world. Your inventory is highly perishable and your margins are among the slimmest anywhere. Executives who succeed in other industries and businesses have been known to shrivel up when faced with the prospect of running a grocery store chain.

Now add the fact that consumers (some of them, at least) are demanding online grocery shopping and delivery. If you have ever visited New York City, home the NRF's Big Show, you know the already-clogged and congested streets are made even more so by 'e-grocery' concerns that park their giant, refrigerated trucks on busy street corners, where delivery boys rush packages of highly perishable foods into apartment buildings. The cost and complexity of delivering online grocery orders is staggering.

Not unexpectedly, one of the web's most talented and ingenious businessmen, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, is attempting to dominate the online grocery space. Why are he and other entrepreneurs so interested in groceries? In the United States alone, the food and beverage industry is the largest by sales of any other industry: $600 billion annually. To get even a small slice of that pie is quite desirable to some businesses.

But now that it's 2015, and everyone is making their New Year's predictions, I will predict that the companies that succeed in the growing market for online groceries will be those that can leverage IT successfully ... not just food. That's because information technology is what helps a company track orders and ensure that food is not damaged as it is rapidly delivered to the consumer.

A major study on the subject says that savvy, online consumers are willing to pay extra for the convenience of avoiding the supermarket and instead having items delivered to their doorsteps. If Amazon, eBay, and even Google can ensure same-day delivery of books and music, then perhaps food is a natural extension.

If the IT infrastructure is there, why not include more products? In this new study, a full quarter of millenials surveyed said they would be willing to pay extra for same-day delivery for the online orders.

Then there are the disruptors. The lean, mean, smaller companies for which online groceries aren't simply things you add onto an already sprawling online enterprise. These companies are known as concierge shops, and they offer what the big online companies cannot: a focus on one sector and the same sort of focus on their online consumers. They're not delivering books one moment and bananas the next.

Another prediction: These market disruptors will find ways of establishing shared food storage and fulfillment centers in major metropolitan areas even though they are competitors. That kind of move is market disruption at its best: working together to take on the big guys -- some of the NRF's most prestigious members -- when the big guys expect it least.

January 14, 2015

Start-ups Steering Retail

Posted by Girish Pai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 2:34 AM


Start-ups are providing retailers with an affordable way to steer ahead of the competition

What are the most important things on a retailer's mind? Staying ahead of the curve, with a little help from technology, of course! Up until a few years ago, this meant large capital investments on the part of the retailer. But, things are changing. Start-ups are providing retailers with an affordable way to steer ahead of the competition.

Start-ups provide retailers with two distinct benefits: speed and cost. Today, start-ups are working on exciting solutions. An interested retailer can experiment with these technologies in controlled markets and see what works. Then, there is cost. Some of the innovations, especially in the omni-channel space, require capital and infrastructure. Start-ups are building such solutions on a small scale allowing retailers to leverage these investments in a controlled pilot before determining if there is a business case to do something new on a large scale. For retailers who are trying to leverage their brick and mortar footprint in the omni-channel space, start-ups can provide a way to leverage their store networks, which are closest to the end-consumer as a competitive advantage against the likes of Amazon and AliBaba who are making huge investments in this space.

In fact, there's already some success in this space. Instacart, which is located in the Bay Area uses the concept of crowdsourcing to home deliver products from the store to the consumer's door step. Similarly, Chicago's WeDeliver is building a local delivery network that can offer local businesses and chains the advantage of same-day delivery. Curbside which is an app that facilitates convenient pickup is being piloted by a retail giant like Target. ShopKick, an in-store rewards app, was recently sold for about $200 million.

Ultimately, the focus is on simplicity and consumer convenience. In China, same-day delivery services are becoming common. Employees (delivery persons) of one logistics company uses public transit and brings the package to the customer, who collects it from over the turnstile. No cost is incurred because the man never left the station! China's JD.com, a leading online direct sales company, has 2,045 delivery stations and 1,045 pickup stations in 1,855 counties and districts across China, staffed by its own employees and offers same-day delivery in 130 counties and districts. Similarly, Zopnow in India is offering delivery within three hours at ridiculously low prices. These start-ups can help retailers get an edge over pure-play online companies like Amazon, Ebay and Flipkart.

It's evident that start-ups can revolutionize the omni-channel space, and the retail industry as a whole. But, retailers can also play an important role in the innovation cycle. Retailers are closest to consumers. By engaging with them, they can help start-ups to develop innovative solutions, relevant to consumers. The aim is to foster a win-win-win situation for retailers-start-ups-consumers.

January 13, 2015

Are Wearables There Yet?

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:59 AM



Retail conversations at National Retail Federation Big Show 2015 [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3kitsczNO0]

This week we're in New York City, in the midst of a mind-boggling trade show with thousands of sponsors, products, ideas, and exhibitors on display: the National Retail Federation's Big Show. I wish one of their stores would sell a device that tracked how many digital devices ever see the light of day! Chances are that it would be a very low number.

Truth is, the market for good, useful and seamless digital devices in the retail industry is a brutally tough one. Especially when you're the retailer that has competitors on all fronts - clicks and bricks. The product you need to be selling must have more than just a shiny exterior. That's why Samsung's curved TV set is making everyone take notice. Anyone who passes by the electronics retailer can immediately picture the curved set in his/her living room. That's always a good sign that the market is pining for the latest invention and flocking to your stores.

Then there are wearable computing platforms. Now that we're getting closer to actual market release of these devices, retailers are still working out a strategy around them. Wearables like Google Glass are certainly cool to look at. But, are they cool enough for retailers to seriously invest in and then figure out what to do with them later? Not yet.

Yet, the famed Internet analyst Mary Meeker predicts the meteoric rise of wearables. I have no doubt that this will happen. But, there's still a long way to go. Interestingly, the man who's credited with creating Glass, Babak Parviz, left Google for Amazon.com - where he is reportedly working on retailing's next big thing! This is important to note because Amazon.com excels in making a seamless retail experience for the consumer.

The bevvy of wearables at the NRF's Big Show are technologically impressive and are exceedingly advanced. I truly believe that the idea behind them is profound and will change the world. However, there are kinks to be worked out before they can really make a difference in retail and be the talk of the next Big Show. There is a lot of ground to cover first.

January 8, 2015

Finance Is the Real Focus of CES

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:41 AM



CES 2015: The Internet Of Things [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU66gkdDaFc]

Fact: Finacle by Infosys serves 451 million banking customers around the world. That's 18 percent of the global financial services population. So a word to those of you who are enamored by the sleek drones, the pint-sized computers, and the cool robotics that come out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show: Have fun, but always, always remember that it's money - and not those neat gadgets - that makes the world go 'round.

Indeed, the real star of the CES is digital finance. It's not as pleasurable to look at or as fun to play with as all the other innovations at the annual show, but tools that enable and empower people to make better financial decisions are becoming really hot. CEB TowerGroup says that Finacle is best-in-class when it comes to solutions for large banks. Although the success of Finacle is nothing new, the way consumers use such banking solutions will be. During CES, what I've been seeing is a spirit of cooperation among fierce rivals that stimulates the imagination.

An example of this spirit is how companies as large as Intel are working with others in their space to come up with common standards that will allow the Internet of Things to become a reality. Unless everything can connect under one umbrella, what's the use of opening a different app each time you want to control something via your mobile device? My prediction is that digital banking solutions will embark on a similar path of cooperating so that mobile payments becomes more than just idle chatter in the press. Mobile payments will become a seamless reality. In fact, one of the most admired Wall Street analysts predicts that 2015 will be the year when mobile point-of-sale devices truly change the way retailers operate...and how consumers interact with them. For retailers that are already known for exemplary service, mobile point-of-sale (or mPOS for short) will make the in-store shopping experience even smoother and more pleasant. That's because a sales associate can help the consumer purchase the items right on the floor of the store.

No standing in line at a checkout involved. It also means speedier interactions (and by that I mean standard clearing practices, etc.) with banks which handle those accounts. Indeed, manufacturers of computer hardware that processes in-store financial transactions will feel the pinch of all those mPOS devices attracting digitally savvy customers.

Simply put, the coming year is going to see a lot more changes for the better where payment methods and digital financial solutions are concerned. Big banks are becoming technology powerhouses, and, frankly, it's about time. They're stepping up security measures yet making it easier for merchants to process payments. Judging by what I've seen at CES, the market has some fascinating digital financial products in the pipeline. And whatever those products are, you can be sure that the consumer stands to be empowered even more. Drones and robotics are fun, but digital finance is where the action will be this year!

January 7, 2015

'Web Functionality' Takes Over CES

Posted by Suryaprakash K. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:28 AM



Gadgets, ideas unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show 2015 [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7Gg8v3ITqw]

This tantalizing item comes in just in time for the annual hoopla that surrounds the Consumer Electronics Show: One of the hottest announcements in the word of consumer electronics and technology is that WhatsApp could very well be working on a web version of its popular messaging app.

Web functionality. It's what everyone's taking about these days ... inside and outside of the CES. Digital messaging services like Line, Viber, Telegram, and WeChat let their users send messages via their mobile phones or through accompanying websites. So far, WhatsApp, arguably the most popular of all these services, has yet to make the jump onto an official website with full functionality. I suspect it will. Now that Facebook acquired WhatsApp for what most analysts and experts agree to be an absolutely impressive $19 billion, you can bet part of the messaging service's utilitarianism will include web functionality.

And why not? For years, digital communications devices were getting smaller and smaller. Along with those sleeker, thinner, pocket-sized models came the conventional wisdom that the days of big desktop or laptop screens that enabled a rich web experience were waning. It was all about texting. It was all about the rapid-fire communications back and forth with apps that were developed for tiny screens.

Well, we've had an astounding about-face during the past few years. People who attend the CES will see that we're now living in an age of the 'phablet.' It turns out all along that consumers enjoyed the features that came with larger screens. They can still tuck their devices away, but instead of pockets they're placed in briefcases or pocketbooks. And the Web, which has gone through its 1.0, 2.0, etc. incantations is primed and ready for another renaissance.

Also consider what one of the most revered technology analysts and investors, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, is saying about the smartwatch: It's not going to live up to the hype. Why? Consumers, he says, simply don't like wearing tiny little computers around their wrists. I, for one, will be watching the CES more closely than ever to see how the major manufacturers are treating the growing market demand for tablets and phablets. They're certainly catering to this demand even though they hope their wristwatches will take off in popularity as well.

It turns out that web functionality is driving a sea change in the consumer electronics market. Once-brazen and brash young apps developers are now creating web versions of their popular products not because they're cool but because that's what the market wants. There's a lot to be said about the growing sophistication of the digital consumer. Instead of lapping up everything that was put in front of them, they're setting the pace. They're dictating to the innovators what kinds of devices will define the next wave of personal communications. Hmmm. Innovation coming from the marketplace.

It turns out that the "Goldilocks" version of the digital device - not too big, not too small, but just right - is going to be the big theme of the CES this year.

January 6, 2015

How Our Hackathon Can Help Cities

Posted by Sanjay Purohit (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:12 AM

Participants-at-EdgeVerve-Hackathon-2014
Participants at EdgeVerve Hackathon 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of observing at EdgeVerve's recent (and incredibly successful) hackathon. The experience taught me one thing - our urban centers have bright futures!

The theme: "Technology Solutions for our Cities." The participants: 50 teams that we hand-selected from an entry pool of more than 350. All the teams that applied were talented so we had the advantage of being able to choose the very best of the best. During the second-to-the-last weekend of 2014, we hosted these 50 teams at EdgeVerve's headquarters in Electronics City in Bangalore. So from the very start of the 24-hour-long event, from Saturday morning to Sunday morning, we were in the middle of the one the world's largest cities with the event's mandate to come up with solutions to make such an urban core a better place in which to live and to do business.

Hackathons are relatively new events. Everyone who participates has to do so in person. Human interaction carries with it a kind of energy that can't be replicated over fiber optic cables. Plus, let's not forget our event's theme: Cities are places in which people need solutions related to transportation, women's safety, education, and the environment.

One participant described the event really well. He said that the hackathon was filled with "connected devices and involved people." Isn't that what we need to improve the issues facing our cities? Another participant said that EdgeVerve's first hackathon focused on a cool place, smart people, great ideas ... [an] awesome event. Among my favorites solutions to come out of the event was an app that located potholes in city streets. "[Potholes], be prepared to be buried!" was the rallying cry.

Another ingenious app looked to address the shortage of clean, potable water around the world. The solution? An app that shows when plants "request" water. Never a chance of over-watering plants that don't need it. Truly this app was a synthesis of life sciences and computer technology.

Despite the serious issues we faced, the atmosphere was filled with camaraderie and fun. A self-appointed hacker with a red-hot list of music became the de facto DJ for the 24-hour session. That was helpful, because as the sun began to rise and the hackathon moved into its final hours, participants needed a little musical (and caffeinated) boost. Many ideas that were just ideas on Saturday morning began to come to life on Sunday morning.

As the event wrapped up, we got to see all sorts of exciting inventions: Apps that monitor and map the conditions of roads - using both mobile apps and the Cloud. Then there were the drones. So fun to look at but with great applications as well. One of them could detect environmental pollution in our cities. Another could pinpoint air quality from region to region.

Hackathons are the manifestation of a broader phenomenon that is beneficial to society: crowdsourcing. It turns out that we human beings are a lot more resourceful and ingenious when we get together in large numbers and share our intellectual brainstorms and ideas. That's what EdgeVerve's first hackathon did for a narrow band of society: the next generation of technology leaders who are committed not only to improving their enterprises but society overall.

I'm already getting requests to make next year's hackathon open to computer scientists from outside of the company as well. It's an interesting idea. Stay tuned...

January 2, 2015

How To Manage Insurance Run-Off?

Posted by Mohan Babu (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:59 AM

insurance-claim-form
For managing insurance run-off, IT strategies include complete outsourcing of the end-to-end IT operations and platform-based IT or business process outsourcing

Is it too much for consumers to expect steady income streams from dividends off annuities, life insurance policies, and the like? The answer - theoretically, at least - should be a resounding yes. But try telling that to life and annuity providers in today's world, who are going through a challenging period. You name it and they're dealing with it: sustained low interest rate, fierce competition, increased regulatory scrutiny, and changing customer preferences.

So the pressure is on to find new ways to extract value from every corner of the company so that consumers don't get stuck with flimsy returns. Is it any wonder, then, that some prominent insurers are spending significant time, money, and resources to manage their closed block business? This business has become the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Closed blocks have piled up over the years because of the discontinuation of unprofitable or non-strategic products.

The latest research from Celent Insurance estimates that some 40 percent of premiums written in the insurance industries in both the United States and United Kingdom are expected to be derived from non-strategic or closed blocks. Considering the magnitude of this block of business, you might think insurers would have a solid strategy to manage these blocks. Not true, however. On the contrary the most common strategy remains to be passive management of run-off, internally.

The cost associated with internal management of the closed block business is too high. Inevitably, insurers are looking for alternate approaches that make better business sense. Some of the popular strategies include a complete transfer of run-off assets and liabilities to another company, solvent schemes of arrangement, strategic commutation and reinsurance. While the benefits associated with these strategies are immense, many insurers prefer to continue with the passive management of closed blocks. That's where having the right technological approach comes handy. I can't stress enough the technological propositions and capabilities, including options, that are tailored to carriers opting for passive management of the run-off business. IT strategies include complete outsourcing of the end-to-end IT operations, platform-based IT or business process outsourcing, monetization of the existing platforms or a Software as a Service (SaaS) based model.

These strategies all come with their own set of advantages. Insurers need to have proper due diligence processes covering the financial viability, business alignment, and future envisioned IT landscape - not to mention the functional and technical orientation and implementation complexity to select the best-fit strategy. Effective management of closed blocks will enable a more efficient cost structure and improve profitability.

I see insurers warming up to these practices. They are analyzing the various alternatives available. Several insurers opting for passive management of their run-off business are partnering with strategic IT vendors to lower the total cost of operation (TCO), improve margins, unlock human and financial resources, increase operational efficiency, and (last but certainly not least) enhance the customer experience.

Irrespective of the strategy - insurers should carefully evaluate the benefits and develop a detailed business case before taking the plunge. When customers' hard earned investments are at stake, a half-hearted or not-well-thought-out approach can be counterproductive. Yet another reason to ensure a multitude of benefits from implementing the right IT.

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