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September 30, 2015

Selling Food Can Be A Startup Industry

Posted by Girish Pai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:22 AM

Instacart CEO: A Bet on Groceries  [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_9lX3tz1aM]

Have you heard of Instacart, Peapod or even AmazonFresh? These feisty enterprises are trying to change the way you buy what goes in your mouth. Indeed, some savvy venture capitalists think of food retail as an industry with startup potential. For example, the research firm CB Insights reports that VC investment in digitally-based food retailers rose to US$ 1 billion in 2014 from US$ 288 million the year before. Interest among hungry investors continues to grow.

So just what are food startups? These are extremely sophisticated technologists who happen to be owners of small businesses (small farms, really - just a few acres here and there). They form farming cooperatives in some cases and they are well-versed in growing and selling food. They are using IT tools to go against the grain. Plus, financial guidance from their VC investors doesn't hurt, either. This is an enormous change from the way things have been done. For decades, to succeed in food retail, you had to go the hypermarket route. Everything was about enormous scale (farms consisting of hundreds of thousands of acres or livestock slaughterhouses that went through thousands of animals a day) and razor-thin margins.

But armed with predictive analytics and Big Data, small-town farmers and roadside vegetable retailers can tap into smaller markets, such as ones that are geared toward fruits grown without herbicides, and animals raised without growth hormones and antibiotics. Indeed, consumer trends are changing: eating healthy is big business. That's why organics, non-GMO foods, buying local, farm-to-table, and even next-day delivery of specialty foods are all growing in popularity. Technology can help consumers make those informed buying decisions and buy from farms that often work only a few acres of land. These small farms aren't just benefiting from this technological revolution - they themselves are creating a revolution!

As the globe eats smarter, businesses are growing up around the trend of delivering 'smarter' and more sustainably-grown foods. The specialty online publication Food Tech Connect recently reported that between the beginning of 2013 and the end of 2014, nearly 50 investment funds were launched around the world with the aim of investing in food and agriculture. These investors know that the farmer and food retailer of today is a digitally-knowledgeable businessman who can hook his equipment into databases via sensors to know when his crops will yield and how to price them accordingly.

With all that VC investment, there's a distinct need for smarter food production and the possibilities that technology creates. Farmers are connected into weather satellites that predict when it's going to rain and when it's not: is it time to drill for an aquifer beneath the earth to water your crops? And it's not just crops. Farmers who raise livestock can now choose to feed their animals a pill-sized sensor that tells them the overall health of the animal and more specifics - such as whether a chicken is about to lay eggs (and how many).

Investors sense a boom in how food is grown and how it's sold. If anything, in some markets, coffee aficionados will pay premium prices for coffee brewed from beans that have been grown on small farms and without pesticides. In that regard, agriculture and food retailing is undergoing the same sort of transformation that the manufacturing industry (now in stage 'Industry 4.0') underwent a decade ago. The same sensors and predictive IT that made small and specialty manufacturers able to compete with the Fortune 500 firms is the same kind of technology that allows a specialty farmer compete with the giants of agriculture.

Make no mistake: The world's population boom is not going to let up in the next century. So we all need the scale that the agricultural conglomerates and the hypermarkets of the world provide us. They're the vast global corporations that will feed the next generation of humans on this planet. But there is another market - many specialty markets, in fact - that never could have existed even a decade ago because the IT didn't exist.

My vision for the not-too-distant future: 'Smart farming' cannot only offer specialty food products to a growing marketplace. It is leading to smart food retailing. In North America alone, high-end supermarkets like Whole Foods are re-writing the rules of what it takes to sell food to a digitally connected consumer base. They have proven that many customers are willing to pay more for, say, salmon that is caught in streams in the wild rather than raised in big tubs of chemically-treated water. They will pay more for so-called artisan bread and bakery products than loaves baked by conglomerates in batches of tens of thousands. The old way of running a supermarket was to sell food at razor thin margins. What helped was that additives could lengthen the shelf life of many foods so that retailers would not see their inventory go stale overnight.

The new generation of specialty food retailers is tapping into consumer sentiments and offering recipes that its returning customer base wants (based on its purchasing decisions). Welcome to 'Food 2.0.' A hungry planet is also an increasingly savvy planet when it comes to the kind of food it demands and buys.

September 24, 2015

Is It Time To 'Harden' The Internet?

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:44 AM

Is It Time To 'Harden' The Internet?

In tech terms, 'hardening' refers to fixing a computer system - sometimes in various layers, with each layer requiring a unique method of security. Today, Internet protocol designers are talking about applying similar security methods to harden the Internet. But, that's no easy feat. Hardening the Internet requires a coordinated effort involving the research community, the infrastructure equipment development community as well as the network service operator community.

Discussions around hardening the internet has been around for over a decade, especially with regard to surveillance versus security. Historically, there has always been a conflict between the need for surveillance in the interest of national security and the need for network security for Internet users. Prevailing opinions are that pervasive monitoring is a technical attack that should be mitigated by the likes of Internet Engineering Task Force, a volunteer-run organization that promotes Internet standards protocols, wherever possible. The Internet engineering community has consistently taken a consensus position that pushes back against technology-based and indiscriminate government surveillance. The engineering community believes that extensive and indiscriminate surveillance is an assault on individual privacy, and that tightened protocols should make surveillance more expensive or not easily feasible in the least.

In 2013, after Edward Snowden's disclosures on America's NSA surveillance practices, the Internet protocol designers began seriously began talking about applying end-to-end encryption to protect the Internet. This encryption talk is not new, though. A few years ago, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) issued a statement about confidentiality, recommending that encryption be the norm throughout the protocol stack by default. The intention was to provide confidentiality and to restore trust in the Internet, which is probably at its all-time low right now.

We all know that networks and the computers connected on Internet are not immune to threats that exist throughout the Internet today. These varied threats include, an employee compromising corporate networks to the plethora of viruses to which a system/network can be vulnerable. Then, there's the constant threat of information attack against seemingly isolated infrastructures.

Well, there are two distinct areas that could benefit from Internet hardening. The first is the core infrastructure, which refers to routers, servers and the 'backbone' links that are at heart of the network. The second is the customer environment - personal devices, enterprise networks and e-business servers that are connected to the Internet that support businesses across the world. End-to-end encryption, a method of secure communication that prevents third-parties from accessing data while it's transferred from one end system or device to another, should be the security method of choice. It enables commerce but bars, to a certain extent, pervasive surveillance for whatever rationale. However, when it comes to the interest of national security - there cannot be two ways about it. Pervasive monitoring or lawful intercept has to come first.  

One thing is certain: we live in a much different world than when the Internet first came onto the scene. Maybe it's time for academics, statesmen, and the business community to find common ground on just what constitutes Internet surveillance. I realize such thinking is overly optimistic, but new global issues deserve a new look at how we limit or extend the Internet's reach.





September 18, 2015

Could Lending Startups Disrupt 1,000 Years of Banking?

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:22 AM

Disrupt or be disrupted, right? Well, try telling that to the innovators of startup businesses in the extremely challenging financial services space. According to a report by the U.S. Federal Reserve, a typical small company in America spends 24 hours applying for loans. That's a full day's worth of work.

The pay-off, unfortunately, isn't as impressive. According to the Fed, just 33 percent of these startups receive all the credit for which they've applied. Some 45 percent of companies are denied loans altogether. We keep hearing that small, innovative startups are the lifeblood of any economy. That's because they grow into large companies and employ lots of people.

But since the global economic crisis, large banks have scaled back their loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs. The reason? There's simply not enough incentive for them to stick their necks out and risk capital on these small companies. They have instead focused on making big loans to big entities with the knowledge that they'll be paid back with lots of interest. That is how a bank makes money, after all. Who can blame them?

The way most of the world's banks operate really hasn't changed much in the last millennium. In the Western world, they lend money and the party that is the recipient of the loan repays it with interest. But banks' tolerance for risk has decreased dramatically in the past few years. What's fascinating is that as they have scaled back their lending, they created a vacuum into which a number of smaller financial services firms have sprouted up.

This vacuum is important when you consider the fact that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute almost 90 percent of all enterprises globally. In the United Kingdom and South Korea, 99 percent of all enterprises are SMEs. SMEs account for more than half of all job creation in most countries: nearly 80 percent in Germany and nearly 88 percent in South Korea. These innovative enterprises contribute more than 40 percent of the GDP of many countries: some 40 percent of American GDP and 75 percent of German GDP.

One of the most interesting of the financial services companies to cater to these SMEs is Lending Club. To be sure, Lending Club has been around for a while. It started by taking advantage of digital tools and embraced crowdsourcing. It essentially matched up parties that were looking for loans with parties that were willing to lend the amount to them. Now, however, Lending Club is focusing on the small business space as well. The company, not unlike other firms such as Bond Street, Funding Circle, and Fundation, uses Big Data to analyze the potential recipients of loans and matches them with entities that are looking to lend money or take a stake in a new, innovative startup. These entities might be single, wealthy individuals or even hedge funds looking to diversify their portfolios.

One of the most interesting activities of late is the formation of a new financial services company known as Affirm. It was founded by Max Levchin, one of the co-founders of PayPal. He looked around and saw that an enormous portion of the population under a certain age were awash with student debt. Debt collectors and big banks will do whatever it takes to get that money back, so younger consumers naturally have a sort of mistrust of big banks.With Affirm, Levchin aims to underwrite the loans of younger consumers. He describes the company in a recent interview as an "attempt to build a bank the way it should be done in the 21st century." Indeed, 'aggregation' is the new business model. It's where a company doesn't need to own an asset or liability but rather bring together the interested parties on a common platform and facilitate the transaction.

Another innovative entrepreneur is Sean DeClercq, the founder of Kickfurther. He uses crowdfunding to represent small distributors and retailers en masse and buy inventory. Those firms can choose the rates and duration of financing to meet their needs. Kickfurther came right out of a small business accelerator - just the kind of success story those accelerators want to hear.

What all these startups have in common is that they're using digitization in new and unique ways to make connections between entities that have money to lend and entities that need money to get off the ground. What will be a stamp of approval of sorts is if they become successful enough to attract the attention of the large, global banks - the ones that are sometimes deemed 'too big to fail.'

If big banks see that crowdfunding loans is profitable enough, you can bet that they'll enter that space with the intent of smashing the small startups to bits. That's one of the advantages of being too big to fail - you can wait and see how the risk-taking startups fare in new lines of business like loan crowdsourcing.

September 16, 2015

Risky Business: Risk Identification In Insurance

Posted by Manish Tandon (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:43 AM

Risky Business: Risk Identification In Insurance

Given that insurance is all about risk and innovation is inherently a 'risky' process, it is no wonder that insurance companies are struggling with innovation. The magical ingredient that can really help insurance companies overcome this interesting dichotomy is data. We all know how insurance companies love their structured data, their rating tables, their statistical analysis...yet all this is post facto data, which at best is a mirror to history. With the proliferation of data sources (both structured and unstructured) and the impending revolution that is the Internet of Things (IOT) ... the best is yet to come.

I believe that the innovative use of data can really help insurance companies innovate in an area that is most critical to them: risk identification (which leads to new product development). What if insurance companies could predict their customers' insurance needs and offer tailored products and services? What if they could bring the 'power of one' to insurance underwriting?

I believe that insurance companies need to learn from other industries in this regard. Many oil companies use analytics to predict where the next pipeline problem will occur. Retailers use Big Data to offer customers a full basket of customized advertisements and specials based on their buying habits. If insurance companies were to use IT tools such as advanced analytics and Big Data, they could actually preempt the needs of their consumers instead of constantly changing rates based on the calculations of actuaries. Doing so would make the insurance industry far more responsive and customer-friendly.

I do believe that the crux of the issue is that insurance companies look at themselves more as financial companies as opposed to consumer companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The insurance business is fundamentally about being consumer-focused. It's about being a force that insures the safety and well-being of policyholders. Despite this, insurance companies are yet to embrace the full array of digital tools that enterprises in other consumer-focused industries have.

Interestingly, this world view of insurance companies is also shared by regulators. Unrelenting legislation and regulations targeting the insurance and financial services sectors cause these companies to allocate resources to dealing with those rulings instead of innovating with their consumers in mind. This is especially important for large, established insurers that have difficulty prying themselves from their long-established business models. Insurance firms are among the last businesses to embrace the fruits of IT with the same vigor as, say, the retail industry which is more lightly regulated.

Truth is, digital commerce and tools enable organizations to better connect with their customers. Demographics are shifting, and an entirely new generation of consumers does not want to deal with an insurance salesman who goes door-to-door selling policies that don't seem to have any relevance to their needs. Insurers need to reassess how they perform their underwriting operations and soon. Without changes to their business model, old firms are going to see nimble new startups take advantage of a new landscape. The startups aren't afraid to utilize technology that wasn't developed in-house and therefore are enabled to develop better products more quickly and effectively - and at more competitive prices. What you're going to see more of from these startups is a melding of insurance and healthcare, for example -- something that should have happened decades ago.

The way forward involves re-thinking an industry that has largely remained unchanged for two centuries. Allowing the consumer to shed light into untapped areas such as healthcare insurance is a start. But equally important is a complete reinvention and overhaul of how insurers structure their businesses. Leveraging predictive analysis will allow them to take a glimpse into the future needs of consumers.

Consumer expectations change quickly and often. Insurers would do well to look at large retailers - both Big Box and web-based - to understand how to connect with the right audience and learn from their expectations. If they don't use the proper IT tools that are right in front of them, I predict some of these insurance giants may not make it in this dynamic environment. They will be eclipsed by smart upstarts that understand the power of delivering choice and catering to their consumers.

September 10, 2015

Time To Play Tennis With Insights

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:14 PM

Time To Play Tennis With Insights

Every tennis fan is familiar with the on-court clamor of the all-time great John McEnroe. Every time a line judge would deem one of the balls he hit to be out of bounds, McEnroe would yell at the chair umpire: "You cannot be serious!"

Over the last decade, sensors have been able to measure whether or not a ball touched the line. It's a lot more difficult to get a computer to change its mind about whether the ball you hit was or wasn't in-bounds. From the moment the score keeper logs a point, a new layer is added to the pool of big data around the sport - how fast, how sharp, how better, how responsive to surround factors, and so on. But only if insights are being garnered, beyond score keeping.

Interestingly, big data insights have indelibly impacted sports like football (think pre-match preparations of the German football team during World Cup 2014); basketball (think Player Tracking in which cameras capture every on-court move of NBA players- reportedly, 25 times per second!); and of course baseball (no, not Moneyball - think sabermetrics).

In a sport like tennis, where technology adoption and insights generation have intensified only over the last decade, several avenues to a better game and experience have already opened up. Which in turn have shown the possible width and depth of untapped big data, unimaginable at this point, providing a vast playground for technology companies like us.

This elegant game that was played with wooden racquets on freshly clipped lawns is becoming faster and more exciting, albeit gradually - today played mostly on concrete rather than grass, with players using the best graphite-composite racquets that are light and strong and allow them to hit with awesome power. It's now time to play this changing game with insights.

With the Hawkeye computer, pressure sensors on lines and on racquets, and analytics, tennis has made a good start. There's tremendous scope to both gather more data and run powerful analytics on them, especially predictive analytics. Imagine a time when by analyzing the minutest physical strengths and weaknesses of two players as well as by studying their historical data, a computer will be able to accurately predict the winner. And what happens when the player who is supposed to lose, ups his game, changes his tactics on court and surprises the computer? The natural question that follows is whether sometime in the future, it is possible for the sport to change (for the better of course) through powerful analytics?

Possibilities abound. It is about getting started.

Today, Infosys announced its global technology partnership with ATP, the governing body of men's professional tennis. To help coaches and players in their methods and techniques, and in studying opponents' strategies, as well as to empower fans worldwide to see more than just the match. And for the sport to be more.

Helping Tennis Be More

Posted by Sumit Virmani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:24 PM

Infosys is the Global Technology Partner for The ATP World Tour [ Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhv6kOt3Qcw ]

"Experience is a great advantage. The problem is that when you get the experience, you're too damned old to do anything about it," said Jimmy Connors.

But, what if players and fans had the opportunity to do something concrete...to learn from the experience of the all-time greats in tennis, and also had instant access to decades of data and insights to continuously guide them. Would that change the game? Would that change the viewing experience? Would the adoption of such state-of-the-art technology bring innovation to tradition?

Innovation is not new to the game of tennis. Consider the evolution of rackets from wooden rackets in the early part of the century to metal rackets and more recently the ones made of composites. Technology on court - the ball tracking technology has evolved dramatically as well and the Hawk Eye system continues to amaze us with its accuracy. Even in the space of analytics, there is some very interesting work happening in the area of match and social media analytics. However, I do believe that what we have seen so far is just a hint of the wonders to come.

Infosys today announced its strategic partnership with ATP, the governing body of men's professional tennis. The goal - leverage the latest technological advances in mobility, cloud and analytics to transform the experience of tennis for fans and players the world over.

As a fan of the game and as a marketer, I am extremely excited at the possibilities that lie ahead for this partnership. While I am certainly going to enjoy seeing the brand come alive at the O2 in London later in November and from there make its way to our living rooms and everywhere we go (on our devices), what I am most thrilled about is the scale of the opportunity it offers ATP & Infosys to transform this game. With 62 tournaments across 31 countries, the platform presents a unique global opportunity to inject the power of mobility, cloud & analytics to elevate the experience for tennis fans and present this sport to the world in a whole new light.

I remember this line from Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love -- the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature." And it is indeed life - the way we interact, work, play and go about dealing with the rhythms of everyday living - that we seek to impact, elevate and enrich at Infosys. And today, by helping this 'game of life' be more, this partnership makes a small demonstration of that big aspiration.

September 4, 2015

'mHealth' Means More Power For Consumers

Posted by Ravikiran Taire (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:37 AM

'mHealth' Means More Power For Consumers

There is a cultural struggle going on in the heart and soul of the global marketplace. Not since the years after World War II, when veterans began having children who later embraced rock-n-roll music (and annoyed their Big Band-loving parents), has such a distinct line been drawn between generations.

On one side are the older consumers who would never think of discussing very personal health matters via Skype with their physicians. They make appointments to go in and see their doctors face to face. On the other side: 'millennial' consumers who feel at ease being classified as 'self-directed patients.' We have boundless innovation in the field of mobile health technology (or 'mHealth') to thank for allowing healthcare providers to offer outpatient services for more people around the world. No longer do you have to go to the doctor's office and sit in a waiting room. The doctor will come to you via digital technology.

Recently, a new Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by PwC aimed to investigate the state of mHealth. The results were interesting to prognosticators who have for decades heralded a sea change in how patients receive healthcare, all thanks to advanced medical technology. For instance, about half of all respondents in the survey cited three factors - convenience, cost, and quality - as healthcare characteristics that stand to improve noticeably within as short a timeframe as three years. The survey also found that six in 10 doctors and, curiously, the same ratio for payers, believe that mHealth's widespread adoption in their countries will come sooner or later. Of course, inevitability doesn't always correlate with speed. Many of the survey's respondents said that widespread adoption of a mobile health culture could take significantly more time than just three years. Old habits, especially when it involves an industry as personal and private as healthcare, can die hard. The story of the connected digital world and the Big Data that it can harness and leverage affects every industry. But in no industry is the advancement of IT so transformative than in healthcare. According to the PwC report, doctors might resist certain aspects of mHealth because they think of themselves as not being in complete control and actually have to cede a certain amount to the patients they're treating.

With more control in the hands of the patients, the healthcare industry should expect to become far more proactive in the realm of preventive care - the kind of care that most appeals to patients - rather than the traditional reactionary methods that treat a condition after it has been diagnosed. Not surprisingly, what appealed to respondents the most about mHealth is its social network-style characteristics. Some 44 percent of respondents said that using a mobile phone to monitor their overall health statistics is a welcome part of mHealth. Then again, such consumers are already accustomed to connected health monitors like Fitbits.

It truly is the same generational divide that governs many other industries. Think about telecommunications - there's a generation that picks and chooses the music it streams on a pay-per-play basis, as opposed to those with an old cable box that allows them to switch through their television channels or buy LPs (that's an abbreviation for long-playing records for the uninitiated!).So the transformation will depend largely on the economics of how much it costs to prevent diseases, compared to how much it costs to treat them over the long-term. Economics also play a role in explaining why the emerging markets are going to serve as models for the developed world to follow. There are far fewer 'entrenched' parties and business models that necessitate a transformation in how medical care is delivered in remote villages and rural communities. Healthcare delivered via a mobile device is efficient, effective, and a complete game-changer in how patients in emerging markets receive care.

Another note from the PwC survey bears mentioning: technology isn't the key to success but rather a tool that enables patients and doctors alike. Achieving the adoption of mHealth on a global scale requires a paradigm shift in public perception. Hence, the great divide currently facing two major generations of patients: those that embrace the idea of digitally-enabled healthcare and those that are a bit wary of it. 
To achieve global scale, the report recommends that services and products must appeal to patients who are particularly sensitive to price. Using technology to deliver those products and services is just a conduit and not the overall solution. It's not unlike the conundrum that faced the media world; some consumers will pay for top-notch or proprietary content if the delivery method happens to be more expensive or it's a change from the way they've done things in the past. The consumer is in charge of the purchasing decision and governs the essence of the business model.

Indeed, when it comes to mHealth, the era of the self-directed, empowered patient is here.

September 1, 2015

'Holacracy' and the Rise of the Boss-less Office

Posted by Richard Lobo (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:49 AM

Inside the movement to let workers rule themselves [ Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kRzNLZ6plQ ]

It's almost a right-of-passage among the start-ups of Silicon Valley and Bangalore. The very innovative engineers who start tech firms with their friends vow that they will never sell out to a larger company to keep the feeling of a start-up alive in the workplace.

The problem here, of course, is that some of these companies become incredibly successful overnight. Not only are they (sometimes) offered big money and stock options to 'sell out' to a large enterprise; they find that having a flat organizational structure is impossible when they grow past a certain point.

So it was with a bit of skepticism when I read that Zappos.com, the eminently successful shoe and clothing company, was introducing its employees to a self-governing system, which has received mixed reviews so far. The practice, known as a 'holacracy' among management experts, has received mixed reviews so far at the company. If there's one thing that makes it very notable, however, it's that software development models like Agile are having a tremendous influence on management practices.

In fact, holacracies have their roots in Agile software development, which we at Infosys know all too well. Agile places emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, and the fact that everyone's ideas are to be heard. Plus, in a holacracy, it's better to put forth a bad idea that can be debated by your teammates and discarded than no idea at all. That, too, is a popular feature of Agile.

But used by a shoe company? Well, yes. The holacratic method is just one of many management tools that companies are using in order to get employees to increase motivation and productivity by showing them the positive difference their work makes in the lives of others. For decades behavioral psychologists and, later, management consultants, came to know well the correlation between how a worker perceives her job and her resulting productivity. If she thinks her actions can make a positive difference in the lives of the company's customers, her productivity increases.

When clients, customers, and other end-users express feedback and appreciation, employees develop stronger beliefs in the impact and value of their work. I'm reminded of a very effective television commercial for breakfast cereal. The workers in the cereal packaging plant look into the camera and say what their company-assigned numbers are, the intent being that when you see a box of cereal in the market with that number, you know it's been packed with loving care by that actual person. That worker is in essence in the boss of her own production line and reports to you, the satisfied customer.

To be clear, however, not all 'boss-less' organizations are holacracies. The distinction is that in a holacracy, workers might not have direct supervisors, yet they are still held accountable of their work by other metrics. Because of this fact, a holacracy is nothing new but rather a neat way to attract and retain young talent that doesn't want to be in a rigidly structured, hierarchical organization. But because of metrics, their performance is still measured. So what's in a name? It's still much of the same.

That's why we would do well to remember that self-management is much different than (and should not be confused with) flat management. Even Google was "boss-less," and it worked for a time. But when the company reached a certain size, there existed pockets of disorganization. The employees themselves actually pushed for a more hierarchical system because good bosses can serve as both mentors and teachers. Without them, workers can flounder and feel that they're going nowhere within the organization.

The consultant Rod Collins, an expert on management techniques, said in a report that whatever you call self-management, they are all forms of peer-to-peer networks. Some of them have supervisors, he said, and some of them don't. Therefore it isn't necessary to eliminate supervisors altogether. But Collins said it is important for the supervisors not to have the sovereign authority that they do in top-down hierarchies. He refers to it as a 'wider band of accountability,' which makes the system highly effective.

Then again, let's remember that many Silicon Valley start-ups that have notoriously eschewed top-down hierarchies for the better part of two decades. And they invent clever titles to replace those at traditional corporations. So the head of human resources becomes the 'chief people officer.' The director of R&D is the 'head of cool ideas.' And so forth. But it's really about attracting and retaining a certain kind of employee - one who shuns wearing a suit and tie to the office, for instance.

The verdict? Holacracy or not, a public company can show how well it's working not by touting a boss-less or flat organization but by enjoying a rising stock price.

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