The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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October 31, 2012

Nature's wrath

As we start going about our daily business today, millions of people are still reeling under the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. My deepest condolences to the people who succumbed to the fury of nature and for those whose lives have been irreversibly scarred by this act of God.    

In the midst of a chilly Fall evening in 2007, I found myself on the wooden Broadwalk around Atlantic City. I remember strolling out of Caesar's and into the Pier Shops. I had made plans to dine at Souzai Sushi and Sake. I was already comfortable by the time I settled down in the temperature controlled environment. Adding to the ambience was the sushi chef's exemplary public display of culinary showmanship. From the corner of my eye I could catch reflections of "The Water Show" - the $7 million water, light and sound extravaganza.  It had all ingredients of a memorable evening. Yet, what I remember most vividly was the effect of the Atlantic's dark waters,  playing out a passionate scene on the other side of the glass facade. The ocean's rumblings were seemingly overpowered within the contained space.

Looking back, it seems like Mother Nature was laying low and letting us, humans, bask in the glory of our own achievements and make merry in our  fool's paradise. Unfortunately for us, some of her other whims are not as convenient.  Superstorm Sandy made landfall at that very spot, leaving being a trail of destruction. However, such catastrophes present us with a rare opportunity to test the resilience of our collective systems and will power. It allows us to introspect on what is and what could be.  In fact it makes a stronger case for creating effective solutions to benefit humanity.

While it is sad that Superstorm Sandy caused loss of life, the silver lining is that the situation could have been worse. Damage to life and property were curtailed because we had a rudimentary oracle. Years of human endeavor have given us the ability to put an eye in the sky to lookout for upcoming storms. We have created complex models that can predict storm movements. We have invested in infrastructure to obtain data from ground zero. We have also created an internet to disseminate information among the general population as well as tablets to access the information remotely on a near real time basis. We also have some policies, awareness and discipline in place so that we know how to react in the face of an adversity.  This is no mean feat, and yet, there is a lot more that could have been done.    

Slowly, but surely, smart things are becoming part of our daily existence. There are "Things" that respond to us. There are "Things" that reason about our actions.  What is perhaps lacking is the ability to pool these experiences into a pervasive fabric that can be tapped into for the collective good. In the days to come we would build sense and respond systems that ensure business continuity. We would build smart buildings and bridges that adapt to their environment.   We would also build systems that recognize and prioritize human health and safety. But to get there we need to start thinking in a selfless, collaborative manner. We need to create a smarter and more responsible civilization and our systems need to reflect that philosophy. Every Superstorm Sandy will test the core of human resilience, but we will be better prepared to mitigate collateral damages.

October 29, 2012

Challenges in M2M

While the M2M market is growing rapidly today, there are quite a few challenges that enterprises and telcos have to overcome while deploying / commercializing M2M solutions and services today.  In this blog, we look at such challenges and possible ways to overcome them:

Technical challenges:

       Scalable M2M infrastructure and network

       Explosion in data volume from a large number of devices affect throughput and storage space on the M2M infrastructure and network.

       Increased network traffic and load on the M2M infrastructure due to large data volumes from devices.

       Standardization, interoperability & governance

       Currently no single global set of standards exist for the IOT and M2M technologies, devices, platforms, and solutions.

       Interoperability issues between devices following different standards pose significant challenges for M2M application developers.  Adoption of Zigbee standards is becoming more prevalent in the industry today, though differences in implementation of Zigbee profiles among vendors still pose a challenge for interoperability.

Making use of gateway devices with 'edge intelligence' can help address the issues of network traffic and data volumes to some extent.  In addition, a flexible and scalable M2M middleware that can be used to integrate a wide variety of devices following diverse protocols & standards will be of tremendous value.

M2M Platforms and Middleware

       High licensing fee and TCO of commercial M2M platforms

       Many commercial M2M platforms in the market today are comprehensive in features and are highly scalable, but come with high licensing fee and high TCO. 

       High upfront investment on an M2M platform, where the market is not mature involves significant risks for enterprises and telcos who wish to invest in M2M.

       Commercial platforms are not suitable for early stage exploration / innovation activities

       Typically, 9 out of 10 M2M ideas never make it to the market.  Therefore, high licensing cost of commercial M2M platforms make it unsuitable for early stage exploratory / innovation activities - where a new M2M idea/application needs to be rapidly prototyped, field tested in the market for technical and business feasibility before being launched commercially.

Light weight and agile M2M platforms with the ability to scale incrementally (as per needs) and having low TCO is much sought after in the market today.

M2M Value Chain

       Complex value chain

       The IOT value chain comprises of multiple players, each specializing in different applications, devices, platforms, middleware, vertical specific applications, etc.

No single player can deliver a complete solution.  As such, forging strategic partnerships with different members of the M2M value chain is important for going to market with M2M applications and solutions.

Industry Adoption and Business Value

       Business process & efficiency

       Enterprises are not always clear on what benefit they can derive from deployment of M2M application & services.

       Addressing the right business problems

       M2M technologies are not always necessary for solving all types of business problems.  The challenge is in identifying the right business problems that can be solved by M2M technologies.

       Privacy & security

       Enterprises have concerns about privacy & security of enterprise data on public cloud.  Many still prefer on-premise deployments though cloud deployment can save them on capex.

Co-creating M2M apps & services with clients/customers, and launching the service on pilot basis to validate viability / market acceptance will go a long way in gaining customer confidence.

Cost & ROI

       High cost of end devices and long payback period for M2M solutions and services pose significant challenges for early adoption by enterprises / customers.

Finding ways and means to reduce the burden of upfront investment for the customer is important.  Leasing, or renting of M2M devices, equipment, etc. can reduce the burden of upfront investment for the customer.  Customers can also take advantage of tax rebates and incentives (especially those that are related to "Green" solutions) offered by various governments when deploying M2M solutions and services.

Monetization - M2M Business Models

       Telcos are not clear about the market potential for several new M2M apps & services, and are still taking baby steps while investing in M2M.

       Monetization is a key challenge in the M2M area.  For some M2M apps & services, it is not clear what is the right business model, who pays for the service, what is the opportunity size, etc.

Identifying the right business model is the key to the success of M2M apps & services.   Telcos today are finding innovative ways to deal with this challenge.  For example, some telcos are building financial transaction right into an M2M application so that they can monetize on the financial transaction made by the end-user, even if they can't charge the enterprise customer for the M2M service itself. 

Licensing, Pay-as-you-go, revenue sharing, subscription model, etc. are some of the models that are prevalent today.



October 25, 2012

What will you do about a Data Virus?

Data Virus - data that has been purposefully manipulated to render operations on an entire data set flawed, and it perpetuates its induced error

Large Scale Information pollution will become a massive problem in 5 years and, as practitioners in the space, we must provide tools and capabilities to not only know when our data is polluted or infected, but how to roll it back out.  Data quality certifications are great, but certifications don't fix the insitu data that your enterprise has ingested, they just provide a level of confidence about the integrity of the data when you get it.

Information exchange and usage, thanks in part to the budgets allocated to Big Data initiatives, will become easier.  This lower barrier of entry will promote promiscuous data exchange, opening up an organization to the risky proposition of Information Pollution.  Business users will be especially susceptible to this risky behavior as they want to play around with data, endangering their enterprise in the process.

Scenarios wherein there is an explicit attempt to corrupt the quality of data (e.g. a data virus), especially by minute adjustments, will be especially damaging.  These small adjustments may slip through standard statistical techniques that we can us to help guard our systems integrity.

Imagine a scenario wherein a supply chain is being fed synthetic data.  This synthetic data happens to be composed of weather information, part failure rates, and weather biased structural integrity models.  At some point, in this scenario, it is learned that the weather information has errors in it.  How does one go about containing the information and data?  How does one go to the downstream MRP-II systems and work force management systems that have consumed the synthetic data and undo them? How do all the revenue forecasting models get adjusted?

Techniques for detecting a data virus and techniques for data containment shall be explored in subsequent blogs.  This is an exciting and important topic for all enterprises in this Big Data world.

October 16, 2012

Gamification - shifting the center of gravity from 'systems' to 'people'

I have been keenly observing the IT industry dynamics since last one decade. There has been a great deal of effort and investment in filling up the process automation gaps in the enterprise processes in last 10 years. This automation was critically necessary to manage the scale, speed and complexity of the business operations. As realized during the large transformation programs of business automation, 'people' - customers, end users, partners etc. -  were the most important factors to get this automation right and make it effective towards the strategic purpose of the large IT investments. Without that, none of the other advance opportunities like business innovation, business intelligence, collaboration, business mobility etc. would have had any chance of survival.

With maturing evolution of the IT landscape, enterprises evolved their business processes which offered fair share of the productivity and efficiency gains to a level that was best possible with the matching skills and motivation of 'people' engaged in the business operation - internal and external alike. The efficiency and productivity gaps that could easily be addressed just by automating the process are already done. Going to the next orbit of the performance with the technology/system alone has been an extremely difficult goal to achieve, industry is already facing that challenge. Despite continued effort and focus, enterprises have been struggling globally to make another leapfrog jump in their performance standards in the same way as they did previously using the IT automation. For the next level of transformation, the most important lever happens to be the 'people'. If you notice, most of the emerging paradigms for the industry today are about people - social network, user experience, mobility...

Here is a very important hypothesis, extremely important to understand and judge the value of gamification or many similar trends where organizations are looking to invest. With the highly processes centric disciplines like Six sigma, CMMi, TQM, Lean etc. already being in place, organizations are more or less already in an equilibrium of performance between what these strategies could offer and what people can perform with their knowledge, motivation and skill levels available at natural level. Further strengthening the process, quality mechanisms or any systemic intervention that pushes the existing natural performance limit can only bring slight incremental improvement and even for that sustainability will be a question-mark because that is not a natural equilibrium. To achieve the sustained transformational performance, organizations need to find the new equilibrium by changing the rules of the game on the 'people' side now. How do we change the rules of the game on the 'people' side? This is where Gamification and User experience will play phenomenon role by unlocking the power of the people engagement and thus opening up new possibilities of the business outcome transformation that have not been exploited so far.

Is there enough to believe in the Gamification?

May be that's a wrong question to ask. In my view, gamification is going to be a matter of 'creative business thinking'. Waiting for 'enough' to be there to believe could leave you behind the curve even before you realize it. However, consider following:

  • 61% of surveyed CEOs and CFOs play digital games during their working hours
  • Average age of the gamer is 37 years, has also been playing for average of  12 years
  • Gamers across the globe have collectively spent 5.93 Million years  playing World of War craft
  • Time spent gaming per day in the US alone is 215,000,000 hours
  • 1/3rd of the internet time is spent on social games
    [Source: Sources: ]

Does it answer the question? Partly? These statistics clearly show the penetration of the gaming phenomenon across the globe and also highlight the depth of engagement that gaming users have today. It tells us that there is something in the gaming phenomenon that is able to engage users, keep them motivated and keep them oriented towards certain goals and end-results, it is a no-brainer. But more importantly, what is interesting to realize that such intensity of engagement is accomplished without any specific training, change management, coaching or governance, all through self-sustained effort of the users, across geographies, across diverse cultures and across language or other social boundaries.

On the other side - in the enterprises world, user engagement is one of the highly challenging problems that organizations are struggling. This statistics clearly tell that we can't ignore the gaming phenomenon expanding rapidly in the consumer world; we must leverage it to create innovative approaches of user engagement and bring new opportunities for enterprises to improve the organization performance.

Education sector is already infected with the gamification virus. I'm sure many of you are already experiencing it, especially if you have a child in the age range of 8-12 years. Interestingly, my same 8 year old son who earlier will throw all kinds of tantrums and find all kinds of excuses to stay away from the books and exercises can now sit for unbelievable duration in front of computer while solving the exercise problems of his study subjects - all this just to collect virtual gold coins, points and unlock some animation freebees. Retail sector is already catching up with gamification of the rewards, points, electronic redemption on mobiles etc. including the integrated social network engagements. Beyond a point, no matter how rudimentary, how seemingly ridiculous and how unrealistic it may feel, it will be become a matter of differentiation that will influence the customer choices, will impact the employee behavior and will influence the brand image of the organization.

What can enterprises leverage the gamification for?

Now that's an important question, not just from the investment dollars perspective but also for getting the gamification approach right. Fundamentally gamification is a people engagement technique. Historically in various shapes and forms, this technique has been successful in engaging people to solve complex problems, get them to act/react in certain desired pattern and increase the overall happiness index that can continuously fuel the organizational energy to get things better and better.

As many of you may realize that enterprise has network of human talent like a structured system. While technology systems can be forcibly fine-tuned, optimized and adjusted to give desired performance; system of human talent network cannot be easily changed due to complexity of individual mindsets, belief systems, disparate motivations and varying capability levels. Gamification allows us to tap into the system of human talent network, leverage the human psychology in a systematic way to achieve transformational business results.

On the customer side, enterprises can leverage the gamification to influence the customer loyalty and advocacy, drive greater co-creation with them and improve the brand penetration. On employee side, enterprises can break the productivity ceiling, improve the compliance benchmarks, improve the value contribution from the employees and possibly have greater employee retention rate.

In the next blog, I will share the high-potential industry use-case patterns that are showing great promise for the gamification investments....