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Friday, 16 August 2013

Social Media - A beacon of quasi-sociality?

Social media is fiercely debated whether its a transformational derivative or an evolutionary by-product. Arguably, its a tilted blend. It had been evolving for a long time with a swifter transformation lately. Ofcourse technology is the catalyst and thats gumption. But in current context, will harp on outcome and not the enabler.

Aristotle had quoted an extremely powerful statement: Man is by nature,a social animal. Though the essence of "social" in his context was implying to physical society, metaphor still stands perfect rather more apt even in the current transformed state of "being social". Parallelism can be contested but salient aspect is being social  in a borderless & touch-less world.  

Social media is no longer just a virtual connect platform. Grossly historical. It has even outgrown its more matured tag of consumer generated media (CGM) as it has already graduated onto its new business moniker, Social Enterprises. It has spawned itself into a two-faced monster triggering a business mayhem, restructuring & redefining the existing business landscape while strategically creating an industry of its own to cater to the frantic realignment. Household names like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Youtube, Watsapp, Wechat, Instagram etc have transformed social media with billions of active users and still counting.

So what is it which is fueling in to this incessant wild fire? Reach.According to Jan H. Kietzmann, the famous honeycomb framework of social media comprises of seven building blocks: Identity, Conversations, Groups, Sharing, Presence, Relationships and Reputation. Functional and Objective effectiveness of each block converges to that one fuel element, Reach! Across generations, across geographies.So this enviable reach of social media has flattened the connectivity, widened the accessibility and above all, provided a far effective conduit for "voice of expression".

Everyone is "tweeting" and "facebooking" their morning ablutions to evening fancies. A world where virtual sharing/posting/walling is still considered private, has taken the behavioral pattern by storm. "Sharing", a virtue of good samaritan and a coveted rare attribute, now comes naturally. Thanks to Social media. In all the conspicuous glitters of this phenomenon, lies the subtle caveats. Social media business trades on human emotions, insecurities & in-satiated curiosities. While one can endlessly debate that every good thing comes with its share of side-effects, this time its far more grave. And the reason is the same fuel-element which has made it a household aspect. Below three contrasting predicaments reflects the precariousness of the social media:

a) Distinct vs Extinct
Social media has blurred the make-to-use value chain by almost converging its major stakeholders consumers, providers and enablers. One of the most distinct feat. While we revel on this transformative impact, its causing some serious inflictions as well. Imminent demise of businesses and industries. Commoditization kills specialization and so is the corresponding business and possibly, industry. Social media is the new marketing toy, thanks to an unimaginable reach. Thats precisely the point. It can cost you one of the most vital business parameter, Control. Conventional marketing channels are easy to manage but social media can spiral out of control in a blink annihilating reputation and eventually business. Be it famous Amy's baking company or the U2 famed Joshua Tree national park and many more who has either closed down or faced near demise due to "Word of Mouth", magnified dangerously via social media. Countries with extremely high gadget penetration like smartphone etc, can have a much wider impact. At the same time countries like Singapore which has the highest smartphone penetration also has one of the most sensibly regulated media content management. But such controls are near impossible in larger countries.

b ) Actual vs Virtual
By flattening the world social media has brought long lost friends, relatives nearer like never before, thus reviving the distance-deprived connects. While we bask on its magnanimity, subtly it has created a comfort zone. Complacency of remaining in touch, virtually. This virtual assurance is culling the physical need of togetherness. Even during public spaces & events, people walk around like zombies being mentally absent busy sharing with virtual world. Ironical! The glorious times of reunions, regrouping and reliving are numbered as more and more are embracing the slothful means of being in touch, virtually.

c) Activity vs Productivity
Social media, while is a luxury for previous generations, for Gen Y and Gen Z, its the most natural thing which has happened to them, post-natal. So obviously, its both social and business obligation to cater to this need in order to keep in line with the new "social generation". But a world, where one prefers to post things, every activity is leading to serious inactivity, which I call it, "Social sedentary syndrome". In the
professional world, companies are scrambling to cater to this "natural" phenomenon, which even led to an industry of its own, BYOD - Bring Your Own Device. While on the face value, it caters to seamlessness in using the gadgets, it also breeds an extended addiction, being social at work. Thus seriously affecting the productivity of an individual.

Unlike any other transformation, invention or discovery, for which we could always reprimand the originator for making a two-sided possibility, Social media is originated from our behavioral pattern and will continue to thrive on it. So onus is back on every individual to ensure it adds to the quality of life and not compromise it.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The successful business of copy-pasting!

Copy-Paste (CP), the most commonly used Information Technology (IT) action, frowned upon for its lack of ingenuity and the sense of shameless pilferage. It would be a faux pas to believe that CP is a new idea born of IT while the moot point here is CP as a concept is agnostic of its pertinence to any particular industry. That basically gives it enough wings to take us back in time, even to the time of human evolution, if I maybe so bold to add. Visible copying, be it during an examination or while doing business is seriously reprimanded but smart copying on the contrary is extolled. Yes, our contradictory stand is but obvious! 

Since inception, history has been witness to a bipolar business fraternity: Innovators and Followers. Naturally former were known to be trend-setters while the latter took on the unassuming but unasked task of evangelizing former's work to their vested interests. To still come out as bright and ethical at the same time, did bestow innovators with hall of fame while authentically customized the actual work to super stardom. Thus, creating arguably one of the most manipulated words of all times, "best-practice". Every invention of significance, be it Radio, Lasers, Graphical User Interface to Monopoly game, were marred with controversial cases of "theft-of-ideas" and "best-practice-turned-own-innovation". Definitely thereon, Intellectual Property (IP) protection has strengthened multi-fold which curbs "straight-copying". The on-going Apple-Samsung feud is symbolic of the fierce battle around IP but no one could restrict the spiralling market and smart copiers of the business model itself. Bingo! 

While individual companies grapple with borrowed concepts, history has witnessed to countries going on a copy-rampage as well. Post World War 2 during 1950, Japan's per capita income was equal to Somalia and Ethiopia. They had to quickly get on to their feet. Quick wins comprised of copying from American & European institutions and replicating their products. Barring some initial setbacks, by and large Japanese companies improvised on the copied concepts and companies like Toyota even outpaced the industry leaders, GM and Ford eventually. So what if the turnaround had inspirational elements, Japan did a miracle turnaround and the world witnessed it with awe.

When western countries were scouting for an economically viable alternative to base their manufacturing and anchored in China, never ever did it occurred to them that latter could transform itself from a production hub to the largest consumption hub the world knows today. Be it the e-commerce giant Alibaba (whose planned IPO could catapult its market value to $50-120 Billion) or massively popular social networking sites, all are comparable or even edge past western peers who claim to be pioneers of respective business model. China is going through the same stage of copying and reverse engineering which Japan mastered in the past.  At the same time, there are cities like Wengzhou (commonly called Black City) in Southern China, equally neglected by historians and government until its meteoric self-driven rise. Surely the success comprises of some elements of "inspiration" but the notable point is in the way the city was economically built, making it exemplary for larger China. End result is what matters!

Apple and South Korean companies such as Samsung, LG have made smart phone way smarter, enhancing and capitalizing on a concept Canadian company Research In Motion & Finnish giant Nokia introduced.  Per latest available industry statistics, it would be fair to state that the latter two organizations are grappling to survive with even once a minnow, Taiwanese company HTC surpassing them in market cap.

Such examples unravel an extremely interesting and intertwining phenomenon as we gradually peel off ever-changing business layers. "Best practices", "Inspirations" or "straight copy" will continue to be fiercely criticized & ring-fenced but the fact remains that in this world of severe-competitiveness, relentless innovation and ruthless hustle-jostle to the top, end consumers are most advantaged, enjoying the quality, diversity and accessibility resulting from this juggernaut.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

How a Red dot punctuates Global growth!

An exemplary of a country to rise from rags to riches in an unprecedented time. A growth journey which is copy book and envious to peer countries irrespective of size and spread. My built up deliberately deceives as a reference to a big and naturally blessed country. But to an absolute contrary, my reference is about a 710 sq km tiny island at the southern tip off Malay Peninsula sharing the border with Malaysia in north and Indonesia in south. Once arguably disparaged as Red dot by one of its neighbor, Singapore took that epithet to its stride and transformed it to signify size-defying, phenomenal growth. A country which was shrugged off with no natural resources, contradicted the fallacy, building on the only natural resource it had, its People. A country, which defied the very understanding that it takes generations to move the needle from Developing to Developed status. Best way to describe city state's incredible stature is: One of 20 smallest countries which is also the wealthiest country by GDP per capita in the world.

Singapore believes there is no prize for coming second, and relentlessly strives to be a leader with every change. Be its architectural marvel, Marina Bay Sands or unique night street F1 race or worlds biggest Oceanarium. Its this particular approach along with the incredible marketing, sets Singapore to the topmost pedestal in World stage. While its thought leadership sets it ahead of the pack, relentless diligence and impeccable discipline ensured sustained success. Time and again, it proved its resilience, whether its 1997 or 2008 financial crisis while global stalwarts stumbled.
While Singapore find its name in top laurels, infallible processes may give rise to perception side-effects. Lately, it has been voted as the most emotionless country by Gallup survey. Its best left as a perception as I personally dont see any dearth of emotions in this vibrant society. Also, been voted as one of the best place to live in the world, seems contrary if it comes at the cost of emotional quotient. Anyways, It has its share of sensations as well, thanks to sudden splurge of sexual cases and repetitive rail breakdowns. It did cause widespread publish peevishness but minor glitches in the wider schema of things, is exonerable. Singaporeans have their share of crib as any other country but a single comparative with their peers, should make them proud of this progressive country, irrespective.

Singapore is what it is, due to exemplary governance since inception. A government, which is most trusted after China and UAE. A government, facilitating incredible infrastructure,  ensuring zero foreign debt consistently, strong balance sheet and relentlessly catering to a world class standard of life. Salient aspects to attain and sustain success in the long run. Leading the change and changing to be a leader is an apt expression for city-state. An expression, which translates into wealthiest country, world's fourth leading financial center, world's second-biggest casino gambling market, one of the world's top three oil refining centres, world's largest oil-rig producer, one of the five busiest ports in the world and best of all, world class airport, Changi. House to some amazing amusements like world's largest fountain at Suntec, world's first Night zoo, Night Safari etc.The list of accomplishments are exhaustive and envious.

There are three take-aways, world could learn from city-state: Thought leadership, Strong governance and Infallible Discipline. In an uncertain world, when economic big-wigs are crumbling, a tiny dot continues its giant march and contributes significantly to underline global growth.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Emerging Markets: Emerged and Submerging?

The title may seem pessimistically inclined especially to the sanguine world. Well, in my opinion saying it any other way would just make it an eye-wash.   Rather than considering it an aberration from current belief, it has to be construed as a narration pertaining to constant variability of economic phenomenon.
When World Bank economist Antoine van Agtmael coined the word “Emerging market” in 1980s, it exuded enthusiasm, as next gen transition markets to compliment developed markets.  Since 30 years of its inception, there have been multiple iterations to that tag with countries being added and subsequently written off. So did some countries emerge, develop and vainly transcended the list, while others went the other way to reset their development cycle? Obviously I wouldn’t jump right to the crux of this discussion pre-maturely, rather will take the prolix path of a retrospective outlook. 

Developed countries represented by US, Western Europe and Japan set the benchmark and economically compelled the promising ones to be labelled as “Less Economically Developed countries (LDC)”. The rest of world was insecure with handful of developed countries and rightfully so, as dependence is more abhorred than dominance. So the Great Migration thereon witnessed the economies relentlessly striving towards the coveted status and irrespective of their pecking order of “being developed”, was conveniently referred to as “Emerging”.  The ‘Convenience’ of Developed countries keeping their positions unthreatened or ‘Inconvenience’ of the Emerging markets to comply with sacrosanct “developed” gradation (Living standards, Human Development Index and Industrial base), is a perspective debate!
According to IMF, currently there are 150+ developing countries. Ironically, that includes BRIC countries which are vehemently considered more developed than their developing peers.  Moreover, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries were one of the few emerging countries which cushioned a recession hit world marred with contracting developed countries and heavily- indebted PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). While they were not immune to the global slowdown, strong domestic consumption aided their impressive growth. They still may not comply totally with the “developed parameters” but, with developed countries tumbling, the goal post has definitely shifted. So arguably, some of these countries have already emerged.  Of course, there are cases like Singapore which was in the developing list in the 1990’s but have since been taken out and accepted as advance economies.  Singapore is a case representative of clean-hit-comply to the “developed” pre-requisites and with proven sustenance mechanisms, is an exemplary case of transition to the coveted status.

Volte-face to my last discussion is inevitable, in order to elucidate the next aspect of “Emerging” phenomenon.  While some of the “emerged” economies did cushion the gloom and doom, the subsequent rehabilitation story has been slow. Overconfidence of toppling developed countries from the pedestal is turning into vulnerability propelled by political instability, scum-scams and erosion of low cost advantage to name some drastic few ailments in today’s economy.  A classic submerging story? Not exactly! It’s a failed case of an inflated expectation management. BRIC together holds $18 trillion GDP which is 30% of the world GDP. With an average GDP of more than $2 trillion for BRIC countries, even a growth rate from 5% to 9% is above-average, though its labelled “softening or cooling” from comparative expectations per se. Number crunchers scurry for a binary replacement of weakened developed economies and to top it all,  expect the transition to be spike-less.  Mood swings of the market add to the misery and in this economic chaos, a major silver lining is ignored. A more resilient world economy!  While Western economy are reeling, desperate shift to Asia have indeed managed to flatten the world to larger extent. Even when BRIC countries get comparatively slower, 3G countries (Global Growth Generators) like Indonesia, Turkey, Vietnam  are rising up to the occasion, thus adding to wider base of emerging economies.   So debilitated but recuperating Developed, Emerged and wider Emerging economies strike a constructive balance for a better world. A world which can recover, sustain and foster sustained growth.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Crowdsourcing – Social Bane or Boon?

Crowdsourcing is a process of outsourcing tasks to groups of people. It differentiates itself from its better known cousin, Outsourcing by getting the task done through undefined segments of society rather than employees of an organization. To an IT professional, any form of sourcing is a business proposition and even in this context it would be naive to think otherwise. The sarcasm is partially right though Crowdsourcing is more famous hitherto for being instrumental in national uprisings. The only obvious technology shade, this process imbibes is from social media. That being said, there are start-ups and smaller technology companies which have leveraged Crowdsourcing as part of business model. Rather for some, it is core business model. So the potential of this social tool is not oblivious to the technology and business community but it’s critical to construe its potential impact and govern its amorphousness.

Professor Jeff Howe coined the term “Crowdsourcing” in 2006. So does that make it a recent phenomenon and an internet revolution?  Let us rise above this fallacy as there are number of notable examples of projects in the past that utilized distributed people to help accomplish tasks. Let me substantiate it through a classic incident that occurred in 1906. It pertains to a country fair at which attendees were invited to guess the weight of a large ox. Cajoled by a cash prize, about 800 people made guesses, though no one got it right. Subsequently, a statistician analyzed the written guesses and discovered something shocking: the average of all the guesses was a mere one pound away from the exact weight of the ox. Bottom-line? Sometimes a crowd can be smarter than any one of its members, even when they're not actually working together. Wikipedia was the first real crowd sourced internet project that gained success in the contemporary world.

Along with Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe has also indicated other categories of Crowdsourcing:  Crowdvoting, Crowdfunding etc. There are various forms to empower groups of people to perform a task, but one of the most salient and common attribute of this social tool is Transparency-An unbiased approach to influence an acceptable outcome. Ironically, this attribute also represents the thin line betwixt Crowdsourcing being a social bane or boon.

While Crowdsourcing resulted in conducive social uprisings like Arab Spring, it’s also been haplessly exploited to create ethnic mayhem like the recent incident of terrorizing citizens from the north east provinces of India. Transparency fosters an environment of faith and trust which unfortunately can be influenced either ways.  That raises a justified alarm on its credibility and impact. So is there a way to steer this volatility into a tractable state?  Technology can play a critical role as a conduit and a catalyst to govern Crowdsourcing. While technology is no virgin itself, marred with hackers and viruses, the solace is that it can be regulated, comparatively.

Companies like Quirky and Local Motors are industrial design companies, which uses Crowdsourcing to decide on products to design and manufacture, one of the best examples of how technology wrapped crowdsourcing can harness innovation. Taking this a notch up are some countries that have successfully married technology with crowdsourcing for an even wider impact. Singapore has launched a collaborative master plan dubbed eGov2015 which aims to connect government agencies to its citizens using a variety of social media and crowdsourcing platforms. The ultimate goal is for Singapore to end up with “a Collaborative Government that Co-creates and Connects with People.” 

While technology, as mentioned above can cater to a positive and regulated impact of Crowdsourcing, the challenges pertaining to Confidentiality, IPR etc remains at large. But those are subset opportunities up for the grab. Business breeds business. So in a nutshell, a social process like Crowdsourcing with technology padding can produce a disruptive but governed business model!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Margin-alization: Known Devil!

Who doesn't like profitable company? After all it's the fundamental expectation from any business. There is no dispute on that rudimentary concept but debate is all about at what costs and where to draw the line. Corporates exist since eon so taking a dig on its functioning will be like sneering at blue sky. Information technology(IT) is comparatively a newer kid on the block and as my professional existence is through IT, I will confine my snivel and sarcasm to the industry I know the best.

Corporates do start as entrepreneurship at inception and gradually the amoebic but nimble initiative transforms to so called structured organization. Does it lose the nimbleness and essential people-focus once it embraces the structured, process-heavy and profit-centric corporate culture? Academically No. Arguably Yes. But the essence of my discussion is not to defy those umpteen institutions and consulting firms who earn their living by preaching the equation, Process -> Growth -> Profit. Rather to harp on one of most important stakeholder of an IT organization, it's employees. Situationally a hapless stakeholder who stares at the danger of being commoditized as a company grows.

More resources drives higher revenue. Some companies do pad themselves with inorganic acquisitions and non-linear growth alternatives. But it's never a serious alternative to linearity unless one is a IBM or HP who added service linearity to the existing non-linear business model. So going by the equation, for IT services company it's all about resources, resourcing and retention. Individual performances are valued and credited individually. Suppa!

But does this simple equation stands good once a company grows to a significant size? Believe me, it gets complex. Individual performances gets blurred with so called constructive comparatives and eventually employees are befitted into what I define as CCC: company comfort curve. A fair phenomenon to appraise employees to incentivize the best with most and penalize the lower comparatives with least. A best practice with a vital catch: Handsful of comparative 'best' will qualify for the 'most'. Voracious appetite for growth takes companies 'public'. Investment conscious, Return oriented and sentimentally vulnerable shareholders puts relentless pressure on companies to grow and get profitably stouter. It triggers a cost conscious tsunami across the organization gobbling employee satisfaction and annhilitating motivation. In the name of lean, organization is stripped to bones. CCC becomes an undaunted catalyst to implement a faux pas: Forced Attrition. Well, cutting off ones arm is the easiest way to reduce weight. Fallacy?

Can organizations avert employee vegetation at midst of juggernaut growth? Decidedly optimist, I refuse to concede its an imminent apocalypse. Success of a company shouldn't be cherished just at top management rather relished by each employee. As professor Nonaka elucidates, practical wisdom is key for leaders. Whether its "toku - Common good and moral excellence" in Japanese or "yukta - just right" in India, leaders should believe that business essence and even the profits, should be to serve people. So people shouldnt be just punctuations to growth, rather the benefactors. As Mr. Eiji Toyoda from Toyota aptly said, Doing the right things, when required, is a calling from on high. So a potential antidote to this organizational epidemic should advent from the highest levels of an organization. Apart from sketching obvious top and bottom lines, CEO and leaders have to own up People aspect as their major KPI's. Normally, the employee development is delegated till middle management and generally scapegoated to Human Resource team. Ideally, the ownership and accountability should go all the way to the top and interconnected. Engage, encourage and empower are three 'E's required to sustain employee-employer balance irrespective of latter's business dimension.

Engage: Every employee is relevant and contributes to company's success. It has to be sensitivised with every employee through regular communication channels. Communication fosters sense of involvement which inturn ensures engagement. An engaged employee is a loyal employee.

Encourage: Financial compensation might be the most coveted perk but thats not the only one. Recognition is also a key expectation attribute. Irrespective of the mode, recognition encourages one to excel. A motivated employee lays the stepstone of a successful company.

Empower: One of the most matured and powerful virtue in an organization. One who empowers and one empowered, both carry an incredible risk pertaining to trust and execution, respectively. Empowered employees fathom companies direction, envisions it and steers it to realization.

Every stakeholder and not just shareholders, is pertinent for an organization. Companies are answerable to employees as much as they are to shareholders. So an ecosystem which fosters mutual growth breeds success whereas marginalized approach prescribes recipe for disaster. Choice is obvious but chosen to be obfuscated.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Business and IT: Parallelism 

Alignment of business and IT or rather non-alignment is an aspect mauled to shreds. Some bluntly put it that alignment is non-existent and it's two parallel organization. While some credibly believes its matter of right attitude and few frameworks. I haven't come across a proven way to resolve the issue completely. Vendor community and customers have debated and institutionalized various alternatives, best practices and solutions intended to resolve it but with minor success.  

Donned multiple hats within my IT voyage, which invariably puts me in a self styled state to reflect perspectives to this debatable but fundamental aspect. Partial explanation lies in the very question of why IT and Business are parallel tracks. Two critical functions of the same company: business as revenue generator and IT as enabler, strategically can never be considered two different entities with parallel directions. Once this rudimentary concept is construed and digested, a possible base is laid. 

Now, how could one create oneness betwixt two entities without compromising on their function individualities. I would pin on three ways to give it a best shot to achieve the hitherto unachievable.

- With CIOs' common KPI's as technology innovation and cost optimization, aren't we seeding the disintegration at inception? Isn't CIO a business stakeholder? Revenue growth should be the main KPI thus making IT directly accountable for business growth. That brings the alignment naturally. Its simple as in simply complex. CEOs' and CFOs' have to keep an unparalleled view to ensure above discipline.

- Why does Business lament that IT has it's own agenda when the whole existence of IT is to ensure business survives and thrives? Paradoxical! Majority of the IT projects don't or have blurred business value corresponding to the change. So one cant blame business for reprimanding it as an IT agenda. Achieving an IT outcome is given rather the business case as the name implies should clearly articulate the business essence. Incorrigible? Nah! But requires constant dialogue betwixt IT and Business during the conceptualization and business case creation stage.  Collaborative thought process during the whole case creation cycle is the key to avoid conflict of interest and tangency at the final stage.

- Avoid been coyly defensive on so called "typical IT projects". Those jargons are practically Non-existent. Classic tag line of a disinterested business. Its a direct consequence of a fragile business case or a convenient mis-interpretation. Every change, irrespective of the size, complexity and ease, has a business impact directly or indirectly. One should know to put it in the right business context. Chutzpah!

So will above ensure the much coveted alignment? Depends on how objectively above subjective suggestions are implemented. In an innate IT parlance, its a framework, which can steer institutions towards the alignment.