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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.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Socialytics, lexically is still a typo, but has already engraved its potent in contemporary business preamble with a thick brush.
Socialytics or Social analytics is portrayed as one of the leading tech trends in the coming years. Though at nascent stage, has created enough hysteria especially with social media at the helm of technology revolution. With social platform been embraced at a rapid speed, conventional structured data churn'n'mine is suddenly inadequate to discern the buying pattern and to eventually contrive an apt sell-strategy. In the current social world when one prefers to tweet name of the new pet and post holiday experiences on Facebook walls, conventional analysis is far from enough to construe customers' pattern. So is Socialytics all about making sense with "dispersed information"? Well, what if we know what a customer wants before asking? In simple words, along with conventional Business analytics, Social analytics could increase the predictability resulting in quicker decisions and better customer engagement. While I will stay away from admonishing any Social analytics tools at this stage, would rather harp on this explosive trend which will redefine the complete customer engagement dynamics.