Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Democratization of Technology

Democratization of Technology

Most of us think that work life earning may not be sufficient for old age, or say, will have meager valuation in the next 20-30 years. On top, People are concerned about losing their jobs due to technology-assault and super-speed automation.
How much of this will prove to be true? To find this, I conducted detailed research and published few papers. This blog is synopsis of all.

Fast Forward: year 2035 - 2040

Two factors will impact our earning capacity (rather negatively):
  1. Rapid automation & Artificial Intelligence
  2. Socio-economic imbalances across geographies

 Two factors that will reduce the cost of livelihood (positive effect):
  1. Democratization of Technology
  2. Government intervention - socialist economy
There shall be continued tussle between both sets of factors (above).

Automation and AI is no longer buzz word. Effects are visible across the board, will spread to every possible sector eventually. Despite best efforts by society champions (read politician), socio-economy divide will continue to hound masses. In anticipation, countries like Finland and Canada are running experiments to pilot the idea of "universal basic income" — the unconditional provision of a regular sum of money from the government to support basic living irrespective of employment status.

This blog is dedicated to the argument “Democratization of Technology” - which means, access to 'technology-endpoints' (products and services) will plummet  abruptly, rendering it almost FREE.

As a Business Leader, understanding of this trend and its implications is important. Because, this is connected to Customer buying behavior and how it will transition in the next 10, 20, 30 years.

Cnsumer Spending Pattern
A recent UAE government data* as well as IMF report* (July 2016) show similar patterns in household spend distribution. As expected, housing takes the lion share at 40%, 13% on Food & Beverage, 10% on Transportation, 6% on healthcare, and 5% on Entertainment. In other words, about 74% of UAE residents' expenditures go to housing, food, transportation, health and entertainment.

*Ref - http://www.dubaichamber.com/whats-happening/chamber_news/dubai-chamber-analysis-shows-uae-retail-sector-growing-5-each-year-through-2017
*Ref - https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2016/cr16251.pdf

Spending habits around the world tell a pretty consistent story — we tend to spend money on many of the same basic products and services. Based on IMF data from four large economies: USA, UK, China, and India, majority of expenditures are in these top 6 categories:
1.     Housing
2.     Food
3.     Transportation
4.     Healthcare
5.     Education
6.     Entertainment

Now, think... what if the cost all the above 6 items plummet with time. There is compelling case behind this hypothesis, which I shall come back after next 2 paragraphs.

Technology Democratization and Price Plunge

It is not the first time, this will happen. 
Example - Telecommunication:
IMF 2000 millennium data shows - on an average a typical household spent 7% of its income on communication. With the advent of WhatsApp, Skype, Hangout, Facetime etc. this is practically free for anyone carrying the most basic smartphone and internet connection. We democratized communication channels. Whether you are a billionaire or a poor on road, has same quality of communication service – FREE.
Ref: https://www.imf.org/external/country/ARE/

Example - Tuition / Education:
Google, Wiki, Stanford-web, MIT-web, Khan academy (and many similar) give 100% free access to top quality education content. 20 years back, quality education was luxury.  Today numerous free tutorials are available on information highway with the click of button. We democratized access to knowledge.

One can think of many similar examples – On the consumer front, examples are photography, publication, entertainment, job market etc. that were accessible only to rich before, is nearly free now. On the business front, there are players who have democratized the once monopolistic nature of businesses – AirBnb x Hotel industry, Uber x Taxi.

In fact, as we speak… we are actually using more a million dollar stuff Free. We have taken them for granted. 

This is How –
See chart below. Most of us would have purchased these products and services some point in time. Those in 40s and 50s can relate better. Combined cost is nearing 1 million USD. Today every one of us are using same product and services – almost Free. So strange, in todays’ world we do not value these at all. Our expectations have changed, rightly so because in a democratic paradigm things are taken for granted.

Ref – Data from https://singularityhub.com/

I. Housing

Think about what drives high housing costs. Why does a single-family apartment in downtown cost $10 million, while the same square footage on the outskirts of city can be purchased for $100,000?

Location. Location. Location. People flock to high-density, desired areas near the jobs and the entertainment. This market demand drives up the price.
Housing sector will democratize for two reasons: The first reason is because of two key technologies which make the proximity of our home to our job irrelevant, meaning one can live anywhere (specifically, where the real estate is cheap):
(a) Autonomous Cars: If your commute time can become time to read, relax, sleep, watch a movie, have a meeting — does it matter if your commute is 60 minutes?
(b) Virtual Reality: What happens when your workplace is actually a virtual office where your co-workers are avatars? When you no longer need to commute at all. You wake up, plug into your virtual workspace, and telecommute from the farm or from the island of Azure.

The second technology drivers are robotics and 3D printing, which will democreatize the cost of building structures.
3D printing has slowly gone from a curious novelty to a totally viable option for creating all kinds of useful things, from chocolate to athletic shoes, and now MIT has invented a way to use the technology to print buildings, too. Given that most 3D printing takes place inside a sealed box, it might be a bit hard to imagine exactly how a structure could be built in such a way, but as you’ll see it can most definitely be done. (MIT printer picture below).

A number of players in the market are now exploring how 3D printed structures and buildings can dramatically reduce the cost of construction and the amount of time it takes to build a building.

WinSun in China was first to 3D print an entire building, the building was non-functional though. Recently Dubai launched world's first fully functional 3D-printed building (see picture below).

II. Food

FPO and USDA data suggest that the cost of food cooked at home has dropped by 55%. (Cost of food in restaurant has however increased for obvious reasons).

Additional gains will be made as we learn to efficiently produce foods locally through vertical farming (note that 70% of food's final retail price comes from transportation, storage and handling).
Also, as we make genetic and biological advances, we will learn how to increase yield per square meter.
III. Transportation

The automotive market (a trillion dollars) is being democratized by startups like Uber. But this is just the beginning. When Uber rolls out fully autonomous services, your cost of transportation will plummet.
Think about all of the related costs that disappear: auto insurance, auto repairs, parking, fuel, parking tickets. Your overall cost of "getting around" will be 5 to 10 times cheaper when compared to owning a car.

This is the future of "movator as a service."
Ultimately, the poorest people on Earth will be chauffeured around !

IV. Healthcare

Healthcare can be roughly split into four major categories: (i) diagnostics, (ii) intervention/surgery, (iii) chronic care, and (iv) medicines.
(i) Diagnostics: AI has already demonstrated the ability to diagnose cancer patients better than the best doctors, image and diagnose pathology, look at genomics data and draw conclusions, and/or sort through gigabytes of phenotypic data… all for the cost of electricity.
(ii) Intervention/Surgery: In the near future, the best surgeons in the world will be robots, and they'll be able to move with precision and image a surgical field in high magnification. Each robotic surgeon can call upon the data from millions of previous robotic surgeries, outperforming the most experienced human counterpart. Again, with the cost asymptotically approaching zero.
(iii) Chronic/Eldercare: Taking care of the aging and the chronically ill will again be done most efficiently through robots.
(iv) Medicines: Medicines will be discovered and manufactured more efficiently by AIs and, perhaps in the near future, be compounded at home with the aid of a 3D printing machine that assembles your perfect medicines based on the needs and blood chemistries in that very moment.
It's also worth noting the price of genomics sequencing is plummeting (as you'll see below, at five times the rate of Moore's Law). Accurate sequencing should allow us to predict which diseases you're likely to develop and which drugs are of highest use to treat you.

V. Education

Education has already been democratized in many respects, as most of the information you'd learn in school is available online for free.
Coursera, Khan Academy, and schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford have thousands of hours of high-quality instruction online, available to anyone on the planet with an Internet connection.
But this is just the beginning. Soon the best professors in the world will be AIs able to know the exact abilities, needs, desires and knowledge of a student and teach them exactly what they need in the best fashion at the perfect rate.
Accordingly, the child of a billionaire or the child of a pauper will have access to the same (best) education delivered by such an AI, effectively for free.

VI. Entertainment

Entertainment (video and gaming) historically required significant purchases of equipment and services.
Today, with the advent of music streaming services, YouTube, Netflix and the iPhone App Store, we're seeing an explosion of available selections at the same time that the universe of options rapidly demonetizes.
YouTube has over a billion users — almost one-third of all people on the Internet — and every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What is FULL-STACK and Who is a Full-Stack Developer ?

While giving a classroom lecture recently, a student asked me the question, What is Full-Stack and how can she become a Full-Stack Developer. 

Arguably, this was not the first time someone asked this question… similar queries are taking rounds  already in minds of thousands of aspiring developers.  Well... I thought this is time I should put my 2 cents.

Normally people answer – A Full-Stack developer knows all stacks of technology. But when confronted with deeper questions like what is the definition of Stack in today's world? Who can be a potential full-stack developer? or what can one do to become a full-stack developer ? we are lost in complexity.

To explain this, let us first understand - What is the expected output from a Full-stack Developer ?

Historically, the term “full-stack” is associated with those developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies. This does not stand true anymore. A person with the knowledge of Databases, PHP, Javascript, HTML, CSS and surrounding technologies to make a website work should not be designated as Full-Stack worthy.
The idea of a “full-stack developer” isn’t about being fluent in every possible technology there is; because, specialization exists for a reason. It’s more about having an understanding in each of the stacks, to communicate intelligently among team members and come up with a working prototype quickly.
A typical stack is below (source: google image)

Full Stack Developer NOW vs 13 years (2004) ago
I have picked 2004 for a reason, because it was then when my class-mate and dear friend Sundar Pichai <Google CEO> first time unearthed the fact (at least first time for me) that End User Interface/experience design is the key to any software development, a good developer should start his/her work from there, then backwards all the way to data and process flow.
12-13 years is a very long time in technology space. 2 major event occurred in those years (2004/5):  in 2004 PHP 5.0 was released, and 2005 Javascript embraced ECMA-357. This changed almost everything.
Back then, a good web developer knew a pieces of Javascript, HTML, CSS and some procedural PHP. Some also knew Linux. In came PHP 5.0 that gave us OOP support properly, which eventually allowed developers fulfill Sundar’s prophecy. The LAMP (Linux – Apache – MySQL – Perl/PHP) stack was all the rage in those years, with little or no alternative. In the early 21st century if somebody used version control they were considered either technological heretics or wizards. Today it’s unheard of and laughed at, if not using one.
Today, we are staring at 2018 and beyond. To me, a Full-Stack Developer is -  
  • good in at least one technology at every stack
  • should have awareness of capabilities of peer technologies, and how to use them
  • comfortable in picking/learning any peer technology, when need arises

So, let’s try to break down and categorize the technology stacks that I think are required from a full-stack developer today:
  1. Customer centric Web Design
  2. Technology for Customer Devices
  3. Tools to develop Web pages, Flows
  4. Technology to keep and serve Assets and Data
  5. All the nut-bolts - System Administration

1. Customer centric Web Design
The business aspirations of future tells me that, this is the most important area. This area continue to expand, eventually blurring the distance between a Computing and Human interfaces due to rapid automation. 

This will continue to become complex as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) evolves. Technologies include:

  • HCI (Human Computer Interaction)
  • Converting website design into front-end code
  • UI 
  • UX
  • Map
2. Technology for Customer Devices

Here comes the fun part. Fun, becuase this is the entry point for majority of Web developers today. Many learn these during college days... at least a part of it. 
Needless to add... this stack is the backbone of Web site presentment. Here, the developer converts business logic to its visual representation. If you want to produce an enterprise class website, you’d better know these and all their annoyances.

In addition to front-end technologies, a full-stack developer also understands what is possible and what not to create with the constraints of HTML / CSS / Javascript and design accordingly.
JavaScript was sneered in the early days. I personally learnt Javascript afyer mastering Java/J2EE,  but very soon realized that I can only do so much on the html page. Many had same feeling those days.. But Today, as we know, Javascript has grown into one of the most popular and powerful languages. New methodologies and frameworks are popping up each month - Bootstrap, MVC, MVP, MVVM, MVP, Express, Angular, Knockout, Meteor, React, Ember, etc. you name it. This stack inclde these technologies:
  • Semantic Web: HTML 
  • iOS, Android
  • Hybrid: PhoneGap, Appcelerator
  • CSS / CSS3: LESS, SASS, Media Queries
  • Responsive design
  • JavaScript: jQuery, AngularJS, Knockout, etc.
  • Mobile devices and Browser compatibility
  • AJAX, JSON, XML, WebSocket

Alongside HTML, CSS, Javascript, a full-stack developer should also know about responsive design and how to work with media queries and CSS pre-processors like LESS, SASS. It is good to know how to communicate with the back-end via AJAX or WebSockets.
3. Tools to develop Web pages, Flows

Today, I will never hire a developer who does not use a version control, even if s/he is a solo developer.
With virtualization tools, having separated development environments on a per project basis is kind of mandatory. They are easy to set up with VirtualBox and Vagrant the least. However, With Vagrant you also need to know the basic syntax of Ruby and shell scripts as well.
(I shall write a separate blog just to cover the virtualization topic. There appears to be lots of parallel definitions going on - probably all correct in their context)
The barrier of entering the web development industry as a web developer remains low, but  getting increasingly complex. Complexity grows, for example if you want to set up Vagrant , then you need to know Ruby’s syntax, as simplified as it is or if you want to manipulate DOM elements, jQuery is a good to know technology.
The dynamic nature of the whole industry makes requirements shift often to the most popular and “next best thing” tools and programming languages.

  • Version control: Git, SVN, Mercurial
  • Troubleshooting techniques
  • Virtualization: VirtualBox, Docker, Vagrant

4. Technology to Keep and Serve Assets and Data
Apache and Nginx are basic norms. A full-stack developer should know how to set up these applications and serve the contents of his/her website.

NodeJS or PHP or Ruby (or similar) is what needs to be mastered on a high level.

In addition to web server and programming languages, database management is also a requirement for a full-stack developer which in itself is another beast. This is the place where scalability and performance plays vital role.

Relational (such as MySQL, PostgreSQL) vs non-relational databases (like MongoDB, Redis or Cassandra) are differences the full-stack developer needs to know, along with knowing the syntax of XML / JSON. Technologies:
  • Programming language: PHP, NodeJS, Ruby. <This list is very long here>
  • Web servers: Apache, Nginx
  • Database: MongoDB, Cassandra, MySQL, Redis, SQL-JSON

5. All the nut-bolts - System Administration

Most of the Internet is powered by Linux; it’s a de-facto operating system for web development. A full-stack developer is ecpected to know how cloud hosting works. e.g. Amazon,  GC, Rackspace or other providers and its APIs.

Search is an integral part of most websites – a developer should know how to set up and use search servers such as Sphinx or Elasticsearch. This part is relatively easy

Caching is also very important, Varnish, reverse proxy, Memcached and opcode caching. Technologies:

  • Linux and basic shell scripting
  • Cloud computing: Amazon, Google Cloud, Rackspace, etc.
  • Caching: Varnish, APC / OpCache, Memcached
  • Background processing: Gearman, RabbitMQ, Redis, ØMQ 
  • Search: Solr, Elasticsearch, Sphinx
  • Monitoring: Nagios
  • Security: SAML 2.0+, Certificates

Whooshhh... so much to learn… one can ask… Is it worth becoming a full-stack developer ?
I may have gone overboard while mentioning technologies within a stack, but believe me sooner or later you would want to know, if you want your website to be world-class, scalable and secure.
These herd of people are rare breed and hence in great demand. They will continue to be in super demand because for every decent size web project, I would want to be at least one Full-Stack Developer in the team. The person need not necessarily be the team-lead, because managing or leading a team is a different kind of skill.
Some good news though; with many of the mentioned technologies a developer can get away with not knowing to code or use, such as Ruby or specific JavaScript libraries, but s/he must know their capabilities. 

What about Full Stack 'Architect' ?
One can quickly suggest that if someone knows so much… s/he must be an Architect... not merely a developer.

In my view… There is at least one major skill that differentiate Full-Stack Developer and Full-Stack Architect… that is - Business acumen, cost consciousness, time criticality. A well-developed beautiful web site is termed failure if it cannot attract target customers, cannot generate revenue. I shall write a separate blog just to differentiate between two.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cloud has Stolen the Thunder finally - Has it? : Part-3

CLOUD has Stolen the Thunder finally -  Has it? (Part-3)

Part-1 here
Part-2 here

We shall now check our 2nd point, i.e. Is it that this time marketing crescendo is unprecedented, after all this word ‘cloud’ is  more pleasing in lexicon per se.  

If we look back in the history of computing, one can easily deduce that the concept of cloud is not new. Even during 50's and 60's when first mainframe was erected, scientists looked into the possibility of "Access to centralized resources, data and services". The idea could not reach mainstream due to two major obstacles:

  1. Incompatibility with other systems (in techy term we call it Interoperability issues)
  2. Lack of distribution mechanism 

90's and 21st century witnessed two major innovations - Parallel computing (i.e. sharing) and Internet. Together they were able to break the barrier; it allowed this concept of sharing to spread all the way to end users. 

About the metaphor CLOUD. The history of technology is always like this. First, a concept gets formulated. With time, newer innovations join the fray, helping the original concept to evolve. Eventually someone sees that this concept can be packaged as a product and be sold. 

The 'product' must have a Name, Life-cycle, Economic value, perceived Benefit and most importantly the product must find a User. 
In this context, I do not know who first coined the word 'Cloud'. To the best of my knowledge Gartner gave major push to Cloud and helped in spreading the benefit of this product (still doing). Whether a product will be successful or not, can be checked by measuring the difference between 'Perceived benefit' and the 'Economic value'. Higher the difference, greater are the chances of failure of this product. Marketing push has major role in creating the difference.  

In this part of the blog I raised the issue of marketing (the Cloud). Marketing is about raising the value of 'perceived benefit'. On the other hand, till date we are not fully sure of right 'economic value' of Cloud. 
In my view ROI (and TCO) will vary widely depending on the type of end user we are talking about. Therefore I am neutral to the second argument. I shall prefer to follow wait and watch rule in this case.

We shall look into our 3rd argument, battered world economy in the next blog.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cloud has Stolen the Thunder finally - Has it? : Part-2

CLOUD has Stolen the Thunder finally -  Has it? (Part-2)

We stated, IT Cloud is a subject of discussion at the top-most echelons of budget approval pyramid process. We touched on 4 dimensions to understand the reason behind it.

  1. Business executives have become tech savvy? Have they finally reached a level where they could understand technicalities and resulting value behind it?  or, 
  2. Is it that this time marketing crescendo is unprecedented, after all this word ‘cloud’ is  more pleasing in lexicon per se. or, 
  3. Is it because battered world economy has forced Executives to think beyond conventional areas? Or, 
  4. Is it simply because, this time ICT sector has fashioned something to roar about. 

Let us analyze the first dimension i.e. growing tech savvy-ness of business executive class.
To do this, Firstly I tried to find the authentic list of current CxOs of developed countries, emerging and underdeveloped countries. 
  • I met with success in getting the list for developed countries. It is widely available for US, Canada, Australia and most European countries: Central bank sites, Stock exchanges, Forbes lists, Fortune, Business mags, CEOexpress and archival record from libraries. 
  • Among emerging market: I could easily get the list for India and Middle-East (because I work here currently). I had great difficulty in finding any such lists for China <could muster certain data but incomplete. For this I must thank to my friends and old colleagues>. Russia/Brazil <probably it is there but I think page language was major hindrance>. SouthAfrica (frankly, did not try hard). 
  • Did not venture in to underdeveloped countries for lack of time and resources
Profiles accumulated churns vast amount of data. I had tough time assimilating them and running hundreds of  macros on spreadsheet. Unfortunately at my home I do not have the luxury of any 'intelligence tool' to this work for me. I realized that even after getting equipped with an efficient tool, it can take many years for someone to  arrive at any precise conclusion. In my case though, I just wanted to get the trends of a very small subset of data... which I think was possible, because it is more about sampling, modeling, running analytics and generating extrapolation.

To complete my analysis, I divided CxOs in two distinct categories: a) Chiefs/Heads of a unit closely related to technology, channels, eBusiness or engagements where HoD spends more than 50% of her/his time on technology management. b) rest of the bunch. The ratio of a and b in my sampling is approx 15 to 85. 
Next the data was further distilled based on their last 10 year experience and type of companies/entities they led.

There were other interesting analysis though... e.g. throughout 2000-2004 and 2004-2008 average age of CxOs was decreasing YoY. Beyond 2009 average age started rising again. Another interesting trend observed is the duration of CxO tenure which was rising during 2000-8; but dropped sharply thereafter.
Also, there were diametric opposite trends of big enterprise CxOs when compared to CxOs of smaller, younger, entrepreneurial companies. A separate book can be written about interesting and fascinating trends gathered while analyzing just the professional profiles of CxOs.

Coming back to the subject of understanding whether current generation CxOs are technology friendly enough? 
Secondly, I used data from my own first hand experience; gathered while talking to executives in conferences, meetings or social gatherings. To summarize my understanding of the situation, I am putting forward a real scenario which I experienced recently while conversing to a group over cocktail drinks. The group consisted - One banker, one from PR/media, one head of finance working with a logistics company, one was HR manager in an oil company and myself (sole IT person). At one point during our normal chit chat, the banker reached to her Blackberry, looked at it and immediately cursed as why the SMS reached to her so late. She apparently used her card at least 6 hours beforehand. 

Quickly our conversation drifted on the subject as why the message received by her was not very informative and what extra information we think must be part of this SMS message sent to her. 
It further drifted where they phrased terms like data availability, real time data, data warehouse, Business Intelligence, bandwidth, protocols, central source of customer data etc etc.

I tried to put my bit by cautioning the possible bottlenecks in the whole process of data gathering before it is formulated and sent to telecom carriers. To me this whole discussion was very occupying and amusing as well, especially when the lady annoyingly exclaimed that she will ensure that this issue is fixed before she uses her card next time. The lady <actually Head of corporate marketing/RM - in an MNC Bank> perceived this as an issue, may not be an issue for others. 

Any way, from the flow of the discussion it appeared to me that now-a-days execs are able to pick and stick techie jargons much more rationally and efficiently than ever before. They are certainly able to connect their 'own experience' with 'end-user experience' using technology bandwagon. I take this a definite sign of them reaching out to technology. This, in my view is departure from the past when it was IT, who is used to knocking doors of business executives... now-a-days, it seems business execs are knocking windows of technology managers and sticking their necks inside. 

Besides, there is another angle to it. Such situation automatically creates extra pressure on the service level required from IT department. Cutting it short... in effect stakeholders will inadvertently press for  higher level of service and shorter time to market. There is now closer scrutiny. CIOs can no more run IT as a shop where something goes in, something else comes out; in terms of product/service or tangible/intangible.  (this para deserves a separate blog topic)

As the old age typical saying... <this one is from the CEO of my previous organization> "I do not need to understand as  Where and How the particular Technology can do something for me? Instead, I just need to know Whether and What it can do for me."... does not fly anymore. I think the time has come that executives need to understand and accept growing pervasive nature of technology to end-users and to themselves as well. Possibly CxOs have already understood this. Most of them already have complete understanding of end-user experience, very often delivered to their target users/customers directly in paper-less and touch-less mode
It was not possible without them venturing out in the How element of the technology. 

In summary, it is quite obvious that CxOs of this age are much more closer to technology than we think they are. Their exploration of "How Technology Can do it" has changed a lot. 

Nevertheless, based on above TWO arguments..... do they justify the reason behind "Cloud in Boardrooms" ?  
In my view, the answer is half-yes. The proposition that Business Executives are becoming more tech savvy is not sufficient. Yet, this phenomenon is very important. This trend has given a launching pad to business executives, using which they are now able to reach out to Technology very easily. 

We shall move to item number 2, marketing crescendo in the next blog.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


CLOUD-onomics - Benefits calculation in terms of ROI when embracing "Cloud services & infrastructure" will continue be highly speculative. Arriving at the 'Economic value' is even more difficult. It depends on numerous factors... starting from the Organizational parameters <culture, size, compliance, security and risk appetite etc. etc> to the Hardware, Software, Design, Vendor, etc chosen as part of the solution. In certain cases it can be even negative.

Complete text here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cloud has Stolen the Thunder finally - Has it?

CLOUD has Stolen the Thunder finally -  Has it?

Part-1                                                                                                          www.SanjeetKumar.com 

          Over the last 20-30 years, enterprises have spent vast sums of capital to setup IT empires.  Inside story of these IT domain is always the same. 

You will find bright meeting rooms and fancy cubicles swamped with worthy geeks, analysts and project managers. Then there are Data centers and Storage rooms where invariably one can find sophisticated machines which you are forced to change every 3 to 5 years; rarely any equipment ages beyond 7 years… thanks to the combined efforts of vendors, sales personnel and hardware syndicates. Blame it to constant innovations and incompatibilities. 

21st century saw waves of convergence, distributed computing, SOA, open source, mobile applications etc. Technology ecosystem of IT shops were indeed impacted. Still, they didn't have all the punch, that is necessary to change the Business landscape. It certainly missed mentions in any CxO briefings and places where real decisions are made.

Now, the new thunder – CLOUD. Some call it Cloud computing; others differentiate in terms of private, public and hybrid cloud. More mature and respected ones have explained it using meaningful acronyms SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.

Unlike previous waves, this time however, surprisingly the word “IT Cloud” has finally stolen the thunder. It is being touched-on in Executive briefings and in some cases even in Board meetings! If nothing else, year 2012 should be remembered simply for this reason. IT has breached a barrier quietly… no one took notice of it! Never ever any IT paradigm could make way to Board rooms before.

Is it because?
  1. Business executives have become tech savvy? Have they finally reached a level where they could understand technicalities and resulting value behind it?  or, 
  2. Is it that this time marketing crescendo is unprecedented, after all this word ‘cloud’ is  more pleasing in lexicon per se. or, 
  3. Is it because battered world economy has forced Executives to think beyond conventional areas? Or, 
  4. Is it simply because this time, ICT sector has fashioned something to roar about. 

Which one is the right answer? Let us Analyze....... to be continued in Part-2

***** End of Part-1*****

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A white paper on IT Process Optimization
(Emphasis is on Change management)

 From -  Sanjeet Kumar                   www.SanjeetKumar.com                                    14th March 2012


An organization cannot accelerate its results without an IT function that is aligned with a coherent strategy, and optimized to perform at its highest potential. In a stable economic environment, it has been statistically established that within IT:
  1. 45% of the resources are wasted on non-productive work
  2. 90% of staff do not understand their own goal, as well as business goals
  3. 75% of CxOs do recognize the failure of their IT processes, but fail to streamline it; due to obstacles they face in getting support from stakeholders.

Closing the Execution Gap

Above statistics reveal, there’s an obvious disconnect between Investment and Performance. Between crafting the strategy and showing results. It can be labeled as the ‘execution gap’. Reasons vary one organization to another. But whatever the reason; at its base lie issues relating to the process of execution: getting the right workforce and processes to use its full potential, and to focus that potential is in the right direction.

We are transgressing ‘eras’; Economy crisis around the world has battered Banks to the extent that it is no more the question of who makes profit and how much… Rather, the question of Bank’s survival itself is in question. 

Evolution of IT as Utility, not merely a Service provider

Nowadays application environments are faster and more incremental. Nice interfaces and colorful screens are absolute. Today, if asked to Business to choose single word they hate most, would like to avoid at any cost. Invariably majority will pick the word… disruption. Disruption in banking services is big NO.
There are broader underlying requirements from the business, something they do not articulate…i.e.  Not merely the ‘continuity of service’; 2nd and 3rd criteria below as well:
  1. Continuity of service
  2. Continuity of business processes
  3. Continuity of interaction

Our aim should be to design internal Processes (development, support, operation) and SLAs in such a way that ensures continuity. It will be the “first step” towards the healthy alignment of “Business and IT”. This however, can potentially result in major transformation in the way IT executes its development and operations.

In today’s world; fraught with financial crisis, hard pressed to optimize funding… noise level to search for efficiency has grown to its highest level.  Innovative transformation of internal IT processes is inevitable. It was long due.
This is actually a boon in disguise; it is an opportunity to clean up fat and align IT with Business in completely novel way. Business Process Management (BPM) will be vital in formulating strategy and planning & achieving desired results. More than half of the World’s top tier Banks have already completed BPM exercise.

It is my strong view that future of IT workforce will reduce (is already becoming) to just 3 generic roles/skills:
a)  Consultants: Must be a combination of Internal (permanent staff) or External (on contract for limited duration). Individual who fall into this category are: CxOs, Architects, IT Unit heads <of IT support, development, Infrastructure> and Business heads who interact with IT. Essential skillset for this category:
a.       Understanding of Business
b.      Strategic thinking
c.       Knowledge of Architecture
d.      Leadership
      b)  Project Managers: The definition has changed. They will be actually a Delivery Manager. Their skill-set should include following four:
a.       Able to ensure delivery dates
b.    Able to understand Business language and convert it to developers’ language. The role of Business Analysts will merge with PM.
c.       Able to ensure that ‘delivery’ matches Service and Quality expectations of stakeholders
d.      Tactical in approach
    c)  Developers: They are ‘doers’ who carry limited programming skills in one or more areas. They sit in front of screens to provide (or develop) all the information required to run business. Majority will sweat behind LCD screens configuring applications, running automated software and generating reports.

Unfortunately, our old age method of charting hierarchy to IT workforce in an organization has created confusion and invisible barriers. Demand for off-the-shelf services growing louder and louder. Unintentionally, the Business is expecting its IT department to provide services similar to that of utility.

Transforming Development Process

Strategic vision for IT Execution should be about moving beyond automating workflows; to actually aligning, optimizing, and accelerating workforce productivity in a way that drives measurable business results. The role of ‘automation and monitoring software’ should increase.

How can we in the organization start improving IT execution? The first step is to recognize that IT execution is a shared responsibility… no one group can do it itself. Rather, IT execution requires involvement and collaboration from individual business heads, CIO, CTO, Finance and HR. Business leaders need to articulate both an overall strategic vision and the key performance indicators and metrics linked to realizing their vision.

Remember… It is the The General who ensures that the Battle is won, not thousands of Soldiers.

************* End of Part1 ******************