Sunday, February 19, 2017

Time: A Poem Written in Prose

There's a time in your life when you are poised on the precipice of eternity. When you have come as far as you have to go.

There is a time when everything seems all right yet all seems so wrong. When you think it doesn't matter as well as it matters the most. There is a time when you waft along effortlessly, balanced between compulsion and free will. When the people around you smile and frown at the same time.

What do you call such times?

There is a time when the light from the Sun seems neither too harsh nor too gentle but just about right to soak up its warmth. A time when you forgive yourself before you set out to forgive others. When you don't hold anything against anyone.

There's a time when you do not want to go too slow or too fast but just walk on without any thoughts of time, space or greed for speed. There is a taste in your mouth some call bittersweet, but which can perhaps better be described as divine. For it's a taste not only on your tongue; it is felt also on your skin and in your ears and perceived in your gaze and percolated right into the core of your being...That's when you know you have arrived somewhere you always wanted to be, where you know you always should have been living.

That time, that place, that wonderful moment can only be described in one word. And that single powerful word, my dear friend, is what gives the utmost meaning to our life: Now.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Still Running after New Year Pledges? Take a Pause...

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I know you have been running for quite some time. Not literally, not on two feet maybe. But your mind has been scattered all over the place - running, brisk-walking, trying to fly even, in the face of a relentless onslaught of thoughts, cares, worries, tasks and what not.

Some of you would have made resolutions for the new year, which is already upon us but still new (I think). Some, not many, as the trend I’ve noticed is of giving up on resolutions in the first place: “Why make them if you have to break them!” goes the rationale.

Among those who did, what would the resolutions be about? It is not uncommon to pledge to reduce weight, do exercising, quit smoking (or fuming, if it’s fuming you are addicted to), save up for that dream trip, learn something new, etc., etc.

While all these pledges are important and bring us joy (if completed, of course), let me offer you another promise to make yourself this time. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

It’s nothing complicated. Just a simple word: Pause. P, A, U, S, E, pause. And the promise you can make yourself can be put something like this: “I’ll give myself enough pauses in the year ahead.”

Now, why pause and what kind of a pause?

We are living in an age when almost everything is occurring at an accelerated pace. After dividing the day into 24 hours, we seem to be racing to stuff all 1440 minutes of it with productivity, trying to multiply our fortunes with material wealth, luxuries and conveniences. It's a 24x7, global world, we proudly proclaim, barely catching our breath.

In this fast-moving, racing world, people, especially in the mega cities, are mostly on their physical and mental toes. They are commuting long commutes, running errands or walking erroneously; they are rushing to complete PPTs, attend meetings and meet attendees at events; they pound their keyboards furiously in the hope of spitting out code to lick the competition for that time-to-market edge; and they must party harder to justify all that hard work in double quick time!

We are caught in a never-ending hangover of a time-tortured existence. And as if pencilled notes, stick-ons and diaries were not enough, we now have a digital pile of smartphone alerts to keep us on the tenterhooks.

We have barely learned to put our phones in silent mode when constantly reminded of...the so...on certain...occasions. But when shall we learn to put our minds in silent, or pause, mode?

A semblance of pause in our hurried lives began in pop culture with what is called the “slow movement,” which itself expanded from Slow Food, an organization founded in Italy in 1986 by one Carlo Petrini as an alternative to fast food (heard of McDonald’s, have you?) This cultural shift toward slowing down life is catching on and, according to Wikipedia, we now have slow cities, slow ageing, slow cinema and slow church. There’s even an attempt to brand and institutionalize slowness through The World Institute of Slowness!

But the pauses I’m talking about is about you, your pace and your life rather than about a fad, a brand or about joining something just because it is de rigueur to do so.

For one, no one other than you can define the types, quantities and qualities of the pauses that best suit you.

For instance:

- You may want to take a pause by way of a coffee break (nothing new I know but still).

- You may want to pause by correcting your posture in which you are working, perhaps tilting your head backward or straightening your spine or simply getting your bearing for a while before resuming.

- For longer pauses, you may go on a road trip or, like they say now, enjoy a staycation.

- Still longer pauses can be taken through longer, well-planned trips (difficult for many for want of money or ample leave balance).

- You may try one of my favorite pauses, which is to close the eyes for a couple of minutes (cupping them with the hands helps) and savor the relief that comes from switching from a glaring screen (if you work on a computer) to the blankness of black. You can always enhance it with some deep breathing.

Whichever pauses you choose, they should be appropriately timed with the right space between two pauses: too many will interfere with your work and too few wouldn’t bring you sufficient respite.

And while you take these reprieves, it wouldn’t be out of place to take a moment to reflect back on your larger purpose, your bigger goals--as well as the impact of your own journey on those around you.

When you look back on these pauses, you may realize that some of them indeed made the journey worthwhile. You may also discover, and appreciate, that silence often shapes you as a person just as activity does.

In our environmentally degrading world, there aren’t too many roses left, but no harm stopping and smelling them once in a while when we can (or planting some if we fail to find any).

May the New Year punctuate your days ahead with many many becalming, fragrant and refreshing pauses!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Telcos Undergoing Transformative Changes Due to Surging Data Demand

On 2 September 2009, The New York Times published an article headlined ‘Customers Angered as iPhones Overload AT&T’.
Calling the new iPhone 3GS a “data guzzler”, it went on to describe how the device choked up bandwidth on the telecom operator’s network, resulting in “dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds”.
This is just one among several such instances of how telcos worldwide have been struggling to keep up with the burgeoning demand for data services. And much as they are trying, the demand surges keep happening in one or other part of the world (India being an apt case in point at the moment).
Telcos are fighting this battle on two counts. On the one hand, they have been upgrading their mobile networks from 2G to 2.5G to 3G to 4G. And, on the other, they have been deploying various information technology (IT) tools to operate more efficiently, reduce customer churn (customers migrating to other telcos) and to serve customers better.
The woes of telcos are not difficult to discern. From providing plain old voice telephone services up until the 1980s, operators now have to also provide text messaging, multimedia messaging, video on demand, gaming, music and several other value-added services on a mind-boggling variety of handsets.
In fact, the demand for data services is far outstripping that for voice services and causing major structural changes to the business models of telcos.
According to a report by Cisco Systems Inc., mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53% between 2015 and 2020, crossing 30 exabytes per month by 2020 (1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes or GB as it is popularly known. It is said that 5 exabytes of storage space will be taken up by all the words ever spoken by mankind).
One of the key factors in that data growth is the global popularity of smartphones to access the Internet, watch videos, consume news and other content, connect on social media or even plug into work-related applications such as email, analytics tools and customer relations software.
While much of the investments telcos are making goes into acquiring spectrum and upgrading their existing 2/2.5G networks to 3G and 4G, they are also investing significant amounts in their back-end systems that help them run those networks, including network-monitoring tools, billing software, customer experience management (CEM) solutions, etc. According to estimates by Analysys Mason, a research firm, CSPs will spend over $100 billion per year on software and related services by 2020.
In this context, India is one of the emerging market hotbeds where intense competition is playing out in the telecom market, especially for the relatively more lucrative and faster growing data segment. The latest salvo was fired in September by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the latest entrant in the country’s crowded mobile communication space. The company claims to have signed up 16 million subscribers in the very first month of the launch, touted to be the fastest such milestone anywhere in the world.
Among other things, one of the biggest competitive edges Jio has, as far as technology is concerned, is that its network is fully based on Internet protocol (IP), the same one using which all computing devices—from tiny smartphones to large web servers in data centres—connect to the Internet. Having an all-IP network allows a telco to use the same underlying infrastructure for voice as well as data and be more agile in terms of market offerings—which is why even voice can be considered just another app on Jio’s network.
Other telcos, in contrast, have a mix of IP networks and the traditional circuit-switched networks in the circles they operate in (India is divided into 22 telecom circles or geographically segregated service areas). From the vantage point of an all-IP telco, their operations would be more complicated and clunky.
That is not to say that telcos with a mixed network set-up are going to scrap their past investments in 2G and 3G technologies: instead, they will compete by optimising their multiple networks and invest in IT tools that allow them to be more efficient and agile.
According to Ekow Nelson, region head, IT and cloud, Ericsson India Pvt. Ltd, “Some of the telcos are looking for a radical transformation of their business in order to look like a digital enterprise. This is a complete transformation of their relationship with their suppliers and customers. Others are looking towards more incremental changes. There is a whole range of different approaches that the operators have and, of course, some of it is driven by where they see themselves (in the foreseeable future).”
“Part of the transformation comes from understanding that this is really about changing the way you approach and interact with your customers and changing the way you organize yourself,” says Nelson, referring to the digital transformation challenges for IT decision-makers at telecom operators.
For example, according to him, if a telco’s distribution channel is through shops and retailers, that is not digital. “A lot of young people buy services online and they want help online. So if you want to become a digital player, then most of your own operating model will have to shift: you need to build online capabilities that allow your customers to interact and operate with you in a way that is very different from walking into a shop.”
He believes that just as the music industry moved from buying and renting CDs to online audio streaming, so is the telecom sector shifting from buying recharge coupons to self-service portals and apps—that is, a digital distribution model. In the case of India, however, a hybrid model that optimises both physical and digital sales for different geographies and customer profiles looks more likely.
Given that roughly one-third (31.3%) of India’s population, according to the Census of India 2011, is in the age group of 18 to 35—a generation cohort more digital-savvy than the rest—telcos that build a greater connect with them can reap significant business benefits. And one tried-and-tested way to do that is to app-ify most of their offerings and throw as many customised pricing plans at them as IT agility allows them to.
An indication of the importance of an app-driven approach is the recent marketing campaign of Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s largest telco with an India subscriber base of over 250 million. The ad shows how quickly the new and integrated MyAirtel app can be downloaded onto a smartphone.
Earlier, there were several apps for music, movies, money, news, etc. but the new app comes as an integrated bundle (Reliance Jio’s MyJio app, which launched before Airtel’s new app, works in a similar fashion).
According to Animesh Sahay, senior country director of sales (enterprise and telecom business), CA Technologies India Pvt. Ltd, a provider of enterprise software and services, “For telcos, it is becoming increasingly important as to how they can wrap the entire app in a fashion that they are able to record the customer experience. Today, if a customer has a bad experience with an app, they might give it a try twice or thrice, but after that they are just going to junk it.”
So it becomes very important to know what the customers are experiencing on the app and to get their feedback and tie it back to app development, he says.
A telco can install an app tool to have a view of exactly what the customer is doing, exactly where he had an issue, what the screen looked like when a particular transaction was happening on the app, etc.
In short, the tool allows the telco to replay the same series of steps the customer took and find out what went wrong and where.
Another thing operators need to do, according to Sahay, is to move away from the old, waterfall model of application development to agile development methods by embracing what is called DevOps. DevOps is the combination of development (Dev) and operations (Ops), referring to how the IT teams at most enterprises are divided.
Traditionally, there has been some friction or lack of coordination between the two teams that typically work in isolation. The DevOps movement calls for a greater cohesion between the two and the use of agile software methodology and tools that enable it.
The whole idea of DevOps and agile method is to release newer versions of software or apps as quickly as possible so that new features and benefits could be marketed to existing and potential users.
In addition, given the speed at which mobile technology is moving today, more and faster releases help fix multiple bugs and issues with the software.
The dynamism in the telco universe is causing many to move towards what is known as a catalogue-driven architecture, which allows a telco to dynamically serve up data plans and other service offerings (movie/music downloads, for instance) to customers even if third-party mobile valued-added services providers are involved.
Going forward, most telcos in India, including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and others, will ramp up their digital transformation efforts to increase data revenue and stay relevant in a fiercely competitive market.
(This post first appeared in Mint:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Big Data Analytics and the Global Hunger Challenge

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In a world where as many as one-ninth (around 800 million) of the global population of over 7 billion go hungry each day, 33% of the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year.

As regards India, it is home to the largest undernourished and hungry population in the world: 15.2% of India’s population is undernourished and 194.6 million people go hungry every day, according to India FoodBanking Network.

Certainly not a healthy picture—but possibly not one that technology cannot help redress.

According to a new report on, global food waste and loss cost a staggering $940 billion A YEAR, with a carbon footprint of more than 8% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and a blue-water footprint that is 3.6 times the annual consumption of the US.

Such a sorry state of global food chain can be set right with appropriate use of digital innovation, including big data analytics, among others.

In my view, there is opportunity not just for governments but also for large businesses that plug into the huge global food supply chain in one way or another: the opportunity to apply creative thinking led by digital tools to bring down wastage, optimize costs and put more food on the table of poor people.

The McKinsey report suggests that cutting postharvest losses in half would produce enough food to feed a billion more people.

This and other social and economic benefits can be achieved by using technology to improve areas such as climate forecasting, demand planning, and the management of end-of-life products, argues McKinsey. The report quotes examples of work being done by startups and others in this area. For instance, a French startup, Phenix, runs a web-based marketplace to connect supermarkets with end-of-life food stocks to NGOs and consumers who could use them. “The platform enables the supermarkets to save the costs of disposal, gives consumable products a second life, and alleviates some of the social and environmental burden of waste,” it says.

For emerging economies such as India, the report suggests that innovations like precision agriculture, supply-chain efficiencies and agriculture-focused payment systems can make a huge difference.

For one, precision agriculture—which uses big data analytics, aerial imagery, sensors, etc.—is used to observe, measure and analyze the needs of individual fields and crops rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach to farming in a region or cluster of fields.

Startups as well as big behemoths are participating in this huge opportunity (the market for agricultural robotics alone is forecast to rise from $1 billion in 2014 to up to $18 billion by 2020).

So, while the startup Blue River uses computer vision and robotics to determine the needs of individual plants, Big Blue (also known as IBM) has developed a highly precise weather-forecast technology, Deep Thunder, and an agriculture-specific cloud technology.

Needless to say, we will need a basket of technologies from multiple vendors to keep large amounts of food from being thrown away or going waste, to optimize the yield from agriculture, to eliminate or reduce transportation inefficiencies—and do anything and everything to bring down the number of the daily hungry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

7 Reasons Why the CIO Job Can NEVER be Automated


Dear CIOs, I know most you must be sick and tired by now of hearing all kinds of stories about automate this or automate that, AI, machine learning, deep learning, etc., etc.

It is possible that someone might come up with the idea of “Hey, why not automate the CIO’s job itself?” After all, haven’t we all seen too many threats to the CIO role already, even without automation?

So, here are a few semi-serious reasons why you don’t have to worry about the CIO role self-driving itself into an auto-pilot system:

- Because no AI system can mouth words like “silos,” “vendor-neutral” and “scalability” with as much elan as a CIO.

- In all likelihood, it was a CIO who coined the very concept of automation; so the conceived cannot possibly turn against its conceiver (and be successful in their machinations).

- Because you need someone with real, rather than artificial, intelligence to control all those bots out there.

- Think about it: if one were to indeed automate what CIOs do, then who will complain about budgets being tight or “doing more with less”!

- Because if CIOs get a hang of the conspiracy to automate them out of the market, they will reset the code execution time for the automation function to forever (or eternity, whichever happens to be programmed into their software :)

- Because before “they” can automate it (whoever this they refers to), the CIOs would have reinvented their roles as CAOs (rhymes with cows but otherwise of a different temper)—which stands for Chief Automation Officers!

- And if none of the above works, CIOs will convince the automatons to outsource the thinking part to them and save precious battery resources for other artificial work!

IMHO, forget CIO, I personally don’t think bots will truly replace human beings. They might take up the tedious or repetitive work being done by an army of workers, but they are highly unlikely to manage or motivate teams, lead people by example, inspire trust or become an emotional wonder-pack that humans are.

Now, tell me bot do you think?