Sunday, March 22, 2015

6 Best Practices for Digital Pros and CXOs that Click

Digital marketing is fast coming into its own as a specialized discipline. From the early days of setting up websites left, right and center and cutting checks for search engine optimization, it now encompasses social media, mobiles and apps as powerful new possibilities.

So much so that some companies now have Chief Digital Officers (CDOs). In some cases, the CMO or the CIO may wear the hat of the CDO as well. The point is, the digital realm is getting bigger and more important as you read this.

In a world that is happily clicking away for content, groceries, travel, leisure and anything that fills up our life, how do you do digital? Sure, a bunch of boutique social media firms and others with 360-degree charters and integrated plays have come up recently, but as a digital marketing professional or CXO, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a few best practices handy, would it? So here you go:

1. Identify the digital goals for your organization: There are pioneering companies that have set their ambitions to nothing less than complete digital transformation. At the other end of the spectrum, there are (still) firms that are splitting hair about whether to go beyond a brochure or static website. Deliberate on where your company wants to be in the next one or two years and decide on specific digital goals.

2. Get the T&T (the team and its tools): Both these Ts will be crucial to the success of your digital efforts. However, in all likelihood, if you have the right team in place, they will go find the best digital tools to work with.

Again, in today’s increasingly fluid scenario, having a team doesn’t necessarily mean hiring bench-loads of Facebook junkies; it might work better to onboard a couple of digitally savvy professionals who are nimble-minded. They could even be hand-picked from within the company. Also, they should be able to manage the work outsourced (if any) to specialist agencies, programmers, etc.

3. Have a well-articulated social media policy: We keep reading of employees or customers cribbing on Facebook, Twitter or other social sites, followed by the klutzy approach taken by certain companies to respond to their comments. Given the generally open culture that social media fosters, even those who are not authorized by the company end up jumping in the fray—often causing reputational damage.

Building a brand online may be considered hard but it is nothing compared to the nightmare of salvaging a sullied reputation. It is best to have a detailed, idiot-proof policy (this must remind some of their boss :) concerning the use of social media and responding to comments or taking any other course of action. Goes without saying that a quick complaint-redress mechanism needs to be built alongside the policy. On social media, you must respond in minutes and hours rather than business days or weeks.

4. Mobile in the middle: In the feverish world of e-entrepreneurs, they have a new mantra for a successful business model: it’s called mobile-first. The idea is to think of the mobile phone (essentially the smartphone) as the first touch-point for customers (some storied mobile-first stars include Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Spotify and Evernote, among others).

Not every corporate entity on Earth needs to be mobile-first, of course. But with the usage of mobiles exploding and the number of those phones going smart increasing like crazy, it would be stupid not to give “mobile” the place it deserves. The caveat here is not to think of mobile in terms of any single device but to look at enabling employees, partners, customers—whoever—to interact with your organization anytime, anywhere, using anything that can connect to the Internet (you might have heard of the Internet of Things).

5. Balance speed and quality: If you ask around, most people would agree that the speed of life as well as business has gone up several gears in the past decade or so. In the context of digital, they would also aver that quality—the quality of content, software, etc—has gone down. While the race for digital supremacy is impelling most organizations to cut corners on quality, reduce time-to-market and respond to customers faster than ever, the winners will likely be those who manage a fine balance between speed and quality. It’s tough to achieve, but very much within reach, especially for companies that are not constrained by resources (or mindset).

6. Spread digital as a culture: This one is for the long term as well as the biggest impact. Arguably, it’s also the trickiest one. Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Having said that, people are not horses and digital is much different from water. With a top-down approach, can-do motto, the right tools and persistent monitoring, long-term organizational change can be brought in.

The key here is culture rather than strategy: you can strategize all you want, but unless the organization’s culture is soaked in digital, the results would be sub-optimal. No wonder management guru Peter Drucker is said to have once remarked, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Or lunch, if you are a lunch person, but you get the idea.

And here’s the short, two-word conclusion to this article concerning your digital journey: start now.

(The above article first appeared on

Friday, March 6, 2015

5 Things CIOs should Probably Know about the Internet of Things

In the past few months CIOs would have been bombarded with headlines along these lines: Internet of Things will disrupt how business will be done in 10 years; So and So says IoT is a gazillion dollar opportunity; IoT will cause new security headaches for IT managers...etc, etc, etc.

The headlines would, of course, have been followed by futuristic scenarios (some beneficial and some alarmist), details on offerings and products, and other nitty-gritty of what makes IoT so, ahem, different.

And as is likely in such cases of continuous media strafing, people tend to think of the technology either as mere hype or too futuristic or, if I may say, too banal.

But sometimes, when the technology is as all-encompassing as cloud computing or IoT, entire industries, not to speak of companies, can undergo cathartic changes. So let us take a peek at some of the key things CIOs, business decision makers and tech professionals should know about IoT:

The name of the beast: First things first. This much is clear: the idea behind IoT is to get more and more devices, including items of everyday use other than PCs or mobiles, connected to the Internet in order to bring more and more intelligence into the system. So, who coined the term “IoT” and is it the only one to depict that idea?

When I asked Google about it (I didn’t ask Page or Brin but typed in my query, of course), it told me this: “Kevin Ashton supposedly coined the phrase “Internet of Things” while working for Procter & Gamble in 1999.” This puzzled me. See, this information appeared in Google’s own box that comes on top of all other search results, including Wikipedia. I checked Wikipedia, too, and it confirmed the name of the P&G guy. So let’s give the credit to Ashton (though I’m still uncomfortable why Google was unsure and played safe with “supposedly coined”; if Google doesn’t know something for sure, who does? )

As to the terminology, IoT is not the only term and there are other contenders—including Internet of Everything, Internet of Anything and Industry 4.0 (reminds you of Web 2.0, Web 3.0, etc, doesn’t it?) From what I gathered, IoT is by far the most used term, so I’m sticking with it. (There’s another term, M2M, which is considered as the precursor to IoT by many in the industry; while some people quote a few technical differences between the two, it seems M2M is more or less being subsumed or replaced by IoT.)

The scope of IoT is, like, huge: From changing whole business models and impacting supply chains to creating a new environment for how consumers live and how the ever-smarter cities make use of all that embedded intelligence, the scope of IoT is limited only by human imagination.

If you look at the projections for the number of devices to be connected to the Net or the estimated revenue impact from IoT, humongous is the word. While research firm Gartner says the number of connected devices will grow from less than a billion in 2009 to 26 billion units in 2020, estimates from Cisco suggest that 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020 (Gartner excludes PCs, tablets and mobile phones from its tally whereas Cisco’s figures include all types of devices). There are projections from other firms as well. Irrespective of whose data you look at, the numbers are much bigger than the entire population of the planet.

Further, a Gartner report says that “economic value-add (which represents the aggregate benefits that businesses derive through the sale and usage of IoT technology) is forecast to be $1.9 trillion across sectors in 2020.” To put that number in perspective, the entire spending on IT and telecom worldwide is estimated to be $3.8 trillion in 2015 as per IDC.

A matter of industries and degrees: As the hype phase continues, no one is denying the overall big-ticket impact of IoT. However, it has been conjectured that the impact will differ in degrees and that certain industry segments will be affected much more than others. According to Gartner, these verticals are leading the adoption of IoT: manufacturing, healthcare and insurance.

But adoption will also depend on which new “things” come up in the market for connectedness and which other segments or companies drive innovation through their own use-cases.

The challenges en route: The direction IoT will take is being set each moment and each day, as vendors (especially biggies like IBM, Intel, Cisco, Google and Qualcomm, among others) continue to jockey for pole position in the market for IoT components, gear or services. One of the major challenges is equipping existing devices with a chip intelligent enough to be powerful and useful yet cheap enough to be commercially successful on scale. Another is the high failure rate of start-ups that come up with new “things,” connected hardware such as smart meters, wearable devices, health monitors, etc. The reasons for failure could range from high cost of development (and hence the device), lack of consumer interest, or just being too ahead of the market.

Companies may also be wary of embracing IoT due to additional liabilities or issues (privacy, legal tangles) engendered by the customer data captured, stored or monitored through IoT devices.

And then, the existence of multiple standards for wireless (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, among others) will likely continue to be a headache. Pointing to the fragmentation in connectivity, Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm's interactive platforms unit said in a recent article on “It's not that things aren't getting connected—they are getting connected badly.” (In another context, his remark would gel with those who know how Internet generally works in India.)

Management and security hassles: CIOs and other decision makers will have barely eased their BYOD pain when they would be facing the much larger prospect of handling multiple “things” across the length and breadth of the company. On their part, solution providers are working towards filling the gaps in IoT security. For instance, ARM Holdings recently acquired a Dutch firm Offspark to include the latter’s PolarSSL, an IoT security layer for across-the-devices usage, into its mbed IoT development platform. McAfee, owned by Intel, enhanced its security management for Intel IoT gateways. There’s much happening by way of streamlining security for the upcoming IoT world.

Having said that, information security is already a highly complex and daunting task for most organizations—and the complexities and challenges are only going to multiply when more data flows through more devices, often in real or near-real time.

All in all, developments in IoT will be quite interesting for CIOs and decision makers to watch and ready their own organizations for solutions or services relevant to their business.

For instance, the BFSI sector would continue to innovate around micropayments, contactless or virtual cards (that might be apps or embedded into a wearable); healthcare providers would keep coming up with new gadgets and services to remotely monitor health parameters and administer medicine/advice; connected sensors will make better sense of energy use in smart buildings or cities—and yes, more and more fridges will order milk from the supermarket on their own.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An Open Letter to Indian PM Narendra Modi

Dear Narendra,

I’m addressing you with your first name even though you are the Prime Minister of India. This I’m doing after taking a cue from you during Barack’s recent visit to India (Barack, as you very well know, is the President of the United States of America, also known by the quaint acronym POTUS, especially, I’m told, by the legions of security personnel who protect him from known unknowns, unknown knowns or whatever…you get it, right?).

I hope you now have some breathing space from your jet-setting schedule and from entertaining world-renowned guests to tea at expansive lawns, amid the sharing of stories of courage and hardship from your childhood and youth. You, like your bespoke tailoring suit, rock, man! I know this because you yourself have told everyone loud and clear at multiple forums.

And even though you have tried to share your Mann ki Baat (matter from the heart) on state-sponsored radio, something tells me you are hiding a lot deep down your 56-inch chest.

In all possibility, this hiding may be causing you undue pain, pain that is hidden from this cruel world that only knows to laugh at, ridicule and criticize politicians rather than show any empathy.

The other day, I overheard a bunch of wealthy businessmen chuckling at your discomfort. One of them remarked, “Bechara Modi! (Poor Modi) He must be sick and tired of one or the other of the Sangh Parivar making some religiously loaded or divisive comment every now and then. If this goes on, his economic agenda will be derailed sooner than Kejriwal can change his mind!”

As of writing this post, Kejriwal hasn’t but Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s long-ruling Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, is probably thinking of changing his mind about something critical in his life—perhaps because he couldn’t change the sinking fortunes of the Congress party in the last general election.

But then I digress, so let’s come back to you…

You apparently set in motion a Modi wave that swept through the poor country that India is. The millions of jobless youth, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs whose businesses were suffering because of UPA-II’s scams and indecisions (and the handful of mega-industrialists who had billions riding on that wave), among countless other voters, brought you and your party to power.

It’s possible that the pain in your chest is a manifestation of all the unfulfilled election promises. And it doesn’t help that your poll prospects from the rest of India (after Delhi) wherever elections are due are seen to be declining.

I know you have tried hard to package old Congress wine of policy schemes and structures into swankier new bottles but, unfortunately, many people want results, not hangovers.

Every now and then, there are comments from one business tycoon or the other, including some international credit rating agency, that the prospects of growth have begun to look good for India. But there are contrary opinions as well.

At least one industry shouldn’t be complaining: media. I have seen your ads on innumerable pages of newspapers, on hoardings all over the city, on so many websites where you would least suspect them to appear, and wherever there has been space to accommodate your well-bearded, avuncular face. And I have not yet reached the state of naiveté where I can believe that the media moguls have given you space for free because they are all Modi bhakts (devotees) or consider splattering those ads an act of patriotism.

Let us get this straight: I’m all for ads because they affect me too, for I’m also part of the media industry. But I think spending on building toilets and recycling waste will be more effective than saying, “Clean India, Clean India!” or “Swachh Bharat, Swachh Bharat!” a hundred thousand times.

Allow me to take just one example: I sometimes use the public loos in Delhi where a lot of swanky urinals were installed in ex-CM Sheila Dixit’s tenure (around Commonwealth Games I think). But hell, there is no water or flushing system and people just keep pissing into the ceramic receptacles ad nauseam.

Would it be possible to divert some of the tidal water from the Modi wave to flush out the filth in the capital’s urinals? (Other cities and towns would be worse off, I presume, and also in need of urgent watery intervention).

Another instance where I can speak from personal experience is the poor state of data connectivity. While your government has quickly launched some websites and your social media machinery is quite active, those gestures do not a Digital India make. I know, I know, other initiatives are in the works—but my fear is that as far as broadband connectivity in India is concerned, it has been always in the works for the past 10-15 years (many other “comparable” nations, meanwhile, have zoomed past India in “digital index”).

Narendra bhai, everyone knows your full name and that you are the PM of India by now. Ab naam ki nahi, kuchh kaam ki baat chalu karo! (Now start talking of the work rather than the name.)

I know you sleep fewer hours than many of your other, able-bodied political brethren. But please remember that hundreds of millions of Indians still sleep on an empty stomach. And those who do get their fill, still have no choice but to empty it in the open.

As of now, shit is one of the biggest things we make in India. The pun, though unfortunate, is intended.

You must fix a lot of things before India can proudly unleash its “lion” out in the world for its roar to be heard.

Maybe you can start by doing more and saying less.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Kejriwal is Right about Being Scared

Amid the ton-loads of news and analysis and comments and congratulations and long faces is one from Arvind Kejriwal that says, “I’m scared” of the thumping victory he and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have got in Delhi’s assembly elections today.

Kejriwal has urged his party-workers not to be arrogant. If anyone, it’s he who knows very well that all the tall promises made by AAP to the people of Delhi to come to power are only too difficult to fulfill.

Not that other parties don’t make tall promises or fail in making good on them. But being the poster boy of anti-corruption and cleanliness, Kejriwal and, by extension, AAP will be under intense scrutiny more than any leader or party has ever been.

Today morning, before the results (and congrats and insults) started pouring in, when I asked a fruit seller as to whom did he vote for, his answer was as cryptic as it was practical: “Whoever wins in the election, I have voted for them!”

There is no doubt that Kejriwal and AAP have wised up in a similar fashion since last year’s short-lived fling with power when he was CM for 49 days (though it is rather strange that a so-called rationalist party wants to wait for 4 days to anoint him CM again so it could coincide with Valentine’s Day, the very day last year when Kejriwal relinquished the CM’s post so famously or infamously).

This year they left no stone unturned, to use a stoned-to-death cliché, to make sure more people wear AAP caps and hit the voting machine on the broom button (broom being their election symbol).

That’s why even as the victory bugles are being sounded, the really observant people will be wary of Kejriwal’s and his wide swath of supporters and think: “Kahin phir se topi to nahi pehnai?” (He hasn’t defrauded us of our trust again, has he?)

But there is a strange disconnect I’m feeling this time. While last time, the play was completely on rooting out corruption (with the help of Lokpal Bill, among other vigilant measures)—and there was a visible effect in terms of the average government Joe refraining from asking for bribes or even refusing when voluntarily offered—this time it’s largely been the largesse: “Bijli haaf, paani maaf” (electricity for half the rate, water for free). And then throw in 15 lakh CCTVs for security and widely available Wi-Fi.

As I write these lines, there are blazing horns and hoots of victory by unemployed youth (most likely uneducated, too) parading in cars outside. In all probability, they could do with education and jobs more than being the proud recipients of a freeloader economy (which doesn’t and cannot work anywhere in the world).

What’s more, whether the new victory will result in the same impact of people being fearful of indulging in corruption will soon become clear.

For their part, Narendra Modi and his chief aide Amit Shah were not only arrogant but messed up anything they possibly could. That an I-me-myself Modi strutted around on Rajpath in an offensively expensive suit embroidered with his name this 26 January and whose noises and travels far outweighed his previously expressed intentions or work of nation-building—that, and more, certainly did not help.

Personally, if you ask me, I would have liked both Narendra Modi and Kejriwal to team up against the scam-ridden era of Congress and work together for a truly clean, pro-development India. 

Don’t laugh, if Kiran Bedi, who stood with Kejriwal alongside Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption/Jan Lokpal movement could turn around and join BJP as its CM-candidate, and if Kejriwal, who launched himself into the political sphere by directing his “cough” stance against Sheila Dikshit, could look the other way and set Modi in his sights instead—then, well, then, anything can happen.

Like Kejriwal, I’m scared too—and I have my own reasons. I just hope Kejriwal rises up to the occasion and make a positive difference to all Delhiites.

Here’s my suggested to-do list:
- Quickly launch an investigation into the funding of ALL political parties (including the mysterious donations received by AAP and the cash but undisclosed funds of BJP and Congress).

- Start work on recovering the scam money from the hugely bloated budget of Commonwealth Games.

- Install correct-reading meters (this he will do for sure, I think).

- Put a final stop to the flip-flop on which colonies to authorize and which to raze (so that other political parties cannot offer them authorization next time).

- Put a stop to the practice of paving, re-paving and re-re-paving the already well-paved roads in and around VIP areas; instead try and correctly fill the large potholes on roads in non-VIP areas that are mysteriously stubborn to be repaired.

- Put a stop to the RO water supply mafia that’s not only a nuisance but a bane to the environment—and provide clean water (c’mon, he can charge a bit, okay).

- Focus on solar energy, as Delhi gets abundant sun and the cost of solar is coming down.

- And last but not least, if he really believes most industrialists are corrupt and in cahoots with existing political parties (which most people know is true), put them in jail; and now that AAP is the political party in power in Delhi, stop being in cahoots with *other industrialists* who manage to stay out of jail under his investigative watch.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Good to Great: The Art of Connecting

A couple of days back, I happened to attend an event, titled “Leadership Series – Good to Great,” organized by the CIO Klub, Delhi Chapter, and sponsored by HP and Microchip.

I was in two minds about going, as it was scheduled for late evening in the middle of the week. But two things contributed to making up my mind: the first one, obviously, was to avail of the opportunity to catch up with the IT decision makers from across the city.

The second one had to do with the leadership session by Tapas Dasmohapatra. In all ignorance and humility, I must say I hadn’t heard of him before. But the line in the invitation seemed intriguing, even if a bit presumptive or frivolous. It said about the speaker: “He is a darling for anyone who invites him for key-note address because of his friendly and high energy program.”

In the middle of an unusually cold Delhi winter (unusual for the past 15 years or so, quite usual before that), I thought maybe I could use some energy and friendliness. So I went.

Soon as the event progressed, I realized that rather short-statured and plump in a cutesy way, Tapas was indeed a little darling!

With his quick “connect,” sharp and focussed wit and a beguiling manner, he indeed showed that the gap between good and great has nothing to with your size or natural looks—and everything to do with how you “design” your success.

In what I believe was a towering session on leadership, motivation and success rolled into one, Tapas uncoiled the secrets of going from good to great in a tightly knit capsule of an hour or so.

I have always held that humor is one of the greatest ways to connect with people. Now I saw the living proof of it in the person of Tapas. As he cracked joke after joke and related anecdotes in quick succession, the audience—mostly somber-faced, time-challenged Chief Information Officers by day—were in splits.

And not only were the jokes funny on their own, they seemed to fit, like IT folks often say fondly, seamlessly into the larger scheme of things. Recalling the relevant joke at just the right moment and delivering it with style is an art, and Tapas looked like its high priest.

He began his seminar with how people, especially educated guys, indulge in “self-deception”— whether knowingly or unknowingly.

“When we are already good, who can hold us down from being great? We ourselves,” he said.

So people must recognize and acknowledge the instances of self-deceit in their lives if they want to work toward designing their success.

Using the technique of keywords to drive his message clearly and unmistakably, Tapas then focussed on the two words “natural” and “design,” and related the commercially successful role of design (which I think can be broken down into planning, resource mobilization and effort in the context here) in our lives.

Another pair of significant keywords he used: “connect” and “correct.” The success mantra of great leaders is to connect with people before they attempt to correct them.

This tenet matches a similar one I had come across sometime back in relation to giving feedback to people (especially your juniors) in the right way: praise, criticize, praise.

The best part about Tapas’s session, I think, was how he picked specific examples to illustrate his points and used an effective mix of English and Hindi to drive them home.

I have attended tons of presentations and management sessions but seldom have I seen people glued to their seats for more than an hour—a sentiment echoed by senior CIOs who were present there.

Tapas ended the session with some music and jumping and holding of hands and going around the room hugging people—and there were many who rushed to hug Tapas first.

Did the invite mention the word “darling”?!

(Note: Along with his co-founding partner Suresh Mohan Semwal, Tapas Dasmohapatra runs the training and speaking consultancy Possiblers out of Jor Bagh in New Delhi.)