Monday, July 16, 2018

How Paytm Uses Tech to Manage 200 Million Users

Key points:

- Paytm processed 1 billion transactions in the quarter ended March 2018
- The firm employs 200 product managers and over 700 engineers
- Its data science lab in Toronto, Canada, develops key tech tools
- App analytics and machine learning are used to retain users and for up-selling

Mobile wallets--mobile apps used to pay for recharges, groceries and other daily items--may have come of age in an increasingly digital India, but much goes behind-the-scenes to keep them working well and users hooked.

Paytm, which has 200 million monthly active users and processed close to 1 billion transactions in the quarter ended March 2018, is a case in point. It competes with MobiKwik, FreeCharge, PhonePe and several others in this space.

Discussing the tech strategy at the company in a recent interview, Deepak Abbot (pictured), senior vice president of One97 Communications Ltd, which owns and operates Paytm, said, “Though a payments firm, we are a technology company at the core and everyone here, including Vijay, is a hardcore techie--he even calls mid-level engineers sometimes to discuss architecture design.” (Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the chief executive of Paytm.)

Abbot said that most in top positions at the company either have technology background or are “quite comfortable” with tech. “Culturally, we have a tech mindset. That is another reason we have been able to build a very complex product in a flexible way.”

Sharing insights into what goes on ‘under the hood’ as they say in tech, Abbot said that quick decision-making and a product-centric approach drive software development. “In our meetings, once an idea is crystallized, Vijay is very clear about what product to build. As a result, the product managers are also clear how to get it done. And when the engineers are given very specific details, they are able to quickly build it,” he revealed.

The simplicity of the Paytm app belies its complex architecture and the number of people that work on it. For instance, Abbot said that there are as many as 200 product managers and 700-800 engineers working on different aspects of the app.

But how does Paytm define a product? “At Paytm, a product is defined as anything a consumer—be it is an end consumer, a merchant or a marketplace seller--interacts with,” said Abbot. For example, recharge is a product in itself. Paytm’s implementation of Unified Payments Interface (UPI), again, is a product (UPI is an easy, instantaneous payment system built by the National Payments Corporation of India or the NPCI). “And then you build use-cases on top of UPI such as P2P, P2M and B2B payments. Wallet--the most used product of Paytm--is another,” said Abbot. (P2P, P2M and B2B stand for person-to-person, person-to-merchant and business-to-business respectively.)

The idea of keeping all these products within the same Paytm app, according to him, is that users should move from one product to another seamlessly—something that requires “a highly scalable product” to be built.

Integration of multiple products within the same app also helps Paytm cross-sell more easily to customers, who may first use one product before being “nudged towards” others, said Abbot.

Talking about stickiness of the app and up-selling to users, he said, “We have observed that if a customer has only used Paytm for recharge, then the retention rate for such a user is 40% after three months. But if we can upgrade him to send money to others, they become power users of Paytm and the retention improves dramatically to 70%.”

Industry experts forecast bright days ahead for mobile wallets. The number of mobile wallet users is expected to grow from the current 200-250 million to around 500 million in the next couple of years, according to Probir Roy, co-founder of Paymate and an independent director at Nazara Technologies. While he believes that “the next big thing” will be “interoperability” among different wallets, he noted that it is a tough space to operate in and some consolidation is “bound to happen” in the coming years. “My guess is that the top two or three companies will have 80% of the market,” he concluded.

------Paytm Labs: Managing customer lifecycles-----

To make the most of app analytics that capture user behaviour, Paytm’s data science lab, Paytm Labs, in Toronto, Canada, works on developing multiple software tools. One such key tool is CLM or Customer Lifecycle Management.

According to Deepak Abbot, senior vice president of the company who is based at Paytm’s headquarters at Noida near Delhi, what CLM does is “catch every ‘signal’ from the app”. Explaining how it works, he said, “If you use the app for UPI, it segments you as a UPI user; if you do a recharge, it marks you as a recharge user. It also upgrades you automatically based on your behaviour or purchase history. So, for instance, if you make an electricity bill payment or a post-paid bill payment, it upgrades you to a post-paid user.” There is a lot of granularity built into the CLM tool to classify and reward different levels of users at different times.

The tool puts users in different segments and generates actionable triggers accordingly. “For example, if a premium user who earlier made a money transfer of Rs 5,000 has not used the app for a month, he will be shown a cashback offer or an ad on Facebook,” said Abbot. Similarly, alerts are shown for soon-to-expire mobile recharges and other bills. “The CLM tool uses such alerts and offers to get those customers back into the app. And if they are already in the app, it will customise the view for them by showing up frequently used icons upfront and hiding others,” he explained.

The entire user data in the Paytm app goes into a “data lake”, and the team in Canada uses it to formulate the rules of the risk engine and other software. The data lake, Abbot explained further, is a repository of multiple sources of data, including phone usage data, hardware data and address book; then there is transactional data plus the behavioural data (where the users navigate inside the app, how much time they spend shopping, etc). All this data is used through machine learning (ML) algorithms so that the alerts and promotions can be automated and personalized.

The Toronto team comprises 70 data scientists and engineers and, besides the CLM tool, has developed the company’s risk and customer score engines. “We just plug those products here (in India) and start using them,” said Abbot.

---##----

(Note: An edited version of the above post first appeared on www.livemint.com - where I used to work until recently. The interaction with Deepak Abbot took place during my Mint tenure.)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Six Bright Gems to Shine a Light on World Book Day



Image: Pixabay.com
In this age of reality TV, Twitter and Pokemon Go (which seems to have really gone somewhere), one may be tempted to ask the question: Why read? In fact, the late Steve Jobs once famously remarked (while discounting Amazon’s Kindle reader): “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

Thankfully, people continue to read—even though there are skirmishes about whether it is the printed books or the digital ones doing better (or worse) than the other. What one hopes, though, is that it is not the same book or set of books that most people end up reading—be it a JK Rowling in the West, or a Chetan Bhagat here in India (no offence to either writer, even though it may make Rowling squirm and Bhagat smirk). The diversity of both the readers and the books they read—and obviously the writers who write them—should grow, I feel. Okay, change that to must.

Having said that, I’m in a difficult position to proceed with this post. Because, out of a few hundred books I have read in my life thus far (should have been in the thousands, I know!), I’m only going to pick up six. (I promise to make a long-list of my favorites someday.)

So, without further ado, let me say something about each of them before the World Book Day gets over--and before some people might be compelled to think it is all right to skip reading books! Here goes (in no particular order):

The Old Man and the Sea: Master storyteller Ernest Hemingway indeed crafted an amazing tale of endurance in which an old fisherman is pitted against the might of the sea and one of its creatures he struggles to catch after a really long patch of bad luck. How he manages this adventure, what he says (I remember him saying something like that the fish he was trying to kill was like his brother in a setting I would never forget; you must read it to know what I mean), and how he behaves after his ‘victory’…The old man is a real-life hero and the book, a rare gem.

A Search in Secret India: Paul Brunton’s classic quest to seek out and meet the real yogis of India in the early part of the nineteenth century is largely credited with introducing Raman Maharishi to the Western audience. What endeared me to this book--besides of course the desire to know more about the Maharishi and his message of ‘Who am I?’—is the honesty of purpose and the integrity of a journalistic writer to get to the bottom of the truth (whether he did get to the truth or not is something I’m still exploring, since I haven’t read his oeuvre and am myself at a ‘seeking’ stage). He met lots of charlatans and frauds but apparently some genuine yoga practitioners as well, before finding his inner peace at the Maharishi’s ashram in southern India.

Autobiography of a Yogi: One of the most widely read books in the spirituality genre, what Paramahansa Yogananda did in this life-changing book was give a first-hand account of some of India’s sages and saints—besides a glimpse of his own tenacity to promote yoga and the teachings of his guru, Yukteshwar Giri. Not to forget the mystical, all-youthful and divine figure of Mahavatar Babaji—Google it to unlock a cornucopia of information. (Ironically, it is one of the books Steve Jobs is said to have read many times over, though we cannot be sure of how much he believed in the book’s divine incidents and miracles.)

Siddhartha (by Hermann Hesse): That this tiny book continues to engage and enchant millions of readers more than 90 years after its publication is testimony to its power and message of spiritual journey and self-discovery. It doesn't matter that it draws from ancient Indian spiritual and Buddhist thought; what matters is that it weaves in a simple narrative the recurrence of everything in our lives, the deceptive nature of our day-to-day rituals, the joys and sorrows of mundane human existence and, ultimately, the "song of the river" that keeps humming forever in our soul. Beautiful, heartfelt, ethereal, simple and profound all at the same time, Siddhartha cannot be recommended highly enough.

Atlas Shrugged: While Ayn Rand’s more famous book is The Fountainhead (which I tremendously like as well), I have picked up this one here for two reasons. One, it is the bulkier of the two and you get to stay with Rand all that bit more (if you are a Rand fan, you’ll know what I mean). Two, I found it more detailed and expressive of her philosophy of objectivism through an even more richly woven tapestry of super-solid characters: Dagny Taggert, Henry ‘Hank’ Reardon (whenever I thought of steel after reading the book, Reardon’s name reared in my head!), Francisco d’Anconia, Hugh Akston (“Contraction does not exist; check your premises”)…and, how can anyone miss it, John Galt! Check it out yourself—who is John Galt to ask you to read it?

The Outsider (also published under the title, The Stranger): This quiet reflection by Albert Camus on life and what matters--through a seemingly simplistic but profound story of a man accused of murdering his mother (the accusation resulting mainly from the observation that he did not follow the norm of crying at her death, if I remember correctly)--is one of those books that touch you gradually but deeply, irrevocably. It is all right not to be too ambitious but lead a joyful and uncomplicated life—that is the message I get again and again from the book, besides revisiting the notions of what it really means to love, be loved and lose those you love to time’s strange ways. Simply superb and highly relevant in our consumerist, gadget-obsessed times.

Like I said before, this is a woefully short list—but I’m happy to have shared it with you for what it is worth. Hope you will find at least one or two of them useful.

Happy reading :)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Digital, AI tools easing up legal work for companies

Image: Pixabay.com
When Vaishali Lotlikar joined Wanbury Ltd’s legal department sometime in 2014, little did she know that locating a particular contract or assembling a legal brief would involve sifting through piles of documents, and wastage of precious hours and money in the process. “There was a lot of employee churn in the legal and marketing departments. Nobody really knew where the contracts were kept and what was there in each for the company to keep an eye on,” she recalls.

To streamline operations, Lotlikar and her team gathered all the contracts, digitized the same and put them into a document management system after tagging them for keywords, so that they could be easily searched when accessed from the firm’s servers by authorized personnel. The tool was purchased from PracticeLeague Legaltech Pvt. Ltd, a specialized provider of software and cloud-based solutions for law firms and corporate legal departments.

“I had used their technology at Glenmark and USV,” says Lotlikar, adding that the familiarity helped her get up to speed. “Today, if our international business head wants to know the particulars of a contract, I can get those details within minutes on my laptop—irrespective of the city I’m in.”

This is simply a case in point. As the volume of compliance and other legal requirements increases for companies across industries, technology tools that can ease the legal burden are in great demand. Khaitan and Co., for instance, has been experimenting with technology for quite some time now, according to its chief operating officer Nilanjan Ghose. “We were the first among law firms in India to use software for accounting. Around 2007, we started working with PracticeLeague to develop our own time and billing solution, which is core to our operations.” Over time, he says, the billing solution morphed into what is now known in legal circles as practice management software (PMS). He likens it to an enterprise resource planning software used for operational management by a majority of companies.

For Khaitan and Co., PMS helps in all kinds of processes, including accounting, billing, collections, administration and human resource functions. The company is now integrating new modules into it—an attendance module, for instance.

Digital tools are also helping law firms expand in size or scope. “Many of our clients acknowledge that it is because of technology that they could grow from a 50-60 person law firm to one employing 500-600,” says Parimal Chanchani, founder and director of PracticeLeague. And while there are several technology providers operating in the legal space—LexisNexis, LegalSoft, Thomson Reuters (ProLaw), Jurisnet and dozens of others—Chanchani says “nearly 60% of the corporate law departments and over 40 top law firms in India” use its software.

“You cannot manage a compliance workflow through Excel sheets; everything is now getting automated,” says Chanchani. “What we have is a complete, cloud-based solution sitting on Microsoft servers (Azure cloud). Customers can simply start using any module by just plugging into the platform.”

Role of artificial intelligence (AI)
PracticeLeague has also begun embedding AI into its software. For this, it has opted for Watson—an AI tool developed by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM). Praveen Kulkarni, who heads technology design and delivery at PracticeLeague, says Watson is implemented if a client wants to analyse a contract sent to it by, say, one of its suppliers.

For instance, if a firm wants to become the supplier of a pharma company, it will be required to submit several documents. Based on these submissions, the pharma company will send it back several documents to sign such as a non-disclosure agreement or a supplier registration agreement. If done manually, a person from the legal department would need to pick up the relevant content (from the submitted documents) and “draft and redraft the agreement that would take several hours”. With PracticeLeague’s Document Assembly, a Web link is sent to the supplier. “Once the required documents are uploaded through the link, the tool starts asking questions such as the category of supplier, payment terms, etc. After these questions are answered, a ready contract is automatically prepared through the system for the legal department to review and approve,” says Kulkarni.

However, if the pharma company wants an analysis or summary of the multiple documents it receives from suppliers themselves--the documents are exchanged by both parties for signing--then PracticeLeague uses Watson. What Watson does, explains Kulkarni, is “extract certain portions” of the agreement—for instance, contract type, liabilities or jurisdiction, or a termination clause. “So instead of manually picking up these details, they appear on the screen in front of the person reviewing them,” he adds.

But what if the system fails to understand any particular detail? For such situations, PracticeLeague has built an interface through which the reviewer can feed additional information back into the system so that the same can be picked up correctly by Watson the next time. “AI gets better with more and more data fed into it,” says Kulkarni.

Wanbury and Khaitan and Co. are yet to start using the AI tool, but acknowledge the role AI can play in further improving efficiencies for them. “While I have not used the AI tool, I believe it can automate repetitive tasks performed by legal professionals and also suggest the possible options to be taken in a legal case,” says Lotlikar of Wanbury. Nevertheless, she adds that while all of that can be done in the legal field, “strategies thought of by human beings are also important and cannot be fed into a system”.

“AI can help us in faster turnaround times for cases and in due diligence on contracts,” concurs Ghose of Khaitan and Co., but adds that human intervention and checking will also be required. “For example, certain words could be misspelt and thus be unreadable by the machine, or certain clauses could be interpreted differently. So you need somebody to go through the clauses manually,” he adds.

Other law firms using AI include Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas which signed up with Canada-based Kira Systems for the latter’s AI technology in January 2017. On its part, PracticeLeague is now working with Google and Amazon to integrate their AI technology into its solution and, after that, plans to work with Microsoft as well.

(Note: The above article first appeared on Livemint.com.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why Companies are Cautious about Blockchain


On November 22 last year, Axis Bank became the first financial institution in India to launch instant international payment services using Ripple’s enterprise blockchain solution (http://bit.ly/2Ad0nRs). Prior to that, on November 10, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company introduced blockchain-as-a-service that can help companies “deploy blockchain solutions quickly and easily (http://bit.ly/2iUSyWA)”. And earlier in the same month, Primechain Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which operates a blockchain community of banks called BankChain, announced that the State Bank of India is working towards a “safer, more secure banking system in India through its implementation of blockchain solutions with BankChain and Intel”.

These are just a few examples in the growing pile of reports about the potential of blockchain--the distributed ledger technology behind crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin. Now, increasingly, blockchain is finding traction among various industries. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates that blockchain can generate business value worth $176 billion by the year 2025.

Among the big technology companies that have thrown their weight around blockchain are International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. (through investments in blockchain).

In addition, there are specialist companies trying to capitalize on the opportunities emerging out of blockchain. “We realised that different industries—financial, insurance, supply chain and others—wanted to try their hand at blockchain,” said Akash Gaurav, founder and CEO of one such company in India, Auxesis Services and Technologies Pvt. Ltd, in a recent interview.

While the buzz around blockchain is high, according to Gaurav, the technology is still evolving—it is in its second version currently, with development going on for what is called blockchain 3.0—and there are challenges related to its adoption.

“It is true that there are a lot of PoCs (proofs of concept) in different industries, but nothing is moving beyond that stage into production,” he said. The problems, in his view, are industry-specific. “For instance, Indian banks tried blockchain in trade finance in 2016 and then people never talked about it. There were challenges at the production level in terms of maintaining privacy and confidentiality of data,” he averred.

“Blockchain is not as evolved as other mature technologies such as the Java programming language or the Oracle database,” he added. And while mature technologies can be easily deployed in any industry, it is a different situation with blockchain, as it “involves many protocols related to specific industries”.

At the heart of the issue is that blockchain was designed with a peer-to-peer, crypto-currency environment in mind. “Now, what we are doing is taking that blockchain infrastructure and putting business logic on top of it so that it can be used in multiple industries,” Gaurav explained.

The challenges of implementing blockchain for enterprises, according to Gaurav, include companies’ specific requirements, different data standards and the nascent nature of the technology.

For instance, while the banks want to have the benefits of transparency, security and audit trail provided by blockchain, they “do not want their competitors to see their data” (something that blockchain allows in its current or basic form). “So they want to control certain things,” he said.

To address this, Auxesis, on its part, has created a basic blockchain fabric it calls “Auxledger”. “For each industry, we study its regulatory needs, its business processes and its data standards to build a (software) plug-in for that industry,” he added. Using that plug-in, that particular industry can more smoothly implement blockchain. Thus far, Auxesis has developed two plug-ins: one for identity management for the government sector and another for the financial industry.

A blockchain network must follow certain protocols--for instance, the consensus protocol by which a certain proportion of participants in the whole blockchain must agree to the modifications made to the contracts (called smart contracts, as they execute automatically) for those modifications to become functional (http://bit.ly/2im8wXZ).

“For example, in the Ethereum smart contracts, a contract must be executed by every party in the network. This vision was against having private contracts. But in a banking scenario, you have to have private contracts,” said Gaurav. The idea of having private contracts in a blockchain is also referred to as a “permissioned blockchain”. In January 2017, for instance, Bajaj Electricals put in place such a permissioned blockchain to pay its suppliers (http://bit.ly/2mSc0DD).

Gaurav said that there are blockchain frameworks such as R3 Corda that can take care of private or confidential data so that all the transactions of the parties participating in a private blockchain are not visible to each other (www.corda.net).

The growing capabilities of blockchain and the push from companies such as Auxesis and Cateina Technologies (which worked on implementing the Bajaj blockchain) are making organisations open up to experimenting with blockchain.

Talking about his current projects, Gaurav said that Auxesis has partnered with two state governments for implementing the Auxledger identity management software that is “layered on Aadhaar” (the 12-digit unique identity number issued by the Indian government). “We have onboarded 53 million identities on our platform. Using blockchain, the identity data of people can be made even more secure so that others cannot easily access it. This can be done through layered access rights and encryption. The identity management plug-in can also update any changes made to Aadhaar,” he said.

Further, as a pilot, Auxesis is working on a direct benefit programme for one of the two state governments. “It is an end-to-end project which involves writing business logic, capturing data and making the data immutable, sending out communication alerts, etc.,” revealed Gaurav, while declining to name the state.

Another PoC developed by Auxesis for a pharma company involved the use of humidity and temperature sensors on transport vehicles carrying heat-sensitive medicines that could be spoiled en route from the pharma firm’s factory to various retail destinations. “To detect this, we used the sensors connected to a microcontroller, which is a part of the blockchain network. So if the temperature varies from the required range by a certain amount for, say, more than 10 minutes, a smart contract gets executed in the blockchain and the involved parties to the contract get notified,” he explained. The benefit of using blockchain combined with sensors (which would typically be part of an Internet of Things network maintained by another company) is that if the goods are spoiled, it is easy to find out who is responsible and settle the claim with the party that should bear the cost of spoilage—be it an insurance company, the logistics firm, or a distributor of the pharma company.

Not everyone is convinced that blockchain will revolutionize businesses anytime soon. In an article titled ‘The truth about blockchain’, Harvard Business School professors Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani noted, “Although we share the enthusiasm for its potential, we worry about the hype. It’s not just security issues (such as the 2014 collapse of one bitcoin exchange and the more recent hacks of others) that concern us. Our experience studying technological innovation tells us that if there’s to be a blockchain revolution, many barriers—technological, governance, organizational, and even societal—will have to fall. It would be a mistake to rush headlong into blockchain innovation without understanding how it is likely to take hold.” (http://bit.ly/2hqo3FU)

The key question regarding wider and faster adoption of blockchain, according to Gaurav, is for someone in the industry to take the initiative and convince other companies concerned to join the network.

(Note: This post first appeared as an article on www.livemint.com.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How CXOs are Learning to Tackle the Challenges of Multiple Clouds

Five years ago, when messaging and voice communication services provider Solutions Infini Inc. moved its entire information technology (IT) infrastructure to the cloud, the company’s executives believed they would save on operational costs. Chief technology officer (CTO) Ashish Agarwal soon realized that such was not the case. Just two years after the company moved to the cloud, he discovered that “the amount of money we were paying to the cloud providers was quite high for us, as we operate on very slim margins”.

This called for remedial action, following which the company decided to invest in a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) system and host these machines at independent data centres.

While a converged infrastructure integrates the computing, storage, networking and server virtualization aspects of a data centre, HCI integrates some additional technologies with the help of software. Agarwal chose Nutanix as the HCI vendor. Other companies that offer HCI systems include Dell Technologies Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and Oracle Corp.

Agarwal reasoned that, “using the front-end of Nutanix’s HCI solution, which is quite simple, we could replicate or mirror our cloud environment with simple clicks”. Solutions Infini now uses a blend of cloud services and the HCI systems hosted at third-party data centres for its application delivery needs.

Solutions Infini’s example is simply a case in point. The fact is that chief information officers (CIOs), CTOs, and other technology decision makers in India are facing challenges related to dealing with multiple cloud computing facilities of companies such as Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), Microsoft Corp., International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Google Inc.

Industry experts and analysts are of the view that as more investments pour into cloud data centres, which provide computing, storage and other information technology (IT) infrastructure and services on a pay-per-use basis, CIOs will have to learn how to manage what they say is an “increasingly hybrid” set-up.

There are three models under cloud computing: in public cloud, business applications run completely in a third-party data centre; in private cloud, individual companies operate their own data centres; and in hybrid cloud, they use a mix of the two. Research firm Gartner, Inc. estimates that the public cloud services market in India, which stood at $1.35 billion in 2016, will grow to $1.93 billion by 2017 and further to $4.28 billion by the end of 2020.

According to the firm, hybrid cloud solutions are driving overall cloud adoption in India.

“Cloud adoption is growing strongly in the region, albeit from a low base. Enterprises are adopting both cloud-enabled managed hosting and public cloud services, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, typically for different use cases,” said D.D. Mishra, research director, Gartner India. “It is getting increasingly common for enterprises to have multiple cloud environments, often operated and supported separately.”

The main issues faced by companies and CIOs, according to Mishra, include “lack of expertise around key areas of hybrid cloud enablement—virtualization, standardization, automation and instrumentation.”

According to Mishra, there is a “lack of guidance” on the technology prerequisites needed to “fully leverage hybrid cloud capabilities”.

He added that the capabilities required typically involve use of “automation and monitoring tools... to not only detect user-impacting problems, but also proactively identify when the service is degrading”.

The growth of virtualization—one of the building blocks of cloud computing—has also given rise to the phrase “software-defined” (software-defined storage, software-defined networking, even software-defined data centre). Virtualization allows a computer to be split into multiple virtual machines (VMs) for running different applications through the use of a sophisticated software called ‘hypervisor’. Companies that provide hypervisor solutions include VMware Inc., Microsoft, Red Hat, Inc., Citrix Systems, Inc. and Nutanix.

“Gradually, it has to be software-defined everything and one operating system (OS) will subsume everything else,” said Dheeraj Pandey, co-founder and CEO, Nutanix, in an interview recently.

“You can get rid of a lot of people in the data centre and optimize your costs when software starts to do a lot of things automatically,” he explained.

He added that the concept that everything is an app is “being replicated into the bowels of the data centre”.

The service delivery model in cloud computing has evolved from companies having their own data centres to hosting their servers in outside facilities, to plain-vanilla or bare-metal infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to software-as-a-service (SaaS), according to Sunil Gupta, executive director and president of Netmagic—an NTT Communications Corp. company that operates a number of cloud data centres across India.

Netmagic, according to Gupta, has integrated multiple cloud offerings from different companies into “a unified managed cloud service”. Towards this purpose, it has developed an “orchestration layer or a cloud management platform” internally over the past couple of years. Moving to the cloud, Gupta said, is not a “zero-to-one story”. It is a “gradual, lengthy journey” and CIOs must keep that in mind.

“The challenge for them is how to migrate their applications smoothly to the cloud with zero or negligible downtime. Then, they also have to tackle what is called ‘shadow IT’ wherein departments other than IT purchased certain cloud applications without even informing the CIO,” Gupta cautioned.

CIOs, according to Gupta, are increasingly moving applications to the cloud—not just email and productivity apps that they began with but also critical ones such as payroll and human resource management apps. Hence, they should plan their cloud migration well in advance. And while planning must be done in a comprehensive way—taking into account storage and other infrastructure requirements—execution should be “gradual”.

According to Gupta, IT heads should also invest in skills for cloud computing such as how to configure and manage hypervisors and hire people who have experience in procuring cloud. “One challenge CIOs face is that different cloud computing companies have different parameters and models for pricing cloud resources, so it makes sense to have technically savvy people in the infrastructure procurement or purchase department who can understand the complexities involved,” he explained.

Mishra of Gartner believes that taking a “consultative approach” is often “a good way to go about implementing one’s cloud strategy.”

CIOs should also look at developing or hiring talent in the areas of automation tools, agile development and cognitive domains, he said.

(This article first appeared on www.livemint.com. 
Image Credit: Pixabay.com)