Zero Inbox Strategy – To Be Or Not To Be ?


I have a zero inbox policy . I read every email I get within a short time of it showing up , respond to the ones that need attention then move them to an archive . I don’t go to bed till I am done . And I have been this way for about 8 years .I don’t let my assistant reply to my emails , although she has access to it .I have the same zero inbox policy on personal email and twitter too . In that aspect , I was “real time” friendly before real time became the new black :)

It has its advantages that I can reasonably stay on top of my work , given the high volume of emails I get. In general it has definitely helped me with career success and progression too .

However , there is a big price to pay to keep this habit. And I will be lying if I say I enjoy this habit a lot . A more accurate statement will be that I have high tolerance now :)

For starters – it means I stay up late every night , including most weekends . Even on vacations I try to stay up late to finish email some times – which irritates my family to no end . If I don’t – I will never catch up with the back log . I kid you not – I had to once lock my smartphone in a bag and leave the key out of sight to stop looking at email during vacation.

It also means I very rarely write long , well crafted emails . I usually respond in one sentence or two – and it occasionally comes across as harsh or non caring to people who don’t know me . I am however a tad more careful when I email customers – but even there , I stay brief . In general – people need a bit of time to get used to my ultra brief emails with rarely any salutation or signature :) . Thankfully – my boss is also a fan of brief emails .

One lesson I learned early in my career was to not rely on email for all communication . I use chat functionality and phone heavily , and that minimizes the email traffic . I also like to do face to face communication with others whenever possible . On the bad side – you might not have anything documented if memory fails you about a phone call . So for important stuff – I try to send a short summary via email .

I also use a separate email id for Internet stuff that has even a remote chance of spamming me in future . And of course I rarely open that account . If anyone spams me intentionally more than once – I block them . This is especially a problem with personal friends and relatives who will get offended quickly.

With my team, I encourage them to use the phone as much as possible and then just send one email in summary . It doesn’t always work – given I never had the same team working for me for several years at a stretch . So we relearn together periodically :)

I also don’t create a complex folder structure for my archive . I trust search more than my organizational skills . However , search is as much an art as a science – so occasionally I get some serious grief . For that matter , I don’t use flags or color coding or anything of that sort . This is probably why I think BI should also largely move to search as primary interface :)

Some emails always will fall through the cracks – given my frequent archival . I try to be careful , but I make mistakes . But the good thing is that if it was important – I would get a reminder most of the time . Again, if the email is from a customer – I try to be twice as careful , but of course I occasionally miss those too.

I do let my EA handle my calendar almost exclusively . I am terrible at that – and she is very good with that . So I just follow her lead and will only mess with it if something comes up when she is not working . I refer to her as my life saver .

So for all the good things I get out of having a zero inbox – and all the discipline I follow to keep it that way, there is one thing that I have no control over . Since I respond near real time – it gives the wrong idea to some people that I am “always on”. And some of them will get offended if I read but do not respond quickly at 2 AM . I have tried many different things – but no good scalable solution has been found yet .

So that brings me back to why I wrote this now – is it worth keeping up with zero inbox policy and the stress that comes with it? Or should I relax and let it slide ? That will be something I will think about in 2 weeks time when we leave for an island vacation . Last year when we went to Hawaii is when I decided to quit my job at IBM . I wonder whether I will decide to stop the zero inbox policy this trip . The decision kind of has similar magnitude in my mind :)

If any one has any tips, suggestions , wise cracks et al – let me know .

2012 In The Rear View Mirror And Happy New Year


All things considered, 2012 has been a good year – a very tiring year, but a pretty good year none the less. Whoever said things are clearer in rear view mirror “clearly” was not thinking about me – the past 12 months that passed me by have not left things organized for me to think through. So here is a random attempt…..

On the personal front…

I managed to take some time off work (not nearly enough time), spent some time with my parents and my wife’s parents (again, not enough time) , bought a nice treadmill (2013 hopefully is when the ROI kicks in), traded in our old car and got a new one (which I hope to drive more one day soon) and finally got around to trading carpet for tiles in the ground floor of our house ( actual work yet to be done, but tiles selected and advance payments made) , cooked and ate out as much as we liked (way more than what my doctor likes for sure) , kiddo did great at school and in swimming class ( handily beat our expectations by a mile), both fur kids did ok ( minimal destruction of back yard, but 9 year old “Boss” sadly continues to have allergies, and has slowed down a bit ), and last but not least – got to mingle more socially with other Malayalees, thanks to KHA.

On the work front…

Not sure if it is “blessed” or “stressed out” that takes the cake when it comes to describe the year at work. I sure had a lot of blessings – every team that I had the privilege of leading this year went way above and beyond – including sales, project delivery and forward engineering. That doesn’t happen often – thanks gang. I was also incredibly proud to watch many team mates make great strides in their own careers as leaders. Playing a small part in their development makes me incredibly proud. As for the rest of it – between my employer and my clients, I have to call it a tie, when it comes to blessings and stress :) . If proof of the pudding is in the eating – I can’t complain. I made and exceeded all the quantitative goals I agreed on with my managers. Most probably I just need more experience in getting through all of these with a little less stress. Biggest lessons I will take away to 2013 – Trust the team ( they know the problems and solutions, so get out of their way), don’t postpone vacations (ever), and listen more than I talk (easier said than done). Biggest problem I could not tackle in 2012 – my inability to stop taking work home with me.

The strong working relationships I had with my clients, my superiors, my team and my peers – I am very thankful for it. When I told them about my decision to move on to another company, everyone was totally supportive. Still don’t know why I stressed out with “how do I break the news” :)

On the blogging front…

Few days ago was the third anniversary of this blog. I blogged on SCN a few years before I started this one. More than the blogs – it is the people that I became good friends with due to blogging – readers of this blog, fellow bloggers, SAP blogger and mentor program peeps et al , that made my year. Thanks folks – I look forward to our friendship to continue into 2013 and beyond.

As for quantitative metrics – I did post a lot more than I thought I will. Page views are probably not a good metric for the type of things I rant about, but if it is – wordpress says I got more than 2X the eyeballs I got in 2011. But what is really gratifying is that several of my clients, including CXOs, read my blogs and engage me in great debates when I meet with them. It is also funny that many colleagues knew of me as a blogger and did not know that I worked for the same employer as they did.

And finally, I think I am making progress on a lot of my “worry list” from last year. Still some ways to go – but I think I will do ok.

In 2013, as I am joining SAP – I might need to make a few changes to my blog. I am not a 100% sure on what all I need to change, but for sure I won’t be writing a lot about SAP in general – just as I did not write much about IBM as an employee. If my login issues with SCN get resolved, I would like to go back there and blog occassionally. But you know me – I will rant on anything happening around me :)

Happy New Year Everyone !

It Is A Crying Shame, India – Lets Make A Difference Starting Today


There is a lot I am genuinely proud of about being an Indian – how women get treated in India is not one of the reasons. It is 2012 now – not 1612. And look at what happened in the nation’s capital. A 23 year old girl got gang raped in the nation’s capital ! . As an Indian (especially as an Indian male) , I am ashamed. This is not an isolated incident – such incidents happen all too often in India. And it is a deep rooted problem with many dimensions. It needs a combination of top-down and bottom up measures by the citizens and the elected government to fix.

I was born and raised in the southern state of Kerala. Before I was born, my community (Nair) was a matriarchal one ( This is very atypical, and most of Indian families follows a Patriarchal system). Essentially women controlled the family and inheritance was via the mother’s lineage, not the father’s.
Men had to use their mother’s family name as their surnames. Men essentially could enjoy benefits in their life time, and the inheritance went to their sisters and the kids of the sisters. The primary reason for this system was that Nair men were warriors back in the day, so moms had to ensure stability of the family even when the male members were away in wars, or lost their life in battle. Women were well educated and there was apparently no issue on dowry, female foeticide etc. I would highly recommend reading the novel “Indulekha” by O.Chandu Menon. There is an English translation for the book – and it will open your eyes on how the society functioned at that time. The whole picture changed when Kerala Joint Hindu Family System (Abolition) Act was passed in 1975, the year I was born.

I know a lot of very strong women first hand, and they have all influenced me. My mom who only got schooling till high school was (and still is) a small business owner and made sure my sister and I got the best education we could get. Same with my mom-in-law who worked really hard to make sure her daughter was set up for success in her life. My sister did her masters degree, while also having a demanding career as a TV anchor, and then moved on to a career in IT. My wife who stayed home for first 10 years of our marriage (despite being eminently qualified to work as an engineer ) to take care of our little daughter is the sole reason I could focus on my job that needs me to be away from them for most part of the week. And they all had a middle class upbringing that valued hard work and good education. If they can do it – I am sure a lot of Indian women can do it equally well or better.

Discrimination between men and women in India starts even before birth. Female foeticide is so high in India that government had to pass laws to stop allowing doctors to even determine the gender of the foetus before a baby is born. Even with all the awareness – the ratio of male to female children seems still lopsided . I know couples who kept on having babies till they had a male child or two. What I never understood though was why several moms – who obviously are women themselves – showed a definite preference for sons and not daughters.

The discrimination continues in school – boys and girls sit in two different sections in the class. And at the first available opportunity, most parents send their kids to a “girls only” or “boys only” school. I went to a “boys only” school, and my sister went to a “girls only” school. I then went to a “boys only” Mechanical Engineering degree. Well, we did have one girl in our class – and I have the deepest respect for her for finishing 4 years of college with us boys, most of whom never knew what to say or do in front of her. The first time I got to sit next to a girl was on the first day of my MBA class. I haven’t been that stressed out ever – and I still remember sweating profusely when I shook hands with a girl in my class. I definitely was not prepared for a world where men and women co-existed. One of the biggest values I got from that MBA degree was learning how to live in the real world where men and women both are equal partners. It took me a few years into my career before, I got comfortable with the idea of being around women.

My female colleagues and class mates have shared similar stories of their upbringing and how it made life difficult for them. This is an easily solvable problem – let both boys and girls go to the same schools, and sit next to each other, and learn to co-exist and have healthy relationships. Of course it is not a magic bullet – but it surely will eliminate some of the problems that only arise because of curiosity.

Social belief systems cannot be changed over night by government regulations – reforms will probably take another generation or two. Over time, India has practically gotten rid of “sati” , child marriage, devadasi system etc. But it took a lot of time, and collective effort and leadership. And India has only benefited from that. That gives me hope that we can get better from current status quo.

India has strict laws against corruption. But that has hardly helped contain corruption. So while punishment for rapists and other abusers must no doubt be swift and just – such laws should not be created out of anger. In a country like India, misuse of laws is rather common place. Swinging the pendulum to the other extreme might not be the right long term solution. Laws must be made when people are peaceful, and enforced justly in all situations.

There is a definite part for the government to play in making this situation better. Safety of women should not be a matter of paying just lip service. Our constitution does not discriminate between men and women. Women should be free to travel, dress, work etc in ways they are comfortable with – and should not worry constantly on what trouble lays in wait for them every step of the way. Awareness and education needs to go hand in hand with strict enforcement of the law, and preventive security measures by government at all levels.

Curiously, not all problems faced by women are caused by men. A good case in point is sheer number of dowry related and domestic abuse cases where the mother in law makes life difficult (sometimes impossible) for their daughter in law. Or for a less drastic example – I have seen women humiliating other women in buses when they share a seat with a man, usually with the approving nods and looks from co-passengers.

One of the things India lacks in sufficient numbers is the number of women that others can look up to as great role models. The situation today is much better than say 20 years ago, and from what I have heard from elders – it is a LOT better than in their times. When Kiran Bedi became an IPS officer, it was an inspiration to every girl in the country. Several women made it to IPS after Ms Bedi, but nearly not at the same clip as men did. But over time, I seriously hope things will change. When I got my first job – maybe 10% of employees in IT were women. These days when I visit India, it looks 2X or 3X better, and I am heartened by that. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Which brings me to the political side of this problem. A lot of educated people in India have given up on the political process in our country. They either won’t vote – or they vote entirely based on party affiliation. For example, I have friends and relatives who will vote for the Congress party irrespective of who the actual candidate is. They also don’t care to hold their elected representatives accountable when they mess up. This needs to change. If India needs progress – its citizens should be an active part of the political process. We are miles away from that now. Now that social media has the ability to pass on messages to a large number of people, I hope we start seeing some good changes.

Finally there is a lot we can all do as individuals. Without waiting for government or someone else to do the right thing, we can all start to practice being better to women. Let us send our daughters to co-ed schools and colleges. Let us make sure we won’t marry our daughters and sisters to morons who ask for dowry. Let us use our savings to give our daughters and sisters the best possible education, in lieu of the most expensive wedding. Let us work on helping the women around us feel better about themselves and about other women. And let us show our sons and brothers by example on how a civil society really ought to function. And by all means let us heavily penalize people who treat women with disrespect. And let us elect candidates who share our values.

PS : Today is the third anniversary of my blog. I tried really hard to not type up a depressing post today, but in the end could not justify posting this even one more day later.

May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way – I am Joining SAP !


First things first – I am not really burning any bridges :)

“Burning bridges” is usually construed as a negative thing – but I mean this in the most positive way. To move forward, I need to let go of parts of my past career. I will also be reusing most of what I learned so far.

That being said, after seven years of working in the global SAP consulting practice at IBM – today I have submitted my resignation to my manager. I have accepted the role of Global Vice President at SAP Labs, and will be working in The Technology and Innovation Platform team (known to friends and family as TIP) , which is Vishal Sikka’s Board area. Words cannot adequately express how happy and excited I am to join this amazing team.

I have been thinking about a change in my career direction for a while now. I decided about 6 months ago that I wanted a change from a traditional consulting career, and move to a software company. SAP of course was a natural choice given I have worked in that field all my life. To my delight, Vishal offered to hire me with IBM’s concurrence. I owe a lot to John Leffler, my boss at IBM, who was totally supportive of me moving to SAP. I am extremely lucky to have a mentor like John. I decided to stay in IBM till end of 2012 to finish all my commitments here, and start the new year at SAP. January 7th, 2013 will be my first day at SAP.

IBM has been an awesome employer for me. I had a lot of diverse assignments, and worked in 3 continents in my tenure there. My last job as the head of forward engineering was probably the most rewarding. In this role – my team and I were able to take cutting edge innovations from SAP and IBM to our customers. I will miss working with Gagan and the gang, but I am sure I will have an opportunity to partner with them in my new job too. The three biggest lessons I take with me from IBM, as I step into SAP are
1. Talent only wins games, Teamwork wins championships .
2. One needs multiple mentors to have a rewarding professional life
3. Investing in ecosystem relationships is the smart thing to do

Details of my new job are still being worked out – but the general idea is to SAP scale its innovations, and reach a large number of customers and users. My dream is for SAP to be able to run a victory lap someday in foreseeable future with a slogan “Earth Runs SAP”. I strongly believe SAP has the potential to touch the life of majority of the world’s population every day in some form in a few years. Between its smart employees, loyal customers and its extensive ecosystem – I think this is a goal worth attempting ( and for my cynical friends – I’ll add, OR DIE TRYING :) )

I do plan to continue to post on this blog as usual. As you probably know – I blog about pretty much anything that takes my fancy – software, music, food, sports, politics, economics – they are all fair game. Hey, I might even write something about IBM from time to time :)

Right out of college, till now, I have always worked for an SI. I have never worked for a software company before. So a part of me is worried whether I will add enough value to SAP. But then, this is an area I know well for many years, and I am still a hands on techie ( for the most part, that is . I am sure someone in my team might contest this notion ). And I know a lot of people at SAP, including several who work in TIP. So I know who to call for help, and I am never shy. So the other part of me thinks I can come up to speed reasonably quickly. I will keep you folks posted on how I manage.

I have been considered an SAP influencer and blogger for some time now. Obviously Mike Prosceno has to kick me out of his program now. It will be fun to see my blogger colleagues on the other side of the table going forward. Knowing them as well as I do, I don’t expect them to cut me a lot of slack with their questions :)

There are a large number of friends at SAP who gave me generous amounts of their time in the last couple of months, as I bombarded them with questions on how various things work at SAP. I can’t thank them enough. I am not going to take any names – but you know who you are, and please know that I am very grateful for all your help and guidance.

Last but not least – many thanks to my friends and mentors Vishal Sikka, Abdul Razack and Sanjay Poonen for the opportunity to work in their team. I truly appreciate that.

Wish me luck !

Give Peace a Chance, Please


The song and the singer needs no introduction to most people, so I am not going to attempt that here.

I was busy at work when my wife asked me if I saw the news of the CT school shooting incident. I hadn’t – and I checked internet. And ever since, my mind has been anything but peaceful. Watching twitter and Facebook, it is apparent that most of the world is in shock as well – as it should be. I cannot rationalize in my mind why anyone would do this, especially to little kids.

Personally, I don’t support civilian use of guns. However, I do understand that it is a constitutional right in this country. And I am not an expert on the nuances of interpretation of the second amendment. So these thoughts are just based on my observations, experiences and beliefs, and in no small way influenced by me being the dad of a 7 year old daughter. This is a multidimensional problem – which needs an array of complimentary solutions. I have no claims of having any kind of comprehensive solutions in my mind – but for what little it is worth, I would like to mention a couple of my thoughts on this topic here.

Banning guns altogether is not practical for foreseeable future- although I personally don’t like civilians owning guns. I don’t own guns – but have several friends who own guns. I respect their decision . There might be legitimate reasons to have guns – like self defense in ones home, shooting as a competitive sport, or for licensed hunting etc. As long as users of guns are trained in its use, and guns are kept safely locked – it probably is ok (not ideal, just ok). Also, there is no good reason for civilians to own semi-automatic and automatic guns . These should be controlled severely.

Given how much we value privacy in this country – it is next to impossible to verify if gun owners are being responsible with gun ownership or not. All I can think of is more awareness, education etc leading to self policing gun ownership. In the long term, I hope the education system can influence the next generation sufficiently that they don’t all feel the reason to buy guns. This education is needed not just at schools – it needs to be reinforced at home, and every where else where it is appropriate. As demand for guns reduces, supply will adjust itself. Banning guns altogether will not help the situation at all in this country in my opinion – since that is just an incentive for black markets to flourish. Keeping purchase of certain guns as legal, but reducing demand for guns by education and awareness is about as good a practical solution as I can think of.

A good example of effective gun control is the situation in Japan. But since our situation is not comparable to Japan in many respects – what they did in Japan might not work here. But please do read this article to see how good it gets when there are not too many guns around. A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths

But that is only one part of the issue. Guns are not the only way to do serious harm. In can be debated whether other means like knives etc are as damaging as guns . But the point is, if you take away guns – there are always other ways that a mentally disturbed person or a criminal can use to inflict a lot of harm on us. So – we need some way of identifying and helping such people, and keeping them away from stuff that they can use to do bad things. This is way harder than controlling guns. But without such a social solution to go hand-in-hand with gun control – we will probably not have a comprehensive solution.

May be government has some role to play to help us live in peace – but I think this will be much better accomplished by people deciding for themselves. Maybe social media can help augment the message, or at least foster a good debate that will lead to people making up their minds for good, and acting positively before another awful incident happens.

Lets keep the victims of the CT shooting incident in our thoughts and prayers. And a big salute and huge thanks to the brave staff at the school for what they did. And I hope the media and everyone else respect the privacy of the grieving families.

If Innovation Doesn’t Scale, How Do Vendors Ensure Mass Adoption ?


Few weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on n whether enterprise software companies can scale innovation . I was thrilled to see the quality of debate that this post started – with Thorsten Franz, Michael Bechauf et al jumping in to offer their POVs.

So my next question is – if you cannot come up with innovation after innovation, how do you ensure that the few that have real potential have massive adoption ? Adoption is what makes or breaks software. This is especially true for larger SW companies because they have to make up for the big overheads to remain profitable, keep the lights on existing stuff, and invest in new things. In no particular order, here are a half dozen ideas that come to mind. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but just random thoughts that have been in my mind for some time. Please chime in with your thoughts

1. Evangelize – but more holistically than today

This is easier said than done. Not everyone makes a good evangelist. Evangelists for SW have to cater to different parts of the ecosystem – developers, customers, partners etc. SW evangelists can use some models that seem to work in the world of religion. Evangelists do not preach to the choir – that is just a waste of effort. They are constantly trying to go from place to place and spread the word to people who have not heard the message before. Once people show sufficient interest, the trick is to make sure they don’t change their mind. But the evangelist – who is used to taking extreme stances for good effect on people who need a big leap, are seldom the right people to preach to the already converted. Otherwise, they will run the risk of many of the newly converted ones being put off by their efforts. So there is a need for someone else to take over and keep a steady influence on people who have shown an interest. Compare this to religious groups who meet once a week, and a priest talks to them in a language toned down from the one that evangelists use.

This second part is by and large missing from software evangelism. And I think that is affecting the way adoption is happening, especially with developers. Developers need to be evangelized a few times to get them excited, but if there is no follow up – they will drift away to the messages of the next evangelist.

2. Limit POCs that cannot scale by definition, after the first few are done

When new software comes out, you of course needs a bunch of customers to use it for high impact use cases. And by definition, these POCs are way too specific to be reused elsewhere. There is no way around it – it is a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things. The trick here is to make sure customers don’t look at these as science projects that can shut down the moment vendor team walks out of the door with declarations of victory.

These projects need to be tried out in limited numbers with your most loyal customers. But – set up expectations clearly and for the long term. Agree on what the customer will reasonably need to see for calling the results a success. And then make sure it means – if it is successful, they will take it to production.

This needs some organizational adjustments on vendor side. The black belt warriors who do crazy good POCs seldom have time or inclination to make reference architectures, maintainable code etc. Forcing them to do these will only decrease their efficiency. So I would expect a follow on squad to take up the job of making the project “production quality”, and build as much reuse as possible.

3. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish – use the ecosystem

Enterprise software companies thrive on ecosystem – so use that to your advantage. No one company can hire enough people to do everything by themselves. There is always a tendency to think that you can make more money by trying to do everything yourself, especially when large amounts of money has been sunk already into products. However, this comes with the risk that adoption will slow down quite a bit. If business is shared with ecosystem partners – you can grow the pie, instead of dividing a small pie into really small chunks. Again – easier said than done. It takes strong sales leadership to take that long term view.

4. Talk where the action is

Existing customers have only so much budget to go around. And existing developers are already fond of you – so they are not running away in a hurry. So – rather than try all the new innovations on the existing base and build up an echo chamber, try to grow the base. This is very very hard – since there is the fear of the unknown. Recruit from places you have never recruited before. Hire consultants from areas you have never hired before. Attract new customers – even if they are only a tiny part of the revenue stream.

5. Software is a game of needs, not a game of wants.

Get better at portfolio management. This is a big problem for enterprise companies – they cling on to everything they ever created. And on top of that – they try to be everything to everyone. When there is only limited budget to go around – why is it that companies try to spread it really thin?

6. If you have money lying around, try financing your customers

Economy is in bad shape. Very few companies want to spend money now – they would rather wait for things to turn for the better before they let go of their purse strings. But if vendors are cash rich – try offering some financing to your customers who have good credit ratings. Not only can you move more product, you will also make some money from interest. Some companies already do it well – but most do not.

How Many Communities Do We Really Need ?


If you do a search in internet for SAP communities, I am sure you will get a lot of hits. If you take the time to dig deeper, you will probably find significant overlap in their content and membership too. There will always be a loyalty/intertia factor that inhibits widespread adoption of a new community. Every time SAP acquires a company, this problem of integrating communities come up again. In short, I doubt the world is short on online communities.

Just to avoid annoying close friends – let me use a more neutral example. We saw Google+ arrive some time ago. Almost everyone I know who was active in twitter, jumped to G+. There were plenty of debates on whether twitter will die, and all action will be in G+. End of the day, they both survived, and peeps on twitter I followed are still more active on twitter than G+ by orders of magnitude. Sure there are nuances and all – but in general, world did not become a better place in a hurry because of G+ in my opinion. I wrote about it sometime ago too http://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/google-plus-tribes-wont-follow-till-chiefs-jump-in-with-both-feet

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up a little with twitterverse. There was an interesting conversation going on there with my friends at SAP and my fellow SAP mentor Mico Yuk. The general topic was whether SCN was a comprehensive community.

Mico raised two points on SCN – apparently based on what she heard from her customers .

1. SCN is way too technical, and hence not a good place for business people to visit. So for people who sign the BI checks, as she put it, SCN does not fit the bill

2. The top ten contributors in SCN are “no-names” in BI.

Now, Mico holds strong views about SAP and its ecosystem, as I do too. I respect her for that. In this case, I have a slightly different view point.

It is true that SCN primarily has technical content. With great fanfare, SAP brought in a community for Business Process Experts (BPX) few years ago. I don’t know if it is alive or dead now, but in my mind it did not catch the imagination of majority of the community. May be SAP thinks other wise, and that is fine with me. I am just expressing my personal views here.

So do we need a separate community for Business ? In this context – I have some opinions on the Business/IT divide. http://http://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/on-business-it-and-artificial-distinctions/

I do agree fully with Mico that business typically will tend to tune out of topics they don’t find an interest in. But that does not necessarily mean SCN does not have a place in the scheme of things, and that we need another community.

The way I have seen purchases happen in BI are in 2 ways – a “shadow IT” purchase by a department within a company (typically CFO office) , or an IT purchase by CIO organization. In shadow IT purchases, they typically depend on vendor references, a couple of analyst studies and probably google searches. The CIO purchases typically include more formal RFP type processes, and might include a buyer’s agent if it is a big decision. Of course this is a generalization.

In either case, the actual buyer in most cases may not get a lot of direct online community information. But he/she will be heavily influenced – on purpose – by people actively listening and/or participating in the online BI community. And that is where a community like SCN comes in. I have seen multiple business buyers resist the temptation of buying new departmental solutions, after someone in their organization points them to content in online communities that sheds less than favorable light on the solution. SCN does not get the credit it deserves due to many reasons – but it is still vastly influential amongst people who give their input to the ultimate buyers of BI software and consulting services.

There is no hard and fast distinction of business vs IT content , as it applies to a buying decisions, in my opinion. Things like security and scalability are important to both sides, but probably need to be expressed in different language for each audience. I would much rather have one community with content for everyone, and then strong filtering and search capabilities built in. Just as the world of canned BI reports and dashboards is shrinking, so is the world of content management changing. One of my biggest criticism about HANA content was that it was split between SCN and experience HANA website. I hear there is some integration happening now , but in general it did not hurt me much as long as I used Google as my starting point, instead of an SAP site.

Next , about the “no names” comment about top 10 BI contributors. If some customer of mine said that, I will go out and try to correct them. Everyone has an opinion, but this by no means makes it fair to criticize the top 10 contributors. They don’t always serve a technical purpose. I will take 2 names from mentor community in that list as an example. Ingo Hilgefort is an SAP employee who delivers excellent content on BOBJ. His audience at teched etc is technical. But I also know first hand that he deals with business users all the time at my clients, and gives them sound advice. Similarly, there is Tammy Powlas. She is an SAP customer. She is a total god-sent to BI community, and SAP should be sending her flowers and chocolates all the time in my opinion. It is not always that a customer takes time to post content on a vendor’s product. If I am a buyer, I would give a lot of weightage to her opinion, than content coming from an SAP Partner ( like yours truly). So unless I am mistaken on what was the rationale for the customer to make the no-names comment, my view is that that was an unfair assessment.

The trouble with twitter is that the 140 character limit does not allow meaningful conversations back and forth all the time. So my plan is to see if I can get Mico and Mark Finnern together for a few minutes at Teched next week and get a bitter grip on this discussion. Maybe some other mentors and community members including customers will join us? I know the community clubhouse usually has great coffee to go with such discussions .

 

 

A Book Of Verse, A Jug Of Wine, A Loaf Of Bread, And Thou Beside Me….


It was of course not the first time that we had taken a vacation, but this one was different on a few fronts. Before I go further, for those of you who did not figure out the title – it is a translation of the famous Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam. I can only wonder what he would have written if he had a chance to visit Hawaii.

It was totally unplanned. It was decided at the last minute, and we flew about 24 hours later. It helped that my daughter had her fall break and my wife could move around her schedule at the last minute to make this work.

This was our first trip to Hawaii – despite having planned many a time before. Now that this one worked fine, we might finally be able to do the Australia trip soon. Special thanks to my pal Hendrik Van Geel for his constant encouragement to take a vacation.

The theme of the vacation was “Do nothing” – wake up each morning, and decide what to do that day, usually just trusting the GPS to take us someplace. Peeps who know me at work would probably be as surprised as I was, since I am known to plan and over-plan every last thing to a fault. Apart from a little reading I did on the way over to Kona, I did not even open a book while in Hawaii. And we probably watched less than 1 hour of TV that whole week – and that was to see the presidential debate in Denver.

From the moment we landed we saw the need to slow down a LOT. Nothing moves at speed in the island. Speed limits are low, people are unhurried, even restaurant service is on the slower side compared to the mainland. The place had “slow down and smell the roses” written all over it. It will be quite a challenge to pick up pace next week.

Let me take it from the top.

We woke up early, and dropped our two fur kids – Boss and Hobo, at the Pets Hotel.

The US Airways flight was quite comfy. As we boarded, I had a call from Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP. Although we covered some “work” topics, it was mostly Vishal giving me travel tips to the big island. These came in quite handy when we took a roundtrip drive to Hilo from Kona.


We had an awesome Thai dinner – Pineapple fried rice, Mai Tai were stand out.

As soon as we ate, we hit the beach. It was the most fun we’d had in ages.

We watched the sunset right at the beach. I don’t think my daughter had ever seen a sunset at the beach before.

Breakfast routine pretty much every day was to drive up to the Starbucks and enjoy a hot mocha, and a warm sandwich. Except for the last day, when we checked out the coffee shop at the resort.

We took a 400 mile round trip to Hilo. It was a fun drive – the scenery and the weather changed almost every 10 miles. It reminded me of Ooty and Munnar in South India.

Where I grew up in India, the only place you could see Banyan trees were outside temples. So it was an amazing sight for me to see several big beautiful trees at the Japanese Garden.

There was a light drizzle when we got to the garden, and it added to the beauty. Not only was it lush green, the design made great use of difference in height of trees and plants for visual impact.

The fish ponds had an amazingly calming effect – you have to see it to believe it.

From the calming gardens, we drove up to visit the Volcano. Apparently you need to take a helicopter ride to actually see lava flowing, which we did not know at the time. But that did not take away anything from the awe inspiring crater and the huge cloud of sulphur dioxide and steam jetting out of it.

The highlight of the entire trip was the Luau. I would’ve had no regrets making the trip if this Luau was the only thing I could do.

Everything about it was awesome. Amazing food, drinks and performances. Star of the dinner was a whole hog that was roasted all day long in a pit, and dug out just before dinner in front of the guests.

The sunset was the perfect background for the evening. It reminded me of trips to Kanya Kumari made when I was a kid growing up in Trivandrum.

The last day on the island, we visited a coffee plantation. I have seen coffee plantations before in India, but Dhanya and Shreya were seeing it for the first time. We started the tour visiting 125 year old trees that were planted by the wife of the farmer who started that farm.

Little did we know that the coffee cherry has many times the quantity of anti-oxidants that most berries have. They can pick the cherries about 7 months a year on a trot. The red ones are ready to be picked, and the green ones need time to ripen on the tree.

The farm also grows avocados in 10 acres, just outside their 60 acre coffee plantation. I had never seen an avocado tree before. It took me back to my childhood visiting Grandma’s house where there were several mango trees, and we used to pluck raw mangoes from them much to Grandpa’s angst.

My parent’s house in Trivandrum had banana trees and papaya trees in the back yard. Seeing them in Hawaii took me pleasantly down memory lane.

Hawaii is so much like Kerala (which literally translates to the land of coconut palms), my home state in India, that I was quite nostalgic by the end of the tour.

I Get It – Middle Of The Road Is Boring, And Won’t Win Elections


It is always election season – there is an election campaign going on somewhere in USA almost at any random point in time. Consequently we have been bombarded with messages on all media. I am a fan of social media, and if there is one reason I will get out of it – it will be because of extreme political messaging flooding it now. What makes me awfully sad is that people I respect a lot for their balanced opinions on sports, enterprise software, dog shows and so on take extreme views when it comes to political views. Once I see that, I start suspecting their judgment on other things they say, that I used to think were pretty balanced. In short, I go through a cycle of disillusionment every now and then.

A good reason for my situation is because I went to school and college in India, where the social policy was always left leaning irrespective of party in power. If I grew up in USA, I probably would have been used to the deep division in beliefs over the years.

Political leanings are generally based on 2 things – social views and economic views, and they are of course kind of intertwined. I remember the endless debates in Business school when various economics theories were discussed. Till our economics teacher pointed it out, I did not realize that the term “left” and “right” just referred to the groups of people sitting on either side of the seating arrangement in a French General Assembly in late 1700s . Same with the concept of “center” in politics.

In theory courses on politics, it is often explained that one person or party can take a left wing stance on one issue and a right wing stance on another issue.  The world has changed considerably from the time of French revolution to today. I seriously doubt whether there is a need for such a hard distinction between left and right today. We still seem to be holding close to us the theories that developed when the world had different social and economic issues.  And there is no universal distinction across the globe on this. Universal healthcare is touted as left leaning in USA. Consequently, it earned the name Obama care from the right. Well, in the UK too it was (National Health Service, I mean) established by left leaning Clement Attlee government  around the time India gained independence, may be shortly after.  But even right leaning Margaret Thatcher government supported it in their term.  Of course in UK, you can buy additional private insurance (and get a tax break for it too I think) .  Here in the US, a right leaning Romney introduced it in MA, although his party opposes it for general elections.  The people of this country see through this, right?

A hard and fast stance on either extreme has hardly proven to improve anything in USA in recent past. There is a lot of criticism that despite Obama administration supporting government spending – it has had no impact on recovering the economy, and unemployment remains high. The opposing idea is that if you cut taxes, and let private companies do their thing – then employment will come back up. Well – if that was the case, then we should not have had this big an unemployment to begin with when Obama took office, right? That and the fact that companies are not short on cash – and even with low taxes – they are not investing here to create jobs with that cash.  There are of course more nuances that can be brought to either side of this argument – but the fact remains that neither policy worked very well in fighting the business cycle. If it did not work in last 2 terms, one by one party and one by the other party – does it matter which party comes to power this time?

And what is the deal with personal attacks any way? Mitt Romney is an extremely successful businessman. He did not want to publish his taxes for 10 years like his dad did. He is in a hard spot now. If he publishes his tax returns – his opposition will use it to generalize and say things like “he paid less tax % than his secretary” or “he donated only to his church” or some such. He made his money in private equity, and probably was very smart in tax planning. If he did not break any law, he should be left alone to enjoy his success. Why make it a big deal on what he does with his money ? If the suspicion is that he did not make the money legally, drag him to court. Either way – criticism of his success is childish.

Same with Obama. It is unbelievable that his opposition overtly and covertly still tries to portray he was not born in USA and that he might not be a Christian. This is after he produced plenty of evidence, and leaders of his opposition stated they have no more doubts. If that isn’t silly, then what is? Did Kenya come out and claim that Obama is theirs and that he should be sent there right away? No – nothing of that sort happened. But yet, if I open my facebook page, every day I see plenty of respectable people making such claims.

When I went to school in India, I did my junior schooling in a Hindu school, then went to a Catholic high school, a Muslim engineering college, and a government run business school. At the end of it – I honestly could not find significant differences between any of their belief systems. Sure they all have differences – but none are more fanatical than the others from what I experienced. And none of those schools made me want to follow one religion over the other. I have friends from several religious backgrounds, and they have never treated me any different than friends from my own religion.  And this is a big reason why I strongly believe in keeping Church and State separate. But that is not an easy thing to do always. A lot of political beliefs intermingle freely with religious beliefs and cause tremendous confusion.

There are probably several LGBT people who lean to the right on economic issues like cutting taxes and cutting government spending, but lean to the left on social issues like gay marriage. If Mitt Romney wins the election based on their support, do you think they will just stop demanding their rights ? No of course not. They will justifiably continue to demand equal and fair treatment. And they should. If right wing ideology needs limited government intervention on economic matters, then it should be the same for social matters too. Freedom of speech and expression should not have to be fought for in a free country. It should be the norm.

The office of the President is an important one for sure in the USA. However, if you listen to politicians speaking on the issue – it will appear that the President also gets to create laws. They conveniently forget to mention what the Congress does.  Nothing ever gets done without both houses of the congress working with the president. Congress has had low approval ratings for a long time now. And every election, we hear from both sides that “Washington is defunct” . Given the citizens have an opportunity to elect congress representatives frequently, why do we continue to have this situation? No politician can afford to do the right thing if he also needs to run for an election shortly after. If you look at people who no longer have to hold an elected office, you can expect more sensible talk from them on issues we face. These are some of the smartest people that the citizens of this country send up to Washington from either side. Just that there seems to be no incentive for them to change the system.

Those who go vote at elections are susceptible to halo effect. If they really like something a candidate stands for (like say universal health care or tax cuts) , they tend to give more credibility to everything else that the candidate stands for too, even if those parts do not make sense for them.  This is also the reason, people will not mind lack of facts or twisted statistics that get thrown around in political debates.  And with plenty of commentary coming from TV and social media, that we hardly get a chance to do any independent thinking . Just too bad, eh?  . I wonder if there is some theory in psychology that proves people like extremes better than middle of the road. I suspect there is – what else will explain the success of the likes of MSNBC and Fox news ?

We talk about disruptive innovation all the time when it comes to business. The one place that is ripe for disruptive innovation is the political system. But just like in business – there is very little actual innovation, compared to the talk about disruption and innovation.

 

Apple Vs Samsung – Never Mind The Customer, Eh?


So I just heard the news that Apple got richer by a billion dollars , and Samsung has to pay up that money for patent infringements. Well, Apple did not get the whole amount it was seeking, but $1B is not too shabby. Since the Jurors only took under 3 days to decide on the case – I think Apple’s lawyers probably did an incredible job convincing them. Maybe they and other lawyers with similar expertise will see a bull market now for their skills and experience .

More than the $1B they got from the ruling – there are many benefits AAPL would get from this ruling.

Good press is not something AAPL is short on . The cult following they have will make sure that this will be hailed as a huge win for innovation, honesty, higher standards and so on. If Oracle or someone similar sued a competitor and won, they will probably never get the same opportunity to milk mileage out of it in internet and press. Such is life :)

AAPL would have also successfully scared several “innovative” competitors in their markets. Some version of this trial is bound to play in most countries . Patent laws apparently differ across the world, so who knows how this will net out after lawyers on both sides play several innings each. And of course there is the appeals process too. It will be a while before dust settles. I am not sure if this win for AAPL also gets them an ongoing royalty revenue stream from Samsung.

What about customers though? $1B will not kill the Samsung company – but they will directly or indirectly pass the cost to customers going forward. I am a customer who prefers my samsung galaxy tab over an iPad, although I use an iPhone. Many friends and family members use samsung devices – and I wonder how many carriers will be now scared to keep a contract going with Samsung.

Well, Samsung also sued AAPL. That might get them back something – if not in money, then at least in good will. But I am not going to hold my breath on Samsung having a good chance to beat AAPL in US market in near future . That will be such a shame , if that is how it plays out.

For innovation to thrive, irrespective of final results of these battles in court – the patent system should be revamped and simplified. Legal innovation does not have the same effect as product innovation for us customers.