Corporate world needs more generalists


I just finished a long call with an old buddy who just finished selecting a team for his new startup and it stirred a lot of thoughts in my mind that I thought I will share in this post .

Our experiences dictate our “gut” feelings , and it’s those feelings that help us interpret the data available to make a decision . When a decision is taken at the highest levels of an organization – it needs to be balanced against many dimensions .

Most executives grow up in one area for their entire career till they get to the top management . By that time they are totally set in their ways and would have learned to optimize heavily along one or two dimensions .

Let’s say hypothetically a “make or buy or partner” proposal comes up before the CEO and staff . Head of engineering firmly believes that no one can build with same quality as in house team . Head of BD believe it is cheaper and faster to get it done by a partner . Head of sales thinks he can sell better via direct sales than via indirect channels . Head of services doesn’t think it is wise to do this at all since her team does not have skills on that area . CFO just wants to know what is the cheapest way to do it . Head of HR is worried about burn out of developers if we do this in-house .

So how does a decision get made ? Usually one of the following happens

1. CEO listens to everyone and makes a decision since no one option has enough support from most of staff
2. A large degree of trust exists within exec team and a collective consensus decision gets made
3. A majority opinion forms and CEO agrees to it
4. No decision gets made and issue lingers for a long time

These are normal decisions and pretty much any option above works out ok . The key word here is “ok” – as opposed to “great”. Why doesn’t “great” happen ? Because individual executives very rarely have the breadth in proportion to the depth of their experience that aids a better decision .

Except in really large companies – or for a small time in the early days of a really small start up , people grow up as specialists . By the time they need generalist skills – they are set in their ways and they can’t afford to make mistakes and learn from it .

Individual brilliance can over come this to a large extent – but it has its obvious limitations . But I think there is a way to over come this problem – start rotating high potential employees really early in their careers .

I have seen IBM and GE do this effectively for upper management . Another company that I have seen do this effectively is Lam Research – where it is not just upper management employees that get this benefit . I think they all reap the benefits in spades .

This realization came rather late in life for me . I was fortunate to have had a relatively successful time fast tracking through the partner track in consulting . A mentor in IBM suggested to me that I should do some non SAP gigs in consulting and I did that kicking and screaming – and it opened my eyes to the world of possibilities that only happens when one sees a problem with fresh eyes .

From then on , I moved to presales and sales with a lot of ease . I grew up hating sales (cool developers hate sales peeps as a norm , And I definitely counted myself as a cool developer) – but I smashed my quota every year at IBM since the time I had a quota on my head . Why ? I think (in hindsight) because neither me nor my customers felt that I was “selling” – I was just “consulting” and to my luck , they saw value in my advice and usually agreed to invest in my ideas . It all worked out well for me – But it wasn’t some grand ore planned strategy , and that first step was REALLY hard !

Since then I have made it a point to gain more breadth in my career . I did a stint in engineering at SAP and now I run channels at MongoDB. It is a constant learning experience – and my own deficiency in marketing and product management skills dawn on me every day . On the other hand – my background in direct sales , presales, consulting and engineering help me a lot in being effective in my current job . And I have the best channels team working with me !

Bottom line – I should have started a lot sooner in my life to branch out and try other things , but I am glad I started it at some point even if it was late . I am also thankful that every time I have made a case to someone in my management to give me a shot at trying something new , they have been supportive .

With this realization , my outlook for my team changed quite a bit too . Over the last few years – I have actively sought out opportunities outside my team for my best performers , even if it meant my headcount and budget had to be sacrificed . It hasn’t always worked – but is has worked out well more times than not . When I hire – I do give due weightage to candidates with breadth of experience . I intend to carry on doing that for rest of my career .

One other learning was that not everyone likes to go broad – and some prefer to go deep . That should be respected by managers. Deep has its benefits too – especially in some jobs like finance and engineering . But even in those jobs , a little bit of variety won’t hurt .

For me – without my mentor pushing me into it – I would have never gone out of my comfort zone on my own . And the way he put it to me was to try it as an experiment for a while and to go back to SAP consulting if it didn’t work out . It is important for leaders to provide a little bit of a safety net before you push your team members into new things . Your network is your safety net – and the last best time to start was in college , and if you did not do that – the next best time is today .

SAP buys Concur and Oracle gets new CEOs – My 2 cents


Just as soon as I came back from lunch , I heard about both news items from SAP and Oracle . Here are my views – strictly personal opinions as always , and has nothing to do with present or past employers .

SAP buying Concur is a pretty good move in my opinion. As a frequent business traveler , the standard SAP solutions are not exactly the ones I think of as my “painkillers” . Concur fits the bill and I know there are millions like me who need their services . What is more – it is a growing business with plenty of scope for innovation given the options to travel are increasing .

For SAP – with Ariba already providing a pretty big network , this is a neat deal to add to their breadth and depth . Success factors fits in too pretty well from HR synergy . And of course there is the core FI and budgeting apps which their instal base already has in plenty . So from a portfolio synergy – it makes perfect sense to me .

I really hope that this does not start another “let’s replatform to Hana” initiative . I am sure hana fits some parts of concur really well – like maybe getting amazing insights across expenses and other corporate data like HR , risk and so on . But a blanket replatforming – especially from a transaction processing point of view , doesn’t look like high value for me .

After reading Den Howlett’s blog on the recent influencer meeting – there was only one question I asked . Was there any mention of M&A ? He said there wasn’t . And I was wondering how SAP plans to get all that top line money organically . Well today answers that question for the most part :) Buying for top line improvement is something IBM, Oracle etc have done before too – so nothing new in that respect . Oracle market cap probably increased about $50B via acquisitions in last 5 years or so I think .

So now my big question is what companies will SAP acquire to bolster the platform side. ? Business Objects is good – but tired . Lumira did not exactly give tableau a run for its money . So maybe SAP can buy a modern company to boost the BI business – like Tableau or Alteryx . It probably won’t be cheap – but probably a good idea to retain BI market leadership .

Or maybe TIBCO – and have a shot at both EAI and BI in one go .

Another option might be to buy into the lower end of the stack like redhat . That could open all kinds of doors for SAP on platform side . In fact – I would rate such a purchase as way more strategic than even tableau.

No idea if any of these vendors – maybe except TIBCO – wants to be sold . And if they did – SAP will probably need $10B+ to buy a couple of them .

In any case – big congrats to Bill McDermott and SAP !

Moving on to Oracle . I am not sure what exactly changed there . Everyone seems to have moved one level up the ladder and Larry retains control of all technology aspects . And while he remains active – it is hard to imagine Oracle having two other CEOs .

There was a rumor throughout that Larry might become Chairman and buy Salesforce.com and make Benioff the Oracle CEO . Clearly that did not happen . But it is not to say that can’t happen in future . The two new CEOs (best of luck and congrats to both) both deserved the job for sure . So the possibility that they move to the board in a couple of years and Benioff getting the CEO job long term is a possibility . We will see I guess :)

I think it makes sense for Oracle to make a big noise to divert attention from a rather lackluster financial quarter . Beyond that , I don’t see anything material about the CEO transition .

Scale and Culture , the ultimate conflict in startups


Ever since I left the big company career , I have been talking to and learning from folks who have a lot of experience in the scrappy startup way of life. I have had such conversation with engineers, founders, sales people, VCs , Angels , receptionists and pretty much anyone else who would talk to me about this . I am rather firmly convinced by now that what worries start ups is the idea of scale – or more precisely, how to scale the business without sacrificing their culture. 

Culture is a loosely defined term for me. It is contextual – some people consider the freedom to work on a pet project as culture, another looks at free beer and food as culture, yet another thinks a primarily engineering skilled work force is the hall mark of culture , some one else looks at a flat hierarchy as the best indication of culture and so on. And this is primarily the reason for the conflict between the need to scale and the urge to defend culture. 

Looking at some iconic new generation companies from the outside – like Google and Facebook, it looks like a lot of the startup culture can be saved. At least the easy ones like informal dress code, free food etc. But a few friends who work there have told me that when it comes to decision making and hierarchy, they tend to shift more to the large company way of doing things. 

I have never founded a company – but from observing people who have done so, it looks to me that the ideal way to do this is for an engineer with a great idea to go find a friend who has business savvy and get a company started. May be it works with the business guy being the starting point too – but to me it does not seem likely that a business person without tech chops can identify a good techie quite as easy as a techie can look for business skills in a partner. I may be wrong – but at least that is how it appears to me. Without a business oriented founder ( pretty cool if business person also is a techie) – I think there will always be a feeling in the company that the sellers who get recruited are a bunch of over paid losers. 

Same is the case for hierarchy . I hate hierarchies with a passion. But it is nearly impossible to manage more than 10 people effectively. So as a company grows, fighting hierarchy is futile – you will just invite chaos. It is a fine balance. When you are small – you can hire enough top notch talent who might not need much management. But there are only so many smart people available on the planet and not all of them are available to your company. So embrace the concept of structure to minimize growing pains. 

There is a certain paradox in engineers fighting hierarchy and structure in organizations. I am a perfect example. I am obsessive compulsive in organizing my code well, ensuring separation of concern , clear hierarchy of a stacks and so on. Yet when it comes to people management – I have fought my bosses tooth and nail on every bit of organizational discipline they had instituted. I can’t say I have fully embraced the idea – but I am a lot more understanding of the need for structure than I was in my younger days. My closest to ideal situation is a flat team that organizes itself to solve a problem, and use hierarchies needed to get things done. And then they go back to the flat team and re organize for next problem to be solved. 

Same deal with performance reviews and comp plans. I like giving and getting feedback at task level and periodically at big picture level. This works well when the organization is relatively small. But when a company grows to hundreds and thousands of people – all those things I don’t like – bell curve type things, come into play. A lot of this misery is caused by lack of flexibility in corporate budgeting. Budgeting is done for predictability – not for performance optimization. And it has extreme side effects that everyone knows but very few CFOs act on. To some extent, tools are to be blamed too. Even if a business wants to be flexible – the common enterprise tools for budgeting and planning have restrictions that minimize flexibility. 

When I left SAP and joined MongoDB – a lot of friends and my mentors told me that once you taste the startup world, there is no turning back to old world. To a large extent, I believe that is indeed true. The flexibility and freedom offered in a smaller and faster growing company is a big plus factor. But what happens when a start up gets too big ? I have seen some of my friends go back to the big company world, and some others just jump to an early stage company and help them grow. A handful who made a lot of money have moved on to be investors. 

I think some cross pollination is necessary in our industry. Even in the 5 months that I have been in this role – I realize how some stuff in my old world can benefit by making changes to how they operate. Similarly the younger companies can get a lot of benefit from people who bring in the perspectives from the big company world – especially about scaling. The latter happens a lot already. But the former – where big companies hire leaders from startup world – don’t happen to the same degree. 

I am very much a newbie to all of this – and am very curious what you think . 

 

 

Six Reasons Why Kerala’s Proposal For Prohibition Will Not Work


Kerala wants to be a dry state http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/kerala-to-close-down-700-bars-sundays-to-be-dry-114082101171_1.html 

It is ironic that I have to write this blog post against it – as a guy who has seen the evil effects of alcoholism at close quarters and with every bit of my soul, I wish this menace went away for good. But as I read more about the proposal by the ruling coalition (ironically called United Democratic Front – given there is very rarely any unity or democracy in how they function ), the more I think this is absolutely misguided, and has no real chance of succeeding. 

1. It is not a well thought through decision

The decision was taken over a few days – with no meaningful public debate. And because of its populist nature with women voters, no political party in Kerala can afford to raise a contrarian view.

2, It was not done for the right reasons

The decision was made mostly for the Chief Minister Chandy to convince the world that he is holier than the already “holier than thou” leader of KPCC V.M Sudheeran. They waged a war for political image and took a short term populist decision – with no sufficient thought to consequences. The other alleged reason is the political pressure from Muslim League and Church leaders. This is no better (if true) – as church and state hardly ever mixes well to make good policies. 

3. There is no practical way to enforce this

When prohibition leads to bootlegging and plenty of flow of illicit alcohol from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it will be up on the Excise department to curb that. This is a department that is already at just  20% of the needed headcount . There is no way they can staff quickly enough to enforce prohibition

4. When and where did banning alcohol work ?Never

India – including Kerala – has seen what happens when alcohol gets banned . It does not work. It did not work in USA either and they learned the lesson and changed it, and did not go back to prohibition. Alcohol is freely available in USA and you do not need to stand in line to get a bottle of your favorite spirit like you need to do outside a beverages corp outlet in Kerala. Yet, there is rarely a regular public spectacle of drunken people like we see in Kerala. 

5. If the decision was pure in its intentions, why was  government owned beverages corporation given 10 years to close shop while private bars have to be closed right away?

Clearly the government needs revenue from alcohol sales – but does not mind the private sector losing their business. Alcohol sales is probably the leading revenue earner for the state, along with tourism and NRI inflow. Without a doubt prohibition will decrease tourism. So its a double whammy for government revenue. And remember, this is a government that functions on borrowed money and has no fiscal discipline ( look at the plight of  KSRTC for example).

6. Demand and Supply situation will drive up alcohol prices, and worsen the social menace

The social menace arises from the behavior of several men to use money they can ill afford to buy liquor. Now that competition from private bars will be eliminated, beverages corp and 5 star hotels can increase liquor prices to any extent. What this means is that the men who want to drink will now pay a lot more (travelling farther to drink, paying more for that drink, and most likely higher medical expenses incurred by consuming bad quality liquor ) and hence will put their families through even greater pain to cater to their addiction. 

What would have been a better way to handle this situation?

1. Better and continuous education and awareness generation amongst public to enjoy their drink responsibly, and how to get help for those who are addicted.

2. Increase the standards required to run bars and its enforcement, and aggressively close down any that don’t meet the high standards. 

3. Provide government funded counseling and medical treatment for alcoholism. 

4. Make laws that let abused families to get justice, and help get their abusive family members checked into institutions that offer help.

5. Improve enforcement – by modernizing the police force, excise etc. 

6. Decrease alcohol concentration in domestic liquor – especially in beer.

All of this can and should be funded by beverage corp revenue. Alcoholism is a social menace that needs resolution – and government has an important role to play. But it needs to be done in a well thought through way – not in the hasty and populist way it is attempted now. 

I have a whole new appreciation of Business Intelligence now


As many of you know, I grew up as a BI and Data warehousing guy – I have implemented BI for a lot of users across the world . I have collected requirements from shipping clerks as well as CXOs , and in at least a dozen different languages. I have spent countless hours thinking and rethinking data models, how best to transform data and how best to present data to my users.

Along the way, I became a manager and then an executive, and thus became an active consumer of BI myself. But in the big companies like IBM and SAP that I worked at – I learned to live with someone else’s BI design. As far as I can remember, I never had to create significant new requirements . These were rather stable businesses that could be run with minor tweaks to existing BI capabilities. 

And then few months ago, I joined MongoDB and my whole perspective on BI changed. We are for the most part still a startup. We don’t have a huge IT arm that can cater to endless requirements from me and other leaders of the business. Our IT landscape is almost completely SaaS based. If we can hire one more person – we would rather hire to fill a front line technical role to make the product and customer experience better,  or a sales or channel type role to make the business better. For foreseeable future, I don’t expect that to change either.  

We are a global business – and we are growing incredibly fast. And to keep that pace – we need good data, especially when it comes to customer facing business whether it is direct sales or channels (which I run) . Having grown up as a programmer and then a BI guy after that, I have a great affinity for making decisions by numbers. With the speed at which we grow and our lean policies, I don’t really have a lot of time to wait for information to see how things are going – which essentially means I need good quality operational BI at all times. 

We use Salesforce.com for our CRM. I am a first time user of this solution – which might surprise a lot of people. My past experience with CRM has all been in Seibel and SAP CRM. The best part of salesforce.com was that I did not need any training to use it – none at all. My past experience was almost immediately transferable to use the system as a non-expert. My primary use is not as a transactional user who creates or updates opportunities etc. My main goal is that of gaining quick visibility into the aggregate opportunity to order process for channel business, with the ability to drill down into details as needed.

Once I got settled in my new role, and got to know my team better – my immediate priority was to get a full view of the global business. I mocked up initial requirements into spreadsheets and discussed it on phone with my partner manager Guillaume in Dublin, who is an experienced salesforce user. From my past consultant life – I estimated the effort required as a few months in the technologies I grew up with (assuming I got the most skilled people I could find). Next day morning, I saw Guillaume already had 3 dashboards ready for me which showed most of the information I needed. And then in 2 more daily scrums – I had the 6 dashboards I needed to view the business from every dimension I care about. That is much less than the time it would have taken me to write a proposal for a customer for this work in my past life. 

What did I learn from this experience ?

A lot of good things for sure

1. Business users like Guillaume (and Luca, his boss who runs channels in EMEA for MongoDB) are better BI consultants than anyone I could have ever hired from outside. He not only knew the technology well, he knew my business well and could challenge my assumptions and give me new ideas. It has convinced me that rest of my team including me should step up our skills in salesforce.

2. The technology to build operational reports should be extremely simple so that business teams can iterate quickly. Till I saw it with my own eyes, I did not believe that it could be this easy.

3. From prior life as a programmer and a BI guy, I am well aware of the limitations in reporting – so I can minimize the churn in requirements gathering and make good compromises on what needs to be measured.

4. The simplicity of reports and the report writing technology – and my big time aversion to any transformations (having seen how data loses meaning way too many times) – helps us stay nimble and make changes on the fly. 

There are also some areas of improvement of technology , which I am sure Alex Dayon and team will fix at some point, hopefully soon .

1. Charting and visualization is very limited – so when multiple graphs are put next to each other it is quite a strain to discern information quickly. Granted, the ease of changing things on the fly is more important to me than flashy reports.

2. Only 20 controls possible in a dashboard. I can compromise on it for now, but as business grows – this is a pretty serious limitation for me to get a global view across everything I need to monitor and act on. 

3. Reporting across objects looks limited – but this could just be my lack of experience.

4. Operational reporting does not replace the need for a data warehouse . I still need some other place to combine the lead to order process with information from from Finance, HR etc. For my current purposes, I have work arounds – but if all the SaaS vendors for CRM, Finance, HR co-operated and built a BI solution to seamlessly provide me with integrated data – I will swipe my credit card happily to buy it. 

Dog Shows – Where Rational People Do Irrational Things


Dog shows are a fascinating ecosystem by itself – with a lot of participants like owners, breeders, handlers, judges, trainers, backers, vets, psychics, merchants ….and dogs. Ancient lore has it that people started dog shows as a way to select the best dogs for breeding. If you walk into the world of dog shows today – you probably will hear that line from a mentor, but if you look around and form an independent opinion, you will be forgiven for being a skeptic.

To begin with – I personally don’t know an owner, backer or a breeder who makes any money out of show dogs. At best they get bragging rights. At worst they take a second mortgage on their houses. All the other parties like handlers, merchants etc make money off show dogs, but the percentage of people who make a good living off dogs is an extreme minority. 

On the expense side – it costs a pretty penny to be competitive.

Take dog food for example. Pet food is an industry worth about $18Billion a year. It is virtually a recession proof industry too – people tend to feed animals even when they tighten their belts. In fact people spend more money on pet food than on baby food. Now – all that money doesn’t come from show dog owners – but a good portion does, and that I am guessing is the high margin part of that business. I am a part of some show dog communities online – and it is fascinating to see the discussions on what to feed the dog. 

Or take showing expenses – handling expenses, advertising , health clearances, transportation etc . It takes about $5000 on the “I am lucky” end to about $20000 on the “I am one of the regular suckers” end to finish the championship titles on a dog. And if the dog is a “special” – this is just table stakes. It can cost anywhere up to a half million dollars to campaign a dog at 200 shows a year. That is my rough guess math – I have not done this myself. And those people who spend that kind of money – usually backers, who put their money behind a dog they and their handler feel can go all the way –  are not exactly very visible in dog shows either. I know a few – all good people who come from money, but they can barely explain why they do it. Not one of them seems to be the type who needs to win a Top 20 competition to show off their wealth. But they all do it – year after year. They all love dogs and take excellent care of dogs and spare no expense – but very few keep the dogs after the year or two they are shown. The dogs retire elsewhere – either with handlers, or with original owners or placed with someone else. 

To give you a personal example – the first thing I did after getting a job in USA is to buy a German Shepherd in Germany, send her to a friend in India to show and following along her progress from USA. I met the dog personally less than 10 times. Thankfully my friend took exceptional good care of her and I realized the folly of this exercise readily (but not before a few more such attempts were made – with other friends and other countries involved)  :)

Money is not the only irrational part of this scenario. It is a subjective sport with its own idiosyncrasies. Take one of the smaller breeds like the smooth fox terrier. They are supposed to look like a cleverly made hunter. There are very very few owners or judges who hunt. How exactly are they supposed to know what a cleverly made hunter looks like ? Or take a larger breed like the ever popular Labrador retriever. If you look like a male lab in the specials ring, you will see a heavy dog – probably 120 lbs in weight ( looks like it – never physically lifted one myself to check) . Many of them finish their hunting titles too – except they look a lot leaner when they are in field training. Is it not odd that a lab who is in good shape for hunting cannot win a breed show in most cases without putting on extra weight? Labs are also supposed to be “short coupled” – as are goldens. Yet, it will be really hard to get a few breeders to agree on what exactly that means. Not to worry – generations that went before us argued about this just as fiercely as we do today. 

Then there are the judges. Every time I feel bad about flying 100s of thousands of miles a year on work stuff, I remember there are dog show judges who fly as much or more than I do, and usually in less comfort. These ladies and gents are supposed to be 100% impartial . But if you look at the expenses I mentioned above – a big chunk is about advertising. Why would anyone advertise their show dog? Typically to attract the attention of the judges. So the deal is that the people writing checkbooks will go all out to influence a judge via advertisements in magazines, social media etc – yet the judge should be impartial. In the world of dog shows – this is totally normal stuff. If a judge likes a photo of a dog (or heaven forbid make a comment) on facebook – that is almost reason for a small riot. When I was a young boy, I had wanted to be a judge. You can’t make me one by holding a gun to my head now – no thank you :)

OK so back to the question of finding breeding stock as a reason for shows. Responsible breeders tend to check all kinds of health problems for their dogs and their ancestors before they are bred. Yet, if you check the top specials in the ring – you will find a good number do not have good clearances. It does not worry me at all – because I am not forced to buy a puppy from a dog I don’t like. I personally know of a dog and a bitch with “fair” ratings for their hips (the minimum passable score)  being bred and resulting in many pups in the litter not passing their hip tests. It certainly did not stop the dog or the bitch from being bred again. This is not some super secret story that only I know of – its unfortunately pretty common place. As with everything else in today’s world – buyer beware ! Dog breeding is more art, and less science. You need a lot of luck to get a pup that pans out. 

It is generally a losing battle to breed healthy dogs – simply because most breeds have been around for only a century or so. From that small a gene pool – its hard to not breed closely. However hard you try, you will inadvertently mess up. Yet – good breeders soldier on. This is mostly why I stay away from breeding completely. I would much rather pay a premium to buy a puppy from a good breeder than try my hand at breeding. If the pup turns out ok – I show him. If not – he stays home. And since I don’t handle any more myself – I don’t miss shows all that much. I am totally happy to spend some money on a good handler to show my dog. 

So am I rational ? hell no – I am as irrational as everyone else in the game. I have spent way more on dogs than I should have – and even today if I see an unusually good dog, I get goosebumps and an urge to buy it and walk into a ring. And as long as I can afford it, why not ? there is always that option of taking a second mortgage, right ? Hobbies are irrational I guess – and I have enough rational stuff to worry about that I am kind of happy to let this side of my life be a tad(?) irrational :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flip side of automation and scale


A significant part of my work life is spent on figuring out how to scale everything . And in this case – I am talking about increasing the size and efficiency . I grew up professionally believing that scaling up is a good thing , and automation is the best thing ever .

But along the way I have started having doubts – scaling up or scaling down has some serious side affects and those are not easy to mitigate

When my dad taught me to drive , he also taught me the mechanical aspects of a car . And I had a working knowledge of how to have an intelligent conversation with our local mechanics on what needs to be fixed and how to troubleshoot the car .

It was considered reckless those days to replace a part without attempting to repair it . Later, I moved to the US after college and bought my first car – a second hand white Pontiac Grand Am . When that car stopped working , I realized that the local mechanic wanted to replace the parts and not to tinker with the faulty parts like I was used to . But with my coaxing he was able to repair it to a large extent .

Now I drive a German car, which is more expensive than my first car . I paid the premium assuming higher quality and safety standards . It started giving a weird error message couple of days ago and I took it to the dealership . I promptly got a loaner car and all . In 2 days they replaced the part and gave me back the car . I drove to Las Vegas and about a 100 miles later I found the same weird message again on the dashboard . Plus there was a check engine light that came on . And then it went off . As soon as I got back from that trip – I went to the dealership . I am now told that the part needs better fit and they are trying to do that manually but probably will need to replace it . Plus they are finding it hard to trouble shoot given they are trusting a computer and not any real service experience to see what is wrong .

In theory – it’s not my problem . I have a loaner car and there is no direct cost to me since the car has a full warranty . But certainly in their quest to scale – extreme automation has largely killed craftsmanship of the service team . It doesn’t sound like a good thing for me given a lot of precious time is lost for me on week days when I can least afford it .

The problem with the zero automation of my childhood mechanic friend was that it was totally dependent on one person’s skill whether the car got fixed or not . The trouble with full automation at my current dealership is that they don’t have enough skills to diagnose outside the script the manufacturer have them . Clearly we need a middle ground to make this work well for customers .

Earlier today I read a blog by my pal Chris Paine about the problems of performance management in HR .

http://www.wombling.com/hr/intangibles-appreciating-your-employees-motivates-performance-ratings-processes-dont/

I largely agree with Chris . For the sake of scale , companies institute policies in broad strokes. And then measure employees somewhat arbitrarily and determine their rewards . Most Companies cannot even predict sales for next quarter – how exactly is a company going to set goals for a year for all employees ? It is a limited approach – and yet companies use it all the time . Feedback that comes months or a year late doesn’t help any employee – certainly not me any way . And other than performance management software vendors – I have not really seen anyone getting excited about appraisals . Yet we insist on spending time and money in the name of scale .

How about scaling down ? The immediate example that comes to mind are the amusement parks I took my kiddo to this summer .

IMG_4339-0.JPG

IMG_4387-0.PNG

I can’t imagine the killer whales and bears enjoying a scaled down environment ever – yet since scaling down helps the humans make money off them , they do it . And morons like me who pay to go there and watch these miserable animals add to the problem .

Since no blog passes muster without saying “big data”, let me check that box too . Over the last 4 years – across IBM, SAP and MongoDB – I have been asked by customers and partners about scaling . Clearly it is a good thing for customers to be thinking about scale . However when I dig deeper to understand how much of scale they really need – I usually find they need a few tens of GB of data for now and maybe a few more tens of GB growth per annum in next 5 years . That is not exactly BIG in the context of big data and the customers know it too . Just that it is a mandatory conversation before technology purchases irrespective of whether a given use case needs significant scale or not .

Some of you might remember a rant from me from past about my reservations about the concept of “real time” . Essentially my view is that real time is not always the right time for a given use case . My favorite example is that you can use computers to find at real time that moving ice cream from LA to Dallas will make a lot of money for the company . But that information is useful only if you have transportation available in real time – which is seldom the case . And if there is no transportation available – was it really worth investing in a real time system to begin with ?

In similar vein – there should be an effort to “right scale”. I don’t think mindless scaling up (or down ) is going to lead us to glory any time soon .