My 2022 reflections

Looking back at 2022 – the first question I ask is “are we really at the end of the year already?” .

My quick reflections follow – as always , this is all strictly personal and have nothing to do with my employer

First some “personal” stuff

Thrilled for our daughter – finished her high school in 3 years with summa cum laude , and finished her first semester of college being on Dean’s list . And she is having fun making new friends, traveling etc

Very grateful for the great team that I am part of . Thanks to them – I could effectively do two roles this year, and I feel confident walking into my new role as the managing partner for Financial Services (FS) next week .

Totally feel bad for Archie who didn’t get as much time with me this year thanks to me getting a little too busy with work . I have promised him I will do better next year . Ollie has no complaints – and has been holding my hand throughout webex meetings

Got to hang out with my mom a lot more this year than usual and I hope to do that next year too

Reading has been a bit of a casualty – though it is slowly getting back to normal .

And now some “work” stuff – largely my observations on the financial services industry

There are two trends in financial services that fascinate me – apps moving to public cloud a lot slower than people thought , and big data moving to cloud much faster than the original Datawarehousing wave in the past . Companies have a real challenge sweating their legacy investments and making use of all the innovation goodness available now .

There are very few clear boundaries in IT anymore – to stay relevant, we need to acquire multiple skills and keep learning . Long gone are the days when 5 days of training a year kept me on the bleeding edge of SAP . We need some serious thinking urgently on how to up skill rapidly and at scale

FS companies are getting religion on “product vs project” approaches . I am sure 2023 will see the demand for product manager type folks go through the roof

It’s very good that FS companies have strict regulations to comply with – we are all protected because of that . I am not totally sure though if the design and implementation of existing solutions can be called thoughtful . The industry can and should make use of ML and automation a whole lot more – and even more importantly take a second look at existing workflows to see if they still make sense .

Perhaps the biggest untapped opportunity in tech now is the under utilisation of junior talent . This needs urgent attention . There are very few things in tech that need everyone in the team to be highly skilled and experienced . I implemented their party logistics systems , pricing engines and so on as a junior developer – mostly by learning new stuff on the job . That was not the exception – that’s how all of us worked at the time . Today most companies won’t take you into a Dev team to do basic file handling if you don’t have a couple of years experience ! When people cry about lack of budget to do fancy projects – I often make this suggestion , and am constantly amused by the shock on their face . The irony of this situation also is that many of these folks are so excited about GPT generating code – but would not trust a young engineer to write it .

FS companies do more legacy Modernization projects than any other industry I know of . These are expensive initiatives no doubt and often very strategic . However they are not usually done in an efficient way for the times we live in. I see three broad opportunities to improve – a) better product management ( including perhaps from Agile education to business and not just IT ) b) better standardisation in coding ( for example – why does every developer have to spend time on scaffolding code ) and c) better testing (not just more automation , but also optimising coverage – and definitely making good use of synthetic data )

FS companies in US have some ways to go to embrace the fact that no one company can effectively serve all needs of their customers . It is not that this is a new idea – it’s just that culturally the industry is not fully committed yet in my opinion despite the massive disruption that the incumbents face . For sure most companies have dipped their toes in ecosystem initiatives – but very few have serious commitments with budgets to back it . I have a strong feeling that this will get serious attention in 2023

I will close with the topic on sustainability . I am absolutely thrilled that FS has largely jumped in on what is perhaps the most important thing for our planet and hence humanity . First order of business is to track, record and report . This seems to be well under way and has largely become a board level priority . But I do have a question on what happens next . If a developer raises their hand in a scrum meeting and questions if they need such heavy compute because of its negative carbon footprint consequences – will the engineering VP even consider a trade off ? Will the business live with that trade off ? That’s where the rubber hits the road . I am hopeful we will indeed get to a good place – if we replace sustainability with cyber security in this hypothetical , we know the answer is that the leaders will act on it real fast . We know that ML models are getting similar treatment as well in many companies . So I have a lot of faith that sustainability will also get there very soon !

Happy new year everyone !

Approximation is both a life saver and a potential disaster !

My first job out of engineering college was at a Tire company . One night, a spindle needed to be replaced in a machine on the line to restart it . I used my deep knowledge of mechanical engineering and figured I needed a spindle with 28.8 CM diameter . Everyone around me had a good laugh at my expense . Turns out spindles come rounded in 5CM intervals . Also I need not have done any calculations – there was a simple chart posted on the machine that indicated what size was required 🙂

There is some irony in this story . I was very familiar with the theory of approximations in Mathematics while in college . Just that I was not smart enough to use the principle in real life scenarios .

My generation didn’t get to use a calculator in school – so by and large most people in my peer group can do mental math just fine . This unfortunately can’t be taken for granted any more and it pains me to watch massive confusion from cashiers and customers alike when I am waiting in line at a grocery or something . it’s not as if kids became any less smart – the educational system somehow derailed along the way .

Even amongst people who learned how to do mental math – approximating answers is not something that comes naturally when it comes to multiplication and division . This becomes a challenge both in personal life ( eg: what would I need to spend if I need new carpet for my house ) and at work ( eg: what percentage of customers might churn annually at current trajectory ) .

Say for example you need to find what is 17% of 58976 . The correct answer is 10025.92 for which most people will need a calculator to get to this precise level . But most decisions don’t need this level or precision – a close enough approximation is just fine .

One quick mental math is to round up and find 20% of 60000 . Which is 12000 – but since we have rounded up both sides , we should know how much to reduce from this to get a close enough approximation .

One possible next step is to find 15% of 60000 – which is still rounding up 58976 but rounding down 17% . That gives us 9000 .

Since 17 is closer to 15 than 20 – we can assume the final answer is closer to 9000 than to 12000 . The range between the two is still a big 3000 and we need to get somewhat closer for this approximation to be useful . How close though ? 17 is about one third the way from 15 and two thirds the way from 20 . So what does that tell us – it should be about one third the way between the answers for 15% and 20% which is 1000 (out of the range of 3000 between the two extremes we found) . Consequently the answer is 9000 + 1000 = 10000 !

The math is rarely the limiting factor in our ability to approximate . Worst case you can always go find a calculator and get the math work .

The limiting factor often is in how well we define the problem and it’s context . For example – if the math problem above was about paying taxes , IRS wouldn’t take it kindly if you approximated the math and paid less 🙂

Breaking down the problem into peace parts and making sure there is minimal overlap is where we usually struggle .

Let’s say we are trying to budget for new carpet. It’s not enough to approximate square feet and multiply by a price you find online – there are other issues at play like labor and transportation , cost of removal , sales tax etc . Then there is the issue of knowing how close your budget needs to be to what you will actually spend which is very specific to your situation . As a young immigrant couple of decades ago – I needed to know within 5% . Now I only need to know within say 20-% .

At work, this takes a whole another level of complexity . At its simplest level – we tend to over engineer for the short term , and completely under engineer for the long term . I have erred on this myself countless times . As numbers get bigger and the time frame increases – it gets really hard to make good approximations .

For example – a day has 24 hours , which is 86400 seconds . That means a week has 604800 seconds . So how many years will it take to spend 1 million seconds ? How about 1 billion seconds ? You will probably be surprised at how close you will approximate million versus billion .

It’s Sunday evening now and I am staring at a massive spreadsheet figuring out plans for 2023 – and making judgments on where I absolutely need bottoms up calculations with high accuracy and where a directionally correct top down approximation is perfectly fine .

The good thing is that my two wing men are standing by to help in whatever way they can 🙂

Business development in consulting

Business development in consulting (also for systems integration) is a fairly straightforward process at its core .

1. You identify and solve problems for a client . These include problems whose impact that the client is fully not aware of yet !

2. The solution comes with value that the client can demonstrably see as greater than what it costs .

3. The specific problem you are solving is more valuable than solving other comparable problems the client could tackle right now

4. You have something special to offer – past experience, special skills and Knowledge , a unique point of view – which makes it less risky to hire you as opposed to someone else

5. You get paid fairly for the value you provided and you build enough trust based on that delivered value and earn future business

That’s all there is to it at a basic level . When we stick to this level of simplicity and clarity, it helps both consultants and the clients . The consultant can use this to qualify whether a particular opportunity is worth chasing at each step , and the client can make an informed decision based on facts and logic .

All this said – why do consultants and clients both struggle with this process ?

The answer is in step 1 above . This only works if the consultant knows the problems the client has . When I was a young consultant – it was quite common to just ask a client “tell me your problems and I will solve it for you”. It was a natural exercise back then – but it is not as effective today . Business is a more complex endeavour now than in the 90s, and people are way too short on time to have these open ended conversations with “strangers” .

It’s still common for clients to call consultants they have known for a long time (and have great trust ) to say “I have a problem” . But it’s not common enough in the industry anymore for a consultant to just depend largely on inbound demand to sustain their business .

A much better approach for consultants now is to approach clients with a unique point of view . This might not help win business right away – but it helps establish yourself as a value adding partner to the client and serve as a first step towards building a long term relationship .

I have been in both software and consulting industries across multiple employers in my own career. Consulting is more relationship driven and software is more transaction oriented . The best software business development leaders are also great at relationships – and the least effective consulting business development people are transactional sellers !

The world is not perfect – and even if a client is convinced about value , they are often tied down by a budget that was created based on some other definition of value that they had no control over . In those cases , you have to find a solution that fits in the envelope they have . What I have realised over time though is – even if you start that way , it’s often the case that over time you can help your clients make the case to their bosses on investment decisions and end up in win-win situations

When I was a young Associate Partner, I had a chance to present a finance transformation study to the CFO of a client . At the end of my presentation, he asked me “The value is clear – I am not sure why you are proposing a solution to only a third of the problem”. I responded that the controller who works for him only had so much budget available and hence I carved out a solution that fits that envelope . He smiled and asked me “Do you really think as CFO of a multi billion dollar company , I would hesitate to invest in solving a problem that has the kind of ROI you just convinced me of because someone in my team only had a tiny budget?” . It was a life and career changing moment for me !

Let me close out this post with what I think are the success factors for people who are good at this . There are three consistent differentiating factors for consultants who are good problem solvers for their clients .

1. They listen to understand the problem and they speak more to clarify the problem than offering spot solutions

2. Once they have a solution, they have the right balance of conviction on it being right and humility to accept an alternate point of view that they haven’t considered so far

3. They present the solution with clarity and they are not afraid to push back at clients professionally with facts and logic .

Happy Diwali everyone !

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