India in Olympics – Will The Plot Ever Change ?

In a (sick/sad) way, I am glad NBC has a delay telecasting Olympics here in the USA. As an Indian living here, I cheer happily for both countries. But the contrast between the two is way too much to ignore.

Lets start with Athletics. Every year, India sends a bunch of athletes to Olympics. There hasn’t been any success – and we still celebrate the 4th place P.T Usha got in Los Angeles in the 80s. Even before they leave India, their coaches will issue defensive statements like “even if we enter the final medal round, we should be proud of it” . Seriously? isn’t that getting old after all these years? Why bother traveling across ocean if the best you can do is nowhere close to getting a medal? If participation is the big deal – why not participate in lesser events and gain the experience?

Almost every retired athlete in India will start an academy in his or her name. Everyone wants to send their wards to Olympics, and do 4 year and 8 year plans. They then go on TV and blame the government a lot for lack of support. If the athlete who started the academy never won an Olympics, or has never coached an Olympic medal winner – what is the chance that they have it in them to do something different? If proof of the pudding is in the eating – well, lets see what comes off next week when the athletics kick off in London. I hope there will be a miracle, knowing well that hope is not a strategy.
Take badminton – where Saina Nehwal is a world class player. She seems to be doing well so far, and good luck to her. And I applaud what P Kashyap is doing too. But the doubles players were atrocious. They just did not play like a 13th ranked team in the world . There just was no intensity in their game.

Or take tennis – where the two big boys have egos fitting a soccer field. India could not field their best pair because they just hate each other. Whether the big boys Paes and Bhupathi would have won in Olympics is yet another question. I would doubt it . In Grand Slams – the top singles players in men’s circuit do not play doubles any more like Connors and McEnroe did years ago. That is not the case in Olympics – where top singles players usually play doubles too. It makes it hard for Paes and Bhupathi to win against players of Roger Federer’s class. Sania Mirza was never a top 10 player in singles, yet is the highest ranked Indian in the mix in women. Does she have a prayer in winning singles ever in Olympics? No – and I would be surprised if her teaming with Paes is going to work out very well after airing dirty laundry in public. After all the fuss – Bhupati and Boppanna who seemed confident of winning a medal, crashed out meekly in second round.

Archery was an area where we had world class competitors. They didn’t do too well either – and were totally outclassed. The lone silver lining is Narang who won a bronze yesterday for shooting. He won a bronze in an event where Bindra had a gold last year. As much as I am happy for him, can we ignore the decline?

All is not lost though – Field Hockey and Boxing are two areas I feel some confidence in. Boxing more so than Hockey. In both these cases the big difference is the difference in preparation that the teams went through. Their coaches are from outside India and they prepared the team to play to its strength. With Hockey – first match did not go well. But the second half was quite good – and I hope the team strikes back. In Boxing, the first rounds were excellent. I was surprised to see how physically fit the boxers and hockey players are now. Way to go – and good luck !

What causes this sob story to repeat each year? I can think of many reasons , but here is the first half dozen that comes to mind.

1. Politicians head sports in India invariably. Most of them have never played at a high level, and have not coached or in several cases not even followed the game. So there is hardly any vision . The one exception probably is our current sports minister who seems quite capable.

2. There is a cultural issue with taking up sports for a living. Other than cricket – most sports don’t have big sponsorship. So most parents won’t encourage kids to make a career in sports. It is changing, but way too slowly

3. Coaching is mostly stuck in the past. Past athletes who themselves were not capable of winning anything are now coaches. Bad idea – we should aim to partner with the best coaches in the world and get Indian coaches exposed to newer methods of training and conditioning. This includes boosting confidence of players

4. Infrastructure sucks in most sports centers. The only way out is to get private sector interested. Government cannot solve it themselves – and we should realize this after all these years.

5. Sports Quota from government needs to be revamped, or done away with. I personally know many who get a government job and never take part in sport ever after.

6. International exposure from young age. Don’t start sending athletes to compete abroad just the year before Olympics. Start sending them from a young age from minor leagues, and build up some bench strength.

I am glad the India – Srilanka cricket matches are there to give something to cheer about now. It is a little less gloomy thanks to that. But who knows – Miracles might happen next week.


Random Management Lessons From Dinner Table

Couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to host a client CIO and a senior IBM executive for dinner at a restaurant in San Jose, CA. It was one of the most interesting conversations I ever had over dinner, and to say the least – it was more valuable to me than many business school lessons. Since the CIO and me have regular meetings, some of it I already knew and had tried on my own. I wish I had taken notes – although it would have been awkward 🙂

The CIO explained how he helps his team set goals. He just asks them three questions periodically

1. What will you stop doing?

2. What will you start doing ?

3. What will you continue to do?

What an extremely simple framework , but it is extremely powerful. I have known his team for a couple of years now, and I have seen them transform. For the past several months, I have asked myself the same questions – and came to an interesting conclusion. My biggest conclusion was that it was way more hard to be fully critical of myself than I thought. Several things that I was very proud of about myself – I realized I could not take the amount of credit I have been giving myself.

Of the three questions, there is one that is harder than others for me. And that is “what will I stop doing?”. I delegate a lot already – thanks to the coaching I got over the years from my mentors. But as I thought more deeply about it – I could delegate a lot more. And if there is one thing I focus on with my mentees now – it is to delegate more. Delegation pays back in spades.

Talking of mentors – I learned the hard way the need to have multiple mentors. Just take the career front for example. To be a successful executive in my line of work- there are 4 things at least that you need to excel in

1. Developing People

2. Developing thought leadership

3. Managing projects and client relationships

4. Managing pipeline and sales

If I look at my mentors – there is hardly anyone who excels in each of these. If I don’t choose multiple mentors – it is not possible for me to become a well rounded leader. And if all of them work in the same environment as me – I probably won’t get any new ideas. IBM has a lot of emphasis on mentoring, and we can find out easily on intranet on who is looking for being mentored, and who is willing to mentor us. But that is just a first step – it does not mean you and your mentor will be compatible. I try to get leaders at my clients, at SAP, from analyst/blogger community, and at competitors to mentor me. It is not easy – and I have ways to go in finding mentors for all aspects that I need improvement. It is also important that I should be able to do something for the mentor in return. There might be a few selfless mentors who will help you without expecting anything in return – but my general philosophy is that if I am taking up their time, I should be able to help them in return in whatever way I can.

The IBM executive at the table is one of my mentors, and I have learned a lot from him. But let me point out just one thing he always does – which I don’t do, and I should try doing. I have taken many clients to dinner at this particular restaurant. The food is excellent, but service is not the best. And then we walked in and took our seats at our table. Next thing, the IBM executive asks the server what her name was. He talked to her using her name in every sentence for about 3 minutes. The result was unbelievable – this was the best service I have ever seen there in 10 years. I have seen this done many times by now, and it works like a charm. He does this with every one he meets – he treats them as peers, respects them, calls them by their name – and remembers them. I firmly believe it is a big part of his success in life.

There are a few more things I am surely missing here from last evening – but I need to go drop my daughter at her dance lessons. Off we go.

SAP Announced Fantastic Q2 Results – And Vijay Says..

Good job – SAP, Kudos on having an awesome Q2. Those are impressive numbers indeed. An 18% jump in revenue is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a German company with a huge European market where everyone else seems to be suffering. Every region had double digit growth. What I loved the most was that average deal size was up. That is not something a lot of companies can pull off in a bad economy.

So where did all the money come from? Looks like HANA brought in more than its fair share. With Sanjay Poonen/Steve Lucas at the helm – I would not have expected any less. Their team probably would have also covered for Q1 misses if they had any, with some room to spare. Vishal would be a happy camper seeing the number of HANA customers rise.

I am seeing a lot of traction for BW on HANA in the field. Many customers have bought Hana licenses already – and several have done so before they have a finite time line for implementation. So consulting and HW business for partners would lag software quite a bit. But BW on HANA is the cheapest version of HANA now – and that alone is not going to make big numbers. Business Suite for HANA is probably going to come out by end of year – but I have my doubts on how many customers will make the switch in near future. RDS might see good traction since it lets customers start small with HANA.

Here is some color from my buddy Dennis Howlett – it is an excellent read.

Dennis points out that SIs might see an issue going forward because SAP is aiming to reduce the consulting effort needed to implement its products. I am not going to hold my breath quite yet – time and again, across product lines – very few customers have been able to live with vanilla installations. RDS might help some – but probably not in sufficient scale. Even as recently as HANA – SAP could not scale implementations without partners getting involved. I strongly believe that had partner enablement been efficient up front, HANA would have sold about 2X what is has sold so far. Good thing is that it is all good now – and I expect to see more traction from HANA.

HANA is not a discounted product. However, big SAP customers don’t buy SAP licenses without discounts.HANA is not at a stage that large number of customers will just buy without a sweetened deal. So SAP sales people will need to throw something into the basket for sake of discounting. It is a game SAP taught customers, and now they cannot do away with it.

From Den’s post, my understanding is that SAP has taken the foot off the pedal for Analytics part of their portfolio. I wouldn’t worry too much about this . SAP has a very capable sales force that can overcome this quickly in rest of the year.

But there is an investment question that worries me a bit. With most of the development force dedicated to Hana – and SAP keen on bringing out several new products ( Visual Intelligence, Zen, Predictive Intelligence etc) – I have a feeling that the Analytics team are in a position of doing more with less resources. Despite million man hours, BO 4.0 had bugs that many customers have complained about. SAP has been pretty good about solving issues and supporting customers. However, it remains to be seen if SAP can allocate enough resources to effectively cater to the needs of such a growing portfolio. Alternate approach would be to not trying to be everything to everyone in BI. But I doubt Adam Binnie and Jon S and Michael R would want to take that direction.

Analytics has several options to increase market share. Most ERP customers don’t have BOBJ presence for starters, and it is a market SAP can readily tap. And Analytics is by far the only HANA usecase for now. So there should be some pull through demand too.

Mobility seem healthy too – but despite SAP spending a lot of effort, I somehow don’t get the comfort feel on their value proposition. I am not holding by breath on apps saving the day – or even platforms. Where I see traction is mostly in Afaria. I am seeing some traction for mobility – and some for SFSF, but not to the extent that I think that this will be the next billion dollar opportunity for SAP. I could be wrong – and I will be happy to be proven wrong. It could also be that Hana just gets more oxygen and Mobility messaging just chokes for now . I will wait for Sanjay to chime in with how he sees the future.

All things considered – I am bullish on SAP, and think that they are well placed for future. I can imagine a lot of champagne flowing in China this week where SAPPHIRE is happening 🙂

Not Even Apple Can Keep The Market Happy

So AAPL announced its Q3 results – and next thing we know its shares took a beating – almost down 5% in after hours trading when I looked. Did anything change fundamentally for AAPL to deserve this brutal treatment from investors? I doubt it – they are just paying the price for being a very successful public company for the most part. It is not as if they did bad in absolute terms – they made a lot of money in the quarter, but not enough to keep up with the market’s instiable appetite for more.

Their product cycle did not do AAPL a lot of favors – despite the excellent iPad sales, and a new mac model. Everyone I know – and me – are waiting for the new iPhone. Till next model comes out, large numbers of  existing customers will not pay for an existing model . It is not as if the analysts did not know it – they just did not cut AAPL any slack for it.

There is an interesting question here – how much of iPad sales is killing the traditional mac revenue? I know many who barely use a PC or Mac any more, and just use iPads. I have seen this more with ex-PC users. But this might be affecting mac buying behavior quite a bit too. I am sure some smart analyst has figured it out. I need to find out more. While AAPL is a clear leader with iPads,  the tablet market is getting brutally competitive. So they cannot slacken one bit on iPads .

AAPL has always been very conservative when it comes to guidance to market. It is now at a stage where Apple’s guidance and  analyst consensus is a few billion dollars apart for revenue each quarter. That is a lot of money to make up every time. Apple and Analysts need to reach some middle ground to avoid wide swings. It is hard to pull off though given AAPL’s success.

Some small investors will probably panic as always and sell now. My feeling is that some smart fund managers will just buy at the low price given the company has strong fundamentals and tonnes of cash.

AAPL might not be totally immune to economic issues in Europe – and that could be a long term issue. I would be keen to see how 4Q turns out for them. Guidance for 4Q is 34B USD – which is probably way too low for keeping analysts happy. I am pretty curious to see if they will revise it soon after seeing the stock take a hit.



Life And Career Lessons My Dogs Taught Me

I have always been a dog lover for as long as I remember. When I was a teenager, I spent all the time with dogs and dog shows and no time chasing girls. My mom and some relatives worried seriously that I would not finish my engineering education due to this extreme interest in dogs. That did not happen – and I thank an uncle of mine, N.Radhakrishnan – for that. He gave a life lesson – finish your education, get a good job that pays well – and you can buy any dog you want. And that is exactly what I did. With the first salary I got after moving to US, I bought a German Shepherd bitch from Germany and sent her to India, to my dear friend Dr.Satish Kumaran to raise and show. What uncle Radhakrishnan did for me – and I am not sure if even he realized it when he advised me – was life changing for me, and I never waste an opportunity to explain this to younger friends who are crazy about the world of dogs and dog shows. Sadly, my success rate is rather low in getting them to listen.

Dog training taught me a few things that have helped me a lot as a leader. I learned to work as a team – the hard way. I have lost more shows in obedience because I did not play as a team with my dog. But once I figured it out – we had a lot of wins, and even more fun. I carry this on to my work – I go out of my way to play nice as a team with my colleagues, and hardly have regretted it. I know plenty of people in my line of work who act as lone cowboys – and invariably they lack the endurance to keep at top of their game for long.

Dog show world is an ecosystem in itself. I was never a top competitor due to my college and later my work. But my mentors – breeders, judges and handlers – paid it forward by taking me under their wings. None of them hesitated to give me honest feedback, and even though there was very little I could do to help them, they always helped and continue to help me. This again is something that I have found to be a useful trait at work – pay it forward. I have Marilyn Pratt of SAP to thank for reinforcing this message from the time I have known her.

The dogs themselves taught me a lot about communication – and the ratio of punishment and reward. You get a lot more for your efforts by reward, and you get a lot less by punishment. It also taught me that rewards need to change according to situation – some times a treat, other times a game of fetch or tug-o-war. Punishment has its place too – and I learned that if you praise when needed, a change of tone in your voice is enough punishment for even the most difficult dog. Strangely – this seems applicable in work front too. While money is a terrific reward – and I do not believe that money can be a dis-incentive like some studies suggest – there are plenty of other rewards too. Training, new opportunities etc all are terrific ways of getting more from your team. I would not have put it to practice by just reading a book – I learned it first hand by training dogs, and the books just convinced me that others have reached similar conclusions too.

I always buy dogs from breeders – never from a pet shop. I would probably start adopting from shelters when I retire. And it has only helped me. Responsible breeders stay on to help for the life of your dog, and more. And while there are no absolute guarantees – the chances of getting a healthy dog of good temperament is much higher if you buy from responsible breeders. This has definitely helped me – the initial puchase price from a breeder is more than from a petshop, but that is the smallest part of what I pay over the life time of a dog. And this has influenced my buying behavior at work as well as on personal front. Buy from someone who is in the business for the long haul.

Now I have two dogs – 8 year old Golden Retriever we call Boss, and 3 year old black Labrador Hobo. They could not be more different. Let me give two examples. If I take them both to a dog park, this is what will happen every single time. I will throw a ball for them, and Hobo will start chasing it. Boss will run straight to the first human he can find, and will act all cute and get petted. He will then do this with every single person in that park. He will finish this socializing, and then will totally ignore other dogs at that time. Then he will go play with other dogs as if it is a part he just needs to do for sake of society. Then he is ready to play ball. Back to Hobo – who has been chasing that ball from the first moment he set foot in the park. He will reach within 10 feet of the ball, and will see someone else throw a frisbee. He will ignore my tennis ball – and chase that frisbee, along with the dog for whom it was thrown. He won’t get the frisbee either, because invariably he will chase another toy halfway through. Finally he will go back, fetch the ball I threw. By this time – he has no energy and is barely holding on to the tennis ball. Enter Boss – who will trot in an energy conserving smooth manner. He will run half way to meet Hobo, take the ball from his mouth, and bring it back to me. Hobo will reach me 2 minutes later and then will lay down with not an ounce of energy left. Boss will fetch without competition for a few more times and then he will call it a day before he gets tired.

Same thing happens when I toss a tennis ball to the pool for them to fetch. Hobo will dive spectacularly into the pool and get the ball. Boss will wait at pool steps, wait for Hobo to reach there – and will take the ball off Hobo and happily run back to me to repeat the fun exercise. Hobo almost never gets to deliver to me directly. This has gone on for three years, and I doubt it will change ever. So I try to not let them come play with me together all the time, so that they both get a chance.

I know people who are similar to Boss and Hobo in the human world, especially when it comes to work. And living with my dogs at home – I have gotten better at identifying how they work, and what I need to do to “manage”. I am sure you all can think of others who have something in common with what I explained above. Neither behavior is particularly good at work – but if you spot it as a leader, you have a chance to influence the modification of this behavior.

When people say “Dogs are the best friend of men” – I wonder if they thought of all these 🙂

And Chirag Says – Learn To Fail And Fail To Learn

Many of you would know my pal Chirag Mehta. He is one of the most forward thinking experts in enterprise software that I know. Even more impressive – he is an adjucnt faculty at Santa Clara University and San Jose State University, teaching graduate school classes in computer science. He is an excellent blogger – and it is with great pleasure that I host a thought provoking guest post from Chirag on my blog.

You can follow Chirag on twitter @chirag_mehta

Also check out his blogs and his linkedin profile

And Chirag says……

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain

In a casual conversation with a dad of an eight-year old over a little league baseball game on a breezy bay area evening, who also happens to be an elementary school teacher, he told me that teaching cursive writing to kids isn’t particularly a bright idea. He said, “it’s a dying skill.” The only thing he cares about is to teach kids write legibly. He even wonders whether kids would learn typing the same way some of us learned or they would learn tap-typing due to the growing popularity of tablets. He is right.

When the kids still have to go to a “lab” to work on a “computer” while “buffering” is amongst the first ten words of a two-year old’s vocabulary, I conclude that the schools haven’t managed to keep up their pace with today’s reality.

I am a passionate educator. I teach graduate classes and I have worked very hard to ensure that my classes – the content as well as the delivery methods – are designed to prepare students for today’s and tomorrow’s world. At times, I feel ashamed we haven’t managed to change our K-12 system, especially the elementary schools, to prepare kids for the world they would work in.

This is what I want the kids to learn in a school:

Learn to look for signal in noise:

Today’s digital world is full of noise with a very little signal. It’s almost an art to comb through this vast ocean of real-time information to make sense out of it. Despite the current generation being digital native the kids are not trained to effectively look for signal in noise. While conceited pundits still debate whether multi-tasking is a good idea or not, in reality the only way to deal with an eternal digital workflow and the associated interactions is to multitask. I want the schools to teach kids differentiate between the tasks that can be accomplished by multitasking and the ones that require their full attention. Telling them not to multitask is no longer an option.

I spend a good chunk of of time reading books, blogs, magazines, papers, and a lot of other stuff. I personally taught myself when to scan and when to read. I also taught myself to read fast. The schools emphasize a lot on developing reading skills early on, but the schools don’t teach the kids how to read fast. The schools also don’t teach the kids how to scan – look for signal in noise. The reading skills developed by kids early on are solely based on print books. Most kids will stop reading print books as soon as they graduate, or even before that. Their reading skills won’t necessarily translate well into digital medium. I want schools to teach the kids when to scan and how to read fast, and most importantly to differentiate between these two based on the context and the content.

Learn to speak multiple languages:

I grew up learning to read, write, and speak three languages fluently. I cannot overemphasize how much it has overall helped me. One of the drawbacks of the US education system is that emphasize on a second or a third language starts very late. I also can’t believe it’s optional to learn a second language. In this highly globalized economy, why would you settle with just one language? Can you imagine if a very large number of Americans were to speak either Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, or Hindi? Imagine the impact this country will have.

A recent research has proven that bilinguals have heightened ability to monitor the environment and being able to switch the context. A recent study also proved that bilinguals are more resistant to dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn to fail and fail to learn:

“For our children, everything they will ‘know’ is wrong-in the sense it won’t be the primary determinant of their success. Everything they can learn anew will matter forever in their multiple and productive careers.” – Rohit Sharma

As my friend Rohit says you actually want to teach kids how to learn. Ability to learn is far more important than what you know because what you know is going to become irrelevant very soon. Our schools are not designed to deal with this. On top of that there is too much emphasis on incentivizing kids at every stage to become perfect. The teachers are not trained to provide constructive feedback to help kids fail fast, iterate, and get better.

Our education system that emphasizes on measuring students based on what and how much they know as opposed to how quickly they can learn what they don’t know is counterproductive in serving its own purpose.

Learn to embrace unschooling:

Peter Thiel’s 20 under 20 fellowship program has received a good deal of criticism from people who are suggesting that dropping out from a college to pursue entrepreneurship is not a good idea. I really liked the response from one of the fellows of this program, Dale Stephens, where he discusses unschooling. He is also the founder of UnCollege. Unschooling is not about not going to school but it’s about not accepting the school as your only option. Lately if you have looked at the education startups, especially my favorite ones – Khan Academy, Coursera, and Codeacademy – you would realize the impact of technology and social networks on radically changing the way people learn. Our schools are neither designed to comprehend this idea nor to embrace it. This is what disruption looks like when students find different ways to compensate for things that they can’t get from a school. This trend will not only continue but is likely to accelerate. This is a leading indicator suggesting that we need a change. Education is what has made this country great and it is one of the main reasons why skilled immigrants are attracted to the US. Let’s not take it for granted, and let’s definitely not lose that advantage.
Photo courtesy: BarbaraLN

The Price and Prize of Social

When I read my friend Howlett’s blog on social enterprise – I had plans to write something on my blog too, but that feeling passed. I am not going to make any generalizations on social – just talking about my own case here. I will come back to the social enterprise topic some time in future.

Compared to many of my friends, I have been a late entrant to the whole social thing. And compared to many of them, I am still a lot less active on social media. Yet, I am way more advanced and active on social media than 99% of people I know. Has it helped me? yes, it has to some degree – both in my career and in my personal life ( and the distinction is lesser between the two today than even 3 years ago). But it has taken a toll too for sure in my personal life.

I started a personal blog around Christmas of 2010 – but became relatively active only about a year ago. I try to blog once a month at least – but have written about 8 posts in some months. Most of my posts have been in and around SAP and BI , but I have also written on politics, economics, food, sports and dogs. Pretty much any topic is fair game for me if there is a strong opinion I have on it.  And when it comes to opinions, I usually only have strong ones – for better or worse 🙂  .

I enjoy blogging as a medium to express my thoughts. And I have an explicit disclaimer that what I say is just personal opinion and not my employer’s opinion. But this does pose some challenges on occasion.

For example – at least partly due to blogging, SAP recognizes me as an influencer. And due to that I get some information earlier than others, and SAP picks up my T&E to attend some of their events, and I appreciate that. I try really hard to keep confidential info as confidential. But on the other hand it does not stop me from criticizing SAP on occasion.  The people who run the SAP influencer program, and senior SAP executives who talk to me have never told me what I should or should not write. But few others – including many friends – at SAP have often told me directly or indirectly that I am spreading too much negativity. I value their friendship – and I feel terrible when I hear this, since that is not my intention.

While I have no great  interest in happy talk  – I do say good things whenever I see it. And at least for HANA – me, John Appleby, Vitaliy, Harald Reiter and a few others do a lot for promoting and clarifying questions on Hana via our presence on twitter and SCN. And while I learn a lot from SAP during my interactions with them – I also pass on feedback from what I see on the field back to them. So hopefully things balance out some how from SAP’s perspective.

On career front, social in general has helped me. A large number of IBMers know me better via twitter and my blog , and it has helped me a lot in maintaining a very valuable network. I get to advise my clients better too since I have access to more people and information now due to social. I have won business in my day job thanks to name recognition from social media. And in general my managers have been quite supportive of me being active on social media. In return, I try hard to make sure there is no impact to my performance at work.

The biggest prize for me is the content I get from people like Jon Reed and Dennis Moore who curate the zillion tweets and blogs and send out high quality information. If it ever becomes a paid service, I would gladly pay for that. I would have never had a chance to get all this information without their feeds.

But for all the Prizes, I have a price to pay.  A day still has only 24 hours – and it means I am in front of a computer (or my phone) longer than I used to. And that takes time away from my family and my hobbies. That is NOT good – and is not sustainable.  So I have cut back on my social presence quite a bit. And I am sure I will overcompensate and will need a lot of time to find a good equilibrium.

If any one has a 12 step plan or something to find that equilibrium, please let me know.