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.