Work or Pleasure ? Both, of course

I am typing this from the beautiful city of Brussels . This is the last stop of a very busy business trip meeting key partners in Europe . I fly home early in the morning tomorrow


The weather was perfect . I very rarely get to visit Europe in summer – so this was an especially enjoyable visit . And while jet lag made me tired towards end of the day for couple of days , the intense schedule made sure that I got adjusted to the time zone quickly.

Thanks to Luca , Tug, Koby and Guillaume – I had a full schedule this week , and now can barely stand up straight 🙂 . It was totally worth it – a full schedule every day in a different country and magically it all happened in as good a way as I could expect . I am blessed to lead such an incredible team and even more blessed to have partners who are “all in” on MongoDB.

I have some work related thoughts to post – but today, I am going to focus on the amazing personal experience this trip gave me as a traveller and as a foodie .

The transport system in Europe has always impressed me . When I landed in Zurich , I walked across to the railway station and caught a train to HB , and walked to the Marriott . The tall hotel building ruined for me the beauty of a great old town .








Air travel is not always the most convenient or economic across countries , but trains and taxis compensate for that difficulty adequately . Since I don’t have elite status on European airlines – I got some pretty awful seats , and my knees are still pretty sore . Ouch !

I have more change in my pocket today than in any other previous trip to Europe that I can think of – thanks to the innumerable cab rides


The food was pretty amazing . At Zurich – I had probably the best sol I ever had in my life , and the restaurant was amazing too – right on the lake . Thanks to my pal Phil Loewen for chauffeuring me around and giving great company



In Barcelona , the tapas made me wonder how much Asian cuisine has influenced a classic Spanish thing


In Madrid – I had the best Spanish omelette I have ever tasted ( the potatoes apparently are brought from a special region) , and some most amazing red wine . And the partner who took me there also was kind enough to explain the dishes and their origins and cultural impact very well . This restaurant is worth checking out if you are a meat lover – especially the “melt in your mouth” iberico Jamon



And then there was the beautiful city of Paris . Crazy busy as always – but plenty of culture to soak in . Too bad I didn’t get time to walk around the city this time . But my local sales leader Yann took me to a nice lunch – also by a Water front – and I could sample some excellent French cuisine . It’s more art than food as always .



Since I was on 5 flights back to back till reaching France, my colleague Tug and I took a train to Brussels . Such a nice experience – I think I will stick to trains a lot more on future trips


Brussels is known for good beer, chocolates and waffles . I didn’t have any of that yet . When we reached Brussels yesterday – Tug mentioned an Indian dinner he had the last time he was here . Of course that meant we had to go find an Indian place for dinner and we did . It’s kind of ironic to come to Belgium and eat Desi Khana – but there is no denying I love indian cuisine the best . The restaurant was good – not great . The other shock was that they didn’t take credit cards !
That said – I did have a terrific lamb shank today at the restyrant at the Sheraton today where we met a large Belgian SI partner – and loved it . It was the first dish in this visit that made me remember how over sized American restaurant portions look like 🙂


I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the coffee . I must have had 6 cups a day on average to get through the meetings and remain focused . The quality of coffee in all the countries this week has been high – and exceptionally so in France and Spain


Hopefully I can find some chocolates tonight to take home for my wife and daughter . I need to get them both here on a vacation soon .

I will be back in few months – couldn’t cover UK, Germany , Italy and Netherlands this time . Not that I am really complaining – I don’t think I could have done meetings in 5 cities/countries a week two weeks in a row .

Why am I not holding my breath on digital transformation ?

Once upon a time – when I was a young consultant – there was this thing my friends did called “change management”. I must have known more than a 100 change management consultants in my career – but I can count on one hand the number that stayed throughout the projects . Most were let go half way through by the customers .

If change is hard , change Management is harder . When a project has a budget cut – usually the axe fell on a change management consultant first . At one point in my career – I knew many consulting sales people who would add change management to a proposal , strictly as a way to take it off and make the deal look palatable to a customer !

If any term needed a rebranding – Change management was the one to beat . I have seen tens of CIOs roll their eyes if a vendor mentioned “change management” even in passing . And it became rebranded to “transformation” . The same people , the same methodology , more or less the same slides – but with a new name . It worked for a while before losing steam .

I – and customers – have asked the transformation experts on what is the difference between transformation and change management . The usual answer was along the lines of “it’s more strategic and modern” , or a smirk with “you don’t get it” .

Along the way came Hammer and Champy with Re-engineering . To match the theory to practice – ERP vendors and consulting companies started talking about “technology enabled transformation” as a new thing . Billions of dollars changed hands doing “as is” and “to be” analysis of businesses . And when that got ridiculous , some consulting companies and ERP vendors took a stance that “as is” didn’t matter any more and only “to be” mattered . This is the genesis of “best practices” and it’s CYA cousin “leading practices”.
Needless to say – I have hardly met a customer in three continents I worked in that was happy with “best practices”.

And off late , I started seeing a lot of buzz on “digital transformation” – and a bunch of repurposed power points . Sure there is a liberal dose of social, big data , predictive etc in the repurposed version , just like ERP and CRM were sprinkled on to all “technology enabled transformation” messages . I asked my old change management friends the “what is new” question – and they dutifully played back to me the “it’s more strategic and modern” line . I nodded and went my way .

And few minutes ago – my pal Jon Reed mentioned digital transformation on twitter and I had a snarky response . This post is just an extension of that . it’s all Jon’s fault 🙂

PS : I actually do think change management is a good thing and the rebranded naming is probably a minor issue that bothers only a few like me . Vast majority of projects fail – and I have seen it first hand – because customers don’t want to invest in it . And I have seen some top notch change management stuff helping customers enjoy big success .

Since it is a competitive market – vendors don’t push back on it when customers choose to ignore change management , even if they know customer will probably fail .

What is lacking in my opinion is good articulation to customers on why they should invest in it . Lofty messages doesn’t help once you pass senior leadership at CXO level . Would it be too recursive to say change management needs some change management ?

The last Word, The President , God and Bill Gates

I use three social media networks – Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. I blog too – so maybe that is a fourth channel. 

Facebook is primarily for personal interests – keeping in touch with family in India and elsewhere, keeping track of what is happening in the world of dog shows and keeping in touch with friends from school. I have a handful of work peeps there, but that is just coincidence. 

Linkedin is my address book for the most part – and for the most part, I use it to get a curated list of good reading material.

Twitter falls in between – I have no intentional personal/professional divide there. But if I am forced to categorize, it is skewed more towards work than personal. 

For the most part – being active in social media has only been helpful to me both on work front and personal front. I used to think that they have very little in common though. Facebook keeps a conversation in one place, which is hard to do in twitter despite hashtags etc. Linkedin has been the least engaging for me – but that is because I don’t get into groups all that much despite signing up for a few. And twitter has been awesome for me despite all its flaws – except for a few people who just incessantly post famous(?) quotes, forcing me to unfollow them.

But as time progresses – I have realized that I was rather wrong in thinking they have not much in common. I think there are three common characteristics in social media irrespective of the specific channel .

1. “The last word is mine and mine alone” syndrome

There is an undeniable urge people have to always be the one who gets the last word in. It gets downright silly – and at least in my circles it is the same whichever way you segment (age, gender, education, country, or pretty much any thing you can use to divide a group into two). There is no denying that I have done it too.

In real life, more people try to make a point and walk away gracefully when they are heard. That is not “a thing” in social media. In social media –  a good majority stay and fight every nitty gritty endlessly and ensure that the whole conversation goes south and all relationships sour. And then they rinse and repeat. It does not matter what the topic is – if they don’t get the last word, they will keep at it with absolute tenacity. 

2. “I hate the current president” syndrome

It does not matter whether the president got elected democratically just like your guy did the last time – in social media, hate for the current president is perpetually a hot topic. While the tempo increases at election time (which is expected), it does not exactly go away after elections. Granted there is some election or other at any point .

If anyone had any doubts on whether the country is divided at a random point in time – just logon to FB and read for an hour. People – including some analysts that I think have the most balanced views on enterprise – have no sense of balance in their political beliefs. 

Now I have lists of such people that I just mute for a few months around election time .

3. “God and Bill Gates loves or hates you depending on what you share” syndrome

About a fifth of all posts on my feeds in facebook are from people who share something saying god will punish you if you don’t share in next five minutes, or from people who are convinced that Bill Gates is going to send them a big fat check for sharing something about his software or his foundation. In fact – I think there is way more of these folks than there are Nigerians promising to make me rich via email. If you don’t believe that a sucker is born every minute – check face book. You can thank me later 🙂



Large IT company business models and the cloud

Earnings season arrived and I am wondering how long big companies can keep their current structures and business models . Size is not always an advantage – it can actually destroy the value of a company .

Big companies try to attack this problem by firing a lot of people . But I have hardly known a company that has succeeded much that way – only very few pull that off .

The problem with firing enmasse is that you have to use broad policies to determine who needs to go . When you fire 1000s of people – not only do you end up firing people who could have done wonders , you lose other good people who will leave because they feel they can do better elsewhere . Firing people lower down in the hierarchy rarely does any company any good. Those are the peeps who do actual work – and they are not usually the ones who made the decisions that turned bad and led to management needing to fire people . Micro corrections throughout the year are a whole lot better in my opinion than mass firing . But at large size and matrix organizations – you cannot optimize . I know that first hand – I have tried and failed , repeatedly .

Large IT companies that have HW and SW have a problem – HW becomes a leading indicator for software , when investors look at the whole company . So if HW declines now , market assumes software will suck pretty soon too . The worst part is if you also have services in the mix . Services trail both HW and SW . So for such companies – if they don’t stop bleeding for HW, market will probably punish them for a long time in future .

The move to cloud is what seem to screw up the larger companies . Cloud is a low margin business – which a large company doesn’t really want to be in . If they don’t do it – they will become obsolete . If they do it – it takes a large amount of time for market to absorb the shock of lesser top and bottom lines . Damned if you do and damned if you don’t . Essentially cloud economics seem to work only for companies who don’t do anything else but cloud business .

When companies solely depend on EPS as a way to set goals for investors – they just lock themselves in jail and throw the key away . To beef up EPS, you can only do three things . Make more revenue , spend less cost and buy back shares . You can’t make more money in cloud – it’s commodity business compared to legacy revenue streams . Your marketing and data center and retraining costs will make sure you can’t spend less . So the only way they can survive is by buying back shares aggressively . That is money they can’t invest back in business. As soon as investors see it – they punish the stock . It’s kind of funny in a sad and weird way how this tactic seems to boomerang

So how exactly do they come out of this vicious cycle ?

I think the sustainable way is to sell off low margin businesses as stand alone entities and double down on what you know best . And if that doesn’t work – then split the company into smaller entities that don’t have to bear huge over heads because of checkers and double checkers . I don’t think any big IT company board is ready to do anything that drastic . They can try to innovate their way to glory – except it is very rare for innovations to scale to an extent that it compensates for the drag caused by deteriorating legacy businesses .

So I guess I will just keep wondering what will happen to all these goliaths . Is there a silver bullet somewhere ? A lot of people I care for work in those places and for their sake , I hope good things happen to those companies

MongoDB for the SAP Community

One of the most common questions I get from my friends from the SAP ecosystem is how MongoDB works with SAP. So I thought I will pen some initial thoughts on how I see the technologies working together. 

NOTE : Please don’t look at this as an official roadmap or anything – this is just my personal view. Neither MongoDB nor SAP has agreed to do anything of this sort . This is just Vijay thinking aloud – and I am sure someone will set me straight if I am not making sense.

First, what does MongoDB not do with SAP systems ?

This is easy – MongoDB is not a database to run your ERP / business suite or BW type systems. MongoDB also doesn’t do native predictive analytics.That is what Hana (or other RDBMS systems) are for. MongoDB has no competitive position against Hana. Also SAP Hana Cloud platform has been using mongodb for some time already for content management. And MongoDB is one of the databases for SAP’s Hybris platform.

Now that we got that out of the way, lets see what can MongoDB do to complement an SAP landscape

1. Visualization

SAP announced a technology collaboration for Lumira to work with MongoDB at SAPPHIRENOW last month. Lumira is SAP’s agile BI solution . MongoDB holds data in JSON (BSON internally ) . The existing connector uses a JDBC protocol for the integration – and more native options are planned for future.

What is the big deal ? the big deal is that MongoDB holds richer data than what you typically see in rows and columns of a table. 

MongoDB holds data that has a hierarchical or nested nature – and visualizing that rich data ( for example, not only what region that customer is from – but details of what is the past history of sales in that region for customer, what other customers have bought in similar categories etc) is an amazing value add for a business user.

On top of that – given the dynamic schema, you can keep enriching the data (like campaign information at real time from a web site) and visualize the results immediately . 


I could totally see in future SAP data services and Hana cloud integration for ETL/EAI use cases where MongoDB is the source or target. MongoDB is probably one of the most  popular database for cloud applications already – and that trend will only increase. But those apps need data to be fed into it from somewhere, and I think data from there might need to get pumped into other systems. So an ETL/EAI type tooling from SAP around MongoDB is something I can imagine being a sensible thing assuming those sources and targets could be SAP systems.

3. As a datahub for integrating SAP and non-SAP applications

Consider a business application SAP would build on Hana for retail . The sources of information that need to pump in data to that app will typically be disparate in every sense – POS data, ERP data, IS-Retail data, Web store data, Click streams and so on.

One way to do it is to pump all this data into Hana and write code there to filterthe dataset that the app needs. This will make sense for cases where the schema is set in stone and not subject to frequent change. But that is usually not the case for retail like data – schema needs as much flexibility as possible. So a second way to design that will be to use MongoDB as a data hub to consolidate data from all the sources, and then from there provide the app on Hana with just the right data it needs to do its thing. 

There is no certified connector for MongoDB with Hana today. But that probably is not such a big deal for a project based solution once the Hana SDK for AFL (app function library in C++) is available. MongoDB has a C++ driver that can be hooked on to AFL  and this should solve the data exchange problem from a technology point of view.

Another option – a little bit of code on XS engine (the lightweight web server/app server in Hana)  can make it work too – since XS understands JSON well. Thomas Jung probably is the best contact to help with this – but I don’t think you will need a lot of support. 

And for non-Hana customers of SAP, you probably need to code in ABAP from the app server layer to make mongodb integration work. I have not opened an ABAP editor in a while – so my memory is rusty. But I think its only from 7.x that ABAP has native JSON support. So you might want to do some hack to check if Kernel supports JSON. Horst Keller might have published some standard way to do that. Or if your ABAP skills are not top notch and you would prefer to use PERL or something outside the app server that MongoDB has a driver for . I guess you can create a service via ICF and take an RFC route. Probably not the most elegant way, but it should work too. Maybe Thorsten Franz can enlighten us on the possibilities.

Independence – view from the corporate jungle

USA celebrating its independence day tomorrow . And coincidentally, I have been pinged by a lot of people with messages along the lines of “I can’t do anything independent where I work. What should I do?” type stuff. It is a question I have asked myself as an employee and as a leader/manager.

In primary school – I learned a poem in malayalam that roughly translates to “even if the bird is put in a fancy golden cage, its world doesn’t have any independence” . A lot of corporate peeps feel that way that they are stuck in a fancy cage. So what can be done about it ?

Table stakes
To begin with there are some basics – which might seem obvious and downright trivial.

1. Live within your means – or ideally, a little under your means.
2. Max out our at least match the employer contribution for your 401K if possible
3. Save a litte bit for a rainy day, invest wisely
4. Take care of your health (something I definitely need to work on)

Even if all you do is these 4 things – you should have a little bit of a safety net to take a few big swings when opportunity arises.

Then comes the core issue of employment.

Let me share a few principles from my own career 

1. Always keep your skills sharp and up to date. Even in terrible economic slumps, my skills helped me switch jobs. It takes effort and passion to do this. If you treat your job as a way to earn a living and your heart is not in it – you will find it hard to keep your skills up to date. It is a choice you make – at a minimum, keep it sharp or develop a new skill to get a job where your heart is. For me – programming was where my heart was. So right out of Business school, I chose to code instead of trading equities.

2. Loyalty in a perfect world is a two way street – but alas, the world is not perfect. So while it is a great trait to be loyal at work place, don’t let it blind you as an employee or manager. End of the day – there is a business to be run, and the sooner things are put in that perspective – the easier it is to make and accept decisions.

Loyalty is a complex subject. When I joined the workforce – my role models were people like my father who spent decades at the same company, rising through the ranks. It was a serious problem if your CV looked like you were jumping every few years. Yet – I switched employers quite a bit in my early years, and it only helped me.

3. Network naturally. I can’t emphasize “naturally” enough. I am not a fan of aggressive networking – it turns me off. Make friends with your vendors, customers, peers etc just like how you make friends in social life. Help connect people where you can. And at some point – usually sooner than you think – you will have a useful network. Don’t mistake this for buying followers on social media. Also – don’t wait for shit to hit the fan before you start networking. Start when things are good. But if you have not done that – start today and not tomorrow. Quantity of relationships is not a factor – you just need a few who matter.

4. Always have a few options – plan B, C, D etc. You can’t always make plan B’s when bad things are happening. You need to have other options figured out when things are good. If your skills and network is kept alive and thriving, this should be a natural side effect. Don’t let loyalty stand in the way of having an alternate plan – you don’t need that plan B triggered if everything continues to be good.

And when it is time for the swan song

Despite all your best efforts and intentions – you might still have to get out of a job. Maybe you have a jerk as your boss, maybe you want to be your own boss, maybe you want more money – all are valid reasons. But there is a good way to leave – and some terrible ways.

1. Always leave gracefully. Burning bridges don’t get you far – it is really a small world and you should try as hard as you can to not piss anyone off. If your employer doesn’t deserve you – and you think it is their loss, just walk away smiling with a polite thank you. Don’t give in to the temptation of mass emailing everyone on your last day, yelling at your boss and stuff like that. It only shows you as immature. Walk away with grace – go home and scream your heart out (leave your family out of the yelling part if you can). I broke this rule once many years ago – shouted at my boss, emailed a terse resignation, and banged the door on his face for not promoting me. It was stupid of me to do that – and I repent it.

2. If you can’t stand your boss – try to get another one before you quit. If you are good at what you do, there is almost always a way to make it work in another team at the same company. Pardon me for saying this again – but this needs those skills and network to kick in. If you can’t find another boss – then don’t sit there and rot, actively use your plan B, C etc.

2. Leave on your terms whenever possible. It is almost always better than being fired. The only exception I can think of is when being fired comes with a nice farewell compensation package from the employer. But for this to happen – you needed to have those Plan B,C etc figured out when things were good.

3. Keep in touch with former colleagues, bosses and customers and help them whenever you can. The way I look at it is kind of in a “good karma” kind of way. Help as many people as you can – and some day, someone else will help you too when you don’t expect it. If you expect reciprocity before helping someone – in most cases it won’t happen, and you will end up bitter. I can assure you – in my life and career so far, this has only helped me. It has not once hurt me.

4. Plan and re-plan your career periodically. When I came out of business school – I thought I could retire at Thirty five. My goal was to get a job that lets me do some globe trotting, stay in fancy hotels and have a home with a pool and buy as many dogs as I needed. Those things were all accomplished by thirty five – but I also learned that none of those were worthwhile goals, and that I could not retire in that time frame. It also taught me to not trust any plan – planning is important, plan is not important. I replan my career every year or two. I am sure things won’t work the way I have laid it out even today – but I don’t feel bad about it any more.

So that is it – those are probably the principles that helped me gain some independence in my career. I hope some of them will help your career too. Please share any tips you have too.

The future of big data – consolidations , partnerships and mostly open source

In theory, I am on vacation this week – except that I have not managed to get out of email yet. And to top that, I caught up on a lot of reading and as usual, have some thoughts to share. As always – these are just my personal opinions, not that of my employer.

The good(?) and bad thing about big data is that it has no rigid definition – it is more or less what we want it to be at that point in time. I like to think of “big” in terms status quo of a customer. If the customer only reports out of their ERP data, and now wants to combine CRM and SCM data with it , or maybe combine social data with it – it is already BIG for them. For a stock exchange – they have already figured out how to manage lots of fast and furious data. It is hard to tell them data is BIG now – data was always big for them. It might be a bit “bigger” now, but you get the point. “big” is relative to status quo.

At the moment – there are very few big data projects (as a % of all projects ) that add outrageous business value. Its like a white tiger – a majestic animal with great abilities and all, but rarely seen in the wild. But they are not a myth and they really exist. I saw one just this week and took a photo. I know many friends who tend to look at big data as a white elephant – and I now like to think of the current situation of  big data as a white tiger 🙂


So where is it all trending to? I have some opinions/guesses – not backed by any scientific research. So take it with a pinch (or pound) of salt.

1. Vendor Consolidation

I definitely think there is some consolidation about to happen in 2 to 5 years time. This could take many forms – established firms like Oracle, IBM, MS, Intel, SAP etc could buy some Hadoop/NoSQL type companies. Some of the newer players could merge. The big ones have enough cash in their war chest and those that don’t have cash might not mind a bit of stock dilution to be successful in the brave new world . Big data is what is going to sell more analytics, more hardware and more databases in future – so the incumbent big players in those areas will have all the incentive to jump in as soon as they feel a big data start up is up for grabs.

Oracle might be the one exception to the rule here. A lot of big data startups were founded by people who can’t stand Oracle for some reason or other . So they might not sell to Oracle (but then we know what happened to peoplesoft few years ago, so who knows). End of the day, almost everyone has a price at which they will sell – and these big vendors might pay such a premium given the long term gains. Oracle, IBM etc have an enviable customer base, and have some very driven leaders – I won’t for a second under estimate them.

2. Partnerships

I am a guy that heads a team focused on partnerships, and if I didn’t think partnerships are an integral part of this big data story, I would not have taken my current job. I am firmly convinced that no one vendor can solve an end to end business problem for a customer. Most customers don’t want to spend a lot of time and money in integration work. While no integration is exactly seamless – customers expect a significant part of the integration to be available off the shelf.

Not only that, they probably don’t want the hassle of chasing multiple vendors for making a solution. So I expect to see a lot of OEM/reseller licensing in big data world where even competitors sell each other’s products. It is not new – IBM and Oracle, SAP and Oracle etc are all relationships based on co-ompetition. I think we will see this become mainstream across the board in less than 5 years. I also think that some companies will shy away from this model – and probably perish in the process.

Even the vendors who buy out big data startups cannot avoid this partnership thingy – customers will force the issue if they shy away.

3. Open source will become the norm for software business models

I will go out on a limb to say in 5 to 7 years, open source will be the normal way a company thinks of software. Even the closed source vendors will embrace it more openly (pun intended). The reason for this is simple – as the newer big data vendors take a stance that they don’t need to maximize any given transaction, and are willing to give customers more value than they pay for , it becomes harder and harder for closed source, maintenance revenue based businesses to keep up their current model. Even if they get bought out by closed source vendors – customer expectation will not change much I think.

So why should it take 5 to 7 years ? It takes time to make a dent in the universe 🙂

a. Open source big data vendors need time to mature their code base. They need to build tooling around their products that enterprises need. Remember the time before say Oracle 8i? I think open source vendors will go through that kind of evolution, except that they have to do it in 5 years instead of 20 .

b. Also, for the incumbent vendors to take notice of the new companies seriously – they need to be at least a $500M revenue (or a  trajectory to that kind of revenue) business . I saw this first hand with SAP Hana – Oracle and IBM did not say anything against Hana for a while till SAP started showing big numbers in hundreds of millions of dollars. I fully expect the same to play out against open source too.

c. Unlike ERP etc – I don’t think there will be one big mothership of a big data project at most customers. Instead, I think there will be a lot of parallel projects of smaller size. Some will go live and some will get killed as better use cases evolve. I think big data will drive a trend towards “disposable apps” in enterprise.  But it aint happening overnight.

And all this will take time to shake out – which is why I am pegging it at 5 to 7 years. But I have no doubts that open source will dent the universe !