IBM Watson is just fine, thank you !


ibm-bets-watson

Over the last couple of days, I have seen a bunch of articles on my social media feed that are based on a research report from Jefferies' James Kisner criticizing IBM Watson.

I am a big fan of criticism of technology – and as folks who have known me over time can vouch, I seldom hold back what is in my mind on any topic. I strongly believe that criticism is healthy for all of us – including businesses, and without it we cannot grow. If you go through my previous blogs, you can see first hand how I throw cold water on hype.

Unlike my usual posts, I cannot claim to be an impartial observer in this case. As much as I am a geek who wants to make my opinions known on technology topics, I am also an IBM executive , and I run a part of IBM GBS business in North America that also includes services on IBM Watson (including Watson Health) . I also own IBM stock via ESPP and RSU. I don't set product direction for Watson – but my team does provide input to the product  managers. So I was in two minds over the weekend about blogging about this – but net net, I think I will go ahead and say some things about this , and as always I am happy to debate it and stand corrected as need be. So here we go.

IBM Watson's primary focus is on enterprise, not consumer !

This should be obvious to most people but perhaps the technical and use case implications are not super clear when they conclude Watson is in trouble.

Lets take an example of something that is often used to make the point in favor of consumer AI tech – Alexa. I often get asked Watson versus Alexa/Google assistant questions. You can tell Alexa or Watson to check the weather and they will both do it. The big difference is – Watson keeps the context of the first question while you ask the second question, and Alexa treats the second question as if the first one was independent of the second one. In the set of use cases Alexa solves, this is not a big problem – but the ability to keep context is important for the use cases that Watson solves, like customer service. In a customer service scenario, you cannot engage in a conversation without knowing and interpreting what has already been said.

That said – it is very easy to combine Watson and Alexa. For example , if you have echo installed at home, you can invoke Watson via a voice command and keep having a conversation without even knowing it is Watson that you are talking to.

While Watson cannot solve every possible customer service scenario – it can solve several and deliver very high value. For example – lets say you are a utility company that gets calls from clients who want to pay a bill, check a balance, find outage restorations etc. Those are all things Watson can do just fine, and leave the high value tasks – like being an energy advisor , or a retention specialist – to expert humans. Imagine the type of value generated for that utility, and the consistent and fast customer service for their clients . Consumer AI does not tackle these kinds of problems – and that is a big difference. There are many such examples like this in enterprise side of the house – like this video about how Watson acts as an expert engineering advisor for Woodside, and H&R block using Watson as a tax expert.

IBM Watson does not share one client's data with another client

This design principle is very key to enterprise clients. Data security and privacy drives a lot of AI decision making. Consumer AI generally keeps the data all users give it and uses it to learn and get better. I am sure those companies have high ethical standards and the data won't get misused. But that is not how enterprises look at their data. It is important for clients to have full trust that their data is not shared with others that they don't want to see it.

A lot of the criticism that Watson takes a long time to learn and needs data in a specific format that is hard to do for clients come from this principle being not fully understood. Watson can learn from a given client's data – usually unstructured data – and keep getting better, but will not use company A's data for Company B's system to learn. Even if we ignore Watson and look at data science as a general topic – there is no way to shy away from an AI model having to learn. That is the core of the value prop of AI.

This is not to say every client starts from scratch. In many cases, there is a well established starting point. Lets take a Telco call center as an example. If a client wants to put Watson to augment a telco call center, they don't need to build intents from scratch. Instead, they can use "Watson for Telco" that has hundreds of prepackaged intents and just add of change as needed. Over time, this will be applicable to all industries. These are all repeatable patterns – another point that observers don't seem to notice.

IBM Watson has plenty of successful implementations , including Healthcare 

The Jefferies report calls out MD Anderson project uses that to extrapolate that Watson is doomed. I don't see any mention of Mayo Clinic trials,  Or Barrow ALS study, or  Memorial Sloan-Kettering-IBM Watson collaboration   .  Where is the balanced analysis that led to the dooms day conclusion ?

Watson is in clinical use in the US and 5 other countries, and it has been trained on 8 types of cancers, with plans to add 6 more this year. Watson has now been trained and released to help support physicians in their treatment of breast, lung, colorectal, cervical, ovarian, gastric and prostate cancers. Beyond oncology, Watson is in use by nearly half of the top 25 life sciences companies.

IBM Watson is delivered as APIs that its ecosystem can easily use

When Watson won Jeopardy, that incarnation was largely monolithic. But that is not how Watson works now. It is now a set of APIs. I am under no illusion that IBM will be the only game in town, although I strongly believe we are one of the best. Partners and clients will build Cognitive applications using Watson in a much more productive way because the functionality is exposed as APIs.

This gets painted as a negative by some of the articles. You can't have it both ways. As I mentioned above, where it makes sense to package something for a given industry or domain, IBM or someone in the ecosystem will of course package it. But the decoupled nature is the most flexible way of innovating fast and at scale in my opinion. The fact that billions of dollars of investment is directed into this field is good for IBM and its ecosystem – let the market decide on merits who succeeds and who does not.

IBM Watson some times needs consulting , but it only helps adoption

Let me also point out the role of consulting – be it my team at GBS or another consulting company. Clients are still largely tip toeing into Cognitive computing. They need significant help to understand what is possible and what is not in their industry and their specific company – which is what we call advisory services. The actual integration work is not complex and can be done by in house teams or a qualified SI. The other service I often see that is requested by clients is for design. In some other cases, they also need services for instrumentation (like in IOT use cases).

If we rewind couple of decades and go to the time when SAP was just starting out in ERP, What was the role of consulting ? Did consulting  services help or hinder the adoption of SAP globally ? None of this is any different from any other technology at this stage of its life cycle. So I am not sure why there is an extra concern that adoption will tank due to consulting.

IBM Watson team does great marketing, and we already have amazing AI talent 

To be perfectly clear, I am not a marketer – nor do I have any serious knowledge of marketing other than a couple of classes I took in business school many years ago. However, I am VERY proud of the work IBM Marketing has done about Watson. Its an early stage technology – and that needs a certain kind of messaging to get clients to take notice. If all we did was fancy videos and panel discussions and there were no customers using Watson today, I would have gladly joined the chorus to boo Watson. But that is not the case – All over the place leading companies are using it and as I have quoted above, several are public references.

From what I could learn internally, there are about 15000 of us working on this at IBM. This includes about a third of IBM Research. And we are hiring top AI talent all the time. In fact if you are an AI developer and want to work on Watson, shoot me an email and I will get you interviewed right away. While we of course use job boards etc to attract talent, that is not the only way we find people. We already have more AI folks than a lot of our competition – so perhaps that should be factored in to the discussion on "look at job postings, IBM Watson is short on talent" part of the story.

So why is IBM not publishing Watson revenue specifically ?

I am not an official IBM spokesperson – and I am not an expert on this topic. So this one aspect – I have to direct you to people with more stars and stripes than me in the company.

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Be Proud To Be An IT Expert – But Please Evolve !


Between Analysts, Bloggers and Software Vendors – I think a lot have been done to demoralize IT professionals already. A lot of fantastic IT people that I know have started to feel insecure and unwanted. This includes many of my friends and mentees. In the last few months – I have had innumerable conversations about this with my friends who work at customer companies, SI companies, HW companies etc. I think it is a huge mistake to downplay IT like it is done now – and just wanted to post a few thoughts here.

First – IT absolutely needs to evolve, just like every other part of the enterprise. And I think that is already happening. I don’t see any IT experts I know who live under a rock. If there are any – then yes, they should feel insecure and unwanted and all that.

But lets look at other parts of the enterprise to see how IT compares. Take HR for example – how many companies can boast of a lean super efficient HR system where talent management, career progression, complaint redressal, succession etc are all efficiently done? Many companies I know struggle with most of these functions, just like they struggled when I started my career. The big improvement has been in payroll processing – like outsourced payroll etc, which happened not only because of business model changes – but also due to great IT innovations. Or lets take sales – several large enterprises still do most of their sales like they did 20 years ago, with good sales people knocking on doors (literally and figuratively). Many of them have complicated and manual approval processeses that I did not understand in the 90s, and I still don’t get them. The parts that improved – like cloud based sales force automation, pricing optimization, etc all happened because of IT innovations. Look at engineering – machine design got a huge uplift in large part because CAD got sophisticated over years, and computers can now handle heavy duty collaborative design seamlessly.

If none of that sounds impressive – imagine the business impact if the IT systems that handle sales orders or payroll goes down ( please don’t say “that is why we should move to cloud” as your response – cloud goes down too ). Yet – the “business” side of the house doesn’t get anywhere near the criticism that IT gets. And IT gets very little credit for jobs well done.

For sure, there is some significant complacency in IT – many IT people feel entitled. Several have not kept pace with the latest and greatest. But on a relative scale – are developers and DBAs worse off in this matter compared to colleagues in HR and sales? My answer is an emphatic NO.

Software vendors and SIs do make a claim that they are all about business solutions. This is of course the right message – IT’s job is to solve business problems . However, this message is now interpreted as “We are all about business, and we don’t care about IT”. That is not how it works in real companies – even in departmental purchases (like it often happens in BI for example) , at some point – integration, security etc will come into play. Not involving IT upfront almost always results in grief and extra cost down the line. I have seen many CXOs repent that they did not involve IT upfront in their procurement decisions.

Some IT folks have morphed into procurement experts – and I am not sure of this is good or bad. Procurement skills are important – since a good part of the job involves dealing with Vendors. However, the way this has translated in many companies is that the sole focus is on price reduction. If IT and the actual procurement department both focus strictly on price – the vendor gets very little opportunity to explain the value of the solution. And this usually is behind the reason why IT vendors like to establish relationships with business side of their customers so that they can also present the value side of the equation, and not just cost. The mature IT organizations act as orchestrators – pulling in business, procurement and all other stake holders – and enabling and advising and coaching all the parties including the vendors. That is where IT adds value in “buy” decisions. I have learned a lot from such IT experts – and I am grateful for that learning.

Then there is the whole cloud argument – that cloud makes IT obsolete. Nothing could be farther from truth. Cloud definitely is the future – but it will be a very long time till everything moves to the cloud. And since the predominant pattern in cloud is for customers to buy best of breed solutions – someone needs to integrate all the disparate solutions between themselves, and also to the on-premises systems. Same holds true for security. And who will advise the business colleagues on HA/DR etc for cloud purchases? Even in the case where most of the landscape is shifted to cloud, IT jobs won’t go away. The cloud companies – hosting companies, data centers, application companies et al need the same skills that customer companies used to need.

So, my friends in IT – don’t feel that you are any less important than your colleagues in other parts of the organization. You are every bit as important – and an equal partner in making sure your company meets its goals. Stop thinking of “business and IT” as two things. “business” is not your customer – they are your partner. You both have only one customer – you know, the people who sign checks etc 🙂

But please don’t sit back and be happy with status quo – complacency is the only thing that can make you obsolete. Learn more about usability, design , organiational behavior and most importantly – learn how the business of your company really works . Adapt and evolve – ALL THE TIME !

Co-innovation – It Takes Two To Tango


People who have known me for a while know that I am a big fan of co-innovating with an ecosystem. I have worked in a number of co-innovation projects in my career with varying degrees of success. And now I am in India for 3 weeks, working with a number of ecosystem partners to explore co-innovation ideas.

Why should anyone co-innovate in the first place?

To begin with – innovation is a misused and overhyped word. I am of the firm opinion that a vendor should not claim innovation on any product or service – only a customer should. I am in two minds these days on whether analysts and bloggers are good judges of innovation. But till I get some clarity of thought, I am going to stick with customers as the sole judge.

But Vendors have to constantly try to innovate – otherwise they will not stay relevant to their customers. Relevance comes in two parts – protecting the investments customers made already, and coming up with new things that solve the ever changing needs of customers in a global economy. It is a hard balance to strike, to say the least.

One reason for this balance being hard to strike is because vendor solutions are not always outcome based. Almost every customer has budget to make more money – be it revenue increases or cost reductions. But not all vendors and customers can articulate IT solutions in the context of a business solution. It is an in-exact science to begin with – since some assumptions have to be made . And in a dynamic business world – you can never guess all the factors that affect an outcome. So vendors are naturally hesitant to tie their sales to an outcome that they don’t have control over. Not just vendors – I have also seen several customers who are hesitant to tie their purchases to a risk/reward model. I guess it will be a while before outcome based contracts become mainstream if at all.

Yet another reason is that no one vendor can provide all the solutions to a customer , although many vendors apparently want to do so. Customers also typically like a “one throat to choke” model – which these days seem to be called a more politically correct “one hand to shake”. A happy medium is where co-innovation comes in. It can have many flavors – with multiple vendors joining in , and some times (sadly not often enough)  with customers directly playing a part.

This is a scalable model – since for a given budget constraint, every vendor can get more bang out of their buck, and the customers get a comprehensive solution. But it takes a lot to make it successful. More than the legal, IP, cost etc type of issues – it is the personality of the people that actually work on these projects that make a difference. Co-innovation projects need people who work for different employers to trust each other a lot. This is easier said than done .

There is another conflict of interest in such solutions. Vendors will need a solution that they can lift and shift to other customers . That will typically mean – some features specific to the given customer they are working with might not fit a “framework” ,model. Customers on the other hand will want an out of the box solution that they don’t need to customize any more. I am sympathetic to both sides – and whether this gets resolved or not depends on the trust the people on all sides have with each other, and very seldom does it depend on the contracts that are in place. In fact if contracts have to be referred to every step of the way – I won’t hold my breath on co-innovation projects succeeding ever.

Then there are co-innovation (allegedly?) projects which have little to no customer participation. This is the beginning of the “solution looking for a problem” type scenes we have all seen. In my opinion, such projects should not be done – just scratch them off. They may succeed on occasion – but they are not scalable.

And then there are the “influencers” – analysts, bloggers, friends and family etc. They provide extremely valuable information on co-innovation projects. The hard part is to negate their bias. Every influencer has a bias – some might want you to maximize short term revenue (hi mom) , others might claim they are “buy side”, except they make vast majority of their income from vendors, yet others might only know one geography or market where you sell and so on. So unless you balance it out – there is a good chance that you might end up with a skewed solution. But all things said – I would rather have influencer input than not have it.

I have a lot of battle scars from co-innovation projects – and some of them have not ended well. But I have learned something valuable from each, and I will still be quick to say “I am in” if there is a co-innovation project I can work on . The only ones I say no to are the ones with low or no customer participation.

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 !

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.

Road Ahead for SAP Consultants : 2013


For the last few years, I have tried to offer my views on what is the road ahead for SAP consultants in the next year. All the past episodes have been on SCN, but SCN is not letting me log on to the site today. So I am posting it here this time on my personal blog. My 2012 predictions can be found
here .

Usual disclaimers apply – these are just my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. And of course none of this is based on any scientific study – just my observations dealing with my clients, fellow consultants and many friends in SAP ecosystem.

1. BW on HANA : 2013 will be the year of BW on HANA. The groundwork has been done perfectly well in 2012. This should be good for many consultants – BW, BOBJ, Basis etc to ride the wave. If you are not up to speed on 7.3 version of BW, you might want to get spun up on that. This should also have a positive effect in increasing the demand for BPC 10 upgrades for BPC on HANA.

2. Combo innovations : None of the newer stuff from SAP might give full business value to customers when they stand alone. But they have awesome potential when used in combination. There aren’t a lot of consultants out there who can articulate and implement combination of new technologies ( say HANA and CEP, BPC and Mobility etc) to solve existing problems in completely new ways.

3. Upgrades : Many customers have not made use of cool new functionality offered by Enhancement packs. But I do know first hand – especially from SAPPHIRE and TECHED conversations with customers, that several of them want to start using them in 2013.  This should be good not just for technical experts – but also for functional experts whose knowledge is needed to pick what functionality needs to be switched on.

4. Visual Intelligence :  This needs me to go out on a limb – but everyone whom I have shown the tool has liked it. It is much more user friendly than most other SAP reporting tools. I have a strong hunch that 2013 will see a lot of traction in the market.

5. SuccessFactors + SAP HR : I understand that the integration needs more work – but there is tremendous interest from On premises SAP HR customers to start using SFSF. SAP definitely is doing the right thing in sales and marketing already in 2012 – and customers should be able to start seeing work in this area in 2013.

6. Automated Testing : I have lost count of how many customers have asked me about automated testing for SAP solutions. If you are an expert in testing, 2013 might be a great year for you. Whether it is done using SAP tools, or will third party tools win the race remains to be seen, especially when it comes to automated testing of interfaces.

7. Enterprise Information Management : Data continues to be vitally important at SAP shops. I expect MDG and Data services to be in hot demand in 2013, probably followed by MDM. The big issue I see is that very few consultants have the ability to explain the cost of bad data to business stakeholders. Just profiling data and saying 70% of customer data is bad is not helpful. If you can then use that analysis and say ” 23% of your shipments will be returned” , will get some one’s attention in a hurry.
That is it this time – let me know what you think. And hope everyone had a great thanks giving