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Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Consultancy Circus

Consultancy, by its very nature, is a multifaceted job. It requires a huge array of skills for a project to be completed successfully and on time - and with all the involved parties satisfied. As the consultancy industry has become more competitive, consultancy firms have been put under pressure to offer a more comprehensive service that will ensure they continue to win new business. This has further broadened the scope of the consultant, who is now expected to manage increasingly complex projects and offer even greater knowledge and support to the client.

Emerging challenges in Project Management

Managing complex projects, responding to change and prioritising projects within a programme or portfolio are among the most pressing issues for executives and technical professionals, according to new data from ESI International.

The figures have been released from the company’s Business Challenges and Hot Topics survey, which covered various levels of government as well as several different industries including aerospace/defence, financial services, IT, insurance, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and healthcare. Shortfalls in programme management and business analysis skills highlight many of the survey respondents’ concerns.

Among the results are:

-- When managing projects, the most pressing issue is managing complex projects, with 44 per cent of participants choosing this response. Close behind come ‘adapting to changing requirements’ (42 per cent) and ‘developing proper metrics to effectively track progress and outcomes’ (41 per cent).

-- When managing programmes or project portfolios, the most pressing issue, cited by 53 per cent of participants, is responding to organisational and environmental changes that impact the programme. Next was ‘prioritising projects within a programme or portfolio’ (45 per cent).

-- When managing business or project requirements, the most pressing issue (38 per cent) is communicating effectively with team members and stakeholders. A similar number (36 per cent) selected both ‘developing and improving business analysis competencies’ and ‘integrating project management and business analysis roles/functions’.

“The survey findings are important for all organisations because of the essential role projects play in driving organisations forward – from organisational change to new product development. Good project management drives success and, important at this economic juncture, helps organisations do more with less,” said J. LeRoy Ward, ESI executive vice president.

“The saying ‘knowing you have a problem is half the battle’ comes to mind. The project manager and senior executive survey respondents know where the trouble spots lie. Now they need to accurately assess their people’s skills and implement initiatives to close the gaps,” said Ward.

The survey also showed differences in project management challenges between the government and commercial sectors.

-- Managing global projects or dealing with cultural issues was cited as a greater concern to commercial organisations (17 per cent) than to government entities (five per cent).

-- Managing risk of high-profile projects is a pressing issue for 36 per cent of government sector respondents, but only for 26 per cent of commercial sector respondents.

-- When defining requirements, implementing a solution development methodology or determining which one best fits the organisation was cited as a more pressing issue to government sector respondents (33 per cent) than to commercial sector respondents (22 per cent).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Numerati - interesting!

Journalist Stephen Baker provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're all entering -- and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, patients, voters, potential terrorists -- and lovers. The implications are vast. Our privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor and measure our every move (then reward or punish us). Politicians can find the swing voters among us, by plunking us all into new political groupings with names like "Hearth Keepers" and "Crossing Guards." It can sound scary. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Surprising, enlightening, and deeply relevant, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor -- the mathematical modeling of humanity -- will transform every aspect of our lives.
Here is an awesome commentary:
A woman came into my office last week. She's an expert on what's called search engine optimization. In other words, she helps people adjust their websites by putting in just the right words in the right places so that they'll rise to the top of the search results on Google. This is important, because if you or your business shows up on the third or fourth page on Google, you might as well not exist. No one finds you.
She had some bad news for me. The headlines on my blog are terrible for Google. They have jokes in them, irony, references to things that only humans can understand. If I want to get a good Google ranking, I'll first have to make my case, and establish my relevance, to a machine.
I thought about this. In industry after industry, we're being understood and ranked by our data. If the machines cannot find us, the humans never will. Those who figure out best how to organize their data will pop to the top of all kinds of lists. They'll be the first name you see in online dating. They'll be the first choice for the promotion to the Paris office. They may even be the first dog trainer you come across.
For centuries, we developed all kinds of tricks to make ourselves stand out. A whiff of cologne, a firm handshake, a letter of recommendation, a resume with just the right font. That was how we made ourselves findable in the analog age. But now we live in a world defined largely by data. So we have to read the minds of the people who tell the machines what to look for. I call them the Numerati. We have to decode their instructions -- or algorithms -- and then give them what they're after. This type of analysis is going to become the norm in a world managed by the Numerati. If we need any help, you can bet than an entire consulting industry will rise up to help us make our case to machines and hone our own algorithms.

Now, Silicon Valley gets hit reports 
"Sequoia Capital, arguably the smartest venture capital investor in business, is sounding the alarm and asking its portfolio companies to buckle down for what could be the worst economic downturn of their relatively short lives."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

YES bank brings RSS-like feature to online banking

To add credit to its focus on innovative banking, YES Bank has launched a new online service called Money Monitor for its customers. The new online account aggregation service allows YES Bank customers to control and monitor multiple bank accounts from other financial institutions as well.
The platform, which can be accessed using a single sign on, was implemented by Yodlee Inc – a banking solutions company headquartered in Redwood City, California.   
For first time in India, through the online platform YES Bank customers will be able to manage their finances across multiple savings, loan, investment and credit card accounts, thus enabling them to assess their net worth regularly.  Customers can access, view, print and receive alerts of all their financial information including online banking, bill payments, brokerage, loans, credit cards, insurance, fixed deposits and reward points information from both YES Bank and other financial institutions though a single user interface. 
In order to register for the services the user has to enter the account information of all his/her accounts while signing in.
Demonstrating the new service at a press conference in Bangalore, Ravi Shankar, EVP & country head, Direct Banking & Cash Management, YES Bank said, “It is very important how services will differentiate and help customers choose a bank.” 

How much molten is tech?

It seems to be a very shaky state of affairs for the global economy and technology in the high-tech industry. What worried economists six months ago, is having them in an outright panic with "economic rescue" plan that may be on the brink of a depression.

A depression? That may be pushing it. But if you believe this has little to do with the tech industry, think again. That mess on Wall Street means it's hard to get credit--whether if you're a giant company looking to make capital expenditures like new server station, or a start-up looking to buy office furniture or put money down for rent. Wall Street has always been a cutting-edge technology buyer, and that spigot is all but shut off for now. Enterprises are announcing plans to trim or freeze spending, and private customers probably aren't far behind.

On top of that, venture capital spending is on shaky ground, mergers and acquisitions in tech are down, and successful initial public offerings on the stock market are as unlikely as they have been at any point since the dot-com bust. What more, after witnessing a steady increase in billing rates for the last few years, Indian IT service providers could face pressure on the pricing front as demand slows down amidst worsening financial crisis in the US, the largest service market.

Already, we're starting to see signs of growing problems. Rumors are spreading of growing layoffs in Silicon Valley that is already having a global affect, and since the third quarter just ended, it's a good bet that surprising earnings shortfalls could be the big news in the coming days.

Nonetheless, while many may fear a replay of the dot-com bust, what could happen to the tech industry over the next year will be different for a combination of reasons: This isn't a self-made disaster, there's not as much public money on the table, and the rate of spending for Web 2.0 companies has been relatively modest when compared to the wild gold rush days of the late 1990s.

Some analysts feel that the US financial crisis will impact in India after December. IT Secretary Ashok Kumar Manoli said that about 35 per cent of revenue of major IT industries comes from Banking Service Finance Institutions world over, with banks in the US having a major share. "It is too early to say about the impact of the crisis on this."

CII Karnataka Chairman S Vishwanathan who is also the MD of John Fowler India said global uncertain economic conditions was bound to affect the domestic IT companies.

The sunshine industry of Indian economy the BPO firms will be hit by the current global economic turmoil over the next few months and now Nasscom have confirmed this fear as well. However the body is quick to turn this crisis into an advantage for the sector in the longer term.

The BPO-KPO sector in India is facing the heat of the US slowdown, particularly following recent events in the financial markets. Businesses of a host of small and mid-sized firms have taken a further hit in the industry since a major chunk of business comes from banking and financial services firms in the US.

According to a report released by Nasscom, the BPO and KPO industry together generated Rs 1,160 crore revenue and provided employment to 7 lakh people in 2007-08. The share of the US in the Indian BPO-KPO export market was 61 percent, making it the largest contributor to exports in the segment in 2007.

Read on… to explore what CIOs from top-notch companies have to say on the impact of the recession and its effects on their enterprises.

Satish Kotian, Head - IT at Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Ltd reacting to the present global financial situation says, "I do agree that with the global recession the first hit of cost cutting will on IT in any organization."

He says when we discuss about the cost we have to understand the component of the same like recurring cost and new investment. If case of recurring cost we have very less option, best thing we can to hard negotiation with service provider.

In case new investment I do agree that there will be rationalization, there will be revisit the existing policies. e.g. if existing policy is of replacement of Desktop / Lap top in 3 years this will pushed to next year or wait till get clarity on environment. In this environment upgrade market will open-up.

On the other side under recession / cost cutting we can push lot of hidden agenda, like deployment of open source application (Open office, Symphony etc).

"In my view if you able to convince the management that this is right time for investment on IT. In recession market bargaining power is tilted towards the buyer. It also time for getting buy in for lot of automation where organization can cut cost in the long run," says Kotian.

In our organization we will undertake following activities.

* Up gradation of system instead of new purchase wherever it is possible
* Deployment of open source e.g. open office, Symphony etc.
* Hard negotiation on recurring cost.
* We may not invest on new application development, but we have to invest on the support module to existing application software.
* Invest in applications for monitoring / Management infrastructure.

Ajay K. Dhir, CIO of Jindal Stainless Ltd in his comments on the US recession and its impact on his enetrprise says that the recession in the Industry is not a new phenomenon, and we have been seeing cyclical ups and downs in the last 26 years that I have worked in India and abroad. The reasons for recession may vary, and for an organization to ride through the troughs successfully, it needs intrinsic strength, embedded processes, fiscal prudence, long term vision and great leadership.

In our case, we as an organization, especially my function, we have processes in place for our budgets and spend monitoring. The IT budget (capex as well as opex) is planned for a three year window, keeping in view strategic as well as tactical objectives of the organization and aligning the IT vision with the same. The budget is discussed with our corporate management team and then presented to VC&MD for approval. Once the approvals are in place, the revenue allocation is done accordingly and the spend monitored. The IT budget is linked to EBIDTA and not just company turnover, hence it is more realistic and performance driven. If any correction has to be done due to market or industry dynamics, then it is aligned accordingly and spend rolled over to the next period. This way, we are able to keep our projects going as well, by keeping our 'ear to the ground' and eyes open.

Vinay Hinge, GM IT of Raymond Limited in his reaction says like our peers in Industry, we are experiencing constraints on spends and to conserve the cash as much as possible. Some of the initiatives we have taken are:

* Transforming Software Asset purchases in to "Rental" models: For example, we have recently converted one of our BI project (Product licenses +Implementation Consultancy) into a pure service model. We would be paying the vendors monthly rent for deploying his tools and expert consulting.
* In-sourcing  of services: Some of the business critical services, which were hitherto outsourced, are now being in-sourced with transferring people from partner to our payroll.
* Deferring of Projects: We are now doing more frequent reviews of our project portfolio and are delaying those projects which are not critical. At the same time, we are re-negotiating the critical projects with vendors for better terms and early delivery dates.

R.D. Malav, VP IT at Jindal Poly Films Ltd. says thet Jindal films has a major export share, and due global recession we are having big challenge to keep our top line and bottom line growth intact, which is very unlikely and change in growth rate is definitely impacting our IT Budget. We have already postponed new Capex for the year. and cutting on recurring expenses also. "Overall IT suffers, if business suffers," Malav reacts.

Ravishankar S, CIO of ING Vyasa Life insurance says that the market conditions, the rapid growth in the Life Insurance industry and the entry of several new players into this segment  require us to remain competitive by launching more innovative products and services - and do so speedily. At the same time we are increasing the reach of existing channels and developing new channels and partners. In this scenario, IT investments will remain critical in supporting these business initiatives.

IT spends in ING Life are determined and approved using strong governance structures such as the IT steering committee chaired by our CEO. These spends are based on our IT architecture blueprint and roadmap that is determined and updated periodically. We  seek inputs and guidance from our regional office in Hong Kong while making these investments. Our shareholders would like us to continue with our ambitious growth strategy.

Overall, this is an opportune time for all companies in the industry to review their costs including the discretionary spending so as to rationalize expenses.  However given the continued strong growth coupled with the need to need to enhance our product/service offerings, there is a need for us to continue to invest in beefing up our IT systems and infrastructure.  Hence we do not see any significant impact on the IT spends.

Daya Prakash, Head IT of LG Electronics Ltd says the electronic major is not having any impact as such as of now.

Nagaraj Bhat, Director, Global Information Services- India Delivery Center at Applied Materials says, "we track our global IT spending to around 3 percent of revenue. We have established a Project Portfolio Review Board (PPRB) represented by the Business Unit leaders  that is chartered to make decisions on projects that will be executed by the IT organizations."

The process starts with Opportunity Assessment and the project would be classified as Enterprise Strategic, Legal/Regulatory/Business Continuity and Discretionary IT Spends. Discretionary Spends are reviewed relative to business conditions. Some of the IT Foundational projects aimed at improving end user productivity, service level enhancements and aligned to the three year architecture strategy and roadmap are given due importance in the prioritization process.

At Applied Materials, we have been making good progress on optimizing our spend in "RUN" and shifting the IT spend to "BUILD" so that we can self-fund some of our foundational projects. For growing regions like India, IT spends are increasing year over year consistent with headcount growth, new market penetration and value engineering activities. Applied Materials outsource majority of its global IT Infrastructure Sustaining Services and ADMS activities to few IT Managed Services providers in India and one of the push has always been to increase offshore/onsite ratio so that we can deliver more for less.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The great battle in the clouds

In the run up to this month's Professional Developer Conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has started talking up Microsoft's new cloud computing infrastructure. At PDC, MS will unveil a "cloud operating system" that will run .NET applications in the cloud.
Ballmer was reluctant to give away too many details to avoid preempting PDC. He did, however, outline the company's vision. Microsoft already has operating systems for PCs, servers, and mobile systems; the next market the company wants to get into is cloud computing, and so the company needs a new "Internet" operating system. As yet, the new OS has no name, though Ballmer reckoned it would be "Windows something."
The Microsoft CEO said that MS wanted to provide the benefits of browser applications—they're cross-platform and easy to manage—with the benefits of desktop applications—better user interfaces and greater integration. To do this will require a shift in development tools and techniques with the cloud OS forming just one part of the solution.
Some hints of Microsoft's "Software + Services" future have also been given. Although the software giant does not envisage its bread-and-butter desktop applications like Office disappearing any time soon, the company is nonetheless developing services to enable light editing of Office documents from networked locations. This is part of a broader strategy that will see many of its products (SharePoint, Exchange, Dynamics CRM) gain extended online capabilities.

Amazon puts Microsoft in the cloud

Microsoft isn't the only company wanting to put Microsoft products into the cloud. Amazon, earlier this week, announced that its EC2 cloud computing service would soon offer Windows (the real deal, not "Windows something") and SQL Server. The Windows EC2 product is currently being beta tested by a limited number of EC2 customers, launching publicly by the end of the year.
Amazon is citing customer demands for Windows media codecs and streaming media as a key driver for this decision. Windows has a rich selection of media software unavailable on other platforms, including support for many legacy formats. Other customer demands include the ability to run ASP.NET web applications on IIS and SQL Server, to take advantage of EC2's scalability.
This move by Amazon is likely to be more than just a response to customer demands. Microsoft is building cloud computing data centers, and with its cloud platform imminent, Amazon will soon face competition for its EC2 product. By offering Windows, Amazon will preempt Microsoft's entry into the market to retain its lead. And it's not just Microsoft that Amazon will be competing with. For high-volume sites, an EC2 ASP.NET platform is sure to be competitive with conventional web hosting facilities.
Microsoft has large data centers of its own, powering Windows Live Mail, Windows Update, and Live Search, among others; the company can certainly run Internet services on a huge scale and is sure to bring that expertise to bear on its cloud services. Amazon is certainly the more experienced company when it comes to offering cloud computing services to paying customers, though, and it's hard to see customers abandoning the tried—if not entirely trusted—EC2 for Microsoft's version 1.0 platform.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How to use LinkedIn - a good crash course

LinkedIn is one of the best (if not the best) professional networking platform (yes, its a platform, not just a site, as it has been transforming itself quite aggressively in the last one year and it has on-boarded itself to OpenSocial - and here's a sneak peak exactly how exciting that could get!

I found this cool little post on BNet on how to maximize LI in your NW quest -

  • None. LinkedIn does offer higher-grade accounts for a monthly subscription fee, but don’t upgrade until you’re sure you’ll use it.
  • Plan to spend at least a full afternoon establishing your profile and network. Then make time to check in at least once a week to see what everyone is up to.
  • Your E-mail Contacts: LinkedIn allows you to quickly search through everyone you’ve e-mailed and connect to those you’d like to reach.
  • Well-Defined Goals: What do you want out of your network? Is there a field you hope to move into? A new position you’d like to try? Do you simply want to find other professionals in your field?
  • Your Company’s Policy: While nearly every company is fine with social networking (even the CIA reportedly has its own internal social network), make sure you understand your company’s policy on confidentiality.
Read the full post!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman dies at 83

The star is no more. Paul Newman died today. While he had a number of roles to remember, I always thought "The Verdict" (1982) - Sidney Lumet was one of his best performances. As a drunkard, fallen, failed, aging lawyer who fights a medical malpractice case against all odds and wins, Paul was unforgettable and his last speech in the courtroom was inspirational. Rest in peace, Paul.

Paul Newman, Star of `The Color of Money,' `Hud,' Dead at 83

By Kathryn Harris and Dan Hart

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Paul Newman, the singularly handsome actor with the ice-blue eyes who starred in such films as ``The Color of Money'' and ``Hud'' while pursuing his interests as a racecar driver, businessman and philanthropist, died yesterday at 83 at his home in Westport, Connecticut, his spokeswoman said.

Newman received a diagnosis of cancer more than a year ago, A.E. Hotchner, Newman's neighbor and business associate, told the Associated Press. Marni Tomljanovic, a spokeswoman for Sunshine, Sachs and Associates on behalf of Newman's Own Foundation, confirmed the actor's death. She spoke in a telephone interview.

Newman portrayed boxers, hustlers and cads in more than 60 films over six decades. He was the popular boxer Rocky Graziano in ``Somebody Up There Likes Me'' (1956), a drifter in ``The Long Hot Summer'' (1958) and ``Sweet Bird of Youth'' (1962), pool shark Eddie Felsen in ``The Hustler'' (1961) and its sequel ``The Color of Money'' (1986), an amoral rancher in ``Hud'' (1963) and bank robber in ``Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'' (1969).

He made his Broadway debut at age 27 in ``Picnic,'' but soon abandoned the stage for a more lucrative film career. Newman ``had a face born for the movies,'' director Joshua Logan said.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

An aftermath of the Crash of the Titans

After the meltdown

You take a week off and all hell breaks loose. It's been the story of my life: I leave a terminally placid office alone for a couple of days and come back to lurid tales of fistfights and overnight sackings. I go to Greece for a week, and the whole financial system collapses. Plus, it rains. This might not seem like such a disaster in the great scheme of things, but I still need some sun this year. If you're as superstitious as I am, you might want to consider bribing me to stay in the country to avoid further catastrophe.

Peering through the little window on the world that is my mobile phone screen, it's hard to get a handle on the tectonic scale of recent events. Banks are disappearing like contestants on a reality show. US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has promised to stop the rot by pouring "hundreds of millions of dollars" into the bottomless pit of debt that is the US housing market.

That's a sum that's worth mulling over. It's not even one of those annoyingly precise "$112.7bn" figures where the rounding error represents more money than you and all your friends and family will see in a lifetime. We're not even getting to the nearest hundred billion dollars here, and a hundred billion dollars is a serious amount of money—a Dr Evil ransom demand.

I'm not normally a fan of assessing public spending in terms of how many nurses you could hire or children's hospitals you could build, but with a hundred billion at your disposal you might face a shortage of sick children. Forget building the odd AIDS clinic in Africa, you could pay for all the medication for everybody there who was ill with anything at all. You could send everyone in Britain on a proper holiday. One where it doesn’t rain.

And yet Hank doesn't know exactly how many of these fabulous banknotes he's going to need to print. And to get what? A moon shot? A Manhattan project for climate change? No, a pile of dodgy mortgages held against worthless houses occupied by people with no money. Honest businesses go bust, but the dodgiest money-lending scam in history is propped up by what may be the last hurrah of the golden age of Western capitalism. It's not exactly the New Deal, is it? One wonders how the ideological taunting of "left-leaning liberals" will play out in the coming US election, once the incumbent administration embarks on the biggest socialist project in the West since the Welfare State.

This being the age of the Internet, the columnists and analysts have instantly rushed to print, to tell us "what this all means." I'm happy to admit I have no idea. Can I have a couple of days to think it through, to at least find my A-level economics notes? I suspect it would take the platoons of PhD students months to work out the possible ramifications of this, and legions more in a few years time to discover what did actually happen.

What is clear is that we are entering a period of unprecedented change, and I say that knowing what a cliché that phrase has been for years now. But people often use change as a lazy synonym for progress, and what we are talking about is being overwhelmed, not by the speed of technology but by the rapid unravelling of familiar structures, of whole ways of life even.

Change is the lifeblood of consultancy, so we are inclined to focus on the positive side of it. It's like life: we eagerly anticipate the new qualification, the promotion, the new baby, and the changes they will bring. We're much less willing to dwell on retirement, the empty nest, the loss of income and faculties. As a result, we tend to approach these kinds of change with much less creativity and involvement than we do the "progressive" ones, and are the poorer for it.

While there's going to be an awful lot to do in the coming years, much of it may seem retrograde or tedious. For a start there's going to be a lot of grunt work, welding together "new" financial institutions, where the old ones weren't that well integrated in the first place. New regulation will require the unpicking of years of careful work to cope with regimes that, ultimately, failed to deliver or even to achieve maturity. The new realities of financial life will probably be simpler, certainly starker. Much of the work might seem a bit like attaching a carthorse to a Porsche. It could all get a bit depressing.

I don't want to get overly apocalyptic; the end of the world has been coming in various forms ever since I was a child. But you can't be complacent—drive an hour from where I'm currently sitting and you can take your pick of the ruins of a dozen mighty empires destroyed by fire, earthquake and conquest. Our current nemesis seems a bit dull by comparison. We didn't have a war or even run out of oil, just that largely imaginary and abstract commodity—money.

It doesn't have to be depressing. Adapting to a new paradigm, like aging gracefully, can be a source of great pride and achievement. Our monument can be the appalling mess we got ourselves into—or the way we get out of it.