Touch down Croatia / Hrvatska

Ever read Alistair MacLean novels, as a young adult or even later? He wrote one called ‘The Partisans’, which I read while in senior school. Never mind what that story was about, but the setting was former Yugoslavia. Exotic sounding Zagreb, Mostar, Sarajevo, Graz, Zadar etc which became infamous later during the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian conflict. Somewhere along the line a city whose name started with a Z, sure did pique some interest in me and that interest to get there, sometime in life, remained.
Just before getting my shackles removed, closing my eyes and forefinger jabbing a map of Europe pointed roughly to Croatia. What shackles, you ask. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

Dealt with the Croatian embassy for a Visa. Have never figured why such seemingly immigration risk insignificant countries need such amazing amount of paperwork to issue a tourist visa and why do they charge so much? Am I about to illegally migrate…to Croatia? Not as if there is a large bunch Indians traveling to Croatia either.


Meanwhile, getting tickets on miles from British Airways was as much a bitch as it always has been. Can’t fly through here, not from there, not on this day, not on that, not in economy, not this airline etc etc. Getting some workable, but inconvenient combination is akin to expecting a singularity type event to happen and a space time continuum portal, to the other dimension,​ open up. So they routed me through LHR, but couldn’t find me a miles seat to Zagreb. That is supposed to be my destination, you see. In any case, my return trip on miles and paid LHR->ZAG ends up costing more than flying economy to ZAG and back.

The travel day from finally arrived. BA seems to have fallen on bad times. Their planes lack upkeep, the service borders now on surly, the food is just plain bad. Their Twitter CS team is callous in approach as well.

If you are flying short-haul economy, then you pay for food. Their central software system crashes, and disables online check-in too.

But, still interesting things happen. There are things happening everyday which make one gleeful. Finally the app based check-in today morning, self baggage drop and tag printing, and touch less card swipe on board for a coffee. Technology, when it works, is sheer magic.

Then this beautiful innovation of filter coffee in this cup with a cloth net filter.

Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?

Visible sunrises are still a delight. Even more so in England.

And then, John Cleese is going to be back on the tube; so reports The Telegraph.

…And touch down into sunny Zagreb. After a long line at immigration and a (fleecing) taxi drive, here is the view from my upgraded room

More on Zagreb and Croatia as I travel through next some days…

CIO in technology world

CIO tending towards CEO?

Been quite a journey for the IT /Technology industry just supporting businesses to gradually, but definitely, starting to hand hold business to directions like never before. In the distant past (at least feels like that) there were the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) departments in companies created to provide support to the Finance folk, and then gradually to point of sale. Over time, companies figured the role of a CIO with the proliferation of technology across their operations. Technology based companies started having a CTO too. Traditionally and because of the support nature, IT continues, in some cases,  to be treated as a ‘cost’ and also report into the COO or the CFO. Happens in many a large multi-billion dollar strategically stagnant corporation. However, we do know (and see this every day) that the world has moved on and there is a clear and present danger for these mammoths that they will be left behind in the race and die out.

Technology today plays a more strategic function, and in many organizations it walks hand-in-glove with business. But, in many others, it leads business designing new offerings or creating new ways of doing business.  Many tech startups have opened up new business areas or have taken existing business models through a discontinuous shift by putting technology in front. Technology and business strategy aren’t really separated anymore and that is why, many of the good CIOs today talk directly to the organization’s business strategy.

The symptoms are everywhere. The WSJ, if you recall, used to have a section called the Marketplace. Sometime, early last year, they changed the name of the section of Business & Tech. The WSJ and other predict that “algorithms will increasingly guide nearly every function in the modern enterprise,” resulting in the elevation of CIOs everywhere and “valuations for Silicon Valley startups [that] march ever higher.”

The word “digital” came with no predefined boundaries and it started with smashing boundaries in the world of entertainment and content driven sectors. As it proliferated to other sectors, we saw there were no industry based rules or limitations. No holy cows, and nothing sacrosanct. Every business, now, is a technology business. Disruption caused by technology is blurring or even eliminating rigid industry boundaries very rapidly

This change is as much external as it is internal. Compartmentalization of data was created in organizations to support divisions and subdivisions in the company. New world organizations are now data driven and barrier less;  many organizations are transforming to be so. Now, data flowing through previously impregnable boundaries can cause these departmental boundaries to dissolve and in some cases even the traditional functions to disappear.

I remember reading an Economist survey a year or two ago which had correlated the strong link between a CIO’s role to the company’s success at innovation. CIOs of strong innovators (organizations) were noted to be more likely to be the principal strategist for key strategic technologies, especially consumer-facing mobile applications, as well as online learning, enterprise social networks, big data analytics and social media. Essentially, digital. Of course, that is only one part of the world of digital. You know that.Forward looking organizations are starting to transform their business culture to creativity, collaboration and innovation. Many of these service transformations are made possible because of investments which are CIO sponsored.

An industry survey run last year (by Harvey Nash) showed that the shift is quite underway, with 66% of CIO projects are those which are designed to make money (as opposed to just support) and for 34% of the CIOs surveyed, digital is now. Some 48% of the CIOs expected their role to change in the next two years. 32% of the CIOs surveyed now report directly to the CEOs, a jump of about 10% over the last year. That takes us to the topic of the next jump.

It’s no tsunami, but it is starting to happen. Mid-year, last year, former Burger King CIO Raj Rawal became CEO of Fresh Diet, a small meal-delivery company. Then, Guy Chiarello quit as CIO of JPMorgan Chase to be president of First Data, a financial services powerhouse. Companies in real estate, oil, services and healthcare have also appointed CEOs who are former CIOs.

Today, monster forces of social media, mobility and analytics technology are causing tectonic shifts in the business environment. The tech shops in smart organizations are in the forefront because IT is now the number-one tool for formulating and executing strategic advantage. A smart CIO using data a and technology smartly to create new revenue may be well-positioned to lead a company. The CEO job has never looked more attainable for a good CIO.

Why Flipkart’s tying up with Mumbai Dabbawallas is a great move

Allow me to start with saying that I am not plugging for Flipkart, and have no love lost for a company with no customer service. But, when something is well done, it is well done.

Flipkart’s tying up with Mumbai’s Dabbawalas is a straight shot brilliant move. Whoever in the company came up with that, thought really out of the box. So, how would this work?

Embed from Getty Images

Flipkart aims to use the Dabbawala’s to deliver the goods when these guys go to pick up the empty lunch boxes. Now their empty run is now being paid for, and they actually have pay load. When they are making their return run with the lunch boxes, they would have made their extra loads and would not be returning heavy either. Because their empty ferry will now get paid for, the cost that Flipkart will have to pay will actually be lower. Certainly lower than what they have to pay for their current last mile drops.Why

The Mumbai Dabbawallas bring to the table their rapid delivery with a Six sigma level accuracy.

What Dabbawalas bring to the table is their accuracy of rapid and on-time delivery. They operate at a Six sigma level of accuracy with really no technology or even paper based system for tracking. Essentially, there is no operations management type of cost at all. That perhaps would need to change a bit for the deliveries that they make for Flipkart. Some amount of paper based (at least) systems will have to be introduced, and there in lies the risk of their Six Sigma levels dropping a bit.

Now only if the ecommerce company could find Dabbawallas in other cities, their per shipment operating cost would be under control and perhaps they would be a viable business too.

The essence of Virality – the ALS way!

All digital marketing gurus will tell you about 20 (plus or minus five) things that you should do to get your message across and how to ensure more and more people view it.
But, how do you really do this? Consider many videos, messages and feeds which have gone viral. These all have just the basic key elements common. If you take a step back, and connect your messaging (very deliberately) with your overall digital strategy, you will see the common factors are:

  • A Cause – that people can relate to. Or a need that people see getting fulfilled.
  • The Content – that touches people’ emotion somehow. Either in terms of goodness, something shocking or the best of the lot – humour
  • and the Hook – something that makes people do the share and the like. The content itself can, of course. But, the desire to show people “I did it” is even more powerful.

    Now, take a quick second and think about the ALS IceBucketChallenge. You have surely seen a few videos, or maybe actually have taken up the challenge and in return challenged some other friends too. Has all the three elements embedded. Its a cause, important enough for people to relate to. The content is humourous for sure, almost every time. The hook is of course, you can challenge other people by taking up this challenge. The only difference is that in this case it is not just one video which is going viral, but the message. That is what one finally cares for anyways…and this is brining in money (in donations).

Are you fed up of politics related posts on your Facebook newsfeed?

Picture2There is enough politics that I get to see. On the tube, in the newspaper and of course on Facebook. People posting / re-posting on Facebook are serious about it, and in most cases, mean well. However, like me, you might have had an overdose already.

FB Top bar showing Social Fixer plug-in settings icon

FB Top bar showing Social Fixer plug-in settings icon

You do not want to see these posts anymore, but do not want to block of the friend(s) who posts these political messages. The bad new first – Facebook does not have a mechanism to do this. The good news – is that there is a plug-in available for browsers to be able to do this blocking. This plug-in is called Social Fixer and you can download it from their web site. There, currently, are separate plug-ins for Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome and browsers running a Greasemonkey extension. People on IE, well…tough luck.

Picture1It will plug itself into your browser and show up as an icon on your Facebook page top right. It is easy to configure and fairly versatile.

It will run you through a wizard. But the part that you need is the “Filtering”.

It can do text or links based filtering and your filter text could be as simple as “/politics|congress|bjp|aap|/i”. The “i” in the end keeps your filter case in-sensitive, and then you choose what you want to do with that post (hide, minimize or apply a CSS). That is it. You can choose to create tabs to filter, move and segregate posts too.

It takes a while for the filters to start working and might seem as if the filtering is not working too well. Clear the cache, and you will see the difference.

Social fixer has a host of other features to un-clutter, enhance and simplify. But, the filtering is what I needed the most.

Retail 2020 for the Retail CIO

The last some years has been nothing less than a train wreck, and a traffic pile up put together. Things seem to look up for a bit and then go down into the dump. Maybe, its a W-shaped recession after all. But there is a bit of a silver lining.

Retail will have a very different shape in the next decade. How should the CIOs of retail companies prepare? Here are some pointers from my experience interacting with Retail CIOs worldover for about the last seven years.

Proactive alignment with business

IT not always being aligned with the mainline business has always been the bane of many a CIO organization. Right now is the opportunity to make the change. CIOs must choose to drive leadership in IT areas which directly add to the company value propositions, and not wait for business to set direction and strategy for IT.

Act local, think Global

All retailers must think of the world as their consumer base. Thinking global does not necessarily mean proliferation to the scale of Starbucks in which case you could see half a dozen starbucks signs standing any stop lights in downtown AnyCity in the US. The Body shop is a fairly decent example, and so is WHSmiths in gradual global expansion, and reducing overall risk by placing the eggs in different baskets. Of course, this needs the processes and systems to support such geographic diversity and this is where the CIO comes in to play a major part. In some geographies e.g. India, most of this progress will be through JVs, and the CIO plays a part in integration and adapting to local IT needs

Consumer and demand driven

Retailing is slowly becoming, and will completely be Customer driven rather than merchandise driven. The hammer and nail syndrome will have to go away. As shake downs happen, the retail geography changes. New specialty, and information driven retail comes to play very strongly. Here are two examples – Airtel is the largest seller of music in India today. Best Buy’s largest competitor perhaps is Amazon, and not other brick and mortar set ups (now that Circuit City is history). Better understanding the customer behaviour is what will make the difference.

Out of the box

Time to think differently, time to adapt and bring forth disparate step changes in technology. Retailers who are able to harness technology for bringing in innovation will see progress. Technology which brings in quick supply chain squeeze, inventory handling or deliver top-line increase will see being adapted, and CIOs need to be ready to move rapidly.

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