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…

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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.

Indian Railways – looking forward

Indian Railways Logo  The finance budget for the Indian Railways was presented in the parliament yesterday. It does seem, prima-facie, to be somewhat different from the populist budgets of the last some years. The budgets in the past usually have had a tone of promising a dozen new trains (to friendly states), adding stops to trains passing through the railway minister’s constituency, introducing non-stop trains which travel the speed of a tortoise. You get the picture. But, in the last say twenty years, the only change that I have seen is adding power sockets, and some change in the bathrooms, some of the newer coaches have larger windows. Not much else. But, then I am not an Indian Railways fan and not a frequent traveler either. And this blog post is not about praising the new railway minister or the NDA government either.

So, what does the railway budget contain? It seems to be focused on financial stability, de-congestion, starting to think about customer orientation and safety. The total budget seeks an investment of Rs 8,56,020 crores. Two remarkable directions are allocation Rs 39000 Cr towards connectivity for the East, and J&K, and a whopping Rs 1,99,320 towards network de-congestion. This perhaps does not look too far out, but certainly does look medium term in its perspective.

Why didn’t someone think of re-designing the ladders (to climb to upper births) earlier?

Stability and fiscal prudence

WAP locomotive at Erode junction

De-congestion of the network is a priority and should have been taken up more than a decade ago.

Slew of initiatives around innovation, running a BPR, using of global bench-marks. Essentially a large amount of investment towards revamping management practices, systems, processes, and re-tooling of human resources. There will be an infrastructure fund set up and two existing vehicles will be used to secure loans from the public (bonds, I guess). Two interesting items hidden in the paragraphs are the digitization of land records and responsibility fixing for encroachments and setting up a university for employees in the current fiscal.

De-Congestion

Gauge upgrades in 800 km in this year, adding railway tracks in congested routes (9400 kms), increasing freight capacity, and increasing speed of trains for inter-metro journeys.

Customer Orientation

First class ac ladder to the upper birth

Try climbing the ladder to an upper birth. A herculean task for a senior citizen.

A large number of initiatives in this area including disposable bed linen, cleanliness, introducing hand-held technology, ease of ordering food. All these are easy to think of. What is new is that someone has thought of getting the National Institute of Design to re-design the steps/ ladders used to climb to the upper births. Why didn’t someone think of this earlier? There is more – a large amount allocated to building elevators, and escalators, Braille enabling newer coaches and wider entrances for the differently abled, and start of air-conditioned EMUs in Mumbai.

Then of course the usual of improving stations, wi-fi in a bunch of stations, adding capacity to many of the current trains and the like.

Safety

Train protection and early warning anti-collision systems, radio based signal design for unmanned railway crossings,cctv in trains,

 Budget Highlights, Government Publication

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.

Kaati Zone – advent of the Indian quick service restaurant (Part 1)

Of course, you have seen (and probably eaten) at McDonald’s, Baskin Robbins, Donut Baker and so many other non-Indian quick service eateries already. The model works, its proven. There are some Indian players getting into the game as well, and food chains are starting to spread. However, most of these are rather city specific – Naturals ice cream (primarily Mumbai), Bittoo Tikki Wala (in Delhi) and one or two more. The only other company which does have a national presence is Haldiram (and their run off the mill, non-descript chaats).Okay, Shaanthi Sagar and Shiv Sagar excluded.

Kaati Zone (KZ) is sort of the new player in the market. They (if you have not been to one yet) serve kaathi rolls (kebabs, eggs etc wrapped in a paratha), parathas etc. Good assortment, and a positive move away from the standard and boring. Especially works in places other than in north of India, where kebab rolls are found in dives only. Kaati Zone is based (with its franchise model) in Bangalore primarily, and has two outlets in Mumbai.  The founders did find a pretty empty market segment to enter and offer a good product line. Their two serious competitors, I guess, are Tibbs and other frankie makers in Mumbai and the dives that I mentioned above on a large scale. Of course, you have the Nizam’s and the usual kebabchis. But, you don’t get kebab rolls with cheese, or kebab rolls on a diet (or lite) paratha, chicken fingers, deep fried chicken spheres, a few types of parathas, fries all in the same place.

What works beautifully for KZ is also the fact that it does not have to manifest itself always as a sit down place, but would be a take away (or delivery) very easily. Most of their locations are really that type, in office complexes, at airports where people want to really want quick service. But making a friend paratha kebab roll can’t be as quick as pre-made burgers lying under warm lamps, agreed!

The environs are always clean, service is polite, the food is good! What more could you ask for? Actually quite a bit…but I will let you think about it a bit (and go eat a kebab roll ), and read all that in the second part of this post. Meanwhile, why don’t you write in with your comments about Kaati Zone?

To be continued…