Information Tsunami

David Kirkpatrick, reporting from PC forum, says: “As the data problems get more complicated, so do the solutions. More and more, businesspeople will have to become conversant in software issues if they’re going to run an effective enterprise. If we don’t keep inventing, and companies don’t keep buying, we will all drown in the oncoming tsunami of information.”

I think the time has come to see how to build out the Memex as envisioned by Vannevar Bush. Blogs, RSS, Outlines, Links are the ingredients. Steven Johnson has been writing about this [1 2 3].

Its something I’ve been thinking about as the next big leap for BlogStreet. More on this soon.

Cheaper Monitors Needed

Slashdot has a discussion on an IDC report “claiming that revenues for LCDs by the end of this year will top the CRT revenues.”

In emerging markets like India, what is needed are not necessarily better displays but cheaper ones. As we work on the Rs 5,000 (USD 100) PC, the monitor cost is becoming a big issue. In India, it is now hard to find 14-inch monitors. One is being asked to buy 15-inch monitors for a few hundred rupees more. In a few months, it will be 17-inch monitors for another few hundred rupees more. The trend is exactly the opposite of what we want!

Perhaps, the focus should now be on sourcing older monitors which have a long lifetime. I just wonder why Samsung or their ilk cannot make real cheap 14-inch monitors. Is it a technology issue or just a desire for forcing price increases in a commoditised market?

Business Process Management

William Gurley writes:

The Deming revolution–built around concepts like continuous improvement and just-in-time (JIT) inventory–had a universal impact on global manufacturing. Today, there is a new form of enterprise software that has the ability to do for white-collar business processes what Deming did for manufacturing. Delphi Group believes that business process management (BPM) is “quickly emerging as the moniker for the next killer app in enterprise software.” Believe it or not, this may actually undersell the potential impact of BPM. BPM will not just change the software industry–it will change industry in general. Just like Deming.

What type of enterprise software could possibly have such an impact? BPM is a new programming paradigm for the enterprise that leverages browser-based applications, e-mail, global connectivity and enterprise application integration (EAI) infrastructure to deliver a powerful, business-focused programming solution. A mix between workflow, EAI and application development, BPM makes it easy for companies to codify their current processes, automate their execution, monitor their current performance and make on-the-fly changes to improve the current processes.

Here is how it works. Business analysts work alongside IT staff and create a graphical flow chart of targeted processes within the organization. These graphical designs are typically done in an integrated design environment (IDE) and represent the different events, decisions and actions that are performed by employees as well as the flows of data that are necessary to perform each task. Once defined, people begin to interact with the new application. New “processes” are started by an individual (for example, entering a new customer issue) or as the result of an event (for example, a customer account goes past due). Actions are then passed from person to person through the concept of a task inbox, and typically the passing of a URL.

Gurley describes the six components of a BPM solution: IDE, Process Engine, User Directory, Workflow, Reporting/Process Monitoring and Integration.

I was just having an internal discussion yesterday about the need of the equivalent of a “Sim City” for an enterprise – a framework for a manager to create a virtual model of an enterprise, and then inject a series of events into it. This will let the manager check the software that is about to be deployed and get a feel for the information flow and the reports that are likely to be available, prior to deployment.

The BPM article captures the essence of what I’d like to see as part of our eBusiness suite targeted at SMEs that we are developing.

WiFi Hotspots

Coming soon to the air around you – wireless Internet access, according to the Economist, stating that “Wi-Fi is now moving from the realm of grassroots enthusiasts to that of the big computing and telecoms companies.” A summary of the recent action:

Toshiba and Accenture have announced plans to set up 10,000 hotspots in America. Cometa, a joint venture between Intel, IBM, AT&T and others, has already said it will build 20,000. A consortium of five Asian telecoms firms plans to build 20,000 hotspots across Asia by the end of the year, and similar moves are afoot in Europe. An hour’s free Wi-Fi access is being thrown in with every meal at a handful of McDonald’s hamburger restaurants.

Biotech Survey

The Economist has a survey on biotechnology, stating “It promises much: more and better drugs; medical treatment tailored to the individual patient’s biological make-up; new crops; new industrial processes; even, whisper it gently, new humans. A few of those promises have been delivered already. Many have not. Some may never be. Some may raise too many objections…But the field is still in its infancy, and commercialising the edge of scientific research is a hazardous business.”

Biotechnology, along with infotech and nantech, are the areas of today and tomorrow.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Rethinking ICT Solutions

Let us look at the requirements for the ICT (information and communications technology) solutions for the rural markets:

Mass-market: The solution needs to address the needs for tens of millions people. In India, this has to be a solution which can in a short period of time penetrate into each of the 600,000 villages to make a difference to hundreds of millions of people. It is a solution on a scale that has perhaps never been thought of before.

Scalable: Being able to scale out the solution is very important, else we will have created yet another demo wonder. Scalability will mean that there has to be a decentralisable element in the solution.

Emergent: Going hand-in-hand with scalability and decentralisation is the need for the solution to have emergent properties where it is driven from the bottom-up, and the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. This can only happen if the solution is driven not by government, but by small entrepreneurs who see a commercial motivation to own, deploy and grow the solution.

Low R&D Costs: There is little time to go out and develop new solutions. The approach should be that of aggregation, not re-creation. This means looking around and pooling together existing ideas and technologies which may be just good enough, rather than spending years on creating what could be the perfect solution.

Extremely Affordable: We are talking of the worlds poorest markets. Affordability needs to be redefined keeping in mind these customers. These are segments of society we dont ordinarily think about. But they are the ones who are the worlds next markets. Costs have to be a fraction of what we are otherwise used to considering or paying.

Technologically Forward-looking: The solution needs to look to the future rather than into the past. What is there under the hood is not as critical as giving the same kind of features and performance as the ones in the developed world are used to. In some ways, there is an advantage in terms of legacy there simply isnt an existing solution to upgrade so there is no need for backward compatibility. This gives us an opportunity to leapfrog.

Platform Orientation: The solution must create an ecosystem in which multiple players can thrive. The approach must be that of creating a platform that others can build upon, without having to redo the groundwork from scratch.

Consider the Constraints: We cannot forget the limitations and realities of the rural markets intermittent and fluctuating power, connectivity which probably isnt there, a market which does not necessarily speak or understand English, and one which has been largely ignored and forgotten by the world (except the politicians who need votes in a democracy). Since connectivity is not a guarantee, the initial focus should be on information and offline communications services, rather than real-time, database-driven transactional services.

Commercially Viable: Above all, the solution needs to be economically sustainable, given the constraints of the rural markets. It must provide the rural entrepreneurs with a business model which enables them to not just make money but also grow the business with their own initiative and innovation.

As we think of the solution, we should keep these words by Stuart Hart and CK Prahalad (writing in Sloan Management Review) in mind: Disruptive Innovations compete against nonconsumption that is, they offer a product or service to people who would otherwise be left out entirely or poorly served by existing products and who are therefore quite happy to have a simpler, more modest version of what is available in the high-end markets.

Next Week: Transforming Rural India (continued)

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