Jim Collins and Walmart

Newsweek writes about how Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” has achieved success outside the business world, too.

Its gone through 48 reprintings, and just inked its millionth hardcover. Collinswhose first book, Built to Last, sold about 200,000 hardcover copieshas received thousands of e-mails and roughly 250 speaking requests from people outside the business world, including orchestra managers, church leaders, principals and hospital chiefs (the list goes on). Whats the attraction? Many of the books findings are counterintuitive. The companies that made the leap are low-profile firms. Abbott, Kimberly-Clark and Nucor are among those that overcame average stock performance for a 15-year run that far outpaced the broader market. None were run by flashy CEOs from the outsidethey were led by quiet insiders who inspired with standards and goals. They determined what their company could do better than anyone else, figured out the smartest way to measure progress and stayed focused.

There’s an article by Jim Collins in Fast Company on Walmart (thanks to Abhay Bhagat and Karthik for the link):

It is entirely possible for a company to grow to 1.4 million people and retain much of the vibrant culture and sense of purpose created by its entrepreneurial founder. I must admit, I hadn’t thought that that was possible. By the time most companies reach $10 billion or $20 billion in revenue, they have long ago lost the entrepreneurial zeal that fueled them in the first place. By $50 billion, they have gone fully corporate, and their very success has made them complacent, dull, and slow. The usual story is that what was once a fast company — in its attitude, its values, its spirit, and its execution — eventually succumbs to inertia and spirals into a doom loop of mediocrity.

Yet if anything, Wal-Mart is gaining momentum. This fast company is becoming a faster company. Wal-Mart grows a Fortune 100 corporation each year. The company’s culture is as strong as ever. And Wal-Mart has yet to reach the larger world outside of the United States. Here is the most startling fact of all: If Wal-Mart were to maintain its average growth rate from the past 10 years, it would become the world’s first $1 trillion company within a decade.

Sounds astonishing – a trillion dollar enterprise. But so was the possibility of it becoming quarter trillion dollar company a decade or so ago.

A few points to note from Collins’ article:

When you combine a consistent direction with substantial speed, you achieve something greater than either of those elements alone: momentum.

The key to change is first to understand what not to change and then to feel free to change everything else.

Never think of your company as great, no matter how successful it becomes . Instead, always stay irrationally worried that it is never really measuring up to its potential.

BW InfoTech 100

Business Week has a report on the top 100 IT companies. The toppers: Nextel, Dell, Samsung, PTT Indonesia and Nokia.

A couple excerpt from the report on enterprise software:

Today, software can do everything from automate a human resource department to manage a supply chain. To paraphrase futurist Clayton M. Christensen, once all the necessary functionalities — or features — are done, new additions just increase the chances of bugs. “I think the [industry] has filled up the functionality bucket,” says Rick Berquist, chief technology officer at PeopleSoft Inc. “I think now we’re in the reliability era.”

Software should be delivered as a service over the Internet instead of shipped to customers on a disk. If the people who designed the software are the ones actually running it, wouldn’t they have an easier time fixing it when something goes wrong?

Startups have the Edge

Phil Wainewright quotes Ray Lane in an interview about startups and established companies: “Typically, if the challenge is a discontinuous change in the status quo, startups have the advantage. Microsoft didn’t invent browsers; Netscape did. IBM didn’t invent the PC; Apple did, and so on. The RTE [real-time enterprise] is a discontinuity with 100 years of status quo, so I think startups have an advantage … Well established companies … will provide the massive infrastructure the RTE will require – operating systems, databases, application systems, etc – but the new tools and apps will likely come from the startup world.”

Even as the software industry consolidates (or is being forced to), the opportunities continue to exist for startups. It would be interesting to look not at the big companies, but at the SMEs. The way to do it: leverage Linux. Here’s a point made by Dana Blankenhorn: “In the case of enterprise software, Linux represents that radical change. Linux removes the power to alter big systems from vendors, and puts it firmly in the hands of customers. After all, with Linux, customers can make changes on their schedule, by themselves. Before Linux, change could only happen when vendors allowed it to happen, because customers could not see the underlying code. Absent such access customers could only nibble around the edges of major change, fiddling with minor upgrades, or changing procedures.”

Info Aggregator

Today morning, we saw the link on Blogroots and a mention on Metafilter (side panel) for our RSS-to-IMAP service – the Info Aggregator . So, we decided to clean up the interface a little, in anticipation of some traffic, and add a write-up on what it does.

Here’s a more proper introduction of what it does:

Info Aggregator is an RSS-to-IMAP service. It lets you receive and read RSS feeds in your favourite mail client. It delivers all the latest news and blog posts directly to your mailbox.

Now there is no need to go to the blog homepage everyday to check what’s new. You can read the feeds from anywhere, even when not connected to the internet.

Plus there is no need for a separate application like a RSS News Aggregator. Your current mail application like acts as the Newsreader. Therefore you can start right away, no learning curve. Deal with the feeds like you do with mail.

There are a lot of ideas we have which we will build on in the coming weeks. I believe the real disruptive force is RSS and innovative uses for it.

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TECH TALK: The Discovery of India: Engineering Colleges

Indias engineering colleges hold the key to its long-term success in software. So far, the record has been mixed. While the quantity in terms of graduates is there, the quality in terms of software engineering practices leaves much to be desired. If India has to become an IT superpower, the software has to become part of the DNA of its engineering colleges. Specifically, three aspects of engineering colleges need consideration: the IT infrastructure at the colleges, the projects done by students, and the interaction with the outside world.

IT Infrastructure: Many engineering colleges in India have a limited number computers for use by the students. Much of the software in use is pirated. Connectivity within the campus and to the Internet is limited. All this needs to change. The four building blocks for the new infrastructure: thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software and WiFi. The mix of the first three will help cut costs of computing and help proliferate them. Ideally, there should be one computer for every student. WiFi helps create an envelope which allows access to the network from anywhere on campus.

Student Projects: Most projects in the final year of undergraduate studies are done in silos. The aim is more to just get something done rather than make a notable contribution. The student projects are critical because they are the first interface of a student (now an engineer-to-be) with the outside world. The projects should solve real-world problems, rather than being a rehash of what has done the previous year. Faculty must take it upon themselves to co-ordinate multi-year projects. The open-source software community and the industry have many challenges which can be converted into a co-ordinated array of projects that groups of students can execute. This not only puts the IT infrastructure set up at the college to good use, but also brings out their learnings and inculcates a sense of purpose in what they are doing.

External Interactions: Students can become the bridges to various institutions even while at the engineering college. Each engineering college can adopt a set of schools, hospitals, SMEs and villages in a 100-kilometre radius (2-hour commute) around the college. A group of students can be given responsibility to set up and manage the IT infrastructure at these institutions. This will take care of two things at once: give the students real-world exposure to technology, and at the same time solve the problem of support that plagues many institutions. The students can become the ambassadors for the deployment and support of open-source software in the extended ecosystem. If they do their work well, they will have ready employment opportunities waiting for them at these institutions once they graduate.

Engineering colleges can thus become not just a provider of human resources for Indias IT industry, but also lead from the front in building a software ecosystem around them. For example, engineering colleges in Pune could take up projects related to the use of IT in manufacturing and SMEs, given the base that is there around the city. The objective should be that within 2-3 years, IT penetrates deeper in the industry, thus creating greater opportunities both for faculty research and student employment. This transformation has to be driven by Indias software companies.

As the engineers and enterprises will find, one of the large untapped opportunities lies in using technology to transform rural India.

Tomorrow: Rural India

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