Business Week on India’s Rise

[via Reuben] Media coverage always comes in a flurry. A few years ago, China was the toast of the media. Now, it is India’s turn. Business Week has a cover story on what India’s rise means for the global economy:

Quietly but with breathtaking speed, India and its millions of world-class engineering, business, and medical graduates are becoming enmeshed in America’s New Economy in ways most of us barely imagine. “India has always had brilliant, educated people,” says tech-trend forecaster Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. “Now Indians are taking the lead in colonizing cyberspace.”

This techno take-off is wonderful for India — but terrifying for many Americans. In fact, India’s emergence is fast turning into the latest Rorschach test on globalization. Many see India’s digital workers as bearers of new prosperity to a deserving nation and vital partners of Corporate America. Others see them as shock troops in the final assault on good-paying jobs. Howard Rubin, executive vice-president of Meta Group Inc., a Stamford (Conn.) information-technology consultant, notes that big U.S. companies are shedding 500 to 2,000 IT staffers at a time. “These people won’t get reabsorbed into the workforce until they get the right skills,” he says. Even Indian execs see the problem. “What happened in manufacturing is happening in services,” says Azim H. Premji, chairman of IT supplier Wipro Ltd. “That raises a lot of social issues for the U.S.”

But there’s also a far more positive view — that harnessing Indian brainpower will greatly boost American tech and services leadership by filling a big projected shortfall in skilled labor as baby boomers retire. That’s especially possible with smarter U.S. policy. Companies from GE Medical Systems to Cummins to Microsoft to enterprise-software firm PeopleSoft that are hiring in India say they aren’t laying off any U.S. engineers. Instead, by augmenting their U.S. R&D teams with the 260,000 engineers pumped out by Indian schools each year, they can afford to throw many more brains at a task and speed up product launches, develop more prototypes, and upgrade quality. A top electrical or chemical engineering grad from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITS) earns about $10,000 a year — roughly one-eighth of U.S. starting pay. Says Rajat Gupta, an IIT-Delhi grad and senior partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co.: “Offshoring work will spur innovation, job creation, and dramatic increases in productivity that will be passed on to the consumer.”

Whether you regard the trend as disruptive or benefical, one thing is clear. Corporate America no longer feels it can afford to ignore India.

India’s IT workers sense an enormous opportunity. The country has long possessed some basics of a strong market-driven economy: private corporations, democratic government, Western accounting standards, an active stock market, widespread English use, and schools strong in computer science and math. But its bureaucracy suffocated industry with onerous controls and taxes, and the best scientific and business minds went to the U.S., where the 1.8 million Indian expatriates rank among the most successful immigrant groups.

Now, many talented Indians feel a sense of optimism India hasn’t experienced in decades.

There is little doubt that India has to change: “If India can turn into a fast-growth economy, it will be the first developing nation that used its brainpower, not natural resources or the raw muscle of factory labor, as the catalyst. And this huge country desperately needs China-style growth. For all its R&D labs, India remains visibly Third World. IT service exports employ less than 1% of the workforce. Per-capita income is just $460, and 300 million Indians subsist on $1 a day or less.”

Haiti’s Partners in Health

I read Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains beyond Mountains” recently (will write more on it sometime later – highly recommended). The book is about Dr Paul Farmer who has been working in Haiti for two decades and his “quest to cure the world”. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see a New York Times article on the work going in in Haiti – helped complete the story the book began.

Partners in Health has become an influential model in the frenetic race to expand drug treatment in dozens of poor countries across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean…No program to treat people in the poorest countries has more intrigued experts than the one started in Haiti by Partners in Health which has succeeded by enlisting help from hundreds among Haiti’s vast pool of unemployed and underemployed workers.

The AIDS treatment program here, one of the first of its kind in the world, was started by Dr. Paul Farmer, an American, and the group he founded, Partners in Health. It began giving antiretroviral drugs to patients here in 1999, when such efforts were virtually unknown.

“We didn’t do it to be a model program,” said Dr. Farmer, 44, a Harvard medical professor and anthropologist. “We did it because people were croaking.”

The Spartan model of care used by Partners in Health was born of necessity, but its very spareness is now seen as a virtue by many experts who want the scarce dollars for treatment to stretch as far as possible. Doctors here grafted AIDS treatment efforts onto the existing program for tuberculosis control.

AIDS patients, who will have to take the drugs daily for the rest of their lives, are visited in their homes every morning and evening by a health worker who hands out pills and watches as they are gulped down. Ensuring that the medicines are taken properly reduces the risk that drug-resistant strains of H.I.V. will emerge.

One of the biggest obstacles to rapid expansion of treatment in poor countries is the extreme scarcity of doctors, nurses and high-tech equipment. And the program here has minimized reliance on them. Generally, there are no lab tests done once treatment begins. The only monitor is a scale to weigh patients monthly.

Peasants have been trained to dispense the medicines, draw blood, take X-rays, clean bedpans, measure vital signs and spread the word about condoms preventing H.I.V. infection. Most of the workers who visit patients’ homes are paid a small stipend of $38 a month.

It is the story of how a few can change the world.

ITC’s Rural Hubs and Spokes

ITC is one of the most active companies in rural India. They have set up over 2,500 e-choupals in the villages and expect income from e-choupals to be more than their tobacco business by 2010. “In the next 5-7 years, ITC will have 20,000 choupals. Since each choupal covers around five villages, the company will have access to 100,000 villages. Each choupal currently serves 500-600 farmers.” To complete the picture, India has about 600,000 villages with about 700 million people in all. “[ITC chairman Yogi] Deveshwar explained that the revenue estimated from choupals in the coming years was not unfounded, given the importance of the rural economy. He said at present the propensity to spend was low among villagers because surplus income was low. However, the choupal network would boost farmers’ income and increase their propensity to spend, he said, adding that this would have a multiplier effect on the economy.”

The e-choupals are spokes, and where there are spokes, there is a need for a hub. The Economic Times writes about their plan to set up rural malls:

ITC is setting up 45 shopping malls in the countryside, each the size of Delhi s Khan Market, to retail everything from John Players clothes and ICICI life insurance to Eicher motorbikes. The first five malls, costing more than Rs 20 crore, will be ready for shoppers in 16 weeks.

What ITC gets in return is a dedicated customer base, savings through procurement of cheaper farm produce, and a cut ranging from 3%-40% of sales value from the brands which use its shelf space. The focus at present is Madhya Pradesh, where ITC has already managed to set up an exhaustive network of e-chaupals for procurement of soyabeans and sale of agri-inputs.

Built on 5 acres, each mall would cost ITC anything between Rs 3-5 cr [USD 650K – 1.1 million], depending on the price of real estate. To put that area in perspective, most malls in the large metros are built on just 2-3 acres of land. Each mall will be a self-contained unit, with facilities for storage of goods, warehousing of agricultural produce procured by ITC, shelf display, and parking. Each store will be manned by at least five full-time ITC sales staff, and the number could go up in busy seasons of the year.

This interests us is the context of our RISC ideas. We are working to set up a pilot by mid-2004. RISC’s goals are broader: “Fundamentally, the specific market failure that RISC addresses is that of coordination failure. RISC is designed to coordinate the activities of a host of entitiescommercial, governmental, NGOs. It synchronizes investment decisions so as to reduce risk. It essentially acts as a catalyst that starts off a virtuous cycle of introducing efficient modern technology to improve productivity that increases incomes and thus the ability of users to pay for the services, and so on. It creates a mechanism that reduces transaction costs and therefore improves the functions of markets.”

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From Invention to Rcognition

On Dec 17, it will be 100 years since the first flight undertaken by the Wright brothers. Forbes has a special series of articles celebrating 100 years of flight.

One of the Forbes articles looks at about how a few years elapsed before “the world discovered the Wright brothers.”

One hundred years ago, on Dec. 17, 1903, a flying machine carrying Orville Wright rose from the dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C., and landed 12 seconds later and 120 feet away. Orville and his older brother Wilbur made two other flights that day, the longest being 852 feet. It was the first time in history that a machine carrying a man had lifted from the earth, moved forward under its own power, maintained control in the air, and landed at a point as high as that from which it started. The world could not have cared less.

Build a better mousetrap, they say, and the world will beat a path to your door. That didn’t happen to the Wright brothers. Most people at the time still considered heavier-than-air flight the province of deluded dreamers, especially after the highly public attempts by Samuel Langley, the director of the Smithsonian Institution, to fly his own machine, which ended in spectacular failure that autumn.

Word about the Wright brothers circulated amongst flying enthusiasts, especially in France. But it was not until 1908, five years later, that the general public hailed the Wright brothers as the fathers of flight.

This continues to be true with invention and innovation – it takes time for the world to recgonise the benefits of something that is path-breaking. We are used to thinking incrementally, and so find it hard to recognise disruptive innovations until much later.

4 Years Since the Deal

Today is 4 years since I sold IndiaWorld [1 2] to Sify. I don’t contemplate much about it, because I’d rather look ahead. But anniversaries are such things – they do make one think a little.

So, how have been the past 4 years? They can be divided into 3 phases: the first 18 months or so which I spent with Sify, the next year was spent thinking on what to do even as I managed Netcore, and the past 18 months or so have been spent trying to work towards realising the vision of making affordable computing solutions for the next billion users (with a specific focus on SMEs in emerging markets). To this, there is a second goal which I have added: how can we transform rural India.

It has been a struggle for the past year or so, as I have realised (slowly) that the transformations that we bring will need a much greater effort. For example, with SMEs, it is not good enough to just create low-cost software based on Linux. One has to think in terms of an affordable computing ecosystem, and co-ordinate the efforts of many to bring about the change. Rural India too is very similar. So, the paths that I have embarked upon are going to be long and challenging – with “mountains beyond mountains” (as Tracy Kidder puts in, in his book of the same name).

When I meet people, they still remember the deal and how it changed mindsets towards entrepreneurship in India. For me, it was perhaps the hardest decision of my life – to sell the company I had created. Sometimes, I imagine how life would have been had I decided not to sell. The Internet revolution in India has been slow and incremental, which has been disappointing. Hopefully, the computing revolution that I want to bring about can be faster.

I like to work on one or two things at a time – which are large and complex enough so that they occupy all my time. Entrepreneurship (as I have often written about in these columns) calls for total involvement. There are things I could have done a lot better in the past 18 months, but one learns. That is perhaps the best part of life – being able to reflect on one’s actions and course-correct. I am working with a compass, not a map.

If there is one change that has happened in the past four years, it is that I have learnt to accept success and failures as two sides of the same coin. So, both don’t sway me dramatically either way. I accept uncertainty as part of a day’s work, rather than becoming rattled. I have realised that to bring about change (the two problems I want to solve) will require long-term multi-year efforts. It will mean doing things I have never done before – building a bigger team, for example (IndiaWorld had all of 20 people, we are already double that size now).

The blog has perhaps been the best thing for me personally in the past four years – it has given me an outlet for my thoughts, and introduced me to some wonderful people. As I look ahead, I will continue to document my experiences in these columns. The journey has just begun.

Social Networking Impact

NYTimes writes about how social networking sites are portending a change in how relationships form:

Danah Boyd, a sociologist, says that the real world has a set of properties, which she calls architectures. With its deceptively simple set of features, her thinking goes, Friendster bends or replaces all of the real-world architectures.

For instance, when two people speak to each other, they assume their conversation is fleeting, but e-mail and instant messaging, by making that conversation persistent, offer a new architecture. When two people greet each other on the street, neither can see (nor hope to grasp) the range of the other’s social network. For that matter, no individual can see information about his or her own social network: who knows whom, and how.

Friendster offers a mix of architecture-changing tools and technologies: e-mail, a profile (which offers a persistent presentation of self) and a coarse representation of a social network. “Friendster is an architectural change,” Ms. Boyd said. “It’s not a mimicry of a change; it’s a total change.” Once the early users of Friendster discovered these new architectures, they began to play with them. That’s how Friendster evolved from a dating site into something else.

[P]eople’s social curiosity turned [Friendster] into a place where everyone becomes the center of an unfolding drama (or comedy) of connections.

This is [a] mistake that Friendster and other sites make, Ms. Boyd contends. The site is built on the premise that friendship is transitive; that is, that if A is a friend of B, and B a friend of C, then A can be a friend of C, too.

But friendship develops in social contexts, Ms. Boyd says; it doesn’t just flow through the pipes of a network. “Just because you’re friends with somebody doesn’t mean their friends are similar in the type of context you are with your friends,” she said. Unless the social networking sites adapt to how people need to use them, she said, the sites will not succeed.

Tech Innovation in Europe

WSJ has a report on innovative European companies:

Abmi is building a gadget to provide real-time monitoring of the tiny particles that clog brain arteries and trigger strokes. The Swiss company hopes ultimately to make a user-friendly device that might be easily carried in a pocket.

Raphael Bachmann was stunned by the limitations of an early handwriting-recognition device, so he decided to come up with his own software. Enter SpeedScript, a postage stamp-size product that aims to be a simple and fast way of writing on touchscreens.

Siemens seeks to make phones, computers and PDAs act as if they’re all parts of a common system. Business and private users eventually would be able to use these tools across private business networks and via the public phone networks.

A University of Fribourg team has developed a laser device that could lead to a radical change in heart diagnosis. The device, used to measure the heart’s magnetic field, is likely to be considerably cheaper than existing technology.

Prous Science’s voice-recognition system can distinguish between inflections and accents without training — a Holy Grail for the business. The technology eventually could allow for audio-visual searches of the Internet.

Most people know LEDs as indicator lights in mobile phones and digital video recorders rather than for their ability to light up a room. Lumileds is trying to change this notion.

PocketThis offers a way to let you store information from the Web on your mobile phone. This enables users to make information found on the Internet or stored on a PC portable.

Acaris thinks it has come up with a solution for asthma sufferers battling house dust mites. It’s a handheld device that measures levels of HDMs. After identifying “hot spots” of concentrated HDMs, Acaris then advises on how to rid the house of them.

Drugs are usually tested on animals first, before three phases of clinical trials in people. Xceleron cuts out the animal stage, instead putting a microscopic dose straight into people.

Cambridge InnoVision’s software turns photos generated by a digital camera into a detailed 3-D image. The technology has attracted interest from museums, which could use the camera to document and display artifacts.

The award winners:

Gold Winner: Abmi SA, Switzerland
Silver Winner: SpeedScript Ltd., Switzerland
Bronze Winner: Siemens IC Networks, Germany
Honorable Mention: University of Fribourg, Switzerland

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Internet Security

Security is one of the biggest concerns we face – with viruses, spams and worms intruding into our space. The Economist discusses this issue further and considers what lies ahead:

The issue boils down to the question of how much anonymity society can tolerate on the internet. Drivers’ licences and registration plates dramatically reduce the incidence of hit-and-run accidents. Crack cocaine is never bought by credit card. If everybody on the internet were easily traceable, people would think twice about hacking. I’m kind of a fan of eliminating anonymity, says Alan Nugent, the chief technologist at Novell, a software company, if that is the price for security.

The internet is heading in this direction already. Enrique Salem, Brightmail’s chief executive, says that all e-mail in future will either be authenticated or be sent into a quarantined in-box where few will dare to click. The sender’s authentication may well be tied to a driving licence, social-security number or passport. An entire industry has sprung up to work on other forms of identification, such as the biometric scanning of irises or hands.

The reality, however, is that the internet is already balkanised. Companies and governments have intranets, where users’ privileges depend on their log-in. Virtual private networks (VPNs) traverse the public internet like guarded convoys. For example, employees at Merrill Lynch, an investment bank, cannot check their Hotmail or Yahoo! e-mail accounts while surfing the internet at work.

The proper analogy for what the internet might evolve into, says Novell’s Mr Nugent, is a public library, a place where readers can browse in relative anonymity, but only until they take a book out, at which point they have to identify themselves. The degree of traceability varies with what one does in such a place.

Converged Mobile Devices

Kevin Werbach writes in an article entitled “The Triumph of Good Enough”:

Subtle improvements can have huge consequences. The same is true when it comes to functionality. A torrent of incremental advances are now producing converged devices that are “good enough” at each of their primary functions. This will have significant consequences for both device manufacturers and operators.

In the mobile handset world, we’re already at the point where a camera is a standard element of new phones. Analysts predict 100 million cameraphones will be sold next year. Unless privacy fears create a market for camera-less phones, handsets without that functionality will soon become anachronisms. Meanwhile, Motorola’s latest fully integrated phone module for hardware manufacturers measures 16 by 20 by 1.4 millimeters. That’s about the size of a US nickel. We’ll see phone functionality popping up in handheld gaming devices, portable music players, and other places that used to be completely different markets. When converged devices were either hulkingly large or pitifully incompetent at some of their functions, they were the domain of gadget freaks and early adopters. As the “good enough” threshold is passed, they will become the baseline standard.

The rise of converged devices will have a huge impact on operators. More functionality in devices at the edge of the network makes it harder to monetize the network in the middle.

In the new world, the money will be in applications on the edge devices, hardware sales, and of all things, dumb connectivity. The first wireless operator to execute the Dell/Wal-Mart model — being the efficient commodity provider, with a great brand — will make a killing. (Partly because they will kill their competitors.) Not that this is an easy task. Legacy billing systems and legacy culture are huge hurdles to overcome, and the ideas of “owning the customer” and “delivering value-added services” are deeply embedded in operator DNA.

The hard truth is that devices are evolving faster than networks. Wide-area wireless connectivity will be just another function that a “good enough” converged mobile device provides, albeit an important one. Put together a series of little things, and that’s the inevitable result.

Creating Hits

Rich Karlgaard (Forbes) writes:

In business the future is real-time supply chains. This development is made possible by a new wave of technology: radio-frequency ID chips the size of pepper grains, broadband wireless and Web-based “dashboards” enabling monitoring and management. Because smart supply chains can be done, they will be done. In fact, they are being done. Manufacturers and retailers now deploying smart supply chains will jump the learning curve and become the Wal-Marts and Dells of the 21st century. Don’t imagine that you can withdraw from this arms race. Smart supply chains are becoming the sine qua non of modern business.

Yet for all the recent progress in supply chains, a weak link remains–the link between product development and manufacturing. You see, it’s not enough to manufacture quickly and cheaply and get your products into the stores just as the big ad campaign is breaking. Your products have to be desired by buyers. You want hits, not dogs.

Affluent, informed people want more than mere adequacy in the products they buy. They want products that satisfy deep desires and make emotional connections. To get this response from customers, you must generate a flow of hit products.

Supply-chain technology also will march in the direction of standards and ubiquity. (Think of personal computers.) At that point, decisive advantage will go to companies that use their supply chains to boost their rate of hit products.

Nokia’s Jorma Ollila Interview

Excerpts from a WSJ interview with Nokia’s CEO on what’s ahead: “The important thing will be the camera industry converging into mobile phones. We have seen it take off in Japan and also in Europe. Expressing emotions with pictures, where everyone has a suitable device, just makes so much sense. In terms of PDAs, there will be an enterprise segment that will be wanting the PDA functionality integrated with good phone capability. [Cellphone gaming] will take a year or two. When you have a new game platform introduction, as with mobility, it needs digestion time. There also will be more in media consumption and music. People won’t start looking at films on mobile devices, but they will [watch] sports, news and other things, together with music.”

Internet Trends

John Patrick maps out some of the trends: one-demand e-business, autonomic computing, always-on broadband, WiFi, SIP, Web Services, Linux, Security. The bottomline: “The potential of the Internet is much greater than meets the eye. As the Internet evolves, it will become so pervasive, reliable and transparent that we will take it for granted. It will be part of our lives and, more importantly, begin to simplify our lives.”

India needs to focus on Solar Power

Atany Dey explains why India should develop a comparative advantage in solar technology:

The case for India to invest in R&D for solar technology is so plain that I find it incredible that everyone and his brother is not shouting about it. Consider the following facts. First, India is conventional fuel poor. We do not have oil and have to import a good portion of our current needs. We cannot afford to rely on the whims of foreign oil producers. There is one 800-lb gorilla in the oil market and it has cornered significant sources of the global oil market. So for strategic reasons, India must reduce its dependence on foreign oil to meet its energy needs.

Second, rich nations have the resources to pay (one way or another) for the oil they consume, India cannot. For instance, the US pays for oil by directly paying the producers and indirectly by maintaining a huge military and using force strategically.

India is blessed (?) with a lot of solar energy delivered free. The sun shines too hard most of the time and very few people are making hay.

Finally, any desired technology can be developed if you throw sufficient money at it. That is a basic fact of the modern world. Everything that is theoretically possible can be developed given sufficiet commitment in terms of time, effort and resources.

India needs solar power. It has a very large market for cheap solar power. India should invest in developing solar power. If India invests say $10 billion, the return on investment would be mumble billion $. First, India would save on energy imports. Then India would develop comparative advantage (and perhaps competitive advantage) in the field. Thus India would be able to sell that technology to other countries. There is a first mover advantage in being the leader in this field. Fortunately, the US and other developing countries are not taking the development of alternative energy sources very seriously. So the field is not crowded and India has a tremendous advantage.

My policy recommendation is simple. Set up a national goal to make India the Solar Power SuperPower (SPSP) in the next 10 years. (Pres Kalam, are you there?) To achieve that goal, spend Rs 500 billion (approximately $11 billion) to get an R&D started at space travel speed using the best brains that exist anywhere in the world. Hire the best scientists and pay them so much that they would not consider working on anything else. Create programs in all the Indian research institutes and reward people with sacks of gold or whatever floats their boats to get them to devote all their talents to that one aim of making solar energy technology in India so good that we don’t have to import a single drop of oil and can tell our Arab friends to take a hike. Indeed, once the demand for oil falls, they would have to take a hike because they would not be able to afford cars.

TECH TALK: An Entrepreneurs Attributes: Blogging, Liking

Blogging Winning the Ideas Game

I have come to the belief that every entrepreneur must blog. There are many reasons for this. The most important is to build brand and win mindshare. A weblog helps the entrepreneur win the ideas game, which is perhaps one of the most important battles. How does a small company, a start-up get its viewpoints across? Via the entrepreneurs blog: one which holds back nothing, one which reflects the personality of the entrepreneur, and one which outlines the vision for change that the entrepreneur has and the progress made en route.

The weblog charts out a territory for the entrepreneur. In my case, it has helped me garner some mindshare in a few areas: affordable computing for SMEs, rural development and the publish-subscribe web. When I started my weblog, it was about inculcating a discipline in my reading, and also sharing ideas. I call this sharing open-source company. Over time, this transparency in writing about what I am thinking of and are doing has helped me make more contacts than I have made in any other way in so short a time. I think of the weblog as a non-linearity in the social networks space. By writing about ones ideas and actions, one is inviting readers to get in touch on how they can contribute. I met Atanu Dey, who manages the Deeshaa project, via the weblog through Reuben in New York.

Yes, there is a significant time investment on blogging. But for the entrepreneur, it must become all in a days work. The entrepreneur must create a discipline such that there is something new everyday on the blog making it a daily habit for readers. This is time which will pay back well and big over the life of the venture. Entrepreneurs must think of blogs as the equivalent of personal broadcasting radio station wouldnt each of us like to have one?

Liking Enjoying the Ride

Most of all, the entrepreneur needs to enjoy each day of the business. Yes, there will be more down days than up days, but that is the path the entrepreneur has chosen. Maintaining ones enthusiasm levels through the good times and especially through the challenging times is very critical for the morale of the rest of the team. This can only happen if the entrepreneur deeply believes in the mission of the venture, for it is only this inner faith that can create that strong liking for what one is doing. A test is to ask oneself what one looks forward to a Monday morning or a Friday (or Saturday) evening. In fact, for an entrepreneur each morning must be looked forward to as a ray of hope, a step in the direction of eventual success. The joy must not be just in reaching the destination (few entrepreneurs do so), but in the journey, where each new turn has its own magical views. It is a journey of choice, and one which must be a joy-ride.

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Status Reports 2.0

Rands In Repose strikes a chord:

To me, their are two major consumers who need Status Reports. The first consumers are the executives/overseers/managers. This is your senior management crowd who want a high level overview of where all that money is going. You want to keep this group in the loop because they sign the checks, they can be very good at discerning warning signs from seemingly vanilla Status Reports, and they also usually are big influencers on strategy… this is key when you want them on board when you’re proposing that two month slip to improve quality.

Due to the fact these folks see a lot of Stats Reports, there’s a requirement for the data to be somewhat normalized via a familiar template otherwise they’re going to get frustrated spending their time figuring out what information is being conveyed rather than acting on it.

The other major consumer for Status Reports is, well, everyone else in the company. Actually, let me rephrase, the other consumer is everyone else in the company who wants to read your status report.

What I do have is a rough knowledge of many of the emerging information management tools and I know there is a solution which:

– Makes it easy/attractive for larger organizations to share their information
– Provides a facility to publish scheduled structured reports to executive-types

Blogs could help in this, as Stuart Henshall points out:

Consider introducing your co-bloggers to blogging via e-mail. Give them the remote@typepad.com or equivalent address. Redirect all status reports or what you are trying to capture to the blog e-mail. What’s missing here is any capability to add categories. However now a project manager can do that easily converting the posts from drafts to publish status. The new participant can see the updates in the “blog” via the url. In fact confirmations could be posted back to them. Dependent on the blog… either subscribe your new bloggers or alternatively add NewsGator so their RSS feeds become active. It won’t be until you are swamped with posts or editing issues that the team needs to become more active and responsible.

Now we get multiple participants with the blogging manager / owner assigning categories and coaching on posts. In this process there is never anything to stop the new blogger from going direct to the authoring tool. In fact now’s the time to start the second blog in parallel that reports on the implementation, enables questions and answers. This is simply a place for learning about blogging. As it is an internal blog, combine it with other easy to navigate features and enable a quick log-in from the home page.

What’s different in this strategy? These initial blogs are more likely to be informative rather than linking blogs. Blogs involved in research and for gathering ideas and spreading memes are more likely to come later or be specific to a particular department. I’d not advocate the above for a research department, however using e-mail to move my reps from e-mail to blogs might well make sense. Similarly with marketing and HR.

One of the things we are missing in internal BLOG implementations, is the idea of managing up! We talk about it and see it as a grass roots phenomena. It’s why you will really need so few to change the work pattern. When a blog helps you personally manage better, flows more effective information from your department into buckets (categories) that are consistent with what your peers want then you are on the way to winning the blog vs e-mail challenge.

Using e-mail to initiate blogs starts with tools that people are already comfortable with. Appointing a manager (or two or three) that manage the initial flow helps to build categories and the “managing up” dashboards that blogging pages easily adapt to. Adding subscriptions and RSS keeps people in the loop and yet begins the recategorization process. You copy the blog not CC the world.

ITU Digital Access Index

ITUpublishes the world’s first global ICT ranking. An interesting comment by Michael Minges of the Market, Economics and Finance Unit at ITU: “”Until now, limited infrastructure has often been regarded as the main barrier to bridging the Digital Divide. Our research, however, suggests that affordability and education are equally important factors.” India falls in the medium access category with an index of 0.32.

The one factor I want us to fix is that of affordability with thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software and remote server management.

Social Networking as Disruptive Innovation?

Silicon Valley writes: “The gold mine, as VCs see it, rests in using the Internet to give a personalized, user-friendly twist to mainstream industries like dating services, job listings and classified advertising.”

Adds News.com:

Publishers Knight Ridder and The Washington Post Co. are banking on social networking to be the future of online classifieds, having invested $6.3 million in a “six degrees” Web venture. The two publishers, along with venture capitalist Mayfield, invested in Tribe Networks, the owner of an online community that links friends and friends of friends, and then promotes them as the ideal network through which to buy things, find a job or even get a restaurant recommendation.

Called Tribe.net, the four-month-old site plays on the theory of “six degrees of separation,” in which strangers are inevitably linked to each other by at most six people. The goal is to join like-minded people for socializing, dating, networking or building a local marketplace.

the publishers’ interest is significant, because it signals a potentially new direction for online classifieds, a billion-dollar market newspapers risk losing to niche sites like job clearinghouse Monster or online communities such as Craigslist. Knight Ridder and The Washington Post Co., parent of newspaper The Washington Post, say they want to incorporate social networking as a means of building an indispensable local marketplace for information or goods, and ultimately to inspire loyalty to their publications.

Social networking seems to follow the path of a disruptive innovation as it starts to disrupt mainstream industries. Still too early to tell, but with VC money flowing in, the task will get easier.

Microsoft’s USD 10 billion SME Bet

Washington Post (via Reuters) reports:

SMB sales strategy chief Orlando Ayala told the paper in an interview Microsoft was taking a long-term view of the sector, which consists of some 40 million companies around the world, and expected its investments to turn profitable in 2005.

Ayala said: “In the next five years, we will concentrate on the market for companies with 2,000 to 5,000 employees, or maybe up to 8,000.”

SMEs are the next frontier in tech – especially those in emerging markets, whom very few are focusing on.

Indian Telco Disruptions

There are three things which can (positively) disrupt the Indian telco scene: VoIP, LNP (local number portability) and fixed-price broadband bundles.

We need to legalise VoIP completely and allow ISPs and cable providers to offer voice services. Voice needs to be thought of as just another application on the IP network.

LNP will cause a lot of churn in the mobile space and cause prices to fall even further. Today, one of the factors that holds me from switching providers is the fact that my cell number will change.

Fixed-price broadband bundles will make a big impact on Internet usage. By broadband, I mean real good connectivity speeds (at least 256 Kbps, if not more). The plans need to come with no limits to data transfers. Home users should not have to pay more than Rs 500-750 (USD 10-15) for this, with enterprises should be charged about Rs 1,500 (USD 30) for speeds of about 1 Mbps. Then, see the transformation in the India IT space.

TECH TALK: An Entrepreneurs Attributes: Risk Reduction, Listening

Risk Reduction Not the Other Way

The typical notion of an entrepreneur is as a risk-taker. I believe the opposite to be true. Yes, the entrepreneur makes a bet at the start of the venture, but after that, the entrepreneur actually works every day of the ventures life to reduce risk. Each day beings new opportunities and new threats. The entrepreneur must balance the short-term survival needs with the long-term hopes for exponential growth. And in doing so, ensure that risk is minimised. This is not to say that entrepreneurs are not gamblers or adventurers it is just that they make their calculations carefully, and then lay their bets. This belief comes from deep insights into the world around what is happening and what is likely to happen which help shape the vision of the entrepreneur.

Risk and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Every entrepreneur believes that there is 70-90% chance of success, and yet fewer than 1 in a thousand ventures reach the pinnacle of success. The optimism of the entrepreneur is the engine that drives the team, and even as others perceive the entrepreneur to be taking risks, the captain of the ship is charting a course which actually reduces the odds of failure. The entrepreneur is constantly making calculations as the winds change sometimes, one is caught in a storm, at others times, one rides the waves.

Listening Learning from Others

Listening and learning from others is not something which comes naturally to us. It is even less natural for entrepreneurs. The typical tendency is to have a strong belief in oneself and use that to lead the venture forward. But if the entrepreneur has succeeded in attracting a good team, then there is great merit and value in listening to others and learning from their collective experiences. At times, their viewpoints are likely to differ from that of the entrepreneur and this can pose a challenge. It is times like these that can decide the fate of the venture. An entrepreneur needs to put ego aside and solicit inputs from others, even though they may be to the contrary.

At the end of the day, the final decision needs to be made by the entrepreneur. But by asking others for opinions, the entrepreneur may see aspects of the situation that otherwise may have been looked. This requires courage at times, it may even force the entrepreneur to reverse previous decisions. But, the success of the venture must be above everything else, especially personal ego. The entrepreneur is not always right in fact, most entrepreneurs will have plenty of weaknesses. By recognising these, and leveraging on the strengths of the other team members, the entrepreneur can greatly increase the chances for the ventures success.

Tomorrow: Blogging, Liking

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