Xerox it out

I’ve often wondered what would the world be without xerox. Most of my college days went by as i thrived on copies for nearly everything for study material. In fact not just college, photo copies have become an imperative for nearly any walk of life.

Just got married? Bring copies of several documents for registration. Applying for a loan? A whole bunch of copies required. Similarly for admissions, job applications, setting up your society / telephone / electricity bill. Its the copies that get carried along with any official documentation. For a company that eventually became a household name when it comes to photo copies, Xerox has come a long way. Or not.

Back in the late 70’s Xerox PARC was one of the most innovative companies. To the extent that Steve Jobs had been to their facilities back in the day to explore what they were doing. Jobs had people in the team who were working on software and hardware and they eventually picked up ideas for their computers too. Maybe Jobs stole (er. was inspired by) some of the ideas there. Apparently that’s what lead to the mouse being created. Legend has it that Jobs said that if Xerox PARC was to build, innovate and leverage the work they were doing then they could have been bigger than most tech giants at this time.

Whether that worked out to their benefit or not, they did for sure break the barrier by becoming the first name that comes to mind when it comes to copies. Given the number of applications that require a xerox copy and the numerous number of times their machines as used, I don’t think they lost either!

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Why are tech firms buying out smaller start-ups?

Consolidation in the technology space. It’s happening. Much has been said, heard and analysed when it comes to the recent Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Valuations were being tossed around and here’s an interesting graphic on whether it was worth $19 billion to start with. That being said, i’m looking at bigger forces at play in the technology space. As textbook economics will tell you, consolidation is a phase that kicks in mature markets when the big players begin to swallow the smaller and more active ones up.

Acquisitions have been happening for quite sometime now. But some of the interesting one’s in recent times have been Google buying Motorola and then selling it off to Lenovo. Microsoft buying out Nokia and they did give in to market pressures by releasing an Android phone just yesterday at the Mobile World Congress’14. Microsoft also bought Skype nearly a year back and killed its own messenger. Software firms have been increasingly snapping up hardware companies. It’s clearly about building capabilities to have more integrated software and hardware. Apple has been doing this for decades with a very closely knit user interface that has been winning customers over for years. Pretty much like them, the other companies are also trying to tightly integrate services to have the customers locked in for longer period of time. Look at Google, that is trying to foray in to nearly every possible nook of our life as it builds its inventory for the internet of things. You’re using maps, gmail, search and docs for starters. As any marketeer will tell you, its always cheaper to retain customers than to go out and acquire new ones.

Here’s a drill-down of what i think about the entire consolidation bit:

1. Customer stickiness: Companies want customers to buy a product and integrate it so tightly that they are unable to breakout.

2. Eat the competition: As start-ups have more breathing room and flexibility for innovation, let them build great products as the big cats will swallow them up to eventually kill the competition if any.

3. M&A industry: Who else is laughing all the way to the bank? Consulting firms. In fact software acquisitions made up nearly half of the deal value in this space as per PwC.

4. Increasing usage: Big tech players are always looking for means to increase usage and as Metcalf’s law says, the value of any network lies in the number of connected users on it. Hence you see why software services have been aggressively merging or finding new ways of driving usage for their platforms.

5. Start-ups don’t always need an IPO: It’s increasingly difficult for a small company to go public and put itself under the scanner. Investors and analysts will slice and dice not only excel spreadsheets but also any single move that key people make. By cashing out and selling themselves to a larger firm, they can avoid all the pain. All of this when they might have not even achieved the vision they started out with.

6. Hide failures better: The chances of a start-up making it big are rather slim. In fact, the odds seem to be against them. Once they have generated enough buzz and got a fancy valuation. The small fish can then afford to dissolve in the system and chances are if they were going to fail, little would anyone get to know about it.

With all of this in place, we can only hope for better products and services. While some of these partnerships may have benefited the firms, what remains to be seen is how innovative they can really get. For now, the entire space has become a playground for many small firms to pitch their products and see how quickly they can go to market or gain more funding. At the end, the customer stands to benefit the most from this!

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*Image source: Flickr (labelled for reuse)

Insight: The New Face of Marketing

I was excited to be a part of the thought leadership event organised by the ITSMA with InformationWeek as the media partner. Knowing that this one was positioned to give out insights on where marketing is headed had me more curious about what was the discussion going to be like. There was a good mix of representatives from several IT firms and its always great to be in a room full of marketeers!

The event started off with a session by Dave Munn, who elaborated on the top priorities for marketeers. Interesting stats shared indicated that only 9% of CEOs actually use marketing data. But, on the whole the perception of marketing has improved for this year as nearly 78% of the audience they survey voted in favor, 20% had the same view and only 2% had a lowered perception. Now, that is the challenge i see whenever i’m talking to any other function. Marketing always needs to emphasize on the value they are driving for other business units/functions. Some of the top priorities for marketeers this year are:

1. Building thought leadership & dissemination of the content created for this

2. Managing brand reputation

3. Aligning sales & marketing

In terms of the budget being allocated for marketing, content creation took the top spot. For digital marketing the priority of allocating monies was: Website, Search, Online Advertising, Online Communities & Social Media. Digital marketing was also one of the key marketing areas that saw an increase in budget allocation. Most of this was taken out of the cuts in sponsorship,  direct mailers, advertising or public shows. A remarkable point was that nearly 25% of the overall marketing budget goes out to external agencies as fees/payments. Dave also listed the 5 mandates for marketing this year:

1. Measure & communicate metrics: Its important for marketing to contribute to business outcomes & provide predictive insight.

2. Become data & technology frontrunners: Invest in skills, build omnichannel marketing, foster the potential of data & analytics and lastly increase awareness with the c-suite.

3. Improve relevance & personalisation for the customer: Track for insights, provide customised marketing and make use of personas. This involves rendering different treatment when you talk to CMOs/CFOs/CIOs.

4. Enable thought leadership selling: Use sales teams to provide insight about client needs, enagagements and discuss challenges with marketing. Marketing also needs to manage & train SME’s to increase the awareness of our offering.

5. Build adaptive culture in marketing: Marketing needs to be proactive & collaborate within the functions. Companies should build a reward based culture to value business contribution from marketing.

The later session by Ramkumar Ramamoorthy was also rich in terms of the takeaways from his experience with the sterling work he has done at Cognizant. The impact of investor and analyst relation teams cannot be discounted. The last session was a panel discussion with key members such as Jyoti Singh (Genpact), Lavanya Jayram (Zensar Technologies), Kulwinder Singh (Synechron) & Sujit Janardanan (Amazon Web Services). Key takeaways from this discussion was about how marketing ROI is being measured (metrics differ everywhere), value being added through marketing (engagement matters on social & business matters in place of leads), investments matter in place of cost as that can be used to justify customer retention value over time.

Overall, i think it was an excellent session as it refreshed some of my own learning to reinforce the same. On the other hand, we picked up some good examples that were good to know and i also bumped in to some people i worked with earlier! All in all the new face of marketing looks good to be worked with in the future 🙂

Flappy Bird Away!

This addictive yet frustrating game had me intrigued since i first saw it mentioned on Twitter. Not on to be left behind, i thought let me check this out. But tap, tap, tap its really hard to get a good score. Most of the time i kept thinking that “Darn, this is so simple.. How can i not crack this?”. That’s precisely where the hitch lies.

Flappy Bird was such a simple game (it kind of reminded me of 8-bit games). There’s a hopeless bird who can’t fly and all you have to do is to keep it flapping away. My best score: 1. Like, seriously! I could never get past the second pole. At times, i was seconds close to throwing my phone in some random corner. Only to pick it up & try all over again. Simplicity is the key to getting users hooked. People tend to think that its so simple, i have to crack this.

What was most surprising was the announcement by Dong Nguyen to take it off the app stores. His reasoning was that the game got him too much attention and he didn’t seem to like it. It’s baffling to note that the game had nearly 50 million downloads and the Vietnamese fellow made close to $50,000 USD a day through the game. Then why pull the plug? I reckon this is just another gimmick. Probably, he wants to keep people guessing what could he be coming with next. I mean, frankly if you have played the game, there really isn’t much you can add on to basic one like that. All you got to do is save the cursed bird who can’t flap. I think Dong is hardly done yet. He has amassed enough media attention to keep people guessing what the next game could be. Like all other trends, i sure hope he beats himself to whatever he come up with. If not, then well we can just pass it off as another trend. Like the harlem shakes or miley at the VMA’s or back in India, the number of times Arvind Kejriwal has threatened
to resign!
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[Book Review] Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

The long drawn Apple vs Google argument is totally fleshed out in this book. Though i had read the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson & I’m feeling lucky by Douglas Edwards, this read had more comparative facts to offer. It starts with Apple to point out that through iTunes, Apple controls almost 25% of all music purchased. They also have a sizable share in the $18 billion video market. Fact is that Apple spent nearly $150 mn in building the first iPhone. The initial parts of the book talk about how the employees were burnt out working 60-80 hour weeks continuously for two years & kept resigning only to join back in a day. It was such a high secret project even within Apple’s headquarters that there were secret walls built overnight to keep the entire thing a secret from its own employees. The first phone that Jobs unveiled was actually a prototype & the team had no clue how they were going to keep up with shipment orders in 2 months!

Google had a different approach in contrast. I think this was the best way they could keep services free. This is because Google would release a product when it was 80% finished. Like any Google service or product it would be free with a constant feedback loop from the users. That’s how they gained insight in to the later 20% of the product to build in the finishing touches. It’s also critical to know that since the products were free, user expectations were not high & therefore you wouldn’t see an outrage on the scale of Apple Maps or Antenna issues the way Apple had to face.

Its remarkable to see the way employees from both companies kept playing musical chairs with companies in the Silicon Valley at that time. Andy Rubin, the guy who worked on Android was an ex-Microsoft employee. Even before Google bought Motorola, Apple had a partnership with Motorola for iPods back in 2004. Some prominent Apple employees who quit to start their own companies eventually made big to only sell-off their company to Google. A good example of this is Nest. Fights between the corporations such as Yahoo! & Google for Adwords have been covered well, in addition to the big Apple vs Samsung trial and the Microsoft anti-trust campaign against Google. A good part of the book also covers the role Eric Schmidt had to play since he was at Google & the board of Apple at the same time (he was not a part of most iPhone meetings).

The last part of the book has a futuristic take on who is going to win the platform war. An interesting point to note is that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook & Netflix are sitting on a cash pile of $300 bn which is enough to buy all the media houses & broadcast networks. With changing media consumption patters and device preferences, this battle is just getting heated up for now. As for me, i will say this a great and insightful read. Ditch the articles you’ve been reading & deep dive in to this book. For all you know, it will give you more facts & perspective to fuel your arguments!

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5 Reasons why i shifted back to iOS from Android

Yes, i’ve got the iPhone 5S and most of the observations stem from my usage of the phone over a week. Now you may well know the average phone junkie around you will be caught up in a grueling debate of which platform to choose. iOS / Android / Windows / Blackberry. Ok, lets leave the last one. You see, i was there too. My smartphone journey started with a Blackberry. Now, i didn’t quite like the feeling of being stuck in dinosaur years in the face of technology and made the shift to iOS. 6 months down, i shifted to Android and now i’m back to iOS. Pray, you ask why? Here it goes:

1. iOS7: The colors. I mean this is vivid. Its like Apple’s on an acid trip and everything looks colorful. Not just that, the notifications and controls are so much more easier. I used to chuckle over the ease of changing settings on my S3 in the initial days, but iOS7 just hit the pain point with the controls made easy.

2. Stability: DON’T get me started on the number of times my S3 crashed. Talk about random restarts, apps crashed and went boom in my face. I can’t even count the number of times i would have my phone freeze when i wanted to take a picture or just after taking one, trying to see how it looked. With my 5S, that’s a story of the past.

3. LAG: That’s in caps cause that’s what pinched and pricked me all along. Why samsung why would you load a phone with touchwiz? I mean where’s the darn value add? Everytime i had to pickup the phone to call, it would take 8 holy seconds for my contacts to show. Free Memory? Did that. Factory reset? Check. Go to android developer settings and change parameters. Figured out and did that. No help.

4. Customization: Now this is what you don’t get in iOS. But, once you’re done with those inane customizations and wallpaper updates, how frequently do you actually go back and keep changing. In fact, as you become busier or most accustomed to your device, you rarely change the display. If you’re on the otherside, then well you really are sorted in life to have so much time on your hands.

5. Security: No matter how much we bleat or brag about the closed OS that Apple has to offer, it no doubt keeps your phone secure. Also what can beat Touch ID? I mean the entire user experience is revamped in the 5S. App purchases and phone unlock are so much simpler now. All i need to do is add a fingerprint.

The typical android geek would love to root phones and try out different tricks and its oh, so open! But i have my reservations now and would rather prefer a stable, reliable and minimalist device as compared to the phablets and the shenanigans. Plus, the camera with the two tone flash? It beats everything on the market hands down. So yes, when it comes to android i could rattle on about how large the screen actually turned out for me in the S3 and the little benefit it seemed to offer. Plus battery issues and what not. Things are sorted and streamlined in iOS. So yes, this shift back has been simpler than i thought and i’m back to worship Apple’s holy grail of tech.

The New Digital Age : Book Review

The New Digital Age. The title promises precisely what the book delivers. I mean, what else would one expect when two big names unite to share their views and perspective on what digital holds for the world in the future? Eric Schmidt has been at the helm of the ever innovative Google and Jared Cohen who is a Rhodes Scholar and the director of Google Ideas. Cohen also makes it to the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list this year. Being an avid non-fiction reader, there are many times i’m let down by some books when they really don’t get me as much information i’m hoping to seek. But this book had me glued. I mean, we google stuff so often and hear a lot about the changes that keep coming up in Android / Google Products. However, this book is more of an exploration of the information explosion that has happened over the past few years. Data is clearly the glue that will be binding a lot more than plain business or social media.
The book starts off with an introduction to our future selves. This part talk about education being the base for innovation and opportunity. We are already seeing this take to full force with children using tablets in schools which are aided by an army of apps that are simplifying classes for the masses. It goes on to talk about a better quality of life enabled with the high level of customisation that can be done using smartphones these days and how this will be pathbreaking in health care support. This is followed by the future of identity, citizenship and reporting which covers authenticity of profiles, the level of social uprising triggered via social media, government surveillance etc. We have already seen how several people and corporations handle their online image (reputation). I particularly found the idea of insuring one’s online identity against theft, hacking, fraud etc. I believe the time for this has almost come to try out and agree that online identity will be the new currency. They also go on to highlight the consequences of VOIP and P2P networks that can exchange data more privately (VPN). The AADHAAR program back home has also been cited to indicate the magnanimity of the UID initiative by our ruling government. I believe we know of quite a few scams in the recent times for this as well.
In the future of states, they have covered a variety of countries in the levels of censorship that are being dictated. Starting from China’s blocking of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to Turkey’s blocking of Youtube for 2 years over a debacle for taking down videos that were derogatory to the nation’s founder. Political & cultural censorship is taken up by South Korea, Malaysia and Germany which i think is a far more effective model.
We have all heard of the Arab Spring. The duo talk about how in riots, the internet lent a way for females to express themselves without being hurt. Also when the government blacked out the internet to avoid the spreading, the setting up of @Jan25voices handle helped in letting the world know about what was happening, albeit without any policy influence. They talk about a model where successful leaders will be able to address the concerns of both virtual and physical constituencies. I reckon this is happening as we speak in the Indian context where there are twitter armies for Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) battling it out in the trends and mentions everyday. 
Terrorism is another key issue that is detailed in this book. Activists, local networks, simple start up kits for them to propagate the hate would be enough. This will be a big issue for technology firms in terms of screening content due to the sheer volume of uploads per second across the web. Since most sites work on users reporting abuse / flagging content as abusive, the process will take time for them to actually block stuff. In the future of conflict, combat and intervention they address how a single post / photo/ tweet can be the beginning of something bigger on the lines of a revolution. A scary part talks about the “human flesh search engines” in China which basically means that there are scores of people whose objective is to search and track down the individual posting specific content that could be offensive. They go on to mention combat using robots and the dilemma of machines making an error during a highly targeted mission.
Lastly in the future of reconstruction they talk about how telecom in Somalia is so cheap that people actually drop international calls to call relatives back! In terms of community service, the HAITI campaign is mentioned where “text to donate” helped Red Cross to raise USD $5 million for relief campaigns. An interesting part talks of how crowd-sourcing will enable the culture of accountability. This is the most optimistic part where they go on to hope that creativity and bandwidth will be key drivers of innovation. All in all, i feel that even if you’re not working in digital this book is a great read to know what the frontier of technology looks like.
*image source credit: standard.co.uk