Friday, September 18, 2015

WWGD - What Will Google Do?

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata Consultancy Services

I just read this article about Google in insurance. The key idea seems to be that Google is gathering, organizing and processing data about the real world which gives it more competitive advantage over others and might set it up as THE disruptive new insurer on the block. I have'nt read carefully what people in other industries are saying about WWGD to disrupt their industries, but there is every possibility that other industries are also worried about this information industry behemoth might steal their lunch.

In my view, data is a relatively new kind of property. Who gathers, organizes and processes what data has evolved over time in human civilization. The rules about ownership of intellectual property like data are also relatively new. I suspect that these rules designed for a previous state-of-the-world are increasing not well suited to humanity as it is evolving. I suspect that the tools by which humans and multi-human-units generate, gather, organize and process their respective data while respecting the rights of such humans and multi-human-units over their data are currently primitive. Blockchain technology provides a direction for the IT infrastructure of humanity to evolve from this primitive stage to a better situation. The main thing that will stop if this happens is that the wild west situation of humans and multi-human-units (e.g. Google) capturing/gathering data about other humans and multi-human units, organizing and processing it to derive competitive advantage over others will stop. This kind of technological destination might emerge through bottom-up political pressure applied by the 99% against the 1% (e.g. Google case in EU court), or it might evolve through the 1% (a benevolent? part of it like the Blockchain innovators) facilitating incremental innovations each of each reaches a bigger segment of humanity till the entire humanity is covered.

But what would such a destination look like. Each human will own his/her data, each multi-human-unit (firms, communities, states) would own their data. Data generated during interactions between parties will be regulated by laws evolving from current data privacy laws existing/evolving in multiple geographies to prevent random third-parties from acquiring data about humans and multi-human-units, organizing it and processing it unless explicitly sanctioned by a clear chain from the respective owners in a transparent manner. Today too, much of these legal constructs exists, but our IT is not yet evolved to handle the natural language based laws and related contracts smoothly. The electronic contracts of Blockchain technology provides a direction for reorganizing our laws and contracts to be less ambigious and ensure contract certainty.

Not many people seem to have grasped the situation in its comprehensive breadth and depth. As I have said multiple times, humanity is like a man sitting on a fierce tiger called technology and the tiger is running away into a deep and dense jungle. I say this, because while the above utopia painted by me avoids the problems of WWGD, we just do not know what problems automation, cyber-security and AI will cause in a much more electronic process based human and social life. I know that "trust" will be THE big problem, much more than it already is and it is my firm opinion that humanity should never fully automate itself i.e. the primary basis for trust should remain between humans and trust between human and system as well as system and system should be secondary/tertiary. I intuitively know this should be the case, but do not yet know explicitly why.


Pratap Tambay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living a life more on the front foot

There are many ways of living one's life. And I am sure there are advantages and disadvantages of living one's life in particular ways. I recently realised that I have lived my life till now in a particular way and it has given me some advantages now, though the journey seemed troublesome. I am writing this to help my young relatives and friends apply my learnings to their lives.

I remained very true to myself. This did not mean that I always knew what I wanted. It meant that I made interim choices fully well knowing that those were interim choices because I did not know what I wanted/liked/was-good-at. At times I made deeply thought through choices, which seemed fully right when I made them. But later on realising the need to rewind and choose something else, I re-winded and chose the something else. I remember telling myself that starting from scratch once or twice is ok, but scratching too much might be bad for health as well as career. Fortunately as I meandered through various choices, the alignment between my life, career and deepest needs improved. What initially seemed like Brownian motion settled down.

I lived and loved on the front foot - a particular way of being a true to oneself as against a withdrawn or reticent approach. I made choices and intensely lived and loved each choice trying to achieve the fulfilment in the direction of the specific choice. Essentially I tried hard to learn, do, get what I liked, wanted or felt strongly about. Except for drugs, breaking the law and taking advantage of any girl, everything was fair game. I found that one could be randomly competitive or do what one loved/liked and found that the latter worked for me. But the nature of life is such that one cannot necessarily/easily/immediately learn, do, get what one likes, wants or feels strongly about. There are norms, structures, processes which one must deal with. But if one really likes, wants or feels strongly about something, then if one does not do anything about it, one is sure to regret it later in life. Making such mistakes and learning from them helps to subsequently not repeat such mistakes in the new opportunities that life inevitably puts one's way. And if one goes hammer and tongs after what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, even if one does not succeed, one can be satisfied that one tried one's best. And most importantly since it is the very nature of life (norms, structures, processes included) that not everyone gets what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, one learns through the successes and failures. Failures as well as success teaches you about whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly about is really for you or not, whether it is practical and worthwhile as well as what the gaps are in getting to it. If it is really worthwhile, one should typically go right ahead until and unless the heart tells you whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly is not for you. The heart and head are very  useful tools to live one's life.

Now consider the benefits of living this way. I felt strongly about people, issues and domains and problems in my life. I gave my best in the respective pursuit under the guidance  of my head and heart. I immersed myself so intensely that it helped me generate good poetry, great insights and develop significant expertise, all the while tuning my  life to its natural best frequency. While I have still a lot to achieve, I am definitely happy and set on a road, where I am sure I will improve each day. I would like my young relatives and friends to follow their heart and head in their lives.

This is not to say that my life has been problem-free and joyous throughout. Far from it, it has been a tumultuous journey. But it has been worthwhile and fulfilling. Unchallengeable success would be a good-to-have, but living a worthwhile and fulfilling life is full of intrinsic joy. And if you live for the intrinsic joy, then life is a toy.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

IT Strategies for Mutually owned organizations

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata consultancy services

Many years ago I was fascinated by building societies after doing some work for Cheshire Building Society. I wrote an article describing the strategies that I felt that such mutually owned institutions should adopt. I now find the article very simplistic, unnecessarily jingoistic, presumptive and not wide-enough in tangible ideas for action. But my reading, thinking and experience has evolved since then. So here are my key illustrative current thoughts on IT strategies for Mutuals

1. Mutuals have a natural advantage compared to non-mutuals in combining data about their customers, since they typically capture the membership number along with every product/service sold/setup for the customer. Using this to maintain consolidated information (with relatively simpler MDM exercises) about the customer can help in classifying customers into tiers. These tiers and customer aggregates can then be used to customize the pricing and customer experience including making special offers to expand the share of the wallet for that customer.

2. Because their customers own them, their customers are likely to be willing to share more data about themselves than customers of non-mutual organizations. This fact can be used by mutual organizations to to identify ways and means to source more information from their customers/members through wearable's, IoT, IIoT and social media and use this information to generate more value for the Mutual and its customers. Such information can help in better risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management.

3. Mutuals typical face restrictions on raising funds in wholesale markets due to being a mutual, this typically means that they need to manage cash/funds and risks (including asset-liability gaps) lot more intensively than others. Due to this, they need to implement business policies/processes enabled through IT platforms which manage operations more tightly than others so that
a. The IT platform helps them to generate maximum cash from operations for investment as well as manage these investments better
b. The IT platform helps them in better risk management (risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management).

Would appreciate comments.


Pratap Tambe

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Our favorite movies

1. 12 Angry Man
2. Mona Lisa smile
3. Freedom Writer
4. Finding Forrester
5. My big fat Greek wedding
6. The Japanese wife
7. Stealing Beauty
8. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
9. Casablanca
10. Roman Holliday
11. To kill a mockingbird
12. Courage of Colour
13. A few good men
14. Gone with the wind
15. Annie
16. Forrest Gump
17. Evan Almighty
18. Miracle on 34th Street (old and new - old is better)
19. Godfather
20. My cousin Vinny
21. Unforgiven

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dalits and "izzat"

I had a delightful long leave recently which resulted in a few key changes in me. A key experience during this leave was watching this scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, where Amitabh advises his son about how he should earn/maintain "izzat" and not merely "paisa" - a message which his father gave him many years ago and which he is passing on to his son. It reminded me of multiple conversations with my father on similar lines. My father choice of expressions in communicating these messages were rather more colourful than Amitabh's sophistry, but I recognized while watching this scene that the essence of those messages was universal and eternal.

This message and reminiscing about my father was important because I had occasion during this leave to debate the legacy of my father Pandurang Ganpat Tambe as well as the father of dalits, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. I have recorded my view of this legacy in various articles (1, 2, 3). I was discussing this again with a friend today and how the above scene from Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gam relates to this legacy. Let me explain.

The dalit community has less "paisa" and "izzat" compared to non-dalits. Given that Dr. Ambedkar's constitution has changed the rules of the game, there are many routes to progress available and being followed by dalit individuals. Some are not ethical and do not give "izzat". Others give "izzat", but do not challenge the basis of how "izzat" is awarded  in Indian culture (due to hidden pre-assumption that higher castes have in-borne "izzat" and lower castes do not). Following Ambedkarite Buddhism and the 22 vows given by Ambedkar is one way of beginning the process which will eventually challenge and change this assumption. More importantly even if one is ethical and follows Ambedkarite Buddhism, does that mean that "izzat" and "paisa" will come easily. In this world "izzat" and "paisa" can hardly be given. They have to be earned. For dalits, they have to be earned by doing good kamma and working against the legacy of the "system" (prejudices, vested interests, etc). Denied the route of politics to obtain re-distribution of national wealth and positions, the short and simple manifesto of the common Ambedkarite is to earn wealth and position by moral means. The specific choice of each common Ambedkarite may vary. Some may be wage-laborers, some public/private sector employees/executives, others businessmen. It is only through stellar achievements based on moral means that "izzat" and "paisa" can be earned together. Each common Ambedkarite needs to choose a national bastion and scale it through moral (non-violent, ethical, legal) means. This is a war that every dalit needs to fight every day and everywhere. There is nothing else needed to create the India that the constitution exhorts us to.

Dr. Ambedkar accumulated wealth through moral means and left a monument to his views in this matter in terms of his large house in Dadar. Some people find creative means of interpreting Ambedkar and find short-cuts justifying running away from fighting this war, denying the dalit movement of much more potent contributions and satisfy themselves with token contributions away from the real battlefields of the modern world. But the rest of us will fight this war with our lives and careers until our dying breaths. So my message to young dalits is to join the Ambedkarite tribe and live the manifesto of the common Ambedkarite by fighting this holy war by moral means.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, May his tribe increase (A la Abou Ben Adhem)


Pratap Tambe
A common Ambedkarite

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Will as-a-service business models lead to utility computing?

Just like humanity evolved from each human family building the things they needed to networks of supply chains leading from natural resources to markets through which customers bought the things they need, software services is evolving from even enterprise developing its operational IT platform to "as-a-service" IT platform interconnecting supply chains of providers of specialised algorithms and sources of different types of data (internal and external). Just like electricity/broadband comes through a point in the wall, the computing each house/office needs will come off a point in the wall. Home/work based devices will exchange data/computing-agents with the point in the wall and provide the interface to use/configure the computing capability. We will get monthly bills for the data/computing resources used and pay them using the same. This is the utility computing destination we are headed towards.

Utility computing will need "as-a-service" customising/configuring the computing needs as well as "as-as-service" operational support. There are many ways in which these can evolve. There is a huge amount of financial wastage in the current way of building and managing the evolving software needs of enterprises despite there being a lot common in the needs of enterprises around the world. Industry level thought is needed. New community, industry, country, global IT institutions are needed as part of the global IT operational framework to support the global utility computing model. One can of course start distributed and converge later. If one looks carefully, the process is already underway. It is the software industry which is lagging in terms of the way it does things and the tools/offerings it  provides.

Why should there be multiple implementations of each algorithm/code-component within the Internet as connectivity and computing becomes cheap and reliable? Why can't code for specific algorithm/code-component be sourced as needed from central repository? Why do customers have to pay for setup and operations of new IT platforms - assemblies of such algorithms/code-component? Why can't they merely pay for their usage of services from the IT platform and expect a specific SLA for each service they use from it?

Things are moving towards this in substantial measure as ISV's seek to keep their product/services updated through better service oriented architectures. Enterprise IT platforms are beginning to get automatically updated with new versions of code components with minimum down time

Need to simplify aggregate global technosphere

As I have said multiple times before, complexity is increasing in day to day life. Daily lives of humans, which were dependent on natural uncertainties for the most part are increasingly dependent directly or indirectly on man-made uncertainties embedded in network of machines and/or computers. Some of the natural uncertainties like climate have changed with large impact, but man-made uncertainties continue to increase in number and complexity as the technosphere around humanity deepens.

I wish to reflect here about the changing nature of our ways and means of carrying out our activities in modern life. Computing power is becoming cheaper and easily available. The nature of problems to which computing is being applied is increasing. The number and types of algorithms being deployed are increasing. But there are certain complex categories of problems to which simple algorithms can be proved not to exist. The equivalence class of real-life problems where one encounters these limitations is significantly large by itself and I contend that as systems (of systems(of systems...)) increase, this equivalence class is increasing in size. Essentially there are more and more significant aspects of our day-to-day lives which are limited only by the computational complexity of these algorithms.

Now consider the complexity of enterprise IT architectures (including code and data) where such code and data is embedded in. I recently saw a Gartner video about why the only way that digital transformation can meet the goals of reducing TCO and improving agility of adapting to business change is to reduce complexity of IT architectures. Actions by CIO's to reduce the complexity of enterprise IT architectures while adapting to business change are the only way of reducing future cost of change, the need for which in a very dynamic business environment will always be high.

In my view every human needs to be actively involved in managing the complexity of the technosphere around him and how his/her technosphere connects to the enterprise technosphere, community technosphere, national technosphere and global technosphere. Unless we together actively manage the complexity in this inter-network of techosphere, the aggregate technosphere will increase in complexity thereby increasing the future cost of change and/or future inequality of service delivered through the technosphere. Every individual and enterprise need to do their bit to keep the aggregate technosphere simple. The service environment architecture that is emerging as the technosphere around each individual/home/car/factory also need to be managed and interconnected in ways which preserve good "network" properties (e.g. equality of opportunity and freedom of speech within the network), else our humanity might waste a lot of money later due to increased complexity to modify the network to create these properties.

Netneutrality illustrates type of principles we need to ensure and I am sure we will see more and more debates of the net neutrality kind as the Internet (the BIG NEW WORLD)  continues to be colonized, just like democracy emerged and grew in America during the colonization.



13th May 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thinking of the As-a-Service Economy

I have really tried hard to understand the  emerging As-a-service economy. I am glad to say that I think I now understand the term better and agree that things are evolving in that direction. Let me explain what I have understood in my words.

Organisations use business service catalogues delivered to them through a mix of people and technology. Typically the business service catalogue has a back-to-back IT service catalogue. Business staff orchestrate the business services from the catalogue into business processes achieving business outcomes. IT staff orchestrate the IT services from the catalogue to support the business services. The agility (through flexible capability and flexible capacity) of the above business processes (and recursively those of its business services and IT services) and their cost are key to business success/failure. Business always wants more agility and ever lower costs. Depending on the people and technology portfolio of each organisation, its agility and cost get determined.

The As-a-service Nirvana is that the people portfolio is highly skilled, good at learning-unlearning-relearning and value-add focused supported by a technology portfolio which provides flexible capability and capacity. In the As-a-service Nirvana these are delivered through the IT service catalogue, business service catalogue forming the business processes supporting the business with a high degree of fast flexibility to vary services their providers as per the needs of the business to produce specific outcomes in the context of its business environment. The most important point about the As-a-service Nirvana is that it assumes a huge amount of automation and a huge amount of cloud usage, so that the cost structure options that BPaas/SaaS/Iaas can deliver are leveraged to the full.

Why is this important what is new about this?

Till date, the focus has been on each customer making one-time and on-going investments (and/or expenses) in infrastructure, software applications and (IT and business process) staff which tied up capital, made reducing people cost through offshoring/outsourcing the only way of reducing cost and reduced agility due to high cost/duration of change. It is a bit like building, maintaining and driving one's own manually driven car using T&M/Fixed price service and standard components and being locked into it when all you need is a car and Avis/Hertz can provide on-demand selection of car's with various configurations (including more automated self-driving ones) for a much lower operating cost overall. The key difference between this example and As-a-service Nirvana is that Avis/Hertz in the As-a-service economy will assemble the "car" on-demand from services provided by multiple providers and the next time you need a car, you can change any of these providers easily.

As I described in this article I think that things are moving towards utility computing provided through "standardised access" infrastructure just like electricity. Everyone does not need their own power generation, transmission infrastructure to use electricity. "Standardised "access" infrastructure is enough to leverage flexible computing as described in that article. As we reach there enterprises will primarily interconnect multiple "standardised access" infrastructure elements which separately/jointly plug into the computing coming through the wall. It is basically a more evolved way of living and it will locate the responsibilities in a more socially optimal manner.


Pratap Tambay

23 May 2015