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Abhinav's Tech Blog

Blog on things analytics, GRC, technology, more or less.

Updated: 2018-03-06T00:08:59.237+05:30


Infosys, NRN Murthy, and Vishal Sikka - No One's Smelling of Roses


Corporate sagas seem to come in twos. The mega-fracas that erupted in 2016 between Cyrus Mistry, then Chairman of Tata Sons, and the iconic Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus at Tata Sons,  was starting to come to a close by the second half of 2017 (though I fear the last words have yet to be written). Ratan Tata had annointed N Chandrasekaran, CEO of TCS, as thew Chairman of Tata Sons, and re-asserted his complete control over the sprawling Tata empire. Now comes the rather unexpected news that Vishal Sikka (@vsikka), CEO and MD of Indian IT behemoth Infosys, had tendered in his resignation, apparently unable to tolerate any longer the constant "drumbeat of distractions" from co-founder Mr. NRN Murthy, and, some speculated, a lack of support from some members of the Infosys Board itself.Infosys' CEO has resigned, blaming its co-founders for meddling with the business— Bloomberg Technology (@technology) August 18, 2017In particular, this is what Vishal Sikka wrote in his letter to the Board:"Over the last many months and quarters, we have all been besieged by false, baseless, malicious and increasingly personal attacks. Allegations that have been repeatedly proven false and baseless by multiple, independent investigations. But despite this, the attacks continue, and worse still, amplified by the very people from whom we all expected the most steadfast support in this great transformation." [link]In this perhaps altogether avoidable saga, no one has come out smelling of roses - not the Infosys board, not Vishal Sikka, and not Mr Murthy.A Retrospect for Vishal Sikkaimage credit: pexels.comLet me start off by revisiting what I had written in 2014 - "A 'Vishal' opportunity awaits Infosys" - at the time of Mr Sikka's appointment as CEO and MD of Infosys.To summarize, I had made the following points:Was Sikka a "trophy CEO"? I had written, "There will be more than one voice heard whispering that Sikka's appointment is more of a publicity gimmick meant to save face for its iconic co-founder, Narayan Murthy, who has been unable to right the floundering ship of the software services giant." This is still a pertinent question. Once the excitement of the "trophy CEO" wore out, did Mr Murthy's interest in Vishal Sikka also wane? Conversely, once the excitement of the CEO's crown wore off for Mr Sikka, did the thorns of leading and growing a company, with close to two-hundred thousand employees, in a difficult business environment, start to prick?Mr Murthy's return to Infosys had brought with it a controversy and questions of corporate governance as a result of his son Rohan Murthy's inclusion in the Chairman's office - "The presence of his son Rohan Murthy was seen to grate on several senior executives, and also did not go down too well with corporate governance experts." More on this later, because there is enough mud of poor corporate governance to be thrown at all parties here.Products-vs-services. I wrote "...there is no company, with the arguable exception of IBM, that has achieved excellence in both services and products. Not Microsoft, not Oracle, not SAP." Infosys, under Vishal Sikka, had a decidedly uninspiring record in this area. Infosys, in early 2014, carved out EdgeVerve, a subsidiary, to focus on building "products and platforms." This continued with Vishal Sikka, and SAP veterans like Michael Reh, Anirban (Andy) Dey, Venkatesh Vaidyanathan, and others were brought in to. Even though EdgeVerve claimed to pay salaries on par with Google (and this link), it was however staffed at the middle-management layers mostly with veterans from the services side of its parent company, Infosys. The results were unsurprising - Michael Reh resigned in March 2016, Andy quit in July 2017, Venky in August 2017. EdgeVerve is rumoured to have cut its staff by as much as a fourth. Clearly, this was an area where Vishal Sikka was expected to make a substantial impact, but fai[...]

Six Plus One Types of Interviewers


Remember Chuck Noland? The character in the movie Castaway, who has to use the blade of an ice-skate to extract his abscessed tooth, without anesthesia? The scene is painful to watch, yet you can't look away.Interviews have this habit of turning up a Chuck Noland - in the interviewee or the interviewer. You willingly agree to subject yourself to the wanton abuse by random strangers who you may have to end up working for or with. Apart from the talented few whom companies are more eager to hire than they are to get hired, most are in less enviable positions. width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="?feature=player_embedded" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>What about interviewers? Not all are cut from the same cloth. But there are at least six types that I think we have all met in our lives, and a seventh one.1. The Interview As an End In Itself - Hyper-excited newbieYou know this guy. You have been this person, most likely. You have a team now. You expect your team to grow. You have to build a team. You believe that you, and you alone, know what it takes to hire the absolutely best person for the opening you have.You sit down and explain to the harried hiring HR person what the role is, what qualifications you are looking for, why the job is special, why just ordinary programming skills in ordinary programming languages will simply not cut it, why you as the hiring manager are special, and how you will, with the new hire, change the product, the company, and eventually the whole wide world. The HR executive therefore needs to spend every waking minute of her time in the pursuance of this nobler than noble objective. You badger your hiring rep incessantly, by phone, by IM, by email, in person, several times a day, asking for better resumes if you are getting many, and more if you aren't getting enough.You read every single resume you get, several times over. You redline the points you don't like. You redline the points you like. You make notes on the resumes. You still talk to every single candidate. You continue interviewing, never selecting, till the economic climate changes and the vacancy is no longer available.Yes, we all know this person.2. Knows what he is looking for and knows when he finds itThis person is a somewhat rare commodity. This person does not suffer from buyer's remorse, knows that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate, and that the best he can hope to get is a person who comes off as reasonably intelligent, hard-working, ethical, and is going to be a team player.This person will however also suffer from blind spots. Specifically, two kinds of blindspots. The first is that he will look for and evaluate a person only on those criteria that he can assess best. The second is that he is more likely to hire candidates that are similar to other successful employees in his team, and will probably become less likely to take chances on a different type of a candidate. On the other hand, this manager also knows that conceptual skills are more important to test than specific knowledge of some arcane syntax in a geeky programming language - if you are talking of the world of software for instance.This person is a rare commodity.3. Hire for EmpireLike our previous type of hiring manager, this hiring manager is also very clear-headed.  But, here the interviewer is hiring to add headcount to his team. Grow the empire. More people equates to more perceived power. This person understands three things, and understands them perfectly.First, that if he is slow in hiring, then a hiring freeze may come in, and the headcount may no longer stay open.Second, he (or she) is also unable and equally unwilling to evaluate a candidate, so just about anyone will do.Third, and most importantly, this manager knows that every additional person reporting to him on the organization chart elevates him in importance vis-a-vis his peers, and therefore hiring is a goal noble enough to be pursued in its own right.It's a win-[...]

Management Mantra for Startups - Waste Not, Vacate Not


Image credit: pexels.comWaste Not, Vacate Not.When Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, started out Amazon, he, along with Shel Kaphan, programmer and a founding employee, used sixty-dollar doors from Home Depot as desks. It was the demand of frugality. More than a decade later, when Amazon was a multi-billion dollar behemoth, conference-room tables were still made of door-desks. It reflected its CEO's adamant belief in "frugality." A leadership principle at Amazon states that "Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention." In case you have been living in a world without news, you would know that Amazon's market capitalization, as of July 23rd, was a shade under US$500 billion, its trailing twelve-month revenues in excess of US$140 billion, and has been growing at an annual rate of more than 20%.All this about Amazon's culture of frugality are captured in Brad Stone's brilliant book on the company, "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.""Bezos met me in an eighth-floor conference room and we sat down at a large table made of half a dozen door-desks, the same kind of blond wood that Bezos used twenty years ago when he was building Amazon from scratch in his garage. The door-desks are often held up as a symbol of the company’s enduring frugality."...They set up shop in the converted garage of Bezos’s house, an enclosed space without insulation and with a large, black potbellied stove at its center. Bezos built the first two desks out of sixty-dollar blond-wood doors from Home Depot, an endeavor that later carried almost biblical significance at Amazon, like Noah building the ark...."Door-Desk award, given to an employee who came up with “a well-built idea that helps us to deliver lower prices to customers”—the prize was a door-desk ornament. Bezos was once again looking for ways to reinforce his values within the company."..."Conference-room tables are a collection of blond-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidized. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment—including the backpack." [The Everything Store, by Brad Stone]So what does this have to do with Flipkart?Flipkart has been in business for (almost) ten years now (it was founded in October 2007). It has raised more than $4 billion dollars from investors, the most recent round of funding closing in early 2017. The Indian e-commerce pioneer however has yet to make a single new paisa in profit. In its fiscal year ending March 31st, 2016, its losses doubled to ₹2,306 crores (approximately US$350 million). Keep that in mind as you go through this post.In October 2014, coming off the back of two funding rounds that saw it raise more than $1 billion from investors, came news that Flipkart had entered into an agreement to lease 3 million square feet of prime office space for an estimated annual rent of ₹300 crores (approximately US$48 million at the then exchange rates). This figure was cut down to 2 million sq ft by the time the deal was announced in May 2015. Even with the reduced commitment, it was, at the time, touted as the "single largest commitment of office space anywhere in the country."In late 2015, several news sites, including the Economic Times, posted extensive photos of Flipkart's new office at the Cessna Business Park in Bengaluru. A cursory look at the office, as revealed by the photos, told a story of a no-expenses spared philosophy at work. Each floor had a "theme inspired by human greatness in various fields – science, sports, fashion, music". Hallways were designed to resemble running tracks, with the Olympic logo emblazoned prominently.Images credit: Economic TimesBy 2016, Flipkart's numerous missteps had only compounded its woes in the face of an unrelenting foe [...]

Usability, Product Management, and LinkedIn - a rant


LinkedIn began as a professional networking site, has evolved into a social media behemoth, and has yet managed to maintain and sharpen its focus on the professional space. That may, in part, explain why, in 2016, Microsoft chose to put down more than $26 billion Washingtons to buy LinkedIn.While both LinkedIn's web site and mobile app have undergone substantial changes over the years, and is a far cry from the spartan look both sported just a few years ago, I wanted to call out one peculiarity - call it eccentricity - that the site has. I would call it a glaring UX and product management miss, if you will.Let me from LinkedIn in June 2014, announcing the launch of the publish feature.Sometime in April 2014, LinkedIn introduced a feature that allowed users - by invitation at first, and everyone later - to publish their articles on LinkedIn. This feature is now a great source of user-generated content for LinkedIn, helping drive more traffic to its website. I have written a few over the last couple of years, and it's a great way to my thoughts on relevant topics in front of a relevant audience.But Where Are My Articles?From the LinkedIn home page, try finding a way to navigate to your articles - published or in draft mode. Go ahead, I will wait while you wander on the home page.You can't.Let me show. See the screenshot below. That is the home page I see when I go to LinkedIn.The menu at the top contains no links to go to my articles.I can click the 'Write an article' button and it will take me to the LinkedIn Publishing page, and I can start penning pristine prose there.I can click the headline and view analytics on my articles or shares.But I still cannot view a list of my articles. I can't.If I go to the Publishing page, and if I click the 'More' dropdown, then voila, I can see that I have finally found what I was looking for. So will you too.Why? Why make it so darn tough to find your own articles?By design? Unlikely.Oversight? Likely. A miss, from both product management and UX. Why is an important features such as this so difficult to find? It is not even available from the home page. Why is not anyone talking about discoverability? What about the scent of information? Nielsen, Cooper, Pirolli, anyone?Solution? Fix it. Fast. frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="//®ion=US&placement=0672326140&asins=0672326140&linkId=57622779c641915614e3ef56d1ef65d1&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true" style="height: 240px; width: 120px;"> frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="//®ion=IN&placement=0672326140&asins=0672326140&linkId=5471d42b3df9a8ab46d175960150fbef&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true" style="height: 240px; width: 120px;"> frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="//®ion=IN&placement=B000OZ0N62&asins=B000OZ0N62&linkId=51686b7bfdc420d3672ab043ec985350&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true" style="height: 240px; width: 120px;"> frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="//[...]

The Dark Cloud of the H1-B Fallout for Indian Companies: Layoffs or Reduced Valuations


India's second-largest IT company, Infosys, put out a press release on the 2nd of May, 2017 (link), that it would be hiring "10,000 American Workers Over the Next Two Years and establish four new Technology and Innovation Hubs across the country focusing on cutting-edge technology areas, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, user experience, emerging digital technologies, cloud, and big data."We're looking for top technologists, innovators, engineers, architects, leaders & more. Join us! #Jobs #Hiring #Tech— Infosys Careers (@InfosysCareers) May 2, 2017The first hub, the Infosys press release stated, was expected to open by August in Indiana, which coincidentally is also the home state of the US Vice President, and which would create 2,000 new jobs in the state.Infosys wasted no time in advertising for jobs in the United States, prominently linking it to its announcement. Nor was there any dearth of tweets on social media site Twitter to give this news more amplification - see this, this, this, this, or this. While this is certainly good news for the United States and for its President Donald Trump's goal of making American "Great Again", the impact on outsourcing companies like Infosys is likely to be less positive.If Infosys is hiring 10,000 American workers, then it will have to pay them salaries as per prevailing rates. Even accounting for the relatively low cost of labour in the midwestern state of Indiana, the average annual cost of one American worker is likely to be over US$100,000. This includes the wages and overheads like infrastructure, administrative, and other costs. The figure of $100,000 may well be conservative, but it's a nice, round number to work with. Using these two numbers, we get the figure of $1 billion - 10,000 workers multiplied by $100,000 per worker. One billion dollars a year is what Infosys will end up paying these 10,000 American workers. Keep this figure in your mind while we compute a couple of other numbers.Infosys' offshore costs, on the other hand, are much lower. While Infosys does not share out these numbers, it would be very surprising if its Indian offshore costs were more than $25,000 per-year per-employee. Given that Infosys and other Indian services companies hire college graduates at less than ₹5 lacs a year (which is approximately $7,500 a year), and that these companies tend to concentrate their workforce towards the younger end of the age spectrum, the figure of $25,000 per-year per-employee is on the higher side. But let's work with this number and keep this also in your head for just a little bit. So what are the implications of this hiring in the US for Infosys? Let us make some assumptions and see where each assumption leads us.Net New Hiring.If we assume that this is net new hiring Infosys is looking at, it means an annual increase of $1 billion in costs. For Infosys to maintain its gross margins of 39% (for FY2016-17), it means it would have to find an additional revenue of $2.56 billion from these 10,000 employees to keep its margins constant (if Infosys earns $2.56 billion from those 10,000 US-based employees, and if its cost for those 10,000 employees were $1 billion, it would mean its gross margins were 39%). To put that number in perspective, an additional $2.56 billion in revenue would mean an additional 24% over its FY2016-17 revenues. Given that revenue growth for Indian services companies has slowed down to the mid-single-digits in recent times, the figure of 24% looks very, very ambitious. And unrealistic.Workforce Optimization ("Layoffs")The other option is for Infosys to cut an equivalent number of employees from India. If we take the ratio of 1:4 for the US-to-Indian costs, we arrive at a number of 40,000 employees that Infosys would have to retrench from its Indian operations. That is a huge number, and almost 20% of its existing workforce. It cannot possibly hope to achiev[...]

Oracle Looking to Buy Accenture? Stranger Things Have Happened.


Image credit: pixels.comThe Register reported that Oracle may be exploring the "feasibility of buying multi-billion dollar consultancy Accenture."To summarize the numbers involved here, Oracle had FY16 revenues of $37 billion, net income of $8.9 billion, and a market cap of $180 billion.On the other hand, Accenture had FY16 revenues of US$34.8 billion, net income of $4.1 billion, and a market cap of $77 billion.Some questions that come to mind:Why? Oracle buying NetSuite in 2016 made sense. Oracle buying Salesforce would make even more sense. Oracle buying a management consulting and professional services company, and that too one with more than a quarter million employees, on the face of it, makes little sense. Would it help Oracle leapfrog Amazon's AWS cloud business? Would it help Oracle go after a new market segment? The answers are not clear, at all.Who would be in charge of this combined entity? Both have similar revenues, though Accenture has a market cap that is less than half Oracle's and a workforce that is roughly three times Oracle's. The cultural meshing itself would prove to be a challenge. Mark Hurd, one of two CEOs of Oracle (the other CEO is Safra Catz, a former investment banker), has the experience running a large, heterogeneous organization. Prior to his stint at Oracle, he was credited with making the HP and Compaq merger work. At Oracle, however, he has not run software product development, which has been run by Thomas Kurian, and who reports to Larry Ellison, and not Hurd. A merger between Oracle and Accenture would place an even greater emphasis on synergies between Oracle's software division and Accenture's consulting business.Oracle would need to spend close to $100 billion to buy Accenture, if it does. How would it finance it, even assuming it spends all its $68 billion in cash to do so? Keep in mind that its largest acquisition was in the range of $10 billion. The financial engineering would be staggering. It helps that it has a former investment banker as one of two CEOs.Will Oracle make Accenture focus on the Oracle red stack of software products and applications - both on-premise and in the cloud? If yes, it would need a much smaller-sized workforce than Accenture has. That in turn would diminish the value of Accenture to Oracle, and make the likely sticker price of $100 billion look even costlier.Is Oracle looking to become the IBM of the twenty-first century? It's certainly been a public ambition of Larry Ellison. In 2009, he said he wanted to pattern Oracle after Thomas Watson Jr's IBM, "combining both hardware and software systems." If Oracle keeps Accenture as a business unit free to pursue non-Oracle deals, does it mean Oracle is keen on morphing into a modern-day avatar of IBM and IBM Global Services, offering hardware, software, and professional services - all under one red, roof?Is Oracle serious about such a merger? An acquisition of this size seems more conjecture than in the realms of possibility, at least as of now. One is reminded of the time in 2003 when Microsoft explored the possibility of buying SAP. Those discussions went nowhere, and the idea was dropped. Combining two behemoths is no easy task, even for a company like Oracle, that has stitched together almost 50 acquisitions in just the last five years.If such an acquisition did go through, there would likely be few anti-trust concerns. That's a big "if".Stranger things have happened in the software industry, like HP buying Autonomy.I hope the Register piece was not an example of an early April Fool's joke.(HT Sangram Aglave whose LinkedIn post alerted me to this article)I first published this in LinkedIn Pulse on April 1, 2017.© 2017, Abhinav Agarwal.[...]

Amazon Launches Prime in India. Can Flipkart Stay ‘First’?


On the 27th of June, 2016, Amazon launched the first of its first AWS (Amazon Web Services) data centers in India, in Mumbai.Amazon India announcing the launch of Prime (July 26, 2016) Less than a month later, on the 26th of July, 2016, Amazon launched Amazon Prime in India. After a free, trial period of 60 days, customers would be able to sign up for what it calls a “special, introductory price” of ₹499 a year. Prime Video was not included in Prime at the time of launch. comScore chart showing Amazon as leading e-commerce site (Dec 2015)e-mail from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (December 2015)This is a significant, though not unexpected, step by Amazon India in its battle to gain primacy in the Indian e-commerce space. In Dec 2015, it announced that it had become the “most visited e-commerce site in India”, and offered a gift card worth ₹200 for customers (with some terms and conditions). It was also in some ways a sleight of hand since it did not include visitors via mobile apps. That also changed in July 2016 when an app data tracker stated that Amazon had become the most downloaded app on the Google and Apple app stores in India.Amazon India website (July 26, 2016)Flipkart had launched its version of Amazon Prime in May 2014. Called “Flipkart First”, it also was available for an annual price of ₹500. But for reasons best known to Flipkart, after an initial flurry of promotion and advertising, including a three-month giveaway to 75000 customers, Flipkart did not seem to pursue it with any sort of vigor. Customers complained of many products being excluded from Flipkart First, and in the absence of any sustained campaign to make customers aware of the programme, it has slowly faded from memory. Flipkart also has not shared any numbers in some time about the subscriber base and growth of Flipkart First. Worse, there was a news story on July 20th about Flipkart planning to launch a programme called “F-Assured”, as a replacement to Flipkart Advantage. The story suggested that the launch of F-Assured was also meant to “preempts the launch of Amazon Prime” — something that did not come to pass.Unlike Prime, which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos called one of the three bold bets Amazon had made (“AWS, Marketplace and Prime are all examples of bold bets at Amazon that worked” — is what Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders), Flipkart has let First become yet one of many initiatives it has launched and failed to pursue with any meaningful degree of commitment or focus.AWS, Marketplace and Prime are all examples of bold bets at Amazon that worked, and we’re fortunate to have those three big pillars. They have helped us grow into a large company, and there are certain things that only large companies can do. [Jeff Bezos, letter to shareholder, 2016]"Flipkart First" emailer, 2014Flipkart launched its e-book store, Flyte, in November 2012, almost a year before Amazon launched operations in India and more than a year before Amazon launched Kindle in India. Yet, Flipkart shuttered its e-book store in late 2015, citing e-books as not “a strategic fit.” The same was the story with its digital music business, which it started in 2012, and shuttered in June 2013.I had written more than a year back that Flipkart seemed to be losing focus, that it needed to beware of Amazon, who I called “The Whispering Death” (an allusion to the great West Indian fast bowler, Michael Holding), and even suggested what it needed to do. Cloud computing was one advice.Amazon India Prime Announcement on the upcoming launch of Video (July 26, 2016)Flipkart continues to lose in its battle against Amazon. It has suffered a steep erosion in its valuations, Amazon is gaining market share faster than Flipkart, and now even the battle of perceptions is being won by Amazon. Flipkart seems [...]

Flipkart and the Executive Revolving Door


The contrast could not have been more striking, or poignant.2017 began on a sombre note for Flipkart, when it announced on the 9th of Jan that Kalyan Krishnamurthy had been named CEO, and its current CEO Binny Bansal would become group CEO. It was the Indian e-commerce startup's third CEO in less than one year.Three days later, on the 12th, Amazon let it be known via a press release that it intended "to grow its full-time U.S.-based workforce from 180,000 in 2016 to over 280,000 by mid-2018." To let that sink in, Amazon, already a company with a 180,000 employees in the US, would add another hundred-thousand full-time employees in eighteen months. Media was all over the news.The battle for dominance of the Indian e-commerce market continues well into its third year. For all practical purposes this battle began in earnest only after Amazon entered India in 2013, and since then it has transformed into a brutal, no-holds barred, fifteen-round slugfest between Flipkart and Amazon. Yes, there is SnapDeal that is entering its end-game (there are talks of a merger between Paytm's marketplace and SnapDeal and of senior-level exits amidst rumours of a cash-crunch), there is ShopClues that has had to defer its IPO plans, and an e-commerce tragedy by the name of IndiaPlaza that was among the earliest e-commerce entities, which survived the dot-com bust of 2001, and yet folded up in a most ignominious manner. Ever since Amazon entered India in 2013, it notched up one success after another against the Indian behemoth, Flipkart. Flipkart went from strength to strength when it came to valuations even as it reeled from one blow to another in the market. Flipkart's party finally entered its long-expected yet still-painful endgame in 2016. For Amazon the costs have been equally staggering - billions of dollars sunk into its Indian operations, promises of billions more to be spent, break-even years and years away, and almost every last penny of profits from its parent company being shoveled into its Indian outpost.Running Circles Around The Revolving Door[Image credit:]People are a company's most valuable asset, so companies say. Companies more often than not think differently. More often than not, companies do not simply know who a good hire is, how an organizational culture of excellence is built upon the right employees, and that throwing money gets you expensive employees, not necessarily the right employees.In Flipkart's case, the intent was certainly right. Shortly after it closed $1M in Series A funding in Oct 2009 and $10M in June 2010 (worth about ₹50 crores at then exchange rates), they went after hiring talent in earnest. It was not a success, to put it mildly."Vasudha Mangalam came in from a technology company to eventually lead HR. Vipul Bathwal, a 2008 IIM Ahmedabad graduate, came on board to identify newer categories. Satyarth Priyedarshi, a former head of merchandising for the Borders bookstore chain in Dubai, was roped in to head buying and merchandising. Tapan Kumar Das, the erstwhile finance head at venture-funded salon chain YLG, joined as VP, finance, along with Anupama Sharma, a Stanford Business School graduate who would lead marketing. Within a year, all five quit." [Can Flipkart Deliver? - Forbes, Jul 6, 2012]It is not as if the initial exodus of high-profile talent was an aberration. The spectacle of people hired into senior management positions leaving within a year or two, or being sidelined, was a regular feature in the theater that was Flipkart - Sanjay Baweja as CFO, Punit Soni as Chief Product Officer, former Myntra head Mukesh Bansal, Anand KV as head of Customer Experience, private-label head Mausam Bhatt, Sharat Singh [...]

Flipkart: Million-Dollar Hiring Mistakes


Flipkart: Million-Dollar Hiring Mistakes Translate Into Billion-Dollar Valuation ErosionsAs the week drew to a close, a story that broke headlines in the world of Indian e-commerce was the departure of Flipkart’s Chief Product Officer, Punit Soni. Rumours had started swirling about Punit Soni’s impending exit since the beginning of the year (link), almost immediately after Mukesh Bansal had taken over from Binny Bansal as Flipkart’s CEO (link).Punit Soni’s LinkedIn headlinePunit Soni was among a clutch of high-profile hires made by Flipkart in 2015, rumoured to have been paid a million dollar salary (amounting to 6.2 crores at then prevailing currency exchange rates — see this and this). This was in addition to any stock options he and other similar high-profile hires earned.One decision that Punit Soni was most closely associated with was the neutering of Flipkart’s mobile-web execution, where he killed Flipkart’s mobile site, forcing users to download the app on smartphones. The mobile app itself was poorly designed, had a mostly unusable interface, and was riddled with bugs to the point of crashing every few minutes. I had written in detail on its mobile app’s state in 2015 (see this article in dna, or from my blog). At the time I had expressed my astonishment that Myntra, the fashion e-tailer that Flipkart acquired and which had gone app-only, had a mobile app that was NOT optimized for the iPad. The same was the story with the Flipkart app — no iPad-optimized app, but a “universal” app that ran on both the iPhone and iPad devices. Even today, the Flipkart iPad app does not support landscape-mode orientation, even as Amazon’s iPad app has grown from strength to strength.A statement made by Punit Soni in 2015 revealed a disturbing focus with technology instead of the customer experience — “The Mindshare in the Company Is Going to Be App Only” (link) — a case of techno-solutionism if you will. At one point, there were strong rumours of Flipkart going app-only (link) — killing off its desktop website completely. I had written on this mobile-only obsession ( Mobile advertising and how the numbers game can be misleading, Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy).Suroji Chatterjee’s LinkedIn headlineIf hiring Punit Soni was a million-dollar mistake, or whether there was simply a mismatch of expectations between employee and employer, or whether Punit Soni’s exit the inevitable consequence of the favoured falling out of favor with the ascension of a new emperor, it does not appear as if Flipkart has learned any lessons. His replacement is said to be yet another ex-Googler, Surojit Chatterjee.Whether Surojit will fare any better than his predecessor is best left to time or tea-leaf readers, this hire however does exemplify the curse of VC money in more ways than one. First, free money leads to the hubris of mistaking outlay with outcomes — splurging a million dollars on a paycheck with the outcome of success in the e-commerce battles. Second, VCs pay the piper (Flipkart is nowhere close to being profitable), and therefore they decide the tune. If VCs want an executive from a marquee company like Google, Flipkart’s founders may well have no say in the matter. Third, in the closed network of venture funding and Silicon Valley, the you-scratch-my-back club ensures lucrative job mobility for professionals and VCs alike.Costly though million-dollar hiring mistakes can be, they can translate into even bigger billion-dollar erosion in valuations, as Flipkart would have found out, when Morgan Stanley Institutional Fund Trust Mid Cap Growth Portfolio, Fidelity Rutland Square Trust Strategic Advisers Growth Fund, and Variable Annuity Life Insurance Co.’s Valic Company I Mid Cap Strategic Growth Fund marked down the value of their[...]

Privacy - InMobi Pays $1M In Penalties


image credit: WDnet Agency, pexels.comIn 2015 I had written a series of articles on the e-commerce battle between Flipkart and Amazon, one of which focused on why companies are so obsessed with apps Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy.Now it turns out that InMobi has agreed to pay a US$950,000 in civil penalties to "settle charges it violated federal law." InMobi is described by the US Federal Trade Commission complaint thus: "describes itself as the “world’s largest independent mobile advertising company.” In February 2015, Defendant reported its advertising network had reached over one billion unique mobile devices, with 19% of those devices located in North America, and had served 6 billion ad requests per day."According to the FTC complaint [bold emphasis mine], "Even if the consumer had restricted an application’s access to the location API, until December 2015, Defendant still tracked the consumer’s location and, in many instances, served geo-targeted ads, by collecting information about the WiFi networks that the consumer’s device connected to or that were in-range of the consumer’s device. "Worse, since the InMobi SDK was used by third-party app developers to integrate within their apps and serve targeted ads to children, the FTC charged that InMobi had also violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA) of 1998.In my 2015 article I had written about other notable privacy violations:In 2012, before its IPO, JustDial’s app was removed from the Google Play Store. It was alleged that the updated version of the JustDial app had “started retrieving and storing the user’s entire phone book, without a warning or disclaimer.” Thereafter, JustDial’s mobile “Terms and Conditions” were updated to include the following line: “You hereby give your express consent to Justdial to access your contact list and/or address book for mobile phone numbers in order to provide and use the Service.”In 2013, US-based social networking app Path was caught as it “secretly copied all its users’ iPhone address books to its private servers.” Action was swift. The FTC investigated and reached a settlement with Path, which required “Path, Inc. to establish a comprehensive privacy program and to obtain independent privacy assessments every other year for the next 20 years. The company also will pay $800,000 to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent.” In the US, a person’s address book “is protected under the First Amendment.” When the controversy erupted, it was also reported that “A person’s contacts are so sensitive that Alec Ross, a senior adviser on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the State Department was supporting the development of an application that would act as a “panic button” on a smartphone, enabling people to erase all contacts with one click if they are arrested during a protest.” Of course, politics is not without its dose of de-rigueur dose of irony. That dose was delivered in 2015 when it emerged that Hillary Clinton had maintained a private email account even as she was Secretary of State in the Barack Obama presidency and refused to turn over those emails.Privacy protection is an area that needs urgent attention from India's regulatory authorities. What the Indian telecom regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, is doing remains a matter of speculation, unfortunately. Its flip-flops over the last one year on Net Neutrality do not inspire much confidence either.References:Mobile Advertising Network InMobi Settles FTC Charges It Tracked Hundreds of Millions of Consumers’ Locations Without Permission | Federal Trade CommissionComp[...]

Rise of the Robots - Review


Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless FutureMartin FordPart 1 of 3"I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're small. I'm right; you're wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it."Thus spake Harry Wormwood in the movie "Matilda". This well could be the message that robots will have for us in the not too distant future. The dramatic improvements in the speed, the accuracy, and the areas in which computers have begun to comprehensively outperform humans leads one to believe that while a so-called singularity may well be some ways off, the more immediate effects of this automation are already being felt in permanent job losses. In a country like India, which has used digital technologies quite effectively in the last decade and a half to grow a $150 billion IT-BPM industry, the impact could be devastating - especially where an estimated 10 million people are employed.In many spheres - chess for example - they could utter these lines to us humans today and there's nothing we can do about it - for the computer is right. The puniest of computers in the tiniest of smartphones possesses enough computing horsepower and smart-enough algorithms (written by us humans - oh yes, the irony!) to defeat the best of us humans in chess, every single time, without breaking a sweat. Computers have been able to add, subtract, divide, square, multiply faster and more accurately than us for decades now, and there's nothing we can do about that either.From the time of the Luddites - who rose up against the machines of the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the nineteenth century - to the present-day "Judgment Day" Sarah Connor avatars, inspired as much by an acute awareness of the march of technology as by James Cameroon's "Terminator" movies, the refrain of the chorus has been more or less unchanging: the machines are coming for our jobs, our livelihoods, and will finally come for us (the Matrix was premised on a variant of one such dystopian future). Computing power of computers exploded in the second half of the twentieth century, obeying the inexorable pull of Moore's Law, and made feasible by advances in semiconductors, fabrication techniques, and electrical engineering. As did fears that similar software advances could somehow endow machines with intelligence - Artificial Intelligence. These fears however did not quite come to pass. For several decades, there were several false hopes and starts that were kindled and then extinguished. Till this decade. The congruence of seemingly infinite computing power - thanks to massive server farms running in the "cloud" (a mangled metaphor if ever there was one), cheap and lightning fast bandwidth available on tap, storage and memory that keeps getting impossibly cheaper every year, and sophisticated software algorithms - has however made it clear that "machine intelligence" is no longer an oxymoron. We are well and truly living in the middle of the machine age. The "singularity" may well be witnessed in our lifetimes, within a decade or two even.Martin Ford's book, "The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" lays out the case for a not-so-distant future where machines make possible the automation of almost every task imaginable, but at a great social and economic cost. The book is neatly organized, lucidly argued, and except for a lengthy and somewhat incongruous chapter on the medical system, the book stays on point. Ford makes it clear that neither is this technological progress reversible, nor wholly desirable. Its consequences therefore cannot be wished away - income inequality as an example, which economists for three decades have been explaining away as a temporary anomaly. The last section, which is more contemplative and presc[...]

Flipkart and Focus - 2 - Mobile Advertising Numbers Can Be Misleading


I wrote about the obsession of Flipkart (and Myntra) with "mobile-only" without even having an iPad-optimized app! I also talked about the stunning advances being made in voice-search by using machine learning, cognitive learning, natural language processing, even as voice-based search capabilities of e-commerce companies - including Amazon - remain abysmal. Finally, I also included several use-cases that these companies need to work on incorporating into their capabilities.That piece, Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice, appeared in DNA on June 27th, 2015. My earlier pieces on the same topic:Flipkart vs Amazon: Beware the Whispering Death - 20th April '15 (blog, dna)Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy - 18th April '15  (blog, dna)Mobile advertising and how the numbers game can be misleading - 14th April '15  (blog, dna)Is Flipkart losing focus - 12th April '15  (blog, dna)Flipkart, Focus, and Free Advice – Shipping Charges Also Waived!What is one to make of a statement like this - “India is not mobile-first, but mobile-only country[1]”? Especially so if it is from the co-founder of the largest ecommerce company in India, and it turns out the company does not even have an app for the Apple iPad?I have written at length on the distractions that seem to have been plaguing Flipkart and why it cannot afford to drop its guard in this fiercely contested space[2] - especially in light of all the noise surrounding its mobile ambitions. Somewhat paradoxically, this post is about offering advice to Flipkart that calls for some diversification!As a logical next step, I wanted to take a look at Flipkart’s mobile apps – both on the iOS and Android platforms – to see how well they were executing on their very bold ambitions. As an aside, I also wanted to see if these (and competitive) mobile apps were leveraging all the computing power now available on tap inside these tiny devices. After all, apart from the recent – and amazing – advances Google has made in its voice-based search capabilities[3], there was this stunning demo from Hound[4] that gave a glimpse into the huge advances that voice-recognition, search, and machine-learning technologies have made in the last decade.#MustRead - what next, e-tailing ? @flipkart Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice via @dna @AbhinavAgarwal— Harini Calamur (@calamur) June 28, 2015Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice by @AbhinavAgarwal— dna (@dna) June 27, 2015The results were, to put it mildly, massively disappointing – which I will describe in some detail.It should be clear that Amazon and Flipkart and SnapDeal are going to be at each other’s throats in the Indian online retail market. This is one battle from which neither player can walk away. Amazon has lost the China market to Alibaba (“In the first quarter of 2014, Alibaba's e-tailing site had a 48.4 per cent market share against Amazon China's less than 3 per cent.”[5] If that was not enough, Alibaba and Foxconn are in talks with SnapDeal for a rumoured $500 million investment![6]).Amazon cannot afford to now lose the India market to a local upstart. Flipkart, on the other hand, has even less choice. It plays only in the Indian market. It cannot walk away either; there is no other market for it to walk towards. Its valuations – expected to rise to $15 billion after its next round of funding[7] make it way too costly for it to be acquired – at least profitably so for those funders who have put in hundreds of millions of dollars at these later and higher valuations. Amazon and Flipkart have deep pockets; Flipkart can afford to bleed hundreds of millions of dollars a year even as it grows, while Amazon has [...]

Flipkart and Focus - 1 - Losing It?


This is the first of a series of articles I wrote for DNA in April on why I believed Flipkart (India's largest online retailer and among the most highly valued startups in the world) was at losing focus, at the wrong time, when faced with its most serious competition to date."Why Flipkart seems to be losing focus", appeared in DNA on Sunday, April 12, 2015.Part IAmong all start-ups that have emerged from India in recent and not-so recent times, Flipkart is likely to be at the top of most people’s minds. The list is admittedly weighted heavily in favour of newer companies, given that the Indian start-up ecosystem has only in the last decade or so started to pick up steam. But that is changing, and the list is getting longer and diverse, with such names as Urban Ladder, Zomato, Reel, Druva Software, WebEngage, etc…[1] in just the online segment. But today, in 2015, Flipkart is the big daddy of them; with total equity funding of US $2.5 billion and a valuation of a whopping US$11 billion as of April 2015, it was ranked the seventh most valuable start-up in the world[2] (though that was still a far cry from the $178 billion market cap enjoyed by US online retailer Amazon[3] and $220 billion market cap of Chinese online retailer Alibaba[4]).Yet Flipkart seems to be in trouble.Let’s ignore for the time being the fact that it loses much more money than it makes, and that scale does not seem to have lessened the bleeding of money – it’s caught in a situation where the more it sells the more it loses[5],[6]. How much of it is by design – i.e., a result of a decision to focus on scale and top-line, consciously sacrificing the bottom-line in the interim – is up for debate, but that Flipkart is a long way from profitability is undeniable. Let’s ignore this for the time being.First off, it is no mean feat to start a company out of the proverbial garage and grow it, in less than a decade (since its start in 2007), into a billion dollar start-up[7]. And make it a leader in an industry. And do it in India. Flipkart has managed to do all that, and more. It has established, spectacularly so, that an Indian start-up can make it to the very top in a fiercely-contested space. Flipkart is, for the most part, has been a spectacularly successful start-up by most counts. Let nothing distract from that fact.So why the hand-wringing? In one word, focus. Flipkart seems to be losing focus. Three reasons stand out in my mind.First, the ongoing controversy and its decision to shutter its browser-based web site and force customers to use only its mobile app – on smartphones and tablets.It has already shut down the mobile browser site of Mnytra – the online fashion retailer it acquired in 2014[8]. Navigate to Flipkart’s website on your browser from your smartphone or tablet and you have no choice but to download and install the app. Come May 1st, and Myntra’s website is planned to be shutdown completely![9] Elsewhere, there have been more than a whiff of rumours that Flipkart is contemplating shutting down its website[10]. This seems not only quite unnecessary, but more importantly, indicative of the grandstanding that is coming to mark some of Flipkart’s actions. Shutting down the web site to become an app-only retailer harms the company in tangible, monetary terms, while benefitting it in the currency of zero-value digital media ink.WhatsApp, the world’s largest instant-messaging application and which started out and since its launch existed as only a mobile app – with more than 700 million users[11] - launched a browser version of its application in January 2015[12]. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, launched a browser version of its mobile app[13], Facebook Messenger. In case you are [...]

Big changes ahead for India's IT majors


My article on challenges confronting the Indian IT majors was published in DNA in January 2015.Here is the complete text of the article - Big changes ahead for India's IT majors:Hidden among the noise surrounding the big three of the Indian IT industry - TCS, Wipro, and Infosys - was a very interesting sliver of signal that points to possibly big changes on the horizon. Though Cognizant should be counted among these biggies - based on its size and revenues - let's focus on these three for the time being. Statements made by the respective CEOs of Infosys and Wipro, and the actions of TCS, provide hints on how these companies plan on addressing the coming headwinds that the Indian IT industry faces. Make no mistake. These are strong headwinds that threaten to derail the mostly good fairy tale of the Indian IT industry. Whether it is the challenge of continuing to show growth on top of a large base - each of these companies is close to or has exceeded ten billion dollars in annual revenues; protecting margins when everyone seems to be in a race to the bottom; operating overseas in the face of unremitting resistance to outsourcing; or finding ways to do business in light of the multiple disruptions thrust by cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things, they cannot continue in a business-as-usual model any longer.For nearly two decades the Indian IT industry has grown at a furious pace, but also grown fat in the process, on a staple diet of low-cost business that relied on the undeniable advantage of labour-cost arbitrage. Plainly speaking, people cost a lot overseas, but they cost a lot less in India. The favourable dollar exchange-rate ensured that four, five (or even ten engineers at one point in time) could be hired in India for the cost of one software engineer in the United States. There was no meaningful incentive to either optimize on staffing, or build value-added skills when people could be retained by offering fifteen per cent salary hikes, every year. Those days are fast fading, and while the Indian IT workforce's average age has continued to inch up, the sophistication of the work performed has not kept pace, resulting in companies paying their employees more and more every year for work that is much the same.TCS, willy nilly, has brought to the front a stark truth facing much of the Indian IT industry - how to cut costs in the face of a downward pressure on most of the work it performs, which has for the most part remained routine and undifferentiated. Based on a remark made by its HR head on "layoffs" and "restructuring" that would take place over the course of 2015, the story snowballed into a raging controversy. It was alleged that TCS was planning on retrenching tens of thousands of employees - mostly senior employees who cost more than college graduates with only a few years of experience. Cursory and level-headed thinking would have revealed that prima-facie any such large layoffs could not be true. But such is the way with rumours - they have long legs. What however remains unchanged is the fact that without more value-based business, an "experienced" workforce is a drag on margins. It's a liability, not an asset. Ignore, for a minute, the absolute worst way in which TCS handled the public relations fiasco arising out of its layoff rumours - something even its CEO, N Chandraskaran, acknowledged. Whether one likes it or not, so-called senior resources at companies that cannot lay claim to skills that are in demand will find themselves under the dark cloud of layoffs. If you prefer, call them "involuntary attrition", "labour cost rationalization", or anything else. The immediate reward of a lowered loaded cost number will override any longer-t[...]

Flipakart's Billion Dollar Sale, And A Few Questions


My article on Flipkart's Billion Dollar Sale and an article that appeared in a business daily on the preparations that went into it was published in  DNA on December 29, 2014.This is the full text of the article:An article published on an online news portal (reproduced from a business daily) claimed that "Flipkart's 'Big Billion Day' was planned over more than 700,000 man hours (six months of work put in by 280 people over 14 hours every day) to get the back-end systems ready." This is a stupendous achievement by any yardstick, and all the more creditable given that Flipkart's infrastructure is nothing to scoff at to begin with, and which is rarely known to keel over during traffic surges. Despite all this preparation however, Flipkart didexperience issues during its big sale, which led to its founders issuing a public apology - an act of entrepreneurial humility that was well appreciated by many.The article states that Flipkart "clocked a gross merchandise value (GMV) of $100 million". But what is "GMV"? According to Investopedia, Gross Merchandise Value, abbreviated as GMV, is "The total value of merchandise sold over a given period of time through a customer to customer exchange site. It is a measure of the growth of the business, or use of the site to sell merchandise owned by others." But there is some confusion as to what GMV actually means. This arises from the fact that GMV is not a standard accounting term. For instance, a search for "GMV" or for "Gross Merchandise Value" on the web site of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India throws up zero results. GMV's definition differs based on each e-commerce vendor's assumptions. Therefore, if an item's price is marked at Rs 100, and Flipkart sells ten such items for Rs 70 each, is the GMV 700 or Rs 1000? Let us be generous and assume that GMV refers to the total sale value, before discounts - that would make it easier for Flipkart to claim they clocked in a hundred million dollars in GMV. Plus it is the logical thing to do - from a marketing perspective. Next, the average discount offered at leading e-commerce sites like Flipkart can be 20%, 30%, or even touching 40% in some cases. It is generally understood, that at least for items like books, wholesalers get a discount of 40% off the list price from publishers. This can be lower for other categories of goods like electronics (retailers do not get the Apple iPhone at 40% off the list price - at least one hopes so!), but can be higher for other categories like clothes. Therefore, assuming a discount of 40% (on the higher end), it means that for the hundred million dollars worth of GMV, Flipkart's cost for those goods was 60 million dollars. Assuming they passed off 20% of the GMV as a discount to the end customer - and discounts were generally higher than 20% during that sale period, it leaves them with a gross profit of twenty million dollars, into which they have to squeeze all their costs, to be profitable. Hold that number in your mind for a minute.Let us now take a closer look at the other statement in the article's sub-heading, which says, "Flipkart's 'Big Billion Day' was planned over more than 700,000 man hours (six months of work put in by 280 people over 14 hours every day) to get the back-end systems ready." If Flipkart, as the article claims, took 700,000 man hours (the politically correct phrase would be "person-hours", but we will grant the author of the article some leeway here), that translates to a little over $20 million that the company spent on this sale in getting its network infrastructure scaled up. How? My assumptions are, and there are many, many assumptions here, that the base salary for the F[...]

Vishal Sikka's Appointment as Infosys CEO


My article in the DNA on Vishal Sikka's appointment as CEO of Infosys was published on June 25, 2014.This is the full text of the article:Vishal Sikka's appointment as CEO of Infosys was by far the biggest news event for the Indian technology sector in some time. Sikka was most recently the Chief Technology Officer at the German software giant SAP, where he led the development of HANA - an in-memory analytics appliance that has proven, since its launch in 2010, to be the biggest challenger to Oracle's venerable flagship product, the Oracle Database. With the launch of Oracle Exalytics in 2012 and Oracle Database In-Memory this month, the final chapter and word on that battle between SAP and Oracle remains to be written. Vishal will watch that battle from the sidelines.By all accounts, Vishal Sikka is an extraordinary person, and Infosys has made what could well be the turning point for the iconic Indian software services company. If well executed, five years from now people will refer to this event as the one that catapulted Infosys into a different league altogether. However, there are several open questions, challenges, as well as opportunities that confront Infosys the company, Infoscians and shareholders, that Sikka will need to resolve.First off, is Sikka a "trophy CEO?" There will be more than one voice heard whispering that Sikka's appointment is more of a publicity gimmick meant to save face for its iconic co-founder, Narayan Murthy, who has been unable to right the floundering ship of the software services giant. Infosys has seen a steady stream of top-level attrition for some time, which had only accelerated after Murthy's return. The presence of his son Rohan Murthy was seen to grate on several senior executives, and also did not go down too well with corporate governance experts. Infosys had also lagged behind its peers in earnings growth. The hiring of a high-profile executive like Sikka has certainly restored much of the lost sheen for Infosys. To sustain that lustre, however, he will need to get some quick wins under his belt.The single biggest question on most people's minds is how well will the new CEO adapt to the challenge of running a services organisation. This is assuming that he sees Infosys' long term future in this area of services. Other key issues include reconciling the "people versus products" dilemma. Infosys lives and grows on the back of its ability to hire more people, place them on billable projects that are offshored, and then to keep its salary expenses low - i.e. a volume business with wafer thin margins that are constantly under pressure. This is different from the hiring philosophy adopted by leading software companies and startups around the world - which is to hire the best, from the best colleges, and provide them with a challenging and yet flexible work environment. It should be clear that a single company cannot have two diametrically opposite work cultures for any extended length of time. This, of course assumes, that Sikka sees a future in Infosys beyond labor cost-arbitraged services. Infosys' CEO, in an interview to the New York Times in 2005, had stated that he did not see the company as aspiring beyond that narrow focus. Whether Sikka subscribes to that view or not is a different question.In diversifying, it can be argued that IBM could serve as a model. It has developed excellence in the three areas of hardware, software, and services. But Infosys has neither a presence in hardware - and it is hard to imagine it getting into the hardware business for several reasons - nor does it have a particularly strong software products line of business. There is Finacle, but that [...]

OBIEE Training Site


I was contacted by Seth Williams, who pointed me to this OBIEE training site -, and asked if I would link to it. There is a an online tutorial, as well as a video, on how to create KPIs using OBIEE - How To Use KPIs | OBIEE Online Training Tutorial

I think this is useful, so am posting it to my blog - which, by the way, you would have seen is not being updated regularly. Feel free to browse to the site. Do let Seth and the people at Firebox know what you think of the site and the tutorial.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing the site or the trainings. But you know that.

Junk Viz - When More is Less


There are examples of junk visualizations, and then there are examples of junk charts that just take your breath away.

The Indian news portal,, which describes itself as a "trusted guide to the crush of news and ideas around you", published a story titled Shivraj set for massive victory in Madhya Pradesh: Survey | Firstpost, which has this chart (link to the image) - take a minute to study it. Then study it again. It is no optical illusion or card-trick being played here.
The estimated voteshare of the INC (Indian National Congress) party goes up from 37.6 to 44%, and yet the bar goes DOWN! Ditto for the BJP, whose vote share goes up from 32.4% in 2008 to an estimated 33%, and yet the bar goes DOWN!
If you started to think that the bars had somehow been switched, the third group - BSP - is drawn correctly.
And then you have the "OTHERS" - which plots an estimated vote share of 16% at where the 14% mark would fall.

The maker of this chart should be congratulated for getting so many things wrong in one simple bar chart.

(Thanks to Kumar for first sharing this chart with me.)

OBIEE Bundle Patch Now Available


A new bundle patch for Oracle Business Intelligence became available last week. This is OBIEE Bundle Patch, and is available on the following platforms:
  • HP-UX  Itanium
  • IBM AIX on POWER Systems (64-bit)
  • Linux x86
  • Linux x86-64
  • Microsoft Windows (32-bit)
  • Microsoft Windows (64-bit)
  • Oracle Solaris on x86-64 (64-bit)
It is applicable to all customers running OBIEE versions and

Patch 17530796 - OBIEE BUNDLE PATCH (Patch) is comprised of the following patches, which are not available separately:
  1. Patch 16913445 - Patch (1 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Installer (BIINST)
  2. Patch 17463314 - Patch (2 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Publisher (BIP)
  3. Patch 17300417 - Patch (3 of 8) Enterprise Performance Management Components Installed from BI Installer (BIFNDNEPM))
  4. Patch 17463395 - Patch (4 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Server (BIS)
  5. Patch 17463376 - Patch (5 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Presentation Services (BIPS)
  6. Patch 17300045 - Patch (6 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Presentation Services (BIPS)
  7. Patch 16997936 - Patch (7 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Presentation Services (BIPS)
  8. Patch 17463403 - Patch (8 of 8) Oracle Business Intelligence Platform Client Installers and MapViewer

You will also notice that the bundle patch is now named in a "YYMMDD" format; i.e. the fifth place now tells you when the patch was released. This calendar date numbering scheme has been initiated with the bundle patch.

As usual, please go through the Readme and other instructions before deciding upon an installation schedule and decision.

Monday moods.
Bangalore, Oct 28, 2013

HBR and Junk Charts


Even the best can get it wrong. Only sometimes though, one hopes.
The venerable Harvard Business Review gets data visualizations horribly wrong. They have a post on Facebook where they contrast the costs of cancer treatment in the US and India.

(image) The cost in the US is $22,000 on average, while in India it is shown as $2,900 (I would dispute this figure, as it looks very low).
The ratios is 7.58:1 (22000÷2900)

If you measure the heights of the two circles shown to represent these costs, the ratio comes out to approximately 7.2:1. It is not completely accurate, but it is still close enough that we can ignore it.

However, when using a bubble or circle to compare two values, we are implicitly using the areas of the circles to base our comparison on.
In case you have forgotten your geometry, the area of a circle is Π×r2 (i.e., pi times the square of the radius). Using this, the ratio of the areas of the two circles is 55:1! Yikes.
Put it another way, HBR is saying that if cancer treatment in the US costs $22,000, then in India it should cost $400. Or, if it costs $2900 in India, it should cost $159,500 in the US. Either way, this is wrong.

BI Mobile HD App


Finally got around to writing my long overdue post on the new BI Mobile HD app. To get on with it, without much ado, not to loiter, and all that... here goes.The new BI Mobile HD app, version, can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes App Store (link to app preview page on iTunes).If you already have the BI Mobile HD app installed on your iOS device, you should get an App Store notification on the availability of an upgrade. Note, that since this version is available only for iOS version 6 (and above), if you are running an older version of iOS, you will not get a notification, and will not be able to download it. If you check the Wikipedia iPhone page (link) you will see that the iPhone 3GS and later devices support iOS 6. As far as the iPad device goes, if you check the Wikipedia page (link), iPad 2 and later devices support iOS 6.If you search for it from your supported iOS device, you will find it as the second result. The first is also an Oracle BI app - the Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile app, but that is for OBIEE version The BI Mobile HD app is now a Universal app, and is therefore available on both smartphones and tablets. I will follow up with a post on the iPhone version later (yes, I will). Downloading and installing is a straightforward process. Tap to install. The app size is 16.1MB, and once downloaded, takes a few seconds to install.The single biggest change you will see out of the box once the app launches is the presence of a "demo" server connection. So you can run the app without having to configure a connection. Which is very convenient. Tap to select it and the app will connect to this "OBI Mobile Public Demo Server". This server runs on the Oracle Cloud, and therefore accessible from the public Internet.The second change is that you have a help screen to, err, help, first-time users get familiar with the interface and controls of the app. While the user interface is simple and intuitive, this screen does a good job of summarizing the different ways you can launch and navigate to the different parts of the app.Yes, landscape and portrait orientations are well and truly supported, so flip your device this way and then that.The other point to note is that the panel of menu navigation tabs (check this post on the first iteration of the HD app last year) at the bottom of the app - "Recent", "Favorites", "Dashboards", "Local", and "Search" - have been replaced by a slide-out navigation bar. Also, you can access the "Settings" screen by swiping right.So, if you do launch the "Settings" screen, you will notice several new things. The first is that you can now choose where in the App to begin when you launch it - in the "Recent" tab, or the "Favorites" tab, etc... The second is that you can also choose how your content preview thumbnails should be displayed. That is, apart from the "List" and "Carousel" options that have existed, a third option - "Grid" - has been added. For what it's worth, I find that the grid layout presents more data - especially if you have the preview thumbnails generated for the content.The carousel view continues to be useful to see which content you have accessed most recently, placing it front-and-center on your app. The swipe gesture works as before for navigating through the carousel.Inside your content, you will notice that the Dashboard Page dropdown has been replaced by a touch-enabled flat list. You can tap any page title to switch to that dashboard page, but also swipe left or right to view other pages - [...]