Thursday, August 24, 2006

Today’s Holy Grail: The perfect offering

In todays enterprise solutions world, what is the best offering? That is the latest grail quest that CEOs are on. There’s installed software, hosted software, outsourced services, outsourced support, on-demand software, upfront licensing, integration partners, value added services, etc, etc, etc.. Companies are trying to mix and match all these concepts to offer the perfect offering. Offerings have become more and more complex because of this. You can use installed software managed by yourself, but with outsourced support or even occasional outsourced services to help you through the bad times.


In this concoction of offerings, how important is the software? Well, it depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. If you’re trying to automate a process, say HR, then it’s very important that you have a software that has features to fit your processes and not a software that you have to fit your processes around. I recently heard that a leading daily in the middle east implemented SAP and used it as a publicity standpoint that they were now automated by SAP, however when someone called up and wanted to book advertising space 3 months in advance, they couldn’t do it. Why? Their software didn’t support it.
However if you’re trying to purchase analysis/intelligence/expertise based solutions, then the software isn’t as important. All you need is software that’s flexible enough so that when given to a few smart people, magic can be woven.


Firstly, when I mean services I don’t mean support services as in bugfixes, hot patches, feature developments, etc. I mean professional services like implementation, analysis, recommendations and the ability to provide expert opinions and strategies for your problems. These services tend to be ongoing in nature. How important are these services?

Again, if you’re automating a process, the services you’ll be most looking for is implementation and change management unless you take on that to do it yourself. It might also be worthwhile to tag on process redesign and such higher value services if you’re really looking for value add to your organization.
If you’re purchasing analysis/intelligence/expertise based solutions, you should be looking for such services and it may make more sense to invest in a solution that provides you with the end result rather than the software or the tools to perform it.


Support is the one thing that can differentiate predominantly software based offerings. They tend to produce that extra perception of value if your support has quick response and is able to provide a little more than what’s their domain of expertise. Support staff should be encouraged to move forward and understand the business more so that they may add more and more value to the client.

So having said all this, how does a company go about designing a perfect offering? Because in today’s world the design of the offering is more important than the design of the software or the expertise of the services. I’d say design your offering based on the business that you’re in. Higher the value, the more you should lean towards services. The more automation related the solution is the stronger your product functionality should be. A continually improving support organization will always lend value. Segment your market and ensure that you provide offerings that are affordable and relevant to all your target segments. We need to identify what is most important to what segments. To some segments the final business value added is what’s most important to them. Usually large companies that don’t really consider small software costs as a burden on their finances are that way. They need to see how your company is providing value and they’ll willingly give you more business. To some segments pricing and cash flow are most important since each IT purchase is a huge expense to their firms. You need to be flexible in your pricing and ongoing fees on such segments. To some segments speed of implementations are important because they go in with a specific objective to get the new solution up and running before some milestone.

It is quite a challenge developing the perfect offering, or maybe there’s another way out. Don’t create an offering. Create a set of guidelines on pricing/timelines/resource usage and train your sales people to weave a solution for each customer only keeping in mind that those guidelines are not violated. So create a specialized offering for each customer.

Whatever you do, never underestimate the customer. Today’s customer whether he/she’s buying a 5 rupee matchbox or a multi million dollar ERP solution is an intelligent and in the very least an informed customer. Do not try and convince him about value which doesn’t exist. Even if you get away with it at first, it’ll always come back to bite you.

Maximum City

Bombay.. or Mumbai.. No! Bombay!!... The city that I’m physically attracted to. That living, breathing (well coughing atleast) metropolis is more alive to me than Shah Rukh bloody Khan. It’s the city in which I’ve spent only six of my 24 or allegedly 33 years. Yet, that’s where I feel at home. Stuffed along with 6 others in 1 square metre of space in a local train on my way to Macdees to eat the angrej ka khaana, eating shejwaaan noodals on a roadside as a truck from Punjab sprays some of mere desh ki dharti on my plate, and peeing from the top of a cliff in the hills of Powai after a night of Whisky, vodka, rum, brandy and does-it-matter??

This is my city. Although, 20 million others feel exactly the same way, that feeling is not as overwhelming in any other city, not even Dubai where I spent most of my life. Anything is possible here. As Rahul Bose recently put it. Ho jayega saab.

The book Maximum City is about my city! Suketubhai as Chotta Shakeel calls him has woven an excellent narrative and you find yourself waiting for the next story he’s about to tell about the wonderful monstrosity that is Bombay. He goes from talking to Hindu rioters during the ‘92-’93 riots and then moves on to the Muslims who were involved in the ’93 bomb blasts. The Shiv Sena, the tinseltown of Bombay, the red light districts and the dance bars.

He portrays every narrative as an example of how that section of people are spoiling the city. His beautiful Bombay of his childhood. Sanjay Dutt, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Bal Thackeray and Amitabh all have their roles. The strangest feeling however is when he narrates incidents that occur close to where I’ve been. Sakinaka, Kandivali, Mira Road, the Taj, Goregaon and Jogeshwari, they’re as close to me as my neighbours next door. I might have run into Suketu or even better his characters during one of my sojourns.

A very bold book in the least, Suketu has written it as he saw it. It’s not for the weak of stomach though, there are quite graphic scenes around murders, riots, rapes, etc.. There are very few non-fiction books that can keep you turning pages or make you read continually from 7 in the morning to 9:30 at night and still want more.

I won’t end with the cliché ‘A book for every bombayite’, but definitely worth a read. Brings you crashing down to earth!

Can Free Will be debated?

Recently an article described an experiment in which researchers found that when a human was asked to perform some task based on his own conscious will, the part of his brain that is known to support conscious thought became active only a after a miniscule amount of time after his motor actions had already begun. Big deal? Well it is.. This essentially suggests that conscious thought is an aftereffect rather than a cause of any action that a human performs. Let me give an example. Suppose you wanted to swat a fly that was pestering you. This suggests that even before you thought of swatting it, your hands have already moved to try and swat it. The timeframe being miniscule probably gives the feeling of simultaneity.

This throws a whole world of questions open. If conscious thought is an aftereffect what is it that’s controlling our actions? Is fate and destiny, long thought as beneath us scientific minds, the true answer? Is all the world really a stage and us merely actors playing out the seven stages of life? Is it some supernatural power that’s really controlling us? GOD? Elvis? Or maybe the answer is more complex – “The choice is yours to make, but you must understand Neo, you have already made the choice”

The question then comes what happens to the “Self”. That entity that has been so well described in hindu philosophy as the mass of consciousness, that thingy that you can see in your own eye in a mirror and as your third eye allegedly on your forehead. The solution may lie in Hindu philosophy itself. Studying it in more detail, we come to understand that the concept of the individual ‘self’ (atman) in every person is only a stepping stone to the understanding of brahman, the global self. (well universal actually, somehow our Hindu philosophical forefathers didn’t believe in dealing in anything smaller than the universe.. That was left to the lesser mortals like Copernicus, Galileo and the whole western civilization so fascinated by our earth that they made it the center of the universe). The universal self is nothing but one huge mass of consciousness. This mass of consciousness begins to delude itself and hence is created the magic of our universe. Trees, animals, Glennfidditch Whiskey, tooth brushes, IPods, women, Hindu philosophy itself, respect, love, terrorism, Calvin and Hobbes and the internet. So it essentially states that we are all part of one greater self and our actions and emotions are actually of that greater self, and we’re just playing it out. In such a conjecture, this might be consistent with the greater implications of the researchers experiments.

Let’s think more locally now. Try to mentally construct a system where free will does not exist. That means everyone is looking for input to perform actions. Hence atleast one of those sources needs to have free will himself/herself. Two examples comes to mind. One, Slavery. In a slavery based system a master actually instructs his slaves, how to perform. Such a system is however doomed unless one can demonstrate a clear superiority of the master over his/her subjects. Caste/Class/Color/Creed superiority eventually wears away as the slaves think more. The only superiority you can have hence, has to be magical! Moreover the slaves perform their duties because of a fear of retribution. Hence it’s more a case of suppression of free will rather than absence of it.

Second, a professor of psychology called Millikan, after the Nuremburg trials tried to test the effect of authority on peoples ability torture other people. His findings were amazing. A large majority of people, although not cruel in their daily lives continued to torture others because of strong authoritarian inputs. This is something many Nazi war criminals have pleaded for, that it wasn’t really them being cruel during the holocaust, but it was the effect of the authority of Adolf Hitler. In this case as well, the question is on free will. The Nazi generals, although free men themselves under Hitler, could be coerced into performing such unimaginable acts of inhumanity. Not a great example of free will.

Well, all I can say is that life has become eerie. Am I writing this blog? Who’s making me do it? The love that I feel inside me, for my family, for my work, for my country; the thing that’s so strong that I can almost feel it as a physical object. Is it just a set of directions issued to me? But then my feelings for my love itself might be a direction? Well I don’t know anything any more… Stupid researchers, who gives them money to do all this stuff..