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Precision Farming, or Can a Cow be a Sensor?

Precision Farming, or Can a Cow be a Sensor?

riverOver the weekend, I had a chance to read an excellent book called “A River Runs Again”, by Meera Subramanian. Written in the “sandals on the ground” journalistic style, Subramanian uses fluid prose to document her travels across India and her interviews with various people and entities.

However, this is not just another book, listing the environmental and social issues faced by a developing country. The difference in this book, which is divided into sections based on the Five Elements–  air, earth, water, fire, and ether – is the real life stories of positive change being brought about by organizations and individuals – from conversion back to organic farming to creating a vulture aviary to bring back the Parsi Sky Burial ecosystem…

Though not explicitly stated, these change agents are using technology as a growth enabler – which brings us to “smart farming”. There has been quite a bit of work done around ” smart farming” or “precision agriculture“. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) predicts that the global population will increase to 9.6 billion people by 2050 – and 70% more food needs to be produced to feed that population. Precision agriculture tries to use existing technology like GPS, sensors, big data, IoT and analytics to optimize the crop yields. Even the farm animals play a part, with embedded IoT sensors to reduce the carbon footprint. It does not imply automated farming by machines, but helping the farmer’s gut instinct with intelligent decisioning.

Graphic_Japanese_Farming_v5-01As the author of a report on smart farming states, “I would like to highlight the fact that the aim should not be ‘industrializing’ agriculture, but make agriculture more efficient, sustainable and of high quality. We should not look for revolutions. We should look for re-interpretation of the farming practices through use of data-centric technologies. And this re-interpretation should be placed also within a new vision of rural areas.”

There was another article recently which talks about venture funding for companies using advanced data collection and analytics in agriculture. A good example they give is that of a machine, which can “visually characterize each plant through real-time image capture and processing, use algorithms to determine which portions of the plant to keep and precisely eliminate the portions of the plants that are unwanted.

Their Zea product enables high-throughput, field-based phenotyping. Using computer vision, Zea counts plants, measures plant spacing, builds canopy height distributions and measures key physiological parameters — all based on imagery. In our minds, this is machine learning at its finest…”

The demand is there, and technology is available now. The piece which is missing is to make the technology accessible and affordable for those who need it the most…


3 ways for ISVs to take advantage of their customers’ reduced IT spend

3 ways for ISVs to take advantage of their customers’ reduced IT spend

Yes, you read it right – reduced IT spend

In case you missed it, there were a couple of conflicting reports released by the IT forecasting gurus Gartner and Forrester a few weeks ago.

According to Gartner, “Worldwide IT spending is on pace to total $3.5 trillion in 2015, a 5.5 percent decline from 2014. Analysts attribute the decline to the rising U.S. dollar. In constant-currency terms, the market is projected to grow 2.5 percent. In Gartner’s previous forecast in April, it had forecast IT spending to decline 1.3 percent in U.S. dollars and grow 3.1 percent in constant currency.”

They further add that the Enterprise Software category will see a decline of 1.2% year to year.

Forrester released their report around the same time, but had a differing view: “…spending on software, tech consulting and systems integration services, and tech staff will grow more rapidly in 2015 and 2016 than spending on tech outsourcing, telecom services, and especially computer and communications equipment. This mixture of strong and weak tech sectors, combined with a hot-and-cold US economy, will lead to moderate growth of 5% to 6% increases in tech budgets in 2015 and 2016. For CIOs, these trends will mean much more work with business partners in shaping and guiding the purchases of BT-related software and less scope devoted to the spending on IT where the CIO traditionally had sole or dominant domain…”

innovationOne other interesting trend has been the proliferation of Innovation Centers setup by corporations to understand the impact of emerging technologies on their business models. One recent article talks about 4 in 10 global corporations setting these up to “gain exposure to the latest technologies, vs. striving for a deeper understanding of customers’ needs”.

So what does all this mean for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), who have been supplying indispensable enterprise software for decades to global corporations? How can they keep their status as paid trusted advisers to their clients?

Here are some ideas which our ISV customers are using successfully to stay meaningful for their customers:

  1. Research your customers: Yes, some of your customers may be clamoring for a cloud-native version of your application, but first, you need to look at how your customers are using the application across the board, and think of offering a migration path based on your most critical customers. You may find some of your customers are perfectly happy with a maintained, supported current version vs. an abrupt change – which in turn can help them with a reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  2. Research your customers’ data needs: Yes, IoT is here to stay and is supposed to be a $1.7 trillion market by 2020. But are your customers planning to add IoT sensors and data collection devices (or similar disruptive technologies) over the next five years? Does your application support the potential influx of this massive amount of data? As you can see from the graphic above, IoT is of interest to most global corporations – not for IT cost reduction, but for increased information about their customers, which factored with advanced analytics can provide better solutions for their customers. This potential bump in top line revenue can be used to offset the costs incurred for the additional IT spend.
  3. Embrace open source, cautiously: Yes, your application was written over fifteen years ago, and you want to have cloud-native APIs with the latest NoSQL database, but will your customers pay for the additional cost of refactoring your application? Potentially – if positioned right. One of the biggest benefits of refactoring a legacy application is the potential boost in performance. For example, if you create the new version of the application in layers, taking advantage of virtual operating system layer, a distributed data and storage layer, and cloud-native services such as provisioning, your customers could see a potential boost in performance, which can help them pay for the upgrade.

Adding to all this is the obvious – staying in touch with the advances in technology and offering solutions geared towards the changing IT landscape, while not discounting key areas like security, governance and disaster recovery – which can keep the ISVs still relevant.

More discussion here…

Behind the Curtain: Similarities between Bollywood and Technology Services

Behind the Curtain: Similarities between Bollywood and Technology Services

cropped-posterOn a lazy Saturday afternoon, browsing through my RSS feeds (do people still do that in this age of dynamic newsfeeds from every social media outlet?), I came across an article in LA Times, which talks about the Indian film industry moving beyond Bollywood. I was instantly intrigued, especially since the title was provocative, and I had been thinking about Bollywood and technology after attending a concert by the celebrated Indian music composer, AR Rahman recently (which was sponsored by my employer, Harman)

The article talks about two Indian movies, which have broken into the Top 10 at the U.S. box office this summer: “It is staggering that ‘Baahubali’ opened in just 170 locations in the U.S. andmade over $3 million in a weekend,” Rentrack analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “It was competing with movies that were in two to four thousand locations and yet made it to the top 10 in a sea of summer movies.”

The success of the films mirrors the surge of the Indian American population in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of people of Indian ethnicity grew by nearly 70% between 2000 and 2010 to more than 2.8 million..”.

The article also referenced that the movie was partly successful because of the computer graphics being used at a massive scale. Now fully interested, I started doing more research, and came across two fascinating pieces of work.

BollywoodThe first was a study done on “Uncovering Randomness and Success in Society in 2014, which was featured in MIT Technology Review. In the study, the network scientists tried to do a Bollywood version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and found some interesting correlations.

“…And their network provides some fascinating insight into the nature of the Indian film industry and its links to broader Indian culture as well. It shows not only how combinations of actors have been particularly successful but also how the industry has waxed and waned in response to the broader economic and social conditions in the country at large…”

However, the key paragraph for me was :“…Instead, the best-connected actors turn out to be prominent supporting actors who can take on more projects in a given time period and therefore end up collaborating with a larger number of other actors. That’s similar to the Hollywood network, where prominent supporting actors such as William Hurt and Kevin Bacon are also better connected than superstars such as Tom Cruise and George Clooney…”

boothThe second piece of fascinating work I found by was a book called “Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios by Gregory D. Booth. India‘s prolific film industry, sometimes called Bollywood, produces over 3,000 films a year in multiple languages. Most of these films have music – be it for song and dance sequence actors spontaneously break into, or background scores. Booth traces the journey of making the music with classical instruments in Mumbai‘s studios, to the modern day trend of using samplers and synthesizers to produce music. However, the part which impressed me the most was the immense human and cultural change brought about by introducing technology to something which was considered pure. (A telling interview was with a oboe and English horn player called Indorkar, who is asked to play various notes on his instruments by Rahman – and was never called back by him, as he had him now on his sampler)

The book describes how these musicians worked as a family, in obscurity, to produce some of the most memorable music of the twentieth and twenty first century – a must read for any Bollywood fan…

So what does all this have to do with technology services? In both these cases, the importance of the supporting cast is highlighted – be it actors or musicians – which makes the film or music successful.

In today’s technology projects, with focus on agile processes, cloud infrastructure, always-on interconnected devices and globally distributed teams, we sometime forget that it is the supporting cast which makes the projects successful. We hear platitudes about teamwork everyday – but how many times have we paused to analyze how to make it better.

As Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results…”

Uberization’s new frontier: Auto Sales?

Uberization’s new frontier: Auto Sales?

teslaDisclaimer: I don’t own a Tesla (yet!).

Much has been written about the disruptive business models by companies like Uber and AirBnB. Having used their solutions successfully in three continents, I am a big fan of their services. (Apparently others are too, as we see new terms like “Uberization”, “Sharing economy” and “Peer to peer economy” on a daily basis…)

In fact, there was a recent article about Uberization of air travel, but that is a much more complex undertaking, at least at this point…

I came across an interesting article by Marion Manekar on what the Uberization of the economy is about. The 5 word summary of the article is described in a tweet – “To Uberize, remove the middleman”…

As Maneker puts it, “I don’t think of Uber as a force that dis-intermediates—as we olds used to say—transportation, but one that creates value for itself, its drivers, and its users, by developing a new layer that integrates them all with maximum utility… To me, uberizing meant trapping a series of innovative processes—phone-enabled geo-location, payments and driver management and distribution—into an app-accessible service...”

If you break down the above thesis, the key points are innovative processes riding on existing and new infrastructure, glued together by ever-updating software. In the case of Uber it means using technology like geo-location and smartphone apps, existing government rules around taxis, and financial incentives, coupled with convenience for drivers and riders.

The same software-led revolution is disrupting other industries too – good examples being Apple Pay, Nest and Sonos. All these are taking advantage of our increasing reliance on our smartphones, and their constant connection to the cloud to put less focus on the supporting hardware – resulting in most hardware manufacturers focusing more on software enablement.

Amidst all this comes a new experimental disruption by Tesla – itself a pioneer in the software-enabled car – around auto sales: “Tesla is launching a referral program, where current Tesla owners can create a referral link to share with their friends. Anyone who buys a Tesla via a friend’s link will receive a $1,000 discount on a new Model S. (Used models are not included in the program.) On the flip side, those doing the referring will get a $1,000 credit applied to their account, which could be used to buy service, accessories or put toward any future car purchase.

It goes a bit further. If you manage to sell five Model S sedans, you’ll get an invite to the opening party at the Gigafactory in Nevada, which is sure to be a good time. Sell 10, and you will have the option of purchasing a Founders Series Model X…”

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk calls it a guerrilla battle against auto trading associations – since Tesla is not allowed to sell in every State, they can have their owners “refer” friends, thereby totally bypassing the traditional auto sales channel. But just like Uber, they can use the existing governmental checks and balances in the auto trade transaction to their advantage.

It is yet to be seen how successful this experiment is, but if it is successful, it could be a pre-cursor to tremendous change in every facet of our daily lives.


Four lessons for selling IT services from a Bazaar

Four lessons for selling IT services from a Bazaar

bazaarA man walks into a bazaar…

No, this is not a setup for a joke, but observations from a person forced to sit on the sidelines of a Bazaar – and the lessons learnt from that experience.

First of all, most of you know what a Bazaar is – essentially a network of streets lined with small stalls and shops, selling a variety of products. In fact, I found out that there is a term called the “Bazaar Economy”“… in which a new kind of entrepreneur gathers people and teams together as needed in a business environment that more closely mirrors the fast-moving give and take of the bazaar than the institutions of old. In this Bazaar Economy, the former free agents – who merely sold their individual services – will become a kind of ‘Extrapreneur’: part CEO, part Recruiter, part Partner, part Business Developer, they buy and aggregate the services and goods of others, focusing their efforts on select partnerships with other entrepreneurial groups. By doing so, they create more value, not only for themselves but also for the community around them…”  Interesting.

Most of you have probably been at a Bazaar – be it a middle-eastern souk or your local Church’s fundraiser – and would recognize that there are several common characteristics of Bazaars:

  • They always seem to be bustling
  • Even though there is a mix of vendors and products, there are always several vendors selling similar products
  • Most of these vendors know what the competition is selling the product for – so there is a level of price transparency
  • Some vendors selling the same product are more successful than their competitors
  • Most buyers seem to be satisfied or happy with the purchases they made at the successful vendors – and will give them repeat business

I observed all this while waiting for someone at a Bazaar recently, and with the mind in overdrive with some street masala chai, tried to equate that to what I do – sell IT services…and found that there was a lot of similarity.

  • There are a lot of small and large vendors selling similar IT services
  • Some of these vendors are more successful than others
  • For non-routine services, price is not really a differentiator

So what lessons did I glean by observing people going about their normal way of life for centuries – and applying that to IT services sales in 2015? Most of these are common sense, and we do it unconsciously, but I thought it would be good to publish them for my own benefit…

  1. The more successful vendors used marketing effectively – be it location, presentation of product or use of gimmicks – to attract the buyer’s attention a few seconds longer than their competitors. Equating that to our business, buyers already know what they are looking for, and they would be looking for qualified vendors to satisfy the need. Vendors who figure higher in searches, or add value by offering valuable information or expertise through their web or social presence will get a chance to play.
  2. The more successful vendors had a differentiating factor other than price – for example, there were five vendors selling fruit sitting close to each other. The fruit looked similar, and their prices were similar – then why did one vendor have more buyers than others? That vendor was more confident about his product, and was offering a taste test, as well as a money back guarantee. Lesson learnt – be confident about the skills of your delivery team, and be ready to back up your promises all the way.
  3. The more successful vendors had a repeat clientele – some buyers were walking directly to some of their preferred vendors, ignoring their competitors – even those with a better presentation. Possibly these folks had been buying from these preferred vendors daily or weekly, and had built up a trust factor. They could now go directly to these vendors for their purchases and save time – knowing that they were getting a fair deal and a good product (or if they were buying for someone else, they could be sure that there would be no issues). Key takeaway: relationships matter, and it is easier to win repeat business if your performance is above and beyond expectations – with superior customer service.
  4. The more successful vendors understood the customer needs better and created creative solutions – being in a Bazaar setting, there were a variety of buyers with different needs for the same product. The successful sellers understood what the buyer was looking for, and used their experience and expertise to come up with solutions to satisfy those specific needs. This is key for selling IT services – understand the scope fully, know the timing and focus on how you can make the buyer look good in his or her superior’s eyes.

Needless to say, every moment is a learning experience…



Using #facebook to contact your #physician?

Using #facebook to contact your #physician?

getty_465291919_970647970450054_52432When was the last time you contacted your physician through facebook?

Don’t worry – you are not alone.. a recent study found that of a sample of 2,500 CVS Pharmacy customers, 37% reported contacting their physician via email and 18% through facebook.

As the study quotes, Patients were interested in using Web-based tools to fill prescriptions, track their own health, and access health information (37–57 %), but few were currently doing so (4–8 %)…”

So why is this the case, when patient-physician communications are so important, and have shown to have a direct impact on outcomes and patient satisfaction?

There are several reasons which the study cites: policy, security and patients’/physicians’ comfort with social media.

“This study tells us that for most patients, healthcare isn’t quite ready for the future,” Joy Lee, one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post.

In fact, there’s something of a patient engagement paradox in healthcare, Lee said.

“On the one hand, doctors, policymakers, and researchers often talk about the need to engage patients,” she explained. On the other hand, many patients are already engaged — in Facebook and other online communities. Yet instead of embracing this connection, medicine is preoccupied with confidentiality and drawing professional boundaries.

However, with the recent trends towards telemedicine and connected health, a lot could be changing in a short period in this arena from a provider and payer perspective.

Telemedicine is being promoted as the next big thing in healthcare, with a saving of almost $100 per routine visit, and some projecting it to be a $5 billion business in the next five years. In addition, several technologies are helping bolster the trend: faster networks, powerful connected devices, IoT, and patients’ expertise with messaging. In addition to multiple startups, established companies like NEC have jumped into the field, with telemedicine offerings geared towards specific industries like education and hospitality.

Connected health is defined as “Connected health aims to maximize healthcare resources and provide increased, flexible opportunities for consumers to engage with clinicians and better self-manage their care. It uses technology – often leveraging readily available consumer technologies – to deliver patient care outside of the hospital or doctor’s office. Connected health encompasses programs in telehealth, remote care (such as home care) and disease and lifestyle management, often leverages existing technologies such as connected devices using existing cellular networks and is associated with efforts to improve chronic care.”

Which brings us back to the use of social media in patient-physician communications going forward. A very interesting infographic in Adweek (calling it “Peer to Peer Health”) may provide clues: “More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health…”. 

Add to that the fact that more payers are now moving towards outcome based payments, it is logical to assume that we should see an explosion in the use of social media for patient-physician communications, using newer apps or solutions built on foundations of established platforms like facebook and twitter.

As Lee says, “Many patients are interested in [these services] but few are actually using them — possibly because patients don’t know they’re available,” Lee said. “Doctors and health care organizations should take steps to publicize and educate patients of these opportunities. Either way, it starts with a conversation between patients and doctors on how they prefer to communicate online.”

Three ways why a Salesperson is a Monk and a Warrior

Three ways why a Salesperson is a Monk and a Warrior

Concept art by Christopher Stoll

“Sorry, we selected the other vendor…”

That is a phrase every salesperson has been told multiple times – and every time, for most salespeople, it leads (or at least it should!) to emotions like disappointment, guilt or intense introspection. So why do we continue in this profession, versus something which can provide a steady, predictable income and emotional balance?

As part of the sales journey, most salespeople try to go through training, or at least read some of plethora of material available on good sales strategy. After over fifteen years in sales and sales management, my opinion is that “cookie-cutter” sales training is ineffective – it should be more customized based on a person’s psychology. However, there are some good books based on research, which can provide pathways.

One such book I was perusing inspired the title for this post: Warrior Sales Monk: Heart of a Warrior, Soul of a Monk, Mind of a Professional by Todd Zaugg.

Sales, they say, is one of the oldest human professions. Everyone is selling something – looks, emotions, products – but don’t call it selling…maybe call it the “art and skill of persuasive communications”. As Zaugg quotes, “Selling is the art of influencing people to do what is in their best interest”. Then what is the connection of a salesperson to a Monk, who by definition is a person who dedicates their life to service and contemplation, or to a Warrior, who is a person specializing in combat or warfare?

Zaugg’s research showed that top-performing salespeople exhibited characteristics of part-Warrior and part-Monk. History shows that most successful warriors, from Samurais to Special Forces, were committed to a higher purpose and had the courage to charge into situations fraught with potential of failure. The Monk’s main traits are empathy and service. Combine the two, add a higher purpose than hitting quota, and you have an unbeatable sales machine…

So how would I characterize the three ways one could use the Monk and the Warrior in them to be a better salesperson?

1. Believe in the Cause: Why are we selling? Because we know that people have a need for the product or services you can offer. Why are you or your company best suited to satisfy that need? Make sure you believe in the answer to that question, because that will drive the level of perception and trust of your customer. In addition, believe in your definition of success – which comes back to why are you selling?

2. Believe in Yourself: Be positive. Failures are part of the job – take each of them as a learning experience. Everyone has traits of being a Warrior and Monk – which part and how much of each trait you develop and channel will shape your personality, passion, and selling style.

3. Believe in Experiences: Every moment in our personal and professional life is trying to teach us something. The ancient Chinese treatise, Art of War by Sun Tzu, states that “…strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment; but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations…”. The environment around us is changing at an unprecedented pace – how can we satisfy the customer’s needs while believing in the cause and being aware of the changing landscape?

As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances…”. If your chosen profession of sales is the play being enacted on this stage, it is up to you to define how well you act the part…

Why are companies focusing on Millennials?

Why are companies focusing on Millennials?

17MILLENNIALS-master180It’s yet another play in the millennial mania that is overtaking all manner of businesses, and seems to be getting more obsessive by the day. Not since the baby boomers came of age has a generation been the target of such fixation.

But this has a 21st-century style of urgency — with 24/7 micropandering, psychographic analysis, a high-priced shadow industry of consultants and study after study. (A few from recent days: how luxury brands can connect with millennials; what millennials think about restaurant loyalty programs; and which emotions most influence the purchasing decisions of millennials. Answer: anxiety and empowerment.)

Read more…

9 Powerful Life Lessons from Studying with a Monk

9 Powerful Life Lessons from Studying with a Monk

MonkInteresting observations…

One which is related to my field:

3. Real wisdom in life comes from doing something and failing.

Prior to starting meditation, I used to get upset when I’d try something and fail.

I’ve been in sales since I was sixteen. I remember going to work and getting so angry with myself because I didn’t get a sale. If I ever got rejected, I’d get upset with myself, and I’d want to quit my job. But I just keep failing over and over—until I became good at it.

I remember, when I first started doing meditation, I ran into several problems. For example, at first it was difficult to calm down; but if you stick with it, its gets easier and easier. I tried for only a few minutes, and then every day, I added more time onto my meditation.

When we struggle, we learn about ourselves and what we need to do to become stronger.

Read more…


The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media

The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media

#4: Overreact

Business owners and marketers who are using social media for the first time in order to promote their business, or interacting with the general public through social media for the first time, have to quickly adapt to the negative nature that accompanies much of the engagement on social networks. It’s important to not overreact to rudeness or negative comments from people on the social channel. If a business owner loses their cool inside a physical store, it’s only seen by the people who happen to be there at the time. With social media, an overaction can go viral and cause a lot of damage to a brand or a person’s online reputation