Thursday, October 01, 2015

Rise of the Robots - Review

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 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.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Flipkart, ecommerce, machine learning, and free advice

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:
  1. Flipkart vs Amazon: Beware the Whispering Death - 20th April '15 (blog, dna)
  2. Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy - 18th April '15  (blog, dna)
  3. Mobile advertising and how the numbers game can be misleading - 14th April '15  (blog, dna)
  4. 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.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Creepy Dolls - A Technology and Privacy Nightmare!

This post was first published on LinkedIn on 20th May, 2015.

"Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?"[1]  Fans of the horror film genre will surely recall these lines - innocent-sounding on their own, yet bone-chilling in the context of the scene in the movie - that Chucky, the possessed demonic doll, utters in the cult classic, "Child's Play". Called a "cheerfully energetic horror film" by Roger Ebert [2], the movie was released to more than a thousand screens on its debut in November 1988 [3]. It went on to spawn at least five sequels and developed a cult following of sorts over the next two decades [4].

Chucky the doll
(image credit:
In "Child's Play", Chucky the killer doll stays quiet around the adults - at least initially - but carries on secret conversations with Andy, and is persuasive enough to convince him to skip school and travel to downtown Chicago. Chucky understands how children think, and can evidently manipulate - or convince, depending on how you frame it - Andy into doing little favours for him. A doll that could speak, hear, see, understand, and have a conversation with a human in the eighties was the stuff out of science fiction, or in the case of "Child's Play" - out of a horror movie.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Flipkart and Focus 4 - Beware the Whispering Death

The fourth part of my series on Flipkart and its apparent loss of Focus and its battle with Amazon appeared in DNA on April 20th, 2015.

Part 4 – Beware the Whispering Death
Monopolies may have the luxury of getting distracted. If you were a Microsoft in the 1990s, you could force computer manufacturers to pay you a MS-DOS royalty for every computer they sold, irrespective of whether the computer had a Microsoft operating system installed on it or not[1]. You dared not go against Microsoft, because if you did, it could snuff you out – “cut off the oxygen supply[2]”, to put it more evocatively. But if you are a monopoly, you do have to keep one eye on the regulator[3], which distracts you. If you are not a monopoly, you have to keep one eye on the competition (despite what Amazon may keep saying to the contrary, that they “just ignore the competition”[4]).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Flipkart and Focus 3 - There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy

The third in my series on Flipkart and focus appeared in DNA on April 18th, 2015.

Part III – There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy
Why do so many companies hanker after apps? Smartphone apps, tablet apps, iOS apps, Android apps, app-this, app-that….
Leave aside for a moment the techno-pubescent excitement that accompanies the launch of every new technology (if you are not old enough to remember words like “client-server[1]”, then “soa[2]” will surely sound familiar enough). Every Marketing 101 course drills into its students that acquiring a new customer is way costlier than retain an existing. Loyal customers (leaving aside the pejorative connotation the word “loyal” carries, implying that customers who shop elsewhere for a better deal are of dubious moral character) are what you should aspire to – that keep buying from you for a longer period of time[3] – and which allows you to refocus your marketing and advertising dollars towards the acquisition of newer customers, faster. If you spend less on unnecessary discounts and expensive retention schemes then margins from existing customers are automatically higher.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

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

The second part of my series of articles on why I believed Flipkart was at losing focus, at the wrong time, when faced with its most serious competition to date. This one focused on why a fascination with mobile advertising numbers could be very misleading.
It was published in DNA on April 14, 2015.

The Numbers Game Can be Very Misleading
According to the Internet Trends report of 2014, mobile internet advertising spend grew 47% year-on-year in 2013 to reach $12.7 billion, or 11% of the total global internet advertising spend. This mobile ad spend number was about 32 per cent of total mobile app revenues of $38 billion. Clearly mobile ad spend has been growing several times faster than non-mobile ad spend.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has been stunningly successful in growing its mobile revenues. So much so that “In the final three months of 2014, Facebook served 65% fewer ads than a year earlier, but the average cost of those ads to advertisers was 335% higher.[i]” As much as $2.5 billion in Facebook’s annual revenues came from these mobile ads – shown on smartphones or tablets. So successful has Facebook been in making money from selling these mobile ads that it “launched its in-app mobile ad network” in 2014[ii] to sell ads within other apps,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

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 I
Among 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.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

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:

A Billion Dollar Sale, And A Few Questions, by Abhinav Agarwal, published in DNA, Dec 29 2014
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.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

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

Friday, October 25, 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.

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)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

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.