Why existing estimation tools are not realistic for Digital Project Estimation

Why existing estimation tools are not realistic for Digital Project Estimation

by Bollapragada Sairam, Rajesh Mohandas, Dattatreya Rao, & Ravi Pandikunta

Digital for some executives is primarily about the technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But, the variation results in piecemeal initiatives and misguided efforts.

Industry experts have started to believe that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things … this creates complexities with respect to estimation, how can one estimate and cost a concept. In digital projects “basic concept” is a starting point for estimation, or at least an idea, but it’s loose and not particularly well defined. Sometimes that’s because there hasn’t been time to develop it or there simply isn’t the ‘appetite’ from the creative to think through the detail.

Unlike traditional development parameters, the Digital World carries many more and they are unique in nature, variety of products, applications, data bases, technologies, middle-wares, hosting types and the entire eco system. Few more elements such as, sensors/devices, platform/infrastructure, testing, integration, security, scalability, robustness, seamlessness are multi folded efforts in development.

 

Some cost estimation models used in software development today are

Cost Model Description Best Fit Environment Formula type
COCOMO Constructive Cost Model Large corporate and government software projects, including embedded firmware Logarithmic
COSYSMO Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model Large corporate and government projects, including embedded firmware and hardware Logarithmic
FP Function Points Software projects of all sizes, mainly desktop OS based platforms Linear
WMFP Weighted Micro Function Points Commercial software projects of all sizes and environments, including embedded firmware Linear
REVIC REVised Intermediate COCOMO Large military software projects, including embedded firmware Logarithmic

Some typical challenges with traditional estimation techniques in software development:

Unlike other industries, here often the estimates are done with partial data and sometimes with incorrect data, too. Several techniques / tools have been introduced over the years to make the process systemic and not a gut-based guesstimate. However, lapses still occur and this is still one of the toughest to-dos for a project. Following are few more parameters

  1. Poor design: Poor design results in unnecessary code tweaking and heavy-duty maintenance applying pressure on schedules.
  2. Not splitting the tasks enough: Most common method is to split project tasks into a WBS, but sometimes they are not broken enough to be conceptualized with clarity.
  3. Top to bottom scheduling: This is a practical problem one needs to deal with. Instead of doing bottoms-up estimation, most projects start with – “I need this done in 6 months” and then a work breakdown is done where the task estimates are retrofitted inside these 6 months.
  4. Factoring the dependencies right: Often, an external dependency or a decision point is missed-out causing the project to suffer, this is “coordination neglect”.
  5. Factoring right buffer: This is a common challenge and there is no simple formula here.
  6. Analogous Estimation Risk: Often, project estimates are done based on an expert judgment or from past projects’ experience. While picking an analogy and mapping the estimate might seem like an intuitive thing to do, it’s often risky because of the numerous variables in a project and the unique elements and dependencies, the people involved and their skillset, diverse tools and technologies adopted and the infrastructure and resources in place.
  7. Ignoring Team Capacity: There is a lot of debate about what unit or estimates need to be factored – should we measure complexity, time or effort? Irrespective of what unit is followed, many Project Managers tend to ignore considering their team’s capacity. It seems obvious that different people would take different time to code, but when we draw estimates, we come up with a standard effort estimate.

One other challenge is not only the technology but also the periphery elements on the topology, network, security and emerging areas like Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous vehicles, Cloud Manufacturing and 3d Printing, IoT and Connected Devices, Robots, Drones, and social media platforms couple with decisions on the emerging approaches like DevOps, Dockers, Microservices etc… add further complications into the estimation cycle.

Changing expectations from the customer are forcing service providers and manufacturers into a hyper personalization spiral, thus adding cost pressures. In these cases, the technology needed to solve our problem is well established indeed; in fact, it’s possibly the most important technical innovation in the history of humanity ranging from B2B, B2C, B2M, C2C etc…

The players in the market too have made the situation complex, though each provider promotes “On Demand and Pay as you Go” models the terms and conditions are quite different, for example the pricing metric in case of AWS is number of messages, Cisco looks at Cellular, GE bills on number of instances, IBM looks at data ingested and bills accordingly, Microsoft costing is depended on Number of messages, devices and feature set while SAP looks at an annual fixed subscription model and there are many more such elements to consider in your costing model…

The exponential growth in the technology as well as diversification of the same, new solution components, hyper-personalization, and other needs, all mushrooming towards building of modern solutions; but one cannot ignore that there is a dire need for building standard cost estimation frame-works where the conventional methods cannot be afforded….

The THREE “R”s as outcomes of Automation!!

The THREE “R”s as outcomes of Automation!!

By Sairam Bollapragada

IT has been predominant for its people and associated costs. People have been the epicenter of all the transformation/automation and the benefits measured have always hovered around the people, the efforts, their packages and associated costs.

These are the days of automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and introduction of robotics. We are creating digital workforce, in a big way to transform the way we deliver solutions and services today.  Due to cost pressures, many times, evidently the quantitative savings take advantage over the qualitative ones. The more demanding clients do not budge on either.

The bi-modal approach on what you can do better with our existing work in your scope as well as what else you can do with our other work with other vendors is becoming a natural ask by clients. This then creates the platform to compete and who brings what to the table matters. While everybody seems to be selling the concepts and ideas, the rollouts from adoption is slow as indicated by a recent report. Hence, the benefits slowly reflected in the books.

Many a times, the teams are not able to articulate the savings and calculate on how do we arrive at the magical savings number and translate that to dollars. The efforts thus required to deliver the same service with the productivity improvements should lead to benefits that can needs to be captured and reflected.

All the benefits can be thus, categorized into THREE R’s that relate to the people aspect as follows:

  1. R1: Resize: when transformation/automation saves engineering effort and hence the cost of solution/delivery drops, you can release few team members. This resized team can deliver the same volume of work or keeping the same team size can take up more work. In typical annuity projects, one can re-plough the saved effort to create additional work in terms of additional tickets or CRs, either with no drop in revenue or additional revenue.

 

  1. R2: Restructure: while betting big on outcomes of automation, one can expect the productivity of the team as a whole to gain upward momentum. This should lend the capability of the higher end of the pyramid to delegate the some of, if not all their tasks to the lower band teammates. This is a true indicator of productivity improvement.

 

  1. R3: Resite : In all engagements, many times we come across mandatory set of tasks that should be done onsite or at client’s site. Transformations/Automations can also bring in the capability to move those tasks offshore bringing down the cost of solution or engagement. This may add to your bottom lines or you may choose to pass on the benefits to the clients. Whichever way, more presence of tasks at offshore has always been a strong indicator of confidence levels of delivery as well as capability of the team.

However, when it comes to benefits @ R1 or R2, there is strong feeling that it only leads to job loss. Positively put, it can aso mean the higher band resources can be released (and if they are very capable) where they can be deployed for account mining or/and other transformational consultant roles to demonstrate technical prowess or thought leadership in different areas – both  focused at increasing the footprint from growth standpoint.

If we don’t embrace automation/transformation, somebody else may move your cheese. Till the outcomes hit the financial books, the last mile is not accomplished….so, we must compel ourselves to drive these market-mandated changes, as long as the choice is still with us….

The Need for Intelligent Command Control Center for Robots (IC3R)

By Sairam Bollapragada & Rajesh Mohandas

It is predicted that the industry economy whether IT or non-IT, will go full throttle in the upcoming FY 2017-18 to create a financial realization called autonomics – unlocking the potentials  of robots that are being conceived. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, within a couple of years that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity. (Source: The Economist) However, the outcomes as suggested by many big market research houses have not been up to the desired expectations. With the things heating up around automation and artificial intelligence/RPA, we can foresee that we will be very soon seeing an increasing need to have some solid controls in place.

The Industry economy in the coming days will create a financial realisation called autonomics – unlocking the potentials of robots that are being conceived and driven towards this direction. However, the outcomes as suggested by many big market research houses have not been up to the desired expectations. With the things heating up around automation and artificial intelligence/RPA we can foresee that we will be very soon seeing an increasing need to have some solid controls in place. Today, the market is focused on Industrial Networks, Industrial Robots, Machine Vision, Control Valves/Devices, Field Instruments, Enclosures and Cables.  Each of these components have an IT and a Non-IT element with technology landscape consisting of SCADA, PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers), PAC (Programmable Automation Controllers), RTU(Remote Terminal Units), DCS (Distributed Control Systems), MES (Manufacturing Execution System), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), HMI(Human Machine Interface), and above all Safety.

While creating new technical solutions every day and getting excited with it, we are probably too casual on the flip side of the consequences. Lets focus on the negatives for a moment – what if an unmanned vehicle had a bad bug? or what if the programming in the automated manufacturing plants were intercepted/hacked altering the desired behavior or leading to disturbing outcomes?, it can become a nightmare!! For example a recent crash involving Uber Technologies Inc. driverless car suggests autonomous software sometimes takes the same risks as the humans it may one day replace. While we are creating bots at an unprecedented speed and passion, we may also need to secure these advancements through a control mechanism, which will help us to have the desired outcomes, intact. The technological singularity will compel us to start thinking on automatic recovery with deep machine learning capacity.

Hence, are we talking about having a Command Control Mechanism to protect the desired outcomes of all the automated bots whether Soft or hard? The answer is yes. We need to soon develop and establish command control centres for a set of digital work force you want to monitor on a continuous basis to ensure they are aligned to the expected behavior patterns. In fact, there should be a proper set of guidelines issued by the state agencies before allowing any robot to go commercial in the market. The audit and strictures will help control the release of un-certified or Rogue robots. This would be especially true with the craze of smart cities catching up like around the globe. The creation of the digital twin space is also something that must be looked into seriously for potential disruption.

A command control center will help in creating a centralized monitoring service which will track monitor and report the behavior of these bots while positively looking at it, it could also lend performance improvements towards the desired outcomes. What with the introduction of aggressive mind-control technology and Drones we should have a proper access control on this technology based robots. A C3 with an end-to-end visibility across robots with real-time rolling view to help us have a central control of work schedules, job cards, execution, and support for various robotic activities

While the support for high availability/disaster recovery and network load balancing is the intent, the central control mechanism, will be mandated to have a cyber-cop kind of functionality. For example, while monitoring the bunch of UV Cars, suppose an unmanned vehicle on road was malfunctioning, one should have the ability(or create one) to monitor it in real time and stop the functioning of the engine remotely to avoid any major disaster.

A secure central monitoring system laced with analytics, could be enabled through the log base where robots pass on every information pertaining to each activity they are instructed to perform. With this much of an information being logged, one can get a deep insight into the business and the activity patterns being conducted by or through robots. With so much of information at our disposal one can really create a very good analytics use case to understand and comprehend the behavior of these robots as they are unleashed into the market.

The global industrial automation market is extremely fragmented due to the presence of several players in the global market. Some of the leading players operating in the global market are ABB Ltd., FANUC Corporation, Honeywell International Inc., Toshiba Machine Corporation Ltd., Yokogawa Electric Corporation, Emerson Electric Company, General Electric Company, Yaskawa Electric Corporation, Rockwell Automation, Inc., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, and Voith GmbH.

However, while doing a cherry pick of the best of the lot or robots to make their organizations more productive and efficient, we hope that the focus will begin from creating a solid Intelligent Command Control Center upfront to monitor, maintain, track and continuously do course correction for these disparate bots – soft and hard alike. The industrial control and factory automation is projected to reach USD 153.30 Billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 4.88% during the forecast period and hence the emphasis. The state agencies must work towards evolving policy guidelines within and beyond for all entities looking to employ the automation-Digital bots effectively.

Digital Transformation: Looking Outside for a Change Agent?!

-By Sairam Bollapragada

Every Organization is wanting to go Digital but having its own share of challenges on route to the Digital Transformation. The struggle is not so much with technology which is a given. The challenge is with the DNA of the organization which has been in existence for more than 2 decades and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) have got ingrained into the constituents of the organization. Change is a hard reality and people naturally resist. The resistance is not just about the change, but is more about being compelled to accept the change pushing them off their comfort zones.

When we talk about digital transformation, it is about the journey straddled with the change in human behavior, the cultural change, the change in communication, the change in offerings, the change in skill-sets needed to service the digital client, the change in mindset and leadership, etc. Change happens one step at a time but here we need to bring in a phenomenal change across the organization- many steps at once, across the skills, the mindset, the ways in which we plan and execute, the way we design and create the solutions for the future, etc.

While everyone is aware of the benefits, lets refresh the salient 5 benefits here:

  1. 63% improved customer satisfaction
  2. 49% increased lead generation
  3. 75% lift in engagements
  4. 46% better client conversations
  5. 53% higher traffic

 

Some facts and figures to refresh the challenges to Digital transformation journey: While 35% of the companies are >80% digital, 68% are hoping to reach there in the next 5 years; while 39% of the challenges are in establishing the right operational and governance model, 39% are around evolving the company culture; as common drivers, 50% evolve around customer expectations, while 45% are due to rapidly changing competition in the market; and the list continues…

Let’s look at 5 Digital Strategy points (one should look for while stepping into the digital strategy):

  1. A Digital Strategy positioning Technology as a potential differentiator:

Digital is more about how fast an organization is able to adapt to the changing expectations of the market and prove you have the sustaining technological ability and agility to change at that speed. Hence a good and sound strategic plan to prepare the organization for the upcoming technological change that is not only vital but absolutely critical for survival. 80% of the companies report that their companies are getting processes and tools to expedite Digital roadmap, but actually only 46% aim to overhaul customer services. Digital is a space where Technology can both be a solution and a problem.

  1. The CxOs would need to lead from the front: The leaders must play a very critical role in this Change management with nothing less than absolute involvement to demonstrate their willingness to learn and drive the change themselves. The leaders must spend a lot of time with the digital strategy team to understand the context and lead the future blueprint from the front. Every part of the organization must be so synchronized in the blueprint, that it would become a seamless means of accomplishing the singular organizational Digital objective! Though 88% of companies report undergoing Digital transformation, actually only around 29% have mapped digital customer journey and know where they stand.
  1. Create an Organization structure that will be built for Speed, Agility and innovation: Decision making should be given top priority and right people should be moved to the right positions in order to create a very strong sustainable structure – challenging the traditional and the obvious challenging organization constituents and their conventional standard operating procedures. One should target to remove all the potential silos (read threat) not allowing the politics of the organization to hamper the future prospects and final successful end-goals. As an organization every client wants you to innovate uniquely and exclusively for them. Hence the need to pick the right (enabled)leaders who can take smart quick and compelling decisions, though hard, in a very timely fashion.
  1. Outside in view: For two plus decades now, the IT industry has been working in a community manner which has built very strong intertwining relationships between team members with various flavors of emotions, bonding, sentiments and strong linkages. However, the casualty of such organization is its being detrimental in the transformation. Hence to bring in required changes, professionals with immense unlearning and re-incarnation mindset are the need of the hour. Hiring/positioning creative consultants or even workforce, with innovative mindset is more critical than just the experience. This is more observed in larger entities where the larger and longer the team’s existence, the harder to resistance to change.
  1. Cultural change: The thinking of the new generation which has channeled so many startup entities around is a mix of forceful strategy, fearless thinking, innovation through Technology and creative market offerings. An organization marred with Legacy – non-digital businesses and annualized (operational based) economy, these traits will be hard to get from within. Resistance to adoption of new ideas, accepting the new market expectations, creating disrupting growth strategies, coupled with new disruptive generation thinking will double the challenge for the legacy entities – culture being the biggest challenger. Unfortunately, only 63% of the companies feel that culture is a major challenge while remaining 34% sort of agree.

With the complexities of cultural inertia, organizations are being compelled to get the Change Agents outside the organization. This trend has become inevitable when the leaders realize that there is a dearth of talent of such kind within the organization. In many places majority percentage of strategy looks at hiring innovative talent from outside where you can bring in an outside-in viewpoint with dispassionate recommendations of building a potential digital organization of the future. Many experts believe infusion of external talent can ignite the digital transformation much more easily. However, there should be heavy involvement of HR to ensure the moves are not abrasive in nature and the sensitivities are handled with utmost caution.

In addition to the above, the learning and training teams would also need to play a critical role by launching few initiatives like:

  1. Digital by Mentoring: Bring in mentoring of batches of folks under capable Digital leaders. These mentors should have a true capability with knowledge and ability to transform handful of associates.
  2. T-C-H: Training+Certification+Hands-on: mere training of employees may not be a great help but a good certification (internal or external) to gain confidence (self and others), added with hands-on experience in the digital labs would greatly benefit the individual and organization.

I would pause here for you to take a note and will come back with the metrics on Digital transformation of the Organizational Change Management in the next sequel of this….Till then, Happy Digital Transformation!!

The “I am too busy” syndrome

            By Sairam Bollapragada

The work/life balance issues have been plaguing the modern day work cultures and IT industry in particular. The imbalance has come in where people do not know how to manage the time and when to point in logical concluding points. It leads to an ineffective life as you find out that if you were truly being effective, then you will definitely have more satisfaction both personally and professionally.

The redone phrase talks about – “I am busy with escalations” and escalations are used for showing off the decorations that people who work only get escalations and not otherwise. Hence the busyness. But busyness has become a glorified stat -. A badge of honour. The new martyrdom.

I am busy

If you hear yourself talking like a “busy person” and not an effective one, then it is time to make some changes. If you have been claiming you are busy, people are already concluding that this person is not worth investing time and money with. There are various messages getting conveyed:

  • Let me manage my time first
  • I am as it is struggling
  • Please let me do my work first
  • I am really tied up to make my ends meet
  • You will never say I am free as my credibility is at stake
  • You don’t do anything extra or for free
  • You don’t seem to work hard enough
  • You might have free time but I am really constructively engaged
  • My time is precious and not yours
  • I am a busy person as I don’t want my boss to have another perception
  • …and many more.

The modern day knowledge worker (and we are all one) feels that the society must see him as somebody who is working a lot for the employer. Hence he LOOKS busy.

One of the modern worker was heard saying to his brother “..I am awfully busy so if you intend to speak to me, please call up my wife and understand from her my schedule. If I am not she will put you across to me!” The sad part of this entire stigma is the focus on relationships is being lost. The folks who cannot take the pressure of work treat their own work as a favour to the world.

However if you were building the impression that you have already arrived, you need to understand that these stances become deterrents to the long term relationships. In one of the instances, a person stopped calling on his relative for 15 long years as he was sick of hearing to the same statement everyday – “he is very hard working and hence busy”.

Some of the means and mechanisms to get this balance back in life for modern day workers are:

Make a list of your inner-beliefs. Prioritize what’s most to what’s least important to you. Next make a list of your outside commitments. Do they match? Are you losing anything by not doing something – be your own time-auditor. You are your own greatest stakeholder and there are no brownies on getting this one.

  1. Know yourself

Start seeing yourself for who you truly are—whether you like it or not, whether it’s politically or socially acceptable or not. You are who you are, so work with it – not against it. Success is not always a measure of BUSYNESS outcomes. The successful people are simply most organized, focused, efficient and set their priorities right.

  1. Develop your persona – offline

Your life is more an extension of your profession. Your profession is what should drive the benefits to better your personal life. When you cannot spend the good/bad/ugly moments with your family members, the entire purpose of your existence is lost. Nobody cares if you could not attend your kid’s birthday if you had a meeting at office and hence got delayed – every time. They learn watching the elders and this may become the most unwanted ROI when you need them in old age.

  1. Pay attention

I have seen instances where a couple or a family sitting at a restaurant are busy chatting – all by themselves – over social media. The idea of a family get-together and dining together is to connect. Connected they are but not to each other. I have known people who manage to get more than one cell phone to prove they are too busy. Some go to an extent as to when they call upon others for tea or meals, they speak less to the audience and more to their phones. The sensitivities attached to respecting other’s times can really make or break relationships – business or personal. I know of one of the most successful business leaders in IT industry, who would switch off his phone while meeting somebody and ask the visitor also to do the same to have a focused and meaningful conversation. The divided attention can spread you thin and inconclusive.

  1. Listen more

Many people thrive on bragging.  I am sure people have many brownies to mention but when you listen, you gather more ideas. Listening is another critical success factor which helps you to obtain others perspectives which widens your horizon of wisdom. Listen more and listen attentively.

  1. Don’t Overpromise:

One of the key components of effectiveness is to not over-promise. Humility is a wonderful virtue that lends itself to this kind of good behavior, and often leads to under-promising and over-delivering. That’s where you want to be and should be. Always under-promise and over-perform. It will leave you with loads of satisfaction, much gratified and successful.

Finally, one needs to be honest about their talent – at least to themselves! Being realistic about ones talents, interests, available time, connections(and we often get lost here with expectations), and  motivation can save oneself and the others around a lot of wasted time, anger, and money.

People want to believe in and reach out to the “best in people” not the “best people”. So the question you should not ask yourself is – are you PERCIEVED the best! You should ask- what is in me that the folks would reach out to me for?

The best thing you can do for others as well as yourself is to be as realistic as possible about who you are, what you like, and what you are willing to commit to. They want to believe in you and will believe a lot of what you say so make sure what you say is real!!

The KM role in “Staying Relevant” in the Digital Age

By Sairam Bollapragada & Bhuvaneswari Valluri

KMChart

A recent Google Trends chart shows a spurt of interest in digital transformation from May 2015 to taking precedence over mission critical activity that has been the trend in the last couple of years. India tops the charts with a 100% interest followed by Australia at 75% and United Kingdom with 51% interest rate. Given this focus, and considering that technology once “belonged” and has/is become(ing) “open”, organizations worldwide are finding it difficult to deal with the abundance of information and knowledge assets being churned out.

While much of the above is freely available on the internet, knowledge workers and subject matter experts within the organization are largely unable to capture their expertise and experiences quickly enough to proliferate across – a natural transmission loss hence.

Businesses and customers alike are constantly demanding change and challenging the status quo.

The desire is to leverage emerging and disruptive technologies providing a competitive edge and building uniqueness into products & services, and ensure faster growth. The technology space is evolving faster and quicker than our imagination (refer: https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/242)

Organizational speed and agility remains, key! Improved productivity, streamlined delivery, and higher levels of customer satisfaction are a few demands. In the process, organizations are generating that much more knowledge to present the world with alternate solutions to a multitude of problems and needs. But, organizations cannot afford to be data rich with poor insight. Availability of right information and knowledge at the right time continues to be the need of the hour. Organizational memory refresh needs to be that much quicker.

Knowledge acquisition and its conversion to explicit knowledge still remains a challenge. We need to be get more structured around how we want to manage information. The new smart knowledge management system (SKMS) is supposedly a hybrid knowledge-based decision support system that takes information and sends it through four macro-processes: diagnosis(base or integration layer), prognosis(analysis layer), solution(solutioning layer), and knowledge(finds solutions to issues and presents alternatives based on past experiences), in order to build the Decisional DNA of an organization. The SKMS implements a model for transforming information into knowledge by using sets of experience knowledge structures by leveraging Communities of Practice.

Heavy focus on Centralized KM repositories is essential and must be kept current with an inflow of latest information while ensuring redundant and outdated information is weaned out regularly and with shorter lifecycles. KM processes for the capture, storage, sharing and archival of knowledge assets have to be that much more efficient, quick and effective. Organizations that have invested in KM practices are making headway by focusing on smarter knowledge management frameworks and adopting tools and mechanisms, SEO, improved usability, tagging content to ensure relevant and faster search results, mobile interfaces to ensure availability of knowledge while on the move, etc. are trending this year.

Employee  learning and unlearning curve becomes that much shorter and challenges managers to keep pace, stay relevant, make decisions based on critical factors that can also include — availability of training by experts (external and internal), and individual employee attention and memory span.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella says, “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention”. Interestingly, Microsoft recently conducted a study on “what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans.” Not very heartening to see that while the average human attention span was around 12 seconds in 2000 it has dwindled to 8 seconds in 2013 and this apparently is less than that of a goldfish’s attention span! Alarming in a way, considering that customer expectations are volatile and employees need to ensure they efficiently deliver services and products well ahead of time, keeping in mind competitive pricing and high quality.

Businesses worldwide are figuring out ways of ensuing a higher frequency of knowledge asset updation. Current research from HBR suggests that machine learning and computational linguistics are making a difference to organizations worldwide. Interesting examples of how an organization has used natural language processing to perform and learn time intensive data entry and documentation tasks; use computer vision to scan and analyse images; perform predictive maintenance etc. have been shared. This is good for organizations that have made conscious investment choices to stay current. But, is the writing on the wall clear enough for those who are still dealing with such issues?

Simpler ways to address this need have to be adopted. Exchange of tacit knowledge through communities, discussion boards, wikis and micro blogging must increase. Digital transformation Project and Delivery stories need to be shared by making this the KRA of each project manager.  Cross pollination of expertise knowledge via webinar, podcast and other modes needs to be mandated. Usability is the essence here and information architecture is prime. Organizations must invest on periodically revamping their taxonomies and metadata structures to ensure employees are equipped with right information at the right time to make them that much more capable.  Incentivization in non-monetary forms must be encouraged as this may address the WIFM (what’s in it for me!) for the employees. Periodic promotion of existing knowledge to increase KA usage should also be considered.

However, all this is not possible without proper governance. Following can help:

  • Knowledge assets’ (KA) review mechanism must be established through  domain knowledge experts teams
  • Customer confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements must be made more stringent…
  • Knowledge assets’ usage reports have to be automated.
  • Managers and decision makers must be able to access these reports and dashboards as required.
  • KA retention period and archival mechanisms must be established through a structured KM Strategy Plan.
  • Measures to ensure knowledge is constantly being made shareable should be mandated.
  • Demarcation on what is mandatory and bolt-on for teams should be established (how about a team knowledge strategy?)

In essence, what is required is a coherent and concerted effort by organizations to ensure they have the wherewithal in terms of the right set of knowledge assets enabled by effective KM processes that allows their employees to maintain high knowledge levels while challenging them consistently with improving and sharpening  learning curves and hopefully better than the goldfish’s attention span!

Digital Workforce: Next Gen Engineers as Assets

Digital Workforce: Next Gen Engineers as Assets

By Sairam Bollapragada

The IT industry service providers are right now struggling with means and mechanisms to transform the existing workforce to adopt and adapt the Digital skills. As they keep stepping deeper and deeper, the journey seems to be getting more difficult and complex. The lateral folks resting on their laurels for long are finding it difficult to put their arms around the new technology and software engineering changes demanded as the industry as a whole seems to be suffering from inertia, built over more than a decade.

The technological advances in the past 2-3 years have been going at a phenomenal pace. The platforms, packages, penetration of Social Media, Mobile apps, transformation to Cloud, Analytics being used as a primary R&D tool for almost all domains, and latest being the IoT – all have brought in compulsive factors in each of the industrial domain. It now looks like no industry will survive without embracing technology.

Many of the technologies/platforms that we hear today in the IT industry never existed 8-10 years ago like Raspberry Pi, Xively, Thingworx, Mahout, Apache KafKa, IBM Bluemix, Osmosis, etc – and to add further to the pace, what we see today maybe just the 40% of what we will see in the next 5 years!!  The bright minds would be needed in every organization to drive the adoption and delivery of solutions using these technologies.

The Next wave of engineers who will come out by 2017-18  hold the key. When I speak to them on the transformations and new developments today, they seem to understand most of the emerging areas, thinking like professionals who are ready to learn, execute and conquer the new technological frontiers beckoning them. Many with right support of the campuses are ideating like never before. Many are taking on the mantle of becoming entrepreneurs and donning a techno-commercial hat. They are able to talk, like the typical maverick innovative thinkers. Though many would think that’s not what we want, I would contest that this is what is needed now. If we cannot think out of the box, the conventional approach will spell a disaster.

The IT Organizations (especially those in service industry) are running aggressive internal transformation programs, some in a focused and some on discretionary ways, but the attention and absorption being quite low, the grip on the handle is a suspect. Hence the infusion of the new blood to mix and rejuvenate the read-to-learn experienced folks will create the new organizations which will sustain the next five years, if not the decade.

The young engineering students pursuing technology to graduate in 2017-18 will have bigger challenge to close the gaps between what was taught in earlier part of the curriculum and what is being rolled out in the current curriculum. The following will come true in the next few years:

  1. There will be unprecedented collaboration between industries and academia to create unique products on mass scale. Both will come together to create a more vibrant workforce for facing the upcoming market competition and demands.
  2. Project works or internships may start assuming more significance as IoT areas would require more hands on than being limited to a theoretical exercise. Industries would demand longer duration of projects/internships. It would extend from 6-12 months than the current 3-4 months. The top students would get paid heavily by the Indian outfits.
  3. More internal labs and incubation centers would find places alongside customer CoEs, co-created between service providers, academia, product vendors and customers. All would focus to create innovative market disruptors and hence may unleash a fierce but healthy competition between the internal lines of business. Perhaps a mini Technology office within each delivery unit will be a need for the next 4-5 years.
  1. With the above, more patents are expected to be created and the IP creation will become a buzzword to swear by, more aggressively.
  1. Cloud, Mobility and Analytics will no longer be niche areas and every IT professional has to understand about few of these areas to decent levels of depth. Hence each delivery unit will need to have architects in these areas embedded into their organization.

With this being the futuristic scenario, the existing workforce will have quite a bit to bite and chew. The organizations struggling to wriggle out of the historical structures (especially ones where personality based organization structures have been a trend) would need to be dismantled. Every organization would need to re-incarnate themselves with a heavy focus on the next generation engineers playing a heavy role in the transformation. The quality of engineers will be focus and the pay packs are slated to surge up. Hence the intake may be limited to those who can walk the talk.

New roles or positions pertaining to IoT like IoT Node Experts, IoT Middleware Experts, Things Mobile Experts, Things Ux experts, Things Domain experts, IoT Security experts, IoT Account managers, etc will be soon found marking themselves high amongst the recruiters. Many may move to crowd-sourcing than outsourcing.

The screening of academia and staff will also play a vital role in the job offers as everybody would strive to get the best to stay ahead of the curve. Mediocrity will no longer be an option.

The same would apply to the existing workforce. Every experienced professional would find himself under the heat to learn the new technologies, new terminologies, and new methods of planning, estimation and governance. Those who don’t welcome the change with open arms and mind would find themselves fading away too soon. The timeframes for the reaction and change would be too short.

The loading of entry level technically strong guys will create a healthy competition to learn and excel. This will lead to refresh in the organizations both technically and the amalgamation will constitute new organization, just not the structures.

Hence the organizations would need to create leaders who are solid technically, have demonstrated technology management skills, and can lead the organization into the next wave. The organizations would depend on these visionaries to create this amalgamated organization between the old and new breed, to deliver the best of the hybrid race to ride the digital tiger.

SMAC/IoT and Manufacturing – a perspective

By Sairam Bollapragada & Narayan Katti

With stress levels on automation and robotics going northwards, every manufacturing unit is investing hard on ways to pull down the cost of production and RPUs, increase the customer retention for sustenance, increasing business process efficiencies, creating differentiators, being able to most competitively price, continuously innovate, optimize operations, manage supply chain and others – but the largest investment being human interaction.

Manufacturing also has seen a significant shift from pure play product philosophy to product and services philosophy. Customer is at the center of all initiatives that the manufacturing industry is embarking on.  Customer-centricity is now the new mantra of Manufacturing Industry.  Be it, Automotive, Consumer Electronics or Industrial manufacturing, manufacturers are looking at delighting customers with various innovations across the value chain of manufacturing.  SMAC/IOT is a channel which will create scope for these innovations.

As per IDC, “…55% of discrete manufacturers are researching, piloting or in production with IoT initiatives…”. The oil and gas industry, hit with the downwards spiraling oil prices, is still investing in technology space driven by optimism and compulsion to reduce the cost of production.

Globalization is pushing everybody to compete in the market place without compromising on universal standards.  The ever demanding customers are pushing for decreased business cycles, hence re-inventing business processes, with more demands around personalization and better service levels. (ref: The caging of SMAC/IoT). The other issue is complexity and erratic value chain in the industry. The real time process integration for manufacturing and supply chain has always been a persistent problem to solve with newer radical innovations around  business processes further challenged by emerging market growth and behaviors.  Globalization of demand-supply chain is also playing a pivotal role in how the markets behave.

There is a discussion about a $ 19+ Tn economy in the next decade with manufacturing garnering at least 27% of the share. The manufacturing Industry is betting big on   IoT and emerging technologies to help shape up their future. Manufacturers would need to redesign their thought processes, with a significant focus on analytics connected devices, and related areas.  One could visualize a shop floor where each device is connected with its own IP identity and communicating with the centralized automated monitoring mechanism.  The data from such connected devices and also the analytics could get into the supply chain processes. This would provide all necessary information in real time for better decision making and also better time to market!! Managing the inventory dashboards across warehouses and manufacturing units in real time will be a challenge, interesting to handle and change your supply chain plans on the fly.

IDC says that by 2018 more than 40% of manufacturers will depend heavily on connected devices.  The innovations would be around product innovation, product services and productized services. Each connected device will generate critical data to further their own efficiencies and hence the generation of data will be beyond petabytes across similar industries and each company would need to demonstrate aggression to mull, mine and read into this data to stay ahead of the curve. A transition journey will commence to these new technologically driven services for higher profits and far superior CSAT. The manufacturers will indeed hire or create their own data scientist teams for this.

Connected devices will also increase the complexity of communication between themselves re-defining the product design to manufacturing to marketing to after-sales services. The smart connected products being manufactured will necessitate building new technology infrastructure made up of hardware, software, engineering components, running on remote cloud based servers, using security mechanisms to protect the information leakage and integration of business processes through completeness of information which will enable extraordinary new product capabilities; products which can monitor and report their own condition periodically, bringing in near-zero manual preventive maintenance processes.

This product and product-generated data will become the new value-add in the business processes. The seamless dovetailing into other product generated data will make it very valuable for analytical reasons. The connected devices with addresses – both, virtual and physical, data on spare parts, data emitting parts, laced with sensors for capturing material characteristics of various products or parts will take us to the meticulous levels,  unheard and unforeseen thus far.

Security: However, since the adoption is in nascent stages, the Industry standards and best practices are still being explored and reviewed in the IoT Labs. Security would play a key role in IoT areas as the expanse of touch points is enormous. While it is a big boon for the customer for all connected devices, it is a big challenge for IoT implementers with respect to security. There would be lot of opportunities for IT security players, as the scope for a COTS security product in this area in near future is bleak.

People aspect:  Hence the first casualty will be the manpower optimization and this will move jobs to automation. The severe lack of manpower will be the result of the historical paradigm where IT and production engineers have been working in silos for so long. Getting them aligned to each other and also to a common goal will take time. The learning curve is on both ends but whoever does it first will stand to gain unquestionably. The core competency of the production engineers will need to be blended with cloud, mobile, analytics, social media  and both the sides will need to collaborate heavily to innovate. These innovations would deal with how best to leverage on creative business processes across ERP, CRM, PLM, SCM platforms.  The need to have high end partners and third-party advisors would become essential in many cases that will be expected to not only keep them honest but also bring speed into the collaborative innovative processes.

Here is where the current avatars of Service industry will need heavy transformation. All the experience of helping manufacturing industry – whether BPO, ITO, KPO and other services will need to be brought to the table and devise a mechanism to understand transformation parameters like costs, differentiators, growth targets, and partner-eco systems apart from others to create the strategic  transformational  roadmap for them….

Digital Transformations: Leaders or Managers!

By Sairam Bollapragada

It is known that the technology industry is never tired of being driven by innovations and learning to keep oneself up in demand has been a perennial chase – up-skilling matters.

Since 4 years from the problem Y2k, the learning curve for most of the senior experienced professionals have become flat with very few of them really trying to do a dip-stick into their capabilities and keeping their machines oiled as far as knowledge on technology is concerned. Many experiences like transformation of managers into leaders has been seen, but with severe limitations in numbers.

Managers got into comfort zones. The learning clock stopped as they felt they already knew enough.

All such behaviors have inserted an inertia which they are now feeling hard to weed out. The upcoming Digital Era is demanding that one be in a position to command and lead your teams through the transformations. Your complacency can be your criticality casualty as well as those who don’t align will get outdone. The aggressive and competent next gen in their 30’s is ready to dislodge the tried and testing hands.

Leadership, as perceived, in digital era, would need fresh lease of life through characteristic features arising out of the amalgamation of new attitude, competency, skills, and many unique experiences which is so essential in the knowledge led socio-economic platforms.

Communication, computing and connect would form the foundation of leaders we will need in the Digital Era. Industry certainly will not need Managers-Only capabilities any more.  Technology innovation will drive these constantly changing parameters in the Digital leadership.

A mind-shift change is a pre-requisite to comprehend how we engage and understand things in the digital space. Companies will need leaders who are more accommodative, believe less in controls, do not mind giving away the controls, willing to keep getting out of the usual run-of-the mill processes to prepare and deliver the digital solutions, get ready to roll up sleeves and engage into technical discussions themselves, help people learn and handle client requirements and situations meticulously.

The days of general project management and program management are actually going to be things of past and retire soon – very soon that is. Each solution will need leadership skills to deliver unique one each time.

The biggest challenge is awaiting them as they move from the academics and lab environs to launch into real big client engagements which will need a transformed and challenged workforce. The right leadership would then try to create shared primary and secondary lines of skills. The challenges of average resource cost and hence the cost of solution will be staring at these leaders. The balance between better skills and best solutions will be a trying one to handle. However, dedicated yet shared pool will be the answer to each TYPE of the solutions unless large in magnitude from maintenance standpoint.

Resourcing challenges and Virtual workforce:  Up-skilling the current workforce and preparing digitally skilled resources will be a humungous challenge for all the training departments as organizations struggle to retain the workforce to protect organization credibility. Most of the organizations dealing with digital work will move virtual. Retention and attrition will be a bigger challenge as organizations will soon, see no sooner they prepare the workforce, the competitors will woo the workforce with better compensations. The competition will always tend to be better and bitter. More free-lance workers will be on demand and globally. However, the real proof is to keep them delivering.  Many more platforms which will promote creation of virtual teams will come up and each will need to create mechanisms to blend and keep the best skilled manpower empanelled to mediate contracts with companies through virtual teams from across the borders. Keeping this virtual team focused will be another item to handle. Professionals pursuing the technical line of being architects will need to move beyond product tags in a true enterprise solution expert mode.

Staffing/HR will be bound by challenges of keeping the contract virtual work force bound and deliver by the contracts. Short aggressive timelines to deliver will push companies to pick the best to build strong teams. I can also visualize a scenario apt for bidding for best talents – unless organizations traditionally still reeling under the AMS-AD kind of frame of work have already not started preparing their workforce on digital solutions and all its technicalities.

Hence the leaders will need to be on their toes and take very quick decisions to assemble teams, create solutions and deliver the same to the clients – cheap, pretty, sustainable, differentiator- all rolled into one, solutions .  Juggling between priorities and comprehending what is coming up, will require aggressive leadership skills and just not skills to manage it. It will be like conventional SDLC vs Agile where shorter cycles to delivery are an emphasis. Thought leadership will be key as conceptualization of new holistic solutions will be what leaders will need to breath, walk, talk, sleep with. A hands off approach like in the last wave will not work.

I have seen an opportunistic approach to building workforce to deliver these more technological solutions (a JIT?). We also seem to deliberate a lot on “create once and deliver multiple times” concept,  under the garb of reusability – which will not hold water when it comes to differentiating solutions.

Repeatability of solutions will come down and we will need to consistently innovate (https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-caging-of-smaciot/).  Innovation does not come naturally to everyone and hence the need to understand and tide with technology which is changing by the minute, will become quintessential.

In short, we need more leaders to deal with the Digital Wave phenomena. We may need to create the innovative pack of leaders who can clone their thought processes into their teams! Weaving collaboratively through the solutions is going to become inevitable! …and “All the best” to those who are waiting to manage these delivered solutions….it is never too late to take up the re-skilling journey.

Re-badging – Some Dos and Dont’s

By Sairam Bollapragada

One of the mitigation a transition manager tries to de-risk the transition is re-badging. The task seems like a low hanging fruit which would make things easy. However, a word of caution, if this re-badging is not handled deftly, the entire transition can become a big mess causing irreparable damage to the credibility in the market!

However, all the eggs in the basket may not turn out to be an asset or become a Non-performing one. However, the primary needs to take up re-badging could arise out of:

  • Non-availability of our own employees
  • Lead times to hire
  • 3P incumbent vendor in a time-bound compulsion to move out
  • VISA and other external challenges
  • Time to get the Background verification done
  • Many more

The outsourcing decision is a major one for any organization and requires a decent appetite for risks. This is especially true for BPO kind of engagements. The transition managers on both ends need to work out strategies sitting together to mitigate potential risks. There is critical need to understand the HR scenario, rules, policies, regulations, etc for the transition manager and plan the strategies relevantly.

The need to understand the policies and aligning with the same while creating these plans for re-badging may bring along few challenges which if not foreseen can create a mess. One of the largest example is, in a certain country or organization there could be a policy stating you cannot hire a person for less than 12 months and you need to pay the WFR package when you decide to offload these resources.

Another one is you are mandated to take all the employees of the client organization and then pick and choose to fire them, but not before 6 months at least.  The cost of having the resource on board versus having an onsite fly-in resource has to be weighed at the knowledge levels needed to take over and perform the job. A wrong decision can bleed you both financially as well as from seamless take over.

The re-badging can help but requires one to take into consideration at least 6 major areas of focus

  1. Building new work environment through employee management (they are tagged to us when taken over)
  2. Smooth take-over and calibration of Delivery operations
  3. Smooth take-over of the workplace at client locations (aligning our folks amalgamating into theirs while managing the workplace ethics)
  4. Ensure that transition is more effective through proper documentation while KT is conducted to introduce the offshore component
  5. Conduct the smaller transformations to make the transition more effective
  6. Handling Change management with least disruptions to the client business

All this requires strong governance and monitoring so that the cut-over period and post that are not seeing too many issues cropping up. Many transition plans have a strong assumption that re-badging would help totally derisk the transition and address the critical knowledge part without many challenges. However, I must say that the re-badging poses certain problem areas to be addressed and cannot be taken as a ready made silver bullet to close your risks:

  1. Agreement with incumbent teams for technical screening of the employees to be re-badged (after all, we don’t want to build non-performing assets)
  2. Acceptance of the offers in time from them (avoid haggling)
  3. Right mix of onshore –offshore to keep the costs optimized
  4. Right Team-pyramid structure to influence the Span Of Control
  5. Ability of the incoming resources to align, accept and adjust to the our work culture, HR policies, pay pack, etc.

Before I close, another key advise to all the transition managers who want to bet big on re-badging is to manage excellent, time- bound – right communications. The perception management between the two teams (incumbent and transition-in) should be orchestrated well to avoid any gaps in relating expectations. After all, everybody is working towards one goal of good delivery SLA management!!