Its not what it is, its what it can become – Dr. Seuss

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OVERVIEW / BUSINESS PROBLEM

Current State

There are structural inefficiencies in most business verticals which leads to processes being comprised of a complex set of disconnected events.

The answer to the question why its so difficult to improve the journey and the experience of the user can be summarized as follows:

  1. Data Fragmentation: Data is in disparate systems and needs to be pulled and stitched together. This problem is compounded by numerous internal and external partners who operate on different systems.

  2. Team Composition: There is no one person or team who understands the end-to-end process. The ‘Dream Team’s is a  cross-functional team comprised of multiple SMEs and seasoned business / technology leaders who have the ability to champion change (sometimes radical change) and are responsible for identifying business and technology process improvement opportunities and simplifying interfaces. These high-performing and experienced experts will make the difference between project success and failure because of their judgement and ability to understand data patterns.
    The team composition has significant implications on how work gets done (we need to collaborate across organizational boundaries, co-create the product with our customers), corporate culture, talent recruitment and leadership tactics.

  3. Understanding Data Patterns : Most times the issue is not lack of data, but lack of access to data and the ability to draw true insights. 

Future State

To understand the future state we need to:

  1. Think Outside the Box: Define the next generation modern customer experience and then walk backwards to fill in the gaps to understand the changes in business process, tools, technology and culture that are needed to support that experience.
  2. Build a Digital Roadmap : Build a long-term digital strategy because people will expect different experiences in the next 5 – 10 year window. The next generation customer experience and interfaces are ‘liquid experiences’ – the interface will look different from what we are used to today. In some cases the interface may disappear completely waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering a room, change in blood chemistry, shift in temperature, a motion etc. This is ambient computing where the environment around us will be comprised of intelligent devices that don’t seem to be there at all. We need to understand the digital trends in this 5 – 10 year window and link the strategy to business objectives. 
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What Lies Ahead – The Changing Face of Business and Technology

 

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The next seven years will see more change than the last 20 years combined in terms of network devices, data on the planet, and computational capabilities – we can see the change happening around us already, it’s a bit surreal watching the future unfold in front of our very eyes:

I was recently at the Kennedy Space Center with my family and we heard that colonizing Mars is the next tangible frontier for human exploration – there are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable. We are well on our way to getting to Mars, landing there, and living there! It is worth noting that 10 years ago private spaceflight, or even engagement of private companies was impossible. Today government agency NASA has partnered with private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to make deep space exploration and colonizing Mars possible.

Additionally, speaking on the next wave of automation, Amazon’s chairman, Jeff Bezos, said recently, “It’s probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it’s going to have on society over the next twenty years“.

Without stating the obvious regarding trends to watch for in the coming years such as Robotics, IoT, Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation which can be read here, here and here; I would instead, like to take a moment to reflect on learnings from 2016, specially in the context of the changing face of business-technology:

Today we are seeing lines between business consulting and agency work blurring, we are also seeing that technology plays an integral role in shaping business strategy and decisions.

Ad agencies and business consulting companies are working tirelessly to transform themselves into what they are not – business consulting companies are buying design houses to incorporate the design / human element into their offerings; Deloitte Digital recently acquired creative agency Heat McKinsey acquired creative agency Lunar and Razorfish merged with Sapient to become SapientRazorfish. However changing the company name does not change the company culture. If the focus of the company is growing the account and the project team is compensated based on managing hours and resources on the project rather than solving a business problem, then most likely the company will not be lazer focused on helping clients and such companies have a short shelf-life. To further illustrate this point, in 2016 we saw McDonalds drop Leo Burnett after a 35 year relationship, and is partnering with DDB to setup an agency of the future called ‘We are Unlimited’ to be paid on its ability to drive Big Mac sales.

 

Thats what I think, what do you think?

 

 

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

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Digital transformation means different things to different people – for me as well, the meaning of Digital Transformation has evolved in the past few years.

In the early years, Digital Transformation was a buzzword used to describe any business-IT project, a website or a mobile application. In the last few years the terms used in the digital space are becoming even more confusing with people using digital strategy, digital business and digital marketing interchangeably. These categories, while similar, are different; and to understand the differences and similarities we need to understand a few key trends in the market today:

  • Today we are seeing lines between business consulting and agency work blurring, we are also seeing that technology plays an integral role in shaping business strategy and decisions. There is a gap in skills in the industry where overlapping skills are needed i.e. we need tech-savvy marketers and strategic technologists.
  • Consulting firms have spent years working with chief executive officers and chief information officers on tasks ranging from developing high-end business strategies to implementing new technology. Now, they are increasingly targeting the chief marketing officer as the marketing segment of the C-suite is becoming more responsible for the overall customer experience.

Given this backdrop, it is clear that Digital Marketing and Digital Business are two sides of the Digital Transformation coin, where one is incomplete without the other. To elaborate a little further:

Relationship Marketing is a term often used in Digital Marketing to mean ‘being able to understand customer segments’. Typical tools used to identify customer segments are journey maps, job shadowing, ‘day in the life’, market research etc. These tools are used in Digital Business as well to understand the customer, create personas etc. but the context is different; the context is influenced by complex interdependencies between people, process, policies and technologies to build a common vision and vocabulary of the customer within an organization, they are used to uncover customer interactions and pain points across all channels and are key to solving the ‘right’ problem. It is worth noting that by overlaying the customer journey maps with specific business goals such as improving productivity and efficiency or increasing customer engagement and loyalty, we can not only identify  ‘new’ problems but also define ‘new’ solutions to old problems. More details are available at Niti Vaish’s blog and at Kerry Bodine’s blog.

Understanding the customer and business priorities through the lens of customer experience require a ‘new breed’ of innovators who understand the ‘convergence’ of customer experience, business / digital strategy and technology

Metrics – most marketers think of SEO and SEM when discussing metrics, while these metrics are important, they don’t paint a holistic picture if they don’t tie back to business goals. With every mobile, social and web initiative it is critical to identify the ‘the behaviors that need to change’, metrics that map to these behaviors and the process and tools available to measure and track these metrics. It is a top priority to take a measured, cohesive approach to paid social’s place in the overall business and marketing strategy – and budget.

And most important of all, Culture and Skillset – organizations require leaders with business-technology skills, innovative mindset and new organization models that understand the need for convergence of business, technology and marketing. These high-performing, experienced individual with a knack for identifying business and technology process improvement opportunities and simplifying interfaces, make the difference between project success and failure because of their judgement and ability to understand data patterns.

In this brave new world ‘Every Brand is a Media Company and Every Brand is a Technology Company’ – its time to think big and be transformative.

The Next Chapter – The Last Mile Connectivity Foundation is Born

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Bhore Foundation president Mr. Shiva Maharaj makes a generous donation of $30,000 to support the Last Mile Connectivity Foundation Inc.

Fact : More than a billion people do not have access to cellular networks, three billion people live without phones and five billion people do without internet access in the world. – TechCrunch

 

Without internet access people are cut off from anything that does not occur in their village. Additionally weak internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost. 

We would like to repeat the successful pattern of establishing internet connectivity at Adharshila at other similarly disadvantaged educational institutions in India. We have developed a network of close and trusted advisors in India that research and identify such institutions for us to engage with. The location that we have targeted for assistance in 2016 is the Rajat Jubliee School in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, in the very remote Sunderbans district. We too have learned that the approach to getting connectivity for each of these schools could very well be unique in each instance, and that we need to proceed is a very deliberate manner to identify the telecommunications partner(s) to be used for each institution and have to verify conclusively that such connectivity can be set up successfully before committing funds to that project.

The Bhore Foundation has very generously extended funding support to us for the second year in a row, allocating $30,000 for 2015-16 to be used as continuation of the network connectivity efforts we started then, initially with the Adharshila school. Our experiences in 2014-15 with the Adharshila school’s connectivity efforts have led us to the conclusion that we can provide the best stewardship for, and maximum transparency into, the use of funds received from the Bhore Foundation – and indeed other sponsors, when we have them – by establishing a Not For Profit organization incorporated in the US that will be used solely to manage the administration and distribution of funds to the selected schools as and when we have established the set of partnerships and vendors that can provision the network connectivity to those schools. We have already submitted the Articles of Incorporation of this entity, to be called The Last Mile Connectivity Foundation Inc., to the office of the Secretary of State of Illinois, and we hope to have confirmation on its establishment in the next few weeks. The Foundation will operate in the US as a 501(c)3 charitable foundation. In anticipation of filing with the IRS for this 501(c)3 status, we have included in the Articles of Incorporation the following text as the objectives of the Foundation:

Resolutions for 2016

The end of the year often is a time to look back at what we’ve accomplished and a time to evaluate what’s next in line for the New Year. While we might be happy and fulfilled in our careers and truly love what we do, we continue to constantly seek advice to further grow in our professional lives.

My resolutions for 2016:

  1. Seize the opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves, something worth contributing to, to make connections, to lend a hand, to invent and create.
  2. Do my best work followed by best work followed by more best work – this is far more useful and generous than merely doing our best work once and insisting we are understood.
  3. Play for the long haul. Take the more difficult route. Surround myself with people who insist I avoid the shortcut.
  4. Write to make a difference.
  5. Be more flexible in my thoughts  – change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.
  6. Keep in mind that everything I do is either going to raise my average or lower it.

Watch it Unfold – Deploying Last Mile Connectivity at Adharshila!

More than a billion people do not have access to cellular networks, three billion people live without phones and five billion people do without internet access – TechCrunch

Adharshila school is located in district Sheopur, in the state Madhya Pradesh in India, approximately 180km from Gwalior city. Without internet access people in Adharshila are cut off from anything that does not occur in their village. Additionally weak internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost.

After a year and half of unsuccessfully chasing Reliance, Sify, Airtel and other major telecoms in India, to provide last mile connectivity to remote villages, a local company, Texes Telecom, came through for us like a knight in shining armor! Texes Telecom is a provider of telecom and infrastructure services in India and a registered vendor of Reliance Communications. They have accomplished in less than a month what other major telecoms have failed to deliver in a year!

Week 1 – A 24 meter RF tower is erected near Adharshila school in the village of Agraa. The tower will receive signal from the Reliance tower at Umri Kalan. 

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Week 2 – Technicians from Reliance have clear line of sight to the tower at Umri Kalan and the signal is strong!

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Week 3 – HOME RUN!! We (almost) have internet connectivity!! Connectivity lasted long enough to test-run a video Skype session between Delhi and Adharshila. We lost connectivity because the batteries running the BTS at Umri were discharged due to a power outage in the area for 2 days. Waiting for Reliance to fix the problem. 

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Week 4 – “Hello World”! Adharshila, an area forgotten by the major telecoms in India and where people used their phones mainly as MP3 players, is now on the cellular grid and ready to change the world!

The hard part begins now … ensuring Reliance provides reliable connectivity, the local infrastructure company provides support in case of equipment failure and finding content in the local language. 

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Deploying Last Mile Connectivity to Remote Villages in India

BACKGROUND

 Weak Internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in rural parts of India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost. Broadband connectivity will allow students and teachers in schools such as Adharshila, located in district Sheopur in Madya Pradesh, approximately 180km from Gwalior the ability to access email and the internet. Availability of broadband connectivity will also provide the infrastructure to conduct remote teaching through video sessions as well as explore possibilities with remote healthcare.

Streaming video, required for real time interactive remote classroom instruction, requires a reliable, fast internet connection, one that supports on the order of 2Mbps (Megabits per second)– 6Mbps transmission speeds. To provide some context of what this means, a typical “3G” cell phone network offers speeds up to 2.5 Mbps and the more advanced 4G networks provide between 7 and 20 Mbps network speeds, the speeds being greatly affected by the presence of physical structures such as buildings, hills and other physical topographies that act as barriers to the “line-of-sight” required between the cell tower(s) and the user’s mobile phones.

The network speeds in a region are also greatly impacted by the absence or presence of cell towers in that region; the further apart the towers are placed, the weaker the signal between them becomes, resulting in slower network speeds available for use.

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In rural India – and this is especially true in the remote region of the country in which Adharshila is located – cell phone towers are spaced as far apart as they can be to just be able to provide low-bandwidth, voice and SMS communications. This how telecommunications companies have been able to make their costly investments in cell towers economically viable in these low income, low population density rural areas.

Current Status

Over the past year, we have engaged several of the largest cellular telecommunications service providers in India to assess the feasibility of providing us with cellular network based internet connectivity at Adharshila. These companies are household names as cellular service providers in India, including Reliance, Airtel, iDEA, and TATA. We even engaged a service provider – Sify Communications – that specializes in rural area communications. However owing to the extreme rural location of the school, none of these providers were able to provide connectivity with the bandwidth and reliability required for our needs.

Image2Figure 1: Cell Tower Coverage Map For Areas Around Adharshila

To further illustrate the point, the cell tower coverage map above shows that Adharshila, located inside the red circle, has no cell towers in the vicinity hence providing broadband connectivity to Adharshila using ground-based cell towers is not an option.

Despite these initial disappointments, we are pursuing another option to provide internet connectivity to the school. We have begun an evaluation of geo-stationary satellite based internet connectivity, the so-called VSAT network connectivity. VSAT connections are slower than ground-based cellular connections and cost more to use. On their own, they wouldn’t suffice for the streaming video needs of the school. However, we have found a service option that uses advanced video compression techniques that allows relatively high quality video to be run in real time over a relatively low speed network connection. As of this writing, we are working with the two entities that provide these two services, VSAT and video compression, to evaluate the feasibility of putting them together to service Adharshila’s needs. The assessment should be completed by the end of September 2015.