The other option is to meet your maker; The inside story; A `killer’ map of the current terrain; Digital distance is either zero or infinity; KM milestone: Walk that extra mile

Books2Byte – April 2003


The other option is to meet your maker

D. Murali

Businesses cannot exist without a network, but if this network isn’t an adaptive one, it’s the beginning of the end. It’s adapt or die, quite simply.


BUSINESSES can’t exist without a network, but in the rapidly changing market conditions, the networks need to be adaptive if costs have to be lowered and revenues increased. This is the message in “Adapt or Die”, a book by SAP experts Claus Heinrich and Bob Betts. SAP is a leading provider of inter-enterprise software solutions and the book promises a “road map to a new business world in which companies are linked together by uniform business processes and standardised software.” What will an adaptive business network do? According to the blurb, it will streamline your supply chain and improve your customer service by creating a fast and efficient web of communication among all the participants in the supply chain and the customer. More:

  • Consumer expectations are higher than ever across a broad spectrum of industries. For example, 20 years ago travel by airplanes was expensive, time-consuming to arrange and restricted mostly to well-dressed business travellers. Today, nearly everyone can afford to fly, and customers instead have turned to complaining about the food, how long it takes to reach their destination, and how crowded the planes are.
  • Within a linear supply chain, information is communicated from supplier to supplier all the way back down the line from the customer who purchases the final product to the supplier of raw materials. Each supplier along the way makes decisions about production and supply that affect the decisions of its suppliers. By the time an order reaches the raw materials supplier, it has become increasingly inaccurate, leading the supplier to hold much more inventory than is needed. This phenomenon is known as the “bullwhip effect”.
  • Companies set on buying software as the first step toward revolutionalising their internal structures and external relationships will be disappointed. Step One begins with people at the most basic and fundamental levels of a company – the people who work in customer service, warehousing, purchasing, distribution, and transport. The change must begin here because it’s at this basic level that the most fundamental process and communication problems occur.
  • Most vendor-managed inventory (VMI) programs require that the supplier maintain inventory at the consumption company’s site to guarantee that the company always has adequate supply on hand. This inventory is placed on consignment or is kept in a locked area or `cage’ in a warehouse or storage area. The supplier still owns and manages the inventory even though it is stored on the consumption company’s premises.
  • Like the cell-phone and PDA (personal digital assistant), the car will be a place where networks overlap. One day, you will be driving down the freeway and notice that your gas tank is low. Your in-vehicle computer service will alert you that the best price for gasoline is at the Shell station, or that the next Exxon Mobil station is another five miles away. Perhaps McDonald’s and Texaco are offering a combined special coupon that involves a free car wash with every Big Mac.

Read this book or…

Get M-boldened or end M-bittered


IF you are in search of `a strategic roadmap to position yourself for the mobile economy’, here is “M Business” by Ravi Kalakota and Marcia Robinson. This is not the `M’ whom you can dial for murder, but about the race to mobility. “Knowing a change is coming is one thing; predicting its shape and form is something else entirely,” reads the blurb. The book `succeeds at both’ because it “explores today’s wireless revolution from a business perspective as it introduces practical strategies your business can use to adapt from tethered, PC-centric models to mobile, person-centric techniques and strategies.” If that is making you mobile already, try a few snippets, because the preface warns: “The e-commerce hype has barely subsided, and the media, venture capitalists, and stock markets have already moved on to the mobile Internet.”

  • In the world of wireless, smaller is better in four areas – handsets, screen displays, data storage, and power supply technologies. The key to this miniaturisation has been the development of extremely compact, power-efficient devices and components – the building blocks of mobile hardware of all kinds.
  • M-commerce has been defined as providing the mobile consumer and businesses with an ability to purchase, track, and receive goods and services securely via mobile technology. As companies move from informational to transactional services, specialised m-commerce applications with unique mobile channel capabilities are being developed.
  • A plethora of disparate mobile devices, closed networks, language disconnects, differing protocols, and point solutions characterise today’s wireless landscape. Mobile application servers, mobility platforms, and mobile application gateways are comprehensive platforms that mask the complexity of the underlying technology and speed development of innovative solutions.
  • NTT DoCoMo retains 9 per cent of collected subscriber fees. It distributes the remaining 91 per cent to the content aggregators. The aggregators also retain a percentage of the fees and distribute the balance to the content owners.
  • M-business is following a trajectory very similar to that of biotechnology. Lots of opportunity – if you can survive the journey through the uncharted terrain. Like biotech, the mobile market is maturing rapidly, with new infrastructure, devices, and applications. However, for the next three to five years, the reality of implementing m-business and extracting business value will be far removed from the marketing messages that are the focus of the media, Wall Street, and start-ups.

When Ravi says `M’, don’t say `N-O’.

Book Courtesy: Landmark

Broadband billion


THE high-flying CEO of Black Jet Securities, Jett Gavallan, is banking on the riskiest gamble of his career. In exactly six days, he will take Mercury Broadband, Russia’s leading media company, public on the NYSE. And suddenly, Jett is trapped in a conspiracy that could shatter the delicate balance between nations and plunge the global economy into chaos. That’s a teaser for “The First Billion” by Christopher Reich. Read on:

  • He saw the cool marble floors, the legions of busy workers glued to their workstations, the aisles of servers, routers, and switches housed in trim glass cabinetry. Red fairy lamps showed network operations centres, white lines denoted the cable or satellite connects, blue lights indicated cities with over 20,000 subscribers, and green lights depicted areas where service was to be offered within 24 months.
  • Continuing down the hall to Finance and Administration, he found a dozen secretaries and accountants at their desks, diligently stuffing page after page of bank statements, revenue records, and payroll stubs into their shredders with a military efficiency, while on the wall a red strobe light flashed in two-second bursts.
  • The process of winning the mandate for an IPO was called a `bakeoff’ or a `beauty contest’, and like all mating rituals it had its own strict rules. Bankers strolled down the runway in their scantiest togs, planted themselves suggestively in the prospective client’s lap, and immodestly drew attention to their most lubricious assets – namely, where they ranked in the league tables, the number of IPOs their firm had done in a similar space.
  • Ten inches from his all-seeing brown eyes, the wall of colour super-VGA displays broadcast a blinking, stuttering, ever-changing array of graphs, bar charts, and streaming price quotations advertising real-time fluctuations of the 27 stocks he was currently following. The set-up was called a Level II quotation system.
  • Brokers’ booths ringed the floor’s perimeter. Ninety per cent of orders to buy and sell shares travelled electronically through the `superdot’ computer system directly to the specialists’ booths, where they were automatically mated, buyer with seller, at an agreed upon price. This ninety per cent, however, accounted for only half the share volume that traded each day.

Make your own million, if not a billion.

Book courtesy: Fountainhead

Wednesday, Apr 02, 2003


The inside story

D. Murali

If c’s for computer, it’s for chips too, the tiny workhorses that are trotting ceaselessly in the innards of the system and helping it perform. It’s truly the inside story that counts here.


IF `c’ is for computer, there is the other `c’ that sits inside it to give it life, the chip. The ubiquitous part that remains invisibly embedded in DVDs, medical scanners, automobiles, spacecraft, missiles, and what not, is the computer chip. Jeffrey Zygmont traces the birth and development of this technology in “Microchip” – drawing on research and interviews about decades of invention, improvement and proliferation. More:

  • For the most part, calculators were awkward contraptions: big, heavy boxes that sat upright on a desk and accomplished addition and subtraction through the gnashings of intricately intermeshed gears and levers. To multiply, these pre-electronic machines repetitively added. To divide, they repetitively subtracted. You could spend $5,000 to buy one from one of the entrenched and established patriarchs who controlled the field.
  • A frozen mass reacts differently to microwave energy, heating at a slower rate than it will heat after it’s thawed. Therefore Amana aimed to use its chip-built controller to cycle the power on and off, repeatedly, letting the microwaves penetrate frozen foods for only a few seconds, then cutting them off to let the warm spots expand for a few seconds, then jolting on the magnetron again to repeat the cycle.
  • Manufacturing companies employ people to stare out at the horizon. They’re called new product planners, and their job is to spot distant opportunities. They try to find undiscovered places to sell their company’s goods, often by adapting those goods to some urgent new use. They propose changes here and improvements there to suit a product to some human need that has gone hitherto unmet, or maybe just poorly met. At Wang Laboratories in the late 1960s, the new product planner who first spotted word processing was a man named Ed Lesnick.
  • Economy was a long-standing custom in Detroit, Seoul, Stuttgart, Tokyo, Wolfsburg, and all the other car capitals. The wheeling consumers they courted didn’t have bottomless pockets like space agencies, defence ministries, and big corporate computer departments.
  • In 2001, semiconductor companies collectively sold $139 billion of products around the world. That translated to 60 million integrated transistors – that is, individual transistors built into microchips – for every person on the planet. The figure is expected to grow to one billion transistors per person by 2010.

That is one billion to your account, though not in cash.

Click off the babu-dom


THE Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad, has brought out a book titled “IT and E-Governance in India”, putting together presentations of experts at a workshop organised earlier. The back cover summarises what emerged from the workshop – that “we have the capabilities of transforming India from being an inline nation to an online nation.” A few more lines:

  • There could be many government projects in progress – infrastructure-related, policy-related, technology-related. The status of these projects could be monitored by the highest authority using a management information system that captures the details and provides an operation dashboard with alarms indicating delays and problems.
  • The Simputer is targeted as a shared computing device for a local community of users. Its OS, IML browser and tools, and the main application reside in flash ROM so that the system can quickly start operation when powered up. It is the ideal mobile platform for a complete, secure micro-banking solution.
  • Computerisation of electoral rolls is essentially a database application. However, the size of the national database is quite huge with more than 620 million records and an annual change involving a net increase of 2 per cent after taking into account the deletions and modifications. Further, the rolls have to be maintained and prepared in the relevant Indian language.
  • Indian Financial Network (INFINET) is being set up by the RBI providing countrywide connectivity to financial institutions and facilitating SWIFT. There are over 7,000 VSATs installed as part of this network and leased lines are to provide higher bandwidth. It can provide e-mail facility, cash management services (CMS), weekly and monthly revenue data transfer, transmission of various bank circulars. Real time Gross Settlement System (RTGS), Securities Settlement System (SSS), Negotiated Dealing System (NDS) and so on are also planned.
  • Credit card transactions are classified into two categories: Cardholder is present (CIP) and cardholder not present (CNP). Bank card associations classify sales of goods and services over the Internet as NP. This is treated as equivalent to the MOTO (mail order telephone order) transactions. In a CNP transaction, if the purchase was made using a stolen or fraudulently obtained credit card, the transaction is annulled and treated as a `charge back’.

Learn about C2G and G2C – that is citizen to government and vice versa – in the place of C2Ji.

Gateway to knowledge


IT is common knowledge that in most organisations the most valuable information assets are scattered among employees, in files, on disks and so on. What is needed is the intersection of technology with managing all that knowledge – “where sharing information and expertise across your company’s universe is made possible by the combination of content, process, people and technology into a single, strategically aligned solution”. Heidi Collins provides solutions for `dynamic information access, better decision-making and maximum results’ in “Enterprise Knowledge Portals”. Excerpts:

  • If the information is accurate and timely, but users are not able to find information or need different information to work effectively, then the content presented in the enterprise knowledge portal needs to be re-evaluated for usefulness.
  • You can get started creating the enterprise knowledge portal program as a small cross-functional team. The extended team members will be a community of knowledge experts with a broad and deep understanding of your work processes.
  • The most important person assigned to the enterprise knowledge portal is the executive sponsor. This individual will serve as the top manager and exercise day-to-day control over the portal.
  • The portal will provide access to all the application screens, documents, and functionality required by your work processes from a single user interface.

Using the portal, employees are capable of auditing and documenting the knowledge that is available throughout the organisation that can then be assessed as information.

  • Performance is critical to the enterprise knowledge portal. You will need to establish what the response time is from the user interface to users and monitor the same. Other infrastructure issues include, being able to scale to accommodate a growing number of users and extend across a growing number of applications.

As Shakespeare puts it in “The Tempest”: This is as strange a maze as e’er men trod, and there is in this business more than nature was ever conduct of: some oracle must rectify our (enterprise) knowledge (portal).

Books courtesy: Landmark.

Wednesday, Apr 09, 2003


A `killer’ map of the current terrain

D. Murali

Here’s an interesting read. It’s a reference work on communication and technology that seeks to explain key terms, concepts, trends and buzzwords that are now everyday language in a global society.


BETWEEN cyber and cybernetics, which was first? Oddly, it was the latter, from the Greek term meaning `steermanship’. And the now-common prefix cyber goes with so many of popular terms such as cyberspace – that refers to the Net and the Web, and cyber presence – to say, yes we are `there’. But what is cyberfeminism? This is the third wave of feminism – after the second wave of 1970s that focussed on equal rights for women, and the first wave of early 20th century that concentrated on women suffrage. Then, cyberwarfare, the new type of war that relies on computers and digital technologies as primary weapons. The arena of cyberwar takes place not in the air, on the land, or on the sea, but rather in the electromagnetic realm of cyberspace. This and more is what Steve Jones offers in his “Encyclopedia of New Media”, a reference work on communication and technology — a big-sized book with more than 500 pages, where Steve presents about 250 entries that explain key terms, concepts, trends, buzzwords that are now everyday language in a global society.

“The first attempt to comprehensively map the current terrain,” says the intro. Steve talks not only about terms but also about pioneers, authors, issues, laws, associations and so on. A few excerpts:

  • Carnivore is a controversial surveillance system used by the FBI to search e-mail posts sent by identified criminal suspects during investigations. It got its name because of its ability to get to “the meat” of what would otherwise be a gigantic amount of data passing through ISP channels. But with controversy swirling around the investigative tool, the US Government changed the name to DCS1000.
  • Convergence refers to the growing interdependency among all communications media. Ithiel de Sola Pool is credited with first describing convergence in his 1983 book, Technologies of Freedom, which examined how media were being interdependent. Personal Area Networks (PANs) may provide high-speed access to a global library of information in the not-distant future, using wireless protocols (such as Bluetooth) or even transmitting information through the human body itself!
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) is the organisation, manipulation, and control of media files in a database. Digital assets encompass text, images, audio, video, and almost anything capable of being created with or captured through the use of a digital camera, scanner, or computer.
  • Fuzzy logic permits partial truth-values located between complete truth and complete falsehood. It plays an essential role in soft computing. Hard computing is mechanistic and precise, governed by a complex set of mathematical rules; soft computing is designed to cope with problems of imprecision, uncertainty, and learning. The goal of soft computing is the creation of simple, fast, user-friendly systems.
  • Killer application or killer app once denoted a computer application so useful and popular that it would provide potential users with the motivation to purchase the hardware needed to run it. Later, the term came to be used more generally to refer to any extremely successful computer program. In the well-known battle of the US vs Microsoft, Bill Gates was specifically questioned in deposition about his definition of killer application.
  • Narrowcasting refers to a customised version of broadcasting that targets information to a specific, narrowly defined group of recipients – or at the extreme, to a specific individual – at a particular time and place. The term broadcasting was adapted from the description of agricultural machinery that distributed seed across a wide area.
  • Systers is an online community for technical women in computer science. Initiated in 1987 by Anita Borg, the network now comprises more than 2,300 members in 38 countries, and is a project of the Institute for Women and Technology.
  • Universal design, in relation to new media, refers to the design of telecommunication devices and services, including telephones, television programming, and computers, that are accessible for people with diverse disabilities, as well as ensuring Web accessibility for people with disabilities. Center for Universal Design has elaborated the seven principles of universal design and these include flexibility in use, perceptible information, tolerance for error and so on.

And, digital divide: The gap between those who have access to Steve’s book and the have-nots.

(Book courtesy: Sage Publications.

Wednesday, Apr 16, 2003


Digital distance is either zero or infinity

D. Murali

In a very broad sense, distances in electronic space have only two values, either zero or infinity: zero distance if you are networked, and infinite distance if not connected to the Internet.


WHEN somebody says that e-business is the operating system of modern business, you might be tempted to ask if `E’ is alive still? Yes, and it is kicking too, according to “Future Prospect”, a book by Y. Jayachandra and Gita Melkote of Stanford Business Research Foundation.

The new work is about `envisioning e-business in 2020′ and is aimed at helping professionals set an agenda for their core businesses.

The preface points out how though e-business has already penetrated into several areas, `what are still not clear are the basic planning and implementation of these technologies and business processes’.

A few excerpts:

  • An e-business organisation must replace key executive functions with self-directed teams acting as nodes of the network. Network structure provides rich connections to the employees and relevant stakeholders.

It is based on highly efficient small teams. It scales down or up with great ease in order to comply with the changing business environments.

  • The main constituents of any business are inputs and outputs. In the material domain, these objects are hardware, physical facilities, buildings, physical goods and the like, and in the `dematerial’ domain (of e-business), they are information and service objects.
  • Information is an interesting commodity that is vital for any business; yet, it has not received much accounting and analysis in business.

Its diversity, deficiency and scarcity have a profound effect on any enterprise.

An important property of information is that it cannot be exhausted or depleted.

  • `Value System’ has been developed under the auspices of the European Commission for member countries. It is defined as a consortium of interacting, legally independent organisations, which combine their values cooperatively with a common strategic intent to pool complementary resources and competencies.
  • Convergence is not just a narrowing to singularity, but an additive or accretive model enabling changes leading to multiplication. The more things converge, the more they bring out killer applications, which could not be predicted from within the linear thinking of the technologies and their evolutions.
  • In a very broad sense, distances in electronic space have only two values, either zero or infinity: zero distance if you are networked, and infinite distance if not connected to the Internet.

Future Prospect, if you are interested in your future prospects.

Around `half’ the world


WHERE to look for a discussion on the wireless and broadband explosion in Japan and South Korea, the giant markets of China, software powerhouse that is otherwise known as India, e-government in Singapore, and e-com Down Under?

Check “The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook” from Madanmohan Rao.

The back cover talks of “30,000 feet” overviews, in-depth interviews, critical commentary, charts and snapshots, “all pieced together in one comprehensive volume by leading consultants and writers in the region”. A sampler:

  • Surfers from Hong Kong (in a tie with Belgium) lead the world in the number of sites they visit, and South Koreans continue their reign at the top of the charts for the number of sessions and time spent online. Among the countries with the greatest number of unique sites visited, three in Asia made it to the top ten: Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. South Koreans outperformed all other markets for the number of Internet sessions – 24 as compared to a global average of 18 – suggesting that not only is the Internet easy to access, but that it’s well-ingrained in their daily lives.
  • Using Olympic analogies, China’s 160 million lines give it the silver medal compared to the US’s gold in terms of fixed line telephone users. In the race for mobile users, during the summer of 2001, China secured the gold medal by surpassing the US to become the world’s largest market.
  • The Indian PC market differs from other Asian markets in more than just its low rate of PC penetration. It is dominated by local assemblies rather than national vendors like Legend in China (which enjoys a 26 per cent market share) and Samsung in Korea.
  • Unlike most of its neighbours in Asia such as China and India, Australia does not have a significant diaspora of expatriates living permanently in foreign countries. However, at any point of time, there are tens of thousands of young Australians backpacking their way around the world. It’s not surprising then, that one of Australia’s most significant online communities centres on the Web site of Lonely Planet, the Australian-owned but now multinational publisher of travel guides for budget travellers.
  • The Singapore Government has, since the late 1960s, set up companies to get into sectors that were deemed to be drivers for the economy. Some of these companies have been very large and are, for the most part, divested from the Government. However, these companies, `affectionately’ called GLCs or government-linked companies, are at times seen to be too overbearing and swallow up the business opportunities that present themselves.

A good `continental’ round-up.

Books courtesy: Tata McGraw-Hill

Wednesday, Apr 23, 2003


KM milestone: Walk that extra mile

D. Murali

Knowledge management is set to become an integral part of business all too soon. Better to be wise now than sorry later.


HOW is knowledge management (KM) practised in IT companies? Madanmohan Rao has put together perspectives from dozens of contributors in a new book titled “Leading with Knowledge”. This is a `must-read’, as the back cover puts it, for the `entire spectrum of the KM community: business professionals, CEOs, CKOs, CLOs, CTOs, CIOs, KM professionals, consultants, human resource experts, academics and MBA students’. More:

  • KM typically manifests its impact in four key business processes: design of products/services, customer relationship management, employee management and business analysis. It works particularly well in situations where timeliness, accuracy and strategic relevance of information are key; typically such organisations are in sectors like technology, global consulting, pharmaceuticals, R&D and manufacturing.
  • The continuing spread of hand-held and wireless devices will play a role in the spread of KM by helping weave KM `trigger points’ into the fabric of overall business process. The simpler it is for users to retrieve (and contribute) knowledge, the more likely it is that a KM program will succeed. KM will ultimately become so integrated with the normal mode of business that it will cease to be recognisable as a separate activity.
  • One of the goals in any KM initiative is to map the knowledge that is to form its broad canvas. It is important to study the existing processes of knowledge-sharing communities so that the best practice can be reflected in the knowledge map. To identify best practices, the initial knowledge repository contains knowledge assets that are reviewed by the KM leaders or appointed Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) so that the KM program does not face bottlenecks caused by too few people reviewing all the knowledge assets.

  • Most of the knowledge in software companies resides with the company’s engineering teams and relates to the technical aspects of software product and service offerings. There are other sources as well – customer support, consulting, product management, marketing and sales.
  • According to a study by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, the top three barriers to successful knowledge management in organisations are: Lack of time; lack of awareness of KM; and lack of awareness of knowledge.

Walk that extra mile to reach the KM milestone.

Relationship to revenues


FOR a long time, the customer never existed in the sellers’ agenda. When players multiplied on the supply side, the realisation came that it is the customer who brings in the moolah and so they said, “Customer is king”, though in reality the customer was taken for a ride.

Subsequently, came all that talk about focussing on, tickling, delighting, or even falling at the feet of, the customer. Now it is the time of CRM, that is, customer relationship management, as a necessary survival tool, a mission-critical business issue.

The biggest challenge in working with CRM is not that it is a strategy that relies on a technology, but that its landscape is complex and mined with pitfalls, points out Paul Greenberg in the second edition of “CRM at the Speed of Light”, a book about `capturing and keeping customers in Internet Real Time’. A few excerpts:

  • CRM as a business strategy is not a new idea. Savvy business executives have always understood that they should focus on customers with the best potential for sales and profits, and provide good service so they’ll come back again and again. And technology is not required for effective CRM. Yet CRM technology provides a more systematic way of managing customer relationships on a larger scale.
  • CRM can help customer retention (thereby improving CLV – that is, customer lifetime value). A company’s “product” is not just the tangible service or product that is delivered, it includes the “wrapper” of how your customers interact with you and how satisfied they are with that interaction.

Life cycle management is a buzzword in the IT world now for customers, partners, employees, and any other social or economic category of people that you care to think of.

Simply stated, it is the entirety of the engagement with that group or individual, long and deep – long in the sense that it extends the entire lifespan of the relationship, deep in that it covers all areas of the partnership, including the risks and rewards for that particular arrangement.

  • The small and medium businesses (SMBs) are often a meschugas (crazy mess) of business practices. There is often no well-established knowledge base of best practices because most of the companies haven’t been in business long enough to establish them or have had an informal culture or underdeveloped content management forever.
  • CRM is the most intensely personal of all the so-called technology-related systems because it involves human interactions on the front end continuously, and it has a definitive metric that, minimally, is different things to different people. The metric is often nearly intangible. It is “customer satisfaction.” There are ways of quantifying this, but what a company defines as “satisfaction” is as personal as the culture of the company and as individual as the particular single customer.

A book for those who know that `r’ is not only for `relationships’ but also for `revenues’.

Books courtesy: Tata McGraw-Hill

Wednesday, Apr 30, 2003




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