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Friday, March 31, 2006

The next step to convergence is ... Divergence: The case of the KosherPhones

Customer: Hi ! I'd like to sign up for your phone service !
Convergent Agent: Fantastic ! We have a flat rate of $20 per month. You get email, SMS, video, voice, weather reports, stock portfolio, bank account linking and push to talk as our 'basic service'
Customer: Uhh.... how much cheaper if I just want to talk ?
Convergent Agent: Actually, for just voice, monthly rate is $45 instead of $20. We charge you to take away services, not add them in.

A ridiculous situation ? A little far fetched, maybe. But if you think it is ridiculous and who would want to simplify such great features, did you read about Kosher Phones ?

A smart Israeli company has identified a niche market to sell 'dumbed down' phones to a particular segment who believe the new fangled services is contrary to their beliefs and may complicate their lives uneccessary. This company (MIRS) takes regular phones from motorola and others and dumbs them down to serve to orthodox Jewish communities and from what I read in a recent WSJ article titled 'Put God on the line', it already has a customer base of 70,000+ customers.

But really, this concept goes far beyond 'religious preference'. It addresses a much more basic question - how much of convergence do we really need ? And who is looking into balancing convergence with the security implications ?

I am personally neck deep into this convergence space working with vendors of all type (clients, servers, you name it) - and let me tell you, everyone's marketing department is pushing the strategy of putting everything in your mobile phone.

Now here we see, some smart cookies take a step back and go back to the old philosphy of 'less is more' and have applied it to be a profitable business model.

Food for thought ?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The importance of Process

A good process is really like a well designed resilient network. No one really appreciates it when everything is working as it should. But when something does not work and suddenly ‘well designed individual elements’ fail miserably as a complete network while interacting with each other, all hell breaks loose.

I noticed an interesting email the other day where a poster mentioned that he was running a ‘Session Border Controller’ (those ugly things that act as security gateways in a network). Obviously the maker of the SBC convinced the user that at most, he should not see more than 100 transactions per second in the network, even if the network had a total of 10,000 phones. And the vendor was correct, under normal conditions. Unfortunately, for the user, his network had a power failure and his backup power failed too - and all of a sudden, all the 10,000 phones rebooted and tried to contact the SBC at the same time to ‘re-register’. *BOOOM* the SBC crashed. Will the user ever go back to an SBC from a vendor who did not guard for exceptions (even if it is 20% cheaper) ? Once bitten, twice shy.

A well defined process is very similar to the experience above. As long as an ‘activity’ is going well, every body complains why they should spend 10% extra time with check points and defect logging. Till the time something goes wrong, you just don’t see the value of a good process. A live example: I bought a home where I chose not to go with the mortage department of my builder. The market was offering far better interest rates than the incumbent builder mortgate department. I went with a well known mortgage lender and they selected a settlement agent in turn. Individually, the bank, the settlement agency and the builders were all superb people. It was a pleasure interacting with them. However, a day before settling I just thought of chatting up with my settlement lawyers, and to my distress, realized:
  • The exact loan amount was not communicated between my builder, my bank and my settlement company
  • ­My builder thought I was settling at their office and my settlement agent thought I was settling in theirs.
  • My understanding of what ‘Good Faith Estimate’ meant was different from what the settlement agent called ‘Good Faith Estimate’ (here in the US one needs to get a banker's cheque for the 'GFE' - so the exact amount is important)
I spent a good part of that day double checking with each one and ensuring that the information flow was correct and complete and things got in place so that I could get the keys the next day. The good news is that as I mentioned, the individual components (builder, bank, settlement agents) were all wonderful and they fixed it, but one wonders,
if everyone was so fantastic, how did everything almost crash and burn ?
The answer: Lack of process.

Points to Ponder:
  • Efficient people does not mean efficient communication : a process ensures that the output is on time and per quality expectations
  • The fact that it works once does not mean it will work again: a process ensures repeatability and predictability
  • Humans need ‘checkpoints’ and ‘cross checks’ – we often take things for granted or obvious. Think back, when you leave for a long vacation, even if you are sure you switched off your gas and turned off your heater, you still go back and double check before you lock the house don’t you ? When you travel internationally, you check that you have your passport and tickets more than once, don’t you ? : A process does exactly that – it is an external source of verification, repeat-verification and cross-verification that what you say you really have, you really have !
  • Saying the same thing does not imply meaning the same thing. Remember my example of ‘Good Faith Estimate’ above ? A process takes care of meaning the same thing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

What is Job Satisfaction ?

There is a saying that goes like this ‘Knowledge is a function of your intelligence, while Wisdom is a function of your experience, which itself is a function of time’
As we all grow older, our priorities morph, we get a bigger picture of what matters in life and we also get to reflect on our past. As we continue with the cycle of time, we also realize that the only way to understand these changes in priority is to experience it ourselves. After all, it is most likely that a few years ago, we ourselves would have shunned something a as ‘Whoa ! We will never give this more importance’ till we actually face it.
There comes a time in life, when you stop thinking that you are the most intelligent being on the planet and learn to respect the thoughts and experiences shared by others.
So, back to the topic of this post. What really is job satisfaction ? I guess it really is a factor of the stage in life that you are in.
(click on thumbnail for a larger version)

1-2yrs: You start as a fresh young engineer, wanting to make big money. Your loyalty belongs to any company that offers a 20% hike over what you are payed today.
2-4yrs: With a couple of years experience under your belt, you realize that respect at your job strokes your ego well. You will, ofcourse, still leave if it’s a 30% salary hike.
5-9yrs:You have matured a bit. You likely get married, start a family. Your wife demands more attention, you demand more respect and would prefer to be in a company that values your time and respects you.
10-15yrs: the deadly period of middle management. You have a pot belly to show for these years. You are torn between family, money and respect. You want it all, and don’t want to wait. You wonder if you will ever get out of this rut. Infact, you really don’t know how you landed yourself here in the first place.
15-20yrs:When you start getting bald, it is time to get into the big league. All of a sudden, money becomes more important (because you are in senior or exec management role and are fighting for a fraction of a percentage of ownership of millions of stock options). Ofcourse, money becomes important also for family reasons – maybe you need to replenish your child’s college fund. Interestingly, around that time, family commitments are better manageable, because you now have a new fire in your belly – make the company more successful and become very rich with your options. Your family is not ‘new’ anymore, so they settle down.
20+ yrs: You now have a look of a wise man. You have been there, done that. You have made your money, made a difference and now need to play with your grandchildren and give back all the time to your wife and child that you dedicated to your work in the previous phase.

So really, job satisfaction is completely a function of your stage in life.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Cisco finally takes a SIP

This is news I have been eagerly waiting for. Cisco finally announced that they would go native SIP. This is great news for the VOIP industry as a whole.

There was nothing wrong with the “old” CallManager. I have a lot of respect for that product and the team that built it. It was a successful acquisition. However, they made a strategic error in ignoring SIP for this long since it implicitly cast doubt on the role of SIP for enterprise communications.

No more.

It gets even more interesting. The following items seems to demonstrate the seriousness with which Cisco seems to back SIP:

  • They are releasing a presence server that aggregates presence information in
    the corporate network.

  • Cisco SRST now supports SIP which takes care of availability issues for security and high

  • They announced a certification program called “SIP Verified” which allows third
    party devices to interoperate with CallManager.

Cisco also announced a partnership with Microsoft to integrate CallManager with LCS. I am not really sure what this means? If you are deploying CallManager with Presence, pray, why do you need LCS? Yes, asking the question the other way is equally valid… the elephants continue to dance…

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Outsourcing With Obligation

Most of us in the Software field would have read 'The World is Flat' by Thomas Friedman. If you have not already, do pick up a copy.

While re-reading it today, a paragraph by David Schelesinger, an employee of Reuters rang a bell in me (again). I thought his thoughts were especially succint in prompting people to stop asking "What will I tell my kids" and instead ask "What can I do to keep in the value chain". The entire justification for outsourcing is often very personal and subjective, but I found this paragraph to focus on the real issue on 'Where is your value in the value chain'.

This paragraph is straight out of the book, due credit goes to David Schelesinger, Reuters and my source for this information, Thomas Friedman of 'The World is Flat' for reproducing it.

Please click on the image to see the full text.