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My Meeting with Ashok Soota: What a 70 Years Young Taught Me

Last week I had the privilege of spending a few hours with Ashok Soota (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashok_Soota). For the ones of you not familiar with the name, Ashok is one of the living legends of the IT services industry and one of the most important figures of the Indian IT revolution. Among his major accomplishments, Ashok served as 15 years as CEO of the Wipro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wipro) which is currently valued at over $8.5B. After Wipro, Ashok started another crown jewel of the Indian IT industry: MindTree(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MindTree) which went public in 2006. Now 70, Ashok is making another attempt trying to revolutionize the IT industry by starting Happiest Minds, an IT services organizations exclusively focused on big enterprise trends such as enterprise mobility, big data, cloud computing, natural user interfaces among other technology movements that are redefining the IT landscape.

I’ve been a big fan of Happiest Minds and they have been great partner to both Tellago and Tellago Studios. However, since reading the first press releases about the company, I was always intrigued by its mission. Are the new technology movements such as social, mobility, cloud, data consumption strong enough to lay out the foundation for the next generation of IT services organizations?  What can possibly motivate a 70 year old with a huge legacy to protect to go back into startup mode? The answer to both questions became apparently clear during my conversation with Ashok.

We spent hours debating the enterprise software market, the IT service industry, new technology areas and many other topics. Every step of the way, Ashok showed a deep knowledge of the different technologies we were debating, the key players in the ecosystem, current market dynamics and how they can influence the IT services business. I didn’t need to ask his recipe for staying so technically current after so many years in the industry as the answer was totally obvious: Ashok has a deep passion for learning new technologies and for exploring ways to leverage those technologies in the enterprise.

The same passion that causes Ashok to stay current in the technology space is what caused him to start Happiest Minds. “These are the most exciting times in the last 20 years of the tech industry” he says. Without hesitation, he firmly states that there is never been a time in the IT industry on which so many revolutionary technology movements are colliding together and therefore the opportunity of disrupting the IT industry is tremendous. Did I mention he is 70?

I’ve found myself revisiting my conversations with Ashok many times over the last few days and, since our last meeting, we have exchanged a few emails expanding in some of the topics we discussed. Despite the many aspects we discussed in terms of technology, the market and even the history of the Indian IT industry I took home a very simple lesson: Passion and knowledge and are not only qualities that can drive your professional career but they can become a way of living. Passion and knowledge can certainly be the forces that disrupt entire industries or that can cause you, at 70, to still get excited debating a geeky technology or to dream about changing the world.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Enterprise Software Sucks but it Doesn’t Have To

Very frequently we hear IT professionals complain about the poor quality and experience of enterprise software packages when compared to the simplicity and always growing innovation of consumer software, and rightfully so!

Enterprise software is, for the most part, archaic, boring, expensive and rarely innovative. As a result, IT environments keep distancing themselves from modern social and consumer dynamics to a point that they almost seem like two different worlds.

Most people will blame the big enterprise software vendors for the lack of innovation in the space but I think the truth is slightly different. Having thought about this problem for a while and having even started two companies to try to address it, I firmly believe that enterprises are more responsible for the lack of innovation in enterprise software than enterprise software vendors.

Here are some of the aspects of IT initiatives that, in my opinion, have consistently  harm the evolution of enterprise software.

Relying on Big Budgets

For 20-30 years, IT has developed a big spending mindset. We’ve all witnessed ERP implementations or J2EE “modernization” efforts that range in the multi-hundred million dollar price mark. While it is great to see organizations spend big capital in their IT infrastructure, I firmly believe that those big-budget, multi-year IT efforts have caused more harm than benefit to IT organizations.

The argument here is pretty simple, most IT organizations rarely invest that big capital in their R&D efforts and, instead, spend to adopt the old and well-established enterprise technologies which, in turn, puts very little pressure on the enterprise vendors to innovate. Seriously, why would SAP, IBM or Oracle bother to innovate in their technologies while we keep paying hundreds of millions for the same painful technology packages they developed 10 years ago?

Business Focused Not User Focused

A good software technology makes good Xs, a game-changer software technology makes great users of X!

For years, organizations have adopted enterprise software solely focused on business centric functionalities and have paid little attention to the user experience of the technology itself. This seems almost ridiculous once we realize that users are the key element to bridge software technology and business processes. Making enterprise users more productive is very often the fastest path to make your business more productive.

The thing to realize here is that, regardless of what industry you are in, most business concepts like HR or Sales are boring in nature and very slow evolving compared to technology concepts. By always focusing on business and not users, we have created the perfect recipe for designing boring, archaic software.


Forty Years of Neglecting Open Source

What is the last disruptive enterprise software technology that you‘ve seen from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or SAP? Nothing comes to mind? You might have to go back 11 years to the release of the Microsoft .NET Framework which, arguably, is not an enterprise technology. On the other hand, the open source world as seen a non-stop revolution of software technologies. Ruby on Rails, NoSQL databases, Node.js, Android, Hadoop are just some of recent open source technologies that have changed the way we build software applications in recent years.

For decades, lots of large enterprises have been fearful to adopt open source technologies and, instead, have focused on embracing commercial software from big enterprise vendors. Consequently, those organizations have missed the opportunity to embrace various waves of innovation in the open source world that would have helped enable new types of business agility.

By neglecting open source, enterprises has closed the doors to a lot of fresh, new and innovative enterprise software solutions that could have drastically improved their organizations.

Risk Averse Mindsets

Let’s face it, most IT organizations are really afraid of change. Haven’t you heard that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”? Well, maybe people should get fired from “buying IBM” from time to time. By only adopting IBM, Oracle, SAP we are fomenting a culture of safety, a culture of fear of risk, a culture afraid of change and innovation. Innovation doesn’t happen without taking risks and without a few failures.

By always “buying from IBM” we are giving the IBMs of the world the perfect excuse to keep building crappy software.

Always Cutting Costs

Investment in IT is, very often, not very high in the priorities of organizations. Very often, IT initiatives are subjected to drastic cost cuts due in order to prioritize other business initiatives. Budgetary constraints tend to more routinely affect areas like infrastructure systems which don’t directly deliver business value but they are instrumental in order to enable business applications. This type of mindset has caused IT organizations to rarely focus on innovation and, instead, prioritize other business focused initiatives. As a result, those IT organizations keep constantly falling behind the times in the technology cycles and losing the passion for building great applications.

It is important to realize that innovation requires systematic investment and is not something that you solve by exclusively throwing money at it. Innovation requires more than financial resources. It requires talent, passion, knowledge and having a solid infrastructure to build upon.

Long, Big Technology Adoption Cycles

Most IT organizations still have the same long technology adoption cycle of the 1980 -1990s when enterprise software was almost seen as a luxury. Given the fast pace of technology, these long cycles have caused organizations stay behind the technology curve. Additionally, taking long periods of time to adopt enterprise software technologies significantly affects the capability or organizations to innovate and to stay youthful.

Things are Changing

Despite all of this, it is important to mention that I don’t consider enterprise software a lost cause. On the contrary, I see enterprise software as one of the biggest opportunities to drive change to the business world. If you think about it, companies invest 2 trillion dollars every year in enterprise software. The US Federal Government alone spends around 80 billion dollars in IT. That’s significantly more that most consumer markets.

Every day companies like Atlassian, Thoughtworks Studios, Box, Yammer, Jive, Tellago Studios and dozens of others go to work trying to bring innovation to the enterprise space. Although we have to battle a lot of the circumstances examined in the previous sections, there are a few elements that are bringing a new wave of change to enterprise software.

Generational Changes

As new generations come into the workforce, companies will be forced to embrace new communication, social and learning patterns that are more tailored to newer generations. Hopefully, those generational changes will start driving more simplicity and better usability to enterprise software packages and to businesses itself.

Cloud Platforms

The emergence of cloud computing platforms has opened the door for massive waves of innovation in enterprise software.   Whether we are talking about platform, infrastructure or software as a service, we have to realize that these platforms are playing a key role in democratizing technology and infrastructure. Nowadays, startups have the same technology at their disposal than the big enterprise vendors.

Social Computing

Social networks are part of our everyday life and it’s just a matter of time before they become mainstream in the enterprise. Companies like Yammer and Jive are leading a movement that will, inevitably, end up making social computing a key component of any enterprise software package. By introducing social computing aspects in enterprise applications we will implicitly start changing those software packages to be simpler and better suited for collaboration.

Mobile

I will argue that most enterprise applications in the upcoming year should have a mobile component. Mobile interfaces will inevitably drive simplicity to enterprise software packages. Fortunately, as powerful as some of the big enterprise vendors are, they can’t change the size of the screen or the touch interface of an IPhone. In that sense, enterprise software technology will be forced to adapt to the new world in which mobility is an essential component of how we conduct business.

What do you think?

Does enterprise software sucks?

 Can we change it?

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in entrepreneurship, startups

 

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