Posted by: qmaxim | September 27, 2012

How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us

Recently, I read an article titled “How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us”. It is about alarmingly high rate of medical errors in the USA and how it can be reduced. According to this article, medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. 25% of the hospitalized patients are harmed by medical errors.

Why this article caught my eye?
Not because of the alarming figures which indeed these are. Generally, health care quality related articles are written by Quality experts, but this one is by Dr. Makary, a practising surgeon of a highly reputed hospital. Most such articles are  about use of Lean Six Sigma & / or Malcolm Baldridge Quality model for making things better. Many conferences are held on such topics yearly. In fact, American society for quality (ASQ) has separate subgroups dedicated to quality in health care field. Medical errors can affect everyone, hence it is important to know.

He suggests 5 relatively simple reforms to bring the rates down dramatically.

1. Online Dashboards- publish hospital’s performance online. Dashboards should cover things such as surgical procedures’ rates for infection, readmission, surgical complications and errors which should never occur. Publishing results have lead to considerable improvements in performance of hospitals. For the patients checking up the performance results  before getting admitted will be highly beneficial too.

2. Team culture- there is a direct correlation between teamwork (between doctors, nurses and support staff) and infection rates and patient outcomes. Improving team culture can help a great deal.

3. Cameras: videotaping the work of surgeons can lead significant improvement in quality of work. Sharing it with patients can be  even more beneficial.

4. Open notes: Quite often there is a mismatch between what the patient tells the doctor and what he hears and records. Verifying the accuracy of notes taken by the doctor with the patient can lead to improvement in accuracy of medical records.

5. No gagging: Increasingly, patients are required to sign a gag order not to talk ill of the doctor or the hospital to anyone or online. Stopping this practice can lead to regaining public’s trust about doctors which has been falling over the years.

All these steps are nothing but application of basic principles of quality and improving communication. None of them involve usage of high technology, sophisticated data analysis or methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma. Getting the basics right to begin with can lead to remarkable improvement in the results.

Posted by: qmaxim | September 4, 2012

Innovation and India – long way to go

Last week, Indian industry association (CII)  organised 2 day India innovation summit  in Bangalore. This is  the 8th yearly conference  organised so far and was co-sponsored by govt. of Karnataka of which Bangalore is the state capital. Considering the  importance of  innovation in rapidly globalising world wherein today’s leader can become nobody in no time, there was great deal of interest and hall was filled to capacity. Infosys’s executive chairman Mr Kris Gopalakrisnan took leadership role of the summit. Well known banker  and Infosys chairman Mr K V Kamat delivered keynote address.

Considering that Bangalore is the hub of technology sector in India,  the event was dominated to a large extent by IT, communication and internet.  Many Indian and multinational companies made presentations about their  innovation approaches and  some of them showcased their  offerings.Content was of high quality.

Some examples of significance:

Private sector banks (like ICICI bank of which Mr Kamat was CEO ) developed and  implemented completely new banking technology model  for rapid expansion at fraction of the cost of the existing  technology.

Google labs in India developed Google maps  in which  users can make changes to the map himeself/herself. Developing map is  particularly challenging in developing countries like India as accurate maps are not available in many places. After perfecting the technology in India it was implemented worldwide.

Tata motors’ development of 1 lac (USD$ 2500) car Nano  is well documented.  Most car parts for this vehicle had to be developed  from scratch as existing technologies were simply not cost efficient . Similarly, in another  case of frugal engineering truck maker Ashok Leyland developed a small truck at  one fifth  the cost of  international equivalent.  The product called Dost is a runaway hit.
Toyota motors
company TKM built  a  competitively priced car from scratch called  Etios and is selling well. It started with high level of local content. Many foreign car companies have been  struggling to get configuration of  the low end models  right and have only managed to meet with limited success.

Electric car maker Mahindra Reva  which has been making all electric cars for many years. They have  built new factory with many cutting edge  technologies. Their recent models have  many world class technologies some of them built on wireless technology.

Govt. of Karnataka has  implemented the largest e-tendering site comparable to the best and which has won many accolades. All the govt. purchases and contracts take place only through this website. Challenge of  implementing something of this nature in the govt. sector  cannot be underestimated.

IT outsourcing company  Wipro presented case studies on the technologies related to medical diagnostic field. These technologies  cost much less than the  existing technologies and give equivalent if not better performance. GE’s  Jack Welch technology centre has developed world class healthcare technologies at amazingly low price. Similarly  IBM has developed many  innovative technologies such as for example, for locating power theft which is common in many areas in India.

Cafe Coffee day which is India’s largest Coffee chain explained how they managed stay on top of the pack despite intense competition. Bangalore International airport (BIAL) made a presentation on how they manage to remain the best airport in India & their strategy to become the gateway to south India.

Finally, a young college dropout (in the mould of  Bill Gates or Mark Zukerberg)  told his  story about setting up a mobile internet company  called Innoz technologies.  If user  SMSes his query about any topic  to  the company designated number he receives the answer by SMS.   This is something like internet search query. This is particularly relevant in India as most of the phones are not Internet enabled and  not many people have access to internet enabled computer. The company has answered  millions of queries and has  achieved a  turnover of USD$ 20 million.

The number of patents filed from India has skyrocketed in the last few years and the  support system for innovation has become  readily available. Ready examples of high level of  innovation are IT, telephony.  Is  India the innovation leader in the field?   The answer is No.   There is a long way to go.

Where should India focus its innovation efforts?  India  has many big problems to be solved,  these are obvious areas to focus on. These are in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, energy, mining, metals, infrastructure, water management, governance ……
One such example of an  aligned innovation project  is from Tata Steel.  Though India is one of the largest producers of coal in the world, most of the coal has high ash content and has to be blended  with imported coal before being used.  They have developed a technology for using high ash content coal without blending with imported coal.

India can look at other counties for inspiration. For example, South Korea  began by buying technology  in electronics, ship building, Steel, cars  from  technology leaders.  They started by making cheap and good quality imitations  &  have  now progressed being the world  leaders in many of these technologies.

Israel  is another high  technology  innovation leader India can learn from.  With only 7.1 million population and no local market it incubates   2nd largest number of start-up companies in the world. It has developed and implemented  many innovative technologies.  Some of  them have become very big and are ubiquitous in our daily life. Even in  the agricultural field  they are leaders in many technologies even though most of  Israel  has poor quality soil and very little water.

Posted by: qmaxim | July 5, 2012

Indian auto industry at takeoff stage?

It has been a while since I wrote about Indian auto industry. Lot has happened since then. Auto industry is facing some headwinds. Scorching growth of the past has slowed down, reasons are many- slowing economy, high inflation, high loan payment rates, high petrol costs, policy paralysis in the government, etc.

However, industry seems to be optimistic about the long term prospects of the auto industry which is expected to be one of the largest auto markets in the world in the next few years. This is borne out by some of the recent developments.

Tata motor’s iconic Nano car seems to have recovered from the slump – sales per month has improved to 7500 cars from low of 500. Launch of new model, improvements in design, fixing the quality issues, better marketing and distribution seem to have helped. Exports have started , which should help the company reach breakeven point. Largest auto producer Maruti-Suzuki Motors is also planning to expand capacity and has finalised factory location in the Gujarat state. Company recently launched a 7 seater MPV called Ertiga (predominantly designed in India) which met with good success – bookings so far was respectable 40,000.

India is world’s second largest 2 wheeler market after China. Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI) which makes Honda scooters and motorcycles is in aggressive expansion mode after separating from partner Hero Mototcorp (HMC). It has aggressively expanded distribution to rural areas and is in the process of ramping up production to reach 4 million / year from 2.4 million at present. It is setting up a green field factory in the southern Karnataka state. It is aiming to reach number two slot behind HMC which is the world’s largest 2 wheeler manufacturer. HMC is also scouting for locations to expand capacity. It also plans to increase exports significantly from current low percentage.

Perhaps the most important event was the building of a truck company from scratch by Germany’s Daimler. It will launch trucks of 6-49 ton capacity during qtr 3 from a brand new factory built at a location near Chennai. Trucks will have 85% local content and though build on Daimler platform will cost 40% less than in Europe. Trucks are expected to give 5-10 % better fuel efficiency at 10% additional cost as compared to competition. More importantly the trucks won’t carry Mercedes Benz name plate and would be called BharatBenz. The company spent years studying the market before launching so that it does not meet the same fate as the other foreign companies which tried to compete with market leaders Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland. According to Marc Llistosella CEO of the BharatBenz  Indian truck market will become one of the largest in the world in the next few years.

Some other trends are also becoming apparent. Both in 2 wheeler and car buyers are shifting to lower priced and fuel efficient vehicles. This is due to skyrocketing cost of Petrol and higher loan rates. To improve fuel efficiency of car companies are doing light weighting by material substitution for example Steel by Aluminium or Magnesium and sometimes even plastic. Other innovation are use of fuel injection in petrol cars instead of more expensive option like hybrid. One local company is working on an inexpensive hybrid and has working prototype. Large increase in amount of brain power in the form of software for most aspects of car control also helps in reducing fuel consumption. Number of lines of computer code even in a entry level car is likely jump from 10 million now to 40 million lines according to local companies involved in writing software for cars.

Due to falling Rupee, particularly higher end car makers are scrambling to build locally rather than simply assembling cars from imported subassemblies. Urgency to localise parts has increased a great deal. Some companies like Toyota (TKM) are planning to export cars to offset appreciating Yen. Huge price differential between Diesel and Petrol is making buyers shift towards Diesel cars.

Even some experts like for example an European  management consultancy focussed on auto space thinks that India will be the  third largest auto market in the world in the next 8-10 years. Will it be a reality?

Posted by: qmaxim | June 27, 2012

Infosys’s predicament

All these years Infosys has been known as the bellwether of India’s 100 billion US$ out sourcing industry. Reason being consistently high level of revenue  growth, industry leading profitability, ethical behaviour, high quality levels, transparency, open communication, investor returns and friendliness, employee wealth sharing, consistently meeting revenue guidance, etc.  It was also one of the first companies in the sector to list on the  NASDAQ stock exchange in USA. Performance reported by Infosys was considered to be indicator of the overall health of the outsourcing sector.
In the 2011 annual general body meeting (AGM) company’s legendary chairman and co-founder Mr Narayana Murthy  retired. COO – Mr Shibulal took over the  CEO function ,  well known banker Mr  Kamat took over as  non-Exec Chairman and former CEO Mr Kris Gopalakrishnan moved into  the role of  executive Chairman.
In the recent past many people have started questioning whether it deserves bellwether label or not.  Reasons are many. In the last one year many  things have not been going well for the company. Along  with Mr Murthy some other high profile senior executives quit / retired. For the first time Infosys missed self declared revenue guidance. Next year’s revenue  projection has  also been tepid;  company blamed tough economic conditions as one of the reasons. But other large companies in the sector  (such as Cognizant ,TCS, Wipro, HCL)  reported relatively good  performance though not matching  with previous years’ performances. (Not all of them have the same profitability levels). Though company has large cash stockpile did not manage to deploy it  in productive way such as buying smaller companies. In the span of last one year, company’s share price declined by about  15%  whereas  share price of  larger competitor TCS went up by about  7%  during the same period. Also, there has been a barrage of criticism from institutional investors, press, and  even  common share holders of the company.
Last year company launched new strategy called Infosys 3.0 with a slogan ‘accelerating growth’. Extensive reorganisation was also carried out along with this launch.  As explained by the CEO (during the 2012 AGM) strategy essentially involves moving away from plain vanilla offerings to  consultancy and  products.
As I see it the company faces several predicaments. At this juncture there are  no easy solutions. Some of them are:
Plain vanilla offerings (albeit of high quality ) constitute over 60%  of revenue at present. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain higher  margins than competitors due to prevailing business environment ; many of  the leading players in the field also have similar operational excellence levels (i.e. Quality) does not help either. Persisting with higher margins could lead to loss of big orders which also has implications on labour productivity, hiring, overall cost, etc. Trade off between these revenue streams  is the first predicament.
Consultancy work done by the company is  unlike  that of  by pure consultancy firms like McKinsey. It is a mixture of  management consultancy and  technology consultancy + system  integration. Revenue per employee tends to be much higher in management consultancies as compared to  system integration type of work. In the case of the company both types of employees  coexist and  probably there is a vast  salary differential between two types of consultants. If there is too much emphasis on management consultancy  volume growth  is likely to suffer. This is the second inherent contradiction.
Company has been putting increasing emphasis on generating revenue from European region to de-risk  overdependence on north American market and has succeeded to a large extent.  Due to prevailing  challenging economic environment (some countries are in the danger of going bust and future of Euro in question, etc)  it has become more risky. But, at the same time, this  might just be  the right time to push for orders as many European companies  are  under  pressure to reduce cost and improve efficiencies and thus might be more amenable to change.  This is the  third contradiction.
Infosys has relatively small  presence in Indian market. Increasingly new technologies and business models are being  developed / implemented in India. It is said that Indian market order inflows tend to be volatile and margins are  lower. Increasing revenue from India could have  adverse effect on margins but not having a substantial presence could result in missing out on  experience of new ways of doing business.  According to innovation thought leader Prof.  Vijay Govindarajan innovations developed in emerging markets will increasingly move to developed countries. He calls  this  trend reverse innovation and says   that such innovations could lead to   huge business opportunities in future. This is fourth predicament.
Deploying huge cash mountain to  get decent returns  and  for buying up  companies has been a big challenge. Some of the competitors have made several buys during past  year. As  present valuations of  many companies  are  attractive  this might be the  right time to move aggressively  on this front.  Of course, this has inherent risks as compared to parking the money in safe seurities. This is the fifth predicament.
If the company is able solve these predicaments in creative ways then it  is likely to  meet with  great success. It says it is gaining  traction in implementing new strategy.  Factors such as recent crash of  Indian Rupee and falling employee attrition will no doubt help. Of course, these are not the only challenges and opportunities in the horizon.
Posted by: qmaxim | May 23, 2012

End of the road for continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement has been one of  the fundamental  pillars of  Quality  for over 5 decades. Almost  no  ISO standard is complete without a  picture of  cont. improvement helix . Continuous improvement once powered Japan’s economy. Japanese manufacturers built their formidable Quality reputation by using Continuous improvement and dominated many sectors of the economy for decades. However, in the recent past, they have been losing market routinely  to competitors from Korea, China and other countries.

So, is the continuous improvement no longer winning strategy?  A recent  HBR blog  post (http://tinyurl.com/6vvffnt)  discusses this issue.

My comments on this post  are copied below. What are your views?

Thought  provoking post , thanks.

Having spent many years  in process management and continuous improvement, in my view,  continuous improvement and breakthrough improvements  should coexist, as it does  in most successful companies.

Innovations (or breakthrough improvements) follow the so called ‘S’ curve. When the technology  is new and just implemented, rate of  cont. improvement tends to be high. But, as the technology matures, benefits from process and product improvement begins to taper off until   it is no longer  worthwhile continuing with the  improvement effort.  Quite often, by studying the information such as number of patent application filed one can get an idea about  position of particular technology  in the ‘S’ curve.

As you correctly pointed out, innovation process and continuous improvement  process should  have different  set of metrics.

Recent  setbacks of the Japanese tech. giants cannot be attributed to failure of their cont. improvement strategy alone.  These are also due to external environment (e.g. sky high value of Yen and artificially low value of Chinese currency, Tsunami in Japan), internal problems ( e.g. Sony’s management paralysis for many years) , etc. For example, in India, Koreans had the high end TV  market to themselves for many years until Sony got its act together. Now India is one of Sony’s largest markets for these products. Toyota’s recent  setbacks were in fact due  to  paying less attention to  Quality  in their  scramble to become the biggest car company in the world. This is well  documented.

Innovation leader Samsung has hundreds of Six Sigma black-belts  working on cont. improvement as well as TRIZ masters working on improving innovation success rate. So, it is a bit  too early to write-off continuous improvement.

 

 

Recently, I completed reading a fascinating book – Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson. This book is a frank profile of  Steve Jobs – as a person, his relationships,  how he built Apple, his shortcomings, failures and strengths. This is no fawning autobiography about how great he was and so on.

  Five things standout about Steve Jobs:

 1. From reading copious amounts   written about him one gets impression that Apple’s innovation engine has been effortlessly releasing one hit product after another. In fact,  innovation happened not by inspiration  alone but hard work, wrong turns, trial and error and failures.

  2. He had the guts to take big bets on only handful (7-9)  of  products rather than hedging his bets on many options & letting  the market decide. The  strategy was completely different from that of companies in the field such as   Nokia. Nokia became the largest cell phone company in the world by introducing hundreds of  models during the same period.

  3. He was not prepared to accept the second best even in areas which customers are unlikely to see, like for instance, cosmetic things like appearance of lines on circuit boards.

  4. He was prepared to wait for the right strategic environment to launch a product rather than being first in the market. iCloud is one such example. Many other companies began offering Cloud computing services much before Apple.

  5. Unlike other companies, he stuck to tightly integrated hardware and software business model. This is in spite of  stupendous   success of  software licensing model pioneered by  Microsoft.

 Is Apple the most innovative company really?

  Surprisingly, in most cases, Apple was (is) not technology leader or a major inventor. Most of the products were in fact  developed  using the existing technologies. Parts were made by  companies such as South Korea’s Samsung and manufacturing was outsourced to FoxConn in China. Innovation was really  in anticipating what customers were likely to buy, developing  outstanding products. Until the very end he managed to maintain aura about himself & about  Apple which made customers camp outside the Apple stores  overnight on the day before product release. Of course, product quality was outstanding. Tight integration with the suppliers and high operational excellence was the major contributor to  the success.  Success was also due to alliances he was  able to cobble together with other industry players (e.g. with  Music industry)  which competitors  failed to do.

In spite of his failing health and being near death, his  single minded focus on work was indeed  remarkable. Ultimate  testimony to  his success is the  $507 billion market cap and enviable profitability Apple enjoys. This market cap is bigger than GDP of many countries.

 Alas, he is not there to enjoy the continued success of Apple.

Posted by: qmaxim | March 9, 2012

Is It Pull?

Cooking Gas connections in India are heavily subsidised and are in great demand. The subsidy per cylinder is very high.  Each authorised connection is entitled  to  2 gas cylinders.  Because of big difference (about IRs 600 per cylinder)  between market price and subsidised price big black market  exists for illegally  procuring  subsidised gas cylinders.  Recently, govt. in the state of   Karnataka  took the initiative  of  unearthing  illegal connections  so that  legal gas connections could be regularised. Each house holder having gas connection was asked to produce legal identification, those not producing the same  were  threatened with disconnection. This exercise lead to discovery of over 2 million illegal  gas connections in the state of  Karnataka  alone. Assuming each house holder requires  7 cylinders per year, one can only  imagine the extent of loss on  all India basis. 

 Is this post a rant about high level of corruption in India?  Not really.

 One of the Oil companies which also distributes cooking Gas cylinders has implemented a new innovative way to tackle this issue.

 It works like this.  When a customer requires a new refilled cylinder  he has to call single company assigned  number (common for the state) instead of calling the  dealer in his locality.  When he finishes the call, he receives SMS informing him about the approximate date  (in  +/- 48 hrs window) of delivery and his  local agency gets   informed as well. When the gas cylinder is ready for delivery, local agency calls up the customer and cylinder is delivered at a mutually convenient time. This system enables the gas company to make plan based on actual (legally sanctioned) demand rather than   estimate of likely demand  based on the information provided by its dealers. Local  dealers are  required to   hold just few days’  of inventory. Direction of  Information flow is  reversed  and it flows only in one direction i.e. from company to dealers. This is expected to curtail roaring black market for  subsidised Gas cylinders to a great extent.

 

The new system appears to be adoption of   ‘pull’ principle of famed Toyota Production system (TPS) which is also known as Lean production in many countries .  Though TPS has its origins in Toyota manufacturing, it has found  widespread application in many industries – both manufacturing and service. One example of service  application is in  Agile software development. Most  businesses are  run  by so called ‘push’ system. In ‘push’ system production of goods is based upon a plan (schedule) that’s made in advance, which means production and purchases are made based on projected customer demand. Company tries  to ‘push’ its  inventory to its customers.  Obviously, in such a system  large inventory has to be maintained to prevent a ‘stock out’.

 

On the other hand,   ‘pull’ system of production  plan is based on the  actual customer demand  – in other words customer demand ‘pulls’ the product. Pull is not about managing inventory but on minimising it. Pull principle also means ideal state of just-in-time manufacturing : giving the customer what he wants, when he wants it, & in the amount he wants. This is precisely what is being attempted  in this case.  Production is decided by the actual customer demand and there is no need to maintain excess inventory.

 

This has several benefits both for customers and the company. For the company, reducing the inventory of finished products as well as raw materials  leads to significant cost  saving   in inventory holding cost. Considering the long supply chain (probably  gas comes all the way from Qatar) savings could be quite big.  In this case, lower level of supply also means reduction in loss in supplying each gas cylinder and  big  reduction in subsidy. This is likely to give knockout blow to  thriving black market as well. For the customer, supply occurs when he wants it  and without any hassle.

 

 So, it is a win-win for both. Of course, it is  a challenge   making all components work together as a system and  this   is by no means an easy thing to do. Companies take years to perfect it.

Posted by: qmaxim | January 13, 2012

Anna Hazare and Quality Management

Recent agitation in India lead by anti corruption crusader  Anna Hazare unexpectedly  met with phenomenal response. Major demand by the crusader was the enactment  of  the legislation for the formation of a powerful corruption fighting agency called LokPal. Less well known demand was the implementation of so called  citizen charter in every government office.

The idea is simplicity itself. Implementation of  citizen charter calls for displaying a board in a prominent place in every government office. The board  is expected to contain the following : list of all the services offered in that office, maximum time allowed for delivering each service and who has the responsibility for delivery of service plus other information such as  contact details of  important officials and working hours. Let us say a person is interested in obtaining a certificate of his  land holding – by listing the service on the board   government is guaranteeing delivery  of that service within the stipulated time period as listed on the board. If it is not delivered within the stipulated time then  the person responsible for delivering the service is  fined. 

Let us try to understand what has got to be done to make this  work. First of all the office has to determine all the services for which it has responsibility, what are the inputs/ outputs/ resources , sequence of steps to be followed for each service, who is responsible for each step, time required for executing each step and implement the process as  defined. In most cases implementation involves computerisation. Many government services are (or being) already computerised. In my view corruption and inefficiency thrives on vaguely defined processes and not allocating responsibility and time limit.

This is nothing but what  is  called  process management in Quality profession. In process management also inputs / outputs /  resources / time taken have to be defined for each process, so called process owners have to be named, sequence of steps have to be determined for each process, and metrics have to be put in place to monitor the state of the process. Process improvement starts when  the process is stable.

As I said,  though the concept is simple on paper, it  a powerful way to force the government  to work in an efficient way and  be accountable. No wonder it is facing enormous opposition from many quarters. In spite of enormity of task,  many state governments are implementing this wonderful process management initiative.

Posted by: qmaxim | October 27, 2011

Make my search little slower!

Google  made two important announcements recently.  First was the   enhancement  to the Google’s  search system called Google instant – Google shows   the results  as the user types query into the search box.  For this option to be available  your internet connection should be sufficiently fast and in some areas you should be signed-in. The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before  as Google no longer  waits till  typing is  finished  or even  “search” button is pressed.  Google estimates that 2-5 seconds can be saved per search.

 

Second announcement    related to electricity consumed and hence sustainability.  According to the announcement Google draws continuously almost 260 million Watts of electricity – equivalent to quarter of  the  output of  a  Nuclear power generation  plant. This number  includes energy used for running data centre operations, its campuses and office parks.   Over a billion searches  are conducted daily, each search consuming estimated 0.3 watt-hours of electricity. For an average user this  works to a power consumption of  180 watt-hour per month  or running a 60 watt bulb for  3 hours per month.  This consumption is equivalent to total Carbon emissions of 1.5 million metric tons per year  with most of that attributable to Carbon fuels that provide electricity for the data centres. Google  is also trying to use  green energy such as wind and solar as much as possible. Until now, this statistics was kept a closely guarded secret.  It  is speculated that this data was  kept under wraps for this  long to avoid embarrassment  of not appearing green and also due to the fear that this information would  useful to the competitors. This announcement was appreciated by  green critics for transparency  and efforts in mitigating environmental impact.

Every  time a person runs a Google search, watches a YouTube video or sends a message through Gmail some amount of energy is consumed. In other words, every search, downloading a YouTube video has energy   and sustainability implications – and it is not free. 

 

Now coming to purpose of this blog post.  I  have  spent significant part of my working  life in manufacturing industries which  are energy intensive and  green house gas ( GHG) emission  negative. Over the years due to significant efforts of  these industries    emissions per unit of activity has come down significantly. In general people have an  impression that the new high tech electronic sectors are non-polluting, environment friendly and thus “green” industries.  Are they indeed green industries ? Soon I realised that  these industries  are not that green after all. 

Consider  some facts which pertain only to  India where use of electronic gadgets and e-commerce and m-commerce  is just now taking off.  It is likely that 10.5 million PCs  will be  sold in India in 2011. Sale of  flat screen TV sets  is 5th largest in the world.  Every month 20 million mobile connections are added to 600 million ( 2nd largest in the world)  existing connections. To maintain such a large network,  thousands  of mobile towers are added every month. Nokia alone manufactures  100 million mobile phones yearly in India at their factory in Chennai.  Number of  internet connections in India is already the 3rd largest in the world, though electronic commerce has not yet reached the level of  even emerging economies like China. Most of the govt. services to meet the needs of  India’s 1.2 billion population  will be online in the next few years.  To support all these activities  large  data centre and extensive networks  are being created. As the industry reaches its true potential in the next few years amount of electricity required,  metals and plastics consumed will reach enormous levels.  To build PCs and other consumer electronic items  enormous amount of  metals and plastics  would be  required.  Also,  PC ‘s (other gadgets) innards are made of  many metals & plastics some of them are carcinogenic and   many are not recyclable. Some of the technologies even green ones consume rare earth metals. Recycling of discarded items will also become significant issue coming years. Thus all these activities have increasing impact on energy consumption , GHG emissions , & recycling  thus ultimately are significant sustainability issues.  Of course, as of now environmental impact of the electronics industries may not match that of smoke stack industries but soon these will begin to make their mark.

Now about the title  of this blog – make my search little slower. Why I am saying this?

Of course, one must appreciate Google’s initiative in making already a good search service even better. Every time user runs a search,  information   is  sent from user’s device through lengthy communication path (probably through under sea cables)  to several of the Google servers located in many locations around the world. The answer returned  from them is collated and follows similar path  and is displayed on user’s screen.  Google’s Instant  search service does this several times for each search instead of  only once as in the  earlier service. Search is the most energy intensive of all the Google’s services (this is a  surprise  – not data intensive YouTube as one would expect)  thus has the maximum impact on environment.  Though speed of search improves, world is probably worse off as far as the sustainability is concerned due to increased energy consumption.

So, I am saying make my search little slower!

 

 

 

 

Posted by: qmaxim | August 24, 2011

Big data and software eating the world

Two major trends related to software is getting more and more prominent now a days &  are  impacting  everyone’s  daily life.

First trend is the explosion of software everywhere be it  mobiles, cars, military, airlines or
aircraft. In a recent article called why software is eating the world,   web browser (Netscape) inventor Marc Andreessen has written how software is exploding in all kinds of devices and making the world more  efficient in general. He gives several examples from social networking, logistics, military, manufacturing, automobile industries. He suggests that Google’s and Apple’s sky high valuations are still pretty low.

I agree with his analysis about almost unlimited potential of  software. Almost all the examples he quotes are   from software companies. Then he goes on to calling FedEx (the largest logistics company in the world) a  software network that happens to have
trucks, planes and distribution hubs attached
.

Second trend is about exponential growth of data which is now known as big data. Depending on the sector, big data it is defined as having a size anywhere between tera bytes to peta bytes (A terabyte ( is 1,024 gigabytes , 1 petabyte is  1,024 terabytes).  Explosion of devices having built in intelligence and increasingly networked world is leading to creation of deluge of data. For example, according to recent study by management consultancy
McKinsey on big data,  Facebook users share 30 billion pieces of content every month. In India  there are 700 million mobile phones installed and assuming each device does  100
transactions per year  one can imagine the amount of data generated. Ex- Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani is heading a challenging project for assigning unique identification number to each of  India’s 1.21 billion citizens. All government and private  transactions will use this number. Implementation is well under way and is likely to be completed in  2-3 years. Obviously, huge amount of data will get generated when this is fully implemented. Similarly, in  large manufacturing enterprises devices such as  control and monitoring devices  generate huge amounts of data which is either stored or in most cases  simply discarded.

I agree with Andreessen’s assessment of the trend of  software being all pervasive.  But in my view he goes  just a little overboard by calling FedEx a software company. Somebody has to produce  goods being shipped, goods have to be packed, collected &  shipped, people have to be trained, planes and trucks have to be driven or flown , etc. Surely, these activities are  equally important if not more important and they form Critical success factors of FedEx. No doubt, software makes such a scale of operation possible and makes it so efficient.

Increasingly, companies having competence and suitable strategy in dealing with big data will have competitive advantage over the ones who are laggards. Competency includes storing, retrieving, applying analytics on   big data sets.  Another area of real importance as well as concern is how and where such enormous amounts of data are stored and how this
data is secured.

 

 

 

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