Thursday, May 24, 2012

Facebook's Mobile Conundrums!

Read an interesting article in Economic Times of India yesterday on Facebook IPO.

Two interesting facts caught my attention:
1. The Headline itself was quite staggering - Wall Street Struggling to find Facebook's intrinsic value
2. Facebook has warned its investors in IPO prospectus that its business is facing challenges in mobile

There is a general perception that Facebook is not doing great in mobile.Wanted to really understand in detail the issues Facebook has been facing in the mobile space. Here is the deep dive:

1. Facebook's major revenue as of today comes from Advertising.
   Direct Advertising that is supposed to be much more effective and cost efficient compared to search  advertising. The advertising has been much more effective in Web/Desktop systems, as there is enough real estate in the screen to encourage the day-to-day social networking and the advertisement snippets side-by-side. The moment this paradigm comes to Mobile, there is a scarcity of screen space and either one of the aspects need to compromised (either social networking experience or advertisements). Apparantly, business users/marketers wouldn't want to compromise on advertisements. This leads to a challenging situation for Facebook to manage advertisements in mobile devices.

2. Unlike conventional Web/Desktop architectures, Mobile brings lots of choices in Technology/Architectural choices.   Efforts to standardize the multiplicity will go in vain. On the other side, producing multiple versions of the same application for variety of platforms will lead to fragmentation of user experience.  I have used Facebook app in my earlier HTC Wildfire and its HTC's own app called FriendStream. Similarly, there is one published by Microsoft for Windows Phone Facebook app. 

One aspect of standardization could be use of HTML5 and allowing users to access Facebook via Phone's microbrowser environments. Unfortunately, HTML5 is not so mature and not widely supported in variety of devices as of today.  

Facebook's app marketplace equivalent environment - App Center - could potentially have to compete with Android Marketplace or Apple's App Store from Developer ecosystem perspective. (not necessarily from consumers perspective)
Third and final technical option - using voice/sms mediums for reaching mobile users - require Facebook to form new relationships with Telecom Carriers. Facebook has been doing something innovative along with carriers in couple of countries, but not across the world. Again, here the challenge is to establish relationships with multitude of carriers worldwide and innovating consistently across the board.

3. Location based advertising. This has been discussed for quite sometime now.
   However, there are caveats for this solution as well - Revealing a person's location information may threaten his privacy/safety. Second, Some of the startups have started to offer 'Virtual Checkin' Options as well - which means user can mention that he is in a specific place, without even physically being there.   That brings a whole new set of opportunities/solutions. And Location specific 'push' for marketing messages/offers may drain your phone's battery as well, with the use of GPS.

My general reading in mobile space is that I am yet to come across a company that has 'Mobile First' Strategy. What I mean by 'Moble First' Strategy is not treat mobile as simply an extension of existing Web Sites, but reimagining the product/service exclusively for mobile channel.

Most of the companies just dilute their existing websites and make it accessible to mobile devices. I dont think that is going to be enough, considering the fact that such an approach would underutilize the mobile device's capabilities.

So, the companies need to 'rethink' fundamentally their product/service and monetization options. In this case, Am starting to think if Facebook's real value propositon of social networking would be still relevant in mobile space?. If yes, Would it have the same user experience as Web/Desktop?. Why can't it be fundamentally different?. Would mobile devices fundamentally change the way people network? I am thinking 'Yes. It would be radically different'.

As I read somewhere, Facebook has grownup and its now facing the market to demonstrate its real business value. It would be interesting to see how it overcomes the looming challenges in moble. Not to forget the fact that this phenomenon is not just applicable to Facebook alone. All the companies that had a successful story in Web would need to reimagine for Mobile.

Why? - Users are migrating from Desktops to Mobile devices to access the Internet. Is it a Post-PC era?. Not necessarily. Its primarily for web content consumption.

Monday, May 21, 2012

War for Talent or War for Jobs?

Few weeks ago, I was in US and had the opportunity to read the local newspapers, specifically one of the columns authored by reputed columnist & nobel prize (equivalent) winner - Paul Krugman - for his contributions in economics. The column is about unemployment. It projected the serious concerns around unemployment among young Americans. He quotes the unemployment rate among American youth is around 16.5 percent. In spain, unemployment among workers under 25 is more than 50 percent. This is the scenario for people who are just graduating out of college and expecting jobs.

If this is the case for fresh graduates, on experienced professionals front, I am reading HP planning to layoff  close to 30000 people - 10 times the staff strength of Facebook.

On other front, there is a growing war for talent among much hyped, overvalued Tech Startups in Silicon Valley. The hype is so much that people are even speculating Tech Bubble 2.0.

In India, in IT service sector, the average tenure of employee is thinning year after year and its a growing challenge to deliver results with scarce resources. (Of course, you have access to plenty of resources. But here I mean ondemand access to quality resources who can make meaningful contributions)

In non-IT sector, especially in semiskilled/unskilled sectors, I hear from businesses that its lot more difficult to attract and retain loyal employees with their organizations.

Two diagnally opposite situations - Which is true?.

The key question that I would like to discuss in this post is - What is the role of Technology in the overall scenario of Employment Generation?

Let's accept - Technology does take away jobs!. Period!. The question is - How do we create new ones?

Would like to quote an interesting example that one of my ex-colleagues shared. When my ex-colleague tried to convince the management of deploying a technology that would enable an industrial automation, the management rightfully agreed with the solution, but didn't eventually deploy because doing so would take away the jobs of certain semiskilled/unskilled workers. In India, it could be considered socially irresponsible, though rightful from business perspective. Its upto the competitiveness of the respective industry in which the company operates, to decide whether to deploy the technology or not.

In recent times, people in India, especially in Bangalore would agree that as more and more technology workers get their jobs, the demand for semiskilled/unskilled workers is only increasing. Yes, the demand for domestic services, labor-intensive - people centric services have shot up.  There is enough demand and increase in their wages/prices.

Hence, Technology actually takes away jobs in certain segments and creates demand in other segments. In this case, it creates demand for tech-savvy workers and unskilled workers.

The question is - Is this sustainable?. Companies like HP are getting disrupted by Facebook/Cloud business models. The moment tech workers get crashed, it would have a cascading effect in their supporting unskilled worker base as well.

With Technology advancements like Robotics and Highly competitive Intelligence accessible to everyday computing systems, a lot more preparation is required to retain/grow jobs. This article by MIT - winning the Race with Ever-Smarter Machines - articulates the various ways where the humans and ever powerful computing systems can co-exist peacefully and still create unique value propositions for the customer. The author states, even if technology progress froze today, we would have enough things to do.

As mentioned in this eBook, the key message is "key to winning the race is not compete against machines but to compete with machines".

And its going to be far more critical in coming years. Here is an another interesting study that reinforces  this point of view. Workforce Planning and Job Creation is going to be fulcrum of everthing that we do, if we want to create sustainable institutions!

Social Engineering: Next Big Threat or Opportunity?

This topic has been pending for long...

I was quite fascinated with this topic and been doing some research and collecting some background information for the past few weeks. If you search for this word - Social Engineering, you will find tons of definitions that are associated with IT security.

The essence of the definition is that how much ever robust technical infrastructure you may have to protect to your IT systems/infrastructure, the weakest link in the entire security infrastructure is the Human being. Social Engineering exploits the good or vulnerable aspects of human beings so that they are persuaded to reveal the security information which they are not supposed to. As per techtarget, It is described as non-technical intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking other people to break normal security procedures. Social Engineering is also called human hacking - exploiting their emotions such as fear, obligation - to break into security infrastructure.

These social engineering tactics could be embedded & designed in line with pop-up advertisements, email attachments and persuade you to do things that are malicious to the underlying system, often without the true awareness/knowledge of the persuasion.

For example, an intruder without an access card can request a benevolent/kind enough employee to open the door for him in the office. In this case, the intruder would know that specific employee is kind enough, but not assertive enough to ask the reason for opening the door. Social engineering in the context of Security is a big topic by itself.

As techtarget states, social engineering will remain the biggest threat to any security system, as our cultures become more dependent on information. I was trying to explore the reach of social engineering beyond Security. If it can be used for hacking and malicious purposes, why not use the same for benevolent needs of an organization? That's the starting point.

The other extreme I was thinking about is - How to use Social Engineering for inculcating constructive/positive new values into the system?. How can we leverage the Social Engineering aspects and weave them into the workplace/social fabric for making positive changes into their lives? By saying so, I mean - Engineering changes, Engineering the Society (need not be at large, but to a small group of people), Engineer the values of the system explicitly? How can these new concepts enable people to accomplish their personal/organizational goals?

By thinking too far in this topic, i felt it need not be difficult.

All our social life is getting digitized...- Our friends, Our interactions with friends, Our interactions with brands, Our aspirations, Our emails/messages, comments/feedbacks, purchases, interests, career choices - everything is digitized.

As old saying goes - Someone can derive a person's personality/behavior if they know enough about his/her friends.

If this is true, in digital world, it’s going to be lot more easier, because you don't just have information to his/her friends alone, but whole lot of other information. There are even tools available that could derive emotions embedded in your status updates/messages...

In fact, there was a recent research that confirms that none can hide from social network. Even if one prefers to stay away from Facebook, his/her profile can be predicted if any of his/her friends has activity in Facebook/social networks.

For example, if you are following a particular blog for quite a few years, there are chances that you are being socially engineered :-) The theme could be anything - Innovation in Outsourcing, Design thinking, Technology infusion in new business models, etc.. You will start to believe with lot of conviction & agree with those blog themes.

When you are thrown up 'Top news items of today'- there are remote chances that you are being engineered as well. What is the guarantee that they are indeed 'top' news items of today?. The news headlines and their priorities can be ordered to tweak your thinking and value systems.

And we are going to see more and more of that, in this information intensive digital society.

We are already witnessing - TV/Traditional print media has been doing doing this for ages. Of late, it does with ease because it has lots of insights on the society. If you sign-up for anti-corruption movement involuntarily, there are chances that you might have been engineered! Please note we are not discussing whether the cause is good or bad here.

All we are discussing is that social engineering tactics can be used to persuade or even inculcate new values in the society! And to be precise, it can be done in organizational context as well.

In my view, even agile movement with its 4 bullets Manifesto is a engineering process. People buy those values and stories against waterfall and become the new ambassadors to signup others.For example, Lean Manufacturing insists culture change first. In other words, it is social engineering.

The good news is, we have tools that enable Social Engineering implementations. For example, Gamification can define new means of success, rewards and collaboration. Charlie Bess of EDS advocates that we may see new DLLs/Libraries for common scenarios of gamification across industries. Good idea!

And this morning, I was reading Peter's blog from Australia and it highlights a very important point - Culture is going to be only competitive differentiator for next few years. Everything else can be replicated – be it processes, assets, IP, capabilities, etc. (The challenge is how do organizations create a sustainable culture when the average employee tenure is thinning dramatically)

Social Engineering holds an enormous potential in shaping up an organization's successful culture.

I know its a long post..:-) Hope it was interesting!