Appreciation. And Ownership.

I promised to reflect back on a conversation with SN – ownership and the need for appreciation.

Scene: After a very long and frustrating day of work where tempers are flared, deliverables are affected, the manager has been visibly unhappy with the proceedings, and you barely scrape to the finish line. Has most likely happened to all of us at one point or the other. That is exactly the moment someone decides to confront the manager – “You don’t appreciate us. All the hard work we put in. You just don’t appreciate.” Ouch!

Déjà vu anyone?

Side note: This is extremely reminiscent of relationships of the boy-girl kinds, and occasionally, the parents-children kinds.

The reactions I’ve observed from managers (including myself) are –

  • WTF??????
  • Appreciation? What? How? When?
  • What does s/he mean by that?
  • Give me something to appreciate damn it.
  • What was that just now? If not appreciation?
  •  You still have your job despite all the f*** ups. Isn’t that appreciation enough?
  • You’ve got to be kidding me!
  • Cut me some slack, will ya?
  • That so? Hmm. Didn’t realize.
  • Hmm. Will try and appreciate from hereon. Thanks for bringing it up. I know it’s hard man! (or some version thereof)

The lone wolf hopes against hope that the last and the least probabilistic outcome happens. But well!

There are two sides of the story, all the time –
The top-down story:

  • We are under the kind of pressure that you cannot imagine right now (P&L, salaries, collections, quality perception, client breathing down our neck, the next client, etc.). While I shield you from all that, I expect you to hold your end of the bargain – engagement/product delivery/ product release, etc. I expect you to do work which you own, which is error free, and which can hold itself up to the highest standards of quality. And if you don’t, does the hardwork count for much?
  • It’s a hard fought race and everyone’s running hard. At the end of it , you end up on the podium. Or not. And then, appreciation comes in two formats –On the podium, the pat on the back, the high fives, the whistles, the champagnes. In the backroom, you all hug each other, wish luck for the next time, and get ready for another one.
  • If you have time to cry, you have time to get more done. I don’t get time to appreciate myself either. And I can’t wait for someone’s appreciation to make it work. And work better.
  • Didn’t you walk in saying you are the smartest go-getter thing since Kamaal R Khan? Prove it!
  • Sometimes, just accept that our experiences might have made us a shade wiser and humbler. Also, we are the ones getting busted out there. Can you for once, just take what I am asking you to do and get it done? Why does the world always have to be perfect?

The analysts’ view

  • Is it my problem that you don’t have a life?
  • Is it my problem that I have 4975 friends on facebook who all are as active as me? And that I need to know? And Like their updates? Otherwise, they won’t like mine?
  • Isn’t number of hours and face time considered to be the metric for performance?

OK! Jokes apart –

  •  You never told me that we were signing up for this?
  • I am just starting here. So, I will make mistakes. Is it that big a crime to make mistakes?
  • It just gets hard when the air is so intense all the time
  • I actually had no idea what the work is going to be like. I am not sure if I am enjoying it.
  • What’s the need to shout when the same thing can be said nicely?
  • I need some coaching here, and I am not getting it.
  • That guy does not work half as much as me in his project. Or, her manager is so cool about coming late/ working from home.
  • How were you doing it when you were an analyst?

I have no intention of sitting in judgment here. And employee motivation and mentoring is a field of research of its own. Just that it was an interesting discussion about an oft discussed topic 🙂


Refocusing & Restarting

A ‘moment’ happened earlier today, as I was wondering why in the name of heavens is the quality of thinking so poor in the analytics industry in India. Despite the fact that there is a lot of good, great, interesting talent out there. One thing led to another, and I was looking at the etymology of analytics and analysis. Somewhere there (wiktionary and such sites), I re-learnt that analysis is about dismantling and loosening. And analytics is the set of principles governing various forms of analysis. And in there, I felt that analytics, by definition, should be, then, a top down process. One should always start with a problem and keep dismantling it using structured processes and principles and frameworks to get to the insights/solutions that is being sought. However, I reflected on the hundreds of interactions (interviews and otherwise) that I’ve had, and realized that a vast majority of these conversations are bottom up. People look at large volumes of dismantled information and try to aggregate them into meaningful buckets.  There is very little structured dismantling and a whole lot of fishing. Over a period of time, it turns most smart analysts into “crunchers”, rather than “thinkers”. And somewhere in there is the bane of the entire analytics industry. There are volumes written about how analytics has not been central to business, but just a support. This, when the truth is that all strategy is nothing but analytics.

Its been a while since I have posted regularly o this blog. Two big reasons – the work schedule was so consuming that I hardly ever felt like thinking and writing about analytics once the day was over. I filled the rest of my day with my other interests, and the movie blogging took over. Second reason, which contributed heavily to the radio silences over the last year or two was the navigation around restrictions imposed by the firm’s social media policy. My previous organisation, being a large audit firm before it became an advisory firm, was a lot fastidious and careful about the personal blogs maintained by employees, especially at more senior levels. And as most of you know, I have a tendency to be frivolous on my personal blog. That’s a strict no-no for the firm’s so-me policy.

To start with an update, I have finally taken the big decision. I am not working anymore. I put in my resignation a few months back, and at the beginning of this month, had moved on completely from my job. Having taken the last three works as cooling off period,and also to do a lot of thinking about what I really want to do going forward, I am happy to announce that I haven’t moved an inch. I am still unsure, still pondering, still evaluating, and thankfully, writing down my options.

Hmph. With that update on the side, one of the things I have promised to do better is to pay attention to my blogging. I have accumulated a volume of experience (presumably, large) over the last 9-10 years, and I believe it’s in an industry where skills are somewhat nascent. We are all learning as we speak. So, there is some merit in me reflecting on those years and organizing what I learnt.

In 2007, I had started an analytics start-up series, which I never got down to completing. Today, probably, some of it would change, and some of it would remain the same. Maybe, it’s time I completed my research paper. 😉

Between 2007 and 2012, Mckinsey has given the term Big Data to the world, and a million people are going crazy defining what it means to the world. And more importantly, creating a serious amount of confusion about it. I intend to put my own cent(s) to this confusion, and hopefully, simplify (for myself) what it means.

And now, every day, there is more that is being spoken, discussed, forecasted. I do have my point of views on those, as well as some original thoughts. I hope to start getting these inked as well.

Wish me luck!

Big Data – A Hype?

Almost uncanny, this thought coming from Jim Davis, around the same time as this post from me.

Here’s how I like to look at it: High-performance computing is, simply, an enabler. Most importantly, it enables you to get answers faster than before. But – and this is important – high performance computing is only as good as what you’re computing.

No matter how fast you go with summary statistics, you’re never going to get to the future.

At its most basic level, high-performance computing reduces the time dimension.

The Pit, The Fall and The Reichenbach Retreival

The world is abuzz with words like Big Data, Cloud, Efficiency, Real-Time, Analytics, Power, Complex, etc. Most companies are being implored to think about these words. By organizations that are building “capabilities” around it.

Somehow, I think, we are missing the point.

The problem can never be smaller than the tool that solves it. And that to me, has been the bane of the world of analytics/big data/ <fit the new key word> professionals. They create a world where the tool becomes bigger than the end goal it serves. Right from poorly implemented data warehouse solutions, to point-in-time  dashboards that answer a question relevant 5 years back. Do you need to solve your “Big Data” problem? Or, do you need to solve for your business issues?

  • Nevertheless, over close to a decade of trying to be an analytics professional, I have seen more examples of organizations trying to latch on to a fad rather than focus on what they have. Social media is just an example.

You’re walking towards a pit, and you should do it only if you’re fond of them and the treks and the views they offer. Not to fall.

If you are just about venturing into the web world, a free plugin of google analytics can reveal a lot to you, to get you started. Instead of a million dollar investment in sophisticated tools and dashboards. Secondly, a good looking dashboard does not always reveal something additional. It reveals in a palatable way. If you’re focused on what you want, that is, if you’ve figured out your business problem, you don’t always need that sexy solution.

Reminds me of that debate we had about two attractive girls – the difference between the two was that the first was sexier, but the second more marriageable. The second had more suitors while the first evoked desire a lot more often.

  • A lot of these giant ideas fail. You do fall in those pits. Investments that don’t seem to be worth it. Models which stop being predictive unless fresh blood is pumped into them at regular intervals. Technology that becomes obsolete faster than your ability to eat French fries. You will make mistakes, and I guess that’s not that bad an idea, but the least you need to do is be aware of the costs.

For instance, internet was the in-thing. It still is. But the world is already looking at mobile as the next big thing. Right from iOS to Android enabled devices to extremely interesting content delivered in real-time. For every dotcom that succeeded, there are many that got bust because the fundamental idea itself was not thought through.

Microsoft Excel could handle 65k rows of data with great difficulty at some point. Today, it can handle a million rows with lesser amount of difficulty! And people have started talking about billions of data points. However, a lot of beautiful insights are driven sometimes out one unbiased and strong validated hypotheses. Which often, smartly done, does not take a million rows.

  • Last point – it’s difficult to recover from a large investment gone wrong. And I do not always mean monetary investment. Most firms fail to look at executive time investment on half-baked investments as a loss. The opportunity cost of such falls may be significant.

EndNote: The environment today has given us more power in our own hands than most of us are capable of handling. It overwhelms us. We run hither tither and grope around to latch on to the keywords that supposedly enlightened souls are spewing at venomous speeds. No-one is wrong. Yet, the right question for you needs to be the same as it has always been – Is this what the business needs? No. Not wants!

In the Indian mythology, the tale of Bhasmasur is fairly popular. Bhasmasur was a demon who practiced austerity of several years in extreme conditions to please the gods. Lord Shiva appeared in front of him and agreed to grant him a boon in return for his perseverance and dedication. Bhasmasur requested for a power that allowed him to burn anything down to ashes (bhasma) that he’d put his hands on. As the powers, and hence, the tyranny of Bhasmasur reached its pinnacle, the other Gods implored Lord Vishnu to save them. Vishnu took the form of a beautiful danseuse (Mohini Avatar), and tricked Bhasmasur into copying his (or her) dance steps. However, as Mohini put her hand on her own  head while dancing, so did Bhasmasur on his head. And thus, Bhasmasur burnt himself down.  Bhasmasur forgot the reason why he aspired for that powerful hand. The hand that burnt him down.

India-Pak Semifinal: The Pinnacle of Advertising in India

Today should be noted in the books of history. It doesn’t happen too often. And it’s unlikely to happen again in the next 8 years. As India play Pakistan in the semifinal of Cricket World Cup, the world of adveritsing would have changed, and the price barriers would have set a new benchmark for how expensive an ad slot can be. It will be interesting if any weed smoking son of the gun can calculate the real ROI of an ad slot today.
Here’s the opportunity (the ‘for dummies” version) –

  • Everyone’s watching – It’s that one topic. If you are marginally aware of cricket, you’d be watching it. If you’re not, then you’d be forced to, because the others won’t let you put anything else on the tube.
  • The same thing – The match is being telecast on three channels I guess- DD, Star Cricket, Star Sports. Each of them have their reach and captive audience. English speaking audience would prefer Star Cricket, given the commentator panel. DD would be the default for the parts of the country where people don’t still have cable tv/ set top boxes.
  • And they are confident India would win – the confidence of the nation, because despite the relative strengths or weaknesses, Pakistan has never defeated India in a world cup match. Oz and SL have. And that’s why the emotions are a lot more subdued. Lots of critics would weigh the balance of the two sides. And lots of people on the street would feel that we are going to the final. Its as much a celebration as it is an encounter
  • Yet they expect it and want it to be competitive – It has usually been like that. And more so in our head than in reality. A 50 run partnership in another match can be seen as normal, but would be seen as a high pressure situation for the bowling side today. So, people are going to take it to the wire, irrespective of the end score.
  • Without any lapse of attention – Its an 8 hour+ marathon. That tension would means a higher adrenalin rush, and greater attention to the most minute details of your ad. People will be all eyes and ears. They will watch just that one channel, and will keep looking for it. Because they don’t want to miss that moment when something happens – that wicket, that boundary, that divine shot, or that cut, or that miss.
  • And will be discussing it – everyone’s a critic today. Everyone has an opinion. And today, it’s out in the open. To the extent, that they would discuss the ads that feature the cricketers to assess how weird/funny/ridiculous it might be. In some cases, those ad taglines would be used in the context of the match. Imagine Shoaib bowling a bouncer to Sachin and thousands of people quipping – aisi delivery khelne ke liye protection chahiye.
  • In their rooms – Quite like the superbowl, there is a frenzy in metros and villages alike. Inverters/ Batteries/ Generators have been arranged for and charged to ensure that a power failure does not stop them from watching the match. Watch-dos have been organized by people inviting friends/ family/ colleagues. Offices have arranged for projects and audio systems for large hall screenings. And people will be reaching early to get their prized seats early.
  • Or, on the internet – If OZ match was an indication – half the internet generation of India would be tweeting/facebooking about the match, with their emotions out in the open. There will less analysis, and more expression of the moment. Y
  • And will remember – Yes. We may not remember what the boss said this morning. But we are pretty good at remembering that six Sachin Tendulkar hit of Kasprowicz in that Desert Storm innings, or the exact shape of the Venkatesh Prasad delivery that took care of Aamir Sohail. And Sehwag ki Maa stays as one of the most epic ads (in terms of recall) ever. I won’t be surprised if Yuvraj’s Revital and bhaag daud se bhari zindagi might be the next one.
  • If they like or dislike something – the opinions and expressions are not always about things people dislike. It covers the likes, the neutrals, the sharpness or the dimwittedness of the moment, analysis of players, analysis of commentators, ads, presentation ceremony and everything else.
  • And while doing all this, they are consuming! Let’s not forget that these viewers will also be guzzling down large quantities of drinks (Alocholic and non-alocholic) with chips, popcorns, dine-in orders, kebabs, pakodas and what nots. Unless the delivery guy of the neighborhood shop refuses to go for delivery today, or the ever so accommodating mothers and wives decide to join the cricket party.

What you are assured of is an assured and a HUGE number of viewers who’d not flip the channel even as you beam them with the most inane and absurd ads, and there are quite a few of them. What you gonna do that’s gonna leave a name for you? In advertising, there cannot be bad recall, as long as there is recall.
And yes, its also a day where the nation’s collective productivity loss would have most likely offset any commercial return possible. Even the Prime Minister is not working. Yet, wouldn’t the ultimate master of ceremonies say – “People of India, and People of the World, ARE YOU HAVING FUN?”

Dofficially D!

Finally, I put to official use the name that was given to me by the people I loved working with (read, Inductis colleagues) – D

The Diamond Consulting Case Competition on campuses is called DConstruct. I think they think its D for Diamond. (wink wink). Its D for D!! 🙂

Couple of links I could find about DConstruct – Here and here

Customer Analytics is here to stay

Couple of very interesting articles here – 1 and 2

The first talks about the relative unpreparedness of Asian Banks in maximizing the value of their data as well as the need for advanced analytics for the next stage of growth. Not sure if the link would work; So, I am pasting the article below anyway.

The second talks about digiton’s view of an IBM report that talks about the end of advertising unless they start investing in customer analytics.

Two separate reports talking about the same thing – Customer Analytics is here to stay, and gradually its become the backbone of all businesses. Encouraging, isn’t it?


Copyright 2007 Business Wire, Inc. – Business Wire

November 9, 2007 Friday 2:00 PM GMT

HEADLINE: Survey: Asian Banks Seek Right Strategies and Decision Tools to Fuel Smart Growth in Today’s Credit Boom;

New Survey from The Asian Banker and Fair Isaac Spotlights Need for Better Data and Analytics for Managing Risk, Fraud and Customer Acquisition

As credit markets in the Asia-Pacific region continue to expand at record rates, results of a new region-wide survey underscore a growing need for proven strategies and solutions that enable banks to make profitable customer decisions that accelerate growth while limiting risk and losses.

Commissioned by Fair Isaac Corporation (NYSE:FIC) and conducted by leading financial services research and intelligence firm The Asian Banker, “The Asian Banker Consumer Credit Practice Survey 2007” spotlights current practices in credit customer management, risk management and fraud control. The survey engaged senior banking executives, experts and practitioners in 10 major financial centers across Asia Pacific, including Singapore, China, India, and Hong Kong. The Asian Banker and Fair Isaac revealed the results in Shanghai this week, during Fair Isaac’s first InterACT customer conference in China.

The survey indicated that as Asian banks work to expand their consumer credit businesses, they are in need of advanced decision-making capabilities to help them smartly capitalize on their growth opportunities. The survey found that most banks in the region are still at the early stages of building and leveraging sound analytic approaches and technologies to improve the processes that drive their most important customer decisions. Key findings of the survey include:95 percent of respondents identified establishing a reliable credit scoring process as a key operational challenge. Less than 10 percent of respondents currently utilize advanced techniques for fraud detection and prevention on a regular basis. Less than one-quarter of Asian banks utilize advanced customer segmentation techniques in their marketing activities. Less than one-third of banks incorporate customer profiling or profitability analysis on a regular basis.

The survey was conducted at a time of burgeoning growth in Asian credit and lending markets. According to The Asian Banker, the current $3.9 trillion consumer credit market in Asia Pacific has an estimated potential of $8 trillion.

“By investigating how banks manage key functional processes and customer decisions across the consumer credit lifecycle, The Asian Banker sought to examine the preparedness of Asia-Pacific banks to achieve their growth potential,” said Dr. Grace Liu, Senior Researcher at The Asian Banker. “Specifically, we looked at their current capabilities as well as the fundamental challenges they encounter. Diversity of credit markets, varying levels of process maturity and different go-to-market strategies were key themes that emerged, along with the common challenges banks face in acquiring and leveraging quality customer data.”

“We are pleased to partner with The Asian Banker to provide a timely view of current practices, perspectives and requirements for success in the Asia-Pacific credit industry,” said JY Pook, Managing Director for Fair Isaac Asia Pacific. “The fast-emerging markets in this region hold tremendous opportunity for banks and lenders that approach it with both the right growth strategies and the right combinations of data, predictive analytics and sophisticated decision technologies. Fair Isaac’s mission is to help Asia-Pacific banks embrace and leverage the strategies and solutions they need to consistently and confidently make customer decisions that enable smart growth.”

Survey Details

Select findings of the survey include:

Data, Credit Scoring and Fraud Analytics are Keys to Growth

The Asian Banker found that the ability to capture, analyze and act on customer credit data is a key determinant for success in the lending origination process. Respondents were concerned by the state of data, predictive modelling capabilities and account automation across the consumer credit lifecycle. They indicated that an inability to effectively leverage data is an obstacle to developing advanced decisioning capabilities, and thus is an obstacle to consumer credit business growth. Eighty-seven percent of respondents indicated that making effective use of credit bureaus is challenging, while 88 percent indicated that they have difficulties achieving effective automation of credit approval processes.

In the areas of fraud detection and prevention, the survey found that banks rely largely on basic fraud detection methodology, and view fraud detection and prevention improvements as secondary to growing customer acquisition and account management capabilities. While 89 percent of respondents actively use internal or industry-shared “blacklists” – the most basic of fraud detection methods, only 22 percent use more advanced modelling methodologies such as neural networks and profiling.

A Need for Deeper Understanding of Customers

The survey illustrated that Asia-Pacific consumer credit markets are at different stages of development, with varied levels of market penetration. Emerging economies like India, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia demonstrate the highest potential for market development and growth, while more mature economies like Singapore and Australia comprised the group with the highest ratio of penetration and indebtedness.

This diversity is further indicated by different approaches to market development. In emerging economies, banks such as those in India and the Philippines (or 29 percent of all banks surveyed) utilize broader-based approaches to customer acquisition, while banks such as those in Singapore and Australia (24 percent of banks surveyed) have adopted more advanced marketing strategies in customer segmentation. However, fewer than half of all banks surveyed have established mechanisms for measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, due largely to challenges in quantifying and establishing appropriate performance measures.

China Poised for Growth, But Needs Advanced Analytics

According to The Asian Banker survey, China is one of the highest-potential growth markets. However, the country is still at the nascent stages of market and process sophistication. For example, almost 65 percent of Chinese banks surveyed agreed that they were unable to target appropriate customers for their consumer credit offerings. More than half of Chinese banks also viewed the effective use of credit bureaus and historical data a major challenge.

Evaluserve report predicts Indian KPO Boom

This link here [may require subscription.. not sure] talks about the impending boom in Indian KPO market. Headline says – India to dominate global KPO mkt; create 1.8 lakh new jobs

The Evalueserve report also states in detail about the few sub-sectors within the KPO industry that are expected to do well. These include banking, finance, securities and insurance research, data mining and analytics and contract research organizations and biotech services.”

Thats some good news ;). Having decided to make a career in this field, and still watching it find its firm feet, I think these occasional headlines are very importants for us to feel confident about the career choice we have made.

Nascence, Idling & Adolescence

One of the things I’ve always been scared about, in an organization, is the transition from Nascence to Adolescence. What I mean is a new/small/fresh/startup environment of the firm (NASCENCE), gradually maturing into the processes/culture/large company environment (ADOLESCENCE). However, the theme here is the transition process and my fear around Idling. Often, as we build delivery capacity, the lag between sales and delivery often leads to idle (delivery) time for the team.

Let me show a cycle of events, which I hope some of you will identify with –

  1. Company gets a project in a new space (analytics here)
  2. Company hires people to get it done
  3. Company views this as an opportunity to build its presence in the space
  4. Company starts building the business case. A core team is put together to convert the project into a vertical/business
  5. The wheels start rolling. Sales team is roped in for selling. Delivery capacity starts getting built. Everyone is busy. Everyone is enjoying the dirt on the track.
  6. New guys come in. Some start working on new projects. Some wait for projects.
  7. The unutilized team members are put on firm-development and intellectual capital development
  8. On the ground, there is an uncomfortable buzz. The seriousness required to complete these internal initiatives is often missing. The unrest begins!

I feel that the initial lot of people are usually overworked, because they came in after a project was sold, which, in high probability, led to the identification of opportunity. The IC and FD guys seem to be creating unrest. Why?

My guess is that the blame should be taken by the initial overworked guys like me, who end up believing that they are the ones doing the “real” work, all FD and IC is just a way of keeping guys busy.

The second group to take blame should be the leadership which is in charge of looking at the FD and IC initiatives. Its their responsibility to inculcate the sense of pride, responsibility and importance associated with these inward oriented projects.

The third group to be blamed, to the least extent, is the new group itself. A simple saying like Rome wasn’t built in a day goes a long a way in building organizational maturity. We all need to realize that everyday cannot be a perfect 9 hour work day. Just as there are bad days/weeks of 16 hours+ work per day, there are bad days/weeks of 0(ZERO) work per day. Just as you need the client work to generate revenue, you need FD and IC initiatives to build the backbone of a firm. The initial chaos of excitement needs to gradually mature into a process driven organization meant to meet the needs of a large number of people working together. The ad-hoc decision making needs to be replaced by structures that are ready to take the load of a large number of people demanding individual attention.

That said, I believe that it is how well we handle this stage of growth, that differentiates a great leadership from an average leadership. and yes, one of the ways of doing it is communication (clear, effective and copious)

What do you think?

Desktop Analytics

Read this quote – (Measuring productivity, or the lack thereof, on the personal computer. “Desktop Analytics”) on Google Reader feed of Data Sciences Analytics

Interesting. Not getting into the contents of the real post, I loved the statement. Its funny how many times I have tried to measure my desktop productivity. My desktop (or, laptop) time includes work, watching cartoons/animations/manga, reading comic books, reading blogs, reading general stuff, mailing, searching for tid-bits, playing games, etc etc. Amongst all this, I have no idea if my desktop productivity is 50% or less than that! Oh Yes! I would like to believe that I am terribly busy and am doing a lot of work, but the fact is that, ignoring the dependencies of a workplace, my productivity in the last several years would never have been more than 50%. On a really bad day, it might be 100%. But that would have to be really bad day!

All ye data folks out there, is there a way to capture this data? Any tool? I am sure the results are going to depress the hell out of me. BTW, this blog post – would it go under productive use or unproductive use? My guess is that its unproductive use, unless people find a skewed logic of calling it a break to refresh my decaying brain cells and hence, increasing my productivity. And a break is a part of a productive work day, isn’t it?

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