Importance of Data Readiness Check

How many times have we gone through the routine of seeing data issue after data issue when something goes live in production, no matter how much of due-diligence was put in place? Despite having industry leading frameworks, operating models, air-tight processes, best-in-class templates, data issues creep in at multiple touch-points. Based on my assessment of UAT/post Go-Live scenario at various clients, more than 60% of the issues faced is related to data. Some of the organizations assessed had some sort of a piecemeal approach (or a quick fix in their parlance) to reduce data issues but it was more reactive and not sufficient, foolproof, scalable and/or repeatable.

The project types assessed include data migration, data integration, data transformation and creating/enhancing a bunch of analytical reports. In all the scenarios, data issue topped the charts as the number one pain area to be addressed.  This is because the “data” aspect was either overlooked or not given the required level of importance. None of the processes were designed keeping data as the core/foundation. Everyone understands that data is an asset, yet no one has designed the frameworks models and processes keeping data as the key focus. It is just one module or component in the entire spectrum of things. Addressing all aspects around data in a systematic manner in addition to the existing parameters is key to reducing data issues.

Figure: 1 – Key areas around data

Figure: 1 – Key areas around data

Figure 1 shows some of the key areas that need to be addressed around data as a bare minimum to reduce data related issues.

A conceptual “Data Readiness” framework that can be customized and scaled up as required to suit various project types is shown here. Conducting an end-to-end data readiness check using such a well-defined framework, covering all major touch-points for data will help address data related issues early. While this framework is predominantly helpful during the approval/kick-off phase of projects, it extends all the way till the project goes live and declared stable.

Figure: 2 – Base framework for Data readiness

Figure: 2 – Base framework for Data readiness

This highly scalable and customizable framework comes with supporting artifact(s) for each area as applicable. Refer Figure 3 for details. These artifacts are spread across people, process and technology areas. This will automatically address issues like schedule overruns, cost overruns, rework, low user confidence on IT, etc. as it touches upon all the aspects related to data.

Figure: 3 – Supporting artifacts & checklist items

Figure: 3 – Supporting artifacts & checklist items

The biggest advantage of this framework is that it can be easily blended with any existing governance model and PMO model an organization might be following.

Seven years in Consulting and this is what I learnt!

  • The WOW factor – Find that one thing that will create the wow factor for your client and consider half the engagement done. Unfortunately this at times strikes a day before the final presentation, but trust me the one night left in your hand is more than sufficient to do wonders.
  • See through your clients’ eye – The key things required to find this wow factor is the ability to see the vision of your client. Feel their problem. Understand their priorities and decrypt what they are not able to explain in words.
  • Power of Analogy – Use a simple analogy to restate the clients’ true problem. Use the same or another simple analogy to explain the solution. I normally take the example of food (if I am hungry) or a completely different industry or topic like cars or gadgets depending on the circumstance.
  • Let the numbers speak – When you know you are with a tough client, it’s always safe to let the numbers speak. Quantify everything in the simplest and most logical way possible. Include as many stakeholders as required into the equation to remove anomalies and there you have a nice little shield to defend yourself.
  • The animated story – The term ‘animation’ here stands for the visualizations. We all know the attention span and time from a CxO is highly limited. Everyone is looking for innovation and simplicity. With prescriptive and cognitive analytics gaining popularity, it is necessary to let the charts and pictures form the core of your presentation, while having a nice story crafted around this core. Some consultants would call this gift wrapping. Also make sure your presentation can tell the story you intended all by itself, as that is the cherry on the cake.
  • Know not just thy client but also their industry – If your client is a consulting firm, the amount of content you stuff in a slide does not matter, attention to detail does. Get all your facts triple checked! It will only take 6 seconds for them to process the entire slide and rip you apart. The first question is most likely, “what do you mean by that statement” or “where did you get that number from?”

    If it is a financial client, make sure you are careful with the usage of red color. And do have a lot of charts backed by numbers. It only takes a few seconds to process this kind of content for them. On the other hand, if your client is in the Consumer Goods or Retail segment, use icons, cartoons and animations. It keeps them glued to your presentation and helps them digest the content faster and better.

    I still have not figured out if region has an impact but culture definitely has. This is from my experience talking to a client in Thailand, Jakarta and Malaysia.

  • Sell the solution to your team first – the best way to test the solution you have built is to try selling it to your own team. No matter how much time and effort you put in, give an ear to your team members (especially the junior most staff as the most abstract and raw thinking comes from them). No consensus with your team is as good as you are a dead man even before the battle starts.

Finally,

  • Be a Strategic Thinker (for yourself)
  • Be a Trusted Advisor (for your client)
  • Be an agent of change (Innovator)
  • Build a relationship (Trust)

Divestiture Framework – Data Perspective

Introduction

The selling of assets, divisions or subsidiaries to another corporation or individual(s) is termed divestiture. According to a divestiture survey conducted by Deloitte, “the top reason for divesting a business unit or segment is that it is not considered core to the company’s business strategy” and “the need to get rid of non-core assets or financing needs as their top reason for divesting an asset”. In some cases, divestiture is done to de-risk the parent company from a high potential but risky business line or product line. Economic turnaround and wall of capital also drives the demand for divestitures.

Divestitures have some unique characteristics that distinguish it from other M&A transactions and spin-offs. For example, the need to separate (aka disentangle) business and technology assets of the unit being sold from that of the seller before the sale is executed. Performing the disentanglement under tighter time constraints, i.e. before the close of the transaction, unlike in the case of an acquisition scenario adds to the complexity.

The critical aspect in the entire process is data disposition. Though similar technologies could have been deployed on the buyer and seller side, the handover can end up painful if a formal process is not adopted right from the due-diligence phase. This is because in the case of divestiture, the process is not as simple as a ‘lift-shift and operate’ process. There is a hand full of frameworks available in the market detailing the overall process in a divestiture scenario nevertheless the core component which is “data” is touched upon at surface level and not expanded enough to throw light on the true complexities involved.

What does the trend indicate?

Divestitures and carve-outs are very common in Life Science, Retail and Manufacturing.

Deloitte Survey Report on Divestiture

If we observe the economic movements and divestiture trend over the past decade, it is clear that the economic conditions have a direct correlation and significant impact on divestiture. So organizations have to proactively start assessing their assets at least annually to understand which assets are potential candidates for divestitures and prepare for the same. This way, when the time is right the organization would be well prepared for the transition services agreement (TSA) phase.

The bottom-line

Overall planning is a critical success factor, however that process not involving sufficient planning around the “data” component can result in surprises at various points during the course of divestiture and even end up in breaking the deal. End of the day the shareholders and top management will only look at the data to say if the deal was successful or not.

Faster due-diligence, quicker integration, visible tracking of key metrics/milestones from the start is what one looks for. As per industry experts, having a proactive approach in place has helped sellers to increase the valuation of the deal.

One of the key outputs of this framework is a customized technology and data roadmap. This roadmap will contain recommendations and details around the data and technology complexities that need to be addressed prior, during and post the divestiture to ensure higher success rate for both the selling and buying organization.

The Divestiture Model – Buyer and Seller Perspective

Broadly the Divestiture model has three components: Core, Buyer and Seller:

  1. Core component: Handles all activities related to overall due-diligence related to data such as identifying data owners and stewards, data disposition strategy, value creation opportunity (VCO) and enterprise level data integration with core applications at the buyer and seller end.
  2. Seller component: Focuses on seller side activities related to data like data inventory, business metadata documentation, data lineage/dependency, business process, data flow/process flow diagrams and level of integration with enterprise apps, business impact on existing processes and resource movement (technology and people).
  3. Buyer component: Focuses on buyer side activities related to data like data mapping, data integration, data quality, technology, capacity planning and business process alignment.
  4. Governance: The entire process is governed by a 360 degree data/information governance framework to maintain the privacy, security, regulatory and integrity aspects of data between the two organizations.

Divestiture Model – The Core

Addressing the “data” component:

Selling Organization

Only a few sellers understand the fact that just getting a deal signed and closed isn’t always the end. From a pre-divestiture perspective, the organization should have a well-defined process for possible carve outs, a good data inventory with documented business metadata, documented business processes around the non-performing assets and a clear data lineage and impact document. Armed with this information, the selling organization can get into any kind of TSA comfortably and answer most of the questions the buyer will raise during their due-diligence.

From a post-divestiture perspective, the selling organization needs to assess what technologies and processes need to be tweaked or decoupled to achieve the company’s post-divestiture strategy. A plan to minimize the impact of operational dependencies on existing systems and processes with enterprise applications like ERP when the data stops coming in. If this was not done thoroughly and analyzed well in advance, it can have a crippling effect on the entire organization. Typical mistake committed by the selling organization is, just looking at the cost savings due to alignment/rationalization of infrastructure and missing the intricate coupling the data has at enterprise level.

Having a divestiture strategy with data as the core of the framework can address a host of issues for the selling organization and speed up the pace of transaction.

Buying Organization

There could be two potential scenarios when it comes to the buying organization. Either the organization already has the product line or business unit and is looking to enhance its position in the market or the organization is extending itself into a new line of business with no past hands-on experience. In the case of the former, the complexities can be primarily attributed towards migration and merging of data between the two organizations. Questions like what data to keep/pull, what technology to use, what data requires cleansing, similarities in processes, capacity planning to house the new data, what are the tweaks that will be required to existing reports, the new reports that need to be created, to show the benefit of the buy to shareholders, etc. arise.

The pre-divestiture stage will address most of the questions raised above and based on the parameters a strategy is drawn for data disposition. During the divestiture stage, when the data disposition is actually happening, new reports, scorecards and dashboards are built to ensure complete visibility across the organization at every stage of the divestiture process.

In the latter case where the organization is extending itself into a new line of business, questions like should a lift and shift strategy be adopted or should just the key data be brought in or should it be a start from a clean state, etc. arise. There is no one correct answer for this as it depends on the quality of processes, technology adopted and data coming from the selling organization.

Divestiture Data Framework

The Divestiture Data Framework was designed to highlight the importance of the core component which is “data”.

Divestiture Data Framework

One of the key outputs of this framework is a customized technology and data roadmap. The roadmap will contain recommendations and details around both data and technology complexities that need to be addressed prior, during and post the divestiture to ensure higher success rate for both the selling and buying organization.

Standard Chartered Bank – Nightmares!

Caveat: This post is only to educate the people on the quality, standard of processes and customer care one can expect with Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) in India. This post in no way is aimed at driving the existing customers or potential customers away from having a relationship with SCB. Everything stated in this post is backed by various reference numbers that could be verified with SCB and purely based on my experience.

Background:

  • Relationship with SCB: January 2013 to February 2014
  • Purpose: Home Loan
  • Time taken to close home loan: 27th November, 2013 to 6th February, 2014
  • No. of reference numbers/complaints/callback requests raised: 18+
  • No. of calls to SCB customer care: 35+ calls covering over 270+ minutes in just over 2 months

This post is divided into sections detailing what one can expect at various stages of interaction with SCB. Though the relationship with SCB started with the purpose of having a home loan, I was also sold a top-up loan under the name of liability insurance and a SCB “Preferred Banking” credit card.

Reason for closure of loan – Sudden surge in Interest rate!

SCB raised my interest rate directly from 10.15% to 10.9% while every other bank including HDFC and ICICI was way below this number. When asked to reconsider my interest rate, they gave me 10.39% (same rate offered to customers taking new loans) provided I pay about 11K as processing fee. Points to note:

  • This processing fee comes at a time when RBI is working on removing it completely and other banks are waiving off quoting an offer or some such thing
  • If you do the math to breakeven (assuming you paid the 11K processing fee), you will need an absolute minimum of 6 months in the case of my loan

Not sure if SCB thinks that its customers are mostly dumb or too rich and that they can get away with these things.

Sales Team:

The sales person like in any other private bank was good in selling their products. They also make verbal promises. As a customer or potential customer, what you should be aware:

  1. Get everything in written or mailed to you from their official mail ID
    • Without this anything you say at the branch or to their call center team has no validity and will not be entertained
    • Proof: A verbal promise that pre-payment cheques will be collected from you at your office or residence is possible only with that letter. When the time came and I reached out to them, the response was, “Sir, you need to go to the branch and give the cheque. There is a form you need to fill.” When asked about the promise of having them collected and so on, “Sorry sir, you will have to go to the Koramangala branch only.” Sales staffs name: Bharathi.
  2. Get the process for closure of loan or any service you want clearly explained and documented (specific to your loan/request)
    • Without this be ready for surprises in terms of last-minute delays, new processes being explained from time-to-time, etc.
    • This applies mostly around the time when they try to up-sell and cross-sell. Example: credit card and insurance
    • It is common to hear about new policies and/or charges introduced by SCB just about the time when you thought everything is done
  3. Do not let the sales person force you to take a liability insurance and treat it as a Top-up loan
    • Liability insurance (sold by their staff Pankaj) being treated as a top-up loan is good for the agent as it helps them meet their targets. However, this leads to complications when it comes to closing of loan
    • Though you were told it is only liability insurance, you the customer should know that the sales person treated it as a top-up loan and complicated things. Now you have actually got two loans in hand
    • Assurance that they will help you at the time of closing the loan is no use as when you call them, they will tell you to call the customer care and follow it up with them
    • Showing liability insurance as a top-up loan and tying it to the primary home loan, will now need you, the customer to be cautious and closing each one of them manually by raising a request
    • SCB systems are not advanced enough to show all the details on the customer care reps. Screen so it is “always” your fault and not the banks fault
  4. Registration amount must be clarified before going to sub-registrar’s office
    • This is the first bank where the bank tells the customer how to do fraud and save money
    • Proof: During registration of my property at sub-registrars’ office, the sales person had already assumed that I will register the property at a lower rate (not at the actual rate I bought the property at) and prepared the documents accordingly. In addition, all documents related to the loan were dispatched to SCBs Central Processing Unit in Chennai. Now I was being told by the agent to go ahead with the registration at a lower rate as it is beneficial to me (in terms of saving money). When I insisted on registering the property at the actual rate I bought, I was told it is not possible to bring the documents back from Chennai. We had to request them to connect us to the regional manager so we can escalate and only then did they bring the documents back and register the property at actual rate

At the branch:

During my handful of visits to the Koramangala branch in Bangalore, I observed that only two service desks will be open at any instant of time to handle all kinds of requests. Even if there are 10 customers waiting to be served, and other staffs are either freely roaming around or sitting in their cabins, no extra counter will be opened.

SCB Systems & Process Quality:

  1. SCB systems seem to be a little primitive as most of the time you will hear the customer care say that they need a minute to pull up your details on their screen as the system is slow or they need to transfer the call to someone else as their system hanged
    • Proof: Please ask SCB to give all call transcripts and you can confirm this
  2. SCB systems cannot show all details related to a customer
    • Proof: Even after closing of my credit card, and informing the representatives that I no longer hold a SCB card, offers like a pre-approved loan on the SCB credit card issued to me  were being repeated by the customer care
    • When a request is made to the customer care team to close a loan, you have to explicitly specify each loan number. Mentioning the primary loan account and informing the customer rep. to close everything related to it will not help. Informing that you will ultimately need the original documents back and they need to do everything related to the closing of loan will also not help. This is because the system does not show the same
    • Proof: Even at the branch, when I gave the final cheque and asked whether everything is done from my end and I will get the original documents, the person at the branch checked his screen and confirmed, “Yes Sir. It’s all done. You will get an SMS within 7 working days. Once you get that, you can fix an appointment and collect the docs.
  3. Managing of workflows in SCB is a manual process
    • Proof: When a staff says, “they are marking your case on priority” it only means they wrote down, “high priority” in notes and the respective teams has to manually look into it. This is one of the reasons why I had to raise many complaint requests after SLA expired
    • Proof: If the EMI date falls close to the date in PTQ (Pre-closure letter), rest assured your wait is going to be longer. The team does not like to manually intervene and stop the EMI or change the workflow to have things processed fast
  4. Courier of documents from Chennai to Bangalore can take up to 15 working days
    • Normal process: You will get an SMS once the documents have been dispatched from Chennai. This SMS will say you can call the branch and take an appointment to collect the docs. As per the SMS when you call, you will be given a date that is 3 days from the date of your call to collect documents
    • Your bad luck process: SMS will say you can call the branch and take an appointment to collect the docs. As per the SMS when you call, if the customer rep does not know about this three-day thing he/she will tell you to call after 3 days and book an appointment. When you do so after 3 working days, the customer rep who might have a slightly better experience than the previous rep you spoke to, will say, “Sir, you can only get an appointment after 3 working days!This is how SCB drives you nuts!

Retention Team:

If the amount of loan for closure is high (not sure what is high for SCB) or low (25K for my liability insurance), the request will be kept on hold for a longer time before approval.

    • Even for the closure of liability insurance (top-up loan), the retention team has to approve
    • Even if you are ready to continue the liability insurance with SCB, their process says I cannot if I want the original documents linked to the primary loan

The above is a good example to show how their systems are designed to drive customers away. I had to pay a small penalty on the liability insurance because of SCBs great process. Wish I can go to the court and make SCB pay the penalty for their pathetic systems and processes.

Customer Care:

The team will often use these lines:

I am marking your case to be taken on Priority
By End of day, we will get back to you
I will personally follow up and get back to you by tomorrow”.

Now here is the funny part, one day I asked them what is EOD for SCB? Is it 4pm, 5pm? And they had absolutely no clue what End of day is. They are just told to say, “End of day”. If you call after 6pm, they will tell you, “…everyone has left for the day and someone will get back to you by tomorrow positively”.

  1. Only way to make them call you is to place a call back request and hope to get a call back the following day. Note: If you do not get a callback within 24hrs and you call the customer care, the call back request will be treated as complete and will be closed
    • Proof: My conversation with Moni in Escalations team is proof of the same. She was hell-bent on closing a callback request whose SLA was expiring their “EOD”. No request to keep the callback request open will be entertained. You can call the team after sometime and be rest assured that the call back request was closed
  2. The team has the freedom to raise as many tickets (Reference numbers) as they please. This is because every ticket they give you buys them time
    • Proof: Number of requests I have raised in the just 2 months
  3. Toll free number will connect you randomly to either their Chennai office or the Bangalore office based on availability. So a promise made by a floor manager/supervisor/team lead in one office cannot be followed by his/her counterpart in another office. There is no facility to route the call to the other office or get information for you. You the customer has to place a call back request and wait 24 hours for a reply.
    • Other option is to keep calling or keep your fingers crossed to get connected to the branch you want and hope the person is in office. Some people like supervisor, Mr. Manjunath comes to office only at 12 noon (he himself said this) and will not be available after 6pm
  4. Any promise of personal follow-up from SCB is useless as you still have to call them and remind them
    • Proof: My interaction with Mr. Manjunath R and Miss. Arthy Jaganathan

Credit card:

This is one of the most notorious cards I have seen till date.

  1. Ensure the free credit card given to you is used at least 4 times within the first 3 months period or so. Else you will be levied a charge of Rs.250/- for non-usage
  2. Want to talk to their customer care more than two times in a month? Be ready to flush Rs.50/- per call from the 3rd call you make
  3. Redeem all your points – get the gifts – wait for the statement to get generated – pay the outstanding amount and place a request for closure of card. Theoretically, after 7 working days, the card is closed. But SCBs systems are so good, that the redemption fee of Rs. 111.24/- can appear after 2 months. Now that your card is closed, the only way to make the payment is, you the customer must take the pain of either going to the bank or an ATM with a cheque. Wow!
  4. By the way, when asked about this to the customer care, they do not accept it is their fault, they still hold you responsible. If this amount came up after 6 months, you still owe the bank. The bank is not responsible for you having closed the card long back

CEO’s office:

I was so pissed off with the customer care team that I decided to let the CEO India & South Asia Operations, Mr. Sunil Kaushal know about the service quality so others don’t have to suffer like me. Guess what!

    • Not even a courtesy acknowledgement mail from CEOs office. Nice email etiquette for a British multinational banking and financial services company
    • First time I mailed about the quality of loan process, second time it was about the quality of credit card process. In this mail, I requested indirectly for a courtesy acknowledgement. So the mail was forwarded to the same team I was interacting with and they acknowledged receiving the mail

Conclusion:

If you choose SCB, be ready to face some or all of this. If you found reading this long post was pain, you can understand how much pain I was put through by this bank in just 2 months.

***Will post the typical process flow for loan closure in SCB shortly.

Marathon Diary

It all started with Dad wanting some company for the 10K marathon and checking if I will give him company. TCS marathon on 19th May 2013 was the first marathon for me. The max I have ever run was about 7K on the road while in Chennai (morning jog to the beach). I used to give my dad company in Lalbagh park on Saturday/Sunday mornings for a jog but always end up doing two rounds less than him.

Three or four days before the run, I decided to check if I still have any hope of completing the 10K and managed to pull 8Kms in about a 1hr inside Lalbagh. So there was some hope as I knew I can walk the remaining 2kms in 20minutes 😉

 Marathon 2013 medals

TCS 10K – 19th May 2013

My dad had participated in this last year and was eligible to start as part of Group B (those who have a timing of >55min and <1hr 20min). Unfortunately for some reason he did not get Group B which he was eligible for. Anyway, my dad didn’t mind as I was there for company 🙂 and gave me enough tips based on his last years’ experience. First tip being, TCS marathon never starts on time. This was true!  I did follow most of the tips religiously and got a net time of 1hr 3min 19sec. (Bib #8177)

Dad n Son - Post TCS 10k

Dad n Son – Post TCS 10k

Thanks to my favorite application Sports-Tracker. It kept reminding me that I have a long way to go before stopping. End of the race I did feel the after-effects of not having practiced enough, not having stretched enough and not having had a proper diet before the run. To top it all, a duplicate Reebok shoe from a Reebok showroom (closed down now) that had no cushions to absorb the strain on my legs while running on the road.

Bangalore Ultra 12.5K – 10th November 2013

This time dad was in my native place so did not have his company L However, he managed to do the Pondicherry 10K and the Kaveri 10K marathon post the TCS 10K.

Bangalore Ultra 12.5K Results

Bangalore Ultra 12.5K Results

Having never touched 10K after the TCS marathon and not having practiced at all during the three weeks before the run date, I knew this was difficult. The track was an excellent bamboo trail off Henur road. The route can be seen here. Soft ground (Muddy road) with ups and downs so no strain on legs. But getting to this place was a nightmare as I live in South Bangalore. It took me almost 1.5hrs to reach this place despite having started at 4:15am. My wifey decided to wake up at 4am and give me company 🙂 Sweet wifey! It was extremely cold on that day with mist all over the place as there were no high rises. Just farms! Bangalore Ultra JK and Meena

Bib number 1164, completing the 12.5kms in 1hr 21min 22sec. Weather did play a very vital role and thanks to the great treadmills in my apartment from Sportrack for not showing exact distance you cover.

SBI Midnight Marathon – 14th December 2013

I first learned about midnight marathons while I was in New York waiting to see the useless Times Square ball drop. So this event was a little tempting. My colleague Sunil also registered so I had some company this time. Bib number 6567 clocked 1hr 00min 44sec. What a way to finish the year 🙂

Bangalore Midnight Marathon Results

Bangalore Midnight Marathon Results

You can read about my review of Midnight marathon here

Some say interest for marathon starts with just completing the marathon… Then it is about beating your earlier time. Very true! My next target is under an hour. Still not confident about doing a half marathon but will keep it in my To-Do checklist!

TCS 10K – 18th May 2014

Got into Race category C with bib number 3827 and my dad was in category D. Few seconds delayed start for my dad but he did complete well before me with an excellent timing of 1hr 1min 15sec while I clocked my worst ever net finish time of 1hr 4min 48sec. Blame it on lack of practice and the Sports-Tracker app which just wouldn’t work.

Dad n Son - TCS 10k 2014

Dad n Son – TCS 10k 2014

I was used to seeing the timing so I know when to take a break to catch my breathe and it failed me. The app worked for a few min and got stuck. So started off too fast and ended up losing all my energy way too fast.

SBI Midnight Marathon – 20th December 2014

This one is my second attempt at midnight marathon. Unlike the previous year, this year the course was certified by AIMS-IAAF. The organizers also took the feedback comments from runners last year and had sufficient electrolytes and water throughout the course.

Thanks to Praveen (my brother) for leaving office early, to drop me at the venue and pick me up. One interesting fact here is, I landed from KL in the morning and the same day evening I did this run (chest number 7206). After a three month tiring engagement with hardly any time to practice, clocking 1hr 2min 49sec does not make me feel bad.

To top it all, somewhere around the 3.5kms mark I got a sprain on my right knee and it was slowing me down. At this point I had two options, either give up or keep running and make it my last run. I chose the latter. Btw, another big thanks goes to my manager for approving my high price ticket so I can land in India on time for this event.

Bangalore Midnight Marathon 2014

Bangalore Midnight Marathon 2014

I had bought myself a fitness band, VivoSmart and was testing it during this run. It was pretty accurate given the fact that it did not have a GPS built-in.

Auroville Half Marathon – 8th February 2015

First marathon in 2015 and that too a half marathon… Drove all the way to Pondicherry with my Dad, Mom, Brother and my wife (Meena). Ran inside the beautiful Auroville with trees to give me shade and the soft ground to absorb all the damage my knee would otherwise taken during the 21kms run. For a change I gave my dad some tips for the half marathon and with that he managed to get an excellent time of 2hrs 11min 🙂

Dad n Son - Auroville Half Marathon 2015

Dad n Son – Auroville Half Marathon 2015

My Dad had chest number 2424 and I had 2423. My timing was no where close to his 2hrs 11min as I managed to clock 2hrs 19min and there were at least a 100 people who crossed the finish line in this 8 minutes gap. Now coming to what I did not like in this marathon. First, there was no finisher medal to keep as a memorabilia. Second, the course was not certified. Third, the electrolyte was so diluted in most of the stations that it tasted really bad. Finally, they took the start time of the race (6:15am) and then the crossing time (minus the seconds) to calculate our finish time. None of this is acceptable to me.

Kaveri Trail 10K – 19th September 2015

In 2013, my dad ran the 10K alone and he used to say a lot about this scenic trail. The following year we both registered but had to give it a pass as my dad was down with fever.

Mens Veteran - 10K Category

Mens Veteran – 10K Category

This year, my dad got a fancy bib #3000 and I got bib #1303. Trust me! the picture in KTM website and the reality was way too far. Yes, it is the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary but there were no birds except for a few crows, lots of cows, buffaloes and men bathing in the small stream flowing around. So that was a bit of a disappointment. On top of it, it was a sunny day and the 7am start added a bit more of sweat.

Given the fact that I just got back from London and was running this with absolutely no preparation in the last four months, my time of 1hr 2min 51sec was acceptable to me. Oh! btw, my dad was not a Finisher. He was the Winner in the Mens Veteran – 10K category! 🙂 You are my inspiration to run Dad!!!

KTM 10K 2015

@Finish line – KTM 10K 2015

Before I forget, I need to mention about the fiasco that happened. KTM decided to go with some local timing chip provider whose technology was not tested well enough. So a lot of people did not get their timings recorded properly and KTM had to rely on the personal time that was recorded on our fitness devices. Lucky that my dads device worked and sad mine didn’t. As the tracker was started well before the start line and stopped well after the finish line, the actual time is a little less than the one shown here for me.

Anyway! I did pour my heart out to RFL team on the goof up and they decided to give me a complimentary T-shirt or a registration for 2016 KTM or Bangalore Ultra (any segment). Given the sad trail in Kaveri and my bad experience, I picked the 12.5Kms Bangalore Ultra.

Performax Bangalore Ultra 12.5K – 8th November 2015

Course record Bangalore Ultra 12.5K

Course record Bangalore Ultra 12.5K

My second attempt in this calm and tranquil trail with Bib #12118 clocked a time of 1hr 17min 21sec.

We did it!!!

We did it!!!

This was my Dad’s first 12.5K with Bib #12601. He was a little confused whether to pace for 10 or 12.5K but he comfortably maintained a steady pace right from the beginning till the end. He crossed me somewhere around the 7 kms mark and I was trailing him for about a kilometer or so and then gave up. Now the good news! he set the course record in this track under the Men’s Veteran category with 1hr 16min 13sec.

Though he says this talks about the quality of other runners, the truth is its his regular practice that kept him going on. Practice is the only thing that can help you get the required stamina. Oh by the way, he was very happy to get his money back in the form of a T-Shirt and a nice memento. 🙂

I am sure he will break his own record next year, while I need to try hard and find some time to practice regularly. Getting under the 1 hour mark is my target. Let me see if it happens in the midnight marathon.

The Real Podium Finish!!!

The Real Podium Finish!!!

SBI Midnight Marathon – 5th December 2015

My third attempt with a lot of expectations that I will get under the 1 hour mark but unfortunately, it happens to be the worst ever in terms of timing. Barely managed to hit the 1hr 5min 41sec.

Bangalore Midnight Marathon 2015

Bangalore Midnight Marathon 2015

Had the wrong food (KFC burger) before marathon so was thirsty and on top of it missed their water station twice as it was in a not so well lit area. Also had to rush at the last minute to the venue due to unplanned stops to pick up dinner and thanks to KFC for taking over 15 minutes to get the order. Also thanks to the great Bangalore traffic for making things even worse. The only good thing was, Meena accompanied me and she was in the stands cheering for me.

This event had about 11k runners and Meena was shocked to see that there are so many crazy folks to run at night, including old men and women. Ending the year with four marathons. Hope to do the same in 2016 and if all goes well, hit the sub 1 hour mark.

TCS 10K – 15th May 2016

This was a very special one as my dad and brother also participated. As usual it was only me (Bib #4136) and my dad (Bib #4139) who registered for the event. Just a few days before the registration close, my brother (Bib #17465) decided to get run and got in through the charity route. Just before the special day, my father was down with cold, cough and a bit of fever. I was also down with a bit of cold and cough but still determined to run.

TCS 10K 2016

TCS 10K 2016

As it was my brothers first run he was in Group F and still managed to clock an amazing time of 54min 50sec.  Next year I am sure he is going to get Group B where he can run more peacefully and get a better timing.

Given my dads age and the cold and cough, his timing of 1hr 2min 24sec is really really good. After nine marathons, I managed to get under the 1hr mark and clock my best timing of 59min 36sec. Really happy about it. Thanks to my wifey too for feeding me with carb filled food.

Bangalore Ultra 12.5K – 13th November 2016

This was the 2nd family run – Praveen’s first Ultra, Dad defending his Veteran-winner record of 2015 and me just enjoying my favorite track. We reached on time, had no issues parking, did a bit of warm up and started our run. Dad (Bib #1401) got a timing of 1hr 18min 26sec (not as good as the previous year) but he still holds the record 🙂 and that matters.

Podium Finish again!

Podium Finish again!

Praveen (Bib #1091) did a stunning 1hr 8min and I did a 1hr 20min 2sec with Bib #1176. As you know, the amount of practice and hard work you put in is directly proportional to the output you get. So with <50min of practice a week, this is the maximum I was able to manage this year. Should try harder!

Our 2nd Family Run

Our 2nd Family Run

Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon – 10th June 2018

After a gap of 1 year, I decided to participate in a marathon. It just so happened that I did a quick Google search for marathons in Seattle area and saw this event coming up the following week. I was so excited and searched for a 10K on their website. To my surprise, there was a 5K, half and full marathon only. I was like, 5K will not give me the satisfaction of having run, so let’s give the half marathon a shot. I remember very clearly, my decision to not do another half marathon after the Auroville run in Feb ’15. But given that I was practicing 3 to 4 times a week for a good two months, I decided to go for it despite the high registration cost. Post booking, I checked if my cousin, Monisha was interested in running and she was all-in just because the medal looked awesome! Can you believe that!!! Yes, the Rock n Roll series has some of the best looking medals. Karthik was into cycling so he decided to give this event a pass. Else it would have been triple the fun!

2018

With no practice and experience doing a half marathon before, Monisha (Bib #11447) managed to clock an awesome time of 3hrs 18min 42 sec. And the best part is, she managed to stop on the way for clicking some nice snaps! The only thing running in my mind was, when will the next mile marker come! I had Bib #11067, and managed to clock my personal best timing of 2hrs 3min 17sec. That’s an average pace of ~8min 45sec for the first 10miles, ~54min for the first 10K. Now that feels good! Thanks to the awesome weather too. I started to sweat only after the 4km mark. So you can imagine what the temperature would have been like. Without it, I am sure dehydration and other things would have kicked in.

Rank & Pace

Oh! by the way, I should say thanks to my client who let me work remotely. As they were on the East coast, I did have the evenings for myself to do these practice runs! Without it, it would not have been possible.

Beat the Blerch Seattle 10K – 15th September 2018

My first 10K on a rainy day – start to finish. No company… but the trail (King County’s Tolt MacDonald Park, Carnation, WA) was simply amazing. With Bib# 3820, running on a near flat trail using my fingers as a wiper to remove the drops of rain from my specs every other minute, I clocked 57min 09sec.

Goodies…

If you are familiar with the cartoon characters, everyone was there. You will love the atmosphere. People from different countries were here participating as they were in the area! Oh btw, the medal was heavy, unique and an awesome one 🙂 Loved all the items in the goodie bag.

Hot Chocolate 15K Seattle – 3rd March 2019

My first 15K distance and my first run at near zero (32F) temperature with wind chill… To top it, the elevation was a killer as I did not practice enough.

Best ever picture of mine while running

Bib# 50243 with a timing of 1hr 32min 6sec is definitely not my best. However, the one thing I really enjoyed in this run was the warm hot chocolate drink at the end of the run. Perfect! Will definitely run again for this. The other good thing is, I got the best ever marathon picture taken while running. Thanks to the photographer.

Oh by the way, Hoka One One – Clifton 5 is definitely not my type of shoe for sure. Moving from a 11mm drop to a 5mm drop, does impact the running style and post run recovery. Need to go back to my favorite Brooks.

Shamrock 15K Portland – 17th March 2019

This run will always have a special mention. It took 6 years of persuasion to make my beautiful wife Meena say yes to a 5K event. She has come to cheer me on a few of my runs (including the midnight run) but never said yes to jog or walk long distances. One might wonder what’s the big deal. Let me tell you, she is neither a fitness freak nor someone who has an active interest in sports. However, she enjoys a long, lazy walk with a good company. So everyone who knows her well found it difficult to believe she really participated (and completed) a 5K run.

The whole process of convincing Meena to participate in this event started sometime late November. It was more like, try the 4mile walk it is a very scenic route, etc. etc. Then slowly I started to highlight the fact that 4miles (6.4kms) is longer than 5K and she should consider doing the 5K instead. My consultant hat at work 😉 Then one fine day in February, I made her say or create an expression that sort of looked like a yes (maybe an absent-minded yes) to register for the run. From this time on, there is no turning back. Booked everything before she could change her mind.

The thought of 17th March, did give her jitters, and some realization in terms of what has she got herself into. But at the same time, her curiosity to understand why there are so many crazy souls running and experience the whole thing once for herself took the best of her. The last couple of weeks before the run she pushed herself to come to the gym with me and do some practice walks on the treadmill. She did give all she had while on the treadmill, elliptical and cycle. Earlier, she used to do something for a few minutes and then find a nice spot to sit and relax. This time, I had to literally pull her out of the gym.

We went to Portland a day before the run to collect our bibs at the Expo – Meena got the orange bib# 13870, and I got the blue bib# 21180. She was all excited and at the same time very tensed. Three reasons: One, other runners who looked really fit and/or well-trained, two, the distance and finally the weather. Post collection of bibs we walked around downtown, picked up a running jacket and got back to the hotel. All along giving her small tips on what to do and what not to do as I could feel her tension.

The next day we woke up at 6am to a bright sunny day (35F with wind chill that felt like 30F), munched some of the yummy brownies Meena had baked for my birthday 🙂 and started to walk towards the start line which was roughly 5 blocks from the hotel. All the butterflies running in her mind and stomach made her forget the -1 centigrade weather for a while. I gave her a few more tips like my dad did when I participated in the TCS 10K for the first time in 2013. I got her into a corral I felt is right and she crossed the start line around 8am. Thanks to the location sharing apps, I was able to see where she was all through till the start of my 15K at 8:55am. She managed to get an awesome time of 56min 46sec.

Coming to how I did! I made the mistake of standing in the wrong corral, run with a higher pace (4.35/km) than my usual for the first 1 mile, on a stretch that had some elevation gain to give me a timing of 1hr 34min 44sec (Pace: 10.09/mile). The irony here is, I gave all this as a tip to Meena and I ended up not following any of them. Oh, by the way, this is my second run on Clifton 5 and in both the runs I managed to clock a pace of 10.x/mile. Brooks with a heel-to-toe drop of 11mm gave me 9.x/mile on both the 10K and half marathon last year. Definitely not going to use this shoe again.

Guess what my current task/target is… Convincing Meena to participate in another 5K and beat her current time of 56min. 😀

Iron Horse Half Marathon, Seattle – 25th August 2019

My 2nd USATF certified half marathon with Bib# 1088. Supposed to be a downhill marathon with an elevation loss of 880′. A beautiful scenic course where a lot of people set their PRs. The weather was super awesome at the start of the run at 8am (wave 4). Unfortunately, for me the terrain looked pretty much flat and I clocked a time of 2hrs 14min 29sec (Pace: 10:16/mile). I was literally dragging myself and walking every couple of hundred meters.

One learning though is that, practicing on a treadmill is not the same as running on gravel/road – I could feel the difference in foot strike. At the 10mile mark, my legs literally gave up. Compared to my previous marathon (Rock n Roll), my VO2max had took a hit too. Blame it on the lack of proper practice before the run (slight fever to make things worse). If I ever run another (half) marathon, I will make sure I do a fair amount of practice on the road as treadmills can’t be trusted for long distance runs.

Social Media Influence Scoring – Healthcare Providers

Pricing strategy for the budget constrained BI client

Abstract

Financial services industry and the public services industry is currently faced with increasing regulatory norms, cuts in IT budget and a need for a strong IT foundation to stay ahead of competition. Though the CIOs seem to be pushing for IT transformation projects, Gartner Survey indicates that “For 2013, CIO IT budgets are projected to be slightly down, with a weighted global average decline of 0.5 percent”.

As a seasoned consultant you might be able to see the true potential of your client. But for various reasons like budget constraints, other IT priorities, etc. your request to implement certain key projects might not see the light of day. Find out what you can do to achieve a win-win situation in this article.

The D2RC model

In this model, the consultant is required to get two things. One, secure a “Go-Ahead” from the client to the start the project by explaining the big picture. Two, get the required approvals to reinvest the savings obtained in the first three months (post due-diligence phase) on key projects identified by the consultant. The four stages of the D2RC (Due-diligence – Deliver – Reinvest – Charge) model is detailed below:

Pricing

Due-Diligence – This phase charts out a clearly defined and agreed upon benefits with up-front process to measure the resultant value. The consultant based on his knowledge of the client picks the least-effort-maximum-impact project that could bring about substantial savings to kick-start the “Deliver” phase. The consultant also identifies potential projects for implementation along with a roadmap. This is typically a consulting phase.

Deliver – In a short duration of say two to three months, the identified project must be executed and the savings required for reinvestment secured. If the consultant is going to take longer than three months, its better the project is reconsidered or not attempted unless there is a strong rationale behind it.

Re-invest – The estimated savings over a one-year period from the “Deliver” phase would fund the potential projects identified in the “due-diligence” phase. Projects will have to be hand-picked such that the funds are sufficient to implement at least 70-75% of the project. This is to show tangible benefits to the business for obtaining remaining funds.

Charge – Midway through the Re-invest phase, the consultant can show tangible benefits to the client and either charge for effort spent until then or ask for a percentage of the savings as fee. This is more like a Risk & Reward model. End of the day, it all depends on the progress made and tangible benefits the client can see.

Making it work:

The first step for the consultant is to convince his company that there is a lot of potential with the client. Secondly, he has to secure client buy-in before the engagement starts, which is not only tough, but also risky. To make this model work, the consultant must:

  • Have sufficient knowledge of the client, his environment and culture (preferably worked with the client)
  • Good rapport with key stakeholders (business, IT and top management)
  • Long term commitment from the client and support when it comes to working with other vendors
  • Clear definition of scope of activities, quantum of work and the projects to be carried out
  • Follow caution in terms of explaining the model, billing and charge backs when tangible benefits are realized

The Risks:

If the “due-diligence” and “deliver” phase combined takes a long time to show tangible results, the planned projects might not even kick-off. If the due-diligence was based on sub-standard analysis or incorrect assumptions, the savings obtained in “deliver” phase will not be substantial to meet the funds required for the re-invest phase. If the consultant cannot show visible progress or results at regular intervals, the project is destined for failure. Above all, the consultant must have a clear view on when to pull the plug should anything go wrong to ensure damage control.

Presence of other incumbent vendors can also pose a risk if there is no client buy-in at the executive level to enable smooth implementation.

Possible due-diligence projects:

Here is a sample list of projects the consultant could consider for the least-effort-maximum-impact projects.

  • Technology stack rationalization – If the client has a host of tools in their environment, this is a good place to start. The savings obtained from licenses per year can be used for reinvestment
  • Lean BI projects – On occasions where the client has a lot of processes in place, which are age old, attempting to study a few key processes and trimming them could help achieve the required savings
  • Centralization – If the client operates on a fragmented model, analyzing the impact of centralizing a few key processes could bring in efficiency and savings. Example, centralized report creation team

Benefits:

  • Guaranteed Savings for the client
  • The consultant can build the clients confidence/trust and a possible long-term relationship
  • For the client, he gets to execute projects which he has been wanting to without having to go to the top management for funds
  • Prevent the client from floating a RFP. Caveat: Assuming the client does not have the funding to float a RFP

Conclusion

There are several pricing models available in the market. What differentiates this model from the others is the fact that this is a combination of Risk-Reward model and Result-Oriented pricing model. Given today’s market condition, this model is a win-win for both the consultant and the client if risks are understood and cautiously handled.

Innovative way of saying your website is “Under maintenance”

You might have seen nice innovative error messages and maintenance messages in sites like Orkut and other Google Products when their site is down or not responding to your request. Well, there are other sites which have such unique messages. One of them is from RedBus.in Check it out below!

RedBus.in Maintenance page

RedBus.in Maintenance page

Here goes one from GMAIL.

Gmail error msg

GMail server outage

Foursquare.com

Foursquare Server busy/down message

Foursquare Server busy/down message

Twitter.com

Twitter Error page

Twitter Error page

Wooplr.com

Wooplr 500 Error message!

Wooplr 500 Error message!

Flipkart.com

Flipkart.com 503 message

Flipkart.com 503 message

Simplilearn.com

Page not found message - Simplilearn.com

Page not found message – Simplilearn.com

Will post more as I find them here.

How to conduct a workshop using Sticky Notes

Sentiment Analyzer Evaluation Parameters

Product and Service Organizations are increasingly showing keen interest in sentiment analysis as it can make or break their reputation overnight. Understanding the polarity/sentiment of every users post and addressing them on time is becoming critical. Considering the fact that thousands of posts are being generated every day on a single topic, it is nearly impossible to analyze them manually.

Sentiment analysis algorithms are not accurate and cannot be 100% accurate. But it can certainly provide the required warning signals to change the (product) strategy if required at the right time. This can also help the organization save time by narrowing down the thousands of tweets to a few hundred tweets to be analyzed manually.

Once the need for sentiment analysis has been identified, the organization starts to scout for COTS products and find there are way too many. This article has a list of 40+ parameters under six key buckets that the organization can use to shortlist the right tool for them.

In the below table, you can find the six buckets mentioned above along with the parameters and a short description about each.

I Performance
1 Efficiency Scan speed (Ex. Number of tweets/sentences scanned and analyzed per second)
2 Robustness Tool running consistently without crashing. Ex. Loads of data can result in the application hanging after a certain point)
3 Data size Ability to scale to large data sets. Partly capability of the tool (architecture) and partly the underlying database
II Algorithms
4 Natural Language Processing (NLP) NLP or Machine learning algorithms. Mostly statistics based
5 Computational linguistics Statistical and/or rule-based modeling of natural language. Focuses on the practical outcome of modeling human language use
6 Text analytics Set of linguistic, statistical, and machine learning techniques that model and structure the information for BI, exploratory data analysis, research, or investigation
7 Proprietary Vs. Open algorithms Usage of Free and open source algorithms vs. proprietary algorithms
8 Mostly Human interpretation Post extraction of text, most of the analysis for sentiment is performed manually by people
9 Bayesian inference Statistical inference in which some kinds of evidence or observations are used to calculate the probability of the sentiment
10 Keyword based Keyword based search
11 Combination of the above algorithms Ability to pass the text through multiple algorithms to get the right sentiment. Number of techniques employed
12 Ability to override sentiment Automated sentiments are not always right and might need correction before reporting
III Functionality
13 Ability to fine-tune the modeling algorithms Ability to easily modify an existing algorithm to enhance its capability. Example, add an additional layer of filtering mechanism
14 Plug-ins / API / Widget support Ability to add 3rd party plug-ins to perform specialized tasks. Example, 80-20 suppression, additional graphs.
15 Data filtering/Cleansing capability Useful if there are two similar products in the market. Ex. Norton Internet Security Vs. Norton 360
16 Value substitution capability Useful in tweets where users use different abbreviations or there are spelling errors. Example, MS, Microsoft and Microsoft
17 Supported Platforms Ability to work on Linux, Windows, Mac OS, Mobile platforms, etc.
18 Alert/Trigger functionality Ability to set triggers on key metrics where real-time monitoring is available
19 Auditing/Log feature Audit feature helps capture the amount of data grabbed and processed
20 Geo Identification Ability to identify the source of the conversation. Example, Asia, US, UK, etc.
21 Multi-lingual support Support for more than one language. Example, French and English
IV Reporting
22 Export options (output) Excel, PDF, publish to portal
23 Visualization options Variety of graphs. Bar, pie, line, radar, etc.
24 Dashboard capability Refreshable and drillable dashboards
25 Customizable reports Ability to have calculated columns. Generate different visualization for the same data easily
26 Pre-defined reports Out-of-the-box reports to get social media up and running instantly
27 Drill down/drill up facility on reports Ability to see detailed/summarized information by drilling on an item present in the report
28 Web interface View and analyze reports online
V User interface & Integration
29 Training / Learning curve Tools like Radian6 requires experts to handle the tool
30 Targeted user group Analysts, Business users, combination, etc.
31 Error reporting If any of the configured feeds fail, or reports fail, a mechanism using which the error can be reported
32 Web interface Complete tool is available online and can be used to configure and build reports. No thick client
33 Complete GUI support No command line interface to perform any task
34 Bundled database Does the tool come with a built-in database or 3rd party database like MySQL, MS Access, etc. needs to be procured?
35 Native connectivity to popular data sources Built-in native connectivity to popular forums, groups, blog sites, micro blogs, etc.
36 Integration with BI and CRM tools Ability to integrate the processed data with BI tools and other CRM data. Partnership with leading BI Vendors could be considered.
37 Approved APIs APIs approved by Social media providers enable direct connectivity to their servers and enhance the rate of data pull. Ex. Twitter
VI Vendor Credibilty
38 Established Client Base Referencible clientele
39 Licensing options Free/Trial/Paid. User based license, server based, service based, etc.
40 References Installation with more than 1 to 2 years into production. This might not apply always as new companies come up with very innovative solutions
41 Support Services Tool support, training, etc.
42 Consulting services Analysis of data for client

Feel free to comment on the above parameters. If you have any addtional parameters that you feel are relevant, do let me know and I will be happy to include them (with due credits to you).