Yoga – Basic tips for a practitioner

Yoga is primarily about three things:

  • Balance – literally and figuratively, it gives balance to life.  There are many postures that you need to stand on one leg or do some exercise with one limb at a time which really gives you the right balance.  You get to find your right equilibrium as you continue doing the asanas.
  • Flexibility – since all the parts of your body are being concentrated upon, both external and internal (without you being aware of it), this gives a slight edge over any exercises done in the gym as this tones mostly the external body.   It is important you make a conscious effort to slowly increase your stretches and not just do the motions associated with the yogasanas.  It is important you get better and fitter as days go by rather than being in the same state of flexibility. 
  • Discipline – One needs to be regular in practicing Yoga and ensure you are doing the yogasana with proper guidance from an expert.   What Yoga gives you in return is also to live a disciplined life free of anxiety, stress and ailments.  I always say this, what you give it gets multiplied and given back as more discipline.

Healthy notes

  • Eat a healthy and timely diet along with yoga for best results.  If you are doing yoga in the early morning, have your dinner before 9 p.m. and do not consume alcohol.   Your food and character matters if you want to get the best result out of yoga.
  • Have enough good sleep of 6 to 7 hours the prior night.
  • Some yoga teachers’ advice you to turn left when you go to sleep as this is better for digestion, and to turn right as you wake up slowly by sliding your knee and leg down.    Do not crunch your midsection and get up – this causes tremendous disc pressure.  According to leading ortho, the best position to sleep is on your sides.   Once you wake up, rub your palms to produce heat and place the inner palms on your eyes.
  • In all asanas(poses), unless there are some specifics, the inhalation during breathing by default must be done through the nostrils and not through the mouth.
  • If you want to run or walk, do it before the yoga class or couple of hours after the yoga session.

Generic guidelines for Yoga

  • Yoga is about discipline and faith, and you need to commit to your wellbeing.  Perform yoga regularly without interruptions.
  • While attending classes for yoga, please ensure you do not disturb the other classes.  Wait till the previous batch is done before you enter into the room.  Keep sufficient space from other practitioners.
  • Yoga is not to be seen as an immediate cure to any diseases.  It takes time for your body to get conditioned to yoga and ultimately direct and indirect benefits would be experienced by you after about a year of regular yoga.
  • Be firm in your conviction that yoga will eliminate diseases from your body and keep you fit. Our thinking aggravates, or cures diseases.
  • Yoga is all about Symmetry and Pairs which leads to eventual equilibrium – if you stretch one leg, the other leg has to be stretched; if you twist one side then the other side has to be twisted.
  • You observe nature and emulate it through poses that correlate to animate and inanimate objects (posing like Palm Tree, Lotus, Cobra, Fish etc.).  There are many asana that derive their names from these animals and objects.
  • Keep your mind calm and happy and refrain from anger and irritation.
  • Silence is essential while practicing yoga.  No cell phones (not even in silent or vibrate mode) and preferably no watches as well.  You need to have this yoga time for yourself and your body without any disturbance.
  • It is better to do yoga in an open space – in the terrace, lawn, or verandah.  The place must be free from noise and insects.   Do it with a relaxed body (do not keep it tight) and mind. It is important that the yoga is done sitting on the floor.
  • Wear comfortable loose cotton clothing for yoga – you need to have free movement of your body and limbs. Yoga conditions both the internal and external organs.
  • Ensure the yoga mat or blanket is spread on an even surface to get the right postures.
  • Face the East direction while practicing yoga.  If you are doing it in the evening, do it facing West.  You need to face the direction of Sun while doing yoga.
  • There are six Kriyas (purification methods) for balancing the three doshas – Vaatha, Kapah and Pitha.  They are Neti for Nasal cleansing, Kapaalabhati for respiration and lung cleansing, Basti which is for colon cleansing, Trataka for eyes, Nauli for abdominal benefits and Dhauti for stomach and digestive cleansing. Kapaalabhati should be done daily as a minimal Kriya practice and Trataka Kriya can be done regularly (once in a week or fortnight).
  • If you have specific ailments that you need to address through yoga, consult your yoga teacher and your physician and ensure that it is done properly.
  • Always read about the asanas and its benefits from books and articles written by well-known yoga gurus.  Knowing the benefits of the particular asanas well would make you richer.  BKS Iyengar, Sivananda Yoga and Rashtrothana  Yogic Institute are recognized schools of Yoga, to name a few.


  • Practice yoga in the morning on an empty stomach after your daily ablutions and best to do it after a bath.   Asanas come easier after a bath. 
  • Empty your bladder and bowels before yoga. Drink a glass of warm water prior to the yoga. 
  • If you have to do it in the evening, do not rush into it.  Have some quiet time before you start yoga.  Your muscles are adequately stretched in the evening because of your activity during the day.  
  • Yoga must not be done within two hours of a meal.

During Yoga

  • Always start Yoga by chanting ‘AUM’ and a prayer, to relax your mind.  The prayer gives you the focus that you need to practice yoga for the day.  While chanting “Aum”, it is good to split in such a way that “Au” takes 40% and “Um” takes 60% of the time.   One can also practice  the sound of “A” for 2 seconds, “U” for 3 seconds and “M” for 4 seconds as a variation of the same chanting.
  • Always begin yoga with stretches, then Surya Namaskar – 12 times, then asanas and wind down with Pranayama.  If in the morning, Pranayama can be done first and one can practice asanas 20 minutes later.
  •  All forward bending poses are beneficial for persons suffering from either high or low blood pressure.
  • In general, folks with Hernia, high Blood pressure, knee pain, neck pain and those suffering from Back issues must consult their physician about the yoga exercises that should be avoided and that can be practiced.  The Yoga teacher must be kept informed about any medical issues you may have.
  • End your asanas with Pranayama and close it with Savasana for 5-10 minutes.  During Sava Sana, it is imperative that you are aware of your body and concentrate on deep breathing and total relaxation.  There is a possibility of one going to sleep during Sava Sana but once you start looking inward and concentrating on your breathing, your consciousness increases and this is a great way to relax and unwind – it is important that you are aware of your body while doing SavaSana and still relaxing.
  • The last asana before you get into Pranayama should be Pavana Mukhthasana (fold and hold your legs tightly against your abdomen) – there is good possibility of gas escaping during this asana, esp if you had some bad meals the previous day.
  • Once a week, it is always good to emulate the breathing, walks and stretches of various animals like Lion, Tiger, Dog, Cat, Rabbit, monkeys, snakes etc. each of which has its own benefits – each of them is a recognized asana on its own merit.
  • If you get tired while doing Yoga, take a few seconds off and breathe in through your nostril and breathe out through our mouth to relax.
  • It is always good that one devotes one day  just concentrating  on special focused asanas for the eyes (for which you need   a dark room with curtains closed)  culminating with the Trataka Kriya where you gaze without blinking on a light source, and one day just on Yoga Nidra (just  a long Sava Sana with great awareness of oneself).
    • Basic Eye Asanas: (i)Eye balls moving up and down – 10 times , (ii) Eye balls synchronously moves left and right – 10 times, (iii) Left thumb in front, eyes balls to track thumb moving to the left most and back, and repeat with right thumb to the right this time (iv) Left thumb to the front, eye balls tracking the left thumb as it makes a big circle to the left anti-clockwise, and repeat the same with right thumb making a good circle clock wise and  (v) Eye balls to the right top and left bottom – diagonal movement, and then left top and right bottom, each 10 times.

Surya Namaskar

  • According to Hindu philosophy, SUN stimulates all living beings in this world and is to be respected properly.  Sun Bathing to a degree is considered very beneficial in the western world as well.  In Yoga, we worship the Sun as a light source that dispels any inertia within us and its warmth increased our inspirational capacity.
  • After some initial stretches, one does the exercise sequence called ‘Salutations to the Sun”.  This is a series of 10 to 12 steps (depending on who is your yoga guru, some combine couple of steps into one) which is mostly ‘symmetrical’ (meaning your 1st step is your 12th step, your 2nd step is your 11th step etc…).  This has both a physical side to things (meaning it involves a series of Asanas) and a spiritual side as well (seeking blessings of Sun God).  Since your blood gets oxygen during these salutations, these series of Asanas are supposedly good for heart and warms the body up.
  • ON a daily basis, it is usually done in count of 12, meaning you would be doing 12 x 12 = 144 poses during a single day. Some people do a 108 count once a month as a group.  In some yoga schools, which practices 10 steps, they usually do 13 counts. This varies but the core of the asanas does not change from one variation to the other.  The breathing has to be consistent with the asanas being performed.  If one is doing the 10 poses per count routine, they combine the steps 1 & 2 and 11&12 into one pose each.
  • The most common 12 steps Surya Namaskar are the following (Ref: from Wikipedia) which amount to 1 count of Surya Namaskar:
  • Pranam  Asana – EXHALE – Anahata Chakra – Heart Center (Palms together – thumbs touching chest center) – Namaskar position- prayer pose
  • Hasta Uttan Asana (or) Urduva Hast Asana – INHALE – Vishuddha Chakra– Throat Center (Raise arms and hands – lean back- head and chin up) – Raised or upward Arms Pose
  • Hastapaad or Paadhasta Asana – EXHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center (bend forward- hold ankle with hands – touch head on knee) – Standing Forward bend pose or hand to foot pose
  • EkaPaada Prasarn Asana (or) Ashwa Sanchalan  Asana – INHALE – Ajnya Chakra – Eyebrow or Third Eye Center (one foot back- lift head-hands on ground) – Equestrian pose.  This is a variation of a Lunge that athletes and weight-trainers use as a strengthening exercise.
  • AdhoMukha Svan Asana – EXHALE – Vishuddha Chakra – Throat Center – Downward facing dog pose.  In some yoga schools, this gets replaced by Chaturanga Dand Asana – four-limbed like-a-stick pose
  • Astanga Namaskara – Hold the Breath – Manipura Chakra – Navel or Solar Plexus Center  (only forehead-chest-knee on the ground) – Eight parts salute
  • Bhujang Asana – INHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center – Cobra pose
  • AdhoMukha Svan Asana – EXHALE – Vishuddha Chakra – Throat Center – Downward facing dog pose
  • Ashwa Sanchalan Asana  – INHALE – Ajnya Chakra – Eyebrow  or third eye  Center (other foot back – lift head – hands on ground) – Equestrian pose
  • Hastapaad Asana – EXHALE – Svadhishthana Chakra – Pelvic or Sacrum Center (bend forward- hold ankle with hands – touch head on knee) – Standing forward bend pose
  • Hasta Uttan Asana – INHALE – Vishuddha  Chakra – Throat Center (Lift hands – lean back- head and chin up) – Raised Arms pose
  • Pranam Asana – EXHALE – Anahata Chakra – Heart Center (Palms together – thumbs touching chest center) – Namaskar position – Prayer pose
  • Chakras (wheels) are energy points or node in the non-physical body.   This is the nodal meeting point of the non-physical energy channels or pathways called Naadi.   There are mainly seven chakras described, out of which five gets worked up during the Surya Namaskar routine:
  • Sahasrara  (meaning Thousand Petaled) or Crown Chakra – Located at the crown of the head
  • Ajnya (meaning command) or Third-eye Chakra
  • Vishuddha (meaning especially pure) or Throat Chakra
  • Anahata (meaning unstruck) or Heart Chakra – related to the immune system
  • Manipura (meaning Jewel-city)  or Navel Chakra – related to the digestive systems
  • Svadhishthana (meaning one’s own base)  or Sacral Chakra – related to the reproductive systems
  • Mooladhara (meaning root support) or Root Chakra – located at the base of the spine
  • The 12 steps involve invoking the various names of Sun God.  Sun (and various forms of fire) as a solar deity is common among various civilizations and many religions, including Hinduism. Some people even use it once for every count of 12, each count compromising of 12 poses.  The below are the most commonly used invocations:
  • Om Mitraya Namah! – (Mitre means friend) I Salute the Sun who is my friend and is dear and intimate to us.
  • Om Ravaye Namah! – (Ravi means Thej which is to glow and shine) I Salute Thee, the ever-shining and ever-glowing.
  • Om Suryaya Namah!  – I Salute Thee who gives energy and inspiration.
  • Om Bhanave Namah!  – (Bhanu means Light) – I Salute Thee who drives away darkness and ignorance
  • Om Khagaye Namah! – (Khaga means space) – I Salute Thee who travels through the sky and gives us warmth
  • Om Pushne Namah! – (Pushnaihi means one who provide nutrition) I Salute Thee who provides us food, light and energy
  • Om Hiranyagarbhaye Namah! – (Hiranya means Gold)
  • Om Marichye Namah! – (Marich means Mirage or Power that cures diseases) – I Salute Thee to give me wisdom to differentiate the good from bad
  • Om Adityaye Namah! – (Aditya means son of Aditi, the Mother of all gods)
  • Om Savitre Namah!
  • Om Arkaya Namah! – (Arka means Extract)
  • Om Bhaskaraya Namah! – (Bhaskara means Prakasa – bright)
  • (Some schools add this) On Sri Savithra Surya Narayanaya Namah!

Meditation – Dhyana

  • Sarvangasana (shoulder stand pose) is an ideal pre-pranayama asana because it decongests the lungs and prepares them for intense practice by making both nostrils flow better.  After this and just prior to pranayama, as told earlier, it is a must to lie down for 5 minutes in Shavasana (corpse pose) to get rid of exhaustion.
  • During Pranayama, which is essentially control of one’s breath,  one sits in the ordinary squatting posture and has to remain comfortable?  Siddhasana or Padmasana poses are recommended.   Prana means Life force or energy, and Ayama means control.   Pranayama has to be done properly, otherwise it can even cause harm to the person – it is imperative you learn these under expert guidance.   Just focus on breathing and look inward as this would enable you to concentrate better during the meditation.  Keep your eyes closed during the meditation and be in Chin Mudra (where you bow your head and the chin is down).
  • Keep your back straight and erect, and lower the head to the trunk so that the chin touches the upper chest.  Stretch the arms out straight so that the wrists are comfortably placed on the knees.  In each hand, join the index finger to the thumb and keep the other three fingers stretched out. This is the basic pose for the entire Pranayama routine.  One must sit on a blanket spread on the floor and Pranayama must be done in a clean airy place free of noise.
  • In Pranayama, there are certain units of time:  Pooraka is for inhalation, Rechaka is for exhalation and Kumbhaka is for retention or holding of breadth after full inhalation.  Breathing is done mostly through nostrils, unless told otherwise.
  • Right nostril is Pingala Naadi (Sun relating to body) and Left nostril is Ida Naadi (Moon relating to Mind).  As is said earlier, Naadi means non-physical energy channel or pathway.  As you do alternate nostril breathing, the idea is to bring balance to body and mind.
  • The default Mudra (Gesture)  for Pranayama is the Chin (consciousness) Mudra or Jnana (Knowledge) Mudra: The tip of the index finger touches the tip of your thumb(making an “O”)  and the other three fingers are relaxed and pointing out, with the hands resting on your knees as you are squatting cross-legged on the floor.   In Chin Mudra,  the hands face down and in Jnana Mudra, they face up.
  • Some popular Pranayamas are (each of them  should be done for 5 to 10 minutes):
    • Aum Kar chanting – with the body in chin mudra, and in the ratio of 40% to 60%, call our “Oo” and “Mm” in one cycle and do this for many cycles.   You must be able to distinctly hear three sounds while you chant – A, U and M.  Relax your body , breathe normally and close your eyes as you chant this, preferably for 5 minutes.  Pranav is believed to the mother of all sounds.
    • Naadi Shuddhi or Shodhana Pranayama – Alternate Nostril breathing. Sodhana means purifying or cleansing.  Close your left nostril with your right thumb, and inhale deeply through the right nostril, hold the breadth, close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers, open the right nostril and exhale through your right nostril.  Now change the nostrils – with left nostril close, inhale through the right nostril deeply, hold the breadth, close your right nostril with your right thumb and open the left nostril and exhale through it.  This is one cycle.
    • Bhramari Pranayama (Bhramari means Humming Bee) – similar to Ujjayye but when you exhale, one releases a humming sound.   Inhale through nostrils deeply, close the mouth and make the “Mmmmmmm” sound till you exhale completely
    • Ujjayee Pranayama (Ujjayee means victorious) – this is one pranayama that can be done at all times of the day. Breaths in deeply  through both nostrils, fill up your lung, hold the breadth and exhale slowly and deeply.  This supposedly heals spinal problems, and works on thyroid and para-thyroid glands which helps regulate important minerals in the bones and blood.
    • Bhasrika Pranayama (Bhasrika means bellows) – Inhale forcefully by breathing in through both nostrils, and then exhale forcefully through the nostrils making a hissing sound.  Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.  People with high BP, acute asthma and heart disease should avoid this breathing exercise.  A variation of this is to do the breathing in and out only through one nostril by closing the other.
    • Seethali Pranayama (Seethali means Cooling) – this calms the mind and reduces stress, and reduces body temperature.  People suffering from low BP should not do this breathing exercise as this may bring the BP down further.  At the same time, it is good for patients with high BP.  Look straight ahead, roll the tongue and keep it outside the mouth and inhale through mouth, bend your neck and exhale through nostrils for twice the duration as inhalation. This is a great breathing exercise for the hot summer months as it cools the body.  Practice it for 10 to 20 times.
    • Kapalabhati Pranayama – Slowly inhale, and start exhaling forcefully for about  100 times within 1 minute.    Although you may not be conscious of the fact, there is a micro internal of retention after every exhalation. This involves deep breathing and is regarded as a cleansing  and anti-aging practice. It gets rids of hidden stress, aids digestion, boost immunity and  has a positive effect on the six pairs of sinus cavities in the skull. Anyone with high BP or heart problems should avoid this Kapalabathi Kriyah. This can be planned as the last Pranayama to be done in your routine after which one has to lie down in Sava Sana, and must be done daily.


  • Have a shower after yoga – give a break of at least half an hour between your yoga session and a bath.
  • You can drink water after 15-20 minutes.  Keep the water in your mouth for a minute before gulping it down.  
  • You should only eat half an hour after your yoga session.


  • If you have any neck, back or knee pain, and have undergone any surgeries, it is better to inform the yoga instructor and do yoga only on your physician’s advice.
  • Do not practice yoga when you have fever, cough or cold.  Do not go to any yoga classes if you are sick as it may infect the other students. Do not practice yoga when you are exhausted.
  • Do not practice yoga in haste and avoid force and jolts of any kind.  Do it calmly and happily.
  • Do not let tension appear on the nerves, nose, ears, neck and eyes during exercise.
  • Take into considerations your age, physical and mental condition, flexibility, capacity, environment and time.  Do not over-stretch but do try to push yourself enough to feel the stretch.  Do it to your capacity.
  • If you are on pain killers, take proper advice before doing any asanas.

References – BKS Iyengar books on Yoga and other Yoga schools of thought like Sivananda Yogic center and Rashtrothana Vedic institute.

Note – there are certain Sanskrit names that I am not able to find meanings of, me being just a basic beginner in the language.

Woodwork for an Indian House – A handy guide

There are lots of home buyers who, based on their affordability and taste, invest in an apartment or a house that is to be built or being built.  But having the structure does not mean it is in a live-in condition which means there is more to it than the building structure to make a place livable.  One of the foremost of them would be to get some good woodwork done to suit your living style and comfort, or have just some basic woodwork done if you have to rent it.  If you want to learn about how to get woodwork done and want a refresher course, kindly read on.

    Be it an apartment, ranging from a single bedroom to a four bedroom penthouse or more, or an house that may have more than one floor, there are two things that the owner has to think of:  two levels of woodworkbasic which are essential, and extra which are needed for more comfort and good living, and the budget for the same. As I scribe this in early 2016, based on the cities you live in and based on whether you are using a local interior designer, a specialized furniture solution provider (like Godrej Interio, Veneta Cuicine etc.) or a carpenter directly, the rates may vary anywhere from Rs 800/sqft to Rs 3000/sqft and even higher.   Any specialized furniture solution provider would give you a limited warranty for a few years and are definitely operate on high pricing and margins (to cover their overheads and real estate costs of their showrooms). 

     My personal experience is to get hold of a carpenter who has done work for you or has been referred to you by someone who has used his services that you had liked, and work with them directly as any furniture designer would add his overhead and still hire from a set of carpenters that they have access to. Also, furniture designers are more into volume and they usually push their way of working with only a handful of options they would suggest for the entire house and will offer only a few set of combinations and never depart for your individual comforts.  If you are renting for sure, you can definitely look at buying off-the-shelf furniture and wardrobes from the local stores or e-tailers like Pepperfry, Urban Ladder or Fab Furnish and set up the apartment – it is important to have wardrobes in every bedroom and your kitchen needs to be done with some cabinets for you to rent the place.

   Various options that need to be worked out realistically:

  • Choice of material – for cabinets, for hinges, for handles, for shutters, for drawers and baskets, etc.
  • Price – is there an upper limit that you bounds your budget?
  • Renting or owning – based on this decision, compromises can be made and options evaluated
  • Brand – if you are particular on certain brands, based on some references, this would define your entire choice more or less.  Brand can be for the furniture designer itself, or brands of each materials being chosen.
  • Room plans – do you have an idea of what you want in each room?
  • Environment – do you live in a coastal or an interior dry area?  Do you live on the main road or inside in a more silent road? Are there termites around the area?

      The entire house (villa or flat) can be divided to two areas: your woodwork needs to be planned differently, but both needs to be absolutely termite proofed:

  • Kitchen (includes kitchen, pantry, utility and balcony areas) – these areas can get wet, especially under the counter and in the utility and generally be used more by many people.  Here it is better to use WATER RESISTANT or PROOF materials especially under the counter and sink, and can use a different material for over-the-counter shelfs.   For bathrooms, it is safer not to use wood but rather goes with Stainless SS, Aluminum or plastic materials.
  • Anything outside the Kitchen – let us call them Other Rooms or Non-Kitchen (includes living area, bedrooms, study room etc.) – these are the areas that can never get wet unless there is seepage through the walls.  Need not be water resistant or proof, but one needs to take care of the bottom of the woodwork as it can get damp, due to mopping. So, whatever material you use, you can put a 3 in border of Al or fiber on the woodwork in the areas where water gets in contact with.

     After you are done with this initial planning, it is recommended you walk into a few showrooms to understand what is available and the terminologies to educate yourself better, and get an idea of what would suit you better, and understand their offerings and their inherent limitations.

   In a kitchen, the builder can either give you a bare structure and you fit in everything – called totally modular, can give some provision of kitchen slab for the counter at some height and some other nooks etc. – which is usually a semi modular (there are some restrictions here) and fully built-up with provision for gas, slabs for storage, provision for electrical appliances etc. – this is the older style of doing kitchen where all you need is to fit a frame and a shutter anywhere if you want to,  and in this article, I am not going to elaborate on this third type.  Whenever someone says modular or semi-modular,  you need to understand they can fit STANDARD SIZE drawers in the provisions given – every manufacturer have adhered to certain dimension specification so that it is easier to choose what goes into your kitchen and then the woodwork around it.  It is important even before you hire someone for woodwork, you need to have a fair idea of the kitchen and its outlay and how you intend to use and where you think the appliances like microwave, mixer-grinder etc. come.  Also ensure there are enough exhaust area for the kitchen and a provision for chimney if you do not have adequate ventilation.  It is important to have the kitchen well-lit as this is the most frequented place in a household at any given time.  Also it would be nice to have lofts in the kitchen with doors to store those non-so-commonly used utensils there.

      I am going to simplify the meaning of semi-modular by suggesting that there are height and width restriction in this type compared to the totally modular one, which translates to lesser number of drawers and/or smaller drawers being able to fit into the design.  All the big players like Godrej Interio, Sleek etc. would readily jump on any modular kitchen but may not be too excited to get into a semi-modular one.  The kitchen designer still will use some carpenter and some back-end machinery place to tool the boxes to certain sizes and they would just come and fit in the boxes during installation – understand their margins would be sky high and it may be impossible to choose what you want in terms of wood and material while you go with these designers as they have tie-ups with few manufacturers directly.

    Now to re-iterate , one may have three choices, for both kitchen and outside kitchen – either fully outsource the woodwork to an established name-brand furniture designer, work with your local designer where you may have some flexibility in choice of materials although this would still be labour and material contract, or go with a traditional carpenter provided you have a good idea how your kitchen has to be structured – in order of pricing, the carpenter would be the least expensive and you have total freedom to choose your materials and just give him the labour contract.

    For the woodwork that is going outside the kitchen( I would call it non-kitchen or other areas), like the living room TV cabinets, balcony storage cabinet, book shelves in the study room and wardrobes in the bedrooms, the woodwork options remain the same and does not vary between rooms. 

     In both the woodwork process is to first measure the area, manufacture the three sides of the boxes or carcasses (can be laminated on one side or both sides), then manufacture the doors for them, install them with hinges, have the baskets and draws fit in with the slides, and based on the materials used may need polishing as well, and after that the handles on the doors.  This is pretty much how things get done. One can always choose a different material for the boxes and the doors, and different thicknesses as well.  It is important to remember that the hinges used for installing the doors also vary according to the thickness of the doors.

    Now some of the material types commonly used for the boxes or doors, all are priced per square foot:

  • MDF (Medium Density Fibers) – not suitable for coastal area where there is lots of dampness as these warp over time.   They come in pleasing glossy finishes and in lots of patterns.  It is advisable not to use MDF even in dry areas under the counter top as the water would make it warp over time and you need to replace the MDF every seven years or so. MDF and steel would be the two cheapest options you can get.  If you are doing woodwork for a rental property, it is OK for you to go with MDF or Steel.
  • Plywood – stronger than MDF and comes in different thickness and the common one used is a 16 mm ply.  Thicker the ply, more expensive it is.  If you want it to be thicker, one can use a ¾” or a 19 mm ply as well. They essentially come in many denominations, but two of them are widely used – BWP (boiling water proof) or BWR (boiling water resistant) and a better quality and stronger MR (Marine Grade) and there are different ISO specifications for the two – IS 303 vs IS 701.  A ply is usually finished either with a laminate or a veneer – veneer needs polishing to be done.  The good quality names with ISO certified manufacturing processes are Green Ply and Century Ply, and the other brand that is commonly used is Kit Ply.  All plys come in standard 8 ft. x 4 ft. dimension that you need to cut and use.
  • Real wood like Teak or Sheesham (Indian Rosewood) or Sal – usually the thickness of real wood is larger and is about 20-26 mm, and they definitely need to be polished.  You may get thicker wood but it is not advisable to use thickness above 25 mm. There are various grades of wood that you can choose from, and usually a first quality Burma teak is hard to find and is very expensive. One needs to treat them properly for termites.  This is the most expensive of the choices and usually folks go with it if they do the woodwork for their own house that they would live in and not to rent.  It has to be maintained well and durability is high as long as the polish is done regularly.
  • M S Steel – thinner profiles, termite proof, dent-prone, and rust prone and needs to be painted often.  It can come with any color of your choice as it is easier to paint over.
  • Aluminum and Glass – mostly for DOORs.  This is just glass on aluminum frames. This is mostly a choice that competes with Ply and glass for over the counter woodwork in the kitchen so that you can see what is inside.    Aluminum is expensive.

     The windows and doors of the house are usually painted as they need to be water repellant.  As for the prepared woodwork which does not really gets wet (except may be a little  in the kitchen under the countertop), the three most common choice for the transparent coating are (applicable only if you use real wood or veneer, and not applicable at all if there is a laminate or MDF):

  • French polish – least expensive, does loose shine quickly and is not long lasting.  Recommendation is NOT to use this for your woodwork.
  • Melamine – turns yellowish in over 7 years, but most widely used by all although can be laborious to get the right finish
  • Poly Urethane (PU) – most water resistant and long lasting, and excellent for protection but most expensive of the three.  It is said to darken over time, and also turns light yellow over a longer period.

      Although there are a wide variety of manufacturers for laminates, the company which seems to have the most market share in decorative laminates and support from the carpenters today is Merino.  Laminates go on one side or both sides of the boxes and on both sides of the doors.   In India, most of us call these products as Sun Mica as this was the company which came first and like Xerox is used instead to photocopy, so is Sun mica used to refer to laminates.   It is always better to not look at pictures but rather check out the real samples and see them in both sunlight and artificial light to ensure you are satisfied with the right color.  The catalog or the computer colors are not to be trusted. They usually are 1 mm or less thick, and used as overlay on ply or rarely on wood by using glue, and since they are artificial blend of paper and resins, they come in various colors and stains.

     As for veneers, which are real wood slices and hence natural, again there are lots of manufacturers and you can choose what grains you want and then go with the same.  Most of the folks usually choose a teak grain to make it looks like wood which would always give a warm feeling.   Veneers are more expensive than laminates, and they give a richer look than laminates although latter is more scratch resistant and waterproof. When one uses veneer, you need to polish the surface first and regularly for upkeep.

    Coming to the boxes or carcasses, they are either made of MDF, ply or steel. If made in ply, they need to have laminates on both sides and many a times even the side that goes against the wall.   It is enough if you use a  maximum 16 mm thick one for the ply as we need to ensure the width of the box can still carry the drawers and baskets that come in particular widths  and heights only. 

    In all cases, while measuring, the dimensions measured – are just the width and height as the depth (z) is usually 2 ft.(rarely 1.5 ft.) , be it for the wardrobes or the loft – this is more standard.  So, all the quotation would be given for Height x Width in price/sqft and you can compute the stuff yourself.  Ensure the measurements taken are correct and try to validate it properly across each line item when the quotation is given – it is better to do it twice or more to get the actual measurement up front as the payments are based on the quotation based on initial measurements and not the final woodwork measurements done. The more information and more patience you see from the vendor, the easier it would be to work with them at a later stage. Ask all the questions up front and once you are near finalization, make a document of what your expectations are and get a specific quote for each line item (if the budget prevents you, then you can easily scratch a line item or two).  When it comes to labour market, there is always a good chance of being held at ransom by the vendors who provide the service – ensure all the payments are milestone based and they need to agree to it – hold on to 5% of the payment a month after they are totally done.  They would hear only the ‘money language’ and this is the only hold you have on them.  Do not get caught in their own payment modes which as a customer you can definitely change and document – as a customer, please ensure you get to dictate your terms clearly.   If the vendor does not sign the document with all the accepted rules and conditions, walk away from that vendor as it would be NOT be worth your time to be working with them.  Also sign and get receipt for every money transaction that had taken place.

    Carpentry nowadays goes like this:

  1. The final plan is approved and both the parties are in total agreement of what goes where. Advance amount anywhere from 25% to 40% is given up front for the vendors to get the materials.
  2. The boxes or carcasses get manufactured (mostly elsewhere and rarely in-house) and they would be put in place at the right places inside the house.  Usually 2-3 weeks.  The second payment gets made which would be usually 20-30%, overall 70% of the payment gets made here.
  3. Now all the slides or runners that go inside the boxes are attached to hold the kitchen accessories.  Since the kitchen gets used the most, it is better to put the more expensive soft or silent slides(go for a good quality German make like Blum or Hettich)  and for outside the kitchen an ordinary slide (like Ebco) would be good enough.
  4. It is important to have all the kitchen accessories (baskets, rollers etc.) available and fitted inside the boxes. These can be bought, delivered and installed within a day.  From now on, the security inside the house should be increased.  Take photos after installation and give the key only to one dependable person who monitors and overseas the execution of carpentry.
  5. The door, which can be a different material than the boxes, is cut and made and then installed.  Holes for the handles are put in place.  If you want to attach a dustbin or a detergent holder on the door, it has to be conveyed to the carpenter as this may require some extra provisions. Usually the detergent holder and the dustbin go under the sink and it is better to keep the pot and pans and the spices around and under the cooking area. If the laminates or veneer are needed, now is the time it gets glued and nailed to the doors.  Once the doors are in, the carpenter and his men would be staying in your house for about a week or two.  Ensure again in the document that they need to work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day if you are contracting it wholly to the carpenter and if you can provide for evening meals and provide them lights, they can stay till 8 p.m. Faster they do the job, better it would be.  Again the main carpenter’s daily wages is about Rs 700 to 800, two more carpenters who work for him would take Rs 600- Rs 700/day each and a helper who gets Rs 200/day.  The price may vary by Rs 50 to Rs 100 based on the city you live in from these norms (based on early 2016 rates).
  6. Now the hinges have to be purchased for the doors and attached.  Materials used can be stainless steel or brass or bronze or steel with nickel plating.  Again, use a soft concealed hydraulic ball bearing hinge for the kitchen and ordinary butt hinge for other rooms.  The number of hinges to be used is based on the height and weight of the door, and the size of the hinges would depend on the thickness and the width of the door. Based on how the door needs to get attached in either a framed or frameless box, there can be three overlay options (Full, Half and Inset) to do it which must be planned and understood much ahead.   Now the third payment gets paid.  Usually 80-85% of the payment gets paid by this time.
  7. After all these things, final finishes on the cabinets and doors gets done.  The dado bars in the kitchen and grip bars in the bathroom gets attached.   Some nails in other rooms can be driven in. Hold on to the carpenter for all these small things that you may need to run around once they are all gone. All polishes get done, if any. The handles to all the doors and drawers are installed now. Now you would be able to see and appreciate the final woodwork properly.  Once he is done, after inspections and any minor repairs that are found get done, 95% of the payment gets made.  The remaining 5% is to be given about a month after you regularly start using it and ensuring all is perfect.

       While doing the doors on wardrobes, it is easier to fix a mirror on one of the doors with a beading around it so that it can be used as a dressing mirror – the mirror must be a good quality one like Saint Gobain or Modi Guard. The lofts would just have a frame, doors and ordinary hinges and NO Boxes inside. While measuring for the wardrobes and cabinets, first one has to ensure you are not obstructing any light points or switch points. While doing any woodwork under a window or an opening, ensure that this does not get affected by rain that may come in.    Do not do any woodwork in the bathrooms due to the high moisture inside and instead go with the plastic cabinets that are available off the shelf.

   While making tables, beds and chairs with real wood, it is always better to look around online for what you are looking as getting this done by your carpenter would be very expensive- also the talent of carpenters who can actually go a decent job here would be limited.  Buy them directly either online or through the traditional furniture store.  If you have the time, get hold of a good woodworking factory in Rajasthan or Uttarakand through a good reference and even mail order them.  Anything with bamboo, one can always look at Assam and the North East for options.  Remember, when it comes to wood, even your experience carpenter cannot attest to the quality of it by just seeing it.

    Hope you enjoy the woodwork to your apartment and find this article useful.


Why are certifications costs so high?

As a consultant, I have been taking some certifications in the areas of my expertise as I find many clients insisting on certifications.  Going through the various certifications, I started doing research on more of them which may not be related to what I do and find the cost of the certifications to be exorbitant, the pre-requisites of some to be logistically impossible and the validity to be a little less.

    Governing bodies like Project Management Institute(PMI), the professional associations for Six Sigma(‘the gate keepers’) like IASSC and ASQ and global best practices companies like Axelos for ITIL and Prince2 charge an arm and leg for their certification. On one hand, they would like to have their certification more accessible by having many more to take this up globally (they always talks about growth rate) but on the other hand, their unreasonable pricing does act as a deterrent even for interested folks to take this up.  Are they trying to position themselves as the elitist group by making the fees unreachable for a common man?

    Let me talk about a few pricing here to paint the reality better:  PMI membership is $129 and PMP certification test fee is $405 or $555 depending on whether you want to be a member or not, and PMI-ACP test fee is $495 for non-members.  AXELOS charges $195 and #345 for their Prince2 Foundation and Practitioner test respectively, and IASSC and ASQ charge $395 and $538 for non-members respectively for their Black belt exams.  This is just the test fees and the training is extra.

    Where the per capita income of many countries are either less than or equal or little over these costs, it is frightening to see what thought process these governing bodies have. Let us say in the case of India where the Gross domestic product per capita (nominal) is $1582 to $1617 (as given by UN, World Bank or IMF) and for China is $7617 to $7990, and the countries like Vietnam and Philippines somewhere in between, this is a serious concern as half of the knowledge industry seems to be from these countries.    As you can infer, the certification costs is a significant part of the per capital income in these countries, if not more – what are these bodies thinking?

    And the pre-requirements are more stringent as well for a few of these (like ASQ and PMI) which is reasonable but they also have to understand that it is difficult to get projects done vetted by their manager as people in Asian countries tend to move a lot between companies and it is rare to get hold of the earlier managers they had worked for, unless they have stayed in touch personally.   Added to this the validity of some these certificates are only for a few years after which there is a mandatory renewal process to maintain your certification.  There must be a better way out here.

   On the good side, I also see a handful of these associations(like BCS) having different pricing depending on which country  you belong to, although it may sound unfair to the higher paying countries, I believe this is a much needed step in the right direction.

   So, I guess if the certification bodies are really serious about welcoming a qualified global workforce to take on these tests as part of their personal continual learning initiative, it time they look at the fee structure, the pre-requirements and validity of most of these test, without diluting the intent or the value of these certifications.

Why are the Japanese not getting a handle on Indian consumers?

Toshiba and Sharp of late are closing down part of their units in India and trying to find other vendors who can take over the assets.  Sony sold their PC business a while ago. Also they seem to have problems of their own in overstating their accounts globally. They seem to have lots of inventory lying around that they need to dispose.

      Be it TVs or mobile phones or other consumer appliances, the Japanese have found it hard to understand and play well in the Indian consumer appliances market which may be the second largest market for them in the world today.  It is going to be Numero #1 because of its youth that are rising up the ranks and would dictate the demography over the next two to three decades.  So, it is not the right time to pack up your bags and leave.

     Japanese products would always be revered for their quality but given these times where quality is a given or a not-much-of-a-care (if the shelf life of the item is small like cell phones), not much can they leverage this value in the Indian subcontinent.   Let along their Hondas or Toyotas, they are struggling everywhere in the Indian B2C space.  

     Here are a few reasons that they are not able to make any dent in India:

  • Lack of proper electronic presence – unlike a LG who has displayed all their specifications that includes prices on their website and have their own website over and above the normal distribution channel, I do not see many of the Japanese companies having their digital presence.  As an example, let me take the case of air conditioners- no pricing details are available, no proper and complete comparison data is available between their own models, and no completeness in their specification.  The MRP should be mentioned clearly and the websites must include both Made in India products and imported goods.   And to make matters worse, they do not seem to be pushing their products through the Flipkarts and Amazons in all cities and towns.  They should also be able to sell online directly to the consumers.
  • Lack of physical presence too – not too many chain outlets carry Japanese products.  Either the discounts and commissions do not work out for them or the products are not fast moving for the outlets to store them , both of which can be easily fixed by being on par with what other manufacturers do.  Actually since most of the Japanese firms want to get a foothold first, they need to do better in both these fronts to have the outlets be able to have a smaller shelf life for their products.  One would notice that the outlets would try to sell a LG or a Samsung even if you tell them you are looking for something else.  Their concept of Solutions Plazas do not seem to work – I happen to go to couple of air conditioner’s Solutions Plaza and they do not even seem to have proper display units on any of their products.
  • Lack of transparency –first, as I mentioned, is pricing – the prices of the consumer products are not advertised on their website.  Second, no mention of a point of direct contact for either sales or support which is important to ask a query or lodge a complaint.  Why are they trying to hide from the consumers?  Many sales queries must be directly handled by the manufacturers and they must assist the potential buyers with the right outlets to go buy their products.  Third, most of the dealers mentioned in their website, are not email friendly – even if any query is sent, no reply comes back.   Overwhelming the consumers with more information is better than not sharing most of the important details.  And in the management side, which I have personal experienced,  the Indian managers working for Japanese companies feel that they do not have any say in significant matters, and none of the top decisions are taken by accommodating them in the loop.   Being open and honest to both consumers and employees is essential.
  • Perception of higher quality can only get you so much – gone are those days Sony had a Trinitron that was regarded the best in class when it comes to Video.   Now if you look at Samsung LED TV, they are truly world class and best in the industry.   The challenge is for the Japanese to deliver superior products at the price points dictated by the market. Japanese cell phones in India do not seem to be renowned for their quality unfortunately.  If the quality is what gives them respect, having some superior proactive servicing capabilities DIRECTLY is what would make things better – if they are outsourcing this service, they must ensure that the parts are available at an affordable price and the quality of technicians are superior and well trained.
  • Not going with global standards – SONY’s biggest mistake was to use their own standards, either physical or electronic and trying to go at it alone without shepherding the global players with it.  Remember Memory sticks and Beta Max?  Once they understand the world is going in a different direction than theirs, it is important to deliver on those standards with reliable products.
  • Pricing it properly– one of the 4Ps of Marketing taught at any management school is PRICING.  For a consumer market like India, majority being middle class who are very price conscious, pricing their products ON PAR with other competitors is critical.  Quality is not going to get you a higher price, because most of the products today are use and throw and no repair or service work takes place.  There is a life time for every product after which most of them gets replaced and not repaired.  For example in cell phones, other than APPLE who have a price advantage because of the  eco systems they built and grew, others compete  on PRICE – I see no Japanese players  in the cell phone market other than Panasonic.  In any product, try not to price yourself out of the market.  Indians want to get what is available in Japan at the Indian price.
  • India is NOT a dumping ground – the strategy that I see Japanese using is to dump their older models into India and keep the fast moving newer models only in certain other markets.  This is totally unacceptable and unethical as one can be surprised as to how much wealth certain Indians have.  I take another example of a refrigerant R22 used in air conditioners which has been either banned or being phased off in other countries, due to its ozone depleting nature, but I see most of the air conditioners from Japan still trying to use the same.   If they are truly conscious of both the market and community, they must take an active role and lead from the front. 
  • Local Leadership and better management – Indian manager are more used to USA and European style of functioning where you feel empowered and decisions moves faster.  But in all Japanese companies in India, I do see only a Japanese expat at the top. Decisions are painfully slow due to the consultative group culture that they practice in Japan and it looks like most of the Indian inputs are not taken into consideration. Outside of Japan, they need to start operating their local subsidiaries differently.   Speak Latin while in Rome.   Being more visible among employees and end consumers would be helpful for a profitable journey.
  • Make in India with high quality – I see lots of assembly and integration work happening, but not everything needed for an appliance gets manufactured in India. They need to have a long term vision and will to make it big in India, and have processes that are identical to their worldwide factories and must be able to export Made in India products to other countries as well. This way we can be assured as well that the price of parts are cheaper and are available for the lifetime of a consumer product.

      It is easier to run away but it is tougher and more challenging to stay put and find your way through the market.  If your cost and hence your price comes down, if you have a good direct sales and service presence, if you are able to be more transparent to both consumers and employees, if you empower the Indian management and allow them to make some decisions, if you are able to change your direction on the drop of a coin, if you have a higher presence both physically and electronically, if you offer India the latest and the best technology, then there would be no fear of failure.   Do your homework properly before entering or expanding in India.   By walking away, do not leave the old Indian customers high and dry.

This article was written in 2014

Value Centric Organizations – I

    As organizations get to be more global, more diverse, more flexible and more agile in this digital world, it is imperative that they stay transparent to their employees and stakeholders although this is going to be a challenge for most.  The management and the employees must operate through a ‘common fabric’ that ‘stitches’ them together cohesively in a collaborative manner in such dispersed and virtual organizations.   This common fabric are a set of VALUES  based on ones beliefs, convictions, ethics and principles which would be the  ‘guiding principles’ of the organization.   The beliefs of an individual would be based on their cultural, educational, family and ethnic background.  The behavior is based on the values and the culture is based on the employee’s behavior.

    Global organizations in the future would be more flat, less-hierarchical and power neutral, with lots more of first level management handling employees based on geography and markets, and lots more matrix managers handling the projects.  Both these types of management would have to work together in an ‘electronically-social’ environment and work towards a common aligned purpose, made effective by top leadership through a set of values that would be the framework of the entire organization.   One has to ensure they stay true to these values during all times, good or bad.

     When you start an entrepreneurial venture, the sets of beliefs and principles of the founders becomes the undocumented set of values for the organization. Yes, their personal values become the one that the organization practices.  And as the company grows, the managers and employees imbibe the same set of values and this becomes their path of choice to productivity and profitability.  As the company becomes a mid-sized one, it is best to document the set of values and limit them to 5 or 6 and the organizational culture would be a reflection of these values.

      If there are mergers or acquisitions happening, it is best for the top leadership to sit down quickly as part of the integration process and chalk out the combined top 5 or 6 values for the combined organization. It is also a good practice for having a survey done internally with all the employees to understand what they feel the organization stands for and then summarize the top 5 or 6 values – the benefit here is the values came from grounds up and since all employees participated in the process, the motivation level of adopting it is quite high.  Some companies go this exercise every 5 years or so, and may change one of the values in the process based on the feedback received, but the core values do not change  with time.  It is a good practice to have the values written at the back of the identification badges of the employees so that they get reinforced daily.   The most common values you would see across all organizations would be integrity, quality, something to do with community and customer satisfaction to name a few.

     Having got the values worked out, it is important that all the policies, strategies and performance measures reflect them.  The tactical part and the approach of doing things may change, but not the strategy that is based on the values.   There are two parts to any performance appraisal system – “What” objective was achieved and “How” it was achieved.  The values address the “How” part and the performance should be evaluated based on the values exhibited while achieving the desired objective. Values essentially connect the organizational goals to the employee’s achievements, thus becoming a motivational tool.   

    Going back to my previous statement that the future organizations would be less hierarchical and more flat, the values help the employees manage themselves without much of a need of active supervision and they begin to trust each other as they work across boundaries to achieve common organization goals.  They feel more empowered because they believe that they impact the organizational positively at all times, they  believe the system they operate in encourages excellence and they have better work-life balance because their beliefs are the basis of the values of the company.  No one can ask for a better win-win situation than this.

    The author, Rajagopalan V, is a business and technology consultant based out of Bengaluru, India and is a foot-soldier for value based leadership and conducts management workshops in Asia in helping organizations come out with their own set of values. 

Why are Flash storage companies the acquisition flavor of this season?

       Recently Dell has agreed to acquire EMC for $67 billion and then Western Digital intends to acquire Sandisk for $19 billion.  Both EMC and Sandisk made their name due to their storage expertise, although at opposite ends of the spectrum – EMC at the enterprise side of data storage and Sandisk in the client and mobile side. So, why are storage companies the flavor of the season to get acquired?

     Other than Sandisk, the three companies mentioned above are going through a slow demand and facing intense competition for their products – be it PCs which is nearing end of life as we know it, legacy storage or mechanical hard drives.  Dell with its server expertise combines well with the storage expertise of EMC to make an entity that can take the data center market (read Cloud) flag position – I am going to assume there is going to be some overlap in their storage products which may lead to some consolidation.    Also with the advent of Flash as enterprise storage, EMC may not be effective in competing at the price points with their fiber channel arrays. Everyone knows Sandisk from their consumer space but they have made acquisitions in the enterprise space a few years ago which made them have effective solutions across all the computing market segments.

     If you look at Flash as a storage (it is actually a solid state device – SSD, storing data using electricity and is non-volatile), they have been more used in the consumer space (embedded applications) in the laptop, cameras, tablet and mobile markets.  They are also more rugged as a physical drop of the device that has Flash storage does not lead to a data loss as it may in the case of magnetic drives. Presently their price points are about 5 to 10 times more expensive than the well-known desktop storage – the ‘mechanical’ hard disk.  But with volume usually the prices drop,  and higher volume is a result of more use cases of the technology – as data centers and cloud are the latest buzz words now, it is clear that enterprise storage class will have to go with Flash and its related array technology as they have no moving parts which results in less acoustic noise, less power consumed and less heat generated,  and comes with a thinner profile and are about 100x faster, all a big win for huge data centers being planned as less cooling and less real estate would be required, thus making them ‘more greener’.  The biggest drawback today for Flash is they have lesser longevity and old age reliability than the regular hard drives.  So, be it public or private cloud, looks like the future holds well with Flash technology.

    If you look at the competition for Flash as a storage medium, there are only a handful of them for Sandisk – a combination of Intel and Micron (individually they are leaders in Flash technology and together they have formed a partnership company as well), Samsung and Toshiba.  These companies have both the IP related to Flash which they license out and also have end products that they sell directly. Intel, having seen the light at the end of the tunnel for a few years now on their personal computing segment and having gone nowhere in the mobile and tablet business despite their acquisition of Infineon, is a leader in the data center and server farm business,  indirectly  though (meaning others use Intel’s technology and products to operate their own data centers) and raking in the dollars from this enterprise segment – in fact, this has been their most profitable business now and have customers like Amazon and Microsoft. They do have all the expertise and the IP behind the manufacturing techniques in the sub-micron space which helps them have a generation lead in the Flash technology. Samsung, the world leader in the memory space, is a major Flash supplier to other storage companies and they would like to stay that way given their business model. Then comes Toshiba which is a credible innovator and a technology provider in the Flash space.    Actually Toshiba invented both the NOR and NAND based Flash memory technologies, thanks to Dr. Masuoka, NOR considered a more expensive/GB, less durable and slower than NAND in general.

     Western Digital and Sandisk combined would offer a lot in the overall storage space across all market segments, and probably may be the biggest supplier to many an enterprise storage companies.  Flash can be packaged in different formats for different applications and it is capturing the eyes of chip makers, enterprise storage and server companies, thus potentially leading to more partnerships and mergers in this space in days to come.  Enterprise storage is the biggest wave that is happening with the cloud, and big data and analytics segment, and it looks like Flash is getting to be the biggest beneficiary.   Expect some strong moves by HP Enterprise, IBM, Hitachi, Netapp, Seagate and Kingston, and even the networking giants in the near future along the M&A space as technology predictors already are pointing to the fact that Flash storage market would exceed the Hard Disk storage market even as early as next year.

This article was written originally in 2014

T20 is entertainment

  Twenty-20, or T20 as it is called in cricket lingo, started off mesmerizing the whole world after the IPL season and definitely is meeting its objective of more inclusion from all rungs of the society.  It is equivalent of baseball played in USA from a time format perspective and started getting more followers in women (wives, daughters, mothers) and many 9 to 5 professionals who started unwinding over a T20 game in the evening, either at home or in the stadium.  I have been following this game for the past 10 years or so, and am a self-professed addict and I would like share what I experience – great cricket players may concur with some but not with all, but thought I would express what I have observed till date:

  • T20 is all about entertainment.  It is more batters friendly and bowlers unfriendly. People have come to see lots of sixes and fours, and this is what they enjoy and this is what they usually get.   Spectators come to see certain players and to support their team and have fun.
  • T20 game is mostly a factor of the pitch on that day, the weather conditions (rain or heat), Dew factor, size of the ground, and above all, how the player feels about himself on that particular outing.
  • T20 is about being a Glenn McGrath type of bowler.   Bowling a tight line and length and not wavering is critical. If you are able to do this consistently, the batters get annoyed and start committing unforced errors. A pacer with more yorkers, especially during the death overs, is the one that wins the battle (Ex. Malinga).
  • T20 has made fielding gain importance in all three formats now. The amount of runs saved by good fielding can be anywhere between 5 and 20 and this can make a difference between a win and a loss. Amazing catches and run outs do happen in T20, and they are worth to watch and do make a big difference in momentum of the game.  An agile fielding unit is an asset to any team.
  • SPIN saw a resurgence in all formats with T20.  There were several Doubting Thomases’ that thought spin would be useless in T20 format but everyone has got this wrong.   In fact, more times you see pacers getting hit than spinners in T20 and it is not unusual nowadays to see spin opening the attack in both the limited overs format
  • Again, AGE is not a factor in T20 surprisingly.  You can see lots of late thirties players playing some great cricket and enjoying their T20 game, even after their retirement from the other two formats.
  • A low scoring game that is usually run-a-ball or lesser can turn out to be pretty exciting as I have observed the chase to be tough as well. It was a low-scoring game for a reason and most likely the conditions are good for bowling.  The pitch is offering some bounce or swing or is madly spinning.
  • At the same time, a huge scoring game of 200+ runs can also be tricky.  Again, the chasing team usually comes close and many a times even win. The turning point in chasing a huge total was that epic 430 run chase by South Africa against Australia in a 50 over match that turned the tables in both the limited over formats.  The logic is simple – if the team batting first hits 200+, so can the team batting second.  The pitch is all batting friendly and nothing at all for the bowlers.  Most of these high scoring matches happen at smaller grounds.
  • During the Powerplay overs – the first six, if the team managed to hit fifty for the loss of no or one wicket (at 8 runs an over), they are placed well to hit a decent score to defend or chase– usually in the 170-190 range.  During these 6 overs, the conditions are totally batters friendly and rarely bowling friendly unless the pitch is doing something for them. A 170 plus score is usually a respectable score to defend under any condition.
  • During the middle overs of 7 to 14, if the team averages 6+ runs, and they have not lost more than couple of wickets, again, they are placed for a respectful score of 170 to 180 runs. The bowlers need to do their best in these overs to contain the batters and not allow them to settle.
  • If the team has managed to score 100 for the loss of 2 or 3 wickets in 13 overs, they are usually placed to hit 160 to 180 runs overall.   What the team hits in the first 12 overs for the loss of 2 or 3 wickets, it is safe to say they can hit the same score in the last 8 overs provided they don’t lose too many wickets.
  • It is not the death overs of 19th or 20th over that gets smashed around, but rather the overs 16 to 18.  So, one need to use their best bowlers for these three overs.  These three overs usually is the difference between win and loss. If you need to hit 27 runs or so in the last three overs or 18 runs in the last two overs or 10 runs in the last over, it is usually the chaser’s advantage as they can achieve it if they are even down 5 or 6 wickets. The tail (position 9 to 11) can wag and give support if needed.
  • A team with batting strength till position 9 can have a great outing almost always.
  • The so called finishers do have the ability to hit 10 to 12 runs an over on an average during the last five overs.  More the merrier. These are usually the batters who come between positions 5 and 7.
  • If the game becomes one sided at any given point, the spectators both at home and in the stadium do not show that much interest. It is important though in T20 to come close to any score while chasing and never give up the fight – winning and losing is secondary.  This is still obviously seen if any test team plays a minnow or an associated team, although I see lots of improvement in many of these teams in the past 3-4 years.
  • As in all formats, as long as you hold on to wickets, you can hit a respectable score.  Wickets are key, and if they keep falling at regular intervals, then only a sub-par score is in the offing.
  • Finally , it is not about prior statistics or records – one any given day, provided both teams have a good strength and no injuries to main players, any of the top 8 test playing teams can win over the other team in a T20. It is more predictable in Tests and limited overs but not in T20 which makes it more exciting.   If it is a rain affected match with shorter overs to play than 20, definitely it is anybody’s game.

Six things that E-commerce companies have to get right

Having been part of the e-retail journey as a customer for the past few years and as a consultant  for the past two in India, I have seen pretty much the entire spectrum of sites from really pathetic to very good, although only couple of them stand out at the top consistently.

    As many single retail shops want to get an e-presence now and putting up websites, they have to be conscious of six things (five if you take the first one out) that would lure customers to their site:

(I) Price:  For specialty and high end luxury items, you can discard it as people with big wallets just come in to buy from here for a ‘status symbol’.  But since it is easy to compare across different e-tailers on the web, it is imperative that the PRICE is absolutely competitive with other sites and much less expensive than a brick-and-mortar price with FREE Delivery. Price to be compared is the actual selling price plus any delivery charges….

(II) Security of transaction:  Absolutely critical to ensure the customers are at ease when they transact. The default and safest approach is to do Cash on Delivery (CoD) at no additional charge – I know lots of friends who do not buy if CoD is not available, that too at any extra charge. This makes the seller more accountable as he does not receive the money before the product even gets shipped – he would be longing to close out on his ‘receivable’.  The ONUS is not with the customer – his attitude can be, if it comes great, if not, not to bother.  So the site has to be approved by all the Transaction gateways available that are secure and must be cleared by all reliable known virus software there is.

(III) Ease of Return and Refund:  I cannot understand still why Amazon India cannot do replacement – they do only returns and refunds.  They should not ask the customers to print return slips and keep the invoice and put it back in original packing etc.  Especially if the frame of mind is to return or replace, these are additional pain points that no customer must go through. And their pickup of the goods must be efficient and guaranteed within a time window of couple of hours – not an entire day waiting for it to be picked up.  And the pickup must happen on the very next date after the refund or replace was logged in to the system and the couriers have to be punctual.  I do not see all these happening in most of the cases. Usually we are at the mercy of the couriers who do not turn up on the date or the time specified, and some e-tailers want us to keep the invoice, original package and the return slip printed out – not everyone has a printer here. And anyone in the family who received it would have opened up the package and not retained the invoice! E-tailing is all about understanding the customer’s behavior well.

(IV) Own inventory and courier helps a lot:  A 100% market place sort of E-tailer is at the mercy of the vendors.  The E-tailer in this case just provides a platform for all businesses to sell. They have absolutely no control on the way the vendor packs the goods, ships it on time or not, and no grip on the quality of delivery.  If the vendor packs something and it comes in broken to you, you are asked to send photographs of the same back. If the vendor does not ship on time and it does not meet the guaranteed date, then this is a big issue – this happens when we need something for Diwali or some event and the goods do not arrive in.  Having their own inventory shop and go downs in major cities for easy shipments eases a lot of issues and since they buy in volumes, their own shop gives the best price in the catalog.  As for having the courier of their own, this ensures that the entire chain is managed by them, thus increasing accountability of the delivery. Being at the mercy of the inefficient external third part couriers is going to degrade their business. Unless someone ensures that they are in the check point process with all the vendors to ensure the packing, shipping and delivery is correct, and take complete ownership and not blame the vendors for any incidents, your entire commerce system is susceptible to criticalities in its chain. Customer can and will hold E-tailer responsible.   Of course, there are local laws and regulations that may prevent the e-tailer to also be the seller, especially if it is a foreign company, but there must be ways to circumvent the problem legally.

    Having said that, it is in the best business interest of third party couriers to align with several good e-commerce sites and take them as customers and adhere to their vendor policies and regulation and make the best out of the situation. They should not act as if they are the ‘outsider’ in this transaction but a value-adding partner in the whole commerce.

(V) Customer Experience:  Along with the above owned inventory and courier, this is the other most important part that E-Tailer has to provide without any excuses. By experience, I mean ease of the website to transact, the website having detailed and right description of the product and all reviews associated with it, ease of different options for secure payments, getting the products on time EVERY time within the guaranteed date in normal delivery, having the products delivered in good quality so that it meets what they are looking out for, thus avoiding any replacement or refunds(‘one gets what they asked for’), keeping the customer informed if the product is getting delayed due to various factors, etc. so that the customer is at ease at every step of the transaction and delivery.  Better still is to have some good escalation path clearly documents names with phone numbers and email – this shows they have the utmost interest to improve and delight customers.  If you take the Ahmedabad based e-tailer Infibeam, who are pretty decent, somehow they lack the refund and replacement button in the order chain which makes one feel uncomfortable about the experience in the site.  Lots of metrics must be tracked on a regular basis by the management, rogue vendors must be taken off for repeated mistakes so that they do not spoil the name of the e-tailer, refund processed within a day, etc. all these would add to loyalty of the customer to come back.  I somehow feel Flipkart (and Myntra which is part of FlipKart now) and Snapdeal are to be appreciated here although I believe they still have a long way to go and they must be improving on making the CUSTOMER HAPPY All the TIME.

(VI) Respect for Local TAX and Accounting:  If an international chain wants to set up shop here, it is better that they understand the LAW of the LAND – they must look before they leap.  They cannot complain after having started their enterprise in a local country that the laws are not conducive for their business.  If one has not done their homework, and has not understood how to run a business here, it is no fault of the local government but purely theirs.  Failure to understand the market to do business in is totally unacceptable and I would certainly blame the management for the same.  Being LEGAL in the land they do business in is critical. There would be lots of foreign direct investment (FDI) regulations that one has to adhere to, as the local government would like to protect the local interests first and not to give undue advantage to anyone from outside to do business in one country, all things applying equally.  If they want to have certain things change, there is always a legal lobbying route that they can take to address their problems and work out things with the local government.  This is certainly not the area that I can talk with confidence but there are experts who can guide any multinationals to do business in one country and there are many successful ones who are running their show for a long time now.

   As I write these, I am sure we would be a few successful ones standing after a few years in the e-commerce arena and a handful of logistics companies doing a great job as well, but most likely that many of the today’s e-commerce players and logistics companies would not exist in couple of years.  Not everyone can be a reliable e-tailer.  It takes some good leadership, strong accountability and conducive commerce laws that would differentiate the best from the rest.

The author is a business consultant based out of Bangalore and has been in the IT industry for two decades across various domains.

A Beginner’s guide to Big Data, Analytics and Cloud.

I have been hearing a lot about these buzz words in the title for about couple of years now, and luckily had couple of opportunities to work on them over the past 6 months or so, thanks to my own consultancy, which made me read a few books and articles on these subjects that got  me ticking to know more.  With certainly no claim to being an expert in these areas, I have managed to gain some fair understanding that I thought would share here purely for education purposes, so that everyone who hears these buzzwords knows what it is all about and can manage to have a good conversation around it.  I must definitely thank the references below as most of the writing here is just a highly edited summation of the details found in them, to keep your reading more at the layman level.  Consider this as a crisp primer for the uninitiated from both the technology and the consumption angle.

     Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) that made India its right-sourcing capital during the first decade of this century has slowly moved on to the shores of Philippines and Vietnam.  Now it seems that everyone is talking about the Analytics and Cloud wave to have hit India, either through the typical right sourcing to analytics companies here or as a captive analytics center for some big multinational company.  Certainly I see the value being created in this wave to be higher than the BPO wave, and looks like India can establish its credential using its early mover advantage.  Lots of big names like HCL and IBM have got major contracts to maintain the entire IT departments of the Fortune 500 companies on a cloud model and this is a growing area.

     Digital economy(sales)  is ready to surpass physical economy.   Nowadays, all organizations are asking what their customers want and what do they generally do?  With your private information on any social media not exactly private as you think, they want to know who your friends are and what do they like? Who influences you and whom do you influence?  They have large quantities of the data in the world to analyze these information from and design a product or a feature to a product that you are bound to be happy with. Companies are thinking on their feet, in real time, very quick to react  to the feedback you have given them… at least good companies strive to do this and are placing their bets in this direction.  It is no more about a group of customers or a cross section of people that they want to study, but they want to know YOU as a customer individually.  Oh how lovely you feel!

     Analytics is being  used in both B2C and B2B  but the former is more challenging than the latter because predicting end consumer’s behavior to buy, which is usually emotional and irregular, is touch.  Businesses buy or consume in a more regular and rational fashion using usually a well-known process.  What makes the B2C modelling much harder is the fact the data here is more complex due to its volume and variants as more than half the data is ‘unstructured’.


    This Big DATA is just ‘data that is quite large that cannot be processed by conventional methods’.  McKinsey defines Big Data as large data sets that cannot be captured or analyzed by typical database software tools. So, Today’s Big Data may not be tomorrow’s Big Data as the tools would have caught up to analyze today’s Big Data tomorrow but Big Data of tomorrow would be orders of magnitude higher than today’s data so that the same problem remains.   Hence if it safe to say that we are just at the beginning of an explosion of a DATA world.   Big Data is all about the Internet of Things, social and mobile put together.

   The industry has defined Big Data across three V characteristics:  Volume, Variety, Velocity and sometimes a fourth gets added – Veracity. The volume is measured by the sheer size of the data, the variety talks about the assortment of data (structured vs unstructured) and the velocity about the speed at this data get created or processed. Veracity is the one that talks about the accuracy of these huge data, trust behind these data sources and how to take off the noise to arrive at decent useful information that makes good business sense.  The source of data can be either machine generated like sensor data, web log data, transaction data etc.  which are structured and satellite images, scientific data, multimedia which are unstructured data,  or human generated like survey input data, click-stream data, etc. which are structured data and emails, social media data, SMS etc. which are unstructured data.  Each one of these unstructured data can be an analytics domain independently, like text analytics, and lots of research is going into them. Usually structured data are stored in some sort of a table in a RDBMS and can be queried through an SQL.

     Traditionally we know of only the ‘structured’ data – the ones that can put into a database.  For the past few years, thanks to the explosion of social media  and smart phones, we have ‘unstructured’ data in the form of text(emails)/SMS, multimedia (audio, video), (A)GPS and other location based data, data from sensors , etc.  that seems to be imploding daily.  These ‘unstructured’ data are the ones that are becoming to be less private because you like to share them across the social platforms and the corporations want to have a strong direct relationship with you based on these data. They want to do everything they can to acquire new customers and retain and cross-sell to existing customers.  If you sneeze, the corporations catch a cold – this is how close they get to you.

    Analytics is the way in which corporates handle these complexities and speed in data to arrive at a business value that gives them the competitive advantage.  Analytics is just an interface between these large data and the business model.   It uses mathematics to derive meaning from data.   Most of the analytics has its roots to Google, Yahoo and Amazon who are considered pioneers in these and the technology being used.  In the earlier days, they just used to work on ‘samples’ or a smaller subset of the data, discarding all the outliers, and do some predictions.  Nowadays, with the availability of affordable storage, networking and computing power and even pay-as-you-use models, all the generated data gets analyzed to arrive at deeper and broader insights.   Since all the decisions are getting to be more data-centric, it is imperative there is proper transformation and cultural change across the corporation in terms of all the people, the process and strong leadership

   Big Data analytics have moved from being descriptive (based on past information using statistics – Business Intelligence to understand what happened) to inquisitive analytics (why it happened) to being predictive (used past information to predict future outcomes- Data mining and forecasting for what is likely to happen)   to being prescriptive (used past information to direct future results – optimization to arrive what should happen).  The world has moved from models created by small ‘samples’ to using ALL the data to create more complex models and simulate evolving scenarios. All these outcomes of information management in the form of reports, dashboards or animated visualization gets up-levelled to the senior leadership team to arrive at some qualified decisions which becomes the baseline for the  way ahead for corporations.    The talent that is required to do all these modelling are essentially a combination of data scientists with good maths, statistics and technology background and business managers with good economics, behavioral science and social skills.

   Cloud is just a means to provide shared computing resources that are pay-as-you-go and in the IT jargon, it is often referred to as XaaS where X can stand for I or H, P, S, etc.  IT services are seen as utilities and one pays only for the time the resources are being used, hence cloud is also referred to as Utility computing.  Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS, Hardware as a Service – HaaS) is the most common of all cloud services that delivers all computing resources on a rental basis, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a means by which tools and middleware gets integrated with IaaS to provide a comprehensive consistent platform, and Software as a Service (Saas) is an application that gets created and hosted by the developer in a multi-client mode and will sit on top of a PaaS or a IaaS.   Cloud, be it private which means owned and operated by the organization itself or public which means owned and operated by a vendor or hybrid which is a combination of both Private and Public, is essential for Big Data.  Examples of Iaas would be Amazon EC2-cloud Compute service and Rightscale, of PaaS would be Microsoft Azure and of SaaS would be a CRM like  Google has also introduced Data as a Service (DaaS) where one can use the cloud to store and retrieve data.  Cloud computing still has some nagging issues of security, privacy and standardization (or lack thereof) which are slowly falling in place, and the old IT organization and the CIO roles are getting transformed taking this new paradigm into effect.


    There are many Big Data technologies being used but the most common today is the Apache Hadoop framework which is an open-source platform for both storage and processing of all data variants. The two critical components of Hadoop are the Distributed file Systems (HDFS) used for storage and the Map Reduce which does the analysis on the data, both in the distributed sense.

     MapReduce was designed originally by Google that distributes the problem and later aggregates the result in batch mode. Google developed Big Table as their distributed storage system from where Hadoop derived the HDFS.

    Hardware, networking and storage have become more affordable now and are constantly getting cheaper to enable distributed computing in a big way.  Cloud gives you all these through subscription based service, with no upfront capital or maintenance costs. 

     Open source software is key and was made prevalent by Google through its Android mobile OS and is the key forward for any new technologies to be embraced quickly – the eco-system builds up around this open source efficiently and quickly, thus able to deliver all sorts of solutions for a very low cost.   The smaller companies seem to be more agile in delivering a solution for a customer need than the big software vendors and this is creating competition where size does not matter. The software has moved from a classic licensing model to a royalty based model to an annual fee based model thereby benefiting the end user who always has the latest updated version to work with.

   Distributed computing is a fundamental technology that allows independent computing resources to be networked seamlessly together across a huge geographical area to make it look like one single coherent environment. Computing resources that are being shared can include computing entities to memory to networks to storage, but they all have to work together to execute a program.   Over the years, distributed computing has evolved  from mainframe computing where there was a large computer using multiple processors with massive IO operations used for batch and transactional processing, to Cluster computing where several cheap commodity machines were connected by a high bandwidth network and controlled by specific software tool for parallel computing, to Grid computing which is an evolution of clusters where the grids are actually  an aggregation of geographically dispersed clusters connected by Internet and users can ‘consume’ resources just like any other utility.

   Distributed computing can be regarded as a super set of parallel computing, the latter implying a tightly coupled system of mostly homogenous components sharing the same physical memory or shared memory.   Distributed computing encompasses all architectures that use heterogeneous computing elements not necessarily co-located.  The differences between these two types are getting blurred as these two terms indeed gets used loosely to mean the same thing – both are used to perform multiple activities in parallel.    Since in Big Data, the data complexity is high due to its volume, variants and distribution, and the computational complexity may also be high, distributed heterogeneous computing fits well for statistical models, and simulations. Cloud technologies support Big Data well by providing large computing resources on demand, providing large storage for keeping these large data and providing frameworks for optimized processing of large amount of data.

     The foundation of cloud computing is Virtualization that separates the resources and services from the underlying physical system- here again, this logical split can happen at the server end through a thin software layer inserted into the hardware that contains a virtual machine monitor (VMM) or Hypervisor, at the application level to make it OS independent, at the memory level where the memory gets decoupled from the server, at the networking level through a SW that just makes a pool of connectivity available or at the storage level – this level of abstraction that virtualization gives  just provides the relevant information needed and hides the exact details which may not be relevant, and makes applications portable across different hardware and software environment.  Although not meaning the same, this software abstraction is more or less similar to the green-font HW machines called ‘XTerm’ used by DEC and SUN during the 1980s that front-ended for their servers there were at the back for computing. The most common technologies used here are Xen, VmWare and Microsoft Hyper-V.


   Analytics has become prevalent in some key areas now and is slowly changing the way we do business:

Financial-Banking and Insurance – perhaps the prevalent users of analytics and early adopters as well

Credit Card Fraud:   The transaction record of the customer is validated against the customer records and his/her past transactions, their travel schedules (getting access to travel sites from where they did the booking) and place of transaction to identify if there is any abnormal activity, as they are transacting in real-time.   There are certain rules set for each customer based on his/her history that the transaction gets checked against.  If some transaction is believed to be ‘suspicious’, then more ‘verification’ process is added to the transaction to make it more secure.

Credit Risk analysis:  Banks wants to play safe to ensure they can retrieve the loan from their customers – they look at past credit history against your name to see if you are a ‘safe bet’.  Thanks to the credit rating agency like Crisil which does this as their main line of business, the information of all credit transaction of all kind is available to the banks and loan-giver to verify the details and distribute a loan or give you a credit card or line of credit.

Insurance Risk analysis:  Right now, your vehicle insurance premium is based on the city you live, the risk of the neighborhood you are in, and your driving points against you and prior claims made.  In the USA, few insurance companies are generating the premium based on INDIVIDUAL customers and customized to them as a pay-as-you-drive insurance policy.  The onboard telematics sends feeds to your insurer on your braking and acceleration habits, distance you travel, and the roads you frequently travel on (using GPS) – thanks to these various sensorial data, higher premium is charged for more irresponsible driving.  This in turn serves both purposes – makes insurance companies more profitable and also betters one’s driving habits.  A shining example of not only where the ‘rubber meets the road’ but also where the ‘engine meets the wallet’!


     The biggest bang for the buck for analytics, in my opinion, would be in two areas – healthcare which impacts everyone’s life, and in retail to understand customers better.  Healthcare comes today at a cost and is heavily dependent on the facilities of the hospitals or clinics you are getting the treatment in, and the knowledge of the doctor attending to you.  Healthcare is one critical industry like power where the government needs to ensure it is affordable to all its citizens, and at the same time must be the best available there is to all.

       For all this to happen, a good start would be a health record of the patient available electronically across the nation and the globe. This would carry a history of ailments, conditions, surgery and medications of the patient and the regular health check-up results – this is the Electronic Health Record (EHR) available in the US and other countries. The second would be the availability of all clinical trials that are in process or already FDA-approved, side-effects data of all medications, common diseases data prevalent in certain parts of the world and definitely the insurance data of the individual.  With these two together, any doctor from anywhere in the world can give guidance to the best and optimum cure and care for the patient, best medicine from any pharma company for a particular condition, and the best insurance plan for an individual and his family based on the risks they carry. Data drives most of these integrated decisions now, along with the doctor’s experience to suggest a remedy – compare it to the yesteryears where the former data would not be available.  This also further progress into tele-medicine where a solder injured in the battle is in an operation tent with medical gadgets streaming data to experienced doctors sitting elsewhere to guide the surgery procedure and to have him get out of danger quickly.


     All your purchase patterns and transactions are being collected and analyzed carefully to send you targeted advertisements with e-coupons, to aid companies do location based marketing, to help companies get data on leaving customers and where they are going to and why, in managing the effectiveness of an ad campaign, and in knowing details of acquired customers to improve cross-selling.  The better they know the customers, the better would be their sales in an industry with thin margins.

      The other areas in retails where big data analytics is already in use are in inventory management, logistics optimization, merchandize assortment and pricing optimization, fraud and loss prevention and vendor rationalization.

    Classing examples of analytics are Amazon “you may also want” prompts and Netflix “what your friends thought” of movie suggestion, both of which shows good results for the retailer.


      Many of the travel sites collects the log files from all the searches made by the users, and based on your desired preferences will strive to increase their bookings ratio. They would also have data from the text analytics report from your TripAdvisor reviews and based on what you like and do not like, and based on your past history on their site and other sites, will be able to give out optimized  flight and hotel options taking together the inputs you had given based on budgets and time.


      Volvo along with Sweden’s Transportation department  is using cloud service for car-to-car communication to warn the drivers ahead of icy and slippery roads, thus making safety a priority.  They collect the data from the sensors (ESPs) fitted inside their cars – ESP stabilizes the car as well as sends signals of hazardous road conditions through the mobile network to the cloud.  This real-time information is shared with the cars behind that are to use the same road so that they are pre-warned about the actual condition of the road and this information compliments any blanket weather warning that the drivers automatically get updated on.


   Major part of advertising is the reach and conversion that one gets through any forms of media, be it mobile, TV, Web or the classic print.   Advertising is what brings money to the media houses.  Despite the numerous ads that come on any websites, only a few gets clicked and only a small percentage of these clicks actually turns into a purchase. The marketing world is always challenged with how an ad can be more effective so that the hit ratio increases. Now with the digital cable and dish TVs clearly revealing your viewing patterns, your online purchases and shop transactions revealing your buying pattern, with the website having a history of your visits in some format, and with the operator knowing what Value-added services you have enrolled in, and with the world knowing what paper you read, all these combined through analytics would clearly describe a ‘path-to-purchase’ pattern to enable the media houses to focus their ads appropriately. It would not too long before ads stream into your TV or mobile that is customized based on your likes.   

    We already have News websites that customize your viewing page automatically based on your interest as this data is already collected and analyzed based on your previous trips to the website.


   The business problems that get tackled here through analytics are classified into three buckets: 

  • Sales and Marketing to understand their sales force effectiveness and resource optimization, market assessment and competitive analysis
  • Research and Development for clinical trials and reporting to FDA, safety analysis for the product, and licensing
  • Pricing and contracting for inventory and logistics management, and for setting up contracts and buybacks and rebates etc.

     The other applications that are prevalent, some of which are being used by you daily without being aware they are Cloud based ,  are Google Docs, Gmail and Yahoo Mail, wearable health devices that has sensors that routinely monitor vital patient data and feeds back to the hospital or doctor who can take action based on any anomalies immediately, gene profiling and protein structure modelling that was done using community cloud from research institutions, use of satellite image processing used by several countries now for natural disaster management, opinion polls during elections, online document storage like Dropbox of iCloud by Apple, all the social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, online gaming and casino gambling predictions.

Transformation in the future

    How do you feel if some complex tool used by a company predicts your next behavior with reasonable accuracy?  How can companies use the data you provide and analyze them to make you BUY?   How can healthcare be more focused to your particular problem and provide the best care at the cost you want? How you get the best travel package suited for you and your family based on your likes and dislikes that would enhance the memories of the travel?  How can your insurance be tailor made for you based on your own defensive driving habits and your history of no claims? How can the banks give you the best bang for your buck by automatically understanding your financial goals and delivering a better return for you as a privileged customer?  How can airlines make you fly with them frequently by enhancing your particular travel experience every time?  

     Big Data and its associated analytics are used to take on each customer as a time and enhance their experience.  We can still use the old route and use the 80/20 rule that says that one can easily draw effective 80% of the conclusions and decisions based on the top 20% of the overall customer data. The choice is clear.


  • Big Data, Big Analytics – Michael Minelli et al , Wiley, 2013
  • Big Data for dummies – Judith Hurwitz et al, Wiley, 2013
  • Mastering Cloud Computing – Rajkumar Buyya et al, McGraw Hill, 2013

Many thanks to the reviewers of this blog and their valuable feedback – Vishoo, Venki  and John, all of them from either analytics or e-commercebackground.

Retail E-commerce today in India – to boom or go kaboom?

Last week started off by Flipkart announcing a big sale on Oct 6th which seemed to show lots of products at unbelievable low prices and netted $100M in revenue on one day but left a lot of customers dejected – it is not that they lost money, but rather seemed to have lost an opportunity to get a deal.  Looks like they could not handle the high traffic and many of the product’s prices did not match what was advertised. So, a mixed results in my opinion.   But I love the fact that they accepted the failure on their part and sent a personalized email out to all their customers – a very courageous move indeed, much like what Intel did when the first Pentium flaw came out and they offered to replace them all – this indeed gets a lot of loyalty to the brand in the long run.  But definitely Flipkart has to have a much better system to take care of the traffic and the day spikes, have enough inventory of items to be sold at a good price or mention how many items in that price to be sold, and have better relationships with the OEMs who cry out loud that Flipkart is lowballing the brick-and-mortar stores which compromise 90% of their sales today.   I am sure everyone would have teething problems to begin with and it is better to be addressed properly and I guess I would see this as a courageous move by Flipkart to really take the bull by the horn at this early stage to learn and adapt.

     In the meantime Snapdeal also had a great sale going on clocking 100 crore per hour, and this being the season of Diwali it looks like everyone wants to be on Top gear to maximize their sales this month.   I do not understand why the store retailers have a hard time when it comes to better pricing on the net – the margins are thinner and the warehouse cost is much lower than the real estate of the stores in prime locations.  Also, it is a great way to compare and shop for the best item you want instead of believing the not-that-knowing-salesman-in-the-shop who just wants you to buy one particular brand because their commissions are better. I will not even think twice to go with an e-tailer for books, movies and music, camera and phones and their accessories- as long as the warranties are proper.

    Having the government look into the e-commerce segment and being forced by the store retailers to curtail them is something that is not right for the customers.  Instead of that, it is better to see what is best for the customers and make laws accordingly.  Otherwise, it would be like countries like France where an e-tailer is not allowed to sell any book at more than a few percentage discounts from the MRP which makes the French folks go outside and buy them at better prices whenever they travel.

    So, where are we now with E-commerce (web and mobile included in this) in Retail in India? My focus here would be India as this is the story that is developing for the past 5 odd years, but many of the facts scribed here can be relevant to any geography depending on the maturity of e-commerce in retail in that country. I am more confident to write about the Indian story as I have been following this for the past few years, both as a regular customer and also as a consultant and the story unfolding come with a bag of mixed emotions.

  Benjamin Disraeli said “How much easier it is to be critical than to be critical”.  Yet, I chose to be critical here and hopefully correct.  Let me segment some of the areas of retail where e-commerce is a player, over and above the brick-and-mortar shops, and highlight some of the inherent issues being faced.  The issues are not confined to any particular e-tailer but rather a common occurrence in this segment.  I am not going to touch financial transaction as an e-commerce example here as we all know that this is the one what has the maximum penetration in India, thanks to the banks and insurance companies doing  everything online now.

Furniture:  Yes, one can get an entire Kitchen done or bedrooms finished, or just purchase a coffee table or an end table or just a ward robe, both antique and regular, all online.  Half the time, the bookings get cancelled as the vendor is not able to make the product or ship it in time.  But they need to take an advance of 10% only instead of the entire amount for furniture, especially if it has to be made after the order, and ask for the remaining money only when they are ready to ship.  Just before they ship, they must be able to send a short video of the actual product to the customer for the final approval which would ensure they meet quality requirements. 

     Once they ship, installation, if any, by local carpenters that they align with has to be done smoothly to the customers. I have personally have had my orders cancelled more than three times after  about 6-8 weeks, the e-tailer had taken my full money during booking and it is a good way to get interest collected without sending a products – bad way to do business.   Such things have made me NOT buy furniture on-line anymore. Once the delivery of an end table happened 3 months later, after I reminded them a month after I booked, and the drawers were not fixed properly and a local carpenter really drove some nails in and made it a little ugly. So, my suggestion for furniture is, go to an actual store, select some options and haggle on the price and have them delivered to your address, and pay them by cheque on delivery.

Tickets to any shows or events:  Again, a great way to get cinema tickets but the service fee can add up to a significant amount (Rs 30 to RS 50 a ticket for an Rs 200 ticket is 25%). Why cannot the actual PVRs and other multiplexes have a direct online booking without any additional service charge?  I realized when I went to a cricket match in Chinnaswamy stadium and the Davis Cup Match in Bangalore recently, only 60% of the tickets are allocated to be sold by the third party e-tailer and we could still get some privileged tickets in better stands that we do not see while booking online through them.   The worst error of all would be to have the same seats sold to a different set of customers – this is a big flaw in their system and this happens definitely. And the worst part is, when two customers with the same tickets happen to confront the e-tailer, they start investigating the customer instead of serving an apology unconditionally and trying to fix their end.  This is ugly arrogance of the e-tailer at their peak.

Taxis:  Honestly hilarious to charge a service fee if we call them up over the phone – their excuse is someone has to pay for the call center person –  why should this be a customer’s headache? I am going to assume this may be illegal as well.  Also, a new company now milks the customer for the amount of time spent in the cab over and above the actual per km charges, instead of taking it up with the city planners about it… knowing India and the metro traffic, this is a huge drain on your wallet.  And the worst of all is they do not have any control over the drivers – if the driver does not show up or seems arrogant or charges extra by adding stuff, then the customer is left unhappy. They have a long way to go in terms of actual fares, driver control, transparency and making the customer eventually happy.  And believe me, when you need them the most, none of the cabs are available. Try getting a cab during a rainy day in Bangalore!

Auto Accessories:  A good product to get online. But when I once got a helmet from a leading e-tailer, they gave me another design and their support staff does not even get back to you when you report it.  Again, an example of the problem inherent of a bazaar-type e-tailer who does not have any control on what the actual vendor ships and does not own the quality requirements before shipping.

Lighting Fixtures and bulbs:  Although you may get better deals online, it is better to go to a physical shop, try the bulb or the lighting fixture actually and then buy it after some bargaining. Despite some heavy packing, the chances of the light fixtures or the bulb breaking are very high – their transit is tough on Indian roads.   And once it is broken, they would ask you to take some photos of the broken item and send them by email before they can act on either refund or replacement.

Sporting goods:  if you are buying some balls for tennis or football, or a racquet for badminton, or some wrist band, online purchase is definitely a great thing to do as long you know the grip size and understand the material being used on the frames so that its weight is not a strain on your elbow or wrist.  It is better to go to a sporting goods store, check out their prices, and get a feel of what exactly to buy and then try online for the best price and see if you can get one. If not, go back to the store the next day and make the buy. 

Footwear and Apparels:   If you know the brand and their particular size that fits you, I guess buying it on the web saves a lot of money.   Remember, as in apparel, every brand has their own size that fits you – a Eur 42 may not be the same between a Puma and a Nike sandal.   An L size is not the same between an Arrow and a John Player, and you need to watch out for slim vs regular.  Again, it is better to get into a name brand store, get the size done and see if the same is available online to buy, if not, come back to the store and buy the same.

Home Décor:  This is one item where it is always about look and feel, and people need to see or touch them to buy them. Although plenty of choices are available on the net, I guess these are impulsive buys and more festival aligned and hence, in my opinion, would be something customer would still prefer to buy from the actual stores.   And the chances of getting an inferior thing as compared to what you saw on the web is very high – say for ex, one gets a bed sheet at a good price but finds out that they run colors or it is so thin or it tears after the first usage  that it cannot be used later – a total disappointment.   Buying a statue or a vase that it does not feel like what you expected would be another disappointment.

Perfumes and cosmetics:  Again, this is one area where you see lots of ‘pirated’ ones available on the net and even in a store, we do not know if they are actually the original or not.  Complicated purchase pattern and the deals on the net are not usually great and would stay in the realm of the actual store.  And you can regret the fact that that the fragrance can really be strong and against your senses that you are not able to use it on you. This is a very personal item and you really have to experience the odor before making a decision on the purchase – what others like may not fit your senses.

Wine and beer:  This being something that government has a big say in and can get into some law issues, may not be something everyone would buy on the web, let alone it being delivered to your home or office which may make us uncomfortable as well.  And definitely no price advantage for folks to get on the web and buy them. In India, again, most if it can be impulsive – the mood, money in your wallet and quick occasions are the ones that you drink for and hence would not have the time luxury to go online to buy them.

Electronics and Kitchen appliances:  Big ticket items on the web has got into some tricky OEM antagonism due to some ‘predatory pricing’ on the web but if you know what you are looking for, it would be great to have it bought online.  This is where I see a huge market for all the manufacturers – they just need to open up front ending stores that carries almost all their models for the customers to come and check, and then give them an option to go online and buy them up to get it delivered.. They can actually give some gift certificate with a short validity to force a purchase of their product.  This way, the stores do not need to have inventory of all the items and the same can be applied to multi-brand stores like Girias and Croma as well.   Someone is going to have an online price that is much cheaper than the store price and there is no need to go through the store in that case as long as the warranties are the same.    Many OEMs are not fully supporting e-commerce pricing yet as they do not want to antagonize the store retailers but this is a bad strategy in the long run – they are setting themselves back in ages. Customers need to reap the benefit of technology and not to fall back on older ways of doing things just because they have been better in the past.

  So, what can you reliably buy on the web?  E-commerce started off with Books (Amazon worldwide and Flipkart in India) and they are still the best buys – it is unfortunate that nostalgia rules over common-sense amongst customers like us who would like to have a purchase done in a Higginbothams or Sapna but get disappointed by lack of discounts at the physical store.  Also the variety in selection that an individual customer has access to on the web is something unimaginable.  Office stationaries may be something that can be purchased on the web as well. Crossword and Landmark have no excuses not to offer the same price like an Amazon or a Flipkart if they have a strong online presence as this just would complement their store offerings.   

     I guess the penetration of e-books is going to happen, thanks to the pressure from the lobby against cutting down trees, and this would see an upswing – this is going slow because we are not comfortable yet with a reader device and the lack of standardization of the e-books publications.  The only way I see old classics coming alive would be on e-books only.  So, whether the shop owners like it or not, and fighting the wrong battle in going against the Flipkarts for selling books at rock-bottom price, it is the advent and explosion of e-books that would be their dooms day.   

    And the next good buy on the net would be music and movies DVDs  and game DVDs – you need to ensure they fit the region you need to play them in and your DVD player at home can play that region and this is a LEGAL copy.  Beats buying from the store any day and this has made getting those ‘illegal’ copies on the street a thing of the past as the price points are too good for originals on the web. Also, Moser Bauer offering low cost DVDs of classic movies has helped the case to get the best legal editions of good movies.  I do not know why Flipkart walked out of their mp3 store as this was the best thing in India to follow in the same lines of ITunes store of Apple – customer could get affordable music of their choice at the right price with all the IP protection.

   Definitely Groceries – how convenient is this for all of us! Surely it makes us lazy too that we avoid even that neighborhood walk nowadays. Given that this sector is most unorganized and run by neighborhood Kirana stores, e-grocery is definitely something that is going to change the way we shop for groceries. Since you can pay upon receipt, you can also reject things you see are not fresh then and there. One can definitely avoid searching across aisles, waiting in queue at the cash counter, searching for a parking spot close to the grocer and lack of efficient customer service by sticking to online purchases. Nonperishable is definitely a good buy online and everyone delivers on the same day now.  As the technology grows and somehow the fridge and the pantry gather intelligence to inform what is there and what is not there, if this gets automatically dialed up to the grocery store, the whole thing can happen automatically based on some analytics in the back as well.

   The most commonly utilized e-commerce deals are in travel – be it rail, air or bus booking or hotel reservations or vacation packages.  Travel constitutes most of the internet commerce both in India and worldwide today. I guess the days of going through an agent are long gone. Even visas nowadays are being applied online.  If I have to name the top two for ecommerce, it has to be travel and books/e-books.

    All watches just show time, but still it is considered a prestigious fancy item and people can have much more than one with them at any price range suiting occasions.  Now with the affordability of many to splurge, watches priced at lakhs are available in the hands (no pun intended) of any customer… it is going to be better with phone like features on them, whether we like it or not.

     Stay away from an e-tailer who does not give a phone and an email on their website and try their support line before you even start any dealings with them.   It is a good practice to always go with the cash-on-delivery option as much as possible as many of the sites, even the reputed ones, fail the Internet Security software’s checks.  Or always have one card or one bank for net banking with low balance for all online purchases… ensure you have an OTP check before you make a purchase.

       If the e-tailer has shipped a wrong size of the product you asked for, then again, their quality check somewhere has gone bust and there is a strong likelihood they would do it again and again.  They would always say that they do assume their vendors take care of it.  And you see the product delivered in a particular size not at all the same as what was provided on the website (ex. Size 10 is 41 cm when the one delivered is only 27 cm but still says Size 10 for a sandal).  But if this wrong size happens, there are still companies like Amazon who do not do replacement but just do only returns – honestly, it ticks the customer off.   And there is no excuse for an e-tailer not to give all the relevant details about the size, materials, color etc. which is still missing in a wide range of offerings.

     It is important as a customer, to write an honest and relevant review of every product one has got from a seller, so that it helps the buying decision of others.  When it comes to apparels, your size is not consistent across all brands – each brand has their own size that fits you.  

What can the customers do?

  • Be careful about the security (or lack thereof) behind the umpteen e-commerce sites and believe in the ones that is more famous.   Check for safe pay channels that they use.  As much as possible, try to do Cash on Delivery.  Ask your friends where they shop online.
  • Check for a good customer support system – check their phone and emails before you make any purchases.  See if they offer replacement and not just refund.
  • Books, travel related purchases, Groceries, show and movie tickets, music and movies, and sporting goods are all items that are better online, both in terms of convenience and price.
  • Avoid buying furniture, shoes and apparels (if you are not sure about the size fitment), perfumes and cosmetics, and home décor items online as most of these are very subject to personal tastes.

   Since the E-market seems to be more dispersed now, in the next 3-5 years, we would see only 3-5 brands remaining, thanks to some solid consolidation, in the general e-tailer market whereas the niche players and the brick-and-mortar shops that have their own internet shopping presence would still see a good business online.

What are some of the key expectation of customers from the E-tailers?

  • Better real time customer support – by means of WhatsApp, Email and Phone, with a resolution of any issue within 24 hours
  • For big ticket items, getting the full money upfront is unacceptable, especially if the delivery happens after a month or so, esp. in furniture. A token amount of 10% to be used as booking amount, and rest of the payment during delivery is key.
  • Warranty of all items sold should be solid and should be backed by the manufacturers
  • If some deep discount sales happen, it is imperative that they advertise the number of units to be sold at that low price and set a counter as to how many are remaining so that customers do not feel dejected about a potential opportunity lost.  It is always first-cum-first-serve basis, even on the Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in the USA.
  • Definitely there should not be any excuses of not able to manage surge in traffic or peak loads – the site must be available and fast for all customers
  • For cab booking related sites, it is illegal to charge the customer for calling to make a reservation and pay for their call center person. How does the customer care about one’s operation cost?
  • Most important for those ‘marketplace’ e-tailer who operate on bazaar type model, is to have total control on the vendors who are listed in their site, have a good quality process both in terms of quality of the product being shipped and the time within which it gets shipped and take FULL Responsibility and ownership of any issues that may come, instead of having customers waiting for response from the vendors who never seem to do anything.  This is mission critical for customer’s loyalty and their business success.   The more hassles the customers face and more frequently they face them, they slowly would start looking elsewhere.
  • The other key aspect is the logistics part of delivery. Every e-tailer must have a logistics partner or have total control on delivery so that the delivery happens at the time customer requests them.  Expecting someone to stay home during the weekday is not a reasonable thing to do. They need to invent better ways to deliver – may be in the evenings or weekends, and ensure to a time window of couple of hours max within which they would make delivery. It makes no sense to try a delivery when the customers are not there. Or have a pick up place in a location close to the customer’s home and offer them the facility to pick it up at their time of convenience.   The delivery guy must know exactly where it has to be delivered and when, instead of repeatedly calling for directions to come – in most of the cases, I get these calls when I am in meetings in office and this really gets annoying.  If they do not know the address, they should not be running a courier service, period!
  • If there are issues, treat customers as if they are not guilty and investigate the process first and see where the problem is, before jumping to conclusions.
  • Any legal issues or sales and GST tax issues should not be affecting the customers.

    Summarizing, I guess I feel a little patriotic to see Flipkart giving everybody a run for their money and of course, a cause of envy to the guys who do not know how to compete. Flipkart (with Myntra) will be to e-tailing as Infosys was for the professional services industry and I want to see them that way as a pride of India.  E-tailing is going to be a disruptive technology use case that is going to do magic, esp. in congested cities where folks have no time to spare to shop effectively. So far their customer service and engagement has been absolutely great and added to their purchase of Myntra, which has the same traits, I see a winner in our hands which has to be nourished and not be to be reprimanded.

Disclaimer:  I do not have any association with Flipkart or Myntra, two of my best loved e-commerce sites, based on some great experience – just a loyal customer so far.  After having shopped literally in almost all leading sites, I would give these two very high marks for satisfying customers and having a great transparent process.

This article was written in 2014