Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg demystified Platform Thinking as a Teenager

I recently stumbled upon this interview that Mark Zuckerberg gave to CNBC as a mere 19 year old entrepreneur, Before I comment further on this, do take around 1 minutes 26 seconds to watch this clip-

At first, I couldn't stop but rave about the confidence exhibited by a teenager and the maturity, clear-headedness and the humbleness that he demonstrated in this interview. He mentions that Facebook was started to solve the problem faced by Harvard to connect student community and it evolved to connect to various other universities in the early days.
No, my purpose of this blog is not the just shower praises on Zuckerberg but what really struck me with this video was its correlation with the last blog that I wrote.

Let me just capture some key points/phrases that he made-
1. He was looking to build something cool.
2. The original plan, Zuckerberg said, was to make a bunch of "side applications" that would bring users back.
3. He called out Facebook simply as an online directory that connected people in universities and help build social networks.

Dissecting his 1 minute interview further, I couldn't help but associate it with some characteristics of platform that I mentioned in my previous blog-

1. Connection: how easily others can plug into the platform to share and transact
2. Gravity: how well the platform attracts participants, both producers and consumers
3. Flow: how well the platform fosters the exchange and co-creation of value

He talks about online directory (Connection) to help connect people.
He talks about making apps that will help pull people (Gravity) back to the site.
He talks about letting people know other people (Flow) by helping them access profiles.

No big deal if we look back at it now but certainly a big deal if we consider the fact that Zuckerberg said this more than a decade back when platform thinking was there, but to be fair it was not as evolved as it is now.

Facebook has also evolved in these years but the fundamental elements that Zuckerberg described in 2004 still drive its success.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Evolution of Software Engineering in the Age of Platforms

What makes Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon such successful companies of today’s times?

One may wonder if there is any commonality in comparing these four giants who are operating almost independently in their own market spaces. Apple is leading in mobile hardware/OS pace, Google essentially in everything related to Search, Facebook is a peerless social networking site and Amazon primarily into retail. Of course, each of these companies have overlapping areas such as- Amazon’s foray into mobiles or Google’s foray into social networking but by and large, these companies have been largely distinct in the way they have carved a niche for themselves. So, is the quest to find a thread that binds these companies- a right one?

The generic answer to this thread could be that these companies have embraced superior technology, are innovative to the core, they have built ecosystems, they have built experiences that have really let the users hooked on to their offerings and so on and so forth. In reality, more that these easily guessable attributes, these companies have figured out an entirely new way of doing business- The Platform.

Phil Simons, who is an evangelist around the idea of platform style business- describes that there is a great distinction in the way businesses operated in 1990s to much technologically integrated times of today. While the businesses in 1990s thrived in the systems that were more closed in nature and important details pertaining to organization were protected to a limited set of partners, the organizations of today are much more open and collaborative in the way it runs the mutually beneficial partnerships and the supremely successful businesses.

These examples explains this transition better-
1. Google's product AdSense helps democratize Google’s Search technology. By inserting a snippet of code, even the smallest websites can become Google partners, making money for both themselves and Google. This reinforces the “win-win” scenario. Beyond direct monetization, it gives Google a footprint on millions of other websites whose owners also want to monetize their platforms.
2. Facebook has a features called "Facebook Connect". It helps users connect users to multiple websites if they have a Facebook account e.g. it is possible for you to login to The New York Times using Facebook Connect. It helps Facebook get its footprint beyond their own walls and also helps their partners drive more users to their site.
3. Amazon has a Product Advertising API that allows customers to embed product links on their own websites, making money for the partners and Amazon in the process.
4. Apple, despite being perceived as closed ecosystem has intelligently built itself on the Platform-style thinking. It allows various App developers to build the apps for its devices that not only helps the developers their share of money but also enhances the capabilities of the devices.

These are just the small set of examples around how these ultra-successful companies operate.

The topic of discussion here is not limited to the evolution of platform as a business but more so on the technical and engineering aspects of platforms that helps to successfully weave together a business.

Platform development is different than Product development:
While these companies market specific products or solutions, they are often created through a platform of foundational technologies that the company can reconfigure in endless ways to address emerging needs.
The platforms are built not the same way as traditional products are. Developers of the traditional product teams tend to be motivated by the prospect of creating a finished good, the way a sculptor wants to begin with a piece of stone and end with a fully realized figure.
Whereas the Developers of platforms tend to think about the distinct capabilities of platform first and then look for the ways to mix and match them in infinite ways. So unlike being a sculptor, now the developers first produce puzzle pieces instead which can later be integrated in myriad of ways.

Shift from Product thinking to Platform thinking:
Thus, the leap from Products to Platforms involves these three distinct characteristics-

1. Connection: how easily others can plug into the platform to share and transact
2. Gravity: how well the platform attracts participants, both producers and consumers
3. Flow: how well the platform fosters the exchange and co-creation of value

Platform General/Technical Characteristics:
As I have experienced the drift from Product thinking to Platform thinking in Citrix and studying the other organizations, some of the below represents the characteristics related to platforms.
1    1. Think of product in form of interfaces
2    2. APIs and SDKs form the basis of Innovation
3    3. Ability to scale infinitely
4    4. Promotes developer ecosystem
5    5. Product with Infinite features
6    6. Extendibility- Ability to Plug-n-Play
7    7. Co-creation of value
8    8. Drift from monolithic architectures

Beyond these characteristics, there is an in-depth focus on how the platforms are designed in today’s software engineering discipline. The aspects such as designing the interfaces, consistently exposing the APIs, making APIs externalizable etc. are just a few of the pointers.

This is an introduction that i wanted to cover w.r.t to the topic. I will be exploring this topic further in the coming days and sharing further insights.

Please do share your feedback and comments.

Images source:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How Infosys (possibly) changed its Performance Management System ?

There was a recent news about Infosys making changes to it's performance management system recently. This resonated well with my recent study around these changes made by many organizations. Providing a quick perspective below-

Sources and Acknowledgements:
Most of the below text is adapted (directly and indirectly) from the below URLs. So all credit to the author of the below articles for the upcoming text.

Motivation behind Infosys's change:
- The change in the performance assessment system has primarily been pushed by chief executive Vishal Sikka.
- To bid adieu to the bell curve as a performance assessment tool for its 1.76 lakh employees
- Bell curve is often criticised as a forced ranking system as managers have to mandatorily classify employees into three categories, and rank the performance of 70 per cent as average, 20 per cent as high and 10 per cent, low.

Shortcomings of the traditional system as observed by Infosys:
1. Said to be the cause of attrition.
2. “In performance evaluation based on bell curve, it became a race to get to the top for employees. We were losing a lot of good people who were not ranked at the top." -Richard Lobo

What kind of changes in Performance Management System were embraced by Infosys?:
- "From this quarter, we have removed the forced ranking and in the October appraisal, employees will be appraised on the open ranking. From now on, the managers will take a call and reward," said Richard Lobo, senior vice president, human resources department, at Infosys. The IT services company started conversations around getting rid of the bell curve three months ago.
- The new system, he said, will be more open and flexible with a pronounced focus on rewards for performance.

Additional comments:
- “Attrition is now close to 13 per cent. One of the big reasons for this (attrition) to come down is because we consciously got rid of the bell curve." -Richard Lobo, HR Head Infosys.
- Kissing goodbye to the bell curve, however, is creating problems to managers while justifying ratings to team members. "They will now be forced to face their team members. In the former world, it was easier for the managers to push any disagreement from the team members to the forced ranking," Lobo said.

Around what time-frame were the changes brought in: