Friday, November 25, 2016

Updates from the Gartner IT Expo

I attended this year's Gartner IT Expo in India, held in the beautiful sea side town of Goa. It was a rather large gathering (1200+ participants as I hear), blocking the capacity of most Goa hotels already in holiday season.  The talks were rather interesting and engaging (including one by Guy Kawasaki), but I guess the opportunity of catching up with technologists from peer companies and other industries was the high note.

Here were my major takeaway themes.

User experience: Digital UX is increasingly becoming conversational, immersive and ambient. As AR-VR tech (Google Glass equivalents) merge with conversational interfaces (Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, MS Cortana) and messaging, we are seeing the emergence of a new set of rich UX channels. This will require new "shared state services" in the back-end to synchronize journeys between channels while managing complex context. For that matter, "context" management - sensing, modeling and applying context information intelligently - seems to be an emerging holy grail capability in addressing these evolving user experience channels.

Data: As Big Data becomes the state of the play across industries, the value of metadata becomes more prominent. Particularly in an era where the boundaries of analytical insight span data sources beyond the enterprise, the value of metadata in establish trust is rather immense. We no longer "collect" data, but rather "connect" to it from multiple sources to create temporary data structures to run analytics (with mechanisms such as data virtualization).

Blockchain: Given that this was a cross industry event, I was surprised by how much everyone was talking about this topic. It was not just the bankers and insurance teams, but everyone from manufacturing to agriculture-tech was talking about its potential in enhancing trade across industries and managing assets more effectively. Every industry seems to be running a pilot and exploring its practical potential.

Digital Platforms: While the concept of platforms has been around for some time, the value from the platform model is becoming more apparent (as Gartner mentions, a majority of the largest capitalized companies in the world today are platform heavy like Amazon, Google and even GE with its Predix). In addition, the construct of digital platforms is itself becoming more complex. Platforms are moving from being two-sided (buyer and seller) to becoming N-sided (including aggregators, advisors, service providers and brokers), and spanning multiple industries. For example, take the case of Uber financing car owners or Starbucks with its loyalty cards.

Connected ecosystems and IOT: This was a big theme, particularly for the manufacturing, automotive, industrial and consumer industry areas. The 7 Billion connected people and 30 Billion connected things (as Gartner projects by 2020) will create a huge potential for a new services. An interesting presentation was on connected cars, where they highlighted the case of a fully autonomous car of the future with all seats were turned inwards - resulting in the need for new forms of entertainment and allied services to engage commuters. 

I also picked up some interesting FinTech statistics along the way.
  • The total valuation of Fintech startups firms is already at 30% of valuation of global banks! That was news.
  • A huge number of non-banking entrants to banking: For example, Starbucks which currently processes $9-10B in quarterly float due its loyalty payment solution (and without any associated financial regulation)

Overall, a rather useful forum, not just to pick up these nuggets, but for meeting interesting people.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Chilly Philly

Philadelphia was on my travel target list for quite some time, and so when I had a weekend available amidst travels to NYC, I decided to do a quick trip.

And what impeccable timing, as a colleague put it. Apparently one of the coldest days ever for the area, with temperatures touching -15 degrees Celsius. 

The early bus from NY deposited me near the Philly station in the morning. Freezing, but sunny. I strolled into the station and was kindly directed to take the metro to the old town center, to start my itinerary. By the time I had reached the Independence mall, it had started snowing, rather heavily. After a leisurely stroll through the exhibits in the visitor center, I hit the National Convention Center first, to keep warm from the freeze.

I wasn't expecting the Center to amount to much, but I was impressed. The Center has one of the best exhibits on American history, the creation of the constitution, and its subsequent evolution that I have seen. They had a multimedia presentation called "Freedom rising", which introduced the historical context of the creation of the US constitution, and was quite insightful. Since it was close to the President's day weekend, they also had an exhibit on the US Presidential elections, which was rather neat too - a good layman's overview of the process of Presidential elections, and cleared quite a few questions I had as an outsider.

Next stop was the Liberty Bell Center. It had quite a large line before it, and I walked around towards the end, only to realize that I could see the "bell" up pretty close from the glass panes. Saved me time in standing in line in freezing weather.

I spent the remainder of the day walking around Philly's old town. A lot of historical places and really well documented exhibits. Interesting to see how well some of this is preserved, and how pretty the area really is. A notable point was close to the river, where the inscription indicated a point where the US Marine Corps was founded (a tavern apparently, that no longer exits).

After wandering around town as much as the chilly weather would permit me, my last port of call was the Reading Terminal market. Loved the bustle. Quite a wide variety of food and non food items. Even found a shop selling Indian food (even had Britannia biscuits, Maggi and Lijat pappad!). Spent so much time engrossed in the time, that I almost missed my bus back. Had to make a hasty run to the metro and head back, just in time for the bus.

Overall, loved Philly's old town - so much to explore and see. Almost like Boston, with so much history and culture. Would love to go back and spend leisurely time exploring the place in a more sanguine weather.

Monday, November 09, 2015

A week in Berlin

We spent the last week of October this year in Berlin. This was M's first international vacation, and we wanted to do a week of slow travel. We had heard a lot about Berlin from friends, about how modern and kid-friendly the city was, and so the choice.

The top three highlights of our trip were:

a. The Berlin Zoo: M loved it. While the zoo is a fairly small area relative to Indian zoos, the collection is quite diverse. The giraffe's, the chimps, gorillas and rhino's were particular hits. It was also pretty great that one can get very close to the animals, due to the glass-based cages rather than the traditional metallic ones. A big hit with kids.

b. The Reichstag building; The refurbished glass dome structure is beautiful. By far one of the best monuments we have ever been to. Provides a panoramic view of Berlin. We reached near sundown and the views were spectacular. M slept through half of the visit, till we reached about the top, and then woke up to start bawling; so we had to beat a hasty exit. A must visit in Berlin.

c. Potsdam - A short 15 min ride from Berlin, this historic and quaint town with cobbled streets was a gem. The Sanssouci palace is rather impressive and the multitude of cafe's cook up a rather yummy fare. Took us about a day to cover, but one could easily spend more time here.

Other things we loved - the Brandenburg gate (one can't spend enough time staring at Irene and all the history she has presided over), the Museum Island (one of the most impressive museum quarters anywhere), the Alexanderplatz station area (one can spend an entire day people watching here), Gendarmenmarket square (and the chocolateers nearby to binge at), the Wall (the paintings, and the Trabi museums around), and of course the Sunday market at Maueurpark (what a festive atmosphere!).

When we headed to Berlin, we received advice that perhaps a week in Berlin was too much time spent. With a toddler in tow, nothing could be further from the truth. One needs a week to cover a small town, let alone a city the scale of Berlin.

Berlin has an incredible variety of things to see and do. For vegetarians, the vegan restaurants offer a great solace and of course, the waffles, stollen and chocolates everywhere are a gourmet's delight. It also helps that Berlin is so incredibly kid friendly - people everywhere lend a helping hand and a kind word, and there are enough things to do to keep the little energies occupied.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Awe, a New York feeling

Awe. My first feeling when I saw NY city.

I have traveled around a bit in this small planet of ours. But rarely have I come across a place that has left me as wonder struck. London, maybe, is the closest I can recollect.

I landed up in NY after a rather comfortable bus ride from Boston. A neat and moderately crowded highway running along bustling towns. The bus deposited us right outside a rather crowded Penn station, giving me a first experience of NY's swarming crowds.

Manhattan seems like one large and bustling 'mela'  (a carnival), as we call it back home. I loved the energy of the streets. In the perpetually moving crowds, in the incredible skyscrapers, in the street artists, in the hawkers, in the painters, and even in the rushing yellow cabs.

And oh Central Park. I cannot believe that man would leave such a beautiful park alone amidst the concrete jungle of the city. The perpetual joggers, cyclers, picnickers, playing children and the verdant greenery are another world altogether. A stark contrast with the skyscrapers dotting its boundary.

Times Square. Now that's a crazy place. Despite all that is spoken about it, one can't deny a certain capitalist energy, which I found rather unique.

The Liberty Statue. I took a Staten Island ferry and got a few quick and nice pics instead of going to the island itself. Saved good time, and the ferry ride amidst an overcast weather was gorgeous. New Yorkers don't seem to rate the attraction too highly, but I thought it was a worthy view.

Atop the Empire State. Well, its ain't all as romantic as it seems in the movies, but yeah, it still would give the Burj Dubai a run for the money.

The High Line. What a beautiful way to reclaim an old railway line and create an art center out of it.

Now, there were things I was a tad disappointed with as well.

The Met. Even after spending a half day here. Maybe, it was all the build-up in the Lonely Planet articles of this place. Maybe, it was because the last Museum I visited was the Louvre, which set an incredibly high bar. But I missed the 'story' to guide me around. Yes, a great set of collections, but seemed more for the connoisseur than the bourgeois.

Wall Street. For some reason, a lot of people asked me to go here. Yes, possibly the richest square footage on the planet. Yes, busy suited people and some old architecture. But for a traveler, I missed the 'so what'.

Closing on a high note, a rather underrated but integral part of the city - the Subway. I spent the most time while in the city, in its labyrinthine maze. Local people seem to have a love-hate relationship with it (for those who say it is crowded, I would say "come see the locals in Mumbai, my friend"). Quite the artery of the city. Indispensable for the traveler. And a great place to people-watch.

I wish I could have spent more time in the city. Inspiring and awesome.

Boston, pretty Boston

There are a couple of things that stand out about Boston.

First, the University atmosphere. Guess this is because the city has so many schools. It feels as if the whole city is a large campus. And so it is beautifully welcoming even to the value conscious traveler. There are cycle paths everywhere. Food is great and affordable. Almost all around have an intellectual streak.

Second, the History. Being one of the oldest cities in the US, it has a wealth of history and culture. Very unlike a lot of other US towns I have visited in the past. So for a culture buff, there is a wealth of things to see and do. 

Third, it is very walkable city. Now this is one of the things I used to find disconcerting about the US, coming from Asia. Most other US towns I have been to are so vast and widespread that driving around becomes a necessity. In Boston, one day I started from the MIT campus in Cambridge on a morning walk, and began walking around aimlessly looking at interesting landmarks. Before I knew it I was in downtown Boston, amidst the historic landmarks, tall skyscrapers, and pretty markets and piers. 

For a traveler from India, I would consider it akin to a Pune, that isin't too far from the bustling metropolis of Mumbai (that is more akin to NY).