The Business of Open Source

In my previous post about Linux, I touched upon some of the key aspects that Linux lacks in order to become a successful consumer desktop operating system. However, as a programmer/engineer Linux is probably the best tool I can think of, when it comes to community based development and collective wisdom. Last few weeks I have been spending quite a lot of time studying the Open Source ecosystem and how various businesses are leveraging this ecosystem for their benefit. Let me lay down three major observations based on my study so far.

Open Source - Big deal of Business

Platform Linux – Unlike few years back (say 2007), the Open Source Linux has become much mature by looking into the Operating System as a platform. By adopting OS as a platform, products (mainly embedded) can do a lot of customizations depending on their need. This main advantage is aided by multiple middleware platforms (ex: ENEA) who offer options integrated like – build framework, Open Source package integration, patch configuration and management, tool-chain support for various architectures (mainly for ARM/PPC/x86) which is making very comfortable for any product to adapt Linux, which was a huge challenge few years ago. After getting the basic things working with the middleware platform, products can develop custom applications depending on the functionality. Based on my observation, I could see customizing and making Linux as a platform itself is a huge business, which most of the popular vendors (Windriver, Suse, Monta Vista) are doing. This is a remarkable change I see compared few years ago.

Quality at every step – The Open Source community of developers has attained a high level of maturity, which is built over two decades. Since the main source code for Kernel ( and individual projects ( is maintained by volunteers, purely driven out of passion they ensure proper code review is done and approval process is followed before committing any change into the main branch. In case any issues, ‘self-detection-and-self-healing’ approach adopted by Open Source ensures it is rectified at the earliest. Also a bunch of benchmarking tools (ex: Linux Test Project) available to quality the changes made. Since everything is volunteer driven who stick to a set of common goals, Open Source is no longer a toy in the hands of geeks.

Corporate support – Now that big organizations have realized the power of Linux, they seem to support the community in a very strong manner. Every other Linux conference or event receives huge amount of financial and resource boost from these large organizations which is very heartening to see.

Again, these are my initial observations as I try to learn more into the world of Linux and Open Source. Some of them might look like very basic observations for an expert. Going forward, I will add more in-depth information based on my learning.

3Cs (Connectivity, Content, Community) of Aakash ecosystem

As a follow-up for my post on Aakash ($35 tablet initiative by Government of India), I thought of re-iterating the importance of building an ecosystem, which is critical for this whole new paradigm to become large scale success with real customers. No doubt, the student market in India has significant potential, which is waiting to be tapped. Aakash is trying to address this market, which need to overcome three major barriers, which I would like to call as 3C – Connectivity, Content and Community.

3Cs of Aakash Ecosystem

Connectivity – The first and foremost barrier is about establishing ubiquitous Internet connectivity across the country. The current Aakash specification reads WiFi and GPRS as primary interfaces for accessing the Internet, which itself is a major flaw. Wireless hotspots are not famous even in cities, where tech-savvy customers also need to struggle to get the Internet using public WiFi. Setting up wireless LAN infrastructure in rural areas has other additional challenges like – configuring/installing/maintaining the modem, non availability of power supply and running wired DSL lines by laying down copper infrastructure. GPRS solves the connectivity issue but speed is a major concern. In order to run educational applications like Multimedia/Streaming videos, downloading large size course contents, doing online assignments speed becomes critical. In my opinion this offers significant entry barrier for Aakash to become successful. In the past Simputer, was launched with similar objective, but commercially failed due to lack of connectivity.

Content – Assuming that the connectivity issue is resolved somehow (me being too optimistic!), the next obvious question is — what would the student access from the Internet? There should be a strong content repository in order to create value. Here I see two major classification of the content from the student perspective. First, the mainstream academic contents (which are currently in form of book as of now) need to be augmented with – practical experiments, use-cases, live demonstration, do-it-yourself kits etc, which will enhance the academic understanding. This would also (to a larger extent) solve the issue of rote based approach taken in majority of the schools.

Second, vocational learning content needs to be added for enhancing additional skills for the student. For example, when a student wants to build a project (say on road safety systems) he should be provided with content repository and associated tools, where he can access, understand scrape and create a project using the simple online tools. Another important dimension of the content is to add support for vernacular languages. Because majority of the education is still taught in regional languages, even teachers are not trained to teach in English.

Community – Third aspect is to have a community based approach for constantly monitor and enhance the content repository. This community should consist of programmers, education experts and teachers who can think and shape a vision for education. Eventually this should lead to create an ‘Appstore’ where education based applications can be downloaded and installed depending on the need basis. Since Android is used in Aakash, it can be leveraged very easily.

Each of the above mentioned barriers has multiple phases associated with it, demanding huge investment, which Government cannot support. There are few initiatives like Spoken Tutorial (from IIT-B), which eventually will not scale beyond point. Here is where the opportunity lies for private business entrepreneurs as called out in Kookskool blog (hosted by one of my friends). The lower price point of Aakash is definitely a pull factor, which is one piece in the whole puzzle called Educational transformation. Just by launching a ‘cheap’ device doesn’t bring any change, unless we address 3C challenges mentioned above. It shouldn’t become another failure in the lines of Simputer.

Innovation – Type6 – Product system [Case: Amul]

As a part of Innovation series, let us take a look into the brand Amul under the ‘product system’ innovation category.  By taking the basic product (milk in this case), Amul is able to innovate by creating a suite of food products around it. We all know, today Brand Amul stands much beyond milk!

Amul - Taste of India
Amul - Taste of India

Let us take a sip of history before considering the innovation aspects.  It all started 65 years ago in the state of Gujarat a bunch of angry farmers wanted to do ‘something’ against the malpractices followed by middle-men in the milk supply chain. Like in many industries the middle-men were creating a ‘loose-loose’ situation for both milk producers and consumers by manipulating around the system. Strongly supported by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, they decided to get rid of the middle-men by forming their own co-operative society which will own the complete milk production chain, ranging from procurement to marketing. Thanks to strong leadership provided by visionaries like Verghese Kurien the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF) was formed in a small town Anand during 1946.

From this humble beginning, GCMMF created incremental innovations around milk, which eventually lead to ‘white revolution’ in the country. The Amul brand name strongly emerged out of this revolution, which a house hold name in today. Eventually the Amul model was replicated in different states in different names – Nandini (Karnataka), Aavin(Tamilnadu). This co-operative model has multiple innovative aspects, let us take a systems perspective.

As the milk production increased significantly over the years, the direct consumption of milk is a single dimension of the whole market and it’s potential. As the milk processing also saw multiple innovations, Amul introduced whole lot of bi- products which created a whole new system of products:

  • Butter (Cooking & low-fat varieties)
  • Cheese (Processed cheese & Paneer varieties)
  • Sweets (Shrikhand, Amrakhand)
  • Flavored milk (Kool milk)
  • Ghee (Cooking and Infant varieties)
  • Milk powders (Amulya Dairy Whitener)
  • Curd products (Masti Dahi, Lassee, Spiced butter milk)
  • Ice-creams
  • Chocolate (Milk, Fruit & Nut)

Amul introduced new channels to sell the above mentioned products by creating  ‘kiosks’. These kiosks, created in a franchise model come in five different sizes (preferred outlets, ice-cream parlours, railway parlours, kiosks and Café Amul) depending on the investment size. For an end consumer a suite of products available from a single kiosk which is of high quality and low cost. Looking from Indian context, Amul is a great innovative example for creating a system around milk.

Related link:

BOOK REVIEW: I too had a Dream [Autobiography of Dr. Kurien]

[Introduction to ten types of Innovation] [Innovation – Type 1 – RangDe] [Innovation – Type 2 – RedBus] [Innovation – Type 3 – Narayana Hrudhayalaya] [Innovation – Type 4 – Mumbai Dabbawalas] [Innovation – Type 5 – Reva Electric Car]

Emotional Intelligence – Super smart Indian politicians!

Let me augment my previous post on Emotional Intelligence with two interesting videos.

In India, most of us feel that politicians are big time bozos.  But in reality they are the super smart individuals who successfully manage their emotions and eventually control emotions of millions. Simply put, they have very high EQ!

Case: 1 Mr. Chidambaram

A (Sikh) journalist threw a shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram during a press conference; mainly because CBI gave clean chit to 1984 anti-Sikh riots accused Jagdish Tytler. Leaving the political angle apart, let us look into it from EI perspective.

The journalist was running ‘high’ emotions, because of which his rational brain simply stopped working. The Amygdala has taken the complete control, which has resulted in throwing shoe at home minister of the country. On the other hand, Chidambaram was in total control. He not only controlled his emotions, but also ensured that the press conference continued without any issues. If he would have reacted (say shouting back at the journalist) it would have been a different story altogether.

Case: 2 Mr. Lalu

While presenting the railway budget, many parliamentarians have urged Lalu (who was the railway minister then) to speak in English, who comes from a non-English speaking background. Assessing and understanding the situation well, Lalu didn’t get intimidated at all. He converted the situation into a humorous one by talking in broken English. It was Lalu’s smartness and high EQ, which came in handy.

As I mentioned in the presentation, life is all about handling situations in a smart way, where EI plays a significant role.

Emotional Intelligence – How smart you are?

I am totally convinced!

After dealing with tons of people both in professional and personal space, I have come to an understanding that Intelligent Quotient (IQ) matters only in certain areas. For example — getting your photo published in local newspaper for topping the school, get admission into good college, land in a high paying job by attending campus interview. But the real fun begins after that, where an individual starts working with people in some form or other. Here having proper Emotional Quotient (EQ) plays more important role, which eventually determines professional/personal happiness and success.

Having high EQ is the key for handling situations in a better way, which eventually makes all the difference. Recently started working on the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ with some like-minded folks, following presentation has the first cut of information about this topic.

Personal Effectiveness in Team Building

Being an ‘effective’ professional is the key for becoming successful in a team environment. In technology industry cross-functional teams (consisting development, test, documentation and customer support members) is no longer a theory, but a norm these days. Understanding and handling perceptions, developing deeper listening skills, working in a team with complementary skills — are key for long term success as a professional.

Recently, I have shared a presentation to my team, which is shared below. With Agile (more on this later) becoming new way of software development, it becomes all the more attention for us to pay equal attention in shaping such behavior in our teams.

What is your opinion on this?

Building Leadership pipeline

As the popular saying goes, Leadership is all about ‘Building more leaders’ in the organization. Identifying, coaching and grooming high potential individuals play key role in building the leadership pipeline. In technology industry, it is critical to choose an individual who bring in technology passion, people quotient and business acumen. However these folks are not available ‘read-made’, need to be built over a period of time by grooming.  In this story we will delve into three pragmatic aspects that need to be considered in the grooming process.

Identify strengths

Assuming that you are a leader who is looking forward to build your next set of leaders, the first step is to identify key strengths among the set of individuals, who can potentially take up the leadership position. Leaders need to spend significant amount of time by developing deeper listening to these individuals for assessment. Here are the typical questions you need to consider against each individual.

  1. What is the technology depth Vs breath an individual has? Is he a detail oriented problem solver or generalist with common set of skills?
  2. Does he possess significant relationship building skills? What is his individual track record in interacting with customers?
  3. How good is his Emotional Quotient? Can he take people together in a compassionate manner? How does he react in pressure or conflicting situations?
  4. How good is his interest in self development? Has he shown interest in investing himself by taking up organization specific training programs or considers it as an overhead?

The above mentioned questions may not be conclusive, but it would provide you with a clear indication of an individual’s strengths. Once it becomes clear, he needs to be positioned to take up leadership roles, depending on his/her strength area. At the end of this assessment process you will have the list of potential people who are competent to some extent to take up leadership positions.

Value alignment

While the first step talks about an individual’s strength and his competency, it is definitely not suffice to choose an individual as a leader. Here is where the critical factor of ‘value alignment’ comes into picture. An individual may be extremely good with certain skills, but if they don’t have necessary value alignment with the organization by possessing right values, it will become a disaster in the long run. Here are the few questions to assess the value alignment of an individual:

  1. How strong is his integrity? Can you trust on any numbers that he gives which could be in as simple as the estimation he provides for his own work completion? Does he bloat up the time just to ensure he is in a comfort zone?
  2. When any mistakes happen, does he protect his team members or passes on the blame to them?
  3. How well he understand organization core values and vision? Has he developed understanding of how the organization core values maps to his work?
  4. Does he feel comfortable to share the bad news first?
  5. Does he convey the same message to higher ups and to the junior members?

Again, the above mentioned questions may not be conclusive but clearly indicate whether an individual is a value aligned or not. Given a choice it is always better to choose a guy with strong values than the one having higher competency, mainly because competency can be groomed.

Coaching process

Once we identify an individual with stronger grip in competency and value aspects, he needs to be positioned in the team to do the leadership role without giving formal authority. This means rather than announcing ‘here is your next team leader or manager’ it is always better to groom them in the role by taking step-by-step approach. As a part of the coaching you need to identify his gap areas for taking up the leadership role and align it with current responsibilities and performance management system. That way an individual also understands that he has to evolve into the role by working in gap areas gradually.

On the job, the individual needs to be given incremental responsibility. To start with few coordination activity can be identified (ex: project metric collection) by working with various members in the team. Team should be clear about his new responsibility, mainly to avoid any potential conflicts. Slowly but steadily, such responsibilities needs to be increased depending on how well an individual is able to adjust with this new role. When he does any mistakes during the process, you need to support him by providing proper orientation. Rather than putting him into a full blown leadership coaching program it is always better to coach him on the job with real time examples like this. Along with that he can be nominated for internal/external leadership training programs.

Some of the initial set of challenges that leader-under-grooming could be facing, where orientation need to be provided:

  1. Handling conflicts
  2. Influencing individual members without formal authority
  3. Handling negativity in team member
  4. Self doubt or over-confidence

Once this incremental coaching is done, the leader-under-grooming will eventually graduate and become a well seasoned leader. Now he can be announced as a formal leader to the team by giving complete control of the team. However on a regular basic you need to do necessary check and ensure things are moving as planned.

Of course, it is very easier said than done. It is a continuous journey where you need to invest lot of time and energy in grooming. There can be many issues/challenges that will come on the way which you take it up resolve. After all when it comes to leadership, nobody can say ‘I am done!’

The Akash ecosystem

Akash, the much awaited ‘cheapest tablet’ got released yesterday, here in India. I could see different set of numbers – $35, 2250 INR, 2999 INR, about its price, quoted by various websites. I also understand the commercial version will be available from November onwards. Definitely the price looks very exciting, given Indian domestic market condition and comparing with other variants of tablets running Android.The concept of ‘thin’ device (mobile/tablet/PC), connecting them to web using GPRS/3G data connections and offering multiple services in terms of Apps, is in the news. Added to that interesting ideas (Apps would be hosted in SaaS model) are floating around this ecosystem for enabling monetizing aspects. Apart from the tablets, Android powered mobile devices are flocking the same space as price-point of such devices is sharply declining and the form factor of the device is increasing. 

On the PC side, the concept of ‘thin PC’ been there for while now. Novatium Navigator is one of the early entrants into this space, which offers Open Source Linux distribution with customized application ecosystem. Novatium has a different business model as they sell the device thro’ Internet Service Providers like BSNL. This proprietary device is sold at lower price point by bundling support/maintenance service for a nominal amount (on a monthly basis), thereby recovering the cost over a period of time. While there is lot of talk (or hype?) about this new ecosystem, I am still not able to see a single product becoming a big success in Indian market. For example, the first generation mobile VAS providers (Java enabled phone + Stand-alone App + GPRS connection) generated similar buzz around 2005 time-frame there are hardly any product which has become ubiquitous, used by millions of Indians (there are few successes in mCommerce space though).

This raises few more questions from my side:

  1. Assuming there is a potential market that needs to be tapped, is the ‘real’ need of ‘real’ customers is well understood?
  2. Majority of these devices/services are available only in major cities, which hardly contributes into the total market size. Why still the gap exists?
  3. The customer behavior and the way they look at computing should be changed by innovating around the way software is built. Vernacular language support is an immediate case that I can think of, where the focus is pretty less

Tail-piece: After publishing this post, I came across an interesting link from PluggdIn, where one of the recent survey claims Indian mobile customers spend more time in using data than for traditional voice + SMS. The article also states that the issue of distribution & lack of willingness (to pay for content) remain intact. May be this is where the core issue lies? An average Indian consumer has got used to getting everything for FREE, when it comes to software.

Two smart things that Gandhi did…

Last week myself, along with two like minded individuals met during lunch. As usual our conversation took multiple directions and eventually hit upon Gandhi when the first one asked ‘ I really don’t know how Gandhi  galvanized such a diversified Indian population against a single goal of freedom from British Raj!’ . The second friend, who is a well read intellectual gave a very convincing answer, which I would like to share in this post, especially tomorrow marks another Gandhi Jayanthi.

Here are the two smart activities, well planned and executed by Gandhi. These two eventually made all the difference.

Organization Building

During 1915 Gandhi retuned back to India after spending 22 years in South Africa, where he conceived, experimented and achieved success with the concept called ‘Satyagraha’. While he understood the Indian diversity to the larger extent, India was relatively different when he returned back. Briefly coming out of mainstream politics, he went around the country and understood grass-root level issues before putting up the fight against the British. During his journey he understood the need of building next level leaders in order to drive the independence moment across the country.

During this period he found out people who were having larger influence in the local people. For example, C Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) was president of Salem municipality in Tamilnadu. In similar lines he found people like Sardar Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad and Nehru who came from different parts of the country. He eventually folded them under Indian National Congress which eventually changed the face of the party.

In summary, understanding India’s diversity, identifying leaders from each region and binding them under one common vision was done remarkably well by Gandhi. If not for this approach Indian independence moment would have remained as a smaller moment restricted to a particular state. Gandhi was an excellent organization builder.

Salt – A powerful weapon

Salt Satyagraha - Gandhi

While the top layer got built with such leaders, the equally important aspect is to build a followership by uniting the large volume of Indian population. However India was in a different situation, where the educated, upper-caste elite Indians were very happy serving under the British Raj as they enjoyed multiple benefits. The lowercase people and ladies (which was the major chunk of population) were busy fighting a different battle against the local landlords and upper caste, for gaining basic rights. They hardly felt the pinch to fight against the British.

While exploring options, Gandhi eventually hit upon salt as a weapon to unite such people against the British. During that time about 8% of the revenue for the British Raj was coming from salt tax, which was the basic ingredient in every Indian food. Whether you are an upper caste or a lower caste individual salt played was something that people just can’t image to ignore it.  Explaining his choice, Gandhi said, ‘Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life’. This resulted in Dandi March on 1930, played a significant role in uniting the lower caste people against the British. This eventually went on becoming the biggest civil disobedience moment, thereby salt becoming the strongest weapon.

The phrase  ‘The more you know then you know how less you know’ – lingers my mind when I think about Gandhi. In my opinion, his deeper understanding about India and approach taken for Indian independence are research topics.

Related links:

Indian Independence – Gandhi way
Hey Ram – A transformational experience