As a team at Emertxe we are contributing into Electronics For You (EFY) and Open Source For You (OSFY) magazines quite regularly. This is to ensure share our knowledge with broader electronics / open source community that consist of students, enthusiasts and professionals. I have been contributing to this initiative as well, here are couple of my recent publications:
Open Source software engineering: The open source phenomenon is not only about getting free source code, it is also providing excellent tools to manage it. We are running this as a series by giving details about individual open source tools. Here is the link to my article titled ‘Open source software engineering’ which I called how these tools are helping to build effective and quality software.
Industry report on educational kits: While there are tons of hardware available today in the market, an average Indian student finds is difficult to use these boards / kits. Lack of documentation, distributed resources and lesser access to technical support are the barriers that is preventing larger chunk of community to use these kits and build cool products. EFY folks ran a detailed article where inputs from multiple people are compiled and published. Here is the link to the report titled ‘Educational Products and Services – Sector Needs Focus’.
Have a look into them and let me know what you think.
Been thinking of writing about Electronics Rocks 2014 (eRocks), finally able to pen-down few things. For people who don’t know what eRocks, here is a brief – it is one of the most popular electronics conference organized by EFY media. Last year I attended as a participant found some interesting things in the conference. This year, after joining Emertxe we got opportunity to be a community partner of the event and offer a presentation on the Internet-Of-Things (IoT) design challenges. The event happened during October 10th and 11th at NIMHANS convention center, Bangalore that attracted 3000+ participants for the event. For my session about IoT which was the key focus for the conference attracted 200+ participants. Post presentation we have received very positive feedback from the community.
While there are many things about the conference, here are my top-3 learnings from the conference:
Not only Open software: The field of electronics has become more interesting in the recent years mainly because of open source software and easily available/affordable hardware. While devices like Raspberry-Pi, Arduino has already become very popular, I found some of the new devices like UDOO which are becoming very powerful around which many cool things can be built. Going forward I see many companies flocking into this space which is yet to be tapped to its full potential.
Product design: While the previous point gives opportunity to build around so many ideas, there seems to be very large gap when it comes to product design knowledge. While student level knowledge is enough to build a prototype (ex: Agriculture automation) making it as a complete product required a different set of knowledge. During my discussions with many enthusiasts I found there is a severe lack of knowledge about Productization using real hardware.
IoT is not new: While there is a lot of opportunity around the IoT space, in my opinion it is not something very new. Connecting devices to network (say LAN) is been existing for a long time, which has taken a upgraded as IoT thanks to multiple advancements happening in embedded & web application development. During my talk also I mainly stressed about this aspect, where fundamentals needs to be taken care to build products in the IoT space.
Here is the Slideshare link to my presentation, comments are welcome. Couldn’t spend much time across various tracks due to my time constraints hopefully next year I will be able to do better by listening into multiple tracks (ex: Jugaad innovation).
Professional networking plays a critical role in individual and the organization’s growth. Even dealing with customers, we are actually working with a human being, where professional connect is super important. Thanks to the Internet, there are tons of professional networking sites (ex: LinkedIn) available which do wonderful job of connecting people worldwide. However they still fall in short when it comes to alumni of a particular college, who are spread across multiple batches, courses and geographies. It is highly possible that alumnus of a particular college/university is seeking a professional help, which can be easily provided by another alumnus. Just because they are not able to connect many such win-win propositions doesn’t get leveraged. Compared to any other references, saying ‘I am from the same college’ immediately establishes trust among individuals in any conversation, that eventually make things happen.
After passing out from National Institute of Warangal during the year 2001, I have been reasonably connected with our local alumnus chapter. It is always challenging days to maintain multiple spreadsheets, mailing lists etc, in a world where information about each individual is changing very fast. Considering that we all are working professionals with pretty busy schedule it’s hard to keep the data updated all the time. Having networked with alumni helps in multiple ways (seeking mentorship, getting reference with a potential customer, applying for a new job with a company, building personal/family level connections, building social community, contributing for a special cause, simply recollecting those good-old-days etc…). In each of the situations mentioned above, when unknown people are coming together it takes a lot of time to establish trust because both parties don’t know each other. Alumni networks significantly help to establish the trust factor quickly, thereby making things happen much faster than it would be otherwise. Building this gap of connecting this trusted network with the power of technology was lacking for quite some time.
Recently came across Almabase, build by couple of my college juniors which perfectly fills this gap. It is a hosted solution that helps to build alumni portals (check out this URL, built for NITW Alumni)in no time. The main power of this platform comes from the powerful algorithms that builds the alumni tree in no time by leveraging social networks. For example today we have built about 28000 strong alumni network in no time. Once this network building (which is the most difficult task) is established, other activities like creating chapter wise sub-pages, specific events, news and collaboration activities can be done quite effectively which also this portal supports quite well. By subscribing to this service, all the college alumni network need to do is to buy a domain, configure it and forget it. It is quite easy to maintain and gives quite a lot of customization features that can be built on a per college basis. With collaborative content editing and sharing such portals make the alumni networking a real easy and effective one.
I have gained a lot both professionally and personally thanks to alumni networking. However there is a limit to individual’s ability to establish and sustain the network, where solutions like Almabase can come handy. Nowadays I am performing some specific search in my alumni portal (powered by Almabase) which is providing accurate and latest information about alumnus located across the globe. I am sure this is just a beginning, quite a lot of things that can be done with this.
Trusted network powered by technology is a killer combination, which Almabase is trying to leverage. If you are college alumnus or local chapter member or want to revive you connections, go ahead have a look into it, it’s worth your time.
Lounge47 is one of the new age entrepreneurial platform connecting Entrepreneurs, Ideas and Businesses. Couple of weeks back I got a chance to talk on the topic “Tracing the evolution – Open Source & Embedded Systems” among entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and seasoned professionals. The talk was for about 45 minutes followed by Q & A which triggered many interesting questions.
For my related post on involving customers during product development by making them co-creator, one of the readers comment that the same approach will not work in every product development. By involving customers during product development, it might look like a “service” to the customers by taking example of Google v/s Apple way of building products. In case of Google, they work on a product discovery approach, whereas Apple has taken the approach of “Don’t ask the customer what they want, many of the times they themselves don’t know” approach. In my opinion, major differentiation between these two approaches come from what we “refer” as a “product”. Buying a “box” product from the store and experiencing it with hands-on is way different from accessing an online product. This has a significant change the way products are developed. Let me explain this from my own experience.
I used to work in a firmware development team, which had very close traction with hardware. We made certain firmware changes specific to hardware, any further changes to it will result in re-manufacturing the whole PCB. Also product milestones, changes/defect fixes were controlled (ex: All level-1 severity defects should be fixed before manufacturing release, which is the final release). Later point I moved to other team, where we were building cloud solutions from the scratch. Our first major launch was two days away where we had at-least a dozen level-1 bugs were open. When I asked how we can make the release, the product manager replied “We can go ahead and launch then regularly roll-in patch releases by observing customer usage. If customers are not facing any issues, it is fine. After all for this flexibility only we are moving to cloud”. Well, this fundamental elementary thinking of how we look at defect fixing itself different when it comes to looking into products as something.
Thanks to advancement in cloud technology, tons of mobile and internet products are getting built every day by following the discovery process. They can release, iterate and then improve their products depending on how customers are responding to it. Recently there was an article about Amazon’s product building which talks about similar approach. On contrast, when you are building anything that is closer to the hardware, taking this approach might create more problems. For example, given a trial a customer might say he wants infrared interface in it, which might result in months of time to tape out and re-design a new board. Whereas in case of web, if the customer wants a button to be changed, probably it can be done in few hours.
In conclusion, I would say product development largely depends on what exactly we call it as product. The development methodology should change and be in sync with it.
“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices,” – Steve Job’s statement during iPad 2 release
Purely taking a software view, I could say the excellent user experience achieved because of the high quality software. Professionally I have been handling multiple software programs and projects, mainly focusing on quality which has multiple elements like quality control, quality assurance and metrics based project management. Often as a project manager, one gets into so much bogged down in meeting project metrics, often customer and his experience goes out of window. For example, having a lower priority defect in user interface v/s higher priority defect in corner case scenario resulting in device crash. From the defect density or defect index perspective, it will look better to have lower priority defect open but imaging the impact of it from user perspective.
In such cases I feel metrics based project management should be abandoned and quality should take user experience route. All design and measurement mechanisms for project should be attuned to ensure users get a great experience, which is what Agile or Lean software development is trying to advocate. Perpetual beta, demo releases, iterative development are better ways to do this I also wonder what Apple should be doing in their software development method to ensure such a high quality with on time releases.
After all no customer talks about defect density while using iPhones!
Last weekend, Electronics for You (EFY) folks organized a very interesting electronics related conference (called as Electronics Rocks) at NIMHANS convention Center Bangalore. I got a chance to attend the conference after a long time. The primary objective was to attend the hands-on workshop organized by Kits and Spares folks on their Mango Pi development board as I wanted to get more insights into these embedded learning kits, which was coming as a free item along with the workshop. Though workshop was a major flop show (details below), there were many interesting takeaways.
As mentioned in my previous post on Embedded learning kits, I spent quite some time surveying development boards that can be used for educational/learning purpose. I started off by looking into the latest Beaglebone black board (by Texas Instruments) with ARM 335x Cortex-A8 processor, which doesn’t come with TI DSP for media processing. Upon conversation I understood, there are applications available, which can do decent graphics processing. However for higher end graphics related stuff, Pandaboard still works better as it comes with multiple media interfaces. Definitely there is also a 4 times price difference between these two (Beagle comes at USD 45 v/s Pandaboard at 174 USD). On business side, I could observe all these boards are sold by multiple re-sellers, who were having different stalls in the conference. Considering the price point and target audience, it perfectly makes sense to take re-seller option.
On the electronics components side, I could see many vendors who were showcasing their list consisting of various parts. Had some conversation with folks from RS components, who are into component selling from almost all the major semiconductor manufactures. They also seem to have a hub of interesting embedded projects in platform called Designspark, where design engineers can can exchange their ideas and create projects. Along with components, there were also many vendors demonstrating debuggers, tools and embedded design services capability. The debugging space is definitely interesting, but I was not paying much attention as it makes sense only for devices with at least a JTAG interface, which was not my area of focus. From governance side, erstwhile Indian Semiconductor Association (ISA) has changed their name into Indian Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) with responsibility of promoting electronics ecosystem in India.
Coming to Mango Pi workshop, it turned out to be a major flop. During initial promotion they mentioned this workshop as “Build a wireless robot in 60 minutes” using Mango Pi board and mentioned participants can take away a board at the end of the workshop. I was excited about it and registered for the session by paying extra 1500 INR, specifically for this workshop. It was a total chaos where they messed up everything starting with schedule. I was supposed to attend 11:30 AM slot, but they asked me to to attend the 12:30 PM slot due to increased number of participants . I waited for almost an hour, where there was a big queue and people were flocking into a small room. The workshop co-ordinators were relatively junior guys, who couldn’t manage this chaos, eventually mentioned they will do the next session in a bigger room located upstairs.
The upstairs location was an open one, where the sound system was not at all conducive for a workshop environment. On top of that, workshop speaker was of very low quality, neither he was good in communication nor he had much idea about technical aspects. He went on demonstrating building robots with totally a different kit (where Mango Pi board only plays a part), where there were other components like Arduino board, RF sender and receiver etc. I got totally irritated with this poor organization ended up leaving the workshop within 15 minutes. When they organize an event of this scale, proper attention to be paid as it creates a strong impression on the whole product that is getting demonstrated. Executing it in such a ad-hoc manner has resulted in nothing short of a disaster.
Apart from the items mentioned above, there were a series of talks happening on multiple themes which I couldn’t attend due to personal time constraint. Probably I should plan and attend those sessions next time. Overall it was a decent conference, which provided me deeper insights into many aspects of embedded systems, educational kits, open source, Linux and related technologies.
Embedded systems is been my area of interest, ever since I attended computer networks course during my engineering days. In those days mainly networking devices were meant to be primary source of embedded systems as custom designed hardware and software would make networking (packet switching, routing, configuration & management etc…) faster. As a student Linux (or UNIX) was the primary source, where testing of target embedded image to be done in the same PC. In such cases getting the real kick of ‘embedded’ software was absent. Developing the embedded software in a host PC, using cross compiler/linker to generate target image, deploying it in target hardware (typically a board, which is supposed to perform certain functionality) was something an individual can only get in professional work environment to make the ’embedded’ learning complete.
Over a period of time I see the landscape changing significantly with multiple low cost self learning kits/devices flocking the market. Starting off with Texas Instrument’s Panda board, learning kits ecosystem started moving into a different level altogether. Entry of Raspberry Pi at $25 price-point about an year back, brought in further changes. Once these hardware folks release the initial hardware is out in the market, tons of open source enthusiasts backed by community are creating necessary software (ex: SDK) and projects by complementing it. This has opened up a new gamut of self learning opportunity, where individuals can learn latest embedded system concepts, programming and complete interesting project right from their homes or hostel rooms. As long as one has a booting Linux machine, it is enough to get started on these embedded learning kits.
Off-late there are multiple domestic providers in this field as well. The Kits and Spares online shop provides a whole bunch of such devices with which an individual can create small and useful projects. There are also specific training service providers like Thinklabs, who not only provide kits but also train in interesting projects like Robotics that can be built around the device. It’s been real fun to see combination of low cost democratic hardware with open source software, which is making Embedded systems learning very easy.
Shortly I am looking forward to lay my hands in one of these devices. Will share more details after that.
I have been writing blogs over years now, which were spread across multiple places. Last week I have worked on integrating them in one place, mainly importing my older posts from Blogger to WordPress. I have also done some changes in look and feel, by creating fav-icons. Following URLs were really good, helped me with a smoother migration:
The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.
Simple and effective User interface
The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.
While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.
Service delivery guarantee
After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.
Return policy and wallet
During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.
In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.