My talk on “Open Source and Embedded Systems”

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.

Here is the presentation slides:

Electronics Rocks 2013

Electronics Rocks 2013
Electronics Rocks 2013

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.

Ten types of Innovation – Concluding notes

With article on Bigbasket, the ten part innovation series comes to an end. When I understood the innovation types (created by Doblin) way back in 2011, my idea was to apply it from Indian context and make case studies fitting various types. It took two long years for me to complete this series with decent satisfaction.

Innovation has gone beyond building a particular product or service. By building something different doesn’t guarantee a business success, whereas ensuring customer derives value will. India, unlike some of the developed countries, is in the cusp of transformation where we have both traditional old school thinking and new school of thinking co-existing with each other. This made my inquiry to innovation all the more interesting. As and when I observed some innovative way to serve customers, I started mapping them back to Doblin’s model and came up with this whole series spanning across industries.

Please find URLs to individual posts as follows:

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]

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.

Innovation and its unsung cousin Execution

Everyone loves the word Innovation, including my good friend and co blogger Jayakumar :). Companies love to call their products and solutions as Innovative. It looks terrific on resumes and billboard commercials. MBAs are taught courses on Innovation and as a consequence cannot complete a presentation without using that word at least once.

Now, I personally have nothings against Innovation, but I do believe that many companies focus on this at the expense of something which is as important, if not more – Execution.

Let me provide a broad non-dictionary meaning of what each of this mean, to me:
Innovation – something unique / new, a creative solution, a discovery or an invention.
Execution – Getting it done – efficiently and rapidly, taking things to completion.

The Philips Vs Sony war on the consumer electronics front is a great lesson on the importance of Execution (in addition to Innovation). In the Consumer Electronics front, Philips sets the benchmark when it comes to innovation. Take a look at the list of inventions that they have and its truly inspiring.

The radio, the television, the magnetic tape and compact disc are inventions of Philips. However, when it comes to making these inventions a marketing success, the Japanese giant Sony has been a much bigger success. They have simply been able to roll these out faster, cheaper and more efficiently to the markets worldwide.

Google’s being able to Execute better on Ovetture’s Innovation of showing ads against a search is another example. Now, this is not to say that Philips cannot Execute or Sony cannot Innovate. I am not discounting Philips’ ability to deliver products or Sony’s “process innovations”. However, it remains that the core strength of Philips and Sony are on Innovation and Execution respectively.

Go ahead Innovate, but also ensure that you can execute on those ideas, roll things out, market it well to ensure that the product succeeds.


– NWritings