Thinking small to solve Big

[This article was posted in my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thinking-small-solve-big-chin-fah-heoh/ on Sep 9th 2019]

The world’s economy has certainly turned. And organizations, especially the SMEs, are demanding more. There were times that many technology vendors and their tier 1 systems integrators could get away with plenty of high level hobnobbing, and showering the prospect with their marketing wow-factor. But those fancy, smancy days are drying up and SMEs now do a lot of research and demand a more elaborate and a more comprehensive technology solution to their requirements.

The SMEs have the same problems faced by the larger organizations. They want more data stored, protected and recoverable, and maximize the value of data. However, their risk factors are much higher than the larger enterprises, because a disruption or a simple breakdown could affect their business and operations far greater than larger organizations. In most situations, they have no safety net.

So, the past 3 odd years, I have learned that as a technology solution provider, as a systems integrator to SMEs, I have to be on-the-ball with their pains all the time. And I have to always remember that they do not have the deep pockets, especially when the economy in Malaysia has been soft for years.

That is why I have gravitated to technology solutions that matter to the SMEs and gentle to their pockets as well. Take for instance a small company called Itxotic I discovered earlier this year. Itxotic is a 100% Malaysian home-grown technology startup, focusing on customized industry intelligence, notably computer vision AI. Their prominent technology include defect detection in a manufacturing production line.

 

At the Enterprise level, it is easy for large technology providers like Hitachi or GE or Siemens to peddle similar high-tech solutions to SMEs requirements. But this would come with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of ringgit. SMEs will balk at such a large investment because the price tag is definitely something not comprehensible to the SME factories. That is why I gravitated to the small thinking of Itxotic, where their small, yet powerful technology solves big problems in the SMEs.

And this came about when more Industry 4.0 opportunities started to come into my radar. Similarly, I was also approached to look into a edge-network data analytics technology to be integrated into PLCs (programmable logic controllers). At present, the industry consultants who invited me, are peddling a foreign technology solution, and the technology costs RM13,000 per CPU core. In a typical 4-core processor IPC (industrial PC), that is a whopping RM52,000, minus the hardware and integration services. This can easily drive up the selling price of over RM100K, again, a price tag that will trigger a mini heart attack with the SMEs.

I am tasked by the industry consultants to design a more cost-friendly, aka cheaper solution and today, we are already building an alternative with Apache Kafka, its connectors and Grafana for visual reporting. And I think the cost to build this alternative technology will be probably 70-80% cheaper than the one they are reselling now. The “think small, solve Big” mantra is beginning to take hold, and I am excited about it.

In the “small” mantra, I mean to be intimate and humble with the end users. One lesson I have learned over the past years is, the SMEs count on their technology partners to be with them. They have no room for failure because a costly failure is likely to be devastating to their operations and business. Know the technology you are pitching well, so that the SMEs are confident that you can deliver, not some over-the-top high-level technology pitch. Look deep into the technology integration with their existing technology and operations, and carefully and meticulously craft and curate a well mapped plan for them. Commit to their journey to ensure their success.

I have often seen technology vendors and resellers leaving SMEs high and dry when it comes to something outside their scope, and this has been painful. That is why this isn’t a downgrade for me when I started working with the SMEs more often in the past 3 years, even though I have served the enterprise for more than 25 years. This invaluable lesson is an upgrade for me to serve my SME customers better.

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Digital Transformation means Change in People

I wrote about Digital Transformation a few weeks ago. In the heart of it, People are the real key to the transformation of every organization. Following up what I described earlier, Change is the factor that People in every organization have to embrace.

Drowning and going blind

We are swarmed by technology. We are inundated with everything digital and we are attracted to the latest buzz and hype. In the sea of it all, these things have made us, the People reliant of technology. This reliance, this needy dependency, has made us complacent. We settle because the boring and mundane tasks have been taken away from us. Moreover, the constant firehose feeding our lives has created “digital drowning“, a situation I would like describe as gasping for a breather to think clearly. We are bogged by digital quagmire, blinded by what shiny things and we lose sight of the strategic focus.

We shrivel and we go back to what we think is our comfort zone.

Change is constant and uncomfortable

I once read that our known comfort zone is no longer our safety zone. That idea of everyone’s safety zone has been obliterated aeons ago. I love the following quote from Seth Godin, my absolute marketing guru.

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As he rightly pointed out, “There is no ‘ever after’. There’s just the chaos of now“. We don’t arrive at a comfortable place after the change. There is no comfortable place or safety place for that matter … at all. The Digital Transformation or what ever Information Age we described our generation earlier, is constant change. We have to ride the hungry bear and we have to saddle the ferocious dragon at all times. We have to learn to ride the bucking bronco!

So, we learn. We change and change. Continue reading

Secure Private Sync and Share with EasiShare

Shadow IT /sh-A-doE  Eye-Tee/

noun: An IT project outside the organization IT department’s domain and often unapproved. A dark area.

verb: A defiant user-level practice to perform IT activities where the organization’s IT department has little or no control.

Shadow IT or Stealth IT

There was a BYOD (bring your own device) craze about a decade ago. The darling of the BYOD craze, Dropbox was on every vendor’s lips and many look-a-likes sprouted like mushrooms. Microsoft OneDrive (previously known as SkyDrive), Google Drive, and of course, Dropbox and many others are still serving a growing customer base, together with many others. But most of them have taken a different, more mature form, a market where Gartner has defined as Enterprise File Sync and Share several years ago. And today, that market is shifting again, and soon to be known as Content Collaboration Platform.

But Shadow IT remains where many users are facing challenges with their IT department. Rigid, archaic, and difficult have forced end users to take matters into their own hands to share files, away from the controls and structures. And those free GBs from those cloud storage providers looked so tempting …

The picture above is someone unlocking a safe. I have literally seen an IT department keeping their files on disks and then keep them in a safe! When they want to share it, they have to run the safe combinations to bring out the disks, and they did it in front of me. It was funny then but the paranoia is real! Some IT departments are really that pain-in-the-a$$.

A business risk

Shadow IT is a risk. Security is often the touted risk, but the issue goes beyond just security. Often, the compromised issue represents a degradation of the company’s brand, image and customer confidence, and could lead to negative reverberation of the company’s business.

Time to regain control and secure file access

EasiShare, a private military-grade, enterprise file sync and share platform is a solution I am exploring. It is similar to the Dropbox concept many are familiar with, but without the security concerns and heavy applications of Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive.

Many organizations in Malaysia have expressed concerns about data privacy and security. And this is a great opportunity for Malaysian companies to consider data privacy and security seriously, especially with Shadow IT looming to comprise the control of the IT departments.

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The Heart of Digital Transformation is …

Businesses have taken up Digital Transformation in different ways and at different pace. In Malaysia, company boardrooms are accepting Digital Transformation as a core strategic initiative, crucial to develop competitive advantage in their respective industries. Time and time again, we are reminded that Data is the lifeblood and Data fuels the Digital Transformation initiatives.

The rise of CDOs

In line with the rise of the Digital Transformation buzzword, I have seen several unique job titles coming up since a few years ago. Among those titles, “Chief Digital Officer“, “Chief Data Officer“, “Chief Experience Officer” are some eye-catching ones. I have met a few of them, and so far, those I met were outward facing, customer facing. In most of my conversations with them respectively, they projected a front that their organization, their business and operations have been digital transformed. They are ready to help their customers to transform. Are they?

Tech vendors add more fuel

The technology vendors have an agenda to sell their solutions and their services. They paint aesthetically pleasing stories of how their solutions and wares can digitally transform any organizations, and customers latch on to these ‘shiny’ tech. End users get too fixated that technology is the core of Digital Transformation. They are wrong.

Missing the Forest

As I gather more insights through observations, and more conversations and more experiences, I think most of the “digital transformation ready” organizations are not adopting the right approach to Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation is not tactical. It is not a one-time, big bang action that shifts from not-digitally-transformed to digitally-transformed in a moment. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is a journey that will take time to mature. IDC and its Digital Transformation MaturityScape Framework is spot-on when they first released the framework years ago.

IDC Digital Transformation Maturityscape

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We got to keep more data

Guess which airport has won the most awards in the annual Skytrax list? Guess which airport won 480 awards since its opening in 1981? Guess how this airport did it?

Data Analytics gives the competive edge.

Serving and servicing more than 65 million passengers and travellers in 2018, and growing, Changi Airport Singapore sets a very high level customer service. And it does it with the help of technology, something they call Smart (Service Management through Analytics and Resource Transformation) Airport. In an ultra competitive and cut-throat airline business, the deep integration of customer-centric services and the ultimate traveller’s experience are crucial to the survival and growth of airlines. And it has definitely helped Singapore Airlines to be the world’s best airlines in 2018, its 4th win.

To achieve that, Changi Airport relies on technology and lots of relevant data for deep insights on how to serve its customers better. The details are well described in this old news article.

Keep More Relevant Data for Greater Insights

When I mean more data, I do not mean every single piece of data. Data has to be relevant to be useful.

How do we get more insights? How can we teach systems to learn? How to we develop artificial intelligence systems? By having more relevant data feeding into data analytics systems, machine learning and such.

As such, a simple framework for building from the data ingestion, to data repositories to outcomes such as artificial intelligence, predictive and recommendations systems, automation and new data insights isn’t difficult to understand. The diagram below is a high level overview of what I work with most of the time. Continue reading

Is Pure Play Storage good?

I post storage and cloud related articles to my unofficial SNIA Malaysia Facebook community (you are welcomed to join) every day. It is a community I started over 9 years ago, and there are active live banters of the posts of the day. Casual, personal were the original reasons why I started the community on Facebook rather than on LinkedIn, and I have been curating it religiously for the longest time.

The Big 5 of Storage (it was Big 6 before this)

Looking back 8-9 years ago, the storage vendor landscape of today has not changed much. The Big 5 hegemony is still there, still dominating the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise and Mid-end Arrays, and is still there in the All-Flash quadrant as well, albeit the presence of Pure Storage in that market.

The Big 5 of today – Dell EMC, NetApp, HPE, IBM and Hitachi Vantara – were the Big 6 of 2009-2010, consisting of EMC, NetApp, Dell, HP, IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. The All-Flash, or Gartner calls it Solid State Arrays (SSA) market was still an afterthought, and Pure Storage was just founded. Pure Storage did not appear in my radar until 2 years later when I blogged about Pure Storage’s presence in the market.

Here’s a look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant for 2010:

We see Pure Play Storage vendors in the likes of EMC, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems (before they adopted the UCP into their foray), 3PAR, Compellent, Pillar Data Systems, BlueArc, Xiotech, Nexsan, DDN and Infortrend. And when we compare that to the 2017 Magic Quadrant (I have not seen the 2018 one yet) below:

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