For ages, the local kirana stores have served main stream
for most families, rich or poor, across India. The success of these kirana
stores depended on their owners’ understanding of the customers and their
needs, in that locality. For most parts the owners did this understanding part
exceedingly well. Customers on their part were mostly loyal to the local kirana
store as they had grown to specific product brands which they would always find
in these stores. The strength for the stores came in the form of stable price
and predictable product quality coupled with the short term ‘faith’ loans they
provided to their loyal customers. These loans which were mostly interest free
and purely on faith played a major role in retaining the customers. The
drawbacks of these stores however were the extremely limited product range and
the sluggish response time to stock a newly launched product.
The Indian economic reforms which were brought out in the
early 90s set path a big change in terms of how the customer shopped. The free
flow of money meant customers were asking for newer and better products, fast.
Frequent product launch became a norm and the product variety grew exponentially.
Customers wanted to see and compare the products before they would buy.
This meant -
1)Customers were interested in newer and broader
range of products than a predictable small range.
2)Product innovation, product procurement and
product distribution (time to customer) had to be continuously and radically
3)Product availability increased and customer
retention became more important.
All these meant that the local Kirana stores no more had a
place in the locality or at least their share was reduced. To overcome these
new challenges, the Kirana stores had to set aside their standard operating
procedure and get into a more agile and innovative model to reach the customer.
1)They had to widen their supplier portfolio to
ensure every new product reached their shelves, quick.
2)Remodel their stores
3)And more importantly, use Innovative ways to attract
Stores which did not change mostly were either closed or saw
a revenue plateau. The interesting aspect is that some ‘legacy’ Kirana stores
continue/d to exist without any change,
1)Owing to the locality they were located
2)Or by serving those customers who were in a
hurry and did not have time to go around a bigger retail shop.
3)Or maybe the owner was satisfied with revenue
Having worked for more than a decade in IT outsourcing and
knowing the working of many IT services companies; each having varied degree of
adherence to standard IT processes, I tried to correlate the working of Kirana
stores with some IT services companies. I first separated the IT services companies
into the ones which have their own R&D and the ones which do not have their
own R&D. When I compared the IT services companies which do not have their
own R&D with a Kirana store, I found many similarities.
Note – I have only
listed a few similarities. They do not essentially mean one is same as the
other. Also these are generic observations and should not be taken in context
to any particular IT organization or a Kirana store.
1)IT services companies have a limited range of
services (mostly based on the technology).
2)They follow a standard process (software
development process) which helps them achieve a predictable model leading to a
3)They know their customers and most often suit
their processes to their customers. (For ex - change their finance calendar
based on customer recoverable dates).
4)If a customer demands a non-standard way to
execute a project or a technology that the IT servicing company does not deal
with, the IT companies most often have to make changes to their internal
process before they can serve the customer.
One point that stands high, in my opinion, which is not
necessarily derived in correlation to the Kirana store, is the innovation that
can happen, rather the lack of it, in companies which adhere to processes.
Having processes is good as they help give a predictable
output but they also hinder innovation, in my opinion. Generating new ideas or
finding newer ways to achieve objectives become extremely limited in a well-developed
process environment. The reason for this obstruction to creativity is most
often the process itself, because any well-established process will be tuned to
identify and highlight risks. The process senses any new idea as a deviation
and treats it as a risk i.e. essentially no new ideas or drastic changes can
occur. If there is an idea, most often it is limited in scope or is mostly
developed as an output for a specific requirement.
This, in my opinion, to a great extent explains why we
rarely see an innovative product from a pure IT services company. (Indian IT
servicing companies are forefront in following the quality processes often maintaining
the highest ratings).
If you ask me is it bad not to be innovative, then my
answer will be ‘No, it is not’. If you can make money servicing products, it’s still
a perfectly good business model. Haven’t many automobile repair centers thrived
only on oil changes and tire rotations? So will these pure IT services
If the question is how long can an IT services company look
at only services, then it is until the company hits the bell curve plateau. It
is important for companies to sense the plateau early and change gears to get
back on the growth line. The companies need to arrive at newer ways to increase
revenue. It might be by broadening service lines, tapping new markets or by
Do we need processes
The simple answer to this question is ‘Yes, processes are
required’. Remember innovation is not the end game. Putting the product to
production and bringing it to the market in time determines the success of the
product, and this requires stringent processes. Not having a set process in the
production stage leads to disastrous results. So it is extremely important to
have a set and predictable process in place.
It’s important to understand when are processes important
and when can they be detrimental. It is also important for companies to
understand that innovation is not a process and it’s not predictable. A company
without innovation plateaus soon, much like those Kirana stores which avoided
I walked to the bus stop this morning at my usual time to
catch the office bus. I prefer this bus as it’s the first bus of the day, the traffic
is less and there are not more about 10 people who take it. Upon reaching the
bus stop I saw that instead of the usual group there was only one person.
[Let me pause and
explain something interesting about the folks who board the bus at my stop. I
have never seen any of them talk to each other. Neither have I spoken to any;
until today. The interesting part is that most greet each other only by a
faint facial nod accompanied by a faint smile. And in the last 4 months that I
have been taking this bus, all I have done is adopt this way of greeting making
no attempt to change or greet better. Regarding the facial nod greeting we do,
I have often wondered if my eye lids travel a longer distance in their usual
blinking activity compared to my face when I greet others at the bus stop every
We greeted each other with our usual faintest facial nod
possible and stood there to wait for the bus. The bus which is usually on time
did not come even after 10 mins of its scheduled time today. As we stood, I noticed that this colleague
seemed anxious. He would glance at his watch every few seconds and would look
in the direction of the bus. I thought he was late for a meeting or a client
call. Wanting to start a conversation, I looked at him and said -
Me – The bus is late today
(I had not expected a Yes/No answer from him. I thought
since we had been greeting each other for the last few months, he would give an
extended answer which will lead to a good conversation. But his ‘Yes’ lead me no where. Having made up my mind to talk to him, I did not want to give up so
Me – It’s usually on
time. Haven’t seen it this late
Colleague – Yes…(after
a brief phase) You can expect anything
Me – today? (I was
Colleague – Yes, today.
You can expect anything to happen and you have to be prepared
(Now I was really lost)
Me – Okay (I gave a
puzzled look at him)
Colleague – have you
forgotten? Today is Friday the 13th
Me – Okay (I wanted to ask
Colleague – Moreover the
year is 2013. So it’s Friday the 13th in 13.
(Suddenly it occurred to me that there is some taboo
associated with Friday the 13th)
Me – Oh correct..
(Not wanting to show my ignorance, I nodded my head)
He did not say anything and I had no clue what to say.
Actually what could I say? I don’t believe in these things and I had not
expected the conversation to go this way. If Friday the 13th was really a dooms
day, the earth should have evaporated by now.
Our office bus arrived in the meanwhile and we both headed
towards it. As we reached the bus, he looked at me and said –
Colleague – Be careful,
today is not a good day. Don’t think its superstition; the whole world believes
Me – Okay (I smiled at
Once inside the bus, I tried to recall what had just
happened. He was right in way. All I wanted to do was to talk to a colleague
whom I see every day. But of all the days in the year, I had initiated the
conversation on Friday the 13th which ensured I never initiate a conversation
with him again. Friday the 13th is truly a dooms day.
I was returning home from office the other day
when I met this old friend. It had been some years the last time I had seen him
and we got into talking. We spoke of our work and how we have been doing. More
than the work or the technologies we were working on, what actually caught my
attention was the shirt he was wearing. It was a neatly pressed white full
sleeve shirt, but, very clearly one size less. Maybe he had put on a lot of
weight after he had bought that shirt. Having known him since my engineering
days, I took liberty and asked him why he was wearing that snugly fitting shirt.
He put a faint smile looking at his shirt and said “this is my lucky shirt.
Everything I do wearing this shirt has been a success”. Seems he was looking
for a different job and had been for an interview earlier that day.
Having known him from my engineering days, I do
not think he has to depend on his “lucky” shirt to get through the interview; still,
fair enough. Many of us treat some things as lucky and treasure them. It can be
a watch, pen, an earring, a currency note, shirt, trouser, belt; pretty much
anything that we had, or worn when something worked fine the first time. From
then on it becomes a habit and slowly turns into a “religious” belief. I do not
clearly remember but I think even I had a lucky pen or shirt or something during
my high school and college days. I do not have any now, or at least for the
moment I do not believe in any lucky things.
I wished my friend luck and started back home
still thinking about these “lucky” things. Though these things start with an
individual, it can slowly influence and draw more people into it. Take the
example of gifting green colored sarees to ladies in one of the south Indian
state some years back. They say it started as a word of mouth that every brother should
gift a green colored saree to his sister and the sister should wear it on a
particular day of the week, to ward off evil. Slowly it turned into a huge
saree gifting event across the region with men gifting sarees to every lady
they knew. Shops carried different shades of green colored sarees and made a
killing sale during that time.
Once home, I told my wife and my parents about
my friend and his lucky shirt. I know my father doesn't believe in these things
and he did not say anything. But both my wife and my mother told about things
which they believed brought them luck while they were in school. I asked them
if they still believed in these things and both said though they don’t have any
lucky things they will still not write off if they found something brought them
luck. Now my mother has a major in Science and Mathematics and my wife has done
her Master’s in Business administration. Yet, both still feel there can be
things which actually can be lucky even though there is no rational explanation
My wife gave a very beautiful answer to this
question. She said, if carrying a particular pen has always helped her clear
her exams in college, why should she risk not carrying the pen? Even if she doesn't believe that a pen brought her luck, she will still take the pen to the exam
rather than not take it, fail in the exam and lose a year.
Now that is an excellent point. Why take risk?
What are you trying to prove? That a nonsense is a nonsense?
The floods and the earth quake have devastated the
region around the revered Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand, but as per the new reports the temple sanctorum
and the shrine bell are safe. This news strengthens faith and has raised new hope for the survivors and the devotees alike.
The need of the hour is to build on this new
hope, and support and contribute to rejuvenate the lives of the affected
people. Hope the entire nation comes forward to help the distressed hearts by
supporting them in all ways possible.
The first glimpses showed death and destruction
was all that stood, In the place revered righteous heavenly and good. The flooding water had ravaged everything in its
wake; Flattening buildings and trees, putting lives at
stake. The receding water showed the still intact
temple in full view; Strengthening faith and raising new hope to
those surviving few. This new picture affirmed not all was lost, With the Lord in front, a different battle has
to be fought. It’s upon us to rekindle the hopes and lives and
dreams; Of those distressed hearts, supporting them by
all means. Our contribution and support is the need of the
hour, And only this can heal and forge the bonds
I was in the train heading to the office this
morning when a group of kids got into the train. They were about 12 kids aged
around 15 years. They were running and chasing each other up and down the train
from the moment they got in. Once they were seated, they pulled out their smart
phones and started taking pictures of each other.
Looking at them reminded me of my school days. Walking
to school with friends in the morning, chasing each other back home, playing
cricket on the footpath, skipping classes, getting scolded for dirtying the
uniform… One thing I cannot forget is that
when I was a kid, I wanted to be like my father; grow up and go to work J. And today as I sat in the train looking at those kids I could
not stop wondering how much I missed my school days!
The whistle blew as the train readied to move
from the stop; People searched for seats holding close
their bags not to drop. The train moved still the noisy kids
scrambled to find a place. Chasing each other it seemed they
were playing a game of maze.
Looking at them reminded me of my school day when running and cycling with those heavy
bags seemed a normal way. Those times of staying late at the all
friends night; And that morning rush for the last bench
to keep off the teachers sight.
Strangely as it seems, the movies with friends
or skipping classes didn't have its take; Nor were those long hours in playgroup or
the library detours which kept me awake. Rather it was the thought to grow big and go
to work, that was strong Funny I miss those school days now that I
have come so long.
I was at a grocery store yesterday when I heard
somebody call my name. He was a friend
from work and I think the last I had met him in person was about 2-3 years
back. We spoke for some time and for almost half of that time I was trying to
recall his name. It really took a while
for me to recall his name while he had called me by my name the minute he had
Just a week back, I had this friend who was
telling me how important it was for politicians and CEO’s and people in high
places to remember people by names; especially by their first name. Calling
people by their first name, especially while meeting somebody after a long time,
adds a kind of personal touch.
I was thinking about both these and realized
something. I can never be a politician or a CEO or someone in a high place because
I don’t possess the most important skill needed for these occupations;
remembering people by their names. Not that I had ever thought
of becoming a politician or something J. I spent the rest of my
yesterday thinking about what else I can be. Anything related to academics; a
scientist, teacher, mathematician is all a big no. At most I can be a just ok
bathroom singer, so scratched music off the list. I then thought of sports as I
understand a little bit of cricket. I have seen most cricketers announce their
retirement plans from active field cricket by late 30’s which probably means
they start thinking about retiring when they are 33-34. So I cannot start
thinking of a new career at an age when master sportsmen start thinking of
their retirement. By late yesterday evening I realized I had scratched off
almost every profession I knew, from the list.
Then suddenly I had this second realization. I
could not recollect when was the last time I had thought so much about what I
wanted to be, in my entire life. i.e. my entire life till now has been pretty
much goalless. I have read of CEO’s who plan on how they want their company to
be in the next 3 years, 5 years and 10 years. All I had planned till now was at
most for 6 months or a year.
I woke up this morning with that same feeling of
being goalless at the back of my head, but quickly got into the daily routine. I
was reading the newspaper when I started thinking again. True, all those big
folks come up with such stellar plans about how they want to grow their
companies but haven’t we seen enough of many such stellar companies crumble
overnight? I have read somewhere that the number of people who are cancelling
their newspaper subscription has increased over the last 10 years. Who had
thought that this will happen, 10 years back? I might not have a quantified 10 year goal but
I do have short term ones. Thinking about all this suddenly started making me
feel better! I was amazed how uncomplicated my life is and how much thankful I
should actually be for it! I spend hours with my wife on a park bench watching
our daughter play, watch cartoons with my daughter just because I don’t have a
10 year quantified goal.
I might one day come up with a 10 year goal but it doesn't seem bad not having one. For now, this is something I want to do.
The next time I meet somebody and I am unable to recall their name, I will just
politely ask for it.