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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Rajan Nagarajan, CIO, Mahindra Satyam (Part 6)

Posted on Tuesday, Oct 19th 2010

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini

SM: In the remaining time, I would like to explore the topic of entrepreneurship in the clouds. From your vantage point, what are the entrepreneurial opportunities that are best addressed through the cloud paradigm? I run a program called 1 Million by 1 Million. We are trying to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in revenue. What I’m trying to gain from you is a set of pointers, for the benefit of entrepreneurs, on domains and customer pain points where you see open problems, open opportunities where entrepreneurs should think about building startups.

RN: I have been thinking about this since the last time we were supposed to have a conversation, which was a couple of days ago. I will tell you a few ideas that have come to my mind. You will have to use your judgment on how feasible these look. I will use the example of retailers. If you take India as a market, you look at the number of really small businesses that are trying to evolve. If somebody could sit back and say, “What I am actually going to figure out?” If I take a simple grocery store, for example – I have to digress for just a few seconds to show and tell a bit of a story so that you can appreciate where that part came from. In my neighborhood, a new person opened a shop that sold fresh lunch to all the laborers, workers, and drivers in the area. My driver started going and eating there one day. I asked my driver and asked if the food was good. He said the food was awesome. I said, “Wow. How much do you pay for it?” He said  it was unlimited food, whatever you can eat, as much as you want, and it cost only 25 rupees [about 56 cents]. I asked him what the vendor served as lunch. When you say unlimited, I asked, you say you can have as much rice as you want, as much sambhar [a vegetable stew with lentils, coconut, and tamarind] as you want, as much papad [a type of cracker or flatbread often made from chickpea or lentil flour] as you want? Looking at his business model, I told my driver that at this rate, in 30 days he was going to go bankrupt! My driver looked at me and said, “No, you look at how popular he is.” I said, “Trust me – in 30 days he is going to go bankrupt. Nobody can sell in today’s economy with that business model.” Sure enough, in 30 days the driver was in shock and the vendor was bankrupt.

SM: Yeah.

RN: The reason this is on top of my head is because small and novice entrepreneurs don’t know the basics of revenue in and cash out. They don’t look closely at what is happening, what is the contribution? What are the four basic things that I need to worry about? Basic inventory management skills are missing.

SM: This is about this basic business education, which most small entrepreneurs do not have. That is what we are trying address with the 1 Million by 1 Million program. Well, they don’t operate at the level of your neighborhood shop, but you are right, there is an opportunity to address it at that level as well.

RN: But I would like to extract something from that example at a slightly higher level. I was talking about a regular store; even a regular store is in struggle. How can you create a sustainable business?

SM: What has happened is that the business education that exists in the world today costs a lot of money. If you look at the curricula that are prevalent in various places, and it is I guess region-agnostic, business education is often not part of any curriculum. Basic fiscal education is often not part of any curriculum. This is what brought America into this mess of people spending much more than they make or can even afford to spend. So, that basic fiscal education would have probably given your little company, a little neighborhood catering shop, some idea that you cannot spend more than what comes in. There are places where the notion of profit and loss (PNL) has not been taught at any level. Look at the education system – in some places, at no level is there a notion of a PNL.

RN: Yeah absolutely, until you get to management school.

SM: Yeah if you examine it further, look at Obama! Obama doesn’t get PNL, either!

RN: Yes, that’s a great one.

SM: And there are lots of problems to be solved. It is strange, though. If you can give me some pointers of entrepreneurial opportunities – more in the cloud world where you exist very deeply, you’re living and breathing cloud computing. Give me two or three open problems where you see an entrepreneur can build a company.

RM: I think the other two or three areas that come to mind are as follows: one is clearly in what I would call the sifting of information. Today we are in information overload. All these gadgets – you got the BlackBerries, iTouch, iPod, iPads. If you look at the percentage of time that is non-value added that an average gadget user spends sifting through what is really relevant contextually, it is probably two-thirds of the entire time spent. Seventy percent of my time goes to activities that are non-value-added. I’m looking at technology that says, Can I help you through that? I want a service that can be offered through the cloud where all your mail traffic and SMS traffic is sifted through that mechanism. If it can allow me to know quickly that something is a priority  for me, everything else can wait. Now, there are some early indications of even Google trying to do that. I don’t know if you have seen the Google Priority Inbox?

SM: No, I haven’t seen it yet.

RN: That’s one area I think lends itself to the cloud because all of this information is coming from all over the place before it hits you.

SM: One thing that you said earlier along those lines was that you were thinking of using Facebook and social media for the purpose of matching skills. This is not just within your organization. You have 30,000 people within your organization and you need some sort of talent management, skill-matching system for people who are ready [to work for] and have worked for Mahindra Satyam. To me, it sounds like you are looking at Facebook to connect with the broader world of software engineers or people with expertise in IT, maybe specialized expertise in IT. You are, from what I gathered, looking for a social network for the IT population.

RN: That is correct. At the same time, I want to be able to tap portions of that network that are visible only within the Mahindra Satyam domain. It is a tricky wish, but I am human, right? So I can wish for anything.

SM: From an entrepreneur’s perspective, people will have to come up with something like a public network and a private network. Within the public network, they may give you an opportunity to create private, walled gardens where you can share information and do things which only your internal people can be part of. But they also open it up as a public network where professionals from the IT industry interact.

RN: Now I know why you are where you are and I am where I am. I’m only a small totem pole here. That is exactly what I am saying: a private cloud within a public cloud.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Rajan Nagarajan, CIO, Mahindra Satyam
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