Operations profitability and agility, through data and AI

The Many Eggs of Columbus

Oct 19, 2014 7:53:50 PM / by Ratheesh Raveendran

Many of us have heard the story of Christopher Columbus being challenged by nobles at a banquet about the greatness of his discovery. They argued that if it was not for him some other Spaniard would anyway have discovered America (confused for East Asia at that time). Columbus responded by challenging his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. When they gave up, he made the egg stand after flattening the tip with a gentle tap on the table. Of course that was Columbus' way of telling, that things are difficult only till somebody else does it. This story though of questionable authenticity is a good reminder of history being littered with cases of skepticism preceding significant discoveries/inventions. In Columbus' case the odds started even before the first voyage. The clergy were against him because they believed that the world was flat and hence it was impossible to reach Asia by sailing west. And the King himself agreed to the generous rewards sought by Columbus only because he believed that the explorer wouldn't make it back alive. And of course the rest is history.

Fast forward to the Information age, and the pace at which innovations are defying skeptics has only increased. Uber, Tesla, Flipkart etc. are just a few of today's Columbus' eggs. They are so popular that it is easy to think of them as prosaic everyday affairs. But they earned their place in the sun after crossing hurdles that had grounded many who preceded them. Many of them are still fighting traditional rivals, authorities, mindsets etc. as they disrupt even more with their improved/expanded offerings. A quick look at the examples mentioned:

Innovator Status quo Disruptive Innovation Hurdles
UBER Call a cab and provide pickup address or wave down one on the street.

No obvious pains. Very few were complaining. Minor irritants like driver running out of change, credit card not working etc.

Lack of cabs in cities/towns with low rider density.

Hailing a cab went from Easy to a Lot Easier. Touch the screen and the system figures out where you are and which cab to send.

Anyone with a car & a smart-phone can be a cabbie.

Any place with mobile reach part of the cabbie's market. The market is decided by the location of the cab.

At loggerheads with government agencies: - Laws were made when nobody foresaw an era when government safety certifications would be made redundant by crowd-sourced ratings from passengers and cabbies. Uber is fighting the battle city-by-city.
FLIPKART Make a trip to the store through the congested traffic.

Limited choices in store due to prohibitive retail space rentals.

Unreliable logistics providers, low penetration of credit/debit cards, FDI regulations etc. kept even Amazon out of India. Indians could do little beyond envying their friends abroad who could shop from the comfort of their homes.

Reduce lead times by owning warehouse & delivery logistics.

Eliminate credit card dependency through cash on delivery.

Offer lots of choices & great customer experience to lure brick-n-mortar lovers.

Traditional channels are pressurizing brand-owners to distance themselves from etailers. Flipkart had to reassure buyers about authenticity of products.

Inquiries from regulatory authorities about possible violations of FDI law. Flipkart legally separated the "frontend" selling the goods from the "backend" warehouse operations, to bring in funds from abroad.

TESLA Either Joy of driving or Tree hugging. Electric cars meant limited range, long recharge times and feature frugality. Quantum leaps in battery & charging technology leading to greatly increased range, and charging times that are a fraction of competing offerings.

Network of "Supercharger stations" to make longer journeys feasible.

Build expensive feature-rich cars that compare favorably with gasoline counterparts in performance. Start at the top-end of the market and reduce prices as economies of scale kick-in.

Direct selling to customers is necessary to bring out key differentiators. This got Tesla on the wrong side of decades old laws designed to protect auto-dealers. Currently cannot sell in some US states.

With OpsVeda we routinely come across Columbus' egg moments while talking to customers. That's not surprising, since practices and mindsets formed over the last two decades are being challenged. I will list some of them:

  • Reels of data in most cases are a drag on productivity : Customers find it difficult to believe that they don't need all the data pushed into spreadsheets. In the absence of proper tools lots of data just slows down everybody – From opening the file to identifying the right transactions, everything gets slower. Users just need data related to transactions they should work on, and there is a way to identify and bubble up the same. OpsVeda does that for the business user.

  • Don't need IT for business rule changes : Large corporations have complex businesses and consequentially business rules are also complex. Users have gotten used to creating an "IT Ticket" when they need even the simplest of changes. It comes as a surprise when we tell them that a trained Power-user can take care of most changes without writing a line of code. OpsVeda's intuitive but comprehensive UI makes process configuration and exception definition a breeze. So, rule changes don't have to wait till somebody in IT is free. The operations intelligence system can be as nimble as the business. Of course customers don't believe it till they see it in our demo or free trial.

  • One workbench for Operations : An unremarkable day for somebody in operations starts with weaving together a number of reports (many of them stale), downloaded data from ERP/ CRM, various spreadsheets emailed by partners, and some additional data downloaded from vendor/customer systems. When we bring together all these data (and much more in some cases) into OpsVeda, as part of a quick free trial, it is greeted by disbelief. Our Process-Agnostic-Data-Store (PADS) makes it possible to bring in any data from any process in a jiffy. Add in the exception definitions, and the user has a clear view of the few transactions that need his/her energy. It takes a while to sink-in that they can carry out all their decision making from the OpsVeda workbench.

  • Insights at the speed of business : When we tell customers that they can have the most current information in OpsVeda, often it is dismissed as marketing talk. After all, many BI vendors told them the same thing in the past. They ask us about the "ifs and buts" to enable the "real-time feature". And when they hear that the only condition is the presence of the data in any system that can be accessed, again it is a sense of disbelief. It takes a demo, where an unusual update is made in the ERP system and OpsVeda surfaces the transaction as an exception in a few seconds, to bring in the next Columbus' egg moment.

Though OpsVeda is already disrupting the way operations are managed, we believe it is just the acciaccatura. The main note is the next stage of OpsVeda where decision making is not just based on enterprise & partner data, but also the data of other organizations in the demand and supply networks. Of course the experts are already raising their eyebrows...

  • Why would various constituents of the value chain join the network?
  • What is in it for them to share data
  • Oh, we have tried this before! Why will it work this time?


Great questions for sure. I wish I could reveal more. For now, please wait till OpsVeda makes the egg stand on its tip. And that is going to be sooner than you think :).


Tags: Enterprise Software, Business Execution, Operational Intelligence, Real Time Analytics, Columbus, Business Agility, Innovation Intelligence Paradigm Analytics, Supply Chain Visibility

Ratheesh Raveendran

Written by Ratheesh Raveendran

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