Incubator Team As a catalyst for innovation

October 4, 2012

In continuation of my last blog post “the eternal start up” here is an interview I did in Australia recently. Interesting thing about this interview is that I was given a completely different topic to prepare for and when I reached the recording studio, the host changed the topic on me. However because the topic of Incubator team is so close to my heart, I was able to pull it off okay. Let me know what you think! 🙂


The eternal start up (CIO NZ Article)

October 4, 2012

This article was published in CIO New Zealand. I really like the way Divina has captured my thoughts on Incubator Team that I lead globally for BMC Software. The link to this article is here,

Some times these articles are no longer accessible on the main publisher web site. Hence I am reproducing it here for my readers,

Three years ago, software company BMC formed an Incubation Team assigned to “worry about radical innovation” and “take away the risk” from the product teams.

“It is expected nine out of 10 things we do will be failures,” says Suhas Kelkar, director of the Incubation Team. “It is almost like venture funding a company and we are the start up.”

Their brief: “Take this amount of money, go away, do the product and come back. We take it end-to end, and move it back to the core business.”

The team sits between the office of the global CTO and the product teams, says Kelkar, who is also the CTO for APAC.

Kelkar explains the team was not created to replace “incremental” innovation in the product teams, but to deliver “radical innovation”.

The goal is to “translate long-term vision into something more tangible like a prototype and to bring in new technologies and experiment with these.”

He explains that as BMC products mature and are used by more customers, the teams working on them may get bogged down by requests for changes. Their focus gets constricted to the next one to two releases and they may miss out on groundbreaking innovation that can set the product apart.

The Incubation Team, on the other hand, tackles projects with a time frame of one to three years, which are considered “risky” and with high probability of failure. The product teams get a running start if the project moves to prototype level, says Kelkar.

His 25 team members are based in India, Israel and the Ukraine. Almost everyone is on a technical architect level, but they understand the business domain, he says.

The Incubation Team is the only one of its kind in BMC. “It is a testament the region can also lead when it comes to innovation,” he says.

The upsides of the job? “I have the luxury to stay on top of some of the trends and technologies as they are evolving, [and] how they are going to impact the world of IT management.”

But while the group started with technology incubation, he says the team is now working on business processes, as exemplified by their research on the ‘gamification of IT’.

“It is about taking the mechanics of game dynamics and utilising it in enterprise apps to drive user behaviour and engagement,” he explains.

“What can you learn from the success of Angry Birds and Farmville that you can utilise in the enterprise?”

So what does it take to succeed in this type of role? “A start up mentality,” says Kelkar, without hesitation. “I came from two to three start ups, [with] that mentality [of] fail early, fail often.”

“You have to straddle technology and business in this role; you have to manage both or you lose track of one,” says Kelkar, a mechanical engineer who has a masters in robotics and an MBA.

As for IT management, Kelkar is batting for what he calls “Invisible IT”.

He likens this to flying an aircraft. “There are hundreds of levers you can tweak and control at the same time,” he says. “Your end customer is like a passenger, they want a simplified user interface.”

“IT should be invisible, almost like magic.”

Winning at a game of productivity (Published in The Business Times Singapore)

October 4, 2012

The link to this article on Business Times is no longer available. Here is on link to a cross syndicated site.

Here is the article reposted for my readers,

COMPANIES often dangle incentives and benefits in front of employees in order to motivate them, but one tech specialist is betting that the same concepts used in video games can go a long way in boosting employee morale and productivity.

Suhas Kelkar, BMC’s chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific, leads the firm’s global innovation and incubation effort. He researches trends that are coming up on the horizon several years in the future and expects game concepts to be a big feature in a few years.

He told BizIT: “We are anticipating that gaming will affect enterprise software in some ways and particularly in the aspect of employee engagement,” he says. He adds that there is a link between the feeling of achievement and pleasure that people derive from video games. “People get hooked onto them and there are certain game mechanics that you can borrow.”

For instance, BMC has a “ninja club” for its programmers, where different grades of “belts” are awarded for different achievements and completing tasks. The status that is eventually attained by the expert-level programmer comes through genuinely going through the rigours of getting new skills. It’s elusive to the rest, and best of all, it is free of charge.

Mr Kelkar: ‘In a way, the enterprise software world has
been separate from consumers till now. But new users
have different expectations of (how) our enterprise IT
should work.’

Using a call centre example, he says a typical metric used to rank customer service officers is how many tickets they resolve. “But people get burnt out, so what if we’re able to create different tasks for different months, to keep it interesting?” he says. One month could see a prize going to whoever resolves tickets the fastest and the following month the award could go to a staff member who gets the highest customer satisfaction rating, for instance.

This concept isn’t science fiction; plenty of vendors are using it to alter and encourage certain behaviour traits with users. Mr Kelkar pointed to Nike+, a range of equipment from the sports manufacturer that tracks a user’s workout history. The data is connected to the users’ social networks in order to allow them to compete with friends and win digital accolades.

Codeacademy, an online educational portal, uses the game concept of dishing out awards and ranks to users who come on its site to learn how to write code.

Foursquare, a successful location- based social network, also handed out little in-app badges to users for using it often enough, preventing users from abandoning it like many of its networking app peers.

BMC creates enterprise management software, so it’s easy to see how the multinational firm is keen to see if game concepts should be worked into its products.

Still, it’s more than just buying a new software from a vendor to get these benefits, Mr Kelkar cautions. “It’s not difficult to implement, technically, but it’s hard to figure out what you need to do, how to embed that into your processes,” he says. Once employees feel that the goals and incentives in the “game” are trivial, the entire concept is defeated, he adds.

Why have these concepts only come up now more commonly, when the mechanics of games is far from new? Mr Kelkar says he thinks it’s how mass-accepted video games have become, especially with the availability of games on social networks like Facebook, and in inexpensive apps on smartphones. “Last time, if you could afford one, it was limited to just the Nintendo set, for example. Now, the platform and access is irrelevant,” he says.

“What we see is that a lot of consumer trends eventually affect the enterprise. So the more quickly (enterprises) can adopt trends, the better aligned they will be with new workers coming in,” he points out.

For now, “gamification” isn’t on the average CIO’s radar, he says. “They have much more urgent problems like cost pressures and keeping up with demands. But the trend will hit in about two to three years with software makers at least.”

He added that a lot of start-ups are coming up with game-driven products for customers. “In a way, the enterprise software world has been separate from consumers till now. But new users have different expectations of (how) our enterprise IT should work.”

New users, he said, are more accustomed to the do-it-yourself mode of finding answers online. They will expect that to be something they can achieve at work if they encounter issues with software, by going to a website, rather than have to call someone.

This accessibility is flowing right to the top, where CEOs are being pressured to blog, or to be part of chat streams. Being able to send an instant message to the CEO immediately dissolves the hierarchy in the company and this is changing the way workers communicate bottom-up, he says.

Still, it has to do with what comes naturally to employee behaviour, he repeats. “If you force users to create an ID and log onto the company social site, it will fail. It has to be something seamless.”

And in Asia, the needs are slightly different, so BMC will tweak its social aspects to suit the region, he says. He notes that Asians are generally more reliant on mobile phones and there is a younger workforce here, so they are helping to drive early adoption of some of these technologies.

“Unlike markets like Europe, which have stricter rules, Asian countries will see pockets of adoption that will further drive region-wide take-up,” says Mr Kelkar.


Next-gen CIOs are empowered to innovate (CIO Asia 2)

October 4, 2012

Recently I had an opportunity to write series of blog articles for CIO Asia magazine. I am posting those here since sometimes after a while these articles become unavailable from the publisher’s main site. Here is a link to the article,


Read Suhas Kelkar’s earlier blog: The innovative role of the Asia Pacific CIO.

Earlier this year, I saw an interesting article in a major business publication. It said that the position of the chief information officer (CIO) will disappear from the business landscape in the next five years. The same article went on to say that cloud computing and other technology trends would be at the heart of this demise, because of the way technology has dramatically changed the way organisations invest in and consume information.

In today’s competitive business landscape, smart businesses run lean and senior executives are under pressure to adapt and take on new responsibilities to remain competitive. CIOs can no longer be satisfied with simply “keeping the IT lights on”. CIOs must demonstrate value creation for the business.

Based on my experience at a recent CIO roundtable event in Kuala Lumpur, the common thread throughout all the discussions was the chasm between technology trends and the concerns of discerning CIOs.

The Freedom of Choice
For decades, vendor lock-in has been one of the fears that businesses, large and small, has faced. This concern has existed for a long time at various levels: hardware, platform components, and operating systems.

At the roundtable, several CIOs highlighted the importance of retaining the freedom of choice — in platforms, solutions and technology — without getting locked into a particular hypervisor. Although there have been many efforts to drive homogeneity in enterprises through consolidation and reduction of choices at some levels, new drivers in the form of integrated systems, mobile devices, and public clouds have emerged, creating a hyper-heterogeneous enterprise environment.

Vendor lock-in frequently occurs when a company purchases a proprietary solution that only one vendor develops and supports. This means that as long as the same company intends to use the same solution, it must go through the same vendor. If the vendor decides to change their licensing policies, vendors have these companies at their mercy.

This serious concern amongst CIOs, about vendor lock-ins, resonated with me. My organisation has always been an advocate of providing solutions that help businesses meet their both business objectives, and empower CIOs with the freedom of choice. We believe in complementing other services, and does not have an agenda which places preference around particular types of technology or platform.

The million dollar question
If there’s one question that’s been asked most often throughout my career, it’s the question of value versus cost of technology. As the pressures of IT budgets continue to increase, coupled with technology trends such as cloud computing, big data, social media, and the ‘consumerisation’ of IT, CIOs in Asia Pacific are facing similar challenges of articulating and justifying the value of a particular solution beyond mere costs.

I have had CIOs share with me, that making progress with tight IT budgets is no longer their top concern. Instead, the top priority for CIOs is to keep pace with the growth of their businesses through strategically leveraging technology. One CIO made a very insightful comment that CIOs should focus on value creation rather than cost minimisation.

CIOs need to look at becoming a strategic partner in the process of creating innovative solutions for the business. I have seen many wonderful examples of organisations doing so and in the process, pave a path for future success.

For example, one of our customers, a very large pharmaceutical and medical devices company, recently developed a device that enables consumers to test their own blood sugar levels. These devices seamlessly connects to a smart phone application that analyses the readings against medical benchmarks, provides recommendations, and even sends out notifications to your doctor. This is a perfect example of leveraging IT to innovate and extend business reach and impact.

BYOD — bring your own disaster?
Do a Google search on technology trends and you’ll most likely come back with results that run in the several thousands. As more employees expect their enterprise to support their own smart devices, CIOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver. In fact, this looks to be a trend that will only grow in popularity and CIOs will need to develop a cohesive strategy to not only cope with it but to maximise the opportunities.

One CIO mentioned that he was cautious to adopt various solutions due his lack of understanding of the benefits and risks in each one. He even went on to equate BYOD to “Bring Your Own Disaster”. Again, we’ve taken steps to address this important trend through our Mobile Device Management solution that keeps up with the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce.

Freedom to innovate
Earlier, I referred to an article that predicted the death of the CIO. Based on my interactions at the roundtable event, it was evident that there were a lot of questions and concerns around various technology and platforms.

Against a reality of constant and rapid change, especially in the field of IT, it would be futile for anyone to predict the next wave of dominant technology trends for businesses. CIOs therefore need the flexibility to be able to nimbly steer their companies towards dominant trends that can best add value and improve business competitiveness.

The role of Chief Information Officer needs to evolve into Chief Innovation Officer, a role that will prove very strategic for taking organisations to the next level.

Today, no one can deny that the role of the CIO has strategically evolved from setting up IT to value creation. For CIOs who are too quick to dive deep and get locked into homogeneous platforms, I believe that demise isn’t too far away. For those who think different, and think nimble, the role of the next-generation CIO has only just begun.


The Innovative Role of the Asia Pacific CIO (CIO Asia 1)

October 4, 2012

Recently I had an opportunity to write series of blog articles for CIO Asia magazine. I am posting those here since sometimes after a while these articles become unavailable from the publisher’s main site. Here is a link to the article,


According to the Chinese calendar, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. The dragon is said to be a deliverer of good fortune and a master of authority. However, in Chinese astrology, the dragon is the only animal of the Chinese zodiac year that is not real.

Roughly 20 years ago, the CIO role, like the dragon, did not exist. Yet the CIO role today in the Asia-Pacific region has evolved to become more strategic and critical to the business than ever before in meeting the demands of this dynamic region.

Asia Pacific has the fastest-growing economy in the world, with a tremendous potential of untapped domestic markets made up of a rising middle class. Based on some estimates, more than 60 percent of the global population resides in this region.

While IT spending in most of the world has remained flat, Asia Pacific enterprise IT spending continues to grow, with 8 percent growth expected in 2012. According to one recent analyst report, Asia Pacific was the fastest-growing region for server shipments during the fourth quarter of 2011.

It is also a region composed of many countries with different levels of IT maturity and different levels of compliance and governance laws and regulations.

Based on my discussions with CIOs in Asia Pacific, I’ve learned that even with all this diversity, CIOs from the region have remarkably similar priorities.

The CIO as business leader
Many of the CIOs I’ve met have put a significant focus on the role of the next-generation CIO. After all, this is something very close to their hearts because it shapes their own destinies. The sentiment is that the CIO role needs to be a Tier-1 management function and that the CIO should own the business targets and deserves a seat at the strategy table.

Interestingly, they are unanimous in saying that CIO role needs to become less technical and more business oriented. This in particular is a very interesting shift, especially since one of the reasons the CIO role was created 20 years ago was to have a dedicated person to handle increasingly complex technologies. One comment that I heard really struck a chord with me, that the I in CIO stands for “innovation.”

What’s on the minds of CIOs?
The CIOs I have engaged with have told me that making progress with tight IT budgets is not their top concern. This was, in a way, refreshing to learn when compared to what we hear in the news from around the world every day about shrinking budgets.


As it turns out, the top worry for them was how to keep pace with the growth of their respective businesses. Their focus clearly was on growing the top line rather than on optimising costs.

Based on my other observations and discussions with Asia Pacific CIOs, I have also discovered that they were very interested in discussing how they could influence and lead their initiatives globally.

For example, the CIO of a large life insurance division based in Hong Kong said that his organisation successfully ran various cloud initiatives locally at first and then was able to drive those globally. It is no longer the norm for decisions to be made elsewhere and then implemented in Asia Pacific.

Interacting with many CIOs from this dynamic region has been enlightening. They are very passionate about their role and are looking forward to moving up the chain of responsibility.

Just as people born in Dragon years are to be honoured and respected, could this be the year for Asia Pacific CIOs to make a large impact globally?

Will Asia Pacific CIOs demonstrate Dragon-like leadership that delivers good fortune and functions as a master of authority this year? I surely hope so!