What would Singapore gain through OSS

January 6, 2011

One of the key issues why open source software has not taken roots in Singapore is the mismatch in messaging and perception in what open source offers. Though innovation is the key message as the benefit of open source software, the more dominant message that persist in the country regarding OSS is cost saving. In the society and nation like Singapore where there is abundance of economic wealth and which is more interested in banking on the big brands, why should they care about saving cost and working with smaller companies? The common perception related with cost savings is not positive aspect but of compromise with quality or functionality. Why would a nation which can afford to spend money adopt the products with such messaging.

Though open source software is not just meant for cost saving and it has more positive messages and benefits associated with it, it needs to be communicated.

So what are those key benefits that nations and societies like Singapore should look for in open source software.

Lets us first look at the reasons and benefits the biggest economy of the world – America derived from adopting open source. America and some developed economies adopted open source software to address many challenges that these nations have to address. Even if you have economic wealth the key engine for growth and leadership lies in innovation, pace of development and giving tools in the hands of people to drive growth. As a leader, it is not enough to be in sync with developments, but it is important to set the pace and create tool-kits for innovation.

With the traditional model of software development you can’t do this, in general.

Open source software development model presented America and all those who are aspiring to address various challenges of society and nation with the model that allowed them to drive innovation in a ubiquitous manner. Open source software has enabled collaborative development leading to faster pace. It enabled the enterprises to remove vendor lock-in and set its own (often faster) pace leading to more business. Open source software has fueled the competitive environment challenging the inefficient monopolies which are impediments.

In the same way Singapore should embrace open source software development model to inculcate the habit of innovation, to help drive competitive environment and remove the inefficiencies caused due to proprietary development models in software industry.

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Pearls of wisdom on entrepreneurship

October 4, 2010

Last week, I attended one of the talks that SMU-IIE regularly organises. I went to the talk with no particular expectations. My main motive was to get out of my office seat and be among the people. .

But after the talks, I felt thousand times grateful to SMU-IIE for organising it and bowed million times  to the speaker for such a wonderful insight. So let me share with you what I learned.

Firstly about the speaker. Dr. Bala S. Manian has been an entrepreneurial innovator, investor and a mentor in the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community for the last three decades. You can read his bio at the above link. What makes him special is the fact that he has been on the entrepreneurial scene for long, much before it was fashionable. Has seen through 7 ventures successfully.

Now what I learned :

The one bit of advice which set me thinking most and which I liked was :

There are pieces of information with many people, someone who can organise it and present it gives knowledge but one who brings this knowledge with real life experiences is bringing wisdom.

My take on this bit is that, many of us know what is right thing to do. We know a lot about various subjects through reading. For example, by reading internet and books one can give good lecture on entrepreneurship, but when it comes from the person who has been there and seen it, it has weight, it makes more sense. Does this means we should spend time in listening to such people – no.. very clearly this means we should spend time in “doing” it, practising it, then we can preach.

On various other pieces of wisdom that he shared, that is important for the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are :

“It is not about state of mind, but ability to execute what is in your mind”

“Ability to read people, gives you ability to lead people”

“You need to be a good communicator, but more important is the ability to listen”

“Need to have passion bordering on addiction” and “Self confidence bordering on arrogance” But should also know the borders.

“Will to succeed is more important than desire to succeed”

” You go to school only to learn to how to learn”

“Risk taking is important, but more important is the ability to deal with and manage uncertainties”

Some interesting thoughts on business plans :

You need a business plan but the purpose of the business plan is “to show your analytical thinking ability, it is not a roadmap”. Another piece of wisdom was so important ” You should not believe in your own B**Sh**”. This was in the context of the what we communicate externally. While is good to be bullish and come across as a confident person, we should know the reality.

He also talked about VCs, about exit strategies, about pace of advancements in technology, about the importance of mentors.

On a particular question regarding pace of change and a narrow window of go to market, how should entrepreneurs look at it, his advice was very helpful. He said, ” if you find you are little late in coming to market with a particular product, you can re-purpose it for next problem to solve. You would be the first one with ready answer”. In this context he also mentioned that don’t get hung up on a particular product per se, focus on the opportunity. If you know the opportunity well, you can find different technologies to solve the problem. In the same context he said ” the answer we get depends on how we frame a question”.

He also talked about India’s strategic place in this context. His advice was India offers an opportunity to entrepreneurs to fail inexpensively and hence is a good place to leverage.

For me this was a great learning. I am sure most others who attended would have found it too.

Note : This is an attempt to share my learnings. This not a transcription of the talks. The words in ” ” are very close to what he said in exact words.


Singapore, consider the open source way to achieve “quantum leap in productivity through pervasive innovation”.

February 12, 2010

Recently, the leadership in Singapore has stated its intent to grow the productivity by 3% and it has also identified, rightly so, that if it wants to make this happen it has to encourage the innovation. Very true. Gone are the days when you could through more cheap labour to manufacture some thing or you could push same labour to do more things in given time. This is an era of services industry and knowledge economy and not the 19th century manufacturing practices.

Productivity through innovation is the right way to do. But the question is, can innovation happen if you tell bunch of people to go out and innovate? Does it happen if you just throw money after it? Answer is no. Though it needs money and bright brains, it does not happen in isolation and silos.

Consider the examples where innovation happened to solve the real problems :

TED – open translation project :

When the prestigious platform wanted to make knowledge available (through the talks) to millions of people who do not speak English wanted to translate the work in 40 international languages, what did it do. It turned to its users – gave the tools in the hands of the users to translate the work. And the result? Job done in very short span of time, with such a low cost.

Goldcorp

Few years back, a Toranto based gold minning company was struggling with debts, strikes and bad market conditions. Prospects were not looking good for survival. How the CEO turned to mass collaboration and not just saved the company but took it from $100 Million to $ 9 billion company is an interesting case.

GE Plastics

When GE plastic wanted to grow it business even when it has 90% of the market share, how it turned to its customer with “toolkit” concept and not only increased its Total Addressable Market, but retained its lead in the market share.

Wikipedia

How the world’s largest encyclopaedia was created through user contributions in short span of time with little or no money.

The common theme in these disparate examples has been use of “mass collaboration and user driven innovation”

Now these are famous and well documented case studies. There are many more that have innovated through “mass collaboration”. If you notice there has been so much written about it in recent years and so many case studies are available. What Singapore can embrace from these solutions is processes, methodology and environment creation to address the problems through mass collaboration.

Open source software is one the earliest success stories of how collaboration, sharing and standardisation can help you do more with less and democratize innovation. Talking about standardisation, if you want to turn innovation into mass innovation, you need to create standardisation. In the recent presentation at Plug in conference in July 2008 Andy Grove, former chief of Intel, urged the American Automobile industry to learn from open source towards standardisation in regards to creating “ Green energy automobiles”

Creating a culture of adopting open source software in Singapore would help in many ways :

  1. Help create understanding of mass collaboration
  2. Help companies to deploy its capex and opex more efficiently there by improving the productivity
  3. Contributing to open source software would create necessary mindset toward innovation.
  4. Standardization, which comes with the use of open source software would lead towards mass innovation

When Thomas Goetz said the following, in 2003, it was prophetic, today is it is the reality.

“Software is just the beginning … open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation. “

Gong Xi Fa Cai (Wish you very prosperous Chinese New Year )



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