What it means to be Apple – Part 1

Who but Steve Jobs can describe what it means to be Apple. Here is what Jobs had to say-

1.    Do what you love: Steve Jobs had followed this principle and that has made all the difference.

2.    Put a dent in the Universe. In Steve’s words “We’re gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make me-too products. For us its always the next dream”.

3.    Kick start your brain: Leave your comfort zone from time to time and don’t live in fear of the new. Embrace change.

4.    Sell dreams not products: Commit yourself to excellence in every aspect of your business. Demand excellence of others. Challenge yourself and everyone on your team to make customer experience a priority.

5.    Nobody cares about your product (except you): Customers are asking ‘how will this product make my life better’. Help them fulfil their dreams and watch the sales soar. Listening to your customers is not as valuable as Knowing your customers. Be your own focus group.

6.    Say no to 1000 things. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication: John Sculley says, “What makes Steve’s methodology different than everbody else’s is that he always believed that the most important decisions you make are not the things that you do, but the things you decide not to do.”

7.    Create insanely Great Experiences:  If you think about what makes customers and employees happy, in today’s world that ends up being good for business.  Jobs has made Apple stores the gold standard in customers service.

8.    Master the message: Jobs is the world’s preeminent corporate story teller, turning product launches into an art form. You can have the most innovative idea in the world, but if you cannot get people excited about it, your innovation doesn’t matter.

Low Cost Business Email and Collaboration Server Solutions: Some Experiences and Learnings

[Update: Please click here to view the Part 1 and Part 2 of this speech on YouTube. Thanks.]


Following is the full text of the speech delivered by Ashok Malaviya (Director – Sales at Mithi) during Collaboration Retreat 2011 event held on 23rd and 24th September 2011 at Pune (India).

A very good morning to you all. Firstly, let me thank you for making the time to come to this meet. My special thanks to all the participants who have come back for the second time. It means a world to us. We will definitely try to make it worth your while.

Today I will be sharing with you some of the experiences and learning that we’ve had from our customers. I would also spend a couple of minutes to explain what exactly do we mean by the term “low cost” a term often used by Mithi to position our email and collaboration solution.

Let me start by stating something very fundamental.

The per capita GDP of USA is about 14 times that of India.

Since per capita GDP is the measure of value of goods produced per person, it is also an indicator of what our companies earn per employees.

It is estimated that Revenues per employee of Apple and Google is in the range of 1.2 millon USD whereas at Infosys it stands at 55,000 USD almost 1/20th of its counter part in the US.

It stands therefore to reason that if the Indian companies have to be competitive the spending per employee has to match their earnings hence it should be much less than what it would be in a company based out of US.

On a similar note a study done by Boston Consulting group states that Indian banks have the highest cost per employee at Rs 5.5 lacs per annum. Indian banks deploy 62% of staff in customer facing roles as against the benchmark of 82% globally. Therefore if the Banks have to be more effective, especially the sales and service staff, they need to communicate with its customers and prospects.

A CIO of a company needs to cut cost on their email and collaboration infrastructure. Especially given a scenario where other input costs are rising. It is estimated that salaries in India would be rising by 9% on average, in order to remain competitive it is imperative that IT infrastructure costs are effectively managed.

One of the core values and the basic value proposition that Mithi delivers to its customers is lower cost and I’d like to talk a little bit about it today.

It makes for an interesting comparison to draw a parallel with low cost carriers and full service airlines.
The interesting thing is that most people equate the low cost carrier with the absence of free food that is served on board… as if food was making all the difference to the cost.

It is much the same as when we talk of Low cost Enterprise Software, it is generally equated with the cost of licensing.

If that was so, free Open Source software should have been enough.
Free should have been low cost enough.

Open Source software might be free but it can cost much to put all the different elements together and keep them working. Sometimes, this can be an impossibly high cost for most enterprise.

Microsoft has been shouting over rooftops. Free is more expensive and they are primarily pointing to the high support costs required to run Open source software.

So then, what does it mean to be low cost?

Low-cost Carriers (LCCs) get this tag primarily due to their low operating cost structure and Business model.

So besides cutting down on expensive in-flight service, the business model of an LCC broadly includes the following features:
a single passenger class;
a single type of aircraft for lesser maintenance and servicing costs;
flying to cheaper, less congested secondary airports;
flying early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid air traffic delays and take advantage of lower landing fees;
short flights and fast turnaround times;
emphasis on direct sales of tickets, especially over the Internet, hence avoiding agent commissions;
employees working in multiple roles;
optional paid-for in-flight food and drink; aggressive fuel hedging programs; and segregation of ancillary charges.

So it is with enterprise software like Connect Server. Let me briefly narrate to you our journey in making Connect Server.

We started working on making it easy to set-up an email and collaboration system using OSS. That was Connect XE.

The solution created a viable alternative to expensive proprietary software. It took away the complexities associated with open source based solutions while providing the cost and other benefits of open source.
It made it less costly to have OSS based email and collaboration set-up, adding to the base low cost advantage of OSS.

The second generation of the software – Connect XD further strengthened the low cost advantage of the solution by reducing the costs incurred due to downtime and service disruption.

By ensuring near-zero downtime and disruptions, Connect XD made OSS based email & collaboration viable even for large enterprises with heavy email loads.

I remember taking a prospect to very large customer of ours who on being asked about the downtime of the system stated it to be 4-5 of minutes unplanned downtime over a 4 year period. The reply came as a pleasant surprise even to us. For a setup that boasts of 25,000+ mailboxes with 70 odd servers spread over more than 35 locations, it was much more that a pretty decent performance.

Bill Hilf of Microsoft puts it very simply: When people buy commercial software, really what they’re buying is a guarantee. You’re buying a guarantee that what you have will perform, and has been tested and there’s someone you can call up, and if things go really bad someone’s liable if something doesn’t work. You’re buying this ecosystem of accountability. One of the challenges of open source and really the challenge with the open source business model is: it’s hard to replicate that ecosystem of accountability and that guarantee.

With the first two versions of the software this is the precise value that Mithi bought to the table for its customers. Complete accountability to our customer but at much lower cost points as compared to the conventional commercial software.

We’ve now entered into the third generation of our work on product development. The basic philosophy remains the same- Delivering a low cost advantage.

The current generation of our software- Connect Xf, adds flexibility to the ease and dependability advantages of the earlier generations of the software.

With Connect Xf we’ve moved further down the track of Ease and Dependability, but also that we’ve added a newer dimension of flexibility making it possible to redefine your cost structures.

This flexibility in Xf manifests itself as
Hybrid collaboration solutions
A larger number of Open Source accessories and Add-ons
Greater Resource Efficiency
Remote Management
A wider choice Platform, Hardware & Devices

All aimed at delivering a deeper impact on your costs through enabling you to redefine your cost structures.

Let me quickly touch upon a few of these.
Last year we spoke about Co-existence and how we’ve been able to lower the license cost by co-existing with some proprietary products like MS Exchange, Lotus Notes…thus reducing the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). Last year during our first collaboration retreat we had released two case studies, one by Aditya Birla Group and the second one by Aegon Religare highlighting the cost advantage with this architecture.

A host of our customers like GTL, Spice, Lanco, DRDO have reduced the cost of infrastructure, management and monitoring cost by moving their email infrastructure onto private clouds for their group organizations.

Connect Xf brings the cost of an enterprise email and collaboration infrastructure further down by strong administrative features like policies, class of service, reports, role based administration etc which are vital to the centralized architecture necessary to manage a cloud setup. Also Cloud computing is all about gaining flexibility in resource allocation…what is needed in turn to go on the cloud is a good management interface. Flexibility in resource allocation gives you cost advantage.

I recently read a report wherein a study was carried out by EMC and Zinnov Management consulting. The study stated that private cloud deployment would help companies reduce their operational cost by around 50%.

At GTL e.g. they were able to consolidate their mailing solution which was distributed over 25 servers, to a setup that consist of 3 servers and a Load Balancer. With considerable cost savings. Not just on hardware Bill of Material but also the management and monitoring cost.

Traditionally, as soon as an enterprise software sale is made, it becomes the buyer’s responsibility to support the purchase – often requiring the manpower of a 6 and 7-figure consulting engagement. For instance, Microsoft states that dollars spent on services is 6 times the cost of the original licenses. While that’s great for the partner providing services like FM, it means customers have to bear huge cost to support their applications.

With a much better deployment and management capability, Xf enables much of the work to be done by the customers themselves or remotely by the service provider saving considerable time and cost.

To give you an example I’m informed by our delivery team that the Installation of single mail server would take upto 3 days for installation, that has now been reduced to 1 day and the target is to further reduce installation time to 3 hrs.

Sometime back I happened to speak to one of our customers who’s been exploring the idea of outsourcing their complete IT functions. And although they are still debating the cost implications which seems to be on the higher side, he had no such problem when it came to managing and monitoring Mithi Connect Setup. This primarily due to the fact that the resource required managing Mithi Connect could be organized at very aggressive prices points. The staff managing Mithi Connect consists of fairly young freshers with basic knowledge of Linux who are trained and certified by Mithi. I was told that his average salary for this admin staff was within 12-15 thousand which I think is pretty good when we compare it to the average cost quoted by the big three vendors in this space.

It’s not just the flexibility in the product that we’re talking about but also flexibility in terms of choice. Wider choice of software and hardware platform, integration with different applications.

But most importantly, the increased flexibility of XF will enable greater reuse of existing infrastructure and enabling integration with other business applications and collaboration components. E.g. Integration with ADS/CRM/Outlook/….> and a wider choice of free tools like Thunderbird, Neos, etc.

One of our customers during the deployment stage insisted on using MS Oulook as email client citing familiarity as the main reason when it came to end users. We suggested them to use Thunderbird instead of Outlook since it would result in even greater cost savings but more importantly without any compromise on performance and functionality. We told them that Mithi Connect has been designed to integrate seamlessly with clients like Thunderbird thereby offering various functions.

We could convince their IT team to do a pilot before taking a final call. And lo and behold the result is that today they have policy for using Thunderbird only and the company has substantially reduced their cost structures for their email and collaboration infrastructure.  Encouraged by their early success with Thunderbird, the IT team is now further pushing the envelope to have even the desktops on to Linux platforms like Ubuntu, Redhat and introducing Open Office as a standard application within the organization.

Lastly let me leave you with this thought, There is a general feeling that Low cost is a compromise on performance. But let me state this very categorically, that low cost is not even possible without high performance.

Every time we reduced the cost we had to improve performance one way or the other and in many ways.

We’ve already been on this path for nearly 3 years now. What you are seeing today, is a result of that effort. There is still much distance to travel along this path to bring greater flexibility which would in turn make for even greater possibility along this path.

Thank you!

The Tiger’s Pride

The dog stirred from his rest
Oh! my legs they hurt so much
Sleep is never quite enough
I wonder today what I’d get to eat
Hope I can find some tasty meat

The mouse who neither had much heart nor a mind
Ran in just about in time
The cousin cats spoke in whispers low
He’s always busy just scurrying this stupid mouse
Wonder if he’s ever in his house

The mouse squeaked to the squirrel by his side
I hope all this ends very soon
I have many to meet before it’s noon

Sitting down made the monkey itch
I think I’d feel better if I swing a little
jump and switch

As all the timid creatures sat down
without a sound
The tiger took his place on higher ground

I never slip I cannot fall
I am the first amongst you all
All creatures faint with my little roar
I do better on any score

I have swam across a rising tide
Not a scratch I have anywhere on my hide

And just as he was to begin another story
of greater feats and bigger glory
The crow sitting in pretense on the tree up high
Dropped something dirty in the tiger’s eye

The tiger could not roar or scream
Didn’t even know if he should cry

It is time and I must go
I have bigger things to do he said
as he turned around and sped

The Donkey and the Meadow

It was a beautiful morning bright and new
The meadow shone as the sun lit up the morning dew

The squirrels ran up and down
On the few tree that were around

The butterflies skipped from flower to flower
The crickets screeched out in loud roars

The birds sang free as they dashed around
The bees passed by with a humming sound

The Donkey busy and unhappy was thinking to himself
O poor me O poor me

Why can’t there be some donkeys more
They would know just how I feel for sure

The world is such a burden for all to see
Why can’t all these creatures be just like me

Look at the flowers they just stand around
And hurt my nose as I reach for the ground

The grass it just grows too short
My neck it hurt from reaching out such a lot

There is so much to do and long miles for me to pound
I wish I could turn off all this hurting sound

The owl sorry at the Donkey’s fate
Called out to him – hear me my mate

There’s a need for everyone there is a place for all to be
The world’s so pretty just look up and see

I can’t I have much to do you see
My shoulder drop for all the weight on me

Oh! what a shame no one can see
O poor me O poor me

Not another Steve Jobs

No, I don’t want to be another Steve Jobs.  Though there is much one can learn from emulating him. And though I have copied him (often with disastrous effect), I’d rather like to see this become another Apple. I’d like to set this as the objective for us to achieve in the next 3-5 years time.

If we can all discover the Steve Jobs in us. If we can discover our best. If we can help others discover their best. That would be worthy of fighting for. Nothing would bring me greater happiness.

As part of my work, I need to set standards, I need to push for higher standards, I need to insist on the better. Sometimes, this is seen by people as forcing my will on them. Sometimes, it is seen as pigheadedness and a desire to see my ideas prevail. Not so. Nothing dismays me more than seeing people constrained and falling for compromises. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see them blossom to their best.

It is sad that some people don’t see it this way. They’d rather see it as an assault on them. So they hack away in dark corners avoiding confrontation and scrutiny as much as they can.

Perhaps the most valuable contribution by Steve Jobs has been not so much in technological progress as has been in showing the value of not settling for anything less than the best. On the value of work done well.

In a world where people can get paid well for doing little, it is hard to talk about the value of work. Especially when, presenting yourself better and learning to pretend can bring more money. Nobody really cares to listen. Nobody really has the time to do a work well, when so much more can be earned by hustling through. And when there are so many ‘good things’ that can be done with your time.

But what happens when things collapse? When the person who was paying for the shoddy and unproductive work, can afford to do so no longer? As is happening in today’s financial crisis.

It is then that the value of work surfaces as being the most important. It is then that your ability to be of use to others becomes critical to your survival. It is then that your ability to adapt becomes necessary.

Maybe these shifts won’t happen in the next few years (particularly here in India). Maybe no tectonic shifts in technology and society would happen in our working life. But they surely will over time.  Maybe they will hit the next generation. Teaching our children the value of work is the only assurance we can equip them with. And that cannot be done unless we ourselves live that value. It has to become a family tradition. Something that we pass on to the succeeding generation and beyond. Surely change is in store ahead.

Steve Jobs legacy is about the value, of doing things well of putting work before one’s self, of doing work that will inspire. His mostest contribution has been in inspiring people across the world to step up and claim their best.