Monday, August 22, 2016

The Outstanding Insider



Sudhir Raikar, IIFL | Mumbai | August 22, 2016 12:02 IST

Urjit Patel’s value prop spells a unique blend of knowledge and experience from splendid stints across spheres – academia to industry, government to corporate, IMF to RBI –that augurs well for India’s developmental agenda going forward.

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/news-top-story/the-outstanding-insider-116082200121_1.html



The government has shown admirable restraint in keeping prudence above populism and business above politics with the appointment of Dr. Urjit Patel who brings proven credentials, dignified poise and steely resolve, all rolled into one grand stimulus package for the country. The investment community – whether at home or abroad – should cheer the appointment of a competent thought leader and practitioner who has been the cynosure of all eyes across ruling governments. His list of admirers includes names like Dr. Manmohan Sigh, PM Narendra Modi, Mukesh Ambani and Deepak Parekh – which give a fair idea of his widespread appeal. From designing IDFC blueprint to steering the Reliance energy mission, from aiding the GSPC governance to influencing the privatization of power distribution, he believes in ‘doing’ as much as in ‘knowing’, no wonder, his Yale and Oxford degrees have transcended academic boundaries, and his numerous thought papers are packed with actionable insights – incisive takes on a host of issues including Indian macroeconomics, financial intermediation, public finance, international trade and even the economics of climate change.

The harbinger of flexible inflation targeting in India, Dr. Patel has been working full steam even before assuming office as Mint Street’s top guy. That there would be no time lost in swinging into needful action is perhaps the most reassuring factor from the market perspective. In a world of perpetual uncertainty, flexible inflation targeting could well prove to be the perfect antidote for addressing the multi-hued challenges that hugely impact the larger twin cause of ensuring price stability and economic welfare. It remains to be seen how the new Governor tackles the key challenges in the path of flexible targeting including the supply-side sensitivity of CPI inflation, given the limited control of monetary policy over erratic variables like food and fuel prices. More importantly, the efficacy of his policy will hinge on credible support from the government in the form of prudent fiscal management. Patel is well known for his categorical stance, on the criticality of inflation control to steady growth and that of fiscal consolidation to achieving inflation targets.

Diffusing the NPA time bomb will be another top priority for Patel, so also steering the Monetary Policy Committee from thought towards action. That he has earlier advised the government on diverse matters including debt market management, banking & pension fund reforms, real exchange rate targeting and forex market progression gives an idea of his phenomenal range of expertise.

Patel’s appointment is beyond doubt one of Modi Government’s most momentous decisions. That media is unlikely to confer Patel with rock-star status is hardly an issue, given his proven and purposeful track record, as rock-solid as his illustrious predecessor's. Knee-jerk market response including impact on equity prices, bond yields and rupee movements notwithstanding, there’s no denying the fact that we have an outstanding insider in charge of the apex bank who has allowed us the luxury of a fresh ‘Low inflation, High Growth’ dream. We wish the new Guv every success in his monumental mission.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Interesting memoir, Moving Au Revoir


Sudhir Raikar, IIFL | Mumbai | August 11, 2016 16:43 IST
Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/general-life-style-book-review/interesting-memoir-moving-au-revoir-116081100752_1.html

With his no holds barred memoir, former RBI Governor Dr. Duvvuri Subbarao has inadvertently unleashed a new literary genre, a thriller of a primer. Sudhir Raikar takes a closer look at the style and substance of his enduring work which ex-ICICI Bank chief KV Kamath aptly calls ‘unputdowntable’.




Media is abuzz with citing, interpreting and analyzing the seemingly contentious issues of 'Who Moved My Interest Rate?' conveniently ignoring the delightfully enduring aspects of the incisive memoir. Hardly a surprise that, given the typical fourth estate obsession with theatrical story-telling, thriving on sensationalism that, more often than not, is bereft of sense.

But the undeniable fact is, Dr. Subbarao’s tell-all book is an endearing primer for posterity that unfolds a rainbow of his emotions - while at the helm of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in what was a terrifyingly tumultuous tenure – including fear, anxiety, hope, surprise, shock, delight, contentment, lament and predicament. He provides the context to each conflict he faced which in turn tells us more about the man’s stoic character and his resolute mission – beginning with the 2008 global meltdown and his struggle to shield India from the unforeseen tremors of an intertwined financial world (but with little say to emerging market economies) and ending with the nasty rupee fall of 2013 which raised lethal questions on the lack of forex build up in the relatively happy years. Interspersed in between was the chronic fight against the government’s hardcoded stance on the age-old Growth vs. Price Stability debate where Dr. Subbarao was implicitly expected to toe the line, more so given his long, eventful stint on the ‘other side’.

Dr. Subbarao’s sincere account, among other things, brings to light the pathos of the Governor’s job where acknowledgment of short-term pay offs is ephemeral while the unforgiving evaluation of long-term consequences in the light of hindsight experience seems eternal.

The innovation that Dr. Subbarao has steered towards making the RBI federal in thought and action – free of hierarchies and confirmation biases – is a case study for both public and private sector players. Wish we had many more CEOs with Dr. Subbarao’s vision and values. The quality of corporate sector governance is as big a problem as are cyclical ups and downs and external shocks. And there's a lot to learn from the prudence and precision of Subbarao’s outreach programs towards making our social development initiatives fit for purpose.

Dr. Subbarao’s effort to free each concept of its intimidating jargon - more so for the novice reader - is evident across all chapters, which makes this book a treasure trove for students of economics and finance in particular. Every illumination has been made in simple language with a discerning desire to reach out to the common people who don’t have the time, inclination or intellect to decipher inflation numbers and interest rates – whether of the measure of financial integration, double-edged sword of globalization, supply-side triggers of inflation, perils of working with flawed data, myth of inflation targeting being opposed to growth, RBI’s unflinching transparency on government’s fiscal stance, the typical central bank quandary in striking a balance between the demands of the privileged, vocal industry fraternity and the mute voice of the common people yearning for lowering of prices, intricacies of monetary policy transmission and ensuing liquidity management through instruments like Open Market Operations, RBI’s lesser known roles and responsibilities including its social development agenda, domestic issues behind the currency slide beyond the taper tantrum trigger, challenge of exchange rate management and the attached Do something vs. Do nothing dilemma, tenets of financial inclusion or modus operandi of NBFCs.

Even readers who feel they have little to do with economics and finance will find the revelation absorbing, one that will evoke a powerful imagery of things you don’t expect from a mainstream book by a bureaucrat – capturing vivid details of the structure and layout of the Governor’s office and the timeless charm of his British-brand BHNS-maintained residential bungalow with ‘its wafting fresh air, cacophony of birds and heavy bunches of jackfruit’. Don’t miss his incisive interpretation of Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist observation ‘Man is condemned to be free’ in the context of the question on what he would have done differently as the governor of the Reserve Bank.

In wonderful contrast to his profundity on philosophical issues is the ex-governor’s passion for adventure and recreation which is evident from the umpteen references throughout the 300-odd pages – whether his interest in 24-carat Bollywood products like Chennai Express and offbeat Prithvi Theatre plays, craving for Tardeo Maharashtrian eateries or penchant for inquisitive history tours around South Mumbai in ardent appreciation of the city’s emblematic blend of diverse architectural styles. And his wit, a recurring highlight of his insightful account, is superlative to say the least. Of course, it’s best read than cited.

The engaging anecdotes in the course of his pan-India journeys for outreach programs and financial inclusion initiatives are truly inspiring. Wish our branded activists take a cue from Dr. Subbarao’s freewheeling, ventilated approach to financial literacy. Thanks to the arid, bureaucratic mechanisms of conventional NGO bodies, proletariat activists and CSR practitioners across the globe, social responsibility, knowingly and unknowingly, has come to harbour several blatant assumptions about the larger cause of end-beneficiaries (often generically slotted as ‘target groups’ or ‘deprived’ communities) Conveniently overlooked in the process is the plain fact that their deprivation is only circumstantial and in no way indicative of the instinctive and intellectual capacities inherent within the community. Contrary to popular perception, the supply-side forces, in the mad rush to emancipate the downtrodden, are themselves found deprived when it comes to even reading the minds of the audience, leave alone identifying its needs. In peddling their jargon-heavy black and white prescriptions on financial prudence and general well being, they are knowingly and unknowingly oblivious of the expressions of playful amusement and suppressed yawns that the so-called ‘deprived’ reserve for the seemingly ‘privileged’ - - stemming more from doubt than disbelief.

As for those from the journalistic tribe who wished Dr. Subbarao was more alpha male during his tenure, he has shown the virtues of a public beta release in the form of his book that now allows anyone to download his thought process. How many governors would attempt such introspection for open dissection which also talks of what he felt he could have done differently – like the need to adjust the stated policy on foreign exchange and make it more specific with respect to defining and managing volatility and building self-insurance?

Dr. Subbarao’s submission of the ‘twinges of guilt at the thought of millions of Mumbai slum dwellers under leaky roofs for whom the rain meant the loss of daily earning, and hungry children’ is particularly moving, given that he candidly shares his helplessness rather than choosing to overlook the obvious in line with the implicit demands of his official stature, for such predicaments, protocol says, are deemed too poetic for certified comfort.

Given Dr. Subbarao’s conviction in sharing his no holds barred account, the real tribute to his effort won’t merely be the book’s critical acclaim; but some quality introspection by the powers-that-be as to how could the Government-Central Bank relationship be made more cohesive and solution-centric without diluting the sovereign fabric of the latter that we are all proud of.

Central bankers across the globe, we have seen time and again, are compelled to facilitate government access to near-free debt under the guise of fiscal spends. This ends up building a toxic cocoon for government debt issuance in the name of achieving growth targets. The haphazard lending that follows, eventually leads to systemic chaos in the form of rampant bank failures and consequent turmoil in bond and equity markets.

A healthy synergy between the Central Bank and the government should lead to more credible and sustainable solutions to various problems that stand in the way of India’s economic development. Prime among them is the NPA issue. It’s common knowledge that dealing with doubtful and distressed assets has always been the Achilles Heel of the banking sector. Barring a few players known for their stringent lending norms, most bankers try and downplay the whole issue through the usual philosophical sermon: That NPAs are an integral part of banking given the criticality of broad-based operations to profitability which exposes banks to all kinds of unavoidable factors like economic downturns and political upheavals. So, they claim, even the safest of loans can be rendered unproductive…

High time we stop hiding behind these lame excuses and collectively address some tough questions that make NPAs more elusive than what meets the eye. There’s no doubt that more RBI enactments would follow in the time to come. But unless we turn our attention to the fundamental questions surrounding NPAs, every RBI intervention will always seem more palliative than curative.

Hope the new wave ushers in an environment of proactive prudence that penalizes banks and auditors for suspect motives that serve as a green house for NPAs. This way, banks, ARCs and their regulators would be left to deal only with the genuine cases of NPAs. For the Indian banking sector, that would a big leap forward.

It’s high time we also demystified the glorious economic abbreviations that fuel a debate among practising economists and fiscal experts and yet mean little or nothing to the common man. Rather than board ceremonial flights of imagined realities consequent to the published data, our experts would do well to demand a governmental initiative to simplify the data for better public comprehension. Needless to say, caring for this precision and validation is the collective responsibility of the government and the private sector.

As Dr. Subbarao astutely reflected during his inaugural address at the July 2011 Statistics Day Conference: “The decisions that we in the Reserve Bank make have a profound impact on the macro economy, and errors can be costly. Our policy judgement should therefore be based not only on state of the art skills in data analysis and interpretation but also on an intellectual value system of ruthlessly honest validation and peer review.”

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Memories of a Parking Lot


Only a few months ago, I had a hearty discussion with one of the co-inhabitants of the (supposedly) co-operative society that incidentally (rather accidentally) happens to be my residential address. I have little to do with the society - given the recurring nuisance value of several members in different forms - some over-inquisitive, others perpetually hostile, few causing headaches with their poor civic sense or their rash driving in the society premises, and many with their insatiable appetite for 'structural changes' to their apartments, not to mention the toxic politics of convenient committees, mundane meetings, monotonous minutes, hasty resolutions and dubious deals.

But I shared a rapport with him that was unique in every respect. Not that we met often or that our families were close-knit, but there was something reassuring about his unconditional smile every time we bumped into each other. His concern for you reflected in his gestures, there was hardly any need to express it.

That day, he was all charged up to begin a new innings post his impending retirement. He was in fact planning a vacation to celebrate the grand transition. I had recently lost my father, so the conversation was about my father's life work into archaeology. He was genuinely interested to know more about dad's incredible excavations in far-flung places like Arunachal Pradesh and Port Blair, his insights into rock-cut architecture and his unique contribution to the study of history and archaeology. We were in the parking lot near his car, engaged in some hearty talk, oblivious of time and space. I suggested consultancy as a viable option for him in his new innings and he said he was open to the idea but needed a break before delving deep into the possibilities.

The discussion then moved to my favourite topic of travel and we exchanged notes on our respective past escapades and outings planned for the near future. He narrated his recent Madikeri and Coorg experience in great detail before we parted ways. A month or two later, when my son cleared his Xth Board exams with flying colors, he was one of the few among my friends, relatives and acquaintances who was profusely happy with my son's academic feat. Way more than feeling happy about it, he took immense pride in it, a gesture even the supposedly near and dear ones were found short of.

And then, a couple of days ago, news came that he is no more. A chapter had closed even before it could begin. He was detected with blood cancer, we learnt from his family, that caused the untimely demise in fifteen days. Certain exits leave you devastated and no sermon on the fickleness or impermanence of life can ever seem convincing. Every morning as I look out of my window, the image of a tall, dignified and cheerful man walking towards his car at a leisurely pace assumes center-stage in my mind's eye. The parking lot, the historic venue of our last sojourn, is now a cherished landmark. Hemant Kekre sir, you will be sorely missed.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

IT-specific Corporate Role Plays


Check http://coastaldelights.blogspot.in/2016/07/corporate-acting-whose-line-is-it-anyway.html if you are new to role plays.

Urged by some of my client corporates and 'value chain' stakeholders, I am sharing three typical situations I have specifically created for the software specific role plays. I suggest you try out these enactments at your organization - trust me, the value adds are immense: you'll get concrete inputs to help you chalk out highly effective developmental plans for your programmers, architects & project managers as also understand the human aspects of software development which are more deep-rooted than what most think.

Try these enactments at your place if you feel you can easily manage to set up a small team of role players from within your organization to play the different characters. This would work best for a start-up which is in the process of expanding its team. The language of the role play scripts has consciously been kept simple for faster and easier comprehension.

In case you need help, drop a line to sudhir@studiorainbow.in (response is usually instant but kindly allow a lead time of one day if and when I am traveling on projects)


Situation one: Save the Project


The Terminator

You are an independent IT auditor working as a consultant for the Indian subsidiary of No Compromise Inc - a reputed MNC headquartered in the US. You have been specially flown down from the US as the India team head is not happy with the feel and functionality of one product website designed and developed by EverGreen Developers, a midsized firm based in Mumbai. There are a lot of issues with the new-look site. The pages take a long time to load, and there are too many broken links. One of the testers has found that there are issues with the site on Safari and Opera and the design is not optimized either. Navigation is not consistent from page to page. The company has almost decided to shift to another vendor but you wish to give EverGreen one last chance of defending their case and have therefore called their topmost marketing guy to your office. You have been asked to chair the meeting – you have no knowledge of how the site was designed and developed – so the challenge for you is to ask pointed questions about the entire solution environment (platforms, languages, databases, tools, utilities, design and development methods, delivery schedules etc) and finally make a recommendation whether the company should continue with EverGreen or dump them.


The Negotiator

You are the marketing head of EverGreen Developers, a mid-sized Mumbai-based web development company. You have deep technical knowledge of all systems, processes and solutions that your organization provides. No Compromise Inc is one of your biggest customers and you simply can’t afford to lose this MNC client. Your development team has messed up on quite a few deliveries and the No Compromise guys, upset with the output, have called for an emergency meeting. You have no idea of what went wrong but the CEO of your company wants you to go on the firm’s behalf to handle this crisis situation. You don’t have time to get a brief from the development team as you have to now rush for the emergency meeting. Your boss is confident that you will be successful in making the No Compromise guys restore their faith in your company. Your challenge is how you accomplish the mission in the given time and constraints.


Situation two: Hire amidst Fire


Cautious Commander

You are the team leader in a small IT firm called Sunrise Software. Lately, your firm has won many web development projects and you want to recruit more PHP developers in your team. You have called one fresher candidate today but want to make sure the candidate is really strong in PHP. Recently, you had recruited one irresponsible guy for the position who made a mess of a couple of deliveries. You had recruited him following a chat of ten minutes. You had to sack him and your boss was hugely upset with your irresponsible behavior. Now, you don’t want to take any chances and wish to thoroughly test this candidate’s knowledge on PHP and software fundamentals. The challenge is how best you can take the interview to make the right decision. The candidate is waiting for you in the lobby of your office.

Starry-eyed Soldier

You have recently cleared your computer engineering and now actively seeking a job with some reputed IT firm. You have been called by the technical head of a small firm called Sunrise Software for a PHP developer position. You feel you are quite strong in PHP and hence have decided to attend the interview. Your challenge is to clear the interview and seal the job. You have been told to remain seated in the lobby where the team leader of the web development group at Sunrise Software would meet you shortly.


Situation three: Judgement day

Supreme Court Judge

You are the project manager in a web development firm called Alpha Code. You are a very strict guy who can’t tolerate indiscipline. You hate people who don’t believe in making commitments. Today you are evaluating the performance of a programmer guy in one of the teams managed by you. His immediate boss has told you that he’s very irresponsible and unreliable. Lately, he’s been coming late to office and on a few occasions, he was found absent when he was needed most. You have asked one senior colleague from the programmer’s team to join you in the appraisal to ensure that your decision is not biased. By the way, this colleague is a good friend of the programmer and was his senior at college. You have heard from many people that the programmer guy (whom you are about to assess) is very innovative and full of ideas worth implementation but his immediate boss doesn’t think so. He has given a rather negative feedback about this guy. Today, you are going to judge it for yourself. The challenge is to do justice to your role as a project manager of a crucial team within the company.


High Court Judge

You are a team leader in a web development company called Alpha Code and you report to the project manager. You have to been asked to attend an appraisal session - along with your project manager – of a team member whom you know very well from college (you were his senior) and you both are very good friends. This guy is a very bright chap but careless and irresponsible lately. Therefore his image at office is that of an unreliable guy although his approach to work is very innovative. You have often told him about the need to become more disciplined but he doesn’t seem interested. This is primarily because his boss always cuts him short and doesn’t let him speak his mind. Many of his ideas are not even heard. As a result, he has become very moody bordering o rude. Lately, he has consistently reported late to office and his absenteeism is also pretty high. Today, you have been asked to give your frank opinion about him. The challenge is to make an honest, fair observation in the best interests of the organization.

The Accused

You are a senior developer in a company called Alpha Code. You are extremely interested in emerging technologies and wish to learn as many languages as possible. You also have deep interest in different programming techniques like Lean, Agile and XP. But you don’t like it when you have to work on tight deadlines. Your boss feels you are very laid back and you both often have heated arguments on day to day basis. This year, your performance has not been all that great and you have missed out on quite a few deadlines. You have also been reporting late to office these days and have missed office on some crucial occasions. But in many earlier projects, you had made a few valid points about better ways of planning, designing and delivering but you were not able to convince your boss about it. And every time you speak, he doesn’t even listen to what you say. You now believe you are a victim of office politics. Hence you have become even more careless and rude lately.

Today is a good chance to explain your side of the story. If you don’t do that today, your performance rating will suffer and you may not get a good salary hike or any performance bonus. Worse, you may be branded as a non-performer. So the challenge today is to justify your case – that you are a good programmer and can make a great contribution to the team if given the right opportunity.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Twitch in time saves nine


The word ‘muscle’ is an integral part of our everyday parlance and yet very few are aware of its composition. Much of our articulation about muscles is visual which almost always conjures up an image of a body builder, made mythical by scores of gyms and fitness centres across the globe. Sudhir Raikar, content architect at http://thegenebox.com/ presents a primer on power and endurance.


Picture courtesy: www.crossfitchisholmtrail.com

Let’s begin with a simple explanation of muscle strength, power and endurance to put our muscles in perspective. Sportspersons use them synonymously in common parlance but actually they don’t mean the same thing and demand specific training regimes.
Muscle strength is your muscle capacity for sporting action at a given point of time, Power refers to the explosiveness of your sporting action, and Endurance means how long you can sustain your muscle power.

Coming back to the moot point, what exactly are our muscles made of?

Our bodies carry about 650 muscles, each made of countless extremely long and thin fibers. The strength of a muscle depends on the number of fibers it is composed of. Muscle fibers not only differ from individual to individual, they vary between muscles too. . One major one, possibly the most important, is the microscopic anatomy of the muscles. It’s interesting to see how genetics influence our muscle build up. Our DNA decides the distribution of muscle fiber types.

A closer look at Fitness Genes

Genes like ACE (endurance & sprinting) & ACT (sprinting) are two key fitness genes. They favour sport where explosive power is critical as well as those sports where peaks achieved in short bursts of action separate the winners from the losers, like for instance weight lifting, sprinting, trail running and cycling. ACE and ACT work by virtue of a process called vasoconstriction (which is opposed to vasodilatation) which constricts the blood vessels to supply blood to the working tissue thereby producing power that helps bursts of energy sustain for a shorter duration.

Besides ACE and ACT, we have genes like NOS3 (enhances nitrite oxide production that enables short burst sprinting and also promotes fatty acid mobilization) and ACTN 3 (aids sprinting) which boost power and endurance. So, in the ideal event of all four genes favouring an athlete, he/she would be able to scale winning heights in sports that demand both power and endurance.

A person with hybrid genes will have equal proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibre. This helps, say a cyclist, sustain fast twitch at the very start of the race or while climbing uphill for a short duration which helps him take a substantial lead over other participants.

So what’s Type I and Type II?

These are mainly Type I (slow twitch, red in color) and Type II (fast twitch, white in color). Type II has five sub types: II A (responsible for explosive energy or power), II B, II C, II AB and II AC.
Slow twitch is suited for endurance-centric activities, slow in contraction but very fatigue resistant. Fast twitch guarantees power but fades out very easily. To make matters more interesting, there’s a subset of fast twitch fibers that mirror slow twitch characteristics but with less fatigue-resistance compared to the slow counterpart.
Power athletes look more bulky because of their red muscle tissue with more glycolytic fibre while endurance athletes from mid-distance sport, in comparison, have muscle with lower density. Natural sprinters have a larger capillary density for glycolysis for type II muscle fibre. (Capillary supplies blood to the working tissue.)
That’s precisely why power athletes develop muscles very fast while an endurance athlete will not derive equally spectacular results from muscle building. An endurance athlete on the other hand needs more efficient VO2 max such that more oxygen is supplied to the working tissue and energy is optimized for long distance sport. An endurance runner would use more of fatty acid oxidation but a power athlete needs glycolysis – efficient use of ATP and glycogen while saving fatty acid oxidation for much later use.

Genes hold the reins but...

Generally speaking, we are born with close to equal number of both types, but there are evolutionary differences that decide the exact ratio. It’s a foregone conclusion that people with more of one fiber type will excel in the sport linked to that type. This genetic diktat is quite influential and can’t be overlooked while designing a budding athlete’s career blueprint. That said, the role of training can’t be overemphasized. Physical activity itself influences muscle fiber development. Training for long distance running promotes development of slow twitch fibers and helps convert the ‘slow’ subset of fast twitch fibers into slow twitch-like fibers. On the other hand, power sport like weights make both subsets of fast twitch fibers bigger and stronger.

Genetics and Athletics can mix well

Any competitive sporting performance demands phenomenal power and endurance. Time and again, we have observed that sporting endeavours often have performers working beyond their threshold levels. Therefore, it’s important to have a fair idea of the genetics that influences sporting performance. This will avoid the disappointment of indulging in rigorous but unscientific training sessions that yield little results. In fact, genetic tests are God sent for professional athletes to scale new heights in field performance as they help them know their strengths and weaknesses – the latter, they can efficiently work around and the former, they can effectively capitalize on thereby making the most of the ‘base period’ and ‘build period’ of the tailored workout regimes.

For more details about genetic testing visit http://thegenebox.com/

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Taarak of Creativity


Courtesy: India Infoline
Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | July 22, 2016 17:45 IST

The maker of the epoch-making serial ‘Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah’ shares the chills and thrills of his umpteen trials and triumphs en route success and fulfilment in this exclusive conversation with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.


Take a problem to Asit Kumarr Modi and he’ll invariably turn it into a solution, thanks to his oddball approach to life and its challenges. Edward de Bono may call it lateral thinking, Modi calls it ‘Ulta thinking’ – a perennial state of inquisitive mind that straightens out many a hassle of day-to-day life. Seated in his spacious office cabin wearing a broad smile, you can sense an air of positivity all around him. Even more so, because the man has no airs despite the glamour and glitz associated with his name..

“I can’t afford to lose my humility. That would mark the end of my creativity. Hence, I am extra vigilant about staying grounded and not losing my commoner identity in the halo of my fame, which of course is not eternal.” He tells you with quiet authority.

A commerce graduate from Mumbai, Modi was never cut out for the career options related to stocks and finances that were intrinsically linked to his Gujarati roots. The family took some time to come to terms with his uncommon passion but it was his single minded devotion to his chosen pursuit that motivated them to lend the support he needed.

Thus began a career steeped in a good mix of struggle and success, initially into theatre acting, technical support and assistant direction. Soon after, he handled end-to-end production for many a popular Marathi and Gujarati serial of the era and eventually in 1995, he incepted Neela Tele Films with the debut show Hum Sub Ek Hain. Thereafter he dabbled in an assortment of genres including comedy, family drama, verse-based series and reality shows. But it was the sitcom Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah that made him a legend. That Prime minster Modi included him and his Taarak team in the inaugural list of invitees to promote the Swachh Bharat Campaign bears testimony to his sterling achievement.

Loosely based on a newspaper column by renowned Gujarati writer Padmashree Tarak Mehta, the show immediately stuck resonance with TV viewers across strata for its humorous take on day to day issues grappling the middle class. Modi astutely tailored the script to suit modern day sensibilities while retaining the wit and wisdom of Mehta’s idiom. “It was a tight rope walk but I had faith in my ability to read the minds of my prospective viewers.” says Modi with a winsome smile. And he was more than right. The show will complete its 2000th episode in August and is still going strong.


The Famed Tarak Family: Modi with the Taarak Mehta team

But way back when Modi approached different channels with the idea of Taarak, most of them greeted him with a disdainful smile of rejection. ‘Saas Bahu drama’ was then the recurring theme and comedy had virtually no takers among makers. But Modi was hooked to his mission impossible and didn’t rest until Taarak was finally aired in 2008. The serial’s viewership took some time to gain momentum but what transpired later is of course history. Today, the show has earned worldwide fame and it’s the number one choice for film promotions. Distinguished guests from the world over visit the sets of Gokuldham Society, the famed residence of the screen characters. The latest dignitary to grace the premises was the Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Piotr Glinski who’s an ardent admirer of Indian culture and heritage, and hence the Taarak family as well.

Although the serial’s star cast is extremely popular, certain artists stand out for their effortless acting. Prime among them is Dilip Joshi (aka Jethalal) who has immortalized his character for posterity. Not only is his comic timing perfect, he doesn’t even need a storyline to make his act engaging – breathing high-octane drama in everyday situations that are typical of umpteen middle class households. Matching his calibre in every respect is his screen wife Disha Vakani (aka Daya) who is simply awesome in her portrayal. To maintain the bizarrely comic core of the character in episode after episode requires great talent and temperament and she has both in equal measure. The duo’s credence, contrary to popular perception, can’t be attributed to theatre backgrounds alone (both are accomplished artists); it’s their on-the-spur ingenuity that creates the magic, an effort that doesn’t show on screen, thanks to their terrific performance that's often downplayed in the name of comedy. That comedy is serious business is lost on most even today.

Many more artistes, apart from the two, show flashes of brilliance every now and then but there are also a few who clearly fall short of the intended effort and effect at times. This is of course understandable given several accidental artistes in the team. To their credit, they have shown tremendous dexterity in delivering the goods with convincing authority. And hats off to Modi’s people skills that he has bound his team together like a close-knit family. Even the script seems watered down at times but Modi ensures the viewer is kept positively engaged.

Modi sums it up aptly: “There’s no central character in the show as I see it. The protagonist is Gokuldham Society. And talking of acting, every artiste has his or her distinct style. Some do comedy through their actions, others in their reactions. And there are a few who amuse us simply as passive watchers of the action-reaction. I prefer to let each performer decide what’s best on the given day. I am happy with the aggregate outcome, so there’s no reason why I should look to create templates of acting.”


Modi with his Neela Telefilms team – Gokuldham-brand camaraderie

How does Modi approach the road ahead for Taarak? Ask him and he’s quick to reply in his matter of fact style, “Of course, the challenges of a daily soap are plentiful. But that’s what keeps me charged all the time. Though I am the producer, I have to personally get involved into every aspect of the creation – from script to direction. My creative team does a wonderful job so I feel duty bound to support them throughout.” So does that take a toll physically? “Not really. I relish my job as I want to cherish it in equal measure. When you enjoy your work, there’s no question of fatigue.” He reassures us.

Future plans for Modi are ripe with rich possibilities. Although he’s now firmly etched in the minds of TV viewers as a star producer of comic creations, his heart beats for scripts devoted to pathos and human-interest issues as well. "Very few remember that I produced the thought-provoking ‘Saarrthi’, a Mahabharata adaptation depicting the conflict between two brothers and their respective families. In future, I will definitely like to produce films and TV serials on diverse issues including stories based on literary gems. But I won’t make a film for the heck of it. I will wait for the right opportunity.” he reveals.

Given his track record, we know this Taarak, the saviour of creativity, will do just that to create another super hit Mehta of a different genre. We wish him every success.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

NoSQL in perspective: Biz above Buzz, Needs above Names


Business needs of the Modern Enterprise

Real-time capture and analysis of big data – coming from multiple sources and formats and spread across multiple locations

Better customer engagements through personalization, content management and 360 degree views in a Smartphone era

Ability and agility in proactively responding to new markets and channels

Constraints of the RDBMS environment

Frequent database design & schema revisions in response to fast-changing data needs have serious application-wide ramifications as RDBMS is the point of business integration

Growing data storage needs call for more computing resources but RDBMS ‘scale up’ is prohibitively expensive

Clustering is an effective solution but cluster-aware Relational DBs can’t escape the ‘single point of failure’ trap in making all writes to an abundantly-available shared disk.

Sharding in RDBMS puts unsustainable loads on applications

NoSQL in perspective


Over time, enterprises with complex and concurrent data needs created tailored non-relational solutions specific to their respective business environments.

They are a natural fit for the clustering environment and fulfill the two principal needs of the modern enterprise, viz,

cost-effective data storage ensuring fit-for-purpose resilience and several options for data consistency and distribution

Optimal and efficient database-application interactions


It would be appropriate to name this ever-expanding universe as NoSQL, which contrary to what the name implies, is ‘non-relational’ rather that ‘non-SQL’ since many RDBMS systems come with custom extensions. (NewSQL hybrid databases are likely to open new doors of possibilities)

Each data model of the NoSQL universe has a value prop that needs to be considered in the light of the given business case including the required querying type and data access patters. There’s nothing prescriptive about their adoption. And they are not a replacement for SQL, only smart alternatives.


NoSQL data models

A closer look at two common features: Aggregates & Materialized views

Concept of Aggregates

Group all related data into ‘aggregates’ or collection of discrete data values (think rows in a RDBMS table)

Operations updating multiple fields within each aggregate are atomic, operations across aggregates generally don’t provide the same level of consistency

In column-oriented models, unit of aggregation is column-family, so updates to column-families for the same row may not be atomic

Graph-oriented models use aggregates differently – writes on a single node or edge are generally atomic, while some graph DBs support ACID transactions across nodes and edges

Materialized views

To enable data combinations and summarization, NoSQL DBs offer pre-computed and cached queries, which is their version of RDBMS materialized views for read-intensive data which can afford to be stale for a while. This can be done in two ways:

Overhead approach

Update materialized views when you update base data: so each entry will update history aggregates as well

Recommended when materialized view reads are more frequent than their writes, and hence views need to be as fresh as possible

This is best handled at application-end as it’s easier to ensure the dual updates – of base data and materialized views.

For updates with incremental map-reduce, providing the computation to the database works best which then executes it based on configured parameters.

Batch approach

Update materialized views in batches of regular intervals depending on how ‘stale’ your business can afford them to be

NoSQL data models

Domain-specific compromises on consistency to achieve:

a. High availability through Replication: Master-slave & peer-to-peer clusters

b. Scalability of performance through Sharding

In each case, the domain realities would matter more than developmental possibilities – what level and form of compromise is acceptable in the given business case would help arrive at a fit for purpose solution.

Many NoSQL models offer a blended solution to ensure both High Availability and High Scalability - where Sharding is replicated using either Master-slave or peer-to-peer methods.

Replication

Master-slave cluster:

Works best for read-intensive operations

Database copies are maintained on each server.

One server is appointed Master: all applications send write requests to Master which updates local copy. Only the requesting application is conveyed of the change which, at some point, is broadcast to slave servers by the Master.
At all times, all servers – master or slaves - respond to read requests to ensure high availability. Consistency is compromised as it is ‘eventually consistent’. Which means an application may see older version of data if the change has not be updated at its end at the time of the read.

Fail scenarios in Master-slave cluster and their possible mitigation:

Master fails: promote a slave as the new master. On recovery, original Master updates needful changes that the new Master conveys.

Slave fails: Read requests can be routed to any operational slave. On recovery, slave is updated with needful changes if any.

Network connecting Master and (one or more) Slaves fails: affected slaves are isolated and live with stale data till connectivity is restored. In the interim, applications accessing isolated slaves will see outdated versions of data.

Peer-to-peer cluster:

Works best for write-intensive operations.

All servers support read and write operations.

Write request can be made to any peer which saves changes locally and intimates them to requesting application. Other peers are subsequently updated.

This approach evenly spreads the load, but if two concurrent applications change the same data simultaneously at different servers, conflicts occur which have to be resolved through Quorums. If there’s a thin chance of two applications updating the same data at almost same times, a quorum rule can state that data values be returned as long as two servers in the cluster agree on it.

Sharding

Evenly partition data on separate databases, store each database on a separate server. If and when workload increases, add more servers and repartition data across new servers.

To make the most of sharding, data accessed together is ideally kept in the same shard. It’s hence recommended to proactively define aggregates and their relationships in a manner that enables effective sharding.

In case of global enterprises of widely-dispersed user locations, the choice of sites for hosting shards should be based on user proximity apart from most accessed data. Here again, aggregates should be designed in a manner that supports such geography-led partitioning.

Sharding largely comes in two flavors:

Non-sharing Shards that function like an autonomous databases and sharding logic is implemented at application-end.
Auto Shards where sharding logic is implemented at database-end.

Sharding doesn’t work well for graph-oriented data models due to the intricately connected nodes and edges which make partitioning a huge challenge.

Ways to improve ‘eventual consistency:

Quorums

Quorums help consistency by establishing read and write quorums amongst servers in a cluster. In case of reads, data values stored by the read quorum are returned. In case of writes, it is approved by a write quorum of servers in the cluster.

Applications read and write data with no knowledge of quorum arrangements which happen in the background.

The number of servers in a quorum – read or write – have a direct bearing on database performance and application latency. More the number of servers, more the time for read and write quorum approvals.

Versioning

Consistency problems can arise in Relational and Non-relational despite ACIDity or quorum rules. A case in point is a lost updates from concurrent access of the same data where one modification overwrites the changes made by other.

In business cases which can’t afford pessimistic locking, version stamps are a way out:

An application reading a data item also retrieves version information. While updating, it re-reads version info, if it’s unchanged , it saves modified data to the database with the new version info. If not, it retrieves the latest value probably changed by another application and proceeds to re-read version stamp before modifying data.

In the time between re-reading the version info and changing values, an update can still be lost from a change made by another application. To prevent this, data can be locked in the given time frame in the hope that it will be minuscule.

Few NoSQL models like column-oriented DBS enable storing of multiple versions of the same data in an ag­gregate along with version timestamp. As and when needed, an application can consult the history to determine the latest modification.
When synchronicity between servers in a cluster is in question due to network constraints, vector clocks are seen as a way out. Each server in the cluster maintain a count of updates enforced by it, which other servers can refer to thereby avoiding conflicts.


What ‘schema-less’ actually means?

Onus shifts to Application-side

In NoSQL databases, data structures and aggregates are created by applications. If the application is unable to parse data from the database, a schema-mismatch is certain. Only that it would be encountered at application-end.

So contrary to popular perception, the schema of the data needs to be considered for refactoring applications.

That applications have the freedom to modify data structures does not condone the need for a disciplined approach. Any unscrupulous changes in structure can invite undesirable situations: they can complicate data access logic and even end up with a lot of non-uniform data in the database.

This post is an attempt to demystify the concept and evolution of NoSQL based on the incisive thoughts of Pramod J. Sadalage and Martin Fowler, neatly articulated in their pioneering book NoSQL Distilled

A Macro View of Microservices - A Plain Vanilla Primer for Pragmatic Practitioners



The Litmus Test of Enterprise Tech: Change-readiness


Business change is constant and instant, Tech teams needs to be in start-up mode

Markets are getting wider, scaling out is the new norm, so is the adoption of emerging tech

Shrinking Time to Market calls for rapid development in distributed environments backed by continuous deployment

Microservices key value prop: Change-friendliness

Their contexts and boundaries are defined in terms of distinct business capabilities

They are right-sized, invariably small (think scope of service, not lines of code)

They are independently deployable in line with business needs: for instance a new feature or a bug fix would be deployed immediately as also tracked for performance and behavior.

Deployment decisions are choreographed in collaboration with service owners eliminating the need for orchestration across multiple teams which is invariably arduous.

Service owners are free to choose the technologies and persistence mechanisms for building and operating individual services with consensus agreement on cross team parameters like log aggregation, monitoring and error-diagnosis.

Services collaborate with each other using technology-agnostic network calls

They offer a cost-effective and low-risk test bed for evaluating the effectiveness of new technologies in production environments


What does that mean for business?

Scaling is ‘on-demand’ and cost-effective, in line with business needs

Independent deployment, with quick failure isolation and rollbacks, ensures quick value delivery to the market

Ready-to-deploy business capabilities make customer engagement more holistic across different channels

Smaller codebase means significantly lower risk and cost of replacing or rewiring software (vis-à-vis the typical monolith compromise of coping with core modules running on redundant technologies)

Microservices: Here’s the deal

How they deal with change in business requirements


Unlike in monoliths, responsibilities are decomposed in respective services defined by business capabilities, hence change affects only the given module, data segments are API-encapsulated while service overlaps are mapped through higher-order services or hypermedia


How they deal with business capability enhancements or modifications


Bounded contexts enable independent deployment of the impacted service(s) without disturbing business capabilities residing in other services. This eliminates the need for time-consuming and costly regression tests of the monolith universe.


How they deal with situations where business abstractions are dependent on low-level services outside their bounded contexts


‘API gateway’ inverts the dependencies between clients and microservices in this scenario. The secondary abstraction is declared by the high-level abstraction within its service interface, and is implemented by the dependant collaborating services through several means - reducing network chattiness, performing protocol translations, concurrently aggregating service responses and transforming service responses in specific end-user formats


A closer look at API gateways


In the microservice universe, a client’s RESTful HTTP request to individual services can be a painful user experience given the plethora of requests to different services.

Enter the API gateway which tailors APIs to client’s network capabilities.

For instance, a desktop client may make multiple calls while mobile client would make a single request. The API gateway will proxy finely-grained desktop requests to corresponding services while handling coarse-grained mobile requests by aggregating multiple service call results.

Outcome: optimized communication between clients and applications while encapsulation of microservice details.

API Gateways ease the evolution of microservice: whether two microservices merge or one is partitioned into two, updation would be made at the API gateway-level, the clients on the other side of the gateway would be impervious to the change.


Why Microservices call for Continuous Deployment

Microservices are highly amenable to change and continuous deployment makes it rapid and reliable.

Microservices make deployment easier, so that it becomes faster and frequent.

Faster deployment ensures faster feedback from the market.

Faster feedback ensures timely improvements – making it more responsive and secure.


Why Microservices and Polyglot Persistence go together

The microservice approach of multiple teams managing discrete services naturally implies database capability within each service, else coupling at the data level would defeat the very purpose of autonomy.

Using multiple data stores invites eventual consistency which is a known compromise in most businesses. Even relational databases settle for eventual consistency when data is sent to or read from remote systems like value chain databases.

Like how RDBMS uses event streams for constructing reliable views, the microservice world uses event sourcing for triggering service updates from ‘events to log’

The trade-off in favor of high availability becomes even more acceptable when compared to the Multi-Version Concurrency Control issues of the relational world.


Embracing Microservices: No cookbook in the kitchen


Every organization is different – you can’t mirror success stories, or even failures for that matter

How to ensure whether microservices are fit for purpose – the adoption challenge

Microservices demand a paradigm shift - Cultural, Structural and Functional

Compelling benefits come bundled with significant complexities


The Adoption challenge


Greenfield projects

When businesses need to evolve rapidly, the monolith environment may work best for managing small number of applications to deliver the firm’s competitive edge. Microservices however would be helpful to startups in building a minimum viable product.


Brownfield projects

When established businesses need to scale rapidly across large, complex applications, microservices becomes fit for purpose but given the tangled dependencies between applications, an incremental approach to the evolution is highly advisable:

Re-engineer applications based on business priority in phase one

Build API gateways to interface with monolith applications that talk to inefficient database models

Perform minimal database modifications to maintain stateful connections

Re-engineer balance applications in fast-track mode using phase one templates and components

Spilt monolith services into microservices

Normalize relational data models and embrace efficient database models using polyglot persistence


Getting in microservice mode


Pre-adoption Diagnostics


Defining core business capabilities for decomposition into services

Dissecting services in terms of business, processes, constraints, channels and data behaviors to be able to ‘group those things that change for the same reason’

Identifying capabilities to bridge skill gaps of technical team on emerging technologies and best practices


Building the Microservices organization


Aligning the technical architecture to the business organization

Defining service boundaries, appointing service owners and custodians based on optimal team size and maximum productivity.

Promoting autonomy of service owners while enforcing rules for and monitoring implementations of ‘what the services should expose and what they should hide’

Complexities can be overwhelming

Issues of an expanding estate

Host of services

Scores of Processes post resilience

Several Interfaces

Network latency

Network failures


Need for value-added solutions


Versioning and Message serialization

Load balancers and messaging layers

Remote procedure calls

Backward compatibility and functional degradation

Use of home-grown code and off-the-shelf products for high-level automation, roll-outs based on service dependencies

Asynchronicity

Need for solution-minded teams

Visionary technical architects, Competent Custodians, Highly adept DevOps team

Database professionals conversant with polyglot persistence scenarios

Intelligent co-ordination between teams

Democratic governance

Questions that demand credible answers… a partial list

How does one move forward in the absence of standards?

How does one form the Microservice team – domain experts, technical architects, emerging tech champions, networking wizards…How does one bridge the skill gap?

How does one choose technologies, techniques, protocols, frameworks, and tools?

How does one approach design, development and deployment?

How does one identify services?
How does one define service boundaries?
How does one chip off services from the monolith structure?
Why and when does one split services, merge them, or create new services?
How does one deal with service interfaces?
Is there a way to ensure a uniform way to call services?
How does one ensure the quality of code bases? small doesn’t automatically guarantee quality
Can one build coherence and reusability across different components?
How does one tackle the accidents post the ‘first version’ release?
How does one avoid versioning nightmares?
How does one adopt a culture of individual deployment s before evolving into continuous deployment mode:
given the monolith legacy of single unit deployments and regression tests


Summing up

Microservices are an evolutionary phenomenon, not a ready-to-deploy solution

Microservices will ensure measurable value to your organization only if they are Fit for Purpose – irrespective of whether the project is Greenfield or Brownfield.

Microservices Vs. Monolith is not a black and white David Vs. Goliath scenario both have distinct value props.

Microservices are naturally attuned to the virtues of heterogeneous data stores and Continuous Deployment

Microservice trade-offs should be guided by respective trade realities, not by the experiences of other organizations