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“Pune Tech Industry’s 40% decline” was an April Fools Day Prank

Earlier today, we published an article saying Pune’s Tech Industry to decline 40% by 2020, Negligible startup activity – Vivek Wadhwa. As many of you guessed (and, hilariously, some of you did not) this article was an April Fools day prank.

An April Fool prank post is a tradition here at PuneTech. This year, Hetal Rach suggested the idea that a prank involving an article written by Vivek Wadhwa would be a good idea. Based on this, we made up the whole article, all the statistics and graphs, and all the expert comments too.

We would like to apologize to Vivek Wadhwa for misusing his name like this. We did not contact him before publishing the article, so obviously did not have his permission to do so. We were not even expecting to be noticed by Vivek, so imagine our shock when the first comment on the article was by Vivek himself, pointing out that:

I have no idea why my name is being used here and is linked to my website. I have performed no such research and don’t believe that the metrics used here are valid.

We held the comment in moderation (so as not to give the joke away), and quickly contacted him over email to explain the situation. We are very thankful to Vivek for taking the whole thing with a sporting spirit.

Just so that it is clear to everybody, Pune’s IT industry is NOT going to decline. I’m sure it will see phenomenal growth. As Vivek Wadhwa himself said in his comment:

Pune may not be able to grow at its current rates, but I know of no reason why it should decline. To the contrary, it has built a stable of experienced engineers that are likely to want to start companies. They will boost entrepreneurship in the region.


I’m sure entrepreneurship in Pune is flourishing and will scale newer heights.

More clarifications:

  • All of the “expert comments” in the “Reactions in Pune” section were made up by us.
  • Santosh Dawara is not joining Infosys (as far as we know)
  • Arun Prabhudesai is indeed focusing on the education sector as part of My Open Campus, but has no intentions of introducing Java in primary education, and certainly does not want to upset the powerful Geography lobby.
  • MrShri does want you to come to FourSquare Day Pune 2011 and find out for yourself.
  • Sahil Khan would really like you to visit yolkshire and eat a silky omelette
  • And I haven’t really checked, but I am certain that Rohan Dighe would heartily agree with his own advice that one should drink beer, write code, and let other people worry about the future.

This time though, most people figured out that it was a prank, and hence there are very few real bakras in the comments section. However, many people who figured it out, used the comments section to unleash their creativity, so it is well worth a read.

Also check out our April Fools Day pranks from previous years.

Update: Vivek Wadhwa left a detailed comment on this post, which we’re including in the post here for wider visibility:

Navin, there is no reason why Pune can’t become a center for entrepreneurship–build it’s own version of Silicon Valley. All of the ingredients are there. There is a highly skilled workforce, ambitious people who have experience and a desire to change the world, and relatively good infrastructure.

What is needed is for experienced entrepreneurs to start mentoring the fledgling, and for the creation of networks where people congregate, exchange ideas, and help each other. This is how Silicon Valley works and how Indians have become so successful here. One out of seven tech startups in Silicon Valley have an India CEO or CTO–which is amazing considering that Indians constituted just 6% of the Valley’s working population in 2000.

Pune can lead the nation in entrepreneurship and become a competitor to Silicon Valley itself if it does things right. This will take a decade or so to achieve, but is possible. You need to have the community get together and make this happen (note: I said community–not government).

And yes, the world is such a small place because of the internet and social media tools like Twitter, that articles like this reach people like me. I saw the Tweets which mentioned my name and wondered why you were using this in vein.





Pune’s Tech Industry to decline 40% by 2020, Negligible startup activity – Vivek Wadhwa

(Update: This article was a PuneTech April Fools Day Prank. A full apologyexplanation, is published here.)

(For the last 6 months, Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur academic, has been conducting a detailed study on the competitiveness of the tech industry in India, China and Indonesia. His detailed report is due next month, but since PuneTech was a data-collection partner, we have been given an early preview of a rough draft of the report. The full report goes into comprehensive detail for the tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 cities of all three countries, and we don’t have permission to publish that data, but we have picked a few excerpts relevant to Pune. Many thanks to Hetal Rach, Western Region Co-ordinator for Wadhwa Research for helping us make sense of the report.)

The India Story – Not Shining

(The next few paragraphs are taken from Chapter 2 of the report)

Much has been made of the rise of India as an IT powerhouse in the last 2 decades. The story has been nothing short of miraculous – with $76.1 billion in revenues, the IT software and services sector constitutes 6.4% of the GDP of India, and 26% of all Indian exports (up from just 1.2% and 4% respectively in 1998). Looking forward, the general consensus, especially of experts based in India, is that the next decade will continue to be one of high value-added growth. A popular opinion amongst industry watchers is that while the first decade of growth in Indian IT/ITES industry was fueled by IT/BPO outsourcing, and the second decade of growth was fueled by software product outsourcing, the next decade will see the rise of software products being built and marketed out of India. The thriving startup ecosystem in India (for example, national forums like Proto and Headstart, and the even more resurgent local forums like Pune Open Coffee Club) are seen as leading indicators of this change that is sweeping India.

It has been clear to everybody concerned that this growth cannot really be driven by Bangalore, the poster city for the revolution. Bangalore and other tier 1 cities are already bursting at the seams as far as infrastructure is concerned, and there exists a massive problem of talent acquisition and retention. The general consensus was that the primary drivers of growth in the next 5 years would be tier 2 cities like Pune and Chennai, and tier 3 cities like Indore and Nashik would start contributing after 2015.

Most of these predictions have been based on very superficial data, and in many cases, just on the gut feel of the experts. There hasn’t been an attempt at a systematic collection of data until now, and this report is based upon the findings of a first of its kind research project that we have conducted by going all the way down to tier 3 cities. Unfortunately for India, the results are not promising.

A Pulse of Pune’s Future

(The next few paragraphs are taken from Appendix E of the report)

The young and dynamic city of Pune, often referred to as the Oxford of the East, is an example of the second wave of growth of the Indian IT Industry. Although a historically very important city, since the merger of Mumbai into Maharashtra in 1960, Pune has had to live in the shadow cast by its big brother, and has often not gotten the recognition it deserved. However, with its large student population, much better quality of life than Mumbai, and the famous Puneri attitude, it was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the IT revolution, and had done so admirably.

Pune Competitiveness Index
This chart shows how the competitiveness index of Pune is on a decline. A number above 1 predicts growth, while a number below 1 indicates that there will be a decline in exports within the next 3 years. This index is calculated based on the underlying trends that have also been plotted in this chart. Click on the image to see full-size chart.

Starting from almost nothing in the ’90s, it managed to reach the $1 Billion mark in software exports in 2004, and now, at $8 B, it is widely believed to be on the verge of exploding.

Unfortunately, though, all is not well. Just a half hour spent in the city (especially on a Thursday) will give an idea of the persistent problems that plague the city. Roads are a mess, and traffic is an increasing problem. The electricity board can barely keep the city on right now, and the problem is expected to get much worse in the next few years. A bigger problem is that the city’s famed educational institutions are turning out, to quote the colorful phrase of a frustrated city CEO, “half-illiterate idiots,” and finding talent is becoming more and more like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Pune Software Exports
This chart shows the estimated software exports from Pune. The predicted declines is a direct consequence of the fall in Pune's competitiveness index. Click on the image to see full-size chart.

As a consequence, Pune fares rather poorly on the Wadhwa competitiveness index, and based on that, the projected figures for Pune show that while it will see modest growth in the next two years, after that, there will actually start a period of decline for 7 years straight. See Figure 1 for more details.

(The full report is expected to be published next month.)

Reactions in Pune

PuneTech caught up with some prominent personalities in the Pune tech community to gauge their reactions to this research. As expected, opinion is divided. Some have already seen the writing on the wall and started taking steps accordingly, while others simply see this as a challenge to try harder.

Santosh Dawara, one of the founders of the Pune Open Coffee Club, and founder of Dubzer, agrees that there is not much of a future in doing a technology startup out of Pune, but believes that the future of the IT/ITES outsourcing industry remains strong:

“A huge advantage Indians have is that most of us are multi-lingual, and learn 3 different languages as a matter of course,” he says. “This will be a growing advantage in an internationalized and localized software world. As long as we continue to produce millions of people proficient in English and 2 other languages, we will continue to get maintenance, testing, l10n, and i18n work.”

As of last week, Santosh has quit Dubzer, and is joining Infosys as the head of their Software Language Services practice, where he will be responsible for translations of more than 20% of the world’s software products.

Arun Prabhudesai, who returned to India 5 years ago to start hover.in, is a great believer of the resilience of India. He agrees with the data, but disagrees with the conclusion:

“The key point this report makes is that we are not producing software engineers who are good enough to take on the competition. We fix that, and the problem is solved.”

In keeping with this feeling, Arun will now focus on educating our engineers. He is taking over as the HOD of the Computer Sciences and Android Studies Department at My Open Campus.

“The two biggest problems our education system faces are these,” says Arun, “First, our most talented people, he ones who have the potential to be the best teachers and professors for our next generation, are becoming slaves to the lure of the dollar. I am setting an example by quitting that game right now, and joining academia. The second problem is that we waste so much of our children’s time by teaching them worthless stuff like history and geography. Tell me, which is the last great Geography startup you’ve seen? I will not rest until Java is introduced as a compulsory subject from the 1st standard in SSC board.”

Shrinath Navghane, better known as @MrShri, rejects the entire argument of the Wadhwa report:

“I don’t know what trends they’re seeing, but I think they’re completely wrong,” he opines. “It’s a joke to say that the tech industry in Pune will be just $5B by 2020. I expect just the Foursquare Based Services (FBS) industry in Pune to be $4.16B by that time, so the whole SoMe market will clearly be more than $5B. Come to Foursquare Day Pune 2011 and find out for yourself,” he challenges.

Younger entrepreneurs whom we contacted are apparently less worried. “#FAIL! B***nch*d,” responded Sahil Khan via twitter, “but no worries. Whatever the f**k happens with the software industry, people still have to eat. And the healthiest and cheapest food is eggs. Anyone care for a silky omelette?”

Rohan Dighe is even more chilled, “These baap people take too much tension. One should just drink beer, write code and let other people worry about the future.”

Amen to that, we say!

Update: As noted at the top, this article was an April Fools Day prank. To ensure that comments on this post did not give away the prank too early, some comments were held in moderation until the end of the day. All these comments have now been approved, but we have prefixed these comments with a [***]. Hence, when reading the comments below, please note that comments beginning with the [***] were not visible to anybody on 1st April.

Business Continuity Management Lifecycle and Key Contractual Requirements

(This overview of Business Continuity Management is a guest post by Dipali Inamdar, Head of IT Security in Geometric)

In emergency situations like pandemic outbreaks, power failures, riots, strikes, infrastructure issues, it is important that your business does not stop functioning. A plan to ensure this is called a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), and it is of prime importance to your business to ensure minimum disruption and smooth functioning of your operations. Earlier most companies would document business continuity plans only if their clients asked for it and would focus mainly on IT recovery. But scenarios have changed now. Corporations of all sized have now realized the importance of keeping their business functioning at all time and hence they are working towards a well defined business continuity management framework. Business continuity (BC) is often understood as a process to handle events that could disrupt business. However, BC is more than just recovery. The plan should also ensure proper business resumption after recovering from the disruption.

Business continuity management is a continuous life cycle as follows:

Business Continuity Planning Lifecycle
Click on the image to see it in full size

How does one start with BCM?

Business Impact Analysis (understanding the organization)

The first step is to conduct a Business Impact analysis. This would help you to identity critical business systems and processes and how their outage (downtime) could affect your business. You cannot have plan in place for all the processes without considering financial investments needed to have those in place. CEO’s inputs and client BC requirements also serve as input for impact analysis.

Defining the plan (Determining BCM strategy)

The next step is to identify the situations that could lead to disruption of the identified critical processes.

The situations could be categorized as:

  • Natural and environmental: – Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes etc
  • Human related: – Strikes, terrorist attacks, pandemic situation, thefts etc
  • IT related: – critical systems failure, virus attacks etc
  • Others: – Business Competition, power failure, Client BC contractual requirements

It might not be feasible to have plans for each and every situation, as implementing the defined plans needs to be practically possible. After the situations have been identified one needs to identify different threats, threat severity (how serious will be the impact on business if threat materializes) and their probability of occurrence (likelihood of threat materialization). Based on threat severity and occurrence levels critical risks are identified.

Implementing the plan (Developing and implementing BCP response)

The identified risks and additional client specific BCP requirements serve as inputs to the creation of BCPs. BCPs should focus on mitigation plan for the identified risks. BCP should be comprehensive, detailing roles and responsibilities of all the response teams. Proper budget needs to be allocated. Once the plan is documented the plan should be implemented.

The different implementation as per BCP could include having redundant infrastructure, signing up Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with service providers, having backup power supply, sending backup tapes to offshore sites, and training people in cross skills, having proper medicines or masks for addressing pandemic situations.

BCP should also have proper plans in place to resume business as usual. Business resumption is a critical and very important aspect of business continuity framework.

Testing and improving plan (Exercising, maintaining and reviewing)

Once the plans are documented and implemented the plans should be regularly tested. The tests could be scheduled or as and when the need arises. One can simulate different tests like moving people to other locations, having primary infrastructure down, testing UPS and diesel generator capacity, calling tree tests, evacuation drills, having senior management backups to take decisions, transport arrangements etc.

The tests will help you identify areas which need improvement in the BCP. The gaps between the expected and actual results need to be compared. The test results needs to be published to senior management. The plan needs to be reviewed regularly to update latest threats and have mitigations for the critical ones which will result in continuous lifecycle. One can schedule internal audits or apply for BS25999 certification to ensure proper compliance to BCP requirements.

Pune faces threats of irregular power supply, pandemic out break etc which could lead to business disruptions. One needs to have detailed plans for critical threats to ensure continuity of critical operations. The plans should also have detailed procedure to ensure proper business resumption. Plans may be documented but actual action during emergency situations is very important.

Important note: Contractual requirements

When signing off specific contractual requirements with clients, certain precautions must be taken as follows:

  • Before signing stringent SLAs it should be checked that there is a provision for exclusions or relaxations during disaster situations as you will not be able to achieve SLAs during disaster scenarios
  • When BCP requirements are defined in client contracts the responsibilities or expectations from the clients should also be clearly documented and agreed to ensure effective execution of the BCP
  • BCP requirements can only be effectively implemented when proper budget allocations are planned. So for specific BCP requirements cost negotiations with the client are important. Usually this is ignored, so it is important that the sales team should be appraised before agreeing on BCP requirements with the client.
  • Do not sign-off on vague BCP requirements. They should be clear, specific and practically achievable
  • Before signing off any contract which has a penalty clause, it should be reviewed thoroughly to ensure that compliance to those clauses is practically possible

About the author: Dipali Inamdar

Dipali Inamdar, Head – IT security in Geometric Ltd, has more than 11 years of experience in Information Technology and Information Security domain. She is a certified CISA, ISO27001 Lead Auditor, BS25999 Lead Auditor and ISO2000 Internal auditor. She has worked in sectors spanning BPO, IT and ITES companies, Finance sector for Information Security and Business Continuity Management. She is currently operating out of Pune and is very passionate about her field. See her linked-in profile for more details.

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MCCIA Seminar: “Why MBA?” (for students and parents) – 21st May

mccia-pune-logoWhat: A seminar targeted towards graduates and their parents on why they should do an MBA. With Arun Mudbidri, Director SIBM, and Sreeram Geet, Career Counsellor
When: Thursday, 21st May, 10:30am-12:30am
Where: Hall no. 3, 5th Floor, Wing A, MCCIA Trade Towers, ICC Complex, S.B.Road
Registration and Fees: This event is free for all to attend. Please contact Mr. Shriniwas Rairikar / Ms. Sandhya Acharya at MCCIA, Tel: 25709179 / 25709000 Email: shriniwasr@mcciapune.come / sandhyaa@mcciapune.com

Agenda for the Seminar

  • Suitable Timing to Start Necessary Mindset
  • Understanding & Maturity Understanding of Competition
  • Knowing about the Institute What is suitable for me?
  • Basic Future Career Building Career Bricks
  • What is the course & what after that?

Mr. Arun Mudbidri, Director of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune is the Chief Guest.

About the speaker – Dr. Sreeram Geet

Dr. Shreeram Geet is a professional Career Counsellor associated with Jnana Prabodhini Sanshodhan Sanstha, Pune. He has guided more than 6500 students. He was the Guest Speaker for career fairs held by Director of Technical Education, Maharashtra State. Dhirubhai Ambani Foundation also invited him as a Guest Speaker for 2006-2007 and also He has written 4 books on ‘Career Guidance’ and has conducted several ‘Career Guidance Seminar / lectures.

For other interesting events in Pune, see the PuneTech Calendar, or better yet, subscribe to get updates (free) by email or via RSS

Architecture of a decision-support system

(PuneTech is honored to have Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan, an Optimization Guru and one of the original pioneers in applying Optimization to Supply Chain Management, as our contributor. I had the privilege of working closely with Narayan at i2 Technologies in Dallas for nearly 10 years.

For Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan’s detailed bio, please click here.

This is the second in a series of articles that we will publish once a week for a month. The first one was an ‘overview’ case study of optimization. Click here for the full series.)

this is a follow-up to optimization: a case study. frequent references in this article to details in that article would make this one difficult to read for someone who hasn’t at least skimmed through that.

a layered view of decision-support systems

it is useful to think of a decision-support system as consisting of 4 distinct layers:

  1. data layer
  2. visibility layer
  3. predictive/simulation layer
  4. optimization layer

the job of the data layer is to capture all the data that is relevant and material to the decision at hand and to ensure that this data is correct, up-to-date, and easily accessible. in our case, this would include master/static data such as the map of the field, the operating characteristics of the helicopter, etc as well as dynamic data such as the requirements for the sortie, ambient conditions (wind, temperature), etc. this may seem rather obvious at first sight but a quick reading of the case study shows that we had to revisit the data layer several times over the course of the development of the solution.

as the name implies, the visibility layer provides visibility into the data in a form that allows a human user to exercise his/her judgment. very often, a decision-support system requires no more than just this layer built on a robust data layer. for example, we could have offered a rather weak form of decision support by automating the capture of dynamic data and presenting to the radio operator all the data (both static and dynamic), suitably filtered to incorporate only parts of the field that are relevant to that sortie. he/she would be left to chart the route of the helicopter on a piece of paper, possibly checking off requirements on the screen as they are satisfied. even though this may seem trivial, it is important to note that most decision-support systems in everyday use are rather lightweight pieces of software that present relevant data to a human user in a filtered, organized form. the human decision-maker takes it from there.

the predictive/simulation layer offers an additional layer of help to the human decision-maker. it has the intelligence to assess the decisions made (tentatively) by the user but offers no active support. for instance, a helicopter scheduling system that offers this level of support would present the radio operator with a screen on which the map of the field and the sortie’s requirements are depicted graphically. through a series of mouse-clicks, the user can decide whom to pick up, where to fly to, whether to refuel, etc. the system supports the user by automatically keeping track of the weight of the payload (passenger+fuel) and warning the user of violations, using the wind direction to compute the rate of fuel burn, warning the user of low-fuel conditions, monitoring whether crews arrive at their workplace on time, etc. in short, the user makes decisions, the system checks constraints and warns of violations, and provides a measure of goodness of the solution. few people acknowledge that much of corporate decision-making is at this level of sophistication. the widespread use of microsoft excel is clear evidence of this.

the optimization layer is the last of the layers. it wrests control from the user and actively recommends decisions. it is obvious that the effectiveness of optimization layer is vitally dependent on the data layer. what is often overlooked is that the acceptance of the optimization layer by the human decision-maker often hinges on their ability to tweak the recommendations in the predictive layer, even if only to reassure themselves that the solution is correct. often, the post-optimization adjustments are indispensable because the human decision-maker knows things that the system does not.

the art (and science) of modeling

the term “decision-support system” may seem a little archaic but i will use it here because my experience with applying optimization has been in the realm of systems that recommend decisions, not ones that execute them. there is always human intervention that takes the form of approval and overrides. generally speaking, this is a necessary step. the system is never all-knowing. as a result, its view of reality is limited, possibly flawed. these limitations and flaws are reflected in its recommendations.

this invites the question: if there are known limitations and flaws in the model, why not fix them?

this is an important question. the answer to this is not nearly as obvious as it may appear.

before we actually construct a model of reality, we must consciously draw a box around that portion of reality that we intend to include in the model. if the box is drawn too broadly, the model will be too complex to be tractable. if the box is drawn too tightly, vital elements of the model are excluded. it is rare to find a decision problem in which we find a perfect compromise, i.e., we are able to draw a box that includes all aspects of the problem without the problem becoming computationally intractable.

unfortunately, it is hard to teach the subtleties of modeling in a classroom. in an academic setting, it is hard to wrestle with the messy job of making seemingly arbitrary choices about what to leave in and what to exclude. therefore, most students of optimization enter the real world with the impression that the process of modeling is quick and easy. on the contrary, it is at this level that most battles are won or lost.

note: the term modeling is going to be unavoidably overloaded in this context. when i speak of models, students of operations research may immediately think in terms of mathematical equations. those models are still a little way down the road. at this point, i’m simply talking about the set of abstract interrelationships that characterize the behaviour of the system. some of these relationships may be too complex to be captured in a mathematical model. as a result, the mathematical model is yet another level removed from reality.

consider our stumbling-and-bumbling approach to modeling the helicopter scheduling problem. we realized that the problem we faced wasn’t quite a text-book case. our initial approach was clearly very narrow. once we drew that box, our idealized world was significantly simpler than the real world. our world was flat. our helicopter never ran out of fuel. the amount of fuel it had was never so much that it compromised its seating capacity. it didn’t care which way the wind was blowing. it didn’t care how hot it was. in short, our model was far removed from reality. we had to incorporate each of these effects, one by one, because their exclusion made the gap between reality and model so large that the decisions recommended by the model were grossly unrealistic.

it could be argued that we were just a bunch of kids who knew nothing about helicopters, so trial-and-error was the only approach to determining the shape of the box we had to draw.

not true! here’s how we could have done it differently:

if you were to examine what we did in the light of the four-layer architecture described above, you’d notice that we really only built two of the four: the data layer and the optimization layer. this is a tremendously risky approach, an approach that has often led to failure in many other contexts. it must be acknowledged that optimization experts are rarely experts in the domain that they are modeling. nevertheless, by bypassing the visibility and predictive layers, we had sealed off our model from the eyes of people who could have told us about the flaws in it.

each iteration of the solution saw us expanding the data layer on which the software was built. in addition to expanding that data layer, we had to enhance the optimization layer to incorporate the rules implicit in the new pieces of data. here are the steps we took:

  1. we added the fuel capacity and consumption rate of each helicopter to the data layer. and modified the search algorithm to “remember” the fuel level and find its way to a fuel stop before the chopper plunged into the arabian sea.
  2. we added the payload limit to the data layer. and further modified search algorithm to “remember” not to pick up too many passengers too soon after refueling or risk plunging into the sea with 12 people on board.
  3. we captured the wind direction in the data layer and modified the computation of the distance matrix used in the optimization layer.
  4. we captured the ambient temperature as well as the relationship between temperature and maximum payload in the data layer. and we further trimmed the options available to the search algorithm.

we could have continued down this path ad infinitum. at each step, our users would have “discovered” yet another constraint for us to include. back in those days, ongc used to charter several different helicopter agencies. i remember one of the radio operator telling me that some companies were sticklers for the rules while others would push things to the limit. as such, a route was feasible or not depending on whether the canadian company showed up or the italian one did! should we have incorporated that too in our model? how is one to know?

this question isn’t merely rhetorical. the incorporation of a predictive/simulation layer puts the human decision-maker in the driver’s seat. if we had had a simulation layer, we would have quickly learned the factors that were relevant and material to the decision-making process. if the system didn’t tell the radio operator which way the wind was blowing, he/she would have immediately complained because it played such a major role in their choice. if the system didn’t tell him/her whether it was the canadian or the italian company and he didn’t ask, we would know it didn’t matter. in the absence of that layer, we merrily rushed into what is technically the most challenging aspect of the solution.

implementing an optimization algorithm is no mean task. it is hugely time-consuming, but that is really the least of the problems. optimization algorithms tend to be brittle in the following sense: a slight change in the model can require a complete rewrite of the algorithm. it is but human that once one builds a complex algorithm, one tends to want the model to remain unchanged. one becomes married to that view of the world. even in the face of mounting evidence that the model is wrong, one tends to hang on. in hindsight, i would say we made a serious mistake by not architecting the system to validate the correctness of the box we had drawn before we rushed ahead to building an optimization algorithm. in other words, if we had built the solution systematically, layer by layer, many of the surprises that caused us to swing wildly between jubilation and depression would have been avoided.

other articles in this series

this article is the second in a series of short explorations related to the application of optimization. i’d like to share what i’ve learned over a career spent largely in the business of applying optimization to real-world problems. interestingly, there is a lot more to practical optimization than models and algorithms. each of the the links below leads to a piece that dwells on one particular aspect.
articles in this series:
optimization: a case study
architecture of a decision-support system (this article)
optimization and organizational readiness for change
optimization: a technical overview

About the author – Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan

Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan has spent over two decades applying a rare combination of quantitative skills, business knowledge, and the ability to think from first principles to real world business problems. He currently consults in several areas including supply chain and health care management. As a Fellow at i2 Technologies, he tackled supply chains problems in areas as diverse as computer assembly, semiconductor manufacturer, consumer goods, steel, and automotive. Prior to that, he worked with several airlines on their aircraft and crew scheduling problems. He topped off his days at IIT-Bombay and IIM-Ahmedabad with a Ph.D. in Operations Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is presently based in Dallas, USA and travels extensively all over the world during the course of his consulting assignments. You can also find Narayan on Linkedin at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/narayan3rdeye

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Branding and Marketing for your startup: PoCC meet, 18 April

What: POCC meeting on “Branding your IP: A mantra to global success” and “Hi-Technology Marketing”
When: Saturday, 18th April (today!), 4pm
Where: Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research, Atur Centre, Model Colony. Map.
Registration and Fees: This event is free for all. No registration required

Pune OpenCoffee Club - POCC Logo

Branding your IP: Your mantra for global success – Prantik Mazumdar

Prantik Mazumdar, Consultant and Country Manager for StrategiCom, has kindly agreed to take a branding session. StrategiCom mainly deals for brand evaluation and positioning for SME’s around the globe.

He shall be accompanied by Prof Kaustubh, Associate Prof and Faculty for Corporate Training at SIBM, Lavale. The 2 together operate the free weekly brand health clinic at SIBM for SME’s

Abstract of the talk

The brand's social penetration
Social penetration of your brand. Image by activeside via Flickr

They say “Necessity is the mother of all inventions” and it is some of these inventions that empower and transform our world. Some of the grandest inventions that have had a significant impact on our lives today include the wheel, electricity, the light bulb, the automobile, telephones, mobile phones, the internet, etc. But was just inventing these ideas, concepts and processes enough for them to succeed and transform our world?

Just google “why startups fail” and there would be a host of sites proclaiming that about 9 out of 10 startups fail within the first two to three years of business! Is there something that can help increase and insure your chances of success? Something that can ensure and protect your growth? – The answer lies in commercializing, protecting and most importantly branding your intellectual property right from day one!

The session would focus on 7 key steps that entrepreneurs must take to build strong brands out of their inventions and innovations

Hi-Technology Marketing – Abhijit Athavale

Abhijit Athavale shall be talking on identity, positioning, sementation and market analysis, value proposition, messaging, campaigning and measurement.

See the PuneTech calendar for information about other tech events happening in this weekend.

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Optimization: A case study

(PuneTech is honored to have Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan, an Optimization Guru and one of the original pioneers in applying Optimization to Supply Chain Management, as our contributor. I had the privilege of working closely with Narayan at i2 Technologies in Dallas for nearly 10 years.

PuneTech has published some introductory articles on Supply Chain Management (SCM) and the optimization & decision support challenges involved in various real world SCM problems. Who better to write about this area in further depth than Narayan!

For Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan’s detailed bio, please click here.

This is the first in a series of articles that we will publish once a week for a month. For the full series of articles, click here.)

the following entry was prompted by a request for an article on the topic of “optimization” for publication in punetech.com, a website co-founded by amit paranjape, a friend and former colleague. for reasons that may have something to do with the fact that i’ve made a living for a couple of decades as a practitioner of that dark art known as optimization, he felt that i was best qualified to write about the subject for an audience that was technically savvy but not necessarily aware of the application of optimization. it took me a while to overcome my initial reluctance: is there really an audience for this after all, even my daughter feigns disgust every time i bring up the topic of what i do. after some thought, i accepted the challenge as long as i could take a slightly unusual approach to a “technical” topic: i decided to personalize it by rooting in a personal-professional experience. i could then branch off into a variety of different aspects of that experience, some technical, some not so much. read on …


the year was 1985. i was fresh out of school, entering the “real” world for the first time. with a bachelors in engineering from IIT-Bombay and a graduate degree in business from IIM-Ahmedabad, and little else, i was primed for success. or disaster. and i was too naive to tell the difference.

for those too young to remember those days, 1985 was early in rajiv gandhi‘s term as prime minister of india. he had come in with an obama-esque message of change. and change meant modernization (he was the first indian politician with a computer terminal situated quite prominently in his office). for a brief while, we believed that india had turned the corner, that the public sector companies in india would reclaim the “commanding heights” of the economy and exercise their power to make india a better place.

CMC was a public sector company that had inherited much of the computer maintenance business in india after IBM was tossed out in 1977. quickly, they broadened well beyond computer maintenance into all things related to computers. that year, they recruited heavily in IIM-A. i was one of an unusually large number of graduates who saw CMC as a good bet.

not too long into my tenure at at CMC, i was invited to meet with an mid-level manager in electronics & telecommunications department of the oil and natural gas commission of india (ONGC). the challenge he posed us was simple: save money by optimizing the utilization of helicopters in the bombay high oilfield.

the problem

the bombay high offshore oilfield, the setting of our story
the bombay high offshore oilfield, the setting of our story

the bombay high oilfield is about 100 miles off the coast of bombay (see map). back then, it was a collection of about 50 oil platforms, divided roughly into two groups, bombay high north and bombay high south.

(on a completely unrelated tangent: while writing this piece, i wandered off into searching for pictures of bombay high. i stumbled upon the work of captain nandu chitnis, ex-navy now ONGC, biker, amateur photographer … who i suspect is a pune native. click here for a few of his pictures that capture the outlandish beauty of an offshore oil field.)

movement of personnel between platforms in each of these groups was managed by a radio operator who was centrally located.

all but three of these platforms were unmanned. this meant that the people who worked on these platforms had to be flown out from the manned platforms every morning and brought back to their base platforms at the end of the day.

at dawn every morning, two helicopters, flew out from the airbase in juhu, in northwestern bombay. meanwhile, the radio operator in each field would get a set of requirements of the form “move m men from platform x to platform y”. these requirements could be qualified by time windows (e.g., need to reach y by 9am, or not available for pick-up until 8:30am) or priority (e.g., as soon as possible). each chopper would arrive at one of the central platforms and gets its instructions for the morning sortie from the radio operator. after doing its rounds for the morning, it would return to the main platform. at lunchtime, it would fly lunchboxes to the crews working at unmanned platforms. for the final sortie of the day, the radio operator would send instructions that would ensure that all the crews are returned safely to their home platforms before the chopper was released to return to bombay for the night.

the challenge for us was to build a computer system that would optimize the use of the helicopter. the requirements were ad hoc, i.e., there was no daily pattern to the movement of men within the field, so the problem was different every day. it was believed that the routes charted by the radio operator were inefficient. given the amount of fuel used in these operations, an improvement of 5% over what they did was sufficient to result in a payback period of 4-6 months for our project.

this was my first exposure to the real world of optimization. a colleague of mine — another IIM-A graduate and i — threw ourselves at this problem. later, we were joined yet another guy, an immensely bright guy who could make the lowly IBM PC-XT — remember, this was the state-of-the-art at that time — do unimaginable things. i couldn’t have asked to be a member of a team that was better suited to this job.

the solution

we collected all the static data that we thought we would need. we got the latitude and longitude of the on-shore base and of each platform (degrees, minutes, and seconds) and computed the distance between every pair of points on our map (i think we even briefly flirted with the idea of correcting for the curvature of the earth but decided against it, perhaps one of the few wise moves we made). we got the capacity (number of seats) and cruising speed of each of the helicopters.

we collected a lot of sample data of actual requirements and the routes that were flown.

we debated the mathematical formulation of the problem at length. we quickly realized that this was far harder than the classical “traveling salesman problem”. in that problem, you are given a set of points on a map and asked to find the shortest tour that starts at any city and touches every other city exactly once before returning to the starting point. in our problem, the “salesman” would pick and/or drop off passengers at each stop. the number he could pick up was constrained, so this meant that he could be forced to visit a city more than once. the TSP is known to be a “hard” problem, i.e., the time it takes to solve it grows very rapidly as you increase the number of cities in the problem. nevertheless, we forged ahead. i’m not sure if we actually completed the formulation of an integer programming problem but, even before we did, we came to the conclusion that this was too hard of a problem to be solved as an integer program on a first-generation desktop computer.

instead, we designed and implemented a search algorithm that would apply some rules to quickly generate good routes and then proceed to search for better routes. we no longer had a guarantee of optimality but we figured we were smart enough to direct our search well and make it quick. we tested our algorithm against the test cases we’d selected and discovered that we were beating the radio operators quite handily.

then came the moment we’d been waiting for: we finally met the radio operators.

they looked at the routes our program was generating. and then came the first complaint. “your routes are not accounting for refueling!”, they said. no one had told us that the sorties were long enough that you could run out of fuel halfway, so we had not been monitoring that at all!

ONGC’s HAL Dhruv Helicopters on sorties off the Mumbai coast. Image by Premshree Pillai via Flickr

so we went back to the drawing board. we now added a new dimension to the search algorithm: it had to keep track of fuel and, if it was running low on fuel during the sortie, direct the chopper to one of the few fuel bases. this meant that some of the routes that we had generated in the first attempt were no longer feasible. we weren’t beating the radio operators quite as easily as before.

we went back to the users. they took another look at our routes. and then came their next complaint: “you’ve got more than 7 people on board after refueling!”, they said. “but it’s a 12-seater!”, we argued. it turns out they had a point: these choppers had a large fuel tank, so once they topped up the tank — as they always do when they stop to refuel — they were too heavy to take a full complement of passengers. this meant that the capacity of the chopper was two-dimensional: seats and weight. on a full tank, weight was the binding constraint. as the fuel burned off, the weight constraint eased; beyond a certain point, the number of seats became the binding constraint.

we trooped back to the drawing board. “we can do this!”, we said to ourselves. and we did. remember, we were young and smart. and too stupid to see where all this was going.

in our next iteration, the computer-generated routes were coming closer and closer to the user-generated ones. mind you, we were still beating them on an average but our payback period was slowly growing.

we went back to the users with our latest and greatest solution. they looked at it. and they asked: “which way is the wind blowing?” by then, we knew not to ask “why do you care?” it turns out that helicopters always land and take-off into the wind. for instance, if the chopper was flying from x to y and the wind was blowing from y to x, the setting was perfect. the chopper would take off from x in the direction of y and make a bee-line for y. on the other hand, if the wind was also blowing from x to y, it would take off in a direction away from y, do a 180-degree turn, fly toward and past y, do yet another 180-degree turn, and land. given that, it made sense to keep the chopper generally flying a long string of short hops into the wind. when it could go no further because they fuel was running low or it needed to go no further in that direction because there were no passengers on board headed that way, then and only then, did it make sense to turn around and make a long hop back.

“bloody asymmetric distance matrix!”, we mumbled to ourselves. by then, we were beaten and bloodied but unbowed. we were determined to optimize these chopper routes, come hell or high water!

so back we went to our desks. we modified the search algorithm yet another time. by now, the code had grown so long that our program broke the limits of the editor in turbo pascal. but we soldiered on. finally, we had all of our users’ requirements coded into the algorithm.

or so we thought. we weren’t in the least bit surprised when, after looking at our latest output, they asked “was this in summer?”. we had now grown accustomed to this. they explained to us that the maximum payload of a chopper is a function of ambient temperature. on the hottest days of summer, choppers have to fly light. on a full tank, a 12-seater may now only accommodate 6 passengers. we were ready to give up. but not yet. back we went to our drawing board. and we went to the field one last time.

in some cases, we found that the radio operators were doing better than the computer. in some cases, we beat them. i can’t say no creative accounting was involved but we did manage to eke out a few percentage point of improvement over the manually generated routes.


you’d think we’d won this battle of attrition. we’d shown that we could accommodate all of their requirements. we’d proved that we could do better than the radio operators. we’d taken our machine to the radio operators cabin on the platform and installed it there.

we didn’t realize that the final chapter hadn’t been written. a few weeks after we’d declared success, i got a call from ONGC. apparently, the system wasn’t working. no details were provided.

i flew out to the platform. i sat with the radio operator as he grudgingly input the requirements into the computer. he read off the output from the screen and proceeded with this job. after the morning sortie was done, i retired to the lounge, glad that my work was done.

a little before lunchtime, i got a call from the radio operator. “the system isn’t working!”, he said. i went back to his cabin. and discovered that he was right. it is not that our code had crashed. the system wouldn’t boot. when you turned on the machine, all you got was a lone blinking cursor on the top left corner of the screen. apparently, there was some kind of catastrophic hardware failure. in a moment of uncommon inspiration, i decided to open the box. i fiddled around with the cards and connectors, closed the box, and fired it up again. and it worked!

it turned out that the radio operator’s cabin was sitting right atop the industrial-strength laundry room of the platform. every time they turned on the laundry, everything in the radio room would vibrate. there was a pretty good chance that our PC would regress to a comatose state every time they did the laundry. i then realized that this was a hopeless situation. can i really blame a user for rejecting a system that was prone to frequent and total failures?

other articles in this series

this blog entry is intended to set the stage for a series of short explorations related to the application of optimization. i’d like to share what i’ve learned over a career spent largely in the business of applying optimization to real-world problems. interestingly, there is a lot more to practical optimization than models and algorithms. each of the the links below leads to a piece that dwells on one particular aspect.

optimization: a case study (this article)
architecture of a decision-support system
optimization and organizational readiness for change
optimization: a technical overview

About the author – Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan

Dr. Narayan Venkatasubramanyan has spent over two decades applying a rare combination of quantitative skills, business knowledge, and the ability to think from first principles to real world business problems. He currently consults in several areas including supply chain and health care management. As a Fellow at i2 Technologies, he tackled supply chains problems in areas as diverse as computer assembly, semiconductor manufacturer, consumer goods, steel, and automotive. Prior to that, he worked with several airlines on their aircraft and crew scheduling problems. He topped off his days at IIT-Bombay and IIM-Ahmedabad with a Ph.D. in Operations Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is presently based in Dallas, USA and travels extensively all over the world during the course of his consulting assignments. You can also find Narayan on Linkedin at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/narayan3rdeye

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Pune’s Tech Mahindra wins Satyam bid

According to news reports today, Pune based Tech Mahindra has won the Satyam bid. Here is the coverage in The Economic Times “Tech Mahindra wins bid for Satyam Computers

Satyam Computer Services Ltd.
Image via Wikipedia

The other rivals in the race were L&T InfoTech and the American billionaire Wilbur Ross. This news is already being covered in great detail in all the national business media and I doubt if I can add anything new.

My thought would be from a Pune angle. Pune has been amongst the leading IT cities in India for a while now. Infosys and Wipro have plans underway to expand their Pune centers into their single biggest facilities. Yet, a ‘Pune-based company’ has never been in the big league!

It’s worth noting how Infosys started in Pune in the early 1980s and then moved on to Bangalore. In some sense this void can be filled today! Tech Mahindra has its roots in Pune for many years. Here are a couple of links that provide more information about the company profile:

Tech Mahindra Wikipedia Link

Tech Mahindra Official Website (About Us Link)

(This article is cross-posted from Amit Paranjape’s Blog.)

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PuneTech’s April Fools Prank – Pune handling recession better than Bangalore

Following in the footsteps of such respected media houses as the BBC and the Guardian, PuneTech yesterday played an April Fools’ Day prank on its readers.

Click here if you cannot see the video above. It’s different from yesterday’s news clip.

We claimed that Pune is expecting growth in revenues in spite of the recession, whereas the other cities, including Bangalore, would see a decline. If you missed all the excitement yesterday, check out our report yesterday. Unfortunately, the entire report was a hoax. There is no company by the name of INHR Associates, the links to the “extended abstract” and the “full (paid) report” are both non-existent, and the the news clip by a “certain TV channel (that will remain unnamed)” was actually created for PuneTech by some of our over-enthusiastic friends.

We have shown above a different, more over-the-top version of the same “news video“. It some out-takes and has credits of the cast and crew who made the film. As with the original video, the “reactions” of the average techie-in-the-street are the most hilarious – definitely worth checking out.

The hints you should have seen

As with any good April Fools’ Prank, we tried to liberally sprinkle it with giveaways – hints that people should have caught on to:

  • The original source report did not exist. Only two brave souls complained to us that the links were broken. Everybody else seems to have taken our report at face value
  • INHR Associates, the company which is supposed to have done the survey, had a website called http://inhumanresources.com – very few people picked up on that
  • Needless to say, the video is completely ridiculous. The fact that many people actually believed it to be real, is a very sad commentary on the state of the real news being put out by our TV channels. We have come to expect trash like this from our TV.
  • Check out the ticker at the bottom of the news video. It has ridiculous items like “Mallika Sherawat enters politics” and a bunch of other such things.

The believers

Image by ngkabra via Flickr

@asutosh has the distinction of being the first person to fall for the joke and retweet it

This was just the first in the long line of people believers. We had a few accomplices (@aparanjape, @d7y, and @amitsomani, and @meetumeetu) who re-tweeted it, after which I believe about 15 to 20 believers retweeted.

@logic loved the “marathi manoos” reaction in the video and wrote:

http://is.gd/pVGh 3:10 I knew recession wont affect pune coz marati dictionary doesnt have it.. ROFLMAO #EKSI. no this tweet is not #april1

Oh, the irony! Sorry, @logic, it was #april1.

@beastoftraal and @milliblog were were ridiculing PuneTech thusly:

Pune handling recession better than Bangalore? They couldn’t afford to buy a report for Rs. 7.5K, but! http://tr.im/i4jD

Another person who did not like the Pune chest-thumping was @kiranspillai who chastised us:

Junta in Pune maha excited about thier recession being not so bad as bangalore. Chest deep or neck deep – You still have sh*t sticking on u

I think the best exchange happened on facebook. Chief evangelist of PuneTech, Amit Paranjape, who was in on the joke, posted this to facebook:

Amit Paranjape: Why Pune is handling recession better than Bangalore. http://tinyurl.com/czl3w8

This resulted in the following conversation thread over there:

Rohit Joshi at 3:06pm April 1
It’s a bit like comparing France with the US. The French don’t have boom-bust cycles like anglo-saxon economies because the French don’t innovate and take risks as much. France is still a lovely place.

Navin Kabra at 3:09pm April 1
@Rohit, I doubt that the software/IT/ITES economics of Bangalore and Pune are very different from each other in terms of innovation, risk taking, and boom-bust cycles. I’m sure the explanation for this phenomenon lies elsewhere.

Abhijit Athavale at 4:22pm April 1
Maybe, the Puneites have not realized how serious this thing is going to be. Seriously, the reason might be that Pune has a ton of local industry that the IT/ITES companies are catering to. Bangalore has none.

Amit Paranjape at 5:30pm April 1
I agree Pune does have other local industry. Also, many other non-IT ‘tech’ companies.

After seeing all these reactions, I almost wished that the news item was true.

Of course, there were also some believers in the comments on the original post.

The making of the video

A few months back when we first got the idea, I casually asked meetu of wogma whether her film-industry friends would be willing to help us out by making a short film for PuneTech as an April Fools’ Prank. She and her friends went nuts with the idea and produced this clip. At that time, I had absolutely no idea of the huge amount of effort that goes into making even a short film like that. But, meetu and her friends, really took to the idea, and worked nights and weekends for almost 20 days to make this clip. I would probably not even have suggested the idea if I knew this beforehand, but anyway, they seem to have enjoyed the process, and we at PuneTech are absolutely thrilled with the final product. We would like to thank them all for the efforts, and for the superb result.

The director (Nitin Gaikwad, nitindgaikwad[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 98193 74727), the editor (Shreyas Beltangdy, shreyasbeltangdy[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 98922 12953) and the main news anchor (Raj Kumar Yadav, raj.deniro[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 99677 82869) are actual professionals in their field, and friends of meetu, who did this for us, free. The rest of the cast and crew are friends, relatives and neighbors. Here are the full credits:

News reader: Raj Kumar Yadav (raj.deniro[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 99677 82869)
Statistical analyst: Subramanyam Pisupati
Pune expert: Navin Kabra
Field Reporter: Shweta Karwa
IT employee #1: Mudit Singhal
IT employee #2: Nitin Gaikwad
IT employee #3: Subur Khan
IT employee #4: Amit Rajput

A billion thanks to: Pushpa and Badri Baldawa

Special thanks to: Mudit Singhal, Ravi Iyer, Agasti, Amit Rajput
Lighting: Agasti, Chandu dada
Production Assistants: Siddhu, Shiva, Sriram, Hemant, Saraswati
Make-up: Suman Baldawa
Camera and sound equipment: Rudra Communications
Editing Studio: Rudra Vision
Concept: Navin Kabra
Editor: Shreyas Beltangdy (shreyasbeltangdy[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 98922 12953)
Dialogue: meetu, Shreyas Beltangdy, Navin Kabra

Director of Photography: Shreyas Beltangdy (shreyasbeltangdy[at]gmail[dot]com, +91 98922 12953)
Director: Nitin Gaikwad (nitindgaikwad [at] gmail [dot] com, +91 98193 74737)

Final thoughts

Gautam Morey, a PuneTech reader, said yesterday: “You are spending too much time setting up an April Fool’s Joke!”

And our answer was: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy :-). We spend so much time being serious that spending some time on frivolous things is OK once in a while.”

At the very least, I think we should be able to say that Pune handled April Fools’ day much better than Bangalore!

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Pune handling recession much better than Bangalore

Update: This was a PuneTech April Fools’ Day prank. See this post for the full story.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that we are in the midst of a major recession, and it is having a significant effect on the Indian software industry. Now there are hard numbers giving an exact idea of how much the recession is expected to affect the software industry in different cities in India, and the results are interesting, to say the least.

This video is a sensationalized/misquoted version of this news item. Please read this whole article before viewing the video. Click here if the video is not visible.

INHR Associates, a Noida-based human resources consulting company, conducted a survey of over 400 CEOs, CFOs, heads of business units and other executives with P&L responsibilities from 250 software companies across 10 cities in India to get their estimates of the impact of the recession on their business in 2009.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:


Effect of recession - 2009
Image by ngkabra via Flickr

Figure 2.2 from INHR Associates report on the effects of recession on IT/ITES companies in India in 2009