Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Healthcare Speech Notes for Obama

Ok, the delivery was great, but the content could have been more clear if he'd used these notes from Dan Roam:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare Debate Explained on Back of a Napkin

Author and visual thinker Dan Roam does an amazing job of explaining what the healthcare debate is all about, all with pictures drawn on the back of a napkin . Here's a link to his blog where he provides more commentary on this, or you can check out the slideshows below:
I wish the media took a cue from this to put the politics and business aside and actually explain the fundamentals of this debate, instead of all the FUD that's been going on in the townhall meetings.

BTW - if you haven't checked out Dan Roam's work on visual thinking called Back of the Napkin -- be sure to check it out. Good stuff!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Another New Beginning

This week I completed my tenure as an employee at Responsys and started my new venture OpenI -- a company that provides open source business intelligence software and services to businesses that want to be data-driven in their operational strategy.

I guess you can call me a serial entrepreneur now, since OpenI will be my fourth startup -- last one being Loyalty Matrix, which was acquired by Responsys in 2007. I am happy to say that the marketing analytics technology we built at Loyalty Matrix found a way to express itself as Responsys's own analytics product Interact Insight. It was interesting to see the formal structures it requires in a more established company to release a product -- valuable lessons that I'll surely apply in future product releases. It is also great that Responsys will remain a client of OpenI, so that we can advance this technology in a mutually beneficial fashion (and also that OpenI has a few clients from the get go :-).

OpenI will partner with Codemandu, a software development company in Kathmandu, Nepal that has provided the engineering help for OpenI in the past. Codemandu will help us deliver support and integration work for our clients. So -- if you have software projects in business intelligence, reporting, and/or analytics (or know of someone who does) -- we are here for you :-) Basically, if you are an on-demand company that stores transactional data for your customers, we can help you build an on-demand analytics product based on OpenI -- something you can private-label and up-sell to your customers.

So, needless to say -- next couple of months are going to be crazy, and pretty exciting. Personally, I have a lot of pent-up ideas on making BI more accessible and actionable, and we will be toying around with these ideas in OpenI. And given the nature of open source, these experimentations will happen in public domain -- and so you'll see some fun stuff appear on this blog and OpenI site.

The BI landscape has definitely evolved since OpenI started back in 2005. Most of the big guys (Busienss Objects, Hyperion, Cognos, SPSS) have been acquired by even bigger guys (SAP, Oracle, IBM). On the open source BI side, Pentaho and JasperSoft have done a remarkable job in leading the sector. Plus there has been a great deal of movement in on-demand BI as well - with Swivel, GoodData, and PivotLink, and also at desktop level with Tableau. We will definitely give our best shot to stand on the shoulders of these giants and raise the bar a bit differently.

I recall Sting (lead singer of The Police, for the benefit of our younger readers) say this in a Rolling Stone interview once when asked about his unique singing voice -- something like "Nobody can sing like me -- I'm not saying that I have the best voice in Rock 'n Roll, it's more like someone can sing better or worse, but they can't sing exactly like me"

So, this I can say -- OpenI will be unique in its approach to BI. Stay tuned..



Friday, June 19, 2009

OpenI 2.0 RC1 is Released

OpenI is an open source BI software for SaaS or On-Demand deployments. I have been involved with it since 2005, and it's come a long way since then. We released the release candidate RC1 for version 2.0 on June 17th -- and it's good to see our ranking go back in the top 100 of

For those of you who dabble with software that involves reporting and analytics, it is worth a look -- there is a demo at (login: openi2/openi2) -- and it's always great to hear your feedback.

Please pass the word around.

Yours Truly @ Nepali Business Forum @ ANA 2009 - Oakland Convention Center - July 4 11:30 am

For the past few months, I have been working with a few friends - Niley Shrestha, Jagdish Pandey, Sanjay Khatri from our virtual Nepali Business Network - under the guidance of Rita Stecklein "Dijyu", to put together a business forum at the upcoming ANA (Association of Nepalis in Americas) convention. The venue is at the Oakland Convention Center, and our theme is to highlight entrepreneurship amongst Nepalese around the world.

It has been a fun process - soliciting speakers, refining the theme, and also collaborating with Bineet Sharma, Pukar Malla, Kumar Pandey, and friends at CAN-USA - we had a last minute change in speakers rosters where yours truly had to jump in from the bench -- and here is the formal announcement:

The Nepali Business Network (NBN) is pleased to announce and host the Business Forum at the Association of Nepalis in the Americas (ANA) - 2009 Convention.
When: July 4th (1130–1230 hours)
Where: Oakland Convention Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607
The Forum presents experiences of members of the Nepali diaspora engaged in business and entrepreneurial ventures. In particular, the credentials of our speakers (Mr. Bhawani Sapkota, Mr. Ram Sah and Mr. Sandeep Giri) span the fields of software and IT products, mobile telecommunications, and commercial and residential real-estate. The speaker profiles can be found in the ANA and NBN websites.
We invite and welcome your attendance at the Business Forum. Come listen / participate in the interactive discussion focused around the ‘Nepali Experience’ in areas of business, commerce and high technology as well as sharing of thoughts and ideas on some questions around entrepreneurship.
  • What does entrepreneurship mean in a world where ideas are boundless, seamless and traversing at the speed of light, commercial borders are interconnecting and expanding, virtualization is growing and for real and collaborative communications continues to be a click-of-the-mouse away?
  • Why do local and global perspectives matter in entrepreneurship and how do they support / influence innovation, marketing and delivery of new products and services?
  • In what ways can entrepreneurial vision help explore and harness business opportunities, whether they are in financial investments or in the setup, nurturing or management of businesses?
  • How is being a Nepali entrepreneur advantageous in today’s business landscape?

The Forum offers an informative and exciting session with networking opportunities during lunch. It will be held in the Oakland Convention Center. You can attend the Forum with the ANA convention registration card.

We look forward to seeing you soon!!

The Organizing Team,
Nepali Business Network (

Note: The Professional Networking Luncheon is at 1230–1330 hours, immediately following this forum. See for details.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Architecture is mostly an art of building emotions

I watched 2 amazing architects - Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano - on Charlie Rose yesterday. Something Renzo Piano said in reference to Louis Kahn's Salk Institute building in La Jolla really stuck out -- "Architecture is mostly an art of building emotions"

.. wisdom just oozes out of these great men..

Frank Gehry:

Renzo Piano:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Data Visualization is about Telling a Story

First off -- Hans Rosling is an inspiration to us all in the business of analytics and data visualization. Not only this story is extremely relevant, but the way he shows the numbers -- there is a lot to learn. I will make an attempt here to deconstruct his latest TED talk in terms of what a good BI tool show do, and also how this is a great use case of how great BI users behave:

BI Features Used by Hans Rosling:
  • The most prominent is the use of Time as a special type of "dimension". The tool knows that Time will support the concept of a Play button. This is still very novel -- most BI tool, OpenI included, treat Time as any other dimension -- you can drill up, drill down, set date filters, or date ranges -- but that's about it. Taking a lesson from here, what we should do instead is that the moment there is a Time dimension, user should have the option to "superimpose" Time in "Play" mode within a given analysis -- this should result in a Video Player like slider widget appear at the bottom of the analysis with a big old Play/Pause button next to it

  • Notice how he first presents the data bubbles in dual-axis graph and then transitions it over to a map view. This makes the concept of "background canvas" a dynamic entity for presenting data. How many other choices a user can have (in addition to dual-axis and map overlay) to use as the context in which the data should be presented

  • He keeps only 1 attribute per axis - country in X-axis, and % of population with HIV on Y-axis, and everything else (gender, per capital income, etc.) is treated as a filter (in OLAP speak). This keeps the visual very clear on its message. I have often struggled with OLAP based analyses, which have multiple dimensions on each axis, which makes sense sometimes in the table view, but the chart-view is completely horrid. Single data attribute per axis is a way to address that

  • When it comes to drilling further into data, he basically clicks on a country bubble -- and it can either split by income groups, or only the specific country goes on a time play motion while others stay the some, etc. -- the key for me here is that drilling down is best done at the visual level -- somewhere on the chart/graph itself the user should be able to isolate a data group (in this case a country bubble), and have a choice on drilling down or move it back and forth in time
Hans Rosling as a BI User/Presenter
  • Emotion, emotion, emotion... he is so far away from the stereotype of a statistician making a presentation. He cares about what he's presenting. The numbers are real people -- they get sick, and they can either get better or they can die.. you can feel that empathy as he presents.

  • Al Gore did this first (that I can recall) in The Inconvenient Truth when he brought a crane ladder to hoist him up so he can point to the tallest bar in the chart that he is showing. Maybe a bit too melodramatic -- but it drives the point, and also makes a more visceral connection with the data. Hans Rosling stands on top of a table at the beginning of the presentation to explain the different numbers he is presenting, and the audience is at once connected and engaged

  • His bringing of the long metal pole to point to the numbers instead of your generic laser pointer ("I have solidified the laser beam") is another way to get more personal and physical to show how involved he is

  • Ultimately he has leverages the BI tool to make a presentation, to tell a compelling story. Earlier in my career, we worked on a feature with another BI tool that automatically generated powerpoints from its charts. Yes, it was pretty crude, and didn't really work that well usabilitywise -- but the point is, this was definitely a feature aimed at helping users build a story off the various charts and grahps and analyses. People want to tell a story -- the BI tool should help them do that.
Ultimately, watching Mr. Rosling is definitely inspirational -- I can only hope that OpenI will one day does the things he's shown us in this presentation. I'm sure we will get there in due time, but it is the spirit in which BI tools are used, and their ultimate message.. that's the important thing to keep in mind as we move the product forward.

Vote for OpenI in Community Choice Awards

Please support OpenI by voting for OpenI as the "best enterprise project" in the SourceForge.Net Community Choice Awards.

I promise you we won't forget you once we become famous :-)


Friday, May 08, 2009

San Francisco Approves Nation's Largest Municipal Solar Project

Solar project is a go, but still has critics

Despite concerns that the city is getting a raw deal, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a controversial 25-year deal with a private company to build a photovoltaic solar plant on top of a city-owned reservoir.
And from Recurrent Energy, who will be buliding this plant:
The San Francisco Sunset Reservoir Solar Project

The City of San Francisco is currently planning a five megawatt solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the City’s largest reservoir, located at 24th and Ortega Streets in the Sunset district. Upon completion, the project will consist of nearly 25,000 solar panels that span nearly twelve football fields — becoming California’s largest photovoltaic system and the nation’s largest municipal solar project. This project will more than triple the municipal solar generation in San Francisco and reduce carbon emissions by over 100,000 metric tons, furthering the City's leadership in clean energy implementation.
Everyday when I drive my son to his school, I pass by this big reservoir in the sunset district, and to think that it's going to look like this is really cool (photo simulations from Recurrent Energy's site)

Here's one from Chron with GG bridge in the background:

There have been critics that the city is paying too much money to the private builder, etc. -- and while I'm no expert, the deal does make sense for many reasons:
  • This is a great example of a city taking leadership in reducing carbon emissions, producing energy not reliant on foreign oil, and more importantly, right smack middle of the city you have the largest "billboard" you can imagine for public awareness on environmental responsibility
  • Financially, the city did a smart thing by doing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the private builder. This way, the city only pays for the energy produced by the plant at a fixed rate of $235/MWH (about 23 cents per KWH, which is approximately similar to buying power from PG&E directly at A-6 commercial rates), escalated at 3% per year over the next 25 years. This may seem high compared to what you'd normally pay -- but what this cost doesn't reflect is the hidden price of carbon emission if the city bought that energy from fossil fuel-based sources. 
  • I as a citizen of this great city, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, feel a great deal of pride that our city has the courage to take this bold step, and also to offer new programs to promote residential solar (pioneered by the city of Berkeley); and a city thrives when its citizens are proud of it, a sentiment that magnifies all the way up to the county, state, nation, and the entire planent
So, it was a great feeling today as I drove my son to his school -- I proudly pointed out to the reservoir and said "see that? our city is going to cover all that with solar panels that will produce electricity, and help our environment a the same time.."

My son's response -- "you mean we will have electric cars?"

Well, one thing at a time..

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Starter Rental Place in San Francisco

A colleague of mine moving to San Francisco asked -- "where's a good neighborhood to rent? which parts should I avoid?"

His requirements: his job is in San Bruno. Wife doesn't drive, nor wants to. No kids.

My gut response: should live in the city, easier for his wife to get around and make friends, etc. Since he needs to go to San Bruno, should live close to BART. So I sent him this map

Or get a place close to San Bruno BART station. SOMA might be another option.

Anything I might be overlooking? 

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

OpenI 2.0 Beta Released

Happy to announce that we released OpenI 2.0 beta today. Check out the updated OpenI.Org site for more news.

With this, I feel I have reached a milestone with this blog. I originally titled this blog "Business Intelligence Adventures", thinking there isn't much difference in my private versus professional life, and as such, I could pretty much blog everything under BI, since that is what I ate, slept, and breathed.

Now as I look at my posts for the last year, they seem to be all over the place, and so I questioned if this is the right blog to post everything under the sun. I think that it is probably better if I blog all BI specific rants over at the OpenI site since that is a much more relevant forum. I really need to free this blog from any topical constraints (probably at the expense of alienating some of the BI-oriented readers) to let this blog evolve through its natural course.

What does that mean? Well, you can probably guess if you look at the last few posts :-) So it will be more about life's offbeat adventures than just BI.

You be the judge.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Indians give a Middle Finger to their General Election

No, literally.

See -- yesterday was general election in India, and here is how Amitabh Bachchan describes the whole affair in his blog: 

So when the four of us are asked by paparazzi, to show our fingers in acknowledgment of us having punched our votes, we show it to them. It is another matter that, the Government marks our middle finger with an indelible ink, to avoid duplication and therefore unfair electoral procedures. Showing of the middle finger in the Western world apparently has different connotations. So I guess, in usual fashion, that is all that the press shall flash tomorrow !! And for those that may miss it here is the photo..!!

And in his post today, there are gobs of other pictures of everyone from common citizens to police to celebrities showing their pride in the democratic process. See for yourself

.. and we worry about "hanging chads" :-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jon Stewart hosts Jim Cramer

In case you missed it:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Missing Conversion Metrics and Power

It's been a crazy couple of months, now trying to catch up on my posts :-) 

First on BI front, I am working on an email metrics benchmark that we will present this week on Friday exclusively to Responsys customers. What's intriguing is how few companies actually track conversion and actually calculate ROI. One would think that if you were spending any money on "one-to-one" marketing campaigns, wouldn't you at least track how much money you made on the campaign? Few years ago, when we worked with a different email company, the big spiel was about moving on from open rates to clickthrough rates -- but clickthrough rate doesn't tell you the real deal, does it? And it's not that tricky to configure your website to track conversions using pixel-tracking. Am I missing something? Can someone please explain why companies are not doing this? Not just to make my benchmarking project more fun (although that will be nice), but come on people, for your own sakes!

Ok - I'll get off my soapbox.

Secondly, I've picked up a new hobby borderlining on obsession -- this whole whoopla around clean tech. Yes, yes... I know you're going to say, another one jumping on the bandwagon, and maybe I am, but seriously, you have to admit that there are very few things as important for this world than finding, and (more importantly) scaling clean, renewable sources of energy.

Earlier this month, I was in Nepal for a week doing some training at our offshore software development company Codemandu (and also visited family, old friends, and tried some home cuisine -- business with pleasure indeed :-) -- but back to my main point -- the government there has issued a 16-hour daily load-shedding because of power scarcity. That's right, you only get 8 hours of electricity in a day, and even that in two 4-hour chunks. Trust me, you get a whole different perspective on energy conservation when you have that sort of constraint. 

Interestingly, this has led to a huge increase in the sales of inverter and battery-based backup systems. Everyone who can afford one, has bought an inverter and a battery. At Codemandu offices, they have enough inverters and batteries to make sure all computer systems can run uninterrupted for at least 24 hours. One of the officials from the local utility company told me that with the load-shedding the power consumption has actually gone up, because in the 8 hours when electricity does get turned on, everyone hordes the energy like crazy and stores it into however many batteries they can get their hands on to.  And because there aren't any new power sources becoming available any time soon, they are now talking about running some large-scale diesel generators to keep up with the demand.

Both these instances, the lack of conversion tracking and the lack of electricity, it seems to me a manifestation of a lack of foresight, although in different levels of extreme and of course, very different levels of impact on daily human lives. Well, I'm sure lots of critics have probably explained and commented on both these phenomena, but I'm more interested in learning how to get out of these bad situation caused by bad behavior. 

Fixing conversion tracking is easy -- just start tracking. It'll take you a few hours at max in terms of IT resources. And while you're at, track your product/services sold and the dollar amount. Running campaigns without any ROI figures is ... well .. flying blind.

Fixing lack of electricity is not that easy -- if people still wait for another big power plant to be built, nothing will be solved. My advice: don't wait for a big government or corporation. They can't do anything any time soon. What you can do is to take the matter in your own hands. I've been very fascinated by the advances in both solar and wind energy where it truly democratizes energy production by enabling a household to produce its own energy. Yes, the cost is still a factor, but the prices have now come down to a point where if you get 3-5 year financing, your monthly payments are the same as your regular energy bill.  And specially when you have 16-hour blackout, it makes all the sense in the world to go for it.

But above all, there is something very liberating about this model where each house and each building being its own little energy producer, like a million little mini-Chevrons or PG&E's, being self-sufficient and big time conservationist, while producing clean energy -- I don't have the actual projections, but I'm pretty sure it's a hell of a lot better than burning more borrowed diesel to fix the situation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Please Vote for Me - How Election Change Human Behavior

Last night, while every TV channel was showing Obama's inauguration speech and the never-ending series of inaugural balls, I ended up on KQED, local PBS channel, which had this striking documentary called "Please Vote for Me". The premise is:
In an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China, three eight-year old children compete for the position of Class Monitor. Their parents, devoted to their only child, take part and start to influence the results.
Here's a clip - check your local PBS station to see airtime

What's insane is how the candidates' behavior towards their classmates changes. Without any coercing, they start forming alliances, offer bribes for votes, become rude and even demeaning to their opponents -- all in all, pretty disturbing traits for eight-year old's. Then things get worse as their parents get involved in shaping their campaign strategy and speeches.. and we wonder why Karl Rove was (and probably still is) so sought after by candidates.

Election to these children mean their own friends need to make a choice -- who do their friends like the most? And these three candidate go through excruciating emotional torture trying to deal with this, asking their friends to make the choice, and even sell them on it by any means possible.

Maybe it is just wrong to have such young children go through this sort of experience. They just acted out their normal reaction to the situation, probably made worse by their parents' participation. As they mature, they'll be better able to mask their emotions and act more cordially and keep a straight face when they try these questionable tactics to win the election. But I can't help but wonder -- if these children's behavior is any indicator of normal reaction of a human being running in an election -- God help all these candidates we have running for offices deal with their demons.

Business Intelligence for Startups

A product's progress is measured not by features, but by user experience.

You can add a lot of value to your product by removing features.

Spending 6 to 12 months with a 4-5 person team to develop the first release of your product is way too long
. You can't wait that long to get market feedback.

These were just a few golden nuggets of wisdom in Dave McClure's presentation yesterday at SD Forum's BI SIG meeting. At one point, Dave said -- "I come from an engineering background, I used to write code.. and I can't believe that I'm saying this to you -- but all the architecture, algorithms and engineering behind your product don't matter as much as how strong your marketing is, which starts with user experience.. we all tend to develop a lot of cool features which the user never ends up discovering" -- reminded me of that tree that fell in the middle of a big forest (did it really fall?)

Much of Dave's talk may seem like web analytics 101. He's got a (cleverly named) "Startup Metrics for Pirates" called AARRR (stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue) to measure your overall success. Then as a startup, you focus on improving these metrics one step at a time (here is his detailed presentation):
  1. Make a Good Product: Activation and Retention
  2. Market the Product: Acquisition and Referral
  3. Make Money: Revenue and Profitability
Personally, I get the step 2 and 3, but it is the first step where a great many of us falter because it is not so easy as it sounds.

Part of making a great product is to have inspiration, vision, and an intense passion to solve a particular problem -- and then you hope that there are millions of others out in the market who see the problem with the same high priority as you do -- and then also hope that your solution beats the competition by being in a completely different league, either by being the first of its kind, or by introducing a completely superior technology, er, user experience.

So can you do all that in 3 months or less? Seems like you have to, if you want to survive in the web 2.0 world (or whichever version we are on these days)

This clearly does not apply to everything. It only applies to a certain class of products/services where customers can experience the
product on the web, and where the quality of user experience can
be measured (even if it is a model of lead generation online and fulfillment being offline)

So if you are building a new product/service today -- can you fit it into this model? Well, one way to try it out is to strip away all the features until you are left with just one or two that are your core differentiators, and see if you can create a version of it that can be experienced completely online. But the point is, if you can do this, you have a framework to measure success a lot earlier in the game. One key edge that startups generally have over bigger organizations is the speed of their product development iteration. How soon can you release a feature to your customers, get feedback and go through a series of subsequent iterations and releases?

Dave's "Pirate Metrics" are about tracking the effectiveness of these iterations, but first you have to configure your business practice so this model can fit. Not a bad thing if you can.