A Recursive Recap – Year in Review 2021
This is that time of the year, when we review the previous year and make resolutions and predictions for the coming year, and the Year in Review 2021 is no different.
However, on this occasion, let me go back 2 years in time to December 2019, when I had made 20 predictions for the year 2020, and within a few days, our worlds changed forever.
One year ago, in December 2020, as we got ready to welcome 2021, we realized that nothing went as per plan in the previous year, 2020. However, I courageously revisited all my predictions made at the beginning of 2020 and also wrote one of the most comprehensive year-end reviews – “2020 Year in Review“, that I have ever written.
So, I thought of starting the 2021 review with a recursive recap – outlook for 2021, the year that started with a review of 2020. The Year in Review 2020, in turn started with the prediction for 2020, that was made at the end of 2019.
Without getting caught up in this recursive loop, let us stay with 2020 for a minute, and learn few lessons from history, before getting back to 2021.
2020: A Featured Review
2020 indeed turned out to be a milestone year, but in a very different way. Since our lives and world changed so dramatically, I went into an introspection overdrive and wrote a 20 part Year in Review series to bid adieu to the year and welcome 2021 with new hopes and aspirations.
As I revisited my predictions at the beginning of the year, with the actual turn of events, I was surprised. Even though the external circumstances played havoc with all aspects of our existence, my predictions did not fall too much out of place. Maybe, I am a wild thinker, after all, or maybe there are time tested lessons, that can be shared.
In fact, the content from the Year in Review 2020 series has been valued and appreciated, appearing as a featured snippet on Google and other search engines, ahead of billions of search results. I hope to reiterate and add more perspective to the 21 lessons for 2021.
I will conclude this review of 2021, by comparing it with my opening remarks for 2021, but let us save that for later. (In other words, stay tuned, this is going to be a long multi-part Year in Review of 2021).
Let’s first start with a fresh account of 2021, without anchoring it to the expectations and turn of events of earlier years.
A 21 Gun Salute to 2021
So, here is my plan for the review of 2021. Lets give a 21 gun salute to the memories of 2021, and can we even commence the review without sparing a thought for the warriors, fighters and those who left us during this year? Thanks to the heroic efforts of countless nameless faceless ordinary people who rose to do extra-ordinary things, we are having this conversation right now.
Let us start the 21 gun salute to 2021 with a note of gratitude for every breath we take, despite the AQI (air quality index) levels dampening the sound of the gunshots!
Lucky 7: The Review Segments
As there is a lot to write home about, I propose to cover this year’s review in 7 segments with three key points in each segment, making up for the 21 guns salute to 2021. And, finally we will welcome 2022 with the grand finale!
So, let us get started, with the first review segment, Digital and Technology
Part 1 – Digital and Technology
#1 – Citizen Development
I had written a detailed note on Citizen Development last year. In a nutshell, citizen developers are non-technical business users who develop business applications, for use in real life, using little to no code development platforms.
This year, I continued to encourage this practice and evangelize the concept. The demand for anything digital has shot through the roof, and citizen development can come to the rescue in some cases. However, it is not yet a substitute for full blown system development efforts.
My efforts got recognized on multiple fronts this year as the creative implementation that I led got featured as an extensive case study on Zoho’s global website and we even received an international innovation award for this project. Not only was the project recognized on the technology dimension, but it was also recognized for innovation in ‘people and skills’ category by Financial Times and I was quoted in the international edition.
However, most crucially, I was able to share my knowledge in a Board Room series webinar session, sharing my perspectives on citizen development and what it takes to be successful in this journey.
I hope to continue to evangelize Citizen Development and play a bigger role in the larger ecosystem in 2022.
#2 – Cloud Computing
The share of cloud applications and infrastructure has been on the uptick over the last few years. However, in the last couple of years the demand has seen a hockey stick curved growth – the activity may have flattened on account of the lockdown, but it shot off exponentially, once the floodgates opened up.
I had introduced the 5 ACEs framework for adoption of Digital, as I believe it helps put the various digital technologies in perspective and helps the business to align their goals with the plethora of tools and technologies, without losing sight of the bigger picture.
I have conducted sessions on Cloud Computing during the year, that were well received. In particular, the participants found the integration of the Data and Analytics ecosystem with the traditional SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, (Software, Platform and Infrastructure as a Service) quite intriguing.
I hope to continue on this path in the coming year. While the demand for digital is real and will continuously keep increasing, things need to be put into perspective by combining business needs with technology, and I hope to get the two together in ’22!
#3 – Technology for Management
In the tech world, the focus continues to be on enabling sales, customer interface and core operations, while the management and governance layers are an afterthought, in many cases. This is particularly true of instances where digital transformation projects are driven by team members who are not part of, or not in sync with the top management. I believe that one of the key reasons for my success with technology projects over the last few years is that I have been wearing the tech and management hat at the same time.
In this context, I was pleased to share my perspectives in an interesting session organized by the Businessworld group (BW Legal) earlier this year on Legal Tech Solutions for law firm management.
From my early education days without access to computers, to ‘running away’ from IT courses during my stint at IIM Bangalore, I have covered a lot of ground. However, when one still feels like a learner and is curious, there is still a long long way to go, and I hope to take even bigger and bolder strides in 2022 on Technology and Digital!
While the quantum of changes around technology appear to be overwhelming, we only need to be curious and keep learning and improving each day (or each month, if that’s your pace), to stay relevant or even stay ahead of the curve.
Part 2 – The Intelligence Stack
Let us turn our attention to what I like to call the Intelligence Stack. This is the term that I use for all things related to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning (AI/ML), Data Science and intelligent processing of data. Last year, I had written about Top 10 things to know about AI for 2021, and about how AI cannot replace natural stupidity. This time, let us see how the intelligence stack can be put to use to achieve our end goals.
#4 – Reimagining Business Through Analytics
Throughout my education and career, people around me have noticed and appreciated my numerical prowess. However, the term ‘analytics’ was not in vogue back in the days, and I always felt that crunching numbers or discerning patterns in data was only one of the tools to achieve an end game, or a business objective.
I continue to stick to my stand, despite all the hype around Analytics, with one caveat. The immense power of the Intelligence Stack, along with exponential growth of data, algorithms and computing power, allows us to re-imagine and re-define business models itself.
I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on re-imagining business through analytics with a curious audience at IIT Kanpur earlier this year. The talk is available on their YouTube channel, and recommended if you want to get a fresh perspective on Analytics. In 2022, we don’t want to miss the woods for the trees – any reference to decisions trees and random forests is unintended!
#5 – Business Applications of the Intelligence Stack
Despite all the hype that surrounds the Intelligence Stack (AI, in particular), one of the biggest challenges that businesses face is the realization of RoI (return on investment) from their AI initiatives. I have always propounded the theory of ‘business first’, or purpose and goals first, in case you are not undertaking these initiatives for business, but for social enterprise or for personal use.
Yes, personal use is a legitimate category. For instance, I have developed algorithms for my personal use, that help us understand and (to a reasonable extent) predict the stock markets, informing investment decisions.
Coming back to the question of returns from AI initiatives (rather than returns from the stock market), this is a massive problem. Most, if not all, education and training efforts are dedicated to teaching the technical and operational aspects of the intelligence stack. However, there is little to no focus on developing skills that help executives apply the intelligence stack to solve business problems.
I have created a custom framework, that provides a blueprint to capture value realized from the intelligence stack, or to CRANK up the business shaft. It was good to share the learning and provide an overview of the framework during the year with working professionals from this space and students.
I hope to package this knowledge in a way that it can benefit more people, and bring about a revolution in the way we think about applying the intelligence stack to solve problems and achieve our goals. Lets make the year 2022 a breakthrough year of getting RoI from the intelligence stack.
#6 – Functional Cohesiveness
I have already spoken a lot about the need to apply a business lens to the intelligence stack. However, in reality, most business executives wear a pre-dominantly functional lens, and see the problems with their own unique world view.
For instance, imagine the heads of Finance, HR and IT discussing the implementation of a state of the art (and prohibitively expensive) tool that ‘promises’ to reduce manpower costs by half. The three functional heads are probably not thinking on the same lines at all. The technocrat wants the latest tools, because it is cutting edge, even though the claims are not backed by evidence. The HR head is probably thinking about the people impact and the morale of the remaining workforce, if half of their colleagues are not working with them anymore. No prizes for guessing what’s on the minds of Finance – RoI – that’s a slam dunk!
But most importantly, the business head is probably thinking about what problem this initiative will solve and weighing the risks and potential benefits, while trying to chart an implementation roadmap that takes into account the change management dynamics as well.
I have always been a great believer in functional cohesiveness, and encouraged the team to think from each others’ perspectives, rather than live up to our functional stereotypes.
On that note, I was quite excited to moderate the discussions at a unique CIO-CFO colloquium held earlier this year. The discussions brought to the fore the crying need to break down functional silos and get teams to appreciate each others’ perspectives. It is only then that we can realize tangible value from the nebulous promise of the intelligence stack.
The pace at which the world is changing, and the accompanying uncertainty is forcing organizations to re-draw boundaries and create new rules of the game. I expect this trend to accelerate in the coming times. So, minding your own business is fine, but be mindful of others’ business too!
Coming up: Part 3 onwards
Hope you enjoyed reading so far. Even though the areas that I have covered so far revolve around technology, digital revolution and AI/ML, Analytics etc., I have tried to make them sound less technical and add a business flavour, so that it can be appreciated by one and all.
Democratizing AI and technology is a purpose I hold close to my heart, and being an autodidact, I would encourage everyone to go outside their comfort zone and learn something new in 2022. Speaking of which, in the next segment, we will change track to education and learning, and about my experiences with managing careers.