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UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems

Published April 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems



At first glance, the title – understanding the internet – seems an anachronism, something out of place in the modern world, where the internet is ubiquitous, at least among the educated classes; and is rising fast in the rest of the people. You only have to look around to see people using the internet, gaining from it, and being completely comfortable with this medium.

And yet, that is precisely what my contention is : that this medium is actually the least understood, and in just about everything. The potential of this medium is being felt in just about every human endeavour, and as I have observed before, its raw power to reach into the gut of existing models is only just being felt across industries. What is this raw power I am referring to? And why is it the least understood medium?

The average person comes across individual levels or layers of the internet at various times; this interaction is in two distinct areas in terms of purpose of usage : Personal, & Business / Professional. On a personal level, we come across Facebook and Twitter, News Apps, Online Shopping portals, and many more sites targeted at the individual; traditional classification extends to such terms as Social Media, News Portals, and so on and so forth. But, on a professional level, depending upon our profession, we similarly interact with many sites and types of portals like dedicated B2B or B2E portals and other sites – which include the above listed personal sites!

If the above sounds confused or disorienting, let me clarify : my point, simply put, is that we need to reverse our outlook; when we think of the internet, all of us think of it from the lens our personal interaction on the internet, even when looking at the professional aspects. We always think of how the internet has reduced distances, made price discovery easier, information dissemination faster and borderless, made customer contact easier and so on – in other words, looking at it Point-To-Point, individually or lacking a systems perspective

The internet is all that, and much much more. We need to turn it around 180 degrees, and look at it from a business perspective, from a strategic perspective and a systems perspective to understand the raw power, as well as appreciate how little we understand this medium, or just how wrong we have been. This has profound implications for all businesses, as we shall see.

Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems
Let us start at a very basic level – the simple point-to-point interaction. Consider pricing – in any market, it is now common for a customer to compare prices with the internet; it is equally common for a customer to compare prices across geographies. This applies to retailers and distributors as well; meaning, quite simply, that price differentials within the same market will go the way of the typewriter. What all team managers, especially senior managers, tend to forget is that this also applies to your teams, which is now stunningly well connected internally.
It has always been a simple sales tactic, that of differential pricing, which in an earlier era, was nearly undetectable, given the low interconnectivity between the constituent customer profiles and the channel partners / retail / Your own team members. This at times unhealthy practice gave results while harming the system and leading to a leak of corporate money, and harm to many a top performer and talent, as needless discounts are given;  in the current era of Facebook + LinkedIn + Whatsapp + Email + Mobile Telephones, this is just not tenable, as people are way too interconnected at each level of the business ecosystem – making for easy discovery of the stated underhanded tactics.
The combination of just these 5 – Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Email and Mobile is hard to beat. You can share information over the mobile – back it up with proof of pricing by the simple expedient of a mail or a Whatsapp photograph, or look and compare online and offline prices with ease, given the penetration of the Mobile Internet. Convergence of technologies at its very, very best.
From a systems perspective, this means that the old tactic of having differential prices for varied distributors and geographies is now a much more challenging task, given the convergence of technologies and gadgets, and ease of connection. It has meant unhindered flow of information across and within markets, ensuring that the price differential gets easily exposed. This is driven by the entire interconnected ecosystem, as employees and the channel connect with each other with ease over various media; customer openly voice opinion on the internet etc.  
What most companies further do not understand is this : there is an increasing push-back from the retail end of the business as well as from teams, who are now converging into interest groups and power fora, and getting together to force companies and managers to alter their short-term tactics of differential pricing within the same channel as well as across channels. This is a direct result of the free flow of information wrought by the internet, the mobile and the entire information ecosystem.
And that is what I meant by stating reversing from an outward looking perspective of how the internet is changing the business environment and making life easier for businesses. That way is a strictly personal look – you are essentially analyzing the advantage you have as a professional. What needs to be done is analyse the entire impact from a systems perspective, from the perspective of not the Manager, but the entire business. In other words – get into the shoes of the Business, not the shoes of the person managing the business.
And that is the most critical learning, and the real power – we aren’t talking about just the internet, we shouldn’t be thinking about just the internet, but rather the entire ecosystem – The Internet, The Computer System, The Mobile, The Falling Cost of Access, The Fast Rising Usage. We should further be looking at it holistically, and from a dispassionate analytical perspective, and changing the operating style as the market changes all around you.
In simple terms, the entire basis of business, the entire basis of doing business on the ground is changing fast, driven by a vastly changed ecosystem. And managements just aren’t in sync with this simple reality. What has happened is, quite simply, the entire bedrock on which internal systems are based has vanished almost overnight, contributing to an exponential rise in pressure on employees, managers, systems and organizations alike, as they failed to change with the times…
There are many other parameters – like the impact on the simple things  – like telling the truth, or stretching the truth; and how the internet ecosystem is setting about revealing the truth and making lying impossible for organizations; or the simple fact that even some of the most tech-savvy organizations don’t understand the 14-21” screen, and how it is to be used for maximum impact, or indeed how to strategically use it… which is the subject of the next article in the Digital Series, of which this is the third…

WhatsApped!

Published October 15, 2014 by vishalvkale

THE PROBLEM STATEMENT

The title says it all. WhatsApped! That is exactly what I was, as I noted 1086 messages on my mobile one fine day. I was flabbergasted, and literally stunned, and more than a little irritated. I have seen 100 messages, 200, and even 300 in a day. But 1000 messages? That is much too much, any which way you look at it. There is simply no way I was going to read all 1086 messages, that much was certain. 

Then my mind turned to my own addiction to WhatsApp – and I realised I was part of the problem, not a victim. I was both the problem as well as the victim of overload – not because I was a massive and active contributor to the stream of messages on a daily basis; but because I was an active reader of the jokes and other pointless messages. My participation was usually limited to Politics and news related issues, which make up less than 5% of the daily flow. 

I further asked myself : was I really enjoying those jokes and messages? Answer : Some, I was; some I found gross and in bad taste; and some were downright offensive. Further, I asked myself, was I gaining any information from it? Unequivocally, no, I wasnt. Was I wasting my time? Answer – yes, I was, beyond even a shade of doubt. Was I wasting battery and memory space? Yes, I was. Was I going to read all messages, or do I read all messages? No, I dont. 


SELF ANALYSIS, AND DISADVANTAGES

These are relatively minor aspects & obstacles, and easily overcome by the simple expedient of placing groups or notifications on silent, and ignoring and / or deleting messages by clearing chat history. It takes less than a minute to do it across 7 groups. Simple, childishly so. Memory space can be freed by deleting snaps, videos and images, and turning off auto-download. But in doing so, I am firstly being less than honest with group members. And more importantly, I stand the real risk of missing an important message sent on the group. It has happened, you know. People do tend to forget that important things should be personally followed up individually. 

Then I began thinking – wait a minute. 1000-plus messages! What the heck? We dont talk to each other on the phone, say we are busy; but find the time to send each other a thousand messages, as well as the time and inclination to read them – judging from the conversations that go on? Just think about it : one thousand messages! Now that, I respectfully submit, is information overload – especially considering there is not an iota of information in all that lot. 

Then I remembered the fights that happen on WhatsApp groups, one of which I have been a personal part of. Fights on politics, jokes and any sundry item. Fights which go to the extent of relations souring and people breaking off. And all this over a written communication over a technological marvel that was meant to make things easy for us. 

And that is when the incongruity, the ridiculousness and the outright immaturity of it all hit me hard. Information overload, fights, time wasted – all over something so unimportant as a WhatsApp message. We dont communicate over the phone – but stay glued to the mobile for hours on texting, WhatsApping etc. We get into squabbles over this, we insult, and insult openly – unmindful  of the fact that the whole group is listening in, or reading in. For the record- this isnt about WhatsApp, which is an immensely useful productivity tool, as I cover below. It is about me, and people like me, and how we use this wonderful application. 


WHATSAPP AS A PRODUCTIVITY TOOL

As a utility, and a productivity tool, WhatsApp is a great enhancer and value addition. You can send snaps and images of documents for instant verification and / or feedback before sending hard copies; you can send images of competitive activities in the market, new products; You can share new ideas, plans and developments instantly over the entire team in the twinkling of an eyelid; and so on and so forth. It adds considerable value to the business equation in terms of efficiency added and ease of communication as well  as aiding decision making. 

As an entertainer, it has  great potential – I was a recent part of one such activity, wherein some of us bloggers got together to write a novel for a competition; in that, the power of WhatsApp was a tremendous boost, as each person could read the entire groups’ views and participate as per his or her own convenience and time. We exchanged views, fought, argued, planned – but all of it was for some purpose : the completion of the novel, which can be found here : The 16th Hour. Yet again, WhatsApp proved a valuable tool and productivity enhancer, and much superior to mails and other forms of communication for the activity at hand. 

DECISION TIME!

When I put it all  together : the path was clear. Information overload, fights with friends and/or family, waste of time… it all added up to only one direction. Exit all family  groups; since they are friends and family – they will understand. I dont think being a part of a WhatsApp group defines family, at least. I cant run the risk of spoiling relations just because of a stupid fight on WhatsApp. And whether or not I am on WhatsApp, I will remain family, that is certain. Ditto for friends groups – put on permanent silent, or exit. 

Frankly, when  we get into silly fights with friends and family over status updates, WhatsApp jokes, it is time to take a call. When we get 1000 messages a day, it is time to ask ourselves some hard questions. Especially if some vital and informative messages get lost in the clutter of jokes and pointless messages that clutter up the board. 

People tend to forget- in a normal conversation, the words are lost, and not recorded for posterity. In a normal conversation, passive listeners have the option of moving away from two sparring fighters. In a normal conversation, an insult to another person is heard by only the people in proximity, who tend to intervene or move away. Well, in WhatsApp, the entire fight is in the open, and recorded for all posterity. 

WhatsApp is not meant for this – it is a productivity tool. It is also a tool for fun – but that does not mean cheap fun, or insults, or pokes. It also behooves a person to think before posting – would it hurt anyone in the group? Having seen huge fights {as different from disagreements}, I know that this is not the case. I, too, have been a party to a fight. And lost a relation temporarily. Once is more than enough, thank you very much. 

You dont like it, or it bores you – ignore it, like I find non-veg jokes risque and bad. Or leave the group; but dont insult and/or fight. And on being insulted, rather than respond – shut up, or leave the group; preferably the latter. And please limit those messages; but that latter bit is an individual matter – as I said, I didnt like it – so I quit the groups… having said that, I still cant see the point of getting 1000 messages, and not one person having the time to speak to each other over the phone! But that is me. Perhaps I am a bit old in the big, bold new world that has been WhatsApped, or TechApped! to be more specific… 

I prefer it the good old way…

meaning… “tring, tring… hello?”