Musings from the World of Consulting

Feb 14

Musings from the World of Consulting turned 3 today! Cannot believe how quickly time flies by.

Musings from the World of Consulting turned 3 today! Cannot believe how quickly time flies by.

(Source: assets)

Dec 11

Will Bitcoin Undermine the U.S. Dollar? -


For those lacking a subscription, I have summarized the key messages:

Bitcoin’s perceived value may diminish as more copycat virtual currencies emerge Recent surge in bitcoin is due to Chinese interest. Potential reasons include closed capital account, lack of sound alternatives and desired for diversification

Dec 07

Languages used often in analytical circles

Outside of commercial tools like SAS, there is a lot of innovation that uses open source languages to get the necessary information from the underlying data. 

Some popular languages include:

Python

R

Nov 24

What are the primary traits of a great people manager?

Answer by Edmond Lau:

The Gallup Organization did a 25-year study that included over 1 million employee surveys and 80,000 manager interviews across 400 organizations to identify 12 elements of a great manager.  Mark Buckingham and Curt Coffman reported on these elements in First, Break All the Rules, and Rodd Wagner and James Harter further refined the ideas in 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

The 12 elements listed below correlated with increased productivity, profits, employee retention, and customer satisfaction.

http://businessjournal.gallup.co…

Translated into more actionable behaviors, these 12 elements could be interpreted as:

  1. Make sure employees know what’s expected of them.
  2. Provide employees with what they need to do their jobs.
  3. Match the right person to the job.
  4. Recognize and praise good work often.
  5. Care about your employees as people.
  6. Encourage mentoring.
  7. Listen to employee opinions.
  8. Connect employees’ work to the larger mission.
  9. Hold high standards.
  10. Encourage friendships in the workplace.
  11. Provide regular feedback (at least once every 6 months).
  12. Help your employees learn and grow.
View Answer on Quora

Oct 24

iBeacons and BLE: Coming to an app near you -

Just got back from a Meetup on experimenting with iBeacon and more importantly, developing BLE aware applications. Quite insightful. 

Ironically, BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), a marketing term coined by the folks at Nokia, is now supported by most of Apple’s product lines, and some of the Android devices (though Android itself has limited supported APIs). 

Apple’s approach to iBeacons is quite interesting and provides a foundation for interesting development of applications (locale driven context) as well as integration with future devices (ala Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch). 

In the next 6 - 8 months, one can expect to see retailers starting to adopt this - thinking of some of the more digitally savvy ones like Burberry - where their iOS application transmits your size information while providing information on new items / trends / backgrounds as one moves around the store. 

Interesting times, indeed. 

Sep 18

What web standard do insurance companies use to share data to 3rd party websites?

Summary of exchange standards in Insurance

How do websites like eHealth Insurance get their detailed quotes? XML?
View Question on Quora

Sep 03

Which is the best and most used Stock Exchange Index for Insurance Companies?

How to track the Insurance sector via an ETF?

View Question on Quora

Aug 30

Is mobile phone insurance profitable?

Answer by Nauman Noor:

The short answer is Yes, very profitable.

Asurion (Your Technology Protection Company) is the primary insurance provider for the top 4 carriers in the US - they have also recently expanded to Europe through an acquisition about 3 years ago.

It is owned by the PE firms - an article in Businessweek circa 2010 (Is Asurion Cell Phone Insurance Worth It?) alluded to net profits being around $500M on revenues of $3.8B (of which about $400M is paid to the PE firms, leaving a net profit of $100M).

It appears that for the most part, it is the only player (aside from Apple’s coverage for the iPhone) that the wireless carriers use, hence providing to a certain degree some pricing power in terms of fees charged as well as sourcing of refurbished units that it provides claimants.

Generally, as the article referenced mentioned, it is not a good deal for consumers given the payments involved, the deductibles applicable and the replacement value of the refurbished insurance.

Hope this helps!
View Answer on Quora

Aug 29

Is the Gartner claim that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO plausible?

Answer by Nauman Noor:

I don’t work for Gartner nor am affiliated with them in any manner. I do feel though that directionally the statement is quite believable once you consider three key aspects:

1. What is being CMO spend being compared against

If you were to review the spend in most IT organizations, a good 60-70% (if not a bit more) is dedicated to keeping things running (e.g., data center operations, electricity, leases on infrastructure, etc.). Another 10% - 15% is typically dedicated to bug fixes, maintenance and general support.

That leaves 15-30% of the budget on providing new capabilities - discretionary spend in some ways. That then has to be divvied up across the various business areas and ofcourse, some at making IT function better.

Gartner’s projection is focused on purchase of new technologies and services by CMOs. In terms of an apples to apples comparison, it would be fair to compare and contrast this against discretionary spend.

2. What is included in the CMO technology spend

Gartner’s classification has more than just servers and analytics when it comes to CMOs and technology. It includes SEO tools, social media platforms, e-commerce and a variety of other things (see: Gartner Digital Marketing Transit Map). They are predicting that with the adoption of SaaS, CMOs will increasingly engage the providers directly versus relying on their inhouse IT counterparts. For instance, one can leverage Amazon for hosting the ecommerce site and fulfillment of orders as well.

3. Overall industry or segment specific

Spending on IT does vary by industry, just as marketing spending does as well. So there will be sectors / segments where marketing spend is nominal (e.g., OEM manufacturers) while others will spend less on IT (e.g., retailers, restaurants, food services). I believe that the projections are at an aggregate level.

As with any projection, the variance is huge and the key point to note is that CMOs will be increasingly engaged when it comes to use of technology within the enterprise. Over time, it will be viewed less as something that would be left to the CIO to be determined.
View Answer on Quora

Aug 28

TCP/IP socket starvation may have caused NASDAQ outage... -

It appears that the outage was caused by NASDAQ’s SIP (Securities Information Processor) going berserk, which resulted in trading being shut down for a good portion of the afternoon that day. 

The article points out that there were connectivity issues from Arca [to NASDAQ] which may have been a precursor to the malfunction occurring. As the good folks at Nanex point out, it could have been a simple case of TCP/IP socket starvation of the primary SIP instance that cascaded into a mess forcing a shutdown… 

In a nutshell: 

  1. Arca attempted to connect to SIP via a TCP socket, which seems to have been rejected either due to connectivity issues or just high system load at the time 
  2. Arca’s system reattempted to connect (probably as soon as the earlier connection attempt ended). The default TCP settings on the SIP resulted in ports being used up in rapid succession 
  3. [Primary] SIP was functioning in a clustered environment, with the heartbeat check occurring over TCP as well. Due to port exhaustion, heartbeat checks now start failing 
  4. Redundant SIP instance goes online and starts broadcasting. It attempted to resume where the master supposedly left off, and thus started to broadcast stale quotes (but with the current timestamp). In reality, these were rebroadcasts of what had been sent out earlier by the primary as it was still functioning.
  5. The primary SIP continues to broadcast quotes in parallel. It is able to do so as it is designed to send those via UDP which is not impacted by the TCP port exhaustion
  6. Receivers - basically everyone trading with the NASDAQ got confusing quotes from the backup and primary. To end the confusion and prevent chaos, NASDAQ unplugs the whole thing and starts clean up.

It is an interesting failure mode, which may have been avoided had there been a realistic performance test. Admittedly, the conditions that led to it are hard to replicate, though it points out a single point of failure when it comes to using the same networking stack to fulfill two tasks (primary communication and heartbeat monitoring).

When designing heartbeat monitoring for mission critical / continuously available systems, it is a good design practice to have multiple paths for heartbeats to ensure system uptime. 

This can include use of point to point Ethernet connectivity (with UDP and persistent TCP connections as checking mechanisms), serial connections (for short distances) and/or use of common data blocks on shared storage device. This way, should one path fail, alerts can be triggered informing the NOC of potential issue needing investigation.

Another good practice is to address potential loss of reliability. It could be due to a stale version of the application running (while other instances are using a newer release), application malfunction (as was the case at NASDAQ) or malicious activity (e.g., via malware).

Hence, once a server has been declared to be unavailable or more accurately, unable to function as designed, it should be removed from the production environment. Through automation and use of scripts, one can take production facing network access offline (via load balancer, router, firewall, etc.), begin forced server shutdown and/or simply kill the primary application(s) that are hosted.

It appears that the IT team at NASDAQ would benefit from a lesson in designing continuously available applications and perhaps a visit at organizations that have to bake key non-functional requirements into their production systems (thinking the likes of Google, Amazon and perhaps their counterparts at other exchanges like NYSE).

Hopefully, they don’t try to learn ‘on the job’…