Academic


As I delve back into my past coursework in Project Management, I ran into some hidden treasures. I had done some good presentations and research reports on various topics and thought of publishing some as part of my past PM series.  The first topic will be on executive decision making, one of my favorite areas of interest and the reason behind starting this blog. Prof. Ernest Forman, an expert in AHP (Analytical Hierarchy Process) taught us this class and introduced us to the topic of complex decision making. Organizations engaged in multiple projects always have difficulty in prioritizing projects. The key to arriving at a decision depends on the ability to decompose the problem into simpler, more manageable parts. First understand the goal, set the criteria and sub-criteria (objectives), identify and evaluate alternatives and synthesize to find best alternative. Listed below are two case studies analyzed by utilizing the AHP methodology.

Power point presentation on McDonalds Lawsuits

Another powerpoint on Berliner Communications consulting on Sprint’s EVDO project

 

Standard coffee Service Company, a leader in distribution of premium coffee and tea brands, offers a broad mix of brewed beverages to offices, restaurants and food service organizations. Being primarily a distributor, the company relies on extensive use of analytics to profile, segment, prospect, measure and improve customer retention and developing new customers. Standard coffee faces stiff competition in this dynamic marketplace and analytics plays the key role as a differentiator. Standard has a dedicated sales and marketing team who use analytical data to pursue leads and convert them into loyal customers.
Apart from traditional marketing channels- direct mail, television marketing, customer surveys, trade shows, feedbacks and viral marketing, standard is trying to embrace social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter etc. A dedicated team of analytical professionals mine the data, look for emerging trends, profile and segment customer data and provide key statistics for executive decision making and ad-hoc sales reporting.  A tightly knit information systems network coupled with cutting edge sales and marketing strategies has put standard ahead of rivals. Our research has allowed us to dig deeper into their analytical competencies, understand their metrics and performance measures and to evaluate and assess existing and new strategies and recommend strategies to improve bottom-line performance and achieve optimal business results.

Power point presentation on Standard Coffeee Company

[powerpoint http://www.managedecisions.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/StandardCoffee_BASlides.ppt 504 350]

Case Study analysis of Standard Coffee Company

[pdf http://www.managedecisions.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/StandardCoffeeCaseStudy_Burns_Cheerla_Dufrene_Nguyen.pdf 504 350]

 

Public Speaking is a critical skill required when conducting business matters. Whether the need is to present findings or analytic research to higher management or influence negotiations or motivate staff, effective public speaking skills may either break or make the intended results. So to hone my overall presentation skills, build self-confidence I took a class in public speaking and the power point presented below was my first persuasive speech delivered. It was a unique experience for me and I achieved the objectives I set forth for the class. I will follow up this posting with another one, an informal presentation on “The festivals of India”.

India as an outsourcing destination

Festivals of India

 

As I march towards the end of my business program, I thought of arming myself with some of the trends in technology that are playing a vital role in improving business results. So as part of this effort, I took an offering in Business Analytics, a round up of frameworks, tools and technologies that empower businesses to intelligently mine and analyze various sources of data, profile, segment, look for emerging trends, model, score, target, measure, predict and monitor key statistics for executive decision making and achieving optimal business results. I credit the content and images to Prof. Demirhan Yenigun, an accomplished web analytics expert who has taught us this class. Businesses are always competing offering comparable technologies, products and services, so the only differentiation would be high-performing business processes that will help frame and execute smart business decisions with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. At a basic level, companies need to transform their analytical capabilities from standard, drill down, ad-hoc reporting to predictive analytics – statistical, forecasting and predictive modeling and gradually progress towards prescriptive analytics – stochastic optimization.  These abilities will help businesses create better products and services, determine optimal marketing strategies and develop effective communication strategies. The key to developing such competencies must involve –

a. collection of data from transactional (transactional, customer response and prospect data) and non-transactional sources (demographic, behavioral and attitudinal)

b. organization of data (cleanse [missing values/noisy data – bin, cluster & regress], standardize, transform [smoothing, normalize – max-min, z-score & logarthmic, attribute construction] , match,  integrate and reduce [aggregate, dimensiona & numerosity reduction,discreatization/concept hierarchy generation] data – complete, accurate and consistent)

c. analysis of data (profile [Mean, Median, SD, Indices, Graphical – Pie, Bar, Line, Scatter & Box plots, correlation coefficient), segment [Descriptive – RFM, Demographic & Behavioral, Lifestage & Statistical Clustering – Hierarchical – divisive & agglomerative & Non-Hierarchical – K-means; Predictive Segmentation – simple, multiple regression, decision trees [CART, CHAID, logistic regression & Neural networks], analyze, model, score, target and measure performance)

d. warehouse disparate data from various function areas (datawarehouse, datamarts & OLAP)

e. mine knowledge to discover meaningful patterns and rules

f. measurement, collection, analysis & reporting of internet data for optimizing web usage (Web Analytics – clickstream [Google Analytics, Omniture SiteCatalyst, IBM Coremetrics & Web Trends)

  1. Perform Site Audit (site, tag, online strategy, marketing channels & domain structure)
  2. Prepare web assessment report (current state & structural recommendations)
  3. Develop new functional requirements (data extraction analysis, visitor segmentation, campaign tracking, on/offline interaction, user experience optimization & competitive intelligence analysis
  4. Determination of KPIs (site goal optimization, KPI trackinmg, KPI projections & KPI indices)
  5. Solution design (site data mapping, admin console)
  6. Tag generation (dynamic variable implementation, automated mapping & tag documentation)
  7. QA/Testing (tag validation & QA – A/B Testing & Multivariate Testing [DOE Taguchi  Dynamic content serving & implementation/results analysis)
  8. Production deployment
  9. Dashboard setup &  Ad-hoc reporting

Formula for successful online business performance (Key Insight Analysis) –

start with outcomes, evolve to behavior and then strive for the experience. Integral to the above web analytics strategy is the SEM and Online display advertising both of which are illustrated by their respective campaign and targeting processes below:

The course rounded off with a diverse listing of methods/activities for SEM optimization and the captivating presentation on social media and marketing.  The areas covered gave us great insighnts into the social media landscape, the use of demographics in the social context, best practices, marketing opportunities and social media analytics. It was astounding to know how much of influence social sites such as facebook, twitter, youtube, linkedin and myspace had on digital marketing. Full gamut of marketing tools are being used to leverage the power of social media and I am happy to have been exposed to such a cutting edge dynamic through this course.

It’s been a while since I last blogged on my academic experiences. This Fall will be my last semester at business school and I’ll be finishing all my coursework during the first half of the semester. Now that the arduous journey is over, it’s time for reflections… I’m excited and at the same time little apprehensive of what’s in store for me, moving forward. I’ve had the great opportunity to learn about various aspects of business management from some renowned professors, had some great shared thoughts and ideas, spent endless nights doing assignments, cases and exams, networked with new friends and enjoyed every moment of it. Now, armed with new knowledge and skills it’s time for me to make an impact in whatever I do as I carve out my next career progression. As I embark on a new journey in pursuit of success, challenges are bound to test my perseverance, my passion and zeal to impact change. I’m confident of overcoming any setbacks, learn from it and re-invigorate and re-invent myself to prepare for the next round of challenges. I’ll be aggressively looking for new opportunities and hope to find one soon that fits my interests and provides me the opportunity to flourish and prove myself. Until then, I’ll keep the flood gates of learning flow through…

The real estate class of Spring 2011 has been very helpful in understanding the issues with real estate development, construction issues, financing in a world of economic uncertainty and rehabilitation/repositioning concerns. The course has been very challenging and gave us insights into the underwriting process, evaluating profit potential and asset/cash flow appreciation through repositioning commercial properties. We have done financial analysis of past cases and a current project under rehab consideration. I’ve listed both the cases which have been done as team projects. Check the links below on RE cases –

Steel Street

Steel Street Financial analysis

Redevelopment of 1851 South Bell Street

South Bell Street Options Analysis

Real Estate was always thought of as a safe investment, a hard asset which can reclaim its value over time. So the question of losing your shirt never arose. But the housing crisis of 2007 has changed the dynamics. The securitization of mortgages, lapse in lending standards, over indulgence in creation of exotic financial instruments such as swaps, exotic derivatives etc., and Wall Street greed, failure of regulatory agencies and the insatiable demand from overseas investors for greater returns all culminated in the explosion of the housing bubble. Though investors were jolted, losing immense amount of wealth invested, firms went bankrupt, and foreclosures spiraled, given the discipline and risk mitigation strategies I thought tremendous opportunities existed in RE during that period of uncertainty. If a firm can thrive, prosper and emerge successfully from uncertain times, I believe that will be a true business model which is a testimony to optimal application of business strategies (both financial & operational), corporate governance, effective leadership and overall reflection of the organizational culture.

In the context of such emerging opportunities, I stepped into real estate by purchasing a SFH and see if it really made business sense to me. Though it was brought for non-investment purpose, nevertheless the experience and skills I gained as a home owner prompted me to focus more on how an investment in any real estate property – whether commercial or non-commercial can provide value. I’m trying to complement the skills I’ve had back in India from multi-family real estate and see how I can integrate some past ideas with what I’m learning here. My past experience can be traced back to my family’s long tradition of profitable investments in multi-family real estate. I felt the need to have more detailed focus on real estate finance, one of the areas of specialization I chose for my MBA program. My first stint with real estate academics has been with an exciting course on Real Estate Development. This course has lent me the required skills to:

  1. Understand in essence the real estate markets, the dynamics of supply and demand in conformity with micro and macro-economic forces
  2. Analyze specific RE markets in isolation and identify potential, lucrative investment opportunities
  3. Evaluate properties – Purchase vs. Lease based on rent rolls, cap rates and financing methods used
  4. Conduct NPV & IRR analysis using extreme scenarios (black swan events) – tenant occupancies, TI & LC allowances, rehab undertakings, debt financing, tax shields, depreciation benefits and capital gain taxes.
  5. Analyze various rehab methods and select optimal combinations such that the property is repositioned for better NOI.
  6. Apply RE financial analysis towards Office and Multi-family properties
  7. Empower oneself for tremendous opportunities in RE as an investor.

As part of this enduring learning exercise, we did an initial evaluation and comps of a multi-family property, conducted renovation analysis and recommended if the investment will provide above expected returns or not. I’m still in the learning process and hope to capitalize on my RE skills.

Click here RE Investment analysis for the document.

One of my goals of doing an MBA was to reflect accurately on the health of a firm subject to real options. Whether its business downturn, economic uncertainty or competitive pressures, the financial decisions made are strategically important to any firm. Any misguided or under-optimized decision can make a company go insolvent. So as part of my learning on advanced financial management, we’re analyzing business cases that deal with unique aspects of financial decision making. Prof. Cohen’s pedagogy is very practical and relevant. His case study approach helps us understand businesses in a larger perspective subject to myriad problems and stimulates our data analytic, reasoning and critical thinking abilities. Finance has always tickled my interest and has remained a passionate elusion to me. I hope to gain enough experience, knowledge and skills that will help me spot risks, evaluate options and make strategic, sustainable decisions.

As part of my beginnings in this wonderful world of finance, I analyzed Crocs, Inc., a tremendously successful ‘fad’ sensation that dissipated soon enough into the realm of slow, sluggish growth, economic battering and some insane business decisions. The goal was to value the firm using valuation multiples and discounted free cash flow methods, perform sensitivity analysis using gross profit margin and revalue the firm based on variations in sales and COGS. This was a unique experience as I collected the data, understood, analyzed, evaluated alternatives and synthesized value out of it. The report can be accessed here (Crocs, Inc. Case Study) as a pdf file. The report is not devoid of flaws, but I consider that a honest effort in the right direction. As we practice and iterate through cases, I hope to excel at it. I hope the day is not far when I can say with pride that I can successfully analyze firms and gauge their financial health.

AOL has been a pioneer in dial-up internet services but the dynamics of the industry changed the game plan. The disruptive innovations have rendered some erstwhile dominant players weak and they have been struggling to reinvent themselves. One such story is that of AOL.. Going by past history, AOL has been an innovative company having developed the competencies to develop and acquire new technologies and demonstrating leadership commitment to commercialize such innovations. Initial success of AOL has been attributed to a consistent strategy, supportive culture, compatible architecture, appropriate leadership and effective education. Alas! Now most of these critical elements are missing at AOL.

The recent acquisitions of AOL show the intent of AOL to reinvent itself. The old subscription based business model is being revived and the new management is embarking on the vision to be the preferred online destination for all digital content ranging from videos, blogs, news media to entertainment. Porter’s five forces model clearly explains the lost competitive advantages once enjoyed by AOL.  The current initiatives are a means to establish strategic positioning for AOL – to deliver unique content, providing valuable proposition and generate new streams of revenue through ad- sales and attracting new subscriber base. AOL seems to expand its presence based on acquisitions (copy/license entry strategy). If we put it in the BCG marketplace grid, we see AOL as a cash cow still reaping benefits from the old business model of dial-up subscription. To date 43% of revenue comes from subscriptions and the growth has been stagnant. In fact the trend is on the down side of losing growth and even market share. So the goal of management must be to increase growth (revenue) and market share – to re-position AOL as a star performer. Technical potential is great but the competitiveness is subject to debate. The new acquisitions demand effective integration and new leadership style and culture to be successful.

If I were a CEO, I would follow the acquisition strategy for growth and building competitive advantage. Strategic moves into non-media related businesses may not fit the current business model. Any forays into hardware or software business will be disastrous, instead AOL must try to focus on core competencies and devise ways and means to deliver better content. Relying on paid subscribers for revenue may not last long. In an era of “free” internet, paid subscription will work only if AOL can deliver differentiated, unique content to the subscriber. This may be difficult given the existence of free content services on the internet (Google, Yahoo, MSN etc.). So the only way growth can occur is by increasing customer traffic to AOL websites. This will entail providing a great experience for visitors and that can only be possible by providing unique content and enabling the use of new technologies. AOL can also get into content sharing alliances with other competitors; provide video-sharing and video-production technologies. Aim is to cultivate new growth with communication, advertising and content platforms. There are tremendous growth opportunities for growth in social commerce, new mobile platforms and freelance journalism. AOL must consolidate its myriad of businesses to project a unified whole experience for the web site visitor. Strategy execution (implementation) with leadership commitment will help AOL reinvent itself as a premier content provider

The failure to commercialize and profitably exploit PARC’s innovation brings to attention the consequences of management creating a vision and failing to establish a culture to support it. PARC was created with the vision to create a digital office – interpersonal communication and collaboration, networking personal computers to enable communal sharing. In active pursuit of that vision, PARC created some wonderful products (GUIs, mouse, laser printer, Ethernet and word processing programs), the most important being the personal computer, 7 years ahead of the commercial IBM PC. But the failure of Management coupled with close end organizational culture brought the demise of its innovations. Numerous factors were responsible for it and they are described in detail below.

Organization Structure – PARC was created as an R & D center for developing new technologies and fresh concepts leading to future products. The Management, especially the CEO Mr. McColough had belief in the emergence of digital technologies that prompted him to create PARC. But unfortunately, he failed in creating a culture to support that vision. PARC structure was very flat with the head of research reporting directly to the CEO who in turn reported to the CEO. The structure does not fit with the preferred organizational structures for new product development which we studied in class. The structure was flat with no interaction with other functional groups such as marketing, production, R & D/Engineering and finance. So most f the research done did not receive any input from the other functional divisions. This was one of the major reasons for PARC failure. Ideas were conceived and developed with no feedback from marketing or R & D/Engineering about the customer needs. This resulted in developing the Alto computer which had too many features built in resulting in slow response times and eventual rejection by the consumer. Had the development been done in coordination with other functional groups, the results would have been better. Also the costs were too prohibitive to gain acceptance. To me PARC seemed to be a loosely held pure project organization characterized by control over resources, centralized project planning, accountability on one person and strong communication channels. The potential disadvantages being the lack of ‘big picture’ and conflict over sharing of resources.  The organization culture also lacked the commitment towards new innovations. Some additional factors include:

  • Leadership had best intentions but were ‘boxed’ people who had no idea of exploiting the technology. Inability of leadership to understand innovation potential and protect intellectual property
  • Vision without supporting culture
  • Inability of R & D personnel to work with upper management
  • Lack of awareness and faith in new innovations developed at PARC. The applications built were used by mid and second level management, but upper and executive management lacked acceptance.
  • Xerox proprietary architecture and inability to adopt
  • Organizational politics – inter-group rivalries and lack of trust between project groups
  • Mistrust between PARC and Xerox headquarters
  • No champion on behalf of PARC in the executive ranks
  • Ill prepared marketing and sales teams
  • Deep rooted culture having uninhibited faith in ‘printer’ technology similar to Kodak
  • An incentive system which didn’t encourage risk taking – especially the fear of disrupting revenue stream by bringing in new products with lots of uncertainty surrounding profitability
  • Execution failure and no intention by management to commercialize PARC’s innovations
  • Lack of synergies in the cultures at PARC and at Xerox
  • Missing organizational cohesion and entrepreneurial attitudes within Xerox management

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