Varun Mani

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Really heartening to see data and predictive analytics being used for good rather than to track a consumer’s next purchase! Thanks for sharing!
It does make you think though since a large part of a great teacher’s job is, in fact, to implicitly provide these predictive analytics and then use that data internally to customize lesson plans to each students’ learning strengths. One could look at technology like this and purport that it is just another way that workers will be replaced by technology. For example, if such predictive analyses can get good enough, one could envision online courses modifying themselves based on inputs from students to better customize the learning experience for each student. I like to take a more optimistic view though. I feel like such technology will only serve to augment teacher’s current intuitions allowing them to focus on students that need more attention and help.

On November 20, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Paddle8 is taking art auctions online :

Thanks for the post Beth!
While reading through the Digital Transformation articles, it seems like there are two categories of digital transformation that most companies employ: 1) as an avenue for cost-reduction and optimization and 2) as a way to democratize an entire industry. Paddle8 is a great example of the latter category. The problem with being that latter category though, as Kiernan mentions above as well, is being substantially different enough that competitors don’t come in swathes. After all, democratizing an industry means breaking down barriers to entry and I guess, the key is to break down barriers for your key constituents (buyers and sellers in this case) while putting up barriers so that those same constituents don’t have a reason to leave your platform!

On November 20, 2016, Varun Mani commented on ISA did IoT before it was cool! :

Thanks for the post Subi.
While standards sound like a very boring business, I have always believed in the power of strong (and open) standards to redefine industries and push technology forward. Wireless standards like IEEE’s 802.11 a/b/g/n (i.e. WiFi) have completely changed the way an entire generation interacts with technology and communicates with each other.

One thing you mentioned in your post that I was curious about though was how IoT standards like WirelessHART enabled distributed / localized computing. I always though of IoT having a very hierarchical structure in terms of computing power since the main opportunity in my eyes has always been super low-cost sensors / devices that transmit information to a centralized device / the cloud that can then do the heavy computing lifting on all that data. I tried perusing the WirelessHART website you linked in your sources but could not find anything specific with regards to this. The best I could come up with was some way for the standard to define filters or triggers on each sensor or class of sensors to stymie the amount of data and improve the quality of data it sent back to the central system. Would be very interested to hear your thoughts on whether you encountered this during your research.

On November 20, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Citi’s Path to Digitization :

Thanks for the post HBS_TOM.
I have been a Citibank / Citigold customer for as far as I can remember and their big digital transformation push at first really excited me! That excitement was very short lived though when I found out they were going through massive branch closures throughout the whole state.

When I lived in Seattle, I was appalled to find that there were no Citibank branches in the entire state and now that I am back in Boston, I realized that they shut down all their Massachusetts branches as well. (

While these are probably great cost-cutting avenues that are possible only because of digitization, the problem I personally have with this approach is that their digital offerings are not FULL substitutes of what their branches could offer. For example checks over a certain value still have to be deposited at a physical branch or a special ATM. Secondly, their digital substitutes are extremely confusing. They have ATMs at all 7-eleven branches but each ATM has different capabilities (some take deposits, some only do check transactions etc.) Even their mobile apps across different platforms have different capabilities.

To me, it seems very clear that Citibank was facing some very serious cost pressures and the digital group provided an easy and cost-effective out. However, due to time pressures, it seems like they are still lacking a holistic digital strategy that takes all their stakeholders into account. Removing a key party of a supply chain (branches in this case) requires that the roles it played in the supply chain are absorbed by a different part of the supply chain. Since Citibank has still failed to do that appropriately, I am now the begrudging customer of a CapitalOne 360 account. 🙁

On November 20, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Cognex – riding the wave of digitization through machine vision :

Great post Evan. Machine vision is such a cool field especially since we are still barely scratching the surface of what is possible. Your point about data control is extremely valid and many companies spend a crazy amount of money and time on that problem. However, I feel in Cognex’s case, the type of data they are dealing with does not really need to be treated with the same level of care as credit card info. From looking at their website, it seems like they are mainly focused on closed loop QA through machine vision. (i.e. goods coming off a line need to be checked visually against some KPI or a barcode needs to be read at high accuracy and speed) In all these cases, and the examples in your post, most data need not even be stored for very long periods of time.

The next wave of machine vision problems though, the kind that Bastianne brought up in class for example, where her company had technology to determine people’s demographics through machine vision, would require a heightened level of data control. While machine vision is just the start today, other sensors like fingerprint scanners, iris detectors and sweat sensors have the ability to record much more Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from a person making it ever more important for companies to have a solid Data privacy strategy and controls.

Really cool article! Before I started reading it, I assumed that climate change would simply be disastrous to Maersk but it never occurred to me that the ice caps melting could actually create new opportunities for shipping lines and drastically change the way they operate!

This financial times article ( talks through some of the difficulties in using the Northeast passage and they seem to be related to having to use ice-breakers or accurately predicting when the route is safe enough to cross. With the slow advent of micro-satellites and underwater autonomous vehicles, I wonder if it would be possible to get higher quality imagery of the route both above and under water to provide the type of data to make such a route more feasible for more ships to pass through.

Micro satellites are a new category of satellites that a few space startups have “launched” (pardon the pun) with the goal of democratizing satellite imagery of the globe. See:

On November 7, 2016, Varun Mani commented on “Tesla and the Electric Vehicle Revolution” :

Completely agree with Jake and Jesse on Tesla not existing if not for the government’s renewed interest in climate change and preventing it. It does make you wonder through, with such a reliance on government subsidies, what happens to companies like Tesla when a new administration takes over? With the election literally a few hours away, and the candidates taking rather different stances on energy (with Clinton being very positive towards renewable energy sources [1] and Trump calling climate change a hoax [2[), I really wonder how Tesla’s operations will change based on which candidate takes office in the coming months. Are Tesla and Elon Musk’s dream far enough along that they no longer need the government subsidies? Will things just slow down or could innovation in this area come to a complete stop depending on which candidate takes office?


On November 7, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Going paperless? :

Very interesting counter-point to paper being the main culprit here!

I recently had the opportunity to visit a Staples fulfillment center that was responsible for receiving, unpacking, re-packaging and shipping items to various customers. One of the coolest things I saw during the visit was a machine that would custom make boxes for every single order! In essence, a user’s order would go into the system and the machine would “print” out and cut a precisely sized cardboard box that was custom made to optimally fit all the objects in that order. This box was then labelled for shipping and then sent on a conveyor belt to a bevy of pickers that would then pick and precisely fill the box. This machine eliminated tons of cartonboard and also removed the need for any filler material (usually plastic bags filled with air) since the materials fit inside the boxes perfectly.

I have a bunch of videos that I would love to show you (I can’t post them since it was shot within Staples property) of the kind of innovations fulfillment centers like Staples are undergoing to reduce cartonboard usage.

On November 7, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Nike’s race against climate change :

Thanks for the post Aparna! It seems like Nike “stumbled” into sustainability practices due to need rather than benevolence (which to be frank, seems to be the case for a lot of corporations). They got squeezed due to low supplies of cotton and other raw materials and so had to innovate themselves out of that bind. They wanted to reduce their dependence (and costs) with regards to utility and energy usage and so created the Nike sustainability index. The one common theme seems to be that most companies do not seem to budge on climate change unless it directly affects their profitability or are faced with major enough PR issues.

I really like your idea of getting customers more involved in the overall message of sustainability though. While it may not make much sense from a profitability standpoint, it really would help with the authenticity of the entire push and like you mentioned, could even result in more sales!

Another idea that could help with Nike’s sustainability cause is to start establishing itself as a thought-leader in emerging markets like Indonesia and Vietnam. As one of the largest players in those labor markets, a little could go a really long way in making serious regulation changes in those countries early enough to create a lasting difference. After all, it is much harder to change once companies are already set in their ways, with emerging markets, we have the option of creating best practices early on and learning from the collective mistakes of the rest of the world.

On November 7, 2016, Varun Mani commented on Boeing and the move to low-emissions aircraft :

Thanks for the post! It seems pretty rare to find a situation when incentives align well enough to not require regulation for something like Climate change. I remember visiting the Boeing factory in Everett (where they build the Dreamliners and other bigger aircraft) and being in complete awe of all the different pieces that go together to build an airplane. What interested me the most was that Boeing used to manufacture its own engines but was forced to spin-out that business due to antitrust monopoly issues (since Boeing was already such a big player in the rather non-competitive airline industry). Since engines are such a critical part of the airplane, especially when it comes to fuel efficiency, I was wondering if Boeing was doing anything to actively incentivize their engine suppliers like Pratt & Whitney or Rolls Royce to get them along the same path to climate change.