Everest, the tallest.

The mountain is in the news again, for three different reasons, all in the same week. One of human conquest, one of human stupidity, and the third of nature’s unpredictability.

First, the one about human achievement. Indian mountaineer, Anshu Jamsenpa summitted twice, within a week. She has summited twice in 10 days in 2011, and last week was witness to her fourth and fifth successful summits.

Anshu Jamsenpa with HH Dalai Lama

Anshu, with HH Dalai Lama

The 37-year-old mother of two from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh (state in the far east of India), summitted on the 16th May, and then again on the 21st May. Before her second ascent, Anshu said: “My only aim now is to unfurl the national flag once again atop Mt Everest and pay homage to Lord Buddha. I seek blessings and support from my fellow countrymen.” She was blessed by HH Dalai Lama before leaving for the expedition. What a Rockstar!

The second story is about Ravi Kumar, from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh who is untraceable on the mountain after having summitted on the 20th. Kumar and his guide, Lakpa Wongya Sherpa, got separated during the descent near the Balcony and the latter was later found unconscious and suffering from frostbite at Camp IV.

a8e9f2b6fac66d36d1761c9c30b10f5dIn another incident six climbers suffering from altitude sickness had to be rescued and then sent to different hospitals. The human body isn’t made for 25K feet, and the body cells literally start dying at that altitude. If one isn’t a trained and seasoned super hi-alt mountaineer, please stick to doing mid-altitude treks. Everest or other 8-thousanders aren’t really for you stupids.

The other in-fashion thing for some years now is to go up the mountain with a guide. Everest isn’t a tourist spot, you know. In 1996, most of those killed on the mountain weren’t seasoned mountaineers either. And there is no business that a ward should get separated from a guide. The life of the ward is the guide’s responsibility. Lakpa, this might have been your eighth summit, but your license needs to be taken away.

And finally, “…a piece of mountaineering history has disappeared “, said British mountaineer Tim Mosedale after he descended from his sixth successful summit attempt. Considered to be the last obstacle, some 58 metres below the summit, the rocky outcrop known as the Hillary Step has collapsed. Likely because of the 2015 earthquake. Last year, the American Himalayan Foundation did publish images, but it was not clear whether the rock formation had actually collapsed because of the snow cover. Tim Mosedale who summitted last year as well this year, has confirmed, with pictures that he has posted.

The crumbling away of the Hillary Step makes summitting easier and quicker for the inexperienced climbers, but also will expose them to the elements for a longer time because of the potential traffic jam which will ensue with larger number of climbers passing through that spot.

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Deaths on Mt Everest (data, graph courtesy – BBC)

More than 240 people have died on the mountain (above base camp) so far, and three more already added this year, more so since climbing up has become almost a joke. Teams have to be sent up every year to clear rubbish and debris from previous years’ climbs. There are bodies on the mountain, and plenty debris. Most seasoned pioneers regret what happens to the mountain every climbing season.

But, we need to stop for a moment and perhaps listen to Sagarmatha. The mountain, I believe, is telling us that she feels tired and abused and that we should stop climbing her now.

 

"IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012 668ey (7917210650)" by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland - IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012/668eyUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg#/media/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg

When the focus is only on process…

Have you ever interacted with a company which is focused on its processes or a set of metrics which take the focus away from the customer? Here are two real-life anecdotes:

  • A startup car rental company in Bangalore proclaims that its service advisors are asked to spend 60% of their time on following the process accurately, and 40% on their customers. Doesn’t matter how large their funding corpus is, but how long do you think this type of thinking will serve them?
  • A document processing company spends its life on meeting its industry compliance based SLAs without thinking about the backlog which is getting created. Because, the backlog is not a part of the metrics being watched. How long, do you think, before the backlog comes to bite them in the a@#?

Sound familiar? The impact of looking at input metrics of input processes can be drastic. It can have an impact on safety, and in some cases you will find customers walking away. Allow me to give you an example of what might happen. The case in point is the low-cost carrier Indigo. Two separate flights and some repeated occurrences :

  • After the aircraft lands at the destination airport (COK), the cabin crew disarm (at least) the front doors before instructions from the cockpit, and much before the aircraft reaches its parking stand. Tweeting about it gets a response, and then calls from their social media group.Polite mention of DGCA gets someone from their social media group to call in People who have no idea of what is being talked about and says that all our aircraft doors are “manual” and not “automatic”. Then, of course mentioning gruffly that providing access to whoever runs safety will not be possible. That takes care of the incident, closes the ticket raised but does not solve the actual problem.
  • In another situation, there is a group of 23 people flying together (to HYD) and flying for the first time. The already somewhat intimidated the group has been scattered across the plane by Indigo’s insensitive ground traffic staff. Then, because Indigo measures itself on on-time departure, the under pressure cabin crew brow beats these passengers to settle down quick.
  • The way Indigo measures its on-time arrival is another scam. A flight which takes (say) 1hr 30 is listed as a 2hr flight thereby providing a large buffer, and then the herding of passengers helps too.
  • Cabin crew announcing that they speak in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and English (or whatever else)  in a plane going to Hyderabad and full of Telegu speaking people is idiotic and insensitive. This works in an international airline which focuses on its vernacular traffic, but just copying the style is idiotic in case of Indigo. Really, no one gives a damn if your crew is from Darjeeling, Bangalore or bumblef***.
  • Being an airline in India, it truly is a matter of shame if you can’t get your Hindi right in the announcements. “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल ” translates to me, XXX the lead working team, though what is meant is ‘me, the lead team member‘ which should be “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल सदस्या”. Why does this happen? Happens when you have a non-Hindi speaking person doing the translation from “Me, XXX, Lead, Working team” to Hindi and no one in the company thinks about doing a quick check.

The focus, you will notice, is on their SOP and the processes within. Quite possible, following the process minutely will create a very efficient airline and rake in money in the short-term. But, the same blind following of process will turn passengers away because of the “attitude” that their cabin crew has started showing. To a small extent, Jet Airways did get bitten by this in the past.

The blind following of process to focusing on the wrong metric one day will also case a large error and an aircraft operational safety related incident. DGCA, take note.

The focus very clearly needs to be, for processes oriented companies, to be on:

  • Output metrics and
  • the Customer

If the processes are taking the staff away from these, there is a storm coming. Seriously!

Have you experienced a company starting to be more inward focused? Write in.

Coffins of felled soldiers

The degeneration of media, and #maggiban

It really is true that who holds the power to disseminate information, holds the power to move human sentiment. Happens in every country, happens every day. In fact there was even a Bond movie made grossly on this subject.

The fact that the media in our country, at least most of it, is completely sold to causes nefarious is now a foregone conclusion. It chooses to show you what it wants to, what will catch more eyeballs, or what will raise TRPs and thus get more advertising. Hence you have the neurotic Goswami, or diabolic Dutt being stalwarts.

Take what is happening today for instance.

Nestle’s CEO Paul Bulcke has had to travel to India to save his brand, after lead was discovered in Maggi. The company is trying to do damage control. Media can’t get enough of it. Reluctantly, Nestle started doing a recall, but was prompt in lending support to actors who had endorsed the brand previously. Complete morons like Mahesh Murthy tweet “Nestle India market cap drops by Rs.5,500 cr. Dear VPs of Marketing, now do you see the value of hiring a good digital & social firm?” Must be f*#$@%g mad. In which world did brand protection become more important than consumer safety? In Muthy’s world perhaps.

Then, the who hullabaloo about yoga day. अरे बाबा , if your religion gets bothered by exercise, don’t do it. Why does the nation have to know your opinion and why do we have to watch endless, nauseating debates on the subject? But, switch on a tv news channel and this is what you get to watch.

What the TV channels won’t spend time on is the fact that 20 soldiers of the Dogra Regiment got killed in an insurgent ambush in Manipur. The newspapers use some space to talk about this. No imagery to talk about. Have you seen images of the burnt bodies of the soldiers? Likely not. But there are images of Paul Bulcke. Did you notice that even his initials are Pb? Heck, I digress.

The media however, protects its own and whoever pays to be protected. Certainly you remember the entire scam that Barkha Dutta was embroiled in and how TV media provided no coverage on the subject. Similarly, do you remember the circumstances that Ravi Venkatesan resigned from being the country head of Microsoft India? Remember the scam that the top leadership of Microsoft was (allegedly) involved in (along with counterparts in HCL)? Yeah? Now, try to find a news item on the web which talks about Venkatesan’s implicit /moral involvement in the scam. You won’t. Today, Venkatesan has resurrected himself as a social entrepreneur able to talk from a high pedestal. Right! That is what you can do if you can get media to work for you.

Complete morons like Mahesh Murthy tweet “Nestle India market cap drops by Rs.5,500 cr. Dear VPs of Marketing, now do you see the value of hiring a good digital & social firm?” Must be f*#$@%g mad. In which world did brand protection become more important than consumer safety?

A few days back, 104FM in Bangalore ran a program where they were asking for public opinion on the Maggi ban. The RJ made fun of the state governments’ concern, the recall, the bans and kept mentioning that Maggi will be back. Really? So may be Mahesh Murthy was wrong, and Nestle is already spending money sponsoring radio channels.

Bottom line, if you have a powerful spread out fifth column working in the country, why do you need enemies?

Do you feel as outraged about this as I do? Write.

Indian Railways – looking forward

Indian Railways Logo  The finance budget for the Indian Railways was presented in the parliament yesterday. It does seem, prima-facie, to be somewhat different from the populist budgets of the last some years. The budgets in the past usually have had a tone of promising a dozen new trains (to friendly states), adding stops to trains passing through the railway minister’s constituency, introducing non-stop trains which travel the speed of a tortoise. You get the picture. But, in the last say twenty years, the only change that I have seen is adding power sockets, and some change in the bathrooms, some of the newer coaches have larger windows. Not much else. But, then I am not an Indian Railways fan and not a frequent traveler either. And this blog post is not about praising the new railway minister or the NDA government either.

So, what does the railway budget contain? It seems to be focused on financial stability, de-congestion, starting to think about customer orientation and safety. The total budget seeks an investment of Rs 8,56,020 crores. Two remarkable directions are allocation Rs 39000 Cr towards connectivity for the East, and J&K, and a whopping Rs 1,99,320 towards network de-congestion. This perhaps does not look too far out, but certainly does look medium term in its perspective.

Why didn’t someone think of re-designing the ladders (to climb to upper births) earlier?

Stability and fiscal prudence

WAP locomotive at Erode junction

De-congestion of the network is a priority and should have been taken up more than a decade ago.

Slew of initiatives around innovation, running a BPR, using of global bench-marks. Essentially a large amount of investment towards revamping management practices, systems, processes, and re-tooling of human resources. There will be an infrastructure fund set up and two existing vehicles will be used to secure loans from the public (bonds, I guess). Two interesting items hidden in the paragraphs are the digitization of land records and responsibility fixing for encroachments and setting up a university for employees in the current fiscal.

De-Congestion

Gauge upgrades in 800 km in this year, adding railway tracks in congested routes (9400 kms), increasing freight capacity, and increasing speed of trains for inter-metro journeys.

Customer Orientation

First class ac ladder to the upper birth

Try climbing the ladder to an upper birth. A herculean task for a senior citizen.

A large number of initiatives in this area including disposable bed linen, cleanliness, introducing hand-held technology, ease of ordering food. All these are easy to think of. What is new is that someone has thought of getting the National Institute of Design to re-design the steps/ ladders used to climb to the upper births. Why didn’t someone think of this earlier? There is more – a large amount allocated to building elevators, and escalators, Braille enabling newer coaches and wider entrances for the differently abled, and start of air-conditioned EMUs in Mumbai.

Then of course the usual of improving stations, wi-fi in a bunch of stations, adding capacity to many of the current trains and the like.

Safety

Train protection and early warning anti-collision systems, radio based signal design for unmanned railway crossings,cctv in trains,

 Budget Highlights, Government Publication

Retail Shrinkage

National Retail Federation (in the US) is reporting that retailers lost a staggering $33.5Bn last year due to shrinkage. Shrinkage, as you are aware, is loss of inventory (and resulting revenue) which comes from theft in stores by employees, customers and vendors, administrative errors and in many cases even vendor fraud. Despite the staggering number, there is a bit to cheer about this time. Retailers take heart in the fact that shrinkage has actually fallen by 0.07% of overall sales in the last two years.

One would attribute the decrease to the industry’s ever alert mechanisms to prevent crime in the stores, in the warehouses or on the road. After all, theft happens due to available opportunity and as retailers keep themselves ahead of deviant minds the opportunities dwindle.

The largest components of shrinkage are shoplifting, and different types of fraud which happen in the stores. Shoplifting contributed to $11.7Bn, and employee theft contributed to $14.4Bn. The employees very often under ringing an item and then give the item to an associate or keep it themselves (phenomenon called “sweethearting”).The other very common mechanism is the return fraud wherein a used or never sold item is returned to the store. Of course, a used item, can hardly be put back on the shelf.  Vendor fraud and operational errors and vendor fraud cost retailers $1.3Bn and $4.9Bn respectively.

Though shrinkage has dropped just that wee bit in the North America, there is no data to show a drop in India. Neither is there clear data to even show even how much shrinkage really happens across the industry. Our struggles, of course, are different and the tribulations vary.

Are retail spaces safe?

Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers Fire (image courtesy gulfnews.com)

Many of you must have read (or watched on the telly), about the fire in Carlton Towers Bangalore. It is not really that tall a building, and houses many offices, servicing centres, some retail (regular stores and restaurants). Essentially a mixed bag like about all other such buildings and complexes. And quite like many other such buildings the regulations and norms had just been flouted. Sanctions are taken on buildings with illegal modifications and additions. Emergency exits in tenanted facilities are blocked as the corners get used as storage spaces, or are just locked away. Fire drills and trainings are few and far between. Traffic in most of the larger cities crawls, thus ensuring that emergency vehicles never manage to reach early enough.Presence of water in the hydrants is not always a fair expectation either. In addition to all that, people gather around for a free show (check the crowd on the left of the building). Now, this was primarily an office complex. A larger retail space (e.g. a mall) will become a very different ball game. With the type of footfall that most of the larger malls get, you will have thousands of people in a large mall at any time. The flouting of laws and regulations happens in these places too. Emergency routes get blocked too, and regular drills and exercises (if they happen) are suspect. Central, and the Forum Mall (both in Bangalore) had caught fire in the last two years and both in the food court areas. Central had illegal construction. Large over capitalized construction might look great, but lack of basic safety makes the entire structure shaky.