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NASSCOM needs a revamp. Now.

NASSCOM, the trade body and guardian angel for the IT / ITES services industry in India was formed in 1988. Been three decades.While many people are writing on different fora about how the industry (in India) is on a down turn, how thousands will get laid off and sounding out the death knell, perhaps not enough is being said about the trade body which has tried to guide the industry.

For a long time, at least the last 15 years, NASSCOM in its seminars and conferences has been talking about the fact that the industry needs to re-invent itself, how more value than basic IT labour needs to be brought up front and delivered to the clients in the west. Reasonably so, because the member companies (in most cases) have turned the industry into a conglomeration of sweat shops. Some exceptions exist, but at a generic level no change has happened. It still is about fitting one person per <100 sq ft, packing six people to an apartment and clamouring for H1Bs.

The industry exploded with the Y2K crises and companies opportunistically entrenched themselves. Companies moved up the chain, or sideways and land grabbed, but what have they done differently, by looking into the future?

The Offshoring game was invented by the Indian players, but the large foreign MNCs came in late (post year 2000), walloped the Indian competitors at their own game and took away a chunk of the supplier pie and a large portion of the clients’ wallet.

Over the last seventeen years, the industry, as a whole, still remained providing bodies (in whatever glorious form), running large maintenance (app or infrastructure) shops, lower percentage of app dev, configuring ERP and rows of people processing paper or answering phone calls.

The bellwether company pushed training to the institutes that they recruited from, and helped (with others) damage the engineering curricula. So much so that BE (IT) courses got introduced to produce more coolies who didn’t want to put in effort to learn real CS and delve into deeper mathematics. Check a randomly selected syllabus from a university and you will see what I mean.

So why has NASSCOM been ineffectual in guiding the industry in the right direction? Here is one hypothesis. The captains (?) of the industry run NASSCOM, chair it and populate its executive council. Check this list. It isn’t very different from what it looked like the previous year, the year before, and the year before. Many of these folks are not technology people. Not many of these stalwarts have spent time with the clients on a production floor, bull pen, retail warehouse etc. either and do not have deep specialization in an industry domain. Good business people? Sure. But, not technology or domain specialists. No wonder their first knee jerk reaction to the current situation is firing people in India, and hiring in thousands in the US.

So, how would these people really take the industry towards true Digital, high end Analytics, true AI, automation etc.?  Being late in catching up with technology trends isn’t helpful.

Hence, my suggestion that NASSCOM needs to reform itself and get in people who understand these technologies. Folk who understand these technologies, people who understand specific business domains where most movement is expected, and folk who can help shape education for people already in the industry, or students in universities.

There you go. That puts paid to my ever getting employed by the IT / ITES services industry in India.

Touch down Croatia / Hrvatska

Ever read Alistair MacLean novels, as a young adult or even later? He wrote one called ‘The Partisans’, which I read while in senior school. Never mind what that story was about, but the setting was former Yugoslavia. Exotic sounding Zagreb, Mostar, Sarajevo, Graz, Zadar etc which became infamous later during the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian conflict. Somewhere along the line a city whose name started with a Z, sure did pique some interest in me and that interest to get there, sometime in life, remained.
Just before getting my shackles removed, closing my eyes and forefinger jabbing a map of Europe pointed roughly to Croatia. What shackles, you ask. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

Dealt with the Croatian embassy for a Visa. Have never figured why such seemingly immigration risk insignificant countries need such amazing amount of paperwork to issue a tourist visa and why do they charge so much? Am I about to illegally migrate…to Croatia? Not as if there is a large bunch Indians traveling to Croatia either.

 

Meanwhile, getting tickets on miles from British Airways was as much a bitch as it always has been. Can’t fly through here, not from there, not on this day, not on that, not in economy, not this airline etc etc. Getting some workable, but inconvenient combination is akin to expecting a singularity type event to happen and a space time continuum portal, to the other dimension,​ open up. So they routed me through LHR, but couldn’t find me a miles seat to Zagreb. That is supposed to be my destination, you see. In any case, my return trip on miles and paid LHR->ZAG ends up costing more than flying economy to ZAG and back.

The travel day from finally arrived. BA seems to have fallen on bad times. Their planes lack upkeep, the service borders now on surly, the food is just plain bad. Their Twitter CS team is callous in approach as well.

If you are flying short-haul economy, then you pay for food. Their central software system crashes, and disables online check-in too.

But, still interesting things happen. There are things happening everyday which make one gleeful. Finally the app based check-in today morning, self baggage drop and tag printing, and touch less card swipe on board for a coffee. Technology, when it works, is sheer magic.

Then this beautiful innovation of filter coffee in this cup with a cloth net filter.

Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?

Visible sunrises are still a delight. Even more so in England.

And then, John Cleese is going to be back on the tube; so reports The Telegraph.

…And touch down into sunny Zagreb. After a long line at immigration and a (fleecing) taxi drive, here is the view from my upgraded room

More on Zagreb and Croatia as I travel through next some days…

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.

You are about to lose your freedom. On the Internet.

There is a weak start of debates on Net Neutrality, conversations about Airtel Zero and Flipkart or what is being done against it by some companies here. Read on to figure how you are about to get trapped and then squeezed out.

Let me start with some quick context on what it is first.

What is Net Neutrality?

“Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” [quoted Net Neutrality wiki]. Read more about this in the Indian context.

And the problem is?

net-neutralityAirtel wants to introduce Airtel zero by which you will get free access to the internet, and to a certain bunch of web sites that Airtel ties up with. Anything else you pay for. Kind of in the same basic philosophy of wanting to charge people if they wanted to use skype or whatsapp to talk to someone.

The best analogy that I read (changing the year a bit) recently is as follows:
People traveling on the Delhi Gurgaon highway pay toll. It could be, hypothetically, Outer Ring Road in Bangalore. That is the B2B model. The toll guys now take this B2B and  tie up with some companies in Bangalore where people work. So these companies pay the toll for their employees. Now employees of other companies are irked. Some even want to quit and go to the companies who subsidize the cost. And chaos breaks loose. The companies which haven’t tied up will now run to the toll guys to tie up. Meanwhile the toll company was charging the previously tied up companies a slightly higher per transit toll anyways. The new companies, have to pay higher still. Get the picture?

The current situation

Flipkart continues its run on being in the twilight zone – either being on the cusp of law or morality. They are tying up through Airtel zero to do exactly this. Airtel Zero becomes the toll collector. Sound similar?

Allow me to help you connect the dots.
Airtel Zero is a conglomeration of apps which will be free to access, and anything else that you want to surf to you would have to pay for. They are spinning it by saying it is free internet for the poor. When it walks like it, smells like it and talks like it…I say it is bullshit!

Speak up for your net freedomVery recently you would have read about Flipkart and Myntra (a subsidiary) are shutting down their mobile websites in favour of their mobile apps. Implying they want to have a single channel of entry, and don’t want people to go to their website (through mobile devices at least). Flipkart would want to do this, to ensure the collaboration(?) with Airtel Zero works right. If they did continue to have a web site supported for mobiles, people would use tunnels, VPN thingies or anonymizing web sites to get through.

So, if they can create a bit of a choke on the fragmented breadth of customers dying to buy on Flipkart, they can play with prices. If Flipkart were to have to pay Airtel for keeping access free on Airtel zero, someone finally will have to pay. That someone, is YOU! You will be paying higher prices now.

Meanwhile, operators like Airtel are arm twisting TRAI really hard to get Airtel Zero to go live. The aim is to make India’s internet dream Airtel’s fiefdom.

What else is happening in the ecosystem?

What else is happening is that larger bodies which could move opinion – folk like Nasscom and TIE etc are dozing on the wheel. Nasscom isn’t really providing a clear opinion or taking a firm stand on Net Neutrality. Doing studies with consulting companies and publishing papers is just hogwash. For an industry body so sit on the fence in this case is really being a wuss. Feel like figuring (if and) where the money trail is going to from Airtel (and similar companies).

What can you do about it?

1. TRAI has released a consultation paper with 20 questions spread across 118 complicated pages and wants you to send them an e-mail by 24th of April, 2015.

2. If you use Airtel, Flipkart or Myntra apps, start down ranking them.

3. If you are a twitter user, start writing to these companies and stating your protest.

The essence of Virality – the ALS way!

All digital marketing gurus will tell you about 20 (plus or minus five) things that you should do to get your message across and how to ensure more and more people view it.
But, how do you really do this? Consider many videos, messages and feeds which have gone viral. These all have just the basic key elements common. If you take a step back, and connect your messaging (very deliberately) with your overall digital strategy, you will see the common factors are:

  • A Cause – that people can relate to. Or a need that people see getting fulfilled.
  • The Content – that touches people’ emotion somehow. Either in terms of goodness, something shocking or the best of the lot – humour
  • and the Hook – something that makes people do the share and the like. The content itself can, of course. But, the desire to show people “I did it” is even more powerful.

    Now, take a quick second and think about the ALS IceBucketChallenge. You have surely seen a few videos, or maybe actually have taken up the challenge and in return challenged some other friends too. Has all the three elements embedded. Its a cause, important enough for people to relate to. The content is humourous for sure, almost every time. The hook is of course, you can challenge other people by taking up this challenge. The only difference is that in this case it is not just one video which is going viral, but the message. That is what one finally cares for anyways…and this is brining in money (in donations).

Are you fed up of politics related posts on your Facebook newsfeed?

Picture2There is enough politics that I get to see. On the tube, in the newspaper and of course on Facebook. People posting / re-posting on Facebook are serious about it, and in most cases, mean well. However, like me, you might have had an overdose already.

FB Top bar showing Social Fixer plug-in settings icon

FB Top bar showing Social Fixer plug-in settings icon

You do not want to see these posts anymore, but do not want to block of the friend(s) who posts these political messages. The bad new first – Facebook does not have a mechanism to do this. The good news – is that there is a plug-in available for browsers to be able to do this blocking. This plug-in is called Social Fixer and you can download it from their web site. There, currently, are separate plug-ins for Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome and browsers running a Greasemonkey extension. People on IE, well…tough luck.

Picture1It will plug itself into your browser and show up as an icon on your Facebook page top right. It is easy to configure and fairly versatile.

It will run you through a wizard. But the part that you need is the “Filtering”.

It can do text or links based filtering and your filter text could be as simple as “/politics|congress|bjp|aap|/i”. The “i” in the end keeps your filter case in-sensitive, and then you choose what you want to do with that post (hide, minimize or apply a CSS). That is it. You can choose to create tabs to filter, move and segregate posts too.

It takes a while for the filters to start working and might seem as if the filtering is not working too well. Clear the cache, and you will see the difference.

Social fixer has a host of other features to un-clutter, enhance and simplify. But, the filtering is what I needed the most.

Risky Business

riskA news item on Slashdot put the floodlights straight back on one area in Project Management which is close to my heart. That would be Risk Management. And what was the news item?

Investment firm Knight Capital made headlines in 2012 as it lost USD 400 mn at NYSE in just 45 minutes. Well, an investment firm could lose money in the market you say…possibly a wrong investment decision you say. Well, if you did catch this news item then you would remember that it wasn’t a bad investment decision and there was no super crash in the market which occurred in those three quarters of an hour. What happened, and this has been revealed just a few days back, is that there was a defect in the code deployment process. The code being deployed was missed in one of the eight servers. No one did a cross check to see if the deployment had happened. No one realised that the old code had not been removed. There were no automatic checks or procedures to catch this as well. So, this buggy deployment caused Knight Capital to lose USD 10.32mn a minute.

Seriously? Does this actually happen in this day and age?
Evidently it does. What happened with Knight Capital was something like this. The SEC report filed says “When Knight used the Power Peg code previously, as child orders were executed, a cumulative quantity function counted the number of shares of the parent order that had been executed. This feature instructed the code to stop routing child orders after the parent order had been filled completely. In 2003, Knight ceased using the Power Peg functionality. In 2005, Knight moved the tracking of cumulative shares function in the Power Peg code to an earlier point in the SMARS code sequence. Knight did not retest the Power Peg code after moving the cumulative quantity function to determine whether Power Peg would still function correctly if called. … During the deployment of the new code, however, one of Knight’s technicians did not copy the new code to one of the eight SMARS computer servers. Knight did not have a second technician review this deployment and no one at Knight realized that the Power Peg code had not been removed from the eighth server, nor the new RLP code added. Knight had no written procedures that required such a review.” Good Lord! …if you wish, you can read the SEC report here.

This perhaps is a type of risk, rather difficult to have perceived and identied at the start of an effort whether it were to be projectised (is that a neologism?) or not. However, given that one deals with known risks (which constitute the bulk) and unknown risks (for which you buy insurance), it is really worth the time spent in planning for risk and ensuring it goes into your overall project plan.

Each risk is rated on probability of occurring and impact on an objective if it were to occur. Depending on the organization's threshold for risk tolerance a probability and impact matrix is to be created and risks treated accordingly.

Each risk is rated on probability of occurring and impact on an objective if it were to occur. Depending on the organization’s threshold for risk tolerance a probability and impact matrix is to be created and risks treated accordingly.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from PMI elaborates this out rather well. This also is an area which has seen modification and expansion across various editions. I was part of the group writing this section for the 3rd edition of the book and we brought in some detailing. The 4th edition has changes as well in terms of addition of “Plan Risk Management” as a sub process area. The Risk Analysis sub process was already broken between Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis. The rest remains the same and the steps are still Identification, Quantification, Develop (response) and Control. But, clearly any amount of elaboration in Risk Management is still less.

Usually, during a project risk analysis, people do go through the motions and do not either quantify the risk or at least not take it forward into the project management plan to have it impact the project budget. Why is that necessary? Here is an anecdote from my past.

This happened in a Consulting /IT services company that I used to work for, and this was a Consulting /IT services project for a large global hotel chain. For obvious reasons, I need to mask the name of the services company and also the name of the hotel chain. Anyways, the consultants started flying into the head quarters of this hotel company from all over the US to work and were flying back every Thursday evening. There was not one consultant which would use the city that the hotel was head quartered at as their home base. Why? Because the IT services company did not have an office in that city and perhaps not in a 300 mile radius either. No one realised this up front. The symptom that got caught was when travel bills /expenses started coming up and started tearing the expenses budget away. Realisation dawned that no one had really accounted for this level of travel required. Oops! A change request was filed in for allocation of fresh budget amounts (from the client) and was of course summarily rejected. The project went down the tube, of course. The P&L loss was in a fair number of  millions, write offs required and a few senior heads rolled.

Given that over 70% of IT projects fail globally, just might be time for project managers globally to think about this key area.