Convergys contact centre. Image copyright Livemint

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.

Advertisements

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.