Monday, October 31, 2005

Look ma(nager), no hands

Picture a team working on a technology project. Given the proliferation of the Indian IT industry, this is a fairly common scenario. The team organisation structure is usually broken into lead, module lead and software engineers. Then there is a manager. How it works is that the sofware engineers and the module leads are expected to be the most competent in technology.

The lead may or may not be technologically competent, but the lead will surely not be technologically incompetent. what is asked of the manager is either technical competence or domain competence. What happens if the the manager is neither?

Manager to Lead: Can you send me the status reports?
Lead: I just sent it to you.
Manager: Can you come over and explain it to me?
Lead: (Duh! You are a manager arent you?) Ok.

Manager: Have you made any process changes (read, innovative practices etc.)in the last few weeks?
Developer: (You never gave me any ideas, so how do you expect me to keep innovating myself?)

The role of these team members is interpreted as, the module lead takes care of delivery of individual modules. The lead is expected to take care of overall delivery. The manager is expected to take care of processes and perhaps the deliveries of all the leads who report to him or her. What happens because of this is that the manager spends his time asking for and receiving status reports, does a bit of planning and little else.

The manager has to be a catalyst in the team. Asking the right questions, giving the right direction, coming up with innovative work practices. The lead has to be the fulcrum of the execution of these practices apart from working with the manager with his problems and arriving at solutions. All this should free up the developer in doing his work best. But what happens is that the developer is trapped.

The manager may or may not be a stud in technology or domain, but what he has to have is the interest in dirtying his hands, atleast occassionally. The lead necessarily has to dirty his hands. If every problem reported by the team is dismissed with a wave of the hand, saying it doesnt exist or worse, with some off the cuff solution, it prevents the team from actively working towards solutions for the betterment of the team. Well, you dont dirty your hands, so you dont know it. The lead can very well perform the role of a manager, if he is sufficiently well connected to the roots, not otherwise. The manager has to be more than just a mail id to which status reports have to be sent.

If both play hands off, it is a recipe for disaster.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Diwali Dhamaka - Bharateeya Blog mela

The Bharateeya Blog Mela finally found its way to interim thoughts..., after a few chills, thrills and spills along the way. This mela is being hosted from Bombay (my home city) as I am here, the week of Diwali. Let me begin by wishing all readers a very Happy Diwali.

While you are here, do take a look around at interim thoughts..., a weblog that looks at business, brands, globalization from perspectives varying from streetside spectator to active participant to global gyan. And I hope you visit the site long after the mela has departed to another camp! After that shameless plug, lets move on.

I thought a lot about the format for the mela and then decided that no format was the best format after all, lest it distract readers from the variety of posts. I have included every single post that was nominated. Organizing the blog mela is a great thing. It is like getting to read the mela in advance.

So, sit back with a warm cuppa coffee this long Diwali weekend and enjoy.

Since its Diwali, lets begin with flowers. A colourful (both visually and verbally) post from Akshay on Petals, Toil and Business at Dadars phulgalli. And the other item in the news, which is of course, onions (unions if you are a leftist) and in limerick. Amar Akbar Anthony (dont miss their blog description) has a hilarious one on the upcoming cricket series between England and Pakistan.

Now for some stories at the way my adopted city is going. Last week was a particularly bad week for Bangalore. It was on record the wettest October for 49 years, but in real terms the rainfall received was very little as compared to the downpour in Bombay. Bangalore and traffic is by now an oxymoron as are Bangalore roads. The situation is really bad and many people have lost any whiff of optimism they had that the situation will improve. 7 cms of rain and the city went for a toss. By now mails on the floods with pics have been circulated, but heres the blogospheres take.

Vijay takes potshots at the "farmers son" who is intent on driving Bangalore atleast a hundred years backwards in terms of infrastructure.

Vasanth nominates Mohanrajs post on rain tormented Bangalore and the flickr link has some more pics.

RS Sathish on a related note wonders from afar if Bangalore is a dying city. The premise is warranted, but some of his observations would change on a closer look. IMHO, walk in a deserted street in any city and your fate would be pretty much the same. He ends it on an optimistic note hoping that Bangalore finds a new lease of life. I hope so too.

Niti at her "Perspective" blog writes a wonderful post on names.

..."If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard . . . Would you like to know its name?" Ursula K. LeGuin, The wizard of earthsea...

Jammer thinks aloud on Blogging, Freedom of speech and Article 51A on the fundamental duties of a citizen of India. Yes, I too wish that the constitution is simplified.

Gargi, has a thoughtful post on the right to information, while Vivek muses on governance.

Varun thinks aloud with a post on Politics in crisis and about the recent earthquake as to why we dont have a crisis management plan? Arzan has a fiery post on the Tragedy that is Buta Singh. I personally it is more than the man, it is the tragedy wrought upon the governors office by successive governments.

Gargi has a nice photoblog at Adarsh Nagar, as does the ultimate quirk at his blog.

On Business theres a nomination for Why small idea driven start ups do not get the respect in India. This is something I dont agree with wholeheartedly. Many an idea has found its rightful spot under the sun and many havent. So, generalizing it to this level, umm, not my cuppa.

Gawker does a flip flop and argues for Creationism to be taught in school, yes, you read that right, for.

Whats a BBM without Bollywood?

Sunil has a new script idea for Mahesh Bhatt and with some more on films, heres Adityas review on the Asian film fest at Pune (and theres more at his blog) and TTGs tribute to his car pool partner.

Prasenjeet nominates this post on the argumentative Indian from Varnam and then his own 'India in Regress'

The topic being women, and heres Sakshi with a hard hitting post on domestic violence and Vijay with his thoughts on women and Indian mythology

Sakshi also has a post on Independent women in India ending with a profile of (just?) 4 women bloggers. There are many very good women bloggers out there in the Indian blogosphere and the blogosphere is richer thanks to them!

Dippu writes about the cultural confusion that so many of us undergo at various levels. Jinal, over at Style Station is pleased meanwhile that South Asian is a category (I would prefer Indian not lumped with South Asian though!) and waits for the day when an Indian family/festival is used as part of a mainstream ad clip (that would be something). Arzan writes in about the "World cant wait" movement among the desis and how it is really, a lost cause.

The Indian blogospheres management expert, Gautam has a post on Talent hunting at the mall , (wow! this is some IT boom - visit a mall and get recruited- almost) and nominates another one on how to identify indian talent. Here R A Mashelkar speaking in the IE series is quoted on Indian talent. A really good read.

Heres a new blogger nominated by Vishnupriya with a thought provoking post.

Last but not the least, take good care of yourselves and heres a post on how to take care of your heart (and its not your mushy mushy stuff)

Thanks Nitai(who is hosting the next blog mela) and Shanti for schedule scrambles (alls well that ends well).

And a thanks to Amit "Indiauncut" Varma and Desipundit for the booster shot with the nominations post.

Do put in a word in the comments for bouquets and brickbats. Also in case I have missed any of the nominations, put in a comment and it will be taken care of!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

KSTDC, tourism departments and potential

Travelling is a great generator of ideas. Sitting by the window of a moving vehicle watching the landscape go by is a great stimulant for the ideas machine. This trip to Sravanabelagola, Belur and Halebid set me thinking about the goldmine KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) and the other STDC's are sitting on.

Our Volvo bus for instance had a driver and a cleaner. Either the driver or (preferably) his assistant with a bit of training could have doubled up as a guide. The tour could have been handled better if there were two drivers who were also trained guides. Heres how it operates now. Driver drives to a destination. An accomplice guide shows up, collects 10 rupees from every person, the driver takes a share in it. The way these guides operate, nobody would ever tip them. World over guides earn more by tips than by the actual guiding work. None of the
guides I met are multilingual. Their English as well as Kannada are just passable and I am not talking about other languages at all.

In our bus, they played a VCD of a flop Hindi movie. I would have so welcomed an introduction to the sites I was going to visit, if at all. (I hate "Video coaches" or "in flight entertainment", just let us be)

The office of KSTDC is one sad place. Something like a railway booking counter out of the Raj. No souvenirs, no t shirts, no smiling faces - nothing. And they call Karnataka the theatre of
inspiration. Its more theater of the insipid.

The bus itself can double up as a souvenir shop with some souvenirs for display inside that visitors can pick up either at the origin or destination.

How about a complimentary (or paid) photograph?
How about some good quality replicas?
Handing over these monuments to private agencies ( I would say hotels like the Taj or Oberoi, who have a vested interest in tourism and tourist arrivals) for a fee and making them free to market souvenirs is perhaps a better idea than to get the government run the upkeep of these places.

But consider once again, the goldmine that these tourist corporations are sitting on. Visit any tourist place of a pennys worth abroad and it is worth noting how they take care of their heritage and how they market it. Apparently Ajanta, Ellora caves are pretty well maintained these days. Its just another of those things, that we have and squander without a thought as to the value and potential that can be unlocked.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Brands and Life cycles

Many years back, we had gone to meet a cousin. At that time, we used some bambaiya slang and he got used to it. He was all of 5 years old. When we met him 10 years later, he remembered all those jargons exactly the way we had told him, even though we had moved on and updated ourselves on newer jargon. For my cousin, we were cool and he picked up some jargon. But while we moved on, he still used some of it.

Happens I guess. This piece was written sometime back, but I thought that what happened between us and our cousins is exactly what is happening here. An Economic times story of yesterday (couldnt find the link of the piece though) carried a story on Dead abroad resurrected in India, where they talked about brands that are not great shakes abroad but are big names in India. The theme was on track, though I felt that thy brands they mention have not exactly been resurrected in India, but have been in India for a while. They mention brands that are not "hot" elsewhere, like Everready and Bata. They also mention Sansui and Akai, but they are not hot brands in India either. There is also mention of Allen Solly, Louis Phillipe et al.

The Chinese actually have the story that the ET piece aims to tell. Old brands that have died elsewhere (US) continue to survive (thrive) in China. Although not a totally related example, heres some others.
How Uganda has some of the most ardent English soccer fans.
How Chunky Pandey is a big name in Bangladesh!

We also know how, here, since the British left India, our English still hangs on to some of the words which is no longer used in Britian. Mofussil, balderdash and other victorian nuggets still find a place in our day to day writing which would have been tossed out of the window in old blighty. Old English words do not die, they perhaps come to India.

Life cycles of products, brands, languages move on, at times, where they are not expected to move in a conventional sense. Old forgotten English bikes, are found in North India (and until recently in Delhi) where they are used as three wheeled rickshaws.

Brands are often born in one place, live life in others and often go on to lead multiple lives before finally dying off (if they do). In a globalized and highly connected world of information flow, there is very little chance that an old model of a car from the US will strike it rich in India (as some manufacturers have discovered). As the world moves along the networked speed that it does, the brand life cycle will be increasingly shortened and such hidden afterlives in other countries would reduce by much.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Of cool dude and taklu

Many a good rupee is spent in advertising brands and popularising them, but what the brand is known later often has no connection with the name and the advertising moolah spent on it.

A couple of days my mom went hunting for mozarella cheese. She climbed the steps of many a store before, exasperated, she asked them,"If you dont have mozarella cheese, what cheese do I use for pizza?". "Oh", said the chap, with a look that said, whattanintelligentquestion, "use pizza cheese" and handed over a bar of mozarella cheese! Well cheese manufacturers, sell it as pizza cheese, it will probably sell well better and if I am not mistaken atleast one manufacturer has taken the cue.

Coke may have spent millions on Aamir and Thanda matlab Coca Cola, but out there, thanda still means some 20,000 varieties of any coloured flavoured liquid that is not hot. To the average Ramu, Coke = Pepsi=Thums up. Brown coloured liquids substitute one another, as do orange coloured ones. The name does not matter out there.

Many years back, vanaspati (vegetable fat) was launched in tetra pack. I was sent to do this errand to Lakshmi Stores, the store run by a gujju who spoke chaste Tamil to cater to maamis of Pestom Sagar. I asked him for a small pack of Dalda (of some brand) and a lot of permutations and combinations to no avail. Finally, in a stroke of genius with a look of triumph on his face, he asked me with the Tetra pack in question, "Would you like Dalda Frooti". Ahem! Dalda Frooti indeed!

Marketers can try using their own jargon like Laal Hara (Bayon if I am not mistaken), but the market finds its own way. Much like your nickname. You may want to be known as Cool Dude, but your nickname could well be something like "taklu"

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Highway driving scene: Racing

As one drives along Indian highways (roads), racing is one of the many scenes that are a fairly common sight. Racing is not what you think it is, read on!

Imagine a lorry loaded with a huge slab of granite 3 kmph on the right most lane and a lorry loaded with sand as much as it can take just behind it. Suddenly, inexplicably, the two decide to have a race.

11.20: Two trucks on the rightmost lane. You are some distance away, but you can see the trucks moving at 3kmph and try to take evasive action. Sand truck cleaner looks out of the window and tells his driver that there is nothing. (Nothing means no huge truck in the distance. Cleaners of trucks never see anything as small as a car, even if its zooming in at 100 kmph)

11.21: Sand truck decides to overtake granite truck and moves into the left lane. You screech to 3 kmph just behind the sand truck and see if there is some gap where you can squeeze and get out. Since there is no space, you decide to bet who will win this big race. Anyway there are no other cars around, so we still have time to decide.

11.26: Sand truck speeds up to 3.5 kmph. You place your money on the sand truck. In any case by now there is a line of cars behind you and a line of cars have bet on the granite truck.

11.27: The front bumper of the sand truck is ahead of the front bumper of the sand truck. Sand truck driver now yells expletives, over the drone of the two engines to the granite truck driver. Granite driver cannot hear it, but his cleaner hears the same, translates it with garnish and passes it to the granite truck driver who replies in kind. Now the sand truck has gone ahead by half of its front tyre. You smile at the Qualis next to you.

11.28 to 11:33: Granite truck driver decides to give a fight to the sand truck driver. He steps on the accelerator. His vehicle makes up for the half tyre distance. Both are same. The Qualis
crew smiles at you.

11:33: Steady flow of expletives through the interpreter both ways. Both trucks have stabilised at 3.5 kmph. The queue of vehicles is now a traffic jam that is moving at a constant speed of 3.5 kmph.

11.40: Suddenly the trucks speed up. Its a slope, they go faster thanks to gravity. The granite truck being heavier now speeds up. There is enough space between the back of the granite truck and the front of the sand truck for one car to go. The qualis zooms ahead through the space between the two trucks as do a few other cars.

You also manage to do the same somehow...until you reach the next obstacle...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Send them nominations! Blog Mela - Sticky post!

The Bharateeya Blog mela will be hosted here, at interim thoughts..., next week. Send those nominations in full force. Due to some confusion the nomination (Oct 22) call is being published late! Sorry for that.

The rules are as usual!

1) Posts must have some connection to India, however tenuous.

2) Please nominate only those posts dated between 20 and 27 October. And please avoid, so far as possible, nominating posts that have already appeared on Desipundit.

3) You can nominate posts by commenting here!

4) Barring unforeseen circs, the mela should be up here on the afternoon of 29th October.

Update: This post is sticky no more!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On tourist guides

Most of us who have ever visited any tourist destination will observe how fragmented the guide industry is; in fact there is no industry. To most Indians, guides are just glib talking touts and that is unfortunate.

Guides can be more than just glib talkers. They are ones who introduce a monument to a tourist, take the tourist around and a lot of tourist perception on a monument is built by the
guide. They are the tourist ambassadors, yet, its an area that is badly neglected at most tourist spots in India.

Why not train college students to become guides? It is perhaps the best way to learn "public speaking" (and get paid for it) than go to a public speaking course. If I had such an opportunity, I would grab it during my vacations. There is opportunity out there for someone who can train college students and send them alongwith tourists every vacation.

My personal experience with guides has been mixed. Either they spin their own yarn around the monument (our guide at Golconda fort) or they are there to make a quick buck (Sravanabelagola). The guide we hired recently at Belur was the best of the lot and thats not saying much.

I avoid taking guides and prefer to take my own reference material to read through about the monument at leisure. But a guide can be a valuable asset. Well trained, he can guide the tourist through the new place, make him feel at home and even assist him in purchases (today it is mostly fleecing and commission driven). About time we had a professional guide service at monuments or make the monument so self explanatory that there is no need for guides.

Postal address to web address

First it was the mailing address. We wrote out addresses of people in big books with old entries struck out and newer entries highlighted. Check out your house and there will be a forgotten address book maintained some years back. Every few years a family member will get into the "this address book sucks" and copy it out onto a new book. Inevitably some addresses will be
left out or laziness sets in after the third address under "Uncles". Now suddenly, there are two books to look up addresses in...

Then it was the telephone book. We had a telephone book with the numbers, changes, inter state STD codes updated. Very much like the address book, many a time the same, but at other times a small book that held just numbers. Telephone books could be lost and they lost themselves with fair regularity, more than phones went dead. Therefore some people had duplicate telephone books.

Business people had visiting cards. And then we had rolodexes and other contraptions (like the cd cases of today) where we could store our visiting cards that we collected from various

Then someone came up with those stickers (white with colour bands) with address and phone numbers for non business people. They are still used by small shops.

Shops used to give out calendars to hang on walls, wonder how many people hang calendars on their walls these days. Desktop calendars survive, but just about and certainly no calendar
with a big name of some shop written on it. There were small pocket calendars and they survive in some pockets, literally.

Today, well, what do you do? Send a link.
You have a blog? Send a link.
Theres a new restaurant, send a link.

If you dont have a link, thats it, you can stay unlinked, all your life.

If its not a link, better have a cell so that you can "give me a missed call, so I can save your number". Many people, yours truly included would barely know 2 or 3 numbers to dial. We
just Search and dial from the cell, so if you dont have your cell for some reason, you are stranded.

Today, visiting cards still exist, but they are just a physical reminder of the email address. Address books and telephone books, stickers, calendars have all but gone out of the radar replaced by a contacts list.

Wonder what is going to be next?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TCS acquires Pearl

One of the big business stories of today is the TCS 12 year contract with Pearl group UK.

What exactly does Pearl do? Heres some insight from the Pearl group website.

...In the UK, there are almost 70 "closed" life funds where new customers cannot make investments. The value of these funds is more than £190 billion, which amounts to approximately one fifth of the long term insurance sector.

We have identified that the existing customers of these funds have three main concerns - financial security, long term investment returns and service standards. We intend to be closely focused on these concerns, and establish ourselves as a dedicated investor in closed funds.

Excerpts from Financial Express:

...India’s largest software exporter Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) on Tuesday bagged the country’s biggest ever outsourcing deal with the $848 million (£486 million), 12-year contract from UK’s insurance and pensions major Pearl Group Limited to provide non-voice processing of life insurance and pension policies.

TCS will also emerge as UK’s second largest BPO in the life and pensions services space after the deal.

TCS has cumulatively bagged $1.5 billion worth deals till date this year.

This is also the largest manpower transfer deal done by any Indian BPO company.

The subsidiary will be free to take on non-Pearl insurance business as well.

By 2007, Indian insurance outsourcing market was projected to grow to $790 million. But this deal changes those calculations completely. Also, according to a recent Gartner report, only six BPO players — Accenture, Fiserv, TAG, CSC, EDS and IBM — had attained the maturity to handle large deals in life insurance. No Indian company figured in the list. But this deal may force a relook at such projections....

What is the bet that TCS will convert this into a full fledged service provider of pension administration et al? Very high, if you ask me.

For TCS this is not a new thing having acquired a Swissair BPO sometime back. It looks like they have gained from this experience and decided that the way to go forward is acquisitions of these types. To me too, this looks like a good way to grow considering what Indias IT service providers are up against.

From a recent Businessworld issue:

...The biggest of the Indian majors, TCS clocked revenues of US$2.24 billion last year. No.2 Infosys had revenues of US$1.59 billion. On the other hand, Accenture had revenues of US$13.7 billion, and EDS US$20.7 billion.

If Infosys continued to grow at the 30 percent it did last year, and Accenture's revenues remained static, it would still take India's most admired company seven years to catch up. But Accenture is not standing still. It has grown at 11 percent this quarter, though the previous year's growth had been almost flat. ...

In the quest for higher revenues, Indias IT service providers have to acquire and grow if they have to reach anywhere near the size of the biggies. This deal is one of the many, I envisage in the near future. I wont be suprised if we see many more such acquisitions.

There are many service providers that do payroll administration, pension administration and the like all over world. A buy in this space gives a company (like Infosys-Progeon, Wipro-Spectramind etc) that has presence in both IT and BPO a foothold to a larger set of clients apart from arming them with some solid credentials for future bigger deals.

Its good to see Indian industry expand its footprint beyond our borders!

Similar posts tracing other acquisitions, here, here and here.

Update: TCS has acquired Sydney based FNS for USD 26 mio. According to Reuters

... The acquisition would help add 115 banks spread over 35 countries as new clients, TCS said in a statement. FNS's clients are mostly Tier I and Tier II companies in the emerging markets of Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, it said..

TCS is a company which IMHO has been a first mover right since its early days in the Indian IT industry. They were among the first to explore the European, Japanese and Chinese markets and it looks like they are leading in the way in acquiring companies too!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The fire under the bonnet, IT staffing

Question: What happens when you get in hungry associates, train them with all the requisite tools, give them loads of responsibility in the work they do and give them an opportunity to make money too?
Answer: You get Indias IT services sector. (This piece in Financial Express talks about the rookies in Indias IT sector)

In Indias IT services sector the average age of employees is about 28 or so. Most associates with 3 years of experience would have managed atleast 1 team during their tenure. A little more experience than that and you will find project managers. Add a year or two and you have account managers, people who manage entire client accounts in the US, running accounts that gain the company a few million dollars each year and then some.

In Indias services sector, this is the model that works. Get hungry best in class employees, set them free on the job (almost). Critics abound on the kind of work that gets done in Indias IT sector and are not entirely unfounded, but the amount of exposure and empowerment an associate gets is perhaps unheard of in many other industries.

Ask any recruiter in the IT industry and she will tell you that every candidate wants more exposure and responsibility. Nobody wants a run of the mill job that has a whiff of monotony (and the IT industry has many such jobs too). A person who would have emigrated to US (in the coding business), say 7 years ago, would today continue to work on the same application that he started on (give or take a few), but he would, on an average remain an individual contributor fixing bugs. Sure growth happens there, but it is nothing like the turbocharged growth here in India.

In India a person who has spent the last 7 years in the Indian IT industry would be nothing short of a project manager. He would have handled teams, clients across geographies, would be familiar with business, domain and a fair amount of technology too.

This is the maturity of the Indian technology sector which is something that is not perceivable at first glance. It is these guys who can, if they apply their minds to it, come up with killer applications and newer concepts. Imagine a company which has thousands of such employees.

And now see what is the potential that these Infosyses, TCSes and Wipros hold under their bonnet!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sravanabelagola, Belur, Halebid - poetry in stone

It was a wet day in Bangalore. Bangalore has few wet days in a year. It has wet hours, perhaps wet minutes and wet seconds, but to reiterate very few wet days. Our planned tour to Sravanabelagola, Belur and Halebid, happened to be on this day, a day that there was a depression over the Bay of Bengal which caused some good rain in this area.

Upshot? Cool pleasant weather all day long, a few showers. Downside? The photos did not come out too well.

Being the day after Dassehra, it was a holiday in Bangalore for most companies and there was less traffic on the roads. Our Volvo covered the city like it should. We went through atleast one city market, which the day before had been converted into a market for young banana plants (to tie on vehicles for Dassehra). Post Dassehra the economic value of a banana tree to any seller was zero, so many of the surplus stock had got left out there itself. As we came out of the city via Peenya, Nelmangala and onto the Mangalore NH-48, the cityscape slowly changed into ruralscape.

Long distance travel or tours in India during monsoons is soothing on the eye. The only way to describe the landscape is green. Imagine an entire brown palette of various shades of green garnished with yellow and speckles of other colours. The sights are familiar. Lazy buffaloes, cows chew the cud by the wayside imagining why would someone have to hurtle along at speed. Then there are village sights of a rural, unhurried and healthier lifestyle.

Having said that, the roads (and road sense) need improvement. We saw an accident, fairly gruesome; with oodles of luck, the car which crashed side on onto a truck had no casualities of serious injuries. The accident would not have happened even if there was something so simple as a divider on the road or if the drivers followed some very basic traffic rules.

Remember the rainy day, therefore there were clouds, intermittent drizzles all day long. Vindhyagiri (which has Bahubali) slowly came into view as did adjoining Chandragiri(a temple on the top). The climb to Vindhyagiri is a good climb to do in human first gear. The effort is well worth it at the top to see Bahubali looking over the plains with a peaceful look in his eyes.

From then on, a slightly bumpy (even in the Volvo) ride to Belur and Halebidu. The landscape is almost the same. Paddy fields, water bodies, sun flowers, coconut trees, lazy villages until the mind blowing scupltures of Belurs ChennaKeshava (handsome Vishnu) hit you.

The temple from afar looks squat, like many of the prehistoric temples, whose tops have been removed by the vagaries of time. Its only on a closer look that the true magnificience of the temple comes through. The words I write here on my computer do no justice to the reams of poetry written out there on stone.

Stone, that tells stories. Stone that tells you different stories depending on what you want to hear. You can look at the temple and fall in love with it. You can look at one panel and fall in love with it. The classic scuplture there is the one of an apsara. At one level it is another of those roof level apsara sculptures. On a closer look one can appreciate the fine art that has gone into producing it. A level closer and one can see a lizard trying to reach a fruit. On the fruit, is a fly, in stone! Thats the level of detail that these master craftsmen have gone to. My camera couldnt catch it, but apparently the wings of the fly are discernible, if one zooms enough.

Every stone has a tale to tell. Of the craftsmanship of centuries ago. Of a toil across generations to create, perhaps, one masterpiece, one sculpture for an entire lifetime. One error and you are kaput. Tales in stone that have stood the merciless test of time and is a story that is there for not just the elite or the educated or the rich, but to anybody who cares to stand and stare at the scuplture for just a few seconds. (Aside: How many of us will ever be fortunate to connect to millions through what we do across 12 centuries of time?)

Then there is the famous free standing stone pillar. In an amazing work of engineering excellence this is a monolithic stone pillar poised on a platform, just like that. There is no sand or cement or anything else to hold it. Three sides of the pillar rest on its base, the fourth, ever so slightly out of contact with the ground, so much that you can slide a paper underneath it. In perfect equilibrium it has been standing for the last 12 centuries.

One visit (this, incidentally is my second) is not enough to appreciate the level of beauty of Belur and Halebid (and I havent begun speaking about Hampi yet). The second visit had me
in raptures as much as it had in the first.

And then again, every visit to an Indian heritage site, monument, brings us back to how much heritage we have in India, how little has been done to protect it, tap it and how there is potential to do so much more.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

More or less, organization levels

Many companies pride at their flat organization structure. These days, (and for a few decades now), flat is in. But, some of the new tech sector companies in India have a structure that is anything but flat. In fact the number of levels have increased over the last few years.

In India, according to a friend who worked there, Tata Steel at one point had 22 levels of officer grade. To reach the top, say MD level or thereabouts, one had to reach 18. People started off at 1, say Senior Officer. After a heavy bout of restructuring, these levels were pruned to 5. Great, one would say.

Great, says conventional management wisdom, but the fact there are few levels means that the gap between two levels can be enormous. These gaps cannot be bridged in a single calender year, usually and even if they are, unless they are really significant, it does not guarantee a promotion.

In some of Indias premier IT services organizations with associates in excess of 20,000, there are a large number of levels. I dont have the exact figures, but having worked in the tech sector in India, many organizations, go against the grain of conventional wisdom in terms of the number of levels that exist in an organization. What this does is that associates have something to look forward to every one or two years, which is a good short term goal to have, which can be achieved with defined parameters of performance. The IT sector is also a sector with high attrition. By putting short goals within reach, it allows employees to focus on the next level continuously without having to look for opportunities outside. Overall, it brings a performance oriented culture to the organization and the associate feels rewarded by way of an advancement in his or her career. If there were only 5 levels in an IT organization, say Software Engineer, Project Manager, Delivery Manager, VP and EVP it would be a long time before an engineer became a Manager or a manager became a Vice President. With multiple levels in between, an engineer becomes a module lead in a year or two, then a project lead and so on.

So, what is better? I believe, a flat structure would work for smaller organizations (duh! there wont be enough people for all the multiple levels!) while organizations with more people would do well to have multiple levels. For a people intensive sector like Indias IT, a flat structure may or may not be the best thing to have. Of course, flatness may or may not mean access to the top management or great empowerment in decision making.

In either case performance has to be rewarded and that, obviously, is the key. Levels shouldnt also come either in the way of effective decision flow downwards or in getting ideas to boil to the top.

The trick employed by the IT cos here is to keep decision making roles flat and create more smaller empowered roles at lower levels. The degree of empowerment increases as one moves up and measured in terms of empowerment to take decisions, the structure is actually flat. Many of the roles are titles without a great addition to job responsibility!

Friday, October 14, 2005

A change of guard, TCS moves ahead of Tata Steel

This report in the Hindu Businessline, notes a change of guard in the largest employer in the private sector in India.

...INDIAN tech services companies are poised to become the country's largest employers in the private sector. The end of the second quarter this fiscal saw TCS crossing the 50,000-mark in employment with 53,329 people on its rolls.

"This makes us the largest private sector employer in the country," said Mr S. Padmanabhan, Head Global, Human Resource Development, TCS. In sheer employee numbers, this software services giant beat its group company Tata Steel which, with an employee strength of around 45,000 people, was hitherto the top employer in the country....

And it is not alone. Close on its heels (in almost every sphere are longtime rivals and competitors) Infosys and Wipro.

...Also perched on the 50,000-threshold are Infosys with 46,196 employees and Wipro with 41,911 people....

And another something to those who would immediately say that this has resulted in creation of a class of elite and that is not done nothing for the poor and so on.

...The services sector also boasts of another medallion in the form of indirect job creation at 1:1.5 ratio thus adding 75,000 new jobs to the economy for the 50,000 jobs that the tech company has created...

Multiply by 1.5, the official figure of a million IT workers in India (Nasscom estimates) and that is the rough number of indirect jobs created. The 1.5 ratio is also an understatement because the number of (in)direct beneficiaries of the wealth of the tech sector are many more. Landlors, bus drivers, cab drivers, cab companies, catering establishments, day care centers, outdoor training establishments, resorts, golf courses, caddies, car cleaners and I could go on and on...

iPod: Audio, Video - why not books?

Thinking about iPods and nanos and Video iPods started it off. First it was songs at 99c a piece. Now it is (selected)videos at $1.99 a piece.

Just thinking, what if they let us download books. e-books or e-versions of other books (before the copyrighters chew me up, I mean, for a price). I am not sure how the 2.5 inch screen will handle the entire page of a book, but I guess Apple can figure that out.

Rather than carry a few books in my bag, it would be nice to have books in my ipod. Pull out and read a chapter anytime on the move!. Imagine being able to bookmark what you just finished, imagine being able to highlight or imagine just being able to flip it out and read, just like that. No searching for the last page you read. An book ipod would be amazing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Honour and Indian IT

The Indian IT industry is an industry that depends more on individual effort than team effort.

Of course, the team is supreme, but it still consists of individuals and their heroic efforts which is distinct and different from a team effort. Not clear yet?

Lets say, a typical IT project done by an Indian IT services company consists of a hypothetical team of 10 members. Assume that there are two persons front ending the client. Out of these one is experienced (3-4 or more years experience) and one is a little less experienced (1-2 years). Offshore there is a lead of about 3-4 years experience or more, about 2 people of 1-2 years experience and the rest are freshers (5), with less than a year of experience. We dont count the managers, for obvious reasons.

Estimates are usually worked backwards, in fixed price projects. The sales guys have no clue on the work so they agree on a price on instinct (instincts uncannily meet their quarterly targets), the time and resources are worked backwards from that, which is usually too less to complete the job in most cases.

As it usually happens, somewhere along the way requirements are screwed up (scope creep, they say), nobody asks the right questions or if the right questions are asked the project goes into a spiralling cycle of "requirements incomplete" from day 1.

Why? Onsite tells offshore: Lets not wait for the client to give us full requirements, just get started. So they do, since onsite is the god. Somewhere along the way, client wakes up, submits a whole new set of requirements and the effort on the project is multiplied. Estimates go for a toss and delivery dates cannot be compromised upon or if new dates are given, it is still too less.

Now there are two scenarios. They manage to add more people (usually some rookies and if you are lucky, someone with experience ) or or they do not add more people. In either case, the teams head is put on the line. The threats may vary from "Your next appraisal will be screwed" or "Why cant you guys deliver such a simple thing".

In either case, the individuals survival instincts are touched. And each of them says, to hell with the account manager, I will see to it that this piece of shit gets delivered. Therefore, each one, fights to save his or her own honour. Fifteen hour days, all nighters, weekend work, working for 4 days without sleep, pizza for food, it all goes and the project is delivered. Sure, the team delivered, but why? Because each person fought for his or her own glory, like in a battle. In the midst of all this the fact that the sales chap screwed up on estimates is lost.

In the end commendations are given because "these people did more they were expected to do, sat late and delivered on time".

The stories of lone rangers fighting innumerable bugs through the night to deliver bug free code in the morning is something every software professional will empathise with.

As my friend says, it is these little bits of honour that add up to billions of dollars in revenue for the Indian IT. Without it, Indian IT would be nowhere.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A traffic jams, a diversion and confusion

Caught in a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere.
Nowhere is the section between the fringe end of Bangalore and Electronic city, which is now the best known address in Bangalore, thanks to the software industry.

Now there is Electronic city phase 1, a phase 2 and many other in the offing. The road which connects the two cities (Electronic and Bangalore) is a road known as Hosur road, a road that was a highway in the days when only 4 vehicles plied on it. Today with a heavy traffic on the road and light road sense the road is madness and traffic updates on local radios begins with "except Hosur road, are there any jams"(Its been like this for a few years now).

As is the case in my posts, that is not the point. While we returned from one of Electronic cities non descript areas, we ran into a traffic jam. What initially looked like a usual deadlock on an free for all intersection, turned out to be the end of a long long jam. From there traffic was diverted into one of the nearby villages. Thus began an entertaining journey.

What started off as a bus and a van, slowly became a case study in herd mentality. Some people stopped by and asked, some just drove on in the general geographic direction hoping to reach their destination. From the air the scene would have looked like a long line of ants, suddenly diverted and having lost their senses, going around in circles, running into any empty path, turning back at dead ends, trying to retrace their path. Like ants greet (or is it smell) each other, every vehicle stopped at every other vehicle, took or gave directions or shrugged in helplessness, waved hands (okay, ants dont do that) and tried to get out of the villages into the city.

All the roads (paths, crude stone paths, water filled potholed paths) of the nearby villages were filled with vehicles of all shapes of sizes. In the meantime, traffic from the other direction also found its way into these villages and very soon, one did not know who was following whom. Some people wanted to get out of Bangalore and some wanted to get in and it was one endless circle with vehicles getting off whereever they found empty space. And what summed up the situation two state transport buses found themselves following each other; the drivers checking if they were on the right route (they were in fact going in opposite directions). It turned out that momentarily one of the buses was going back to its starting point!

Finally, with a lot of help from the locals, auto drivers, bus drivers and whatnot, after atantalising 1.5 hours drive on non existent roads, we reached home in what should have been a 15 minute drive.

On Ideas

Read an interesting post today on Businesspundit, Your idea is irrelevant.

...But I am saying if you have a good idea, you aren't alone. Get on it and get it done. Otherwise, someone else will...

At the blog level, there are ideas that I think about for a post and mull over on it. I keep delaying the final post because I have to fine tune it just that little bit before I post it. Due to time constraints, not being satisfied with the final outcome for some of the posts that are my own thoughts, it takes a few days, to perfect an idea and what happens! Somebody has just blogged about it. Desipundit is a good place to check if something of that sort is happening. I usually work on a few post ideas at a time, but some of these ideas are posted by others before I take a final crack at it.

What happens at the blog level probably happens at a personal level, company, strategy and market level as well. Thats why I like that last sentence. Get on it and get it done. Otherwise, someone else will...

An icon celebrates his birthday

Its October 11th, a big day for Indian media. Well, it is Amitabh Bachchans birthday, arguably the best selling star in the Indian firmament. So, what is the best way to cash in on the moolah? Celebrate his birthday!

Star Gold has a birthday celebration Jabardast Janamdin.
Radio city is celebrating his birthday by playing his hits all day long. I am sure the news channels will also have something easy to report about today, as will all the newspapers, starved of news as they are in any case.

(And then again, what am I doing?)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Schools - a dilemma

Back in the days when I was educated, for my parents, getting admission into a school was a very simple thing. In those days, "clustering" seemed to be the logic followed by most parents.
If most people from a particular apartment block went to X school, then the next few kids from that block also go to the same school. Apart from the basic question of whether it should
be an English medium school or vernacular school and accessibility and ease of admission or whether it was convent or co-ed, little else mattered. The word of mouth in the building and locality took care of any other issues that remained.

Today, (Bangalore perspective), it seems to be a greatly complicated thing. Apart from the local state board (which nobody seems to want), there is CBSE ( known for its high standard of education) and there is ICSE. There is also an International Baccalaureate (I hope I got that spelling right, kids are going to have a tough time). The fees increase exponentially in the order I have written about. Some schools also teach horse riding and stuff like that. Then there are schools which boast of a student teacher ratio of 1:20. Then there are schools which claim to have no pressure, no homework and no exams for kids. There are schools which promise personality development and lots of other fringe benefits.

My point is that, all these things are not bad. But really, is life like that? Do you want kids spending 10 years in some sort of utopia only to find that the real world can be cutthroat, dot eat dog, with a fair amount of stress and honestly, quite difficult? Is it a good idea to spend 10 odd years as some sort of a hyped up superhero in school only to find out that the whole world wears their underpants inside? Or is it better that the kid goes to a school where the education part is taken care of with a smattering of exposure to the vagaries of life with exams, homework and the like? Would I go through school with personalised attention for 10 years only to find that in real life, nobody could care less about me? Would I go through no exams for 10 years only to find a big exam staring at me every year after that, all of which are intensely competitive. It is fine for rich parents, but what if I have to make it the hard way (of course, I mean, the regular way, with exams and merit lists and waiting lists).

I am not taking a stand here, I would really like to know if what these schools are doing is the right way, then, I guess 90% of us seem to have 100% flawed education. But it has helped us succeed in whatever little way in our real lives. So, will these new schools ready our kids for the reality of life? Will this kind of education take them to a higher level of success? Or will they, like the chicken, emerge out of the protective egg shell only to find that they are a chicken in real life?

Well, let me know!

Hutch, BSNL, Tata and Airtel - at our home

As we switch from Tata Indicom dial up access to Airtel, not-so-broad-band (we took the 128 kbps option, upto 128, as they like to put it, which is anywhere from 0 to 128 kbps), we have all (barring Reliance) the service providers in our home.

We have a BSNL mobile phone and a Hutch mobile phone (for me and ms.ecophilo) and we have a Tata Indicom phone too. So, why did we go to Airtel? A classic marketing case study.

BSNL does not have land lines in this area of Bangalore (yaya, I know it is the Silicon valley but BSNL does not have landlines in some areas.) It was not considered in the five year plan (those dinosaurs still roam some parts of the planet), as those in the know put it, since before Bangalore got built up into apartments there were only coconut groves here and coconut groves obviously did not need phones. Now, since the world is going toward mobile phones, investments in landlines have been reduced, so we cannot opt for BSNL broadband.

Hutch does not have too much of a presence in this segment, so they are ruled out.

Tata Indicom should have converted a low value customer into a high value customer, but when I spoke to them, they told me that their CDMA landline department is different from the broadband department, so I would have to stop this connection and get a new broadband installed and after all this their plans werent so customer friendly.

Reliance, well, their plans did not seem very customer friendly.

Airtel on the contrary, having taken over Touchtel was the first mover into our building. They offered to put up services even when the others balked and said they would do it if we paid a fat installation charge. A phone call and a rep came in, finished the formalities on a Saturday. On Monday, the instrument is up (only hitch, I need a slightly longer connector cable, which they dont have, so I have to buy a long cable). All in all, we hope to be connected via this 128 kbps line somewhere over the next few days.

Thats the case study of the service providers of India, from my own home.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Buland Bharat ki buland tasveer, Bajaj ads

Scene: Truck driver driving a truck on a highway. Voice over on radio, "Tere chehre se nazar nahi hatthi, nazare hum kya dekhe", observes a motorcyclist in his rear view mirror. Truck driver gives the motorcyclist a go ahead signal, guy refuses to move. Truck driver is perplexed that the motorcyclist wont overtake and go ahead.

A while later it transpires the motorcyclist is looking into the mirror placed sideways on the truck. Cleaner wakes up, puts a cloth over the mirror and the motorcyclist, overtakes the truck and speeds up. Voice over is still "Tere chehre se nazar nahi hatthi, nazare hum kya dekhe" and its for Bajaj Discover. (Storyboard, streaming video, here)

I dont remember any of Bajajs ads before the landmark "Buland Bharat ki buland tasveer, Hamara Bajaj". Uncannily, all ads after that (some great storyboards from Agencyfaqs)by Bajaj for their two wheelers (esp bikes) have been innovation personified.
The Boxer had the image of all females in a particular ad covered and ended with a mom shielding her daughter with an umbrella from taking a look at the "good looking" Boxer.
Caliber had this image of a rough and tough guy who refuses to move at a signal when it is red, despite being honked by a gang of roughs.
How can one forget Hoodibaba?
Pulsar had "definitely male" as its caption and was unabashedly male chauvinist.
Then there was another "bouquet" ad for all of Bajajas two wheelers which showed a respect for tradition.
One ad for the Legend was pretty good too.

Fantastic visuals, great music and simple ideas conveyed beautifully have contributed to the amazing recall of Bajajas advertisements.More power to ads like theirs. They are better than many of the tepid cricket matches, insipid tele serials and dull news.

Updated with a link to the storyboard of the commercial.
Updated with a link to the new Avenger commercial review, another splendid ad.

K@W, why not from IIM

Many of us in the tech industry have subscribed to this email group known as Knowledge@Wharton. This is a free service of the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania.
This is what it says at the end of the mail, which I receive, I think once every 2 weeks or so, this weeks installment was from Oct 5-18.

"Help Spread KnowledgeDo you know people who might be interested in these research studies and more? If you do, please forward this e-mail message to them.
Its companion web site, Knowledge@Wharton, includes full details of thestories listed here.

To read Universia-Knowledge@Wharton, our Spanish/Portuguese Partnership

To read the Chinese Version of Knowledge@Wharton

To comment on these stories, go to:"

This is a big big method of brand building. Taking your brand to those corners of the world (see the Chinese, Spanish version) where there is really no awareness of your brand. Allowing people to interact ( a link to comment!). K@W, I am not sure of the size of this brand, does wonders for the already strong brand of Wharton. So, why arent our IIMs doing this? I would love to receive the thoughts from the IIM profs and perhaps the current batch on the current goings on in India (and theres so much of it). Anything that gets those intellectual gears moving!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Emerging market - Senior citizens

As India moves away from the joint family model to a nuclear family model, the dynamics of elders in the society is changing. As with any change in dynamics, it presents an interesting business opportunity.

Old age homes for instance. This piece in financial express notes how the old age home has changed from a depressing peeling paint kind of place to swank retirement habitats where elders can lead a good life. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Recently (and my memory fails me), another well known group had started providing services to elders facing the empty nest (with children in America) syndrome. For a price, they would appoint someone who would do all the chores for the elders. Escort them to a place, drive them around and take care of their daily needs. It is all the more important in the face of recent targetting of empty nests by hooligans.

Like the ageing baby boomers of the US, this generation presents a set of elders who are affluent themselves and have children who are willing to pay for conveniences. The booming middle class is creating wealthy seniors which is a market waiting to be tapped.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Organising the unorganised

This is perhaps the best idea to get an idea. Get onto the net, blog surf your way and what do you get? A post where you think you should comment. As you comment, it strikes you that this can be a post itself. So, here goes. What started off as a comment to a post on Seriously Clueless, is a post here.

The unorganised sector in India is huge. For almost anything organised, there is an unorganised sector. Yet dealing with the unorganised sector has its own problems. Say, as an example hiring a driver or a maid or cook for a house. Especially when one is new in a city and is not conversant with the local language etc. Here is where this "organisers" step in. They are little more than the bodyshoppers in IT and offer little or no service apart from facilitation. In a developed country or an educated workforce, something like elance would be used, but considering the diversity of the workforce, these agencies step in. There are some in Bangalore who provide maid service, but there is a lot of scope for such "aggregators", if I may. They typically charge a premium as compared to employing a maid solo, but people from such agencies are professional and have their backgrounds verified, which is an added layer of security for someone who is new to a city.

There is a lot that can happen with this concept (think drivers, cooks, tutors, cleaners, carpenters) and we have only just scratched the surface.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Small investors and traders

Saw an interesting debate during a few moments of break between channel surfing. It was between Kirit Somaiya and another person whos name I couldnt catch and it was about the rigging and circular trading in the market.

While Kirit talked about protection to the small investor (from the price rigging in some penny stocks), the fallout of which has been the banning of some 10 odd brokers from Calcutta (of all places) this other person had a pertinent point. He, of course, agreed that action has to be taken against those who rig the market. But he also placed an important question.Who is a small investor and who is a trader?

Logic here is that anyone who indulges in speculative activity is a trader and he knows the risk he is taking. Also, his take was that the small investor should not step into penny stocks or stocks that he has not researched about. Such a person is no longer a "small investor", but a trader or speculator. Small investors, he says, should enter the market through the blue chip route or through the MF or SIP route.

I agree and disagree. Circular trading as he rightly said wont succeed unless someone falls for it in the circle. The promoter operator nexus also wont succeed unless someone falls for it. Every investor or trader knows about the dangers of the market and especially fly by night promoters and stocks, so if they get stuck in stock rigging, then, well, god help them. I disagree because the rigging is not so simple as just a circular buy and sell. It also involves planting news, press releases dutifully printed by newspapers (knowingly or unknowingly) and a lot of other "lures". People are attracted to penny stocks with this logic: Invest in a one rupee stock and when it reaches two rupees, you have doubled your money. It is these practices which have to be rectified, regulated and punished.

I also read a recent piece on how many of the FIIs are actually Indian brokers with overseas accounts ( theres more at Sucheta Dalals website). If that is indeed true, then someone is going to get hurt soon. And that someone will necessarily be the proverbial small investor (and a few brokers).

Coming back to the question of a small investor and a trader, with the proliferation of online purchase, there is no great difference between them. In any case, the logic of risk shouldnt be used to justify a lack of regulation or an abetment of market manipulation.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dheeraj and the stock market

Bulls and bears were the most exotic species of animals for my cousin, Dheeraj. He had nothing to do with animals, he was a big fan of the stock market. I could judge the stock market by simply taking a look at him or listening to his voice from time to time.

He would be exuberant on the day the market scaled up and depressed on days when the market went southwards. A greater degree of exuberance meant a bull run while a sustained depression meant the market tanked. One day the tune would be “India rocks”; while at other times, it would be “India is going to the dogs”

His day was made when he had one more convert into the legion of investors. It was in this context that he used to meet me and try to entice me into getting my feet wet in the water. Our typical conversations would go like this.

“Invest in the markets now”
“No, I am very happy the way I am”
“I am going to be rich. I am just letting you in onto the opportunity. Don’t tell me I did not tell you”
“I am happy with my small savings”
“You have no ambition”

As the bull run slowly gathered momentum, Dheeraj invested in a mobile phone.
“I sold ACC and brought this beauty”
A few days later, he was zooming in on a new bike.
“What happened to that old warhorse scooter of yours?”
“TVS has launched a new bike. I financed it by selling Hero Honda”

Meanwhile, I was left with my cycle. But I refused to relent. It was my firm belief that in the long run, especially in the stock markets, it all adds up to zero. The sensex moved from its pre 5000 levels to 5000 and then slowly but surely scaled up through the 5100, 5500, 6000 and 8000. The markets would go down. For every bull run, there would be a Harshad Mehta or a Bhupen Dalal was my counter argument. My money, or whatever little of it, was safer with the Government and the Life Insurers.

I tried to keep my head high. The sensex was still higher than my head. Ultimately, I decided to enter the market. Like the reluctant cat moves towards hot milk, I landed up at a brokers office with some money of my own. The first few days were good. My portfolio tool on MS Excel began to show newly sprouted green at many places. I began to see dreams of my new scooter and perhaps some refurbishing for my house.

After that the market began to move strangely. Each day the index went up, my stocks would go down and each day that the index went down, my stocks went down further.

As the market continued on its random journey up, down, sideways and rangebound, my portfolio began to change colour. It was red in patches, green in some other patches. My dreams began to get intermittent. The market would determine my mood ( interestingly, it never happened the other way round try as I might). I began to live on hope. Until, the Monday happened and then Tuesday and Wednesday and some Thursdays and Fridays as well. The portfolio tool now shone in red and with some effort and imagination, colourwise, would resemble Mars, if Mars could be suitably represented on a spreadsheet.

I am still left with my cycle. Hoping for the bull run to power my cycle into a scooter. What happened to Dheeraj? I saw him a few days back pedaling furiously on an oldish bicycle, “I had to sell my TVS, because Hero Honda is a good buy”

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A tale of two ironboxes

After the tea shop, the press shop (person who irons clothes) is perhaps the smallest entrepreneurial activity in India. All it needs are a pushcart and a iron box. The iron box used by the presswallah (as I will call him from now on), is a century old design, the other relatively new. Yet, in many respects, the century old model comprehensively beats the newer technology.

The old iron box is a simple "iron" cage with place to put in simmering pieces of coal and some outlets/inlets for the coal to keep simmering (see picture - its obvious which is the new one). It is fairly heavy, and its weight and heat helps it, literally, weigh down creases in a single pass. For obvious reasons, very few houses use it. But the laundries down the street (all over India, I guess) use this iron box.

The newer ones are a study in contrast. They are light, plastic ironboxes and generate heat by way of electrical elements, but the lightness means a few hisses of steam steam, liberal sprinkling of water and some patience are needed before a crease can be subjugated. The older electrical models (between these two) had a heavy element but that meant they took a longish time to get heated.

The old ironbox is cheaper to buy and run because it can for cheap and does not consume electricity. For the presswallah, its efficient, because he needs at the most 2 passes to iron a trouser. And that earns him 2 rupees (1USD = approx 44 INR) per item of clothing. These guys can be pretty busy (atleast in Bangalore) on weekends, readying clothes for the techies of India's Silicon valley for the Monday. For them, this ironbox is ideal. No dangling cords, does the job quickly and effectively and inputs are cheap. To iron a similar trouser at home means the consumption of almost 2 rupees worth of of electricity, plus a decent amount of time.

I am not sure that in this day and age, in how many countries we can see this ironbox in action. In markets like the Indian market, with abundant labour supply (yet), the old model beats the new model hands down. Perhaps there are more examples out there on how the abundance of labour (or other resources) creates differences in the way markets adapt to technologies.