Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How to build an industry

From Yale Global, a tale of how the shipbuilding industry in Korea has evolved.

Now they develop their own ships
It was a different story 10 or 20 years ago, when shipping companies still designed their own ships. German engineers produced the blueprints and the Koreans built the ships. Nowadays Hapag-Lloyd no longer has a development department. The Koreans have been fast learners.

The generic situation seems the same...
Until the end of the 1970s, the Europeans still dominated the global shipbuilding industry, continuing a tradition that went back centuries. That role shifted to the Japanese in the 1980s. Since the turn of the millennium, the Koreans have been in the lead, and currently have a global market share of close to 40 percent. But the Chinese are likely to overtake all other competitors soon.

Is any part of the ship made in Germany any more? The on-board computer maybe? Or the radar system? Zelck thinks for a moment, and then he says: "The cables to tie the ship to the dock. Somehow they haven't figured out how to make them here."

I dont know the mechanics of shipbuilding, but its seems to be an example emulation for the IT industry here to emulate.

Darshinis and (Mc)Donalds

The fast food market in India is a case study in itself on the effect of foreign competition. The effect of new entrants in the fast food market in India can be seen best in Bangalore thanks to the local fast food joints and the presence of some of the international ones.

The category of joints in Bangalore can be classified as Darshinis and Sagar. The darshinis cater to the lower end of the market and have no seating or service section. The Sagars cater to the next segments and many have a service section in their restaurants (which is a little more expensive). These are truly fast when it comes to food. Their peak time is breakfast when people walk in for freshly made idlis, vadas and pongal and of course, coffee.

The foreign entrants or their Indianized versions like McDonalds cannot cater to either the breakfast crowd (burgers for breakfast - naah) or the crowd that splurges at Darshinis (they run at dirt cheap rates). They therefore have to cater to the upmarket crowd (unlike in the US). So, if you can get a sumptuous breakfast at any of the above for 20 rupees, the minimum you will have to spend in a fast food place is 100 (50 if you are a skinflint. Coffee at a McD will be 20 bucks while it is 4-5 bucks in a Sagar. And then again, McD is not perceived to be healthy, while idlis are - so its a double whammy. So, the Sagars are the utility or a necessity which is considered as a true breakfast option, while the McDs and the rest are "luxuries" and then again their offerings never quite suit our palate as "breakfast" or "lunch" - they are more of a snack. Thus, in a way, the two operate in distinct market settings - necessity versus luxury.

There is space for both these models in the huge market that is India, but I am not sure the foreign fast food labels will make a big dent in India unless they innovate to provide healthy food offerings and work on their pricing. Right now the focus is more on pricing and bundling. By the time they have set shop in India, the world is on an awareness binge on the dangers of fast food - so the hope that Indians will feast on burgers and french fries may not be very realistic.

Right outside the Forum mall in Bangalore is a darshini (or a Sagar). One would have thought that the mall and its inviting food options and food court would have forced the Sagar out of business. Nay, the restaurant is more crowded than it ever was. People hang out in the airconditioned mall and eat at the Sagar. Another example of India and its quirks.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

We need this...

Heres the Innova with its "body saving" accessory - a custom bumper. So what if it is not factory fitted. There are others who will do it - Bumper to bumper Brownian motion traffic needs a bumper.

Call it what you like. It happens...

Previous one, at the end of every truck, is this...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Culture connection

Tyler Cowen of Marginal revolution, writes in the NYT on Culture. The column at the end makes a point, which is the perfect point when it comes to culture.

Culture is not a zero-sum game, so the greater reach of one culture does not necessarily mean diminished stature for others. In the broad sweep of history, many different traditions have grown together and flourished.

For someone in urban India exposed and buffeted by multiple cultures, this statement is obvious on the street.

And perhaps Mumbai is a living example of a cultural melting pot. Where else will you find Maharashtrians humming Tamil songs (ARR fans) or find anybody dancing to Gujju beats (Navratri) and people of all hues making a beeline towards the new Bhelpuri stall. Music and language in Mumbai is a learning of culture itself. The language spoken on the streets is an eclectic mix of Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati and then some.

But the author makes couple of nice observations, The Indian music market is 96 percent domestic in origin, in part because India is such a large and multifaceted society and Loyalties to cultural goods and services — be it heavy metal music or the opera — are about social networking and choosing an identity and an aspiration which are true and then goes onto make a point:

Local culture commands loyalty when people are involved in networks of status and caste, and they pursue religious and communal markers of identity. Those individuals use local cultural products to signal their place in hierarchies.

In a village not connected to anybody or a isolationist community perhaps yes, but at a generic level no. I think that the biggest influence of culture are peers, their aspiration and their identity- which may not necessarily translate into a network of caste or status. Which is why in pockets of Mumbai (and Kerala), it will be rare for you to hear a Bollywood tune because in these circles, it used to be infra dig to listen to Hindi (or Malayalam) music - these are not status or caste networks as they are about identity. Bollywood music has made a comeback and how and it is not because of a network of status or caste - but more on the strength of its identification with us (We are like this only!). Classic case, MTV believing in this came in as a phoren brand and it is now a happy Indian brand - as are all radio channels.

At the other end of spectrum is Carnatic music, which also, survives in pockets - steadily reducing in its traditional form. Carnatic music used to be big among certain communities, but now it is no longer so. In the earlier generation, peer influence (as well as status and caste hierarchies) weighed towards towards Carnatic music, but the next generation was more influenced by film music, so there is no resurgence of classical music in Mumbai - definitely not beyond first generation South Indian migrants to Mumbai.

Again, I am stepping into an area that I am not greatly familiar with and draw upon what I have seen and observed, so do correct me if I got this wrong.

On Prices

The Hindu businessline has a piece today on how Consumer goods prices are under check for the last two odd years due to competition and new players.

The detergent sector was in an all out war instigated by P&G and faithfully followed by HUL (Until recently, HLL). Most other sectors have seen the entrance of new players (ITC - biscuits) or faced increased choice or competition.

Though again, the price war was executed in part by offering different brands and variants and not a direct cost reduction all across. So, while premium products became pricier, cheaper products became cheaper or remained stable. So, while shampoos are available in 1 or 2 rupee sachets, the product is a little more dilute (my observation) while the premium end of the same shampoos are expensive (and become more expensive).

The other trick is to reduce the size and keep the price constant or allow consumers to purchase in bulk and give some discount. (here). This, per my observation, has been a consistent feature in most of the categories. Bottled water for example - now the 500 ml version costs what the 1 liter version used to cost some time back, but if you buy a larger size, you save a bit. Maggi has a tiffin size pack - a measly portion for the price that it used to offer an entire packet - but it also has a giant sized pack which it did not earlier - and this is cheaper than going in for one pack. Cokes 250ml bottle as opposed to 300ml and the introduction of the 2 liter bottle.

And interestingly, even in the times of increased raw material prices companies are not bleeding. Indeed higher productivity is helping them make money. So, competition is good not only for the customer.

Water dispensers

This a picture of water dispensers seen in restaurants/offices.

Look closely and they have a hot and a cold arrangement, but no arrangement for water at room temperature. So, what do you do? Mix hot and cold, is the simple answer - what a waste of energy!

You would have thought that this was elementary, but no - recently a third option is available (normal water) on some of the newer models.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Markets beat mandis

This one from Business-Standard:

New retail chains like Reliance and corporate agri-buyers like ITC are shaking up the traditional vegetable and fruit market.

By buying in bulk directly on the farmer’s doorstep, and booking future harvests as well, they are taking business from the traditional mandis. This has caused a sharp drop in supplies to the traditional wholesale markets — and is driving up prices there.

Those gaining from this are farmers, who now get a better and, indeed, an assured price, for their produce.

Also gaining are urban consumers in towns like Noida, neighbouring Delhi, where Reliance Retail outlets offer goods substantially cheaper than traditional neighbouring stores. What is squeezed is the trade margin in the middle, as the big companies exploit supply chain efficiencies. (emphasis mine)

Is this good or is it not? I cannot see why not. Farmers get a good deal, as do consumers - middlemen get squeezed - nothing like eliminating the middleman.

The piece also speaks about how companies have booked future harvests for a particular price and are, obviously, selling it at a higher price in the markets.

“Companies like Reliance, Adani and ITC had procured 40 per cent of the apple production at prices ranging from Rs 18 to Rs 45 per kg. This is being sold at Rs 50-110 per kg. The higher realisation is being appropriated by companies,” said ... HP Fruit Growers Association.

Well, did you ask the farmers, why they thought that was a good deal? Perhaps, they were getting lower prices than that before these companies came in and offered 18 to 45 rupees per kilo. Next year, they will get wiser and demand a higher price for their crops - if Reliance doesnt pay, ITC will.

Read the piece fully to see how markets are proving to be more efficient than mandis in getting a better price for farmers - if it did not, they would have sold it at the mandis or to the government. Markets work.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TCS shows the way

TCS plans a 500 seat delivery center in Mexico.

TCS, I have long maintained, is the real thought leader in Indian IT, right from its inception. The Indian IT services, lets not shy away from saying it, has a strong base in wage arbitrage. So fair enough, it is a model alright. Having said that, it needs to also be said that wage arbitrage in India vis-a-vis foreign countries has long existed in India. Most of the previous labour booms originating out of India were labour/wage arbitrage in some shape or form. But the difference between the IT boom and the others (Gulf jobs for instance) is that nobody really made a model out of it. Prior to the big players, bodyshopping was the way the IT service model really originated. To take that and create an entire service model out of it and then having done that, creating centers of expertise and capabilities takes some doing. Which is what the Indian IT service companies have done.

This was the first (or second) step, depending on how you look at it. Now companies need to think beyond and see how to take this model to the next level. The model as it exists today is unsustainable over a long term. Companies recognize this. Which is why you see some of them invest in products (Finacle by Infy), invest in capability (Wipro and chip design) and so on. TCS, as usual is active on all fronts. They are lowest in cost and perhaps pretty high on the capability scale too. Now, what they are doing is taking this model and porting it to other countries. So, a center in Mexico or other parts of Lat-Am/Europe means an ability to service customers in Europe and America at a lower cost (not as low as India), and with a minimal time zone difference. Time zone difference is often a big problem when one deals with several types of industry. The other thing, being, regulations. Being located in a NAFTA or an ASEAN zone opens up several opportunities which may not necessarily be available out of India.

What this also does is that it opens the door for the creation of a brand. Lets say, if TCS manages to take over a big firm in the US/Europe, it is immediately able to lower the cost of delivery of the firm by using the satellite delivery centers. I am not sure that this is why they are doing it, but it sure makes sense. Expect the others to think along these lines, but TCS is way way ahead on the curve.

Warnings unheard

Crash course on How to write about India yet again.

Yet another apocalyptic title. "Warnings unheard as India beats its superpower drum." and a great headline too, "India eyes riches at poor's expense."

The article is not that bad actually; it alternates between taking potshots at India Poised and a peoples confidence while carrying a couple of paragraphs on poverty. The tone of the article is a little lost considering the title or the headline.

Instead there is a vision of a more troubled India, where around 700 million people scratch a living out of agriculture and some 300 million battle to survive beneath the poverty line. Horse-drawn carts dodge trucks as they drive the wrong way down the national highway, overloaded with leaking sacks of grain. Visibly weak infant children break stones in the central reservation, helping to repair the road surface.

My point is, madam, if you cared to read, if today 700 million are dependent on agriculture, a few years back there were more. If today 300 million battle to survive poverty, a few hundred million have crossed over.

Both (Mr. Singh and Ms. Sonia G) leaders have a vested political interest in avoiding the spirit of self-congratulation which surrounds them; appearing to be sensitive to the needs of those excluded from the country's financial boom is a vital part of their electoral strategy.

But the words of these leaders have done little to quell the simmering excitement in the media and the business community.

My point is, should they quell the simmering excitement? If so, why? If the business community doesn't prosper would our poverty disappear magically or reappear magically - I leave that for an intelligent guess?

Surprisingly, I got this link from Yale Global where just a few days back, I found this link.

Lets use a cow

Make it two, to understand modern finance...

Link from Marginal Revolution.

Comic books in India

The comic book market in India is synonymous with Amar Chitra Katha. Sure there were Indrajal comics, cheap Archie comics, but I cant think of any better comic book better than ACK.

A few have tried to take on ACK, but not sure if anybody has made a dent in their market. I remember that many years back, there was atleast one, Adarsh Chitra Katha which tried to make an entry, but apart from that the segment of comic books on mythology, history has been an ACK fiefdom. I also discovered recently that inflation has had its effect on these comics too. What used to be 5 rupees a piece is now, 30 rupees a piece.

But coming to the point, there is a gap in the storybook market waiting to be exploited, especially by ACK. Especially in the childrens story book section. Children do not start reading comic books until they are 7 or so. Till then there is a vast market for read aloud stories based on Indian legends etc. Navneet (they of the famous 21 question set and guides) has made a foray into the market. Their "original stories" are pretty sad, but their capsule versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata are quite good. Karadi tales, in the meanwhile, has defined a whole category of audio CDs and books for itself. There are a few other players in the market, but the moment you open them, the fact that their artwork and illustrations are no match to ACK is evident. (Now, I am not saying that ACKs artwork is good - check out Virgin comics work on Ramayana - and I am sure Disney could do some amazing stuff there) But even ACK as a benchmark means that most of the books in the market are quite sub standard - Karadi tales is perhaps in exception in that respect. Having said that, the market is quite ripe for the entry of a big organized player. For those who are looking for good kiddie books on Indian mythology, legends what they find is surprisingly low quality.

But, in any case, I think ACK could have done more. Considering that buyers will be adults who have read and grown with ACK, it would be feeding a market that wants ACK to be there! Not sure how they missed this huge market.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Coke Mindshare

Stand and eat darshinis are not a great place to sell Coke in Bangalore. The things that sell most here apart from the snacks are Masala milk, tea, coffee and juice perhaps! But that doesnt mean Coke doesnt try! Pepsi had captured the menu cards and table cloth segment in the Bombay udupi restaurants a few years back - Coke has gone for the table itself...

Friday, February 16, 2007

On Farmers

An interview with Prof MS Swaminathan.

Insights on Farming and a dose of reality...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A latent market for the 1 lakh car

The last few weeks has seen the Tatas in spotlight; it is perhaps rightful at this point to take a closer look at their big gamble. The 1 lakh car. The car may or may not end up costing a lakh ( it will be a bit more than that), but it will surely be affordable. I dont know much about the car and my inputs are mostly from here and there.

The only thing that is "despicable" on roads in India from a "wanting to own" perspective as the link above rightly points out is the autorickshaw. The autorickshaw with its qualities could qualify as a people mover. But it has never been so. I am not entirely sure why, but it has something to do with the build, lack of privacy and the general infra dig feel about it. ( I mean, to start it if I have to bend and break my back each day - no way.)

So, who will buy the 1 lakh car - I assume here (as the link points out) that it will be a cute thing to have - a cute car would be a great selling point. There are many who would like to buy a car, but are put off by the 3 lakh odd price tag. Especially in a place like Bangalore (or any non metro) where public transport is not great and people move around on two wheelers. But between two wheelers and cars is a big gap waiting to be filled. This segment will be the bread and butter segment for the car and it is a huge huge market.

And if, as reports indicate, that it will be gearless - great. That means it will attract another segment - a segment that thinks that cars are difficult to drive. If it is cute enough, another segment - that of "lets own a second car" will also open up (today only the Reva has this segment and thats not saying a lot).

If it is good enough to replace all those two stroke rickshaws off the road, great.

As I had said earlier the car has the potential to create cascading effects for the economy. The government may be spurred to build better, newer roads or parking lots may become mandatory at commerical and residential buildings. Low cost airlines are making the government think about upgrading our bus stations that pass off as airports, perhaps the car will show the way to better roads (and better traffic sense - no thats not possible).

Of course petro prices can play spoilsport here, but we leave that out for the moment. If a company can do so much, it can also create an environmentally friendly engine.

Update: The 1 lakh car is being tested.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

MTR and Orkla

MTR, the brand that is synonymous with Bangalore, nay Karnataka is now taken over by Orkla Foods Norway. Yes, I am sure that you have the same question that I did, Orkla who? And why? From the website Orkla appears to be a big player in the Nordic countries in the food business with presence in Europe.

Why did a company like Orkla, which has no presence at all in this part of the world pick up something like MTR?

As I had written not so long ago (almost2 years back), India is on the threshold of a packed foods revolution. People do not have time as they did earlier, especially in urban areas with husband and wife working and the disintegration of joint families - broad trends - but the basic tendency is towards convenience. So, if earlier, cooking meant a ground up effort, now cooking varies from a "heat and eat" at one end to a "mix set of different pre-packaged ingredients". The supply of cooks and maids is perhaps the only counter to this trend - since having "hotel" food daily is not an alternative. In the long run, packaged foods will have a greater share in the Indian kitchen than ever before. Combine it with the health food boom and we are talking about some pretty big numbers.

So, did MTR sell off too early? That seems to be my thought process on this. MTR had barely scratched the surface. They had a good presence in Karnataka and a scattered presence at other places. In terms of cuisine (heat and eat), they had only a few varieties. In pickles, they could have broadened their range. In masala powders too, they had only scratched the surface. So, has Orkla got a good deal, even at the price that they did? My sense is yes. Indian cuisine has just about started making its mark all over the world. For Orkla, this acquisition is as much a foothold in the Indian market as much as it is a passport to international cuisine and perhaps even manufacturing in India.

Create your own brand

E-zone is a newly opened electronic mart - a kind of place like Best Buy (though not yet at that level) which is a one stop shop for all gadgets.

It has an in-house brand by the name Sensei though it does not have any manufacturing facility. E-zone sources its items from Chinese manufacturers and has thus created its own in house brand. It is perhaps the first ever instance of an Indian brand into mp3 players - though their Sensei brand extends into Iron boxes and so on among other things.

This means two things. Chinese manufacturing has made it easy to set up your own brand. Sensei has price points below most major brands which is a very smart move. When someone sees Sensei and compares it with another brand, your first reaction is - why are the others so highly priced? (Obviously there are answers like overhead, marketing etc. but thats not for the customer to answer.)

Now with Chinese sourcing, anybody can set up their own brand. Apart from the question of IPRs it raises another question.

If everybody is sourcing from China - what does your brand offer, that somebody else does not, beyond the name? Especially for gadgets where the difference in features is not much (still thinking if any gadget is significantly different - an ipod like category killer - actually the features seem to be pretty much similar across brands).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Now, background music

After ring back tones and caller tunes, now you have back ground music while you talk. As if regular reception wasn't poor enough!

Make hay while the planes fly

I had been to the Bangalore Aeroshow on the last day of the show. The Sukhoi and the Suryakiran were the hits of the day. There was a traffic jam all along and many people decided to view the show from the outside (and avoiding the ticket charges) further intensifying the jam.

For those who paid the 750 bucks, there were a few things that could surely have been better. Everybody else made hay while the planes flew.

For starters, the food court. The food counters were cramped, badly managed and worst of all a rip off in most cases. See on the left. A vegetable puff (a staple snack in Bangalore) in Bangalore will cost you anywhere from Rupees 5 to10 depending on where you eat it. At this place, stall managed by Mapple (whoever), the same thing cost us 40 rupees. 40 rupees for a godammn puff? I am seeing veg puff arbitrage for the first time. Well, the fact that people who come would need food was quite obvious, and since there was no alternative (a created monopoly), people just paid through their nose for the food. Nestles stall (or a stall which sold Maggi) was giving a measly helping of Maggi for 20 rupees. Be nice, people!

This is not the only occasion. In fact if its an event (or a non event), it is a surprise to see anything sold at MRP or for those items without an printed MRP, value for money to kabhi nahi milega. Perhaps they pay a premium to get contracts to run these stalls, but that does not justify ripping off the general public.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Disparity and opportunity

Amidst all the brouhaha of Singur, heres a group of women who are trying to make best use of their opportunity. It is quite "in" today to talk of disparity and how it will be the ruin of India (then again there is a similar argument on this at the world level.) or lead to economic instability or any of other various equally devastating conclusions.

There is no denying the fact that there are two (or twenty two) Indias. But as we observe, what is true at an individual or a community level is also true at the world level. At the world level, there are developed nations and there are nations that do not want to develop. Between these two ends of the spectrum lie countries lie countries in various states of development and dilapidation. So, does the US/developed countries get attacked by such "undeveloped" nations or do the undeveloped nations make the most of the opportunity?

Most (rational) people, countries, communities try to make the most of an opportunity except those who want to get stuck in the 7th century. It is human instinct. We may crib, we may resist, but every single person tries to create an opportunity for himself or herself that helps them progress. The Singur example is a case in point. Even though politicians might make you think otherwise, people want to make the most of opportunity.

If you were to read popular opinion you would think that there is simmering discontent due to a boom in certain businesses, but on the streets it is business as usual. (the violence happens because it is probably organized and instigated by idiots.) All yearn to be part of the boom - and that is again a natural tendency. There is frustration if you are not part of it for some reason, but then again you never stop trying.

Thus, the hotel owner in Bangalore welcomes new business as much as his waiter gets more tips. The fleet owner is happier servicing more companies as are drivers who get more employment. The number of catering companies and the employment they provide has to be seen to be believed. The going rate for a maid in Bangalore is as much as what an entry level engineer used to get during our socialist days (and what graduates used to earn pre BPO in the not so distant past). I am sure even beggars earn a lot more these days thanks to the booming times.

Disparity should be tapped into as a conduit for those who want to progress, not as a weapon to prevent those who are progressing from doing so.

A boom is like that, it sucks people in - even those who resist. Even the communists have moved on from Ambassadors to Skodas and from ITI phones to sleek new mobile phones, so why shouldn't the common farmer move on from his farm to wherever there is a better livelihood?

Whole wheat bread

This is the list of ingredients in "Whole Wheat bread".

Whole wheat bread means whole wheat is added to regular bread (and perhaps some colour as Seth points out). It need not even mean that most of the wheat that goes into bread is whole. It could well be maida.

So, paying a premium for whole wheat bread may not mean anything.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Terror free oil

Trust someone to create a business opportunity out of something in the US. The place where you can get fair trade "everything". Was trawling through some links, reached Tim Hartfords piece on why poor countries stay poor at reason magazine. Reason magazine? Curiosity got the better of me, clicked its homepage and this is what I found.

Terror free oil!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Retail vs retail

ITC plans to take retailers to the last bastion - handcarts. Is this a pathbreaking idea? Surely. Will it deliver the goods, well, we have to wait and see what comes out of this experiment. When people cannot come to the shop, get the shop to the people...

The last time somebody did this - Kwality Walls - their pushcarts are quite a hit and people feel comfortable buying icecream from the Kwality Walls pushcart than from "unnamed" vendors. To push this concept into vegetable selling is a paradigm shift - now there will be branded pushcarts and unbranded pushcarts. The only thing is that pushcarts will surely work for small volume things like icecreams. For vegetables, you need a lot of pushcarts - one pushcart cannot have the range/volume of a store. But a pushcart with a digital weighing machine, where I get assured quality, good prices and perhaps even online ordering?! The strategy has the makings of a disruptive strategy!

Poverty, Globalization, India

For those who need more convincing.

Lite passenger vehicles

The Tata Ace has taken the lite, 4 wheeler carrier segment by storm. Of course it is a welcome change from all the three wheeled transport vehicles on the road. Now it will help if the Tata Ace passenger vehicle will help rid our roads of those three wheeled monstrosities that pass off as passenger carriers (in Pune for example). Bajaj has Pulsar, Mahindra Scorpio and Tata had the Indica, until it came up with an Ace. So, its up a few notches on innovation for Tatas.

The Maruti Omni is the only vehicle that currently services this segment, so Tata plans to face off with the Omni.

Not that others are keeping quiet about it. In typical Indian industry fashion, they are all rushing into the market, having missed the original game. Bajaj has plans to enter to this space, as does Mahindra, so does Hero Honda. Wonder why the Pulsar and the Scorpio makers failed to see this before Tatas. Mahindra entered the noisy 3 wheeler segment when it was far smarter given its technical knowledge in this segment to enter the 4 wheeler segment when there was no Ace. Bajaj, the original purveyor of the auto rickshaw - though not the 6 seater - also missed the bus, literally. Hero Honda is also planning to get into this segment, dont be surprised if they name it the CD 100 bus.

Did you know that the Tata Ace is a widely discussed topic in innovation fora. The Indica is a 1400 cc car, the Ace is a 700 cc truck - coincidence?

simply sliced the Indica engine into half and made a two-stroke diesel out of it.

Smart eh? Now wait for the 1 lakh car.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

On Indian IT

Two reports from ET caught my eye this morning.

One, which says that the Indian IT cos share in the top 100 contracts is 6%. Thats it? That shows how much room for growth we have.

The share of the India-based IT service providers in the top 100 commercial contracts has increased in 2006 while that of Big 6 IT giants has seen a steady fall, according a advisory firm. TPI, a sourcing advisory firm in its annual 2006 index said that the share of India-based service providers increased from 5% in 2005 to 6% in 2006 while that of the Big 6 has remained stagnant at 48%.

It said that the industry wide contracts with value of $50 million and above saw the share of Indian players growing from 8% in 2005 to 11% in 2006 while that of the Big 6 has drop from 44% to 37%.

The other, also from ET, which says that foreign firms are increasingly getting IT contracts for Indian businesses.

This was evident since some of the top tier firms, if they dont actively stay out of Indian contracts, do not actively bid either - the margins are obviously low.

Thats some food for thought.

Starting trouble for Walmart

From the piece,

...appears to share the views of those opposing the entry of foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, particularly the Left.

The commies are at it again, they dont want prosperity to hurt their vote base of poverty. After all they have been at it for a long time now. Enough said.

Iron horse

A blast from the past.

Once upon a time, I was a mad fan of steam locomotives. All my train trips were spent eyes peeled outside to see a steam locomotive. Since a lot of them happened in the 80s and there were quite a few steam locos in service in various parts of India, I have seen quite a few of them in action.

The best? Ankleshwar/Billimora in Gujarat had a great selection of narrow guage steam locos. I spent a considerable time in the yard looking at them. Down South, Palakkad had quite metre guage steam engines. The Renigunta section had a few of them as did the Wadi Guntakal section. One of my visits to Nagpur in the late 90s had me surprised with the number of locos in operation there locally.

Cameras werent quite prevalent then, so the only picture I have is one of an old steam loco shot sometime in the 80s (87/88?) through the window of a moving train.

Sometime, then, in the 80s, the computer found its way to India and I, in my fantasy imagined a day when I could have all the information on steam locomotives on my desktop.

Hmm...we have reached there!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Executive airbus

...is not a plane, but a bus. This one and many other similar ones.

Notice what is written on the window - the word is executive. How did a word like executive, connected with execution get labelled to a bus?

Heres the dictionary definition of Executive which offers a clue. It means, "a person or group of persons having administrative or supervisory authority in an organization". It also means, of or suitable for use by "executives".

And heres the online etymology for the same word.

So perhaps this bus is suitable for use by executives - then what about managers or vice presidents? The point that I am trying to drive at is that executive as a word had (has?) a usage that was associated with luxury, comfort at some point in time. Especially in India and combined with air conditioned and super deluxe, executive was a big deal in the 80s.

Coming to buses, the sky is the limit in terms of terminology. More on that some other time. Many other words have found their way into this space and the usage of executive to denote comfort has taken a back seat. Indeed, today executive, as in the context of this bus, means, not a great level of comfort, but better than ordinary. Words like Business class, Luxury (and variants) have taken over the space of comfort, but Executive continues to be used here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bangalore Metro

Bangalore Metro, aka Namma Metro shows signs of moving - a soil investigation in progress...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Of buses and BPO cabs

On the outskirts of old Bangalore and well within what is defined as "New Bangalore", you will find a few boards like this. "Call centre/BPO vehicles are prohibited from carrying public passengers." Companies expressly prohibit cabs from giving rides to ordinary people on the street who are not employees - especially on their "empty" trips. But there are a few drivers who make the extra money and then again, security risks notwithstanding, they are quite comfortable.

Why would the police put up such a board? Surely due to security and to signal that they are doing their job by giving adequate warnings. (Why is the board in English, big question)
Why would the public use these vehicles - most of them know the risks associated given the current milieu all around. Simple. The alternative is what you see below.

Crowded, smoke belching old truck chassis with a box passing off as a passenger carrier and no room anywhere. This is also a Bangalore, a Bangalore the government routinely ignores - no, not in favour of IT companies - but a Bangalore that is ignored because thats how Bangalore has always been - ignored. Ignored technology - IT - ring a bell? And then people wonder why IT companies provide transport. This form of transport, is a form, even poultry chicken doesn't deserve.

So, where are the buses? Volvos notwithstanding, public transport in Bangalore is abysmal. Surely, these private "buses" dont deserve to run? Not just because they look bad or are basically scrapped refurbished vehicles. They drive rashly, are ill maintained, polluting and generally a nuisance on the road. And perhaps, their owners - the poor bus owners have the right connections. They buy the buses for cheap, run them using cheap labour and laugh all the way to the jewellery shops and land (two favourite avenues for black money). But then again, where are the buses? That will be a story for some other time.

Parental Consent

This one from Fast Company writes about companies wooing parents to hire their children (children?). While this may be something being done by a few isolated companies, it is hardly worth emulating - imagine if I were a TCS hiring 5000 people at a time.

Marichetty isn't a freak job candidate. In many Indian families, multiple generations live under a single roof, making cooperative decisions in matters both social and economic. And children, even well into their twenties and thirties, typically defer to the authority of their elders. So parents--and especially fathers--can take on influential roles in directing young people's careers.

Wonder who peddles stuff like this. I heard this at another forum in India too - "Indians respect their parents (read scared of them) and therefore they find it difficult to talk to their managers." I guess these are just "expertspeak" on India and hardly rooted in reality.

Unless I am totally mistaken, joint families are few and far in urban India - especially living under one roof. The joint family has taken newer urban avatars - like living under different roofs, but within a same complex or area or building - and the defer to authority part is, I think, vastly overrated.

If companies take care of parents, well, sure thats a good thing to do, but to imagine that someone will join a company because their parents get swimming pool access is stretching imaginations.