Keith Hudson: On a smarter keyboard

This is a guest post by my friend Keith Hudson. It is not really related to India’s economic development. Below the fold is a simple idea that Apple or any other computer hardware manufacturer may find useful. This post is to help put the idea in the public domain, for the record.
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Why China Won’t Win in This Century

“The reason why China will never win hands-down in its current economic war with America is the same as why Japan didn’t succeed in the 1980s when all (Americans included) were expecting that its corporations and banks would eat America up. The reason is that both countries are good at copying ideas and technologies; neither is good at inventing new ones.” That argument is Keith Hudson’s post today on his blog.
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Guest Post: Reservations on Reservation in Indian Education

India is a country that’s renowned for its diversity – the country is a potpourri of different languages, religions, castes and cultures. While this variety makes the nation more interesting and intriguing, it’s kicking up a storm in the sphere of education. The country’s government-aided institutions all allow a certain quota of seats to be reserved for educationally and socially backward classes and for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
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Guest Post: Navin Jaganathan on “India’s IT Companies”

A guest post from Naveen Jaganathan marks the return of this blog from vacation.

R.A. Mashelkar once said “Even if India does not do anything it is inevitable that we will emerge as the knowledge power in the next 5-10 years. If you look at our successes in the past and our emergence in the field of software technology, then this is fairly clear”.

It didn’t appear a tiny bit clear of how India will emerge as the “knowledge power” when I read this way back in 2003. Only thing that was happening then was, India was getting lot of call center/BPO work along with some outsourced IT work. If this is to be dubbed as “knowledge power”, it is not clear what the benefits of becoming one are. If all Indian kids who are playing gully cricket start to play tennis will we be called “Tennis Power” even though none of us even qualify to Grand slams?

Why is everybody tooting the “IT super power” horn over the past few years? It is simply because we could not do anything great in the Manufacturing/Industries sector and bring development to the country. Stephen Roach, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley, after traveling on Indian roads sighs like any other westerner: “A journey to Pune, 115 miles southeast of Mumbai .. by road.. I had been told that the Mumbai-Pune expressway is a modern construction. I would rank the six-lane, barely-divided Mumbai-Pune expressway a B-minus, at best. The exit experience was even worse than the approach — a tedious drive on low-quality local roads — overall, a driving experience that left me exhausted, head spinning, and with a sore back. If this is progress in closing India’s infrastructure gap, the problem is even worse than I had imagined.” On another occasion, “India’s infrastructure gap is almost beyond comprehension — inadequate roads, deficient power supply and transmission facilities, and not one good airport in the entire country.”

The India Infrastructure Report 2004 says it all, “…even relative to our income, our failure in water, roads, sanitation, schooling, and electricity is woeful.” The industry/manufacturing sector does not look promising in India as infrastructure is below par which holds back supply chain management and delivery capabilities and doesn’t encourage FDIs. For example, India did not seem to have taken advantage of the post WTO quota regime in textiles. We lost a great opportunity whereas Chinese geared up for it by transforming Dongguan. One of the trade fairs held in the Chinese province seemed to have drawn 30,000 professional buyers!! Because of pathetic growth in the Indian manufacturing sector, the job growth in the sector is just 2% per annum over the decade.

Thanks to high yield crops, Agriculture is doing good enough to meet internal demands). But with fickle monsoons and an exponentially growing population (which pushes the internal demand), this sector is not likely to take India to any great heights.

With manufacturing and agriculture not presenting a rosy picture, all jumped to the IT/Knowledge power bandwagon. Let us go straight to IT/Services work, which seems to be our strength and certainly is the tight rope on which our GDP growth seems to be walking nowadays.

As the fruit (IT industry) gets bigger and older, it has started to rot. Any doubt? Take two whiffs of the reek, please.

  1. A big company slashes pay for reasons unknown and shrugs off the massive outrage.
  2. CEO of a famous billion dollar IT firm bullshits “IT pros earn handsome salaries, they should be taxed more to improve the infrastructure of Bangalore” and does not bother about these sensible queries.

The two most insensible things that are happening now in most Indian Software companies are Forced Ranking (Appraisals) and Process (CMM) stuff.

Apprisals – In one of the leading companies, there are SET percentages for each ranking. “10% (for eg) should be given top rating of 5 (on a scale of 5) , 40% should be rated 4 and 40% rated 3 and 10% rated 2”. I can’t understand how they argue that only 10% are top performers. What if more than 10% are top performers? Is that not possible? In addition, how are they agreeing that 10% of the company is low performers? Aren’t they ashamed of this? Guess what the folks who got a low rating do? They mostly switch to one or other big companies and those big companies think they are hiring the top 5%“. This forced ranking is a shameful copy from GE which had different intentions behind the implementation

Process – The main idea behind Indian IT companies going for Process certifications (CMM etc) seems to be to woo customers and not to enhance quality. There is not enough tailoring of the standards mentioned and on most occasions, it presents itself as a pain rather than as a facilitator to quality. I wonder why Indian vendors alone go for this and not the foreign counterparts. Google, Yahoo, IBM etc do not seem to have this.

Then there are other debaucheries like the bonds for not leaving the company, haphazard promotions etc. Other dishonorable thing is the implementation of social activities, the only reason for these seems to be to get the PCMM and hog some limelight in the media. Of course there are exceptions to this like Infosys who generously gave 5 crores to the Tsunami from its own pocket where as other Indian IT companies where busy setting up the intranet page to enable the employee to login and donate from his salary. Some companies take advantage of the huge number of freshers who come out each year and employee them for cheap salaries. There are other malpractices like employ a guy and take in only his part of his previous experience, the guy only gets to know when he gets confirmed an year after and doesn’t get a deserved promotion. Then they try all tricks possible with the salary structure with terms like “Cost To Company” etc. These tricks may seem silly to talk about but when we think on the broader scale, it just appalling. An entire nation is (wrongly) pinning hopes on few Indian Software companies who by involving in hoodwinks is not likely to shape anything. If all the companies are short sighted to just look at their margins/ balance sheet without any ear to all the stakeholders’ expectations, it is not going to hold for too long. Its this shortsightedness that is keeping Indian companies transforming themselves into a Google (35 billion market cap with just 3500 employees), a Yahoo, a Microsoft etc.

You might be in a third world country if you don’t believe in Abraham Lincoln’s quotes – “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”