Ego cogito, ergo sum

A compodium of my published aritcles, features, etc. on technology, IT and everything else; sourced from CyberMedia publications, Financial Express, Free Press Journal, Nazara.com, etc……

Archive for September 2008

Of to Bangalore

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“I am packing you a shawl and two bed sheets in case you feel cold or want to rest in between the travel. There is a small inflatable pillow in the front zip of your bag, so you do not come back howling about the pain in your neck. Also I have put in two tiffin boxes, one contains the normal fare; rice, pulses and vegetables and the other contains snacks and knickknacks when you feel hungry,” said the Wife as she prepared the bags for my trip to Bangalore. “But, why do I need a bed sheet, shawl, pillow, when I am travelling by air, that too by Kingfisher and putting up at a swanky hotel, all paid by my company?” I protested.

“You need not tell me about what luxuries your company affords you. You forgot to add ‘First’ to the Kingfisher, which actually is your Air Deccan, the lowly low-cost airline and the swanky hotel that you stay in doesn’t even have a phone or a television, forget about an AC or a geyser. So, stop trying to pretend how important you are or how important your company takes you to be,” retorted the Wife, adding, “and all this stuff is not for your Bangalore trip but for your trip between Bangalore and the new airport.”

For a moment, I thought I did not hear clearly what she had stated and asked her to repeat what she had just stated. She readily obliged. “Oh come on, don’t you remember that there is a new airport in Bangalore, which is operational and also far far away from the city. Remember how our neighbours had gone their last month and were talking about the long ride from and to the airport. They were rich so they could afford a comfortable Mercedes Benz, unlike you who still has to travel in local buses or auto rickshaws,” she added.

Well, the Wife was right to a certain extent about the luxuries that I could and certainly not afford and since it was a first trip to the city since the new airport had become operational, I tried to go by her gut feeling. It was not because I could not confront her but simply that unlike other feelings, women feel very strongly from their gut and if perchance they are proven right, they won’ t let you forget the same through the time that you spend in this planet. So, I nodded meekly, to show that while I agreed with her on certain points, I was certainly not happy about the way she had stated them.

But the subtlety was completely lost on the Wife, as she opened the zip and showed me the book she was packing in; “Kannada easy learning course”. Now that was quite enough and before I could mouth that she came up with an explanation. “Nowadays, you are never sure about what cultural factors might instigate people. If it could happen to the Bachchans it could happen to anyone. So you better be careful and do as the Bangaloreans do, in Bangalore. Also since you have so much time on hand travelling to and from the airport, it’s better that you use it fruitfully,” she gave me an all knowing smile. “I am also packing in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in case you get bored reading the Kannada learning guide. In front of the world you show off how much you have read Tolstoy’s work, but they only adorn your showcase not your brain. You could probably finish it between the journeys,” Wife went on.

Now this was getting more personal than I had bargained for, so I decided to put my foot down. “The book is too heavy and will give me a backache, I can do without Tolstoy this time, will brush up my Kannada skills,” I stated firmly.

“Why don’t you take the small compact tent that you had purchased from Deolali, 10 years ago? You could camp out in the open, in between the long journey to the city and probably have a campfire or something. Though, I know how lazy you are and having a campfire is certainly not your cup of tea. But you could still take the tent,” she said. “I certainly don’t need a tent or a campfire, because it will certainly not take so much time for the journey between the airport and the city. I will be travelling by a car not a cart, bullock cart,” I protested.

“You could also take that telescope with you, on which you spent so much. I am sure from the rural settings the sky would be much clearer than from the city. And why did you spend so much on the telescope, if you didn’t intend to watch the skies and the heavens,” she proceeded without even bothering to take note of my protestations.

“In fact, the best thing you could possibly do is write a small novel or a novella like thing during the time that you have with you. As it is, your earnings are barely sufficient to meet our expenses, probably if some book of yours clicks we could then afford to purchase something other than our needs. I am packing two empty notebooks and a few pens for the same. And for heaven’s sake write something that sells, even if it is an idea for a reality show or a Balaji soap,” continued the Wife. “In fact, you should have gone by the train and instead of the air, it would have taken about the same time and you could have pocketed the difference,” she wasn’t doing to stop.

That was enough for me, and I meant to say so. “Rail and air travel cannot be the same time-wise howsoever far the airport might be from the city and besides, my conscience won’t allow me to cheat,” I stated matter-of-factly.

By the time, the Wife was through with the packing I had a few extra bags with me that also contained a road guide, vitamins tablets, first aid kit, fruit juices, sweaters, soaps, tumbler, raincoat, torch, Swiss knife, screw driver, etc. besides the things listed above. I had more stuff in my bag for the journey between the new Bangalore airport and the city, than for the whole trip.

The weird aspect of it all was that almost everyone (barring the Wife) who had travelled to or from Bangalore cribbed about the location of the airport. “It is good but very very far,” seems to be the most common phrase used to describe the airport. Probably all this negative word had made the Wife a little more irrational than her usual self.

Next time, it would be good old railways, I decided. At least in that way, I would be saved from the overzealous packing done by the Wife and could probably impress the editor with my thriftiness as well.

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Lone Monkey on a dodgy mango branch

Written by Shashwat D.C.

September 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Battling the IT demons

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With the slowdown in the IT industry, the top 5 show the strategies that companies should and should-not adopt. And show how to survive the tie.

Many many eons ago, according to Bhagavad Purana, there lived an Asura king, Hiranyakashyap. In his quest to immortality, he underwent severe penances and in the bargain attained quite a few celestial powers that almost granted him perpetual life. The list of boons Hiranyakashyap got was pretty impressive, neither man nor beast could kill him; he could not be killed by daylight or at night-time, within his home or outside it, on the ground or in the sky. Using these powers, he usurped Indra’s throne and went on a complete rampage. Finally, it was Vishnu who had to take an avatar to finally rid earth of the demon king.

But what has the tale of Hiranyakashyap got to do with it Indian IT? “Quite much,” according to Anand Mahindra, MD of Mahindra & Mahindra, who used the tale to illustrate the challenges faced by the IT industry at the moment. Challenges like US slowdown, adverse currency changes, rapidly escalating costs in both salaries and infrastructure and inadequate talent pools below the tier 1 and 2 institutions. “The IT industry today faces challenges every bit as complex as those Hiranyakashyap posed for Vishnu,” he stated.

For the Indian IT industry reeling under severe strain, the top groups are the beacon of light and hope. In some ways, they are much like the Narsimha avatar taken by Vishnu that display a stratagem to tackle this Hiranyakashyap. And the groups that succeeded in the past year are the ones that were not coping with the crisis on hand but all the time keeping their eye on the horizon, exploring newer avenues and even turning returning to their roots so as to say.

Made for India!

One look at the growth pattern of the different groups and its becomes obvious that the ones that managed to post robust growth were the ones that were in some ways looking at the booming domestic market. For long, these top companies have adhered and trotted the ‘Made in India’ philosophy; but the need of the hour is to relook at the export oriented mindset. Take the instance of HCL, the group clocked 32% growth over last year, the highest compared to any other group in the top five, which includes Tata, Wipro, Infosys, and HP. And the reason is faring evident, both its constituent companies, namely, HCLT and HCLI tapped the opportunity in India and went out for them. In fact, of the group’s revenues, domestic revenues stood at a healthy 42%, while exports stood at 58%.

Infosys is on the other end of the spectrum. The growth for the posterboy of Indian IT dropped from 45% to 20%, the slowest among all the top groups in our list. And unlike in the case of HCL, the reason for Infosys’ dismal performance was a lack of ‘Indian’ strategy. The revenues from domestic operations for Infosys remained almost flat in a year, thus the company’s percentage of total group revenue declined.

Of the other groups, HP India continued to ride the Indian wave and even Wipro managed to tap the Indian market, with its domestic business providing a cushion from the rather stale export growth. Meanwhile, TCS made a grand foray into the domestic BPO industry, which contributed around Rs. 500 crore to its topline.

Thus, it goes without saying that the groups need to court domestic enterprises and companies with the same enthusiasm and zeal that they showered on MNCs. Made for India is turning out to be a big story, almost as big as Made in India.

Build or Buy?

Indian (companies and even individuals) are often blamed for the lack of killer instinct. Thus, most of the Indian enterprises seem fairly smug at posting 30% y-o-y growth, preferring organic growth to inorganic one. Indian IT companies have steered clear of large acquisition targeted at just scaling up and continues with strategic ones to add skills and/or getting into geographies, like TCS’ acquisition of Comicron (Latin America) or FNS (banking). This is all good, when the going is good. But in turbulent times, there needs to be a change of way things are done.

Looking at the various groups, it becomes obvious that they are playing it safe. There were no major acquisitions in the past year (when it would have actually cheaper considering the strong Rupee) by any groups, except for Wipro that acquired US based Infocrossing for $600 million, the company’s biggest till date. Among the others, HCLT acquired US based Capital Stream for $40 million. While, there were no significant ones from Tatas (IT group) or Infosys.

Tatas is a baffling case. While the corporate group has gone ahead and done some brave and revolutionary M&As overseas, like the acquisition of Corus by Tata Steel or Jaguar by Tata Motors, TCS has remained fairly quiet on the M&A front. In fact the number two company in the group, Tata Technologies has grown immensely on the basis of the $130 million acquisition of Incat, two years back. The case with Infosys has been fairly the same, except for rumors about its interest in picking up Capgemini, nothing much happened on the M&A space.

Among the group, Wipro is the only one that has gone ahead and acquired companies in different geographies or for skillsets, terming it as the “string of pearls” strategy. The jury is yet to be out on what is the best way, the slow and steady or the brave and racy. Though, it goes without saying that groups need to realize that no risks no gains.

Building synergies

Another stereotype that often dogs Indians; is the inability to function in a team. While there are many great individual performance, there is no cohesive team play. That was also much the case through the years for these groups as well. Individual companies, for instance TCS and Tata Technologies, HCLI and HCLT, Wipro Tech and Wipro Peripherals, Infosys and Progeon (now Infosys BPO) often followed strategies based on their individual outlook. There was little or no collaboration and at times, these companies were competing with each other for the same account or in the same space. So, TCS was working with Ferrari and Tata Tech was working with Williams.

But in the year gone by, there has been a realization that team play is the need of the hour. And the groups have been working fastidiously at working out the synergies. Tata’s deserve a special mention for the very same. In the Tata group, TCS enjoys an enviable position, the moon among the stars. Considering the vast disparity of its service offering, there were times when the other group companies were in competing with TCS, for instance Tata Interactive Services (TIS) in the e-learning space, or Tata Technologies in engineering space or even Tata Infotech. This clash caused a lot of heartburn for the smaller companies, as they could not really battle it out with the big brother.

But there has been a consistent change, TCS went ahead and acquired companies that were in the same space, namely CMC and Tata Infotech. And worked out an agreement of collaboration with the rest. The results are already showing, Tata Technologies and TCS bid and won a joint contract for Arvind Meritor. Even the smaller niche players, like TIS, too had their synergistic contributions within the group. TIS worked on a significant project with Tata Technologies during the year. And this synergy was evident not only in the IT group, but also beyond it. Surely Bombay House (Tata Group’s HQ) was driving the whole collaborative initiative.

Even, Infosys tired its hand at working out the synergies among the few group companies. It came out with Infosys’ One Infy offering, that combines services and BPO. In fact BPO has been the saving grace for the group, with Infosys BPO doing quite well, growing by 43.5% last year. The BPO success is based on its ability to leverage Infosys’ strengths and customer relationships fairly effectively. But if Infosys BPO was a success, Infosys Consulting was a let down.

If Infosys BPO carried its good performance from the previous year to FY 08, Infosys Consulting, started in 2004 with a few ex-Deloitte consultants, carried its struggle to break even from the previous year to FY 08. Infosys Consulting, still maintains its separate website, has a very different employee composition than Infosys and tries to sell itself as a serious strategy consulting firm. There pros and cons of both integration and segregation, Infosys seems to be still evaluating the best among the two.

Meanwhile, HCL has ensured that there is some sort of synergy reflected in the company’s branding. Thus, HCLI and HCLT are working together on the go-to market approach.

Battling the Hiranyakashyap

If analysts are to believed; the gloom that has descended on the Indian IT industry will linger for a while. Thus, Mahindra’s Hiranyakashyap would continue to torment and trouble and the industry can learn from the strategies adopted by the top 5. The message is pure and simple, innovate and domesticate. And the ones that are able to do so successfully will find themselves at the top of the data tables and the ones that miss out will have only themselves to blame. In the tough times that we live, there is little mercy for failures. Hopefully the groups (and the IT industry at large) would learn fairly quickly. The battle (with the IT Hiranyakashyap) might be hard, but it is certainly not an impossible one.

(This article of mine was recently published in the Dataquest Magazine. Found it relevant enough to post considering the current economic conundrum)

Written by Shashwat D.C.

September 24, 2008 at 1:38 am

Posted in Feature: Indian IT

Ganapati bappa morya

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And Lord Ganesha comes today, amidst the roar of the drums and the chime of the cymbals, with dancing gaiety and shouting. He comes to innumerable street corners of the cities in varying shapes and sizes, in different colours and makes. He is grand, he is sweet, he is talk and rotund. He will be a special guest of the city for the next 10 days or so, at various street corners, in homes across.

And then after 10 odd days, he will make a much grander exit. In these days, there will be millions of prayers that will need to be fulfilled, so many to take care and forgive. So many sad and desolate to console, so many nervous and edgy to be comfort. Any other celestial in his pace would have been daunted by the task at hand, but not so our portly lord Ganesha, who has been coming to the city again and again for quite some years, in fact over a century and is quite aware and cued to what happens in and around here. So, without much ado, there is little we can say except welcome of lord Ganapati or as they say it here, Ganapati Bappa Morya….

Written by Shashwat D.C.

September 3, 2008 at 3:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Rock Con!!

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Ever since, I came across the trailers of ‘Rock On’ a month or so back, I was eagerly awaiting for the movie to hit the screens. In fact, the movie had compelled me to reach out to a couple of old college friends and I convinced them to join me on what I assumed would be a journey of nostalgia. The songs from the movie, especially Socha Hain and Picchle Saat Din, only added to the anticipation.

And when the day of reckoning came, I with my friends was completely dumbstruck by what confronted us. 15 minutes into the movie, I had started squirming in the seat; 25 minutes and had stopped counting the flaws, and after another 10-15 minutes was waiting for the agony to end. The movie in fact turned out to be so bad, that my old friends pronounced that they were happier when I was out of touch. My biggest surprise was and still is how everyone got conned by the freak show? The few reviews that I read, if didn’t glorify the movie, didn’t pan it either (which it much deserved).

Rock On is to be honest the most contrived story that I have come across after a long time, precisely after Tashan. There is so little in the movie that the one minute trailers that are being shown have the best scenes in the film. The story has some of the worst possible clichés that even a doped screenwriter would have thought ten times before jotting down. The whole premise of the story is based on how a group of rockers, having a band that has the corniest of all the names –  Magik, first breaks up and then bonds again and how each member of the band discovers life in the process.

The director for some very inane reason decides to interplay the break-up and bond-again simultaneously.  Without much thought given to storytelling, the story keeps moving back and forth. While it may seem to be a great idea on paper (and authoress Arundhati Roy made a fabulous novel using the technique), it just doesn’t work on screen for this particular film.

Through the film, we are being told times and again how this wonderful band broke up due to a ‘big tussle’ and everything went haywire. The lead singer of the band, Farhan Akhtar left music and became a successful investment banker, albeit all the time he seems to be suffering from a bad bout of indigestion. The lead guitarist, a hot-headed Arjun Rampal, transforms into a henpecked desolate person who performs at some third rate functions. The drummer Purab is now working for his dad and the keyboard Luke Kenny is working for ad films, when he is not holding his head, as if in a tizzy.

To add to the agony, much screen time is wasted on unwanted characterization like that of Farhan’s wife, Prachi Desai, who is given much footage in the film and does justice to not even a centimetre of it. To be just to Ms. Desai, Rock On is a one big non-act in itself, everyone (including the director) seems to be sleep walking through the movie, with the possible exception of Purab possibly. In fact Farhan is a big let-down, because he somehow seems to be almost earnest in his performance and yet not enough. The only part he seems to suit is when he is lip-synching his songs. And the rest of the time, he struts along in a nervous daze.

The little said about Wooden Rampal, the better. In fact, he was so wood-like in his performance that the sofa on which he sits seems to emote better. It was really surprising, how he seem to be taking his role for granted, in fact in the songs where there he is supposed to be creating magic out of the guitar, he barely moves his hands. It was as if, he had little faith in his abilities to portray the role. He now firmly and finally joins the Kishen Kumar Acting club, and has Tusshar Kapoor to keep him company. The trouble with the casting of these rockers is that they seem to be too old when they should look young college-going rockers and seem a bit too young when they should look like middle aged losers. The only one who could manage to bring some amount of sincerity in his performance was Purab.

The worse thing (of the so many other worse things, a few of them has been listed above) is the deliberate attempt to make this an emotional saga than a story of 4 friends. Numerous attempts are made to somehow make your tear glands shed a drop or two. But somehow all these ‘heart-touching’ scenes, fail to touch anything including the heart. I really can’t understand, what was the real need to show the marital issues of Farhan, and his joy of becoming a father, etc. in what was supposed to be a guy movie. As said earlier, so much attention is heaped on the ladies in the film, that it seems that probably Balaji Telefilms was funding this movie. The whole story runs at such a superficial level that not once are you able to relate to the movie, probably except for the stinking rich pop’s lads and other wannabes.

The only thing good, in fact the two things that were good in the film, is the music and cinematography. There is much attention given to lighting in the story and the hard work of the person behind the camera shows. And undoubtedly, the music by Shankar Ehsan-Loy really works; Farhan’s singing capabilities are a revelation. Even the makers of the movie seem to be well aware of the strong point of the film, as in the before the final run of title, there is a message requesting the patrons to buy original music rather than downloading them. Indeed, buying the CD of the film is infinitely better than wasting money on viewing it. I do hope that my friends are able to get over the trauma and do not think that it was nasty trick played by me. At the end, I was equally conned by Rock (c)on. In the song Pichle Saat Din, there is this specific line that was reveberating in my head as I left the theatre that best expresses how I felt; Kabhi khud pe hasa main aur kabhi khud pe roya…(at times I laughed at myself and cried as well)

(The review has been done in the interest of public good, and viewers are advised to take the advice as seriously as their mind would permit them)

Written by Shashwat D.C.

September 3, 2008 at 3:19 am