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 October 2009

Killed by Blackberry?

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“Heard the latest? Ranjan Das is dead,” my friend Sudesh updated over GTalk. The bit of news numbed me, and for a moment I thought it must be some other Ranjan Das he might be referring to. Certaily not the Ranjan Das that I knew, the MD & CEO of SAP, who was young fighting-fit with a cherubic face. Amongst the many IT top guys that I knew, he was by far the fittest, Ranajajoy Punja (ex-cisco and now Vodafone) would come in second. I remember meeting Ranjan a few months back, the suave and genteel man seemed completely in control and excited to drive the German company’s revenues in India. In fact, SAP after many years had nominated an Indian for the top job (followed by Alan Sedghi) and Ranjan seemed to be the best man for it proved by the soaring revenues even as the economy took a dip. Hence, after a few anxious moments, I asked Sudesh “the SAP one?” To my dismay it was. And all that remained was a shock.

The reason for this profound effect was his age. At 42, Ranjan could be termed to be at his prime. He was physically fit, in fact he was returning from a session at the gym when the hands of fate stopped his Rajandasheart beat. Going by my own gait and girth, I for once would have been a more likely candidate for such an event in comparison to Ranjan. But then Ranjan is not the exception when it comes to a life snuffed out in the prime, in my own personal sphere I have come across numerous instances like Dewang & Sunil Mehta from Nasscom, Vivek Dayal from Mphasis, etc.

The one thing that is common to all these departed souls except for their relatively young age, is the fact that they all were involved in fairly high-profile work. All of these people including Ranjan were complete go-getters, always on the move, with set goals for the future and moving briskly towards them. The only thing a miss was that such work and lifestyle brings in tons and tons of stress with it. Somewhere their bodies could not keep pace with their ambitions and it gave up. Hard stress and not hard work killed them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Shashwat D.C.

October 26, 2009 at 12:48 am

Indian CIOs: A pampered lot?

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Settling down for a cup of tea with a CIO friend of mine, the discussion veered about things in general and not so general. After touching topics like the elections in Maharashtra, water cuts in Mumbai, and Nobel for Prez Obama, the topic veered towards the various clubs et al. The clubbing bit was a trigger and my friend showed me an invitation that he (or another CIO friend of his) had received from reputed IT publishing group.
The proposed club had almost all the features like the other CIO clubs, but it went a bit ahead. Namely, there will be family outings, tuitions and career guidance for kids, cookery classes and kitty parties for wives, caretakers for old parents, etc. In addition, there will be all those ‘exclusive’ conferences invites, the offsite events, etc. etc. Yet one of the most distinguishing features of the proposed club was the annual fee, a whopping Rs. 1,00,000 per annum.
With a rather obtusely open mouth, I asked my friend what he thought of the initiative and the annual fee. He smiled at me obliquely and responded; “why pay when you can have all this and more for free”.
Indeed, over the years that I have spent in the IT industry, one observation that has been reaffirmed time over time that among all the other top executives within an organization, the Chief Information Officer or CIO stands tall and is treated differently  both within and outside the organization. It has been a long journey was the Indian CIO, often starting as an EDP manager in the days of yore and then going on to head a function that was at best considered to be a support one. Today, the IT department is critical glue that not only connects the disparate functions within the company but now is also a strategic one than can help in curtailing costs and gaining market share. As the weight age of the IT function zoomed over the years, so has the stock value of the CIO.
And the CIO stock value only increases depending on the vertical space he is in, thus say for instance a CIO at TCS, Infosys and Wipro might be at par with the rest of the chiefs, like CFO, CPO (chief people officer), etc. In other domains like manufacturing, banking and telecom, where IT could be the deciding factor between success and disaster, the CIO is next only to the CEO. No major decisions in these companies are taken without the CIO’s solicitation. The CEO is constantly checking out with the CIO, “Is this possible”, “how can we do it better”, “help!!”.
The change in the CIO’s stature can be gauged by the cosy cabins that they now occupy, till a decade or so back, CIOs used to take up space beside the data enter in case they are needed in a jiffy. But now, their cabins are next to CEOs and rest, reflecting a shift from a technological role to that of a strategic one.
So that proves how the CIO’s role has evolved over the year. Let me now tell you why they are a pampered lot as well.
India is a country in a hurry at the moment. After years of socialist stagnation, we embraced the liberalism with the enthusiasm and fanaticsm of a new convert. Suddenly the economy shifted gears from neutral to 4, and growth became the new mantra. The change in the market also brought about a massive change in the mindset as well. Also, with economy opening up suddenly there were a glut of options.
Since, IT is all pervasive, right from the desktops, mobile to the data center, the CIO’s opinion on what to buy and how much to buy became the last word on it. The vendors realised it first and smartly and subtly started to cajole the CIOs, with Diwali hampers, New Year gifts, branded freebies, etc. Next, they started to organize conferences and round-tables at fancy locales abroad, taking the CIOs with them on an all paid luxurious trip.
It is not only the vendors who court the CIOs, but the media, especially the B2B one, became an ardent admirer. For the few publication houses that run the magazine in the space, the CIO community is the most important one, simply because depending on the same will the vendors agree to splurge on full page or false cover adverts. In the past year or so, for these B2B publications, as the print revenues shrunk substantially, events became an important source of income. And now the CIO was no more an important factor, but the most important factor, as the sponsors would only agree to pay if you could ensure the presence of a set number of enterprise CIOs for the event. Any faltering on the number and the client would refuse to cough up as well. Little wonder, in the past one year, there were more enterprise events (from business intelligence to storage) than the past 5 years. Not only the B2B magazines, but also reputed mainstream publications and business news channels started organizing such events to quickly shore up their top line.
The Indian CIOs too realised this shift as now they were being repeatedly called as panellists, delegates, etc. for scores of events. Take the case of my CIO friend having a tea; in the past week he had attended 4 conferences, 1 in Bangalore, 1 in Delhi and 2 in Mumbai, flying business class to all places. And this was a lean week, since he could not attend (or wished not too) some 5 other events he was called to. He is a star and he knows it.
Another symbol of the power is the amount of clubs that have mushroomed over the past few years, one of the most successful ones is the CIO Club in Mumbai, set up by the CIOs themselves. The club activities take place in swanky 5-star hotels sponsored by different vendors. Recently, Network 18 had officially joined hands with the club, to what end, I am still not sure. Then there is a Gartner Club for CIOs, rumoured to be quite heavy on the pockets and also IMA has a club for the CIOs as well. Indeed, every publication worth its salt tries to engage the CIOs through these clubs, forms, community exercise and the CIOs are quite aware of this. There have been times when senior CIOs have refused to attend an event if they are called merely as a panellist and not as a speaker. On the other hand, there are a few CIOs who can be seen at all the events and even the vendors are not keen to court them.
Thus because of the power than the Indian CIOs wield, they are much respected, loved, feared and also pampered by alln sundry. Even, my CIO friend, when I shared with him these views appeared to agree. Finally, I posed him the Rs. 1,00,000 question; Would you be joining the club?
“Of course not,” he quipped, “my CEO will never agree to pay and I would not want to pay. If I did pay, would it not be better to pay for gymkhana membership that will help me get in shape. Rather than a publication that promises to provide me special pases for events; where I would be invited anyways,” he stated. Like many else Indian CIOs, he did seem to know his value and surely he won’t settle for anything less.

Settling down for a cup of tea with a CIO friend of mine, the discussion veered about things in general and not so general. After glossing over issues like the elections in Maharashtra, water cuts in Mumbai, and Nobel for Prez Obama, the topic veered towards the various clubs et al. The clubbing bit was a trigger and my friend showed me an invitation that he (or another CIO friend of his) had received from reputed IT publishing group.  The company was establishing a CIO club, and was soliciting advice on it.

The proposed club had almost all the features like the other CIO clubs, but it went a bit ahead. Namely, there will be family outings, tuitions and career guidance for kids, cookery classes and kitty parties for wives, caretakers for old parents, etc. In addition, there will be all those ‘exclusive’ conferences invites, the offsite events, etc. etc. Yet one of the most distinguishing features of the proposed club was the annual fee, a whopping Rs. 1,00,000 per annum.

With a rather obtusely open mouth, I asked my friend what he thought of the initiative and the annual fee. He smiled at me obliquely and responded; “why pay when you can have all this and more for free”.

Indeed, over the years that I have spent in the IT industry, one observation that has been reaffirmed time over time that among all the other top executives within an organization, the Chief Information Officer or CIO stands tall and is treated differently  both within and outside the organization. It has been a long journey for the Indian CIO, often starting as an EDP manager in the days of yore and then going on to head a function that was at bestpamperconsidered to be a support one. Today, the IT department is critical glue that not only connects the disparate functions within the company but now is also a strategic one than can help in curtailing costs and gaining market share. As the weight age of the IT function zoomed over the years, so has the stock value of the CIO.   Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

October 16, 2009 at 3:39 am

Posted in Feature: Indian IT

Farewell Rama

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Farewell Rama
Received an innocuous mail from TCS today, it was a press meet at their heritage building HQ in Mumbai with the CEO and MD. All seemed like yore till my eyes actually read the name N Chandrasekaran instead of the usual S Ramadorai. In fact, the mind is so accustomed to see his name, that it took a moment to realise that the change of guard that had been in the offing, is finally at hand. Come tomorrow (October 6), the curtains will be down for one of the most illustrious CEOs of India, Subramaniam Ramadorai or S. Ramadorai as he is more universally known. The top-honcho at TCS, the $6 billion IT behemoth, will hand over the baton to his successor N Chandrasekaran (Chandra, is his appellate) and take a back seat as the vice-chairman. The handover is necessitated by the Tata Rule book that states that no individual can continue as a CEO beyond the age of 65. There have been exceptions in the past, but Rama has chosen to follow the rule-book and not take the easy way out. In fact this is one of the most defining traits of Rama as an individual and as a CEO; he never flinches to take a long arduous path if he believes it to be the right one. With a grit that only a few can match up with, Rama will keep working at the goal tirelessly, day in and day out. And yet, except for the few around him not many would realise that this calm serene sexatarian is a workaholic, who even when is calm and serene on the out, is in fact working at a frenzied pace within. Looks can be deceptive, is a phrase that would have been coined for Rama, if it wasn’t before.
It was much this grit and determination that won him the CEO cap at TCS, when the doyen of Indian IT, FC Kohli retired back in 1996. back then, not many knew who exactly Ramadorai was or would have given him much notice, considering the fact that back then TCS was a private company and fairly secretive about its revenues and spread. In those days, for Indians IT meant Infosys or Wipro, or even HCL, but certainly not TCS. And yet, Rama who had joined TCS as a junior engineer in 1972 was destined and determined to change that. He rose through the ranks and eventually was charged with setting up TCS’ operations in the United States in 1979 in New York City, where he got an opportunity to prove his mettle.
Hailing from Nagpur, Rama grew up in Delhi where his father worked with the Indian audits and accounts service department. After studying physics at the University of Delhi, he headed south to Bangalore to study communication technology at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science. After graduating in 1968, Ram briefly joined the Physical Research Lab at Ahmedabad, but soon left to pursue higher studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from where he obtained his masters in computer science.
After completing his education, Rama joined NCR in the US itself briefly before homesickness set in and he yearned to return back. It was at that time that his father told him that the Tata group was looking for ‘people who could work on computers. It was in Nov 1971, that Rama was interviewed by AH Tobaccowala, president, Tata Inc., who was based in New York. Ram was employed with TCS in Bombay on February 23, 1972; the rest as they say is history.
Speaking from a personal perspective, over the years I had numerous chances to interact with Rama. And believe me, till recent past, he was dreaded by the IT journalist fraternity, simply because it is quite impossible to wean out any juicy bit from him. Interviewing him was often a staid experience, as Rama would always stick to sort of a script replying in a low tone, and in as few words as possible. There would hardly be a smile on his face, and he would often seem bored by responding to similar questions.
Yet, there was a perceptible change in him over the last year or so, probably ever since Chandra’s appointment was finalised. Rama seemed much at ease at the conferences and would even smile or quip humorously at a query. It was as if with the weight off his shoulders, he suddenly was enjoying his stint. He even started Facebooking, wherein he started sharing with the world his own perspective on a lot of things. For instance it is from there that one comes to know about his passion for music, walking, golf, cricket and that he likes to read anything – from science & tech to sports, biographies and music. He even went to the extent of sharing his experiences on winning the CBE, considering his shyness is a big big achievement.
Hopefully he won’t really be ‘retiring’ in the real sense of terms, he is currently the Chairman of TATA Technologies Limited, Chairman of CMC Ltd, and Vice Chairman of TATA Elxsi (India) Ltd. He is also the chairman of Computational Research Laboratories Ltd. He is also on the Board of Directors of Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Nicholas Piramal India Ltd, TATA Limited (India), TATA Infotech Limited (India), TATA Internet Services Limited, Nelito Systems Limited, and several other companies. And will also be the Vice Chairman of TCS. In his own words, he will now take on a mentoring role and guide the new CEO at TCS.
Nonetheless, the reticent wise old man of Indian IT will surely be missed, and with his exit a glorious chapter come to an end. Hopefully there are a lot more to come from him; will be keeping an eye on his FB page.
P.S. Hear in his own words what he had to say Chandra and the future of TCS..

Received an innocuous mail from TCS today, it was regarding a press meet at their heritage building HQ in Mumbai with the CEO and MD. All seemed like yore till my eyes actually read the name N Chandrasekaran instead of the usual S Ramadorai. In fact, the mind is so accustomed to see his name, that it took a moment to realise that the change of guard that had been in the offing, is finally at hand.

Come tomorrow (October 6), the curtains will be down for one of the most illustrious CEOs of India, Subramaniam Ramadorai or S. Ramadorai as he is more universally known. The top-honcho at TCS, the $6 billion IT behemoth, will hand over the baton to his successor N Chandrasekaran (Chandra, is his appellate) and take a back seat as the vice-chairman. The handover is necessitated by the Tata Rule book that states that no individual can continue as a CEO beyond the age of 65. There have been exceptions in the past, but Rama has chosen to follow the rule-book and not take the easy way out. In fact this is one of the most defining traits of Rama as an individual and as a CEO; he never flinches to take a long arduous path if he believes it to be the right one. With a grit that only a few can match up with, Rama will keep working at the goal tirelessly, day in and day out. And yet, except for the few around him not many would realise that this calm serene sexatarian is a workaholic, who even when is calm and serene on the out, is in fact working at a frenzied pace within. Looks can be deceptive, is a phrase that would have been coined for Rama, if it wasn’t before.ramadorai

It was much this grit and determination that won him the CEO cap at TCS, when the doyen of Indian IT, FC Kohli retired back in 1996. Back then, not many knew who exactly Ramadorai was or would have given him much notice, considering the fact that back then TCS was a private company and fairly secretive about its revenues and spread. In those days, for Indians IT meant Infosys or Wipro, or even HCL, but certainly not TCS. And yet, Rama who had joined TCS as a junior engineer in 1972 was destined and determined to change that. He rose through the ranks and eventually was charged with setting up TCS’ operations in the United States in 1979 in New York City, where he got an opportunity to prove his mettle.

Hailing from Nagpur, Rama grew up in Delhi where his father worked with the Indian audits and accounts service department. After studying physics at the University of Delhi, he headed south to Bangalore to study communication technology at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

October 6, 2009 at 3:37 am