Recently while researching the mobile phone market for a client, came across this interesting trend. While Nokia continues to be synonymous with “cell phone” across the country, the Finnish major is loosing ground on high end handsets to upstarts like Samsung. The Korean company has scored, at Nokia’s expense, especially in the high end touch screen segment. Interesting, if you recollect that Nokia has always positioned itself as an upscale, lifestyle brand. With the Blackberry ruling the enterprise segment, and Samsung snapping at its heels in the lifestyle one, its a tough time for Nokia. Especially given that in lower end segments – that it continues to dominate – the margins are so wafer thin as to be non-existent!
I was recently talking to a friend, who, in passing mentioned that she had just finished ghost writing a few blog posts for the CEO of a top Indian IT services company. Though it didnt strike me as odd then, in retrospect, I find such “outsourcing” faintly shocking and in a small way, an intellectual deception. That blog – and that was for an internal audience within the company he runs – is meant for people who read it because it has been written by their CEO – surely they deserve to hear his voice, his thoughts in his language, and not the clever copy of an external writer who does not share their context?
The power of a blog is its individual, personal voice – it is an agent of disintermediation. To pass off someone’s else’s voice, words and possibly ideas, as one’s one, is, as the British would say, “just not done”.
All but a few newspapers have not picked up the critical piece of data within the larger drought story – the fact that due to failed rains paddy plantating is down 25% from the year before. The impact of it will be felt in a few months time when harvested grain hits the market – its likely that for the first time in 3 years India will import rice.
The story was interesting because the fact is that most maintstream media that have been covering the recession in a breathless fashion – have failed to report on key facts that impact the nation much more than a 5% retrenchment at a mid size BPO. Agriculture, as usual, is not sexy enough, it seems.
The second was the fact this piece of information is likely to have a far greater impact on the economy than mid-west US banks going under – please note that the latter news made it most mainstream newspapers. The fact is that a poor monsoon directly affects demand and slacking rural demand is more likely to dent or damange the economy than the issuance of bonuses on wall street. But most media writers manage to give you the impression that they understand the subtlities of wall street more than our own sizable rural economy.
The IT industry has not really been at the receiving end of the stick as far as media coverage is concerned – the honemoon period is still on and industry remains a star in the media firmament. Which again underscores the imbalances in media coverage – an industry that employs many more people and impacts the lives of still more has to play second fiddle to a much smaller sector that employs but a fraction of the numbers/contributes less sizably to the GDP.
Earlier today I finished reading an essay by Malcom Gladwell called the “Six degrees of Lois Weisberg: which originally appeared in the New Yorker magazine. Its about Lois Weisberg, an extraordinary woman with a marvellous ability to connect to just about any kind of person – from painters, artists, Chicago administration bureaucrats to flea market sellers. At the centre of her vast colourful social web, Lois was able to help people within make connections when they needed – for instance , it was at her Chicago house that Arthur C Clarke first met Issac Asimov. As Gladwell puts it, this made her one of the most powerful women in Chicago, not because she had money or worked in a power centre, but because she had something infinitely more intangible and hence more precious – social capital. Lois went out and made friends because she loved it and not because she was architecting this social web consciously.
The reason I write about this is because I believe that this is a key value of good entreprenuership – the ability to make connections that help somewhere along the line. A lot of successful businessmen – a former boss comes to mind – are inverterate networkers – and they are good at it because they enjoy it. And they are catholic about it – they will chat up airline staff with the same vigour and enthusiasm as the CEO sitting next to them in business class.
Shameen Prashanthan of the University of Glasglow explored the same ideas – that networking was a key value for entrepreneurs to focus on – in his research. (We carried an excerpt from it in an e-book that Prayag created for NASSCOM last year). He carried our research covering around 100 emerging companies which indicated that those that had spent more time building social capital also had better market knowledge – and by inference were better positioned for growth.
So, now there’s no reason to not to make that call and keep that old contact alive!
At least two articles in the media seem to point to recovery signs in the BPO sector. The first, of course was Aegis’ upnbeat announcement of hiring 12,000 people over the next 12 months for its global operations. A less prominent – though more useful pointer – was an NYT syndicated article on BPO sector recovery. The article cited instances of both HP and Honeywell investing in India facilities while another debt collection agency from California – Encore Capital Group – said that in order to improve efficiencies, it had no choice but to outsource. These trends appear to bear out what most analysts have been saying – that BPO will lead recovery as US companies look to outsourcing for improving P&L in a slow market.
Overall business sentiment does seem to be up, as captured by the 3000 point salute from the stock market to the promise of political stability from the new Government. And if anecdotal evidence has any value, we have been seeing the traffic in Delhi inch up towards the frentic pace seen in the boom months of 2007-08!
Manmohan Singh’s jumbo sized cabinet is now in place and we can now (hopefully) look ahead to some real governance. While the power trio of Singh, Gandhi and Gandhi made all the right noises about selecting ministers on merit, the shape (and size) of the new Cabinet makes it clear that its more about mathematics (1 minster for every 7 MPs, acc to what was last heard) than merit.
In this case it may be interesting to look at the US model where successful executives from the corporate mainstream can find their way to a stint in government and back. Even Obama’s transition team for that matter drew in talent from companies such as Google! Could this lead to corporate hegemony and polarization of interests to suit certain industries/companies? Maybe, but I think we have plenty of that on board anyway. Better the known and uncovered devil than the lurking, shadowy angel anyday.
Although this election saw faces from mainstream corporate world contest the elections (take for example, Meera Sanyal from ABN Amro for the Mumbai South seat that she later lost), its not clear if Sanyal and Co have a lasting commitment to politics. As a media commentary said the other day, this is needed as politics is a full-time job. And if they dont, more’s the pity. We could do much worse than having our best managerial talent help us run the biggest enterprise of them all – the Government of India!
When the suits take to it, you know its no longer cool. That may be soon true of Twitter, I fear, as companies embrace it with a vengence. Back home there is our very own Infosys leading the pack of Twitter converts – with followers including financial journalists from Wall Street as well as the World Economic Forum.
This is a great use of a web 2.0 tool for a company that can literally, move markets. But it also works well for smaller players and especially as an internal communication tool. Hard pressed for time CEOs of emerging companies can no longer put off that long pending employee blog post. After all how long can it take to punch out a 140 character message. While it cannot be used to replace a detailed communication, it can be used effectively for virtual backslaps and handshakes or contract announcements.
It could equally effectively be used by dispersed companies for departmental communication – HR missives come to mind here, so do resource updates on intranets.
One case certainly where short is truly sweet!
A recent issue of TIME magazine (the one with the gorgeous Kate Winslet on the cover) shed light quite clearly on a what could be a good growth driver for IT adoption in the US. The article “Obama’s Rx for the Budget” dwelled on the fact that rising medicare cost are setting off alarm bells at budget meetings. It quotes Budget Director Peter Orszag as saying that if health care costs grew at the current pace over the next 4 decades, this alone would account for 20% of the US’GDP by 2050! An aging American population only underscores the problem.
What the US government intends to do is to invest in a massive IT programme that would help it track inefficiencies in health care spending and administration. A US$ 1.1 billion study would follow that will figure out how which treatments would get the best outcome for least money. Inspite of the perceived hawkishness of the current US govenment towards outsourcing, perhaps an opportunity ahead for Indian global sourcing players ?
The big quest at the recently concluded NILF was for new business models/ideas that would help companies innovate their way out of the crisis. One idea that came out of the event was that innovation may lie in what IT BPO providers can do to change business models – not their’s b Instantbackgroundreport.com. ut those of their clients. A case in point is the work done by Persistent Technologies for its client Bridgestone.
Bridgestone Europe has been able to move its tyre retail model from a transaction-based one to one based on service since its been able to build a layer of valuable service (real time tyre checks and live data feeds to dashboards) around its service model. Capturing this data is crucial since the tyre company’s commercial model is based on kilometres run per tyre per month. Keeping track of tyre data was crucial – loss of data meant loss of revenue – and thats where Persistent fitted in. Goodyear’s market strategy is backed by an application built by Persistent that captures, organizes and transmits data using mobile devices to ensure that Bridgestone’s service engineers had accurate information on the tyre inventory on the road. In effect Persistent was able to help its client innovate on and deliver a game changing business model.
Food for thought on how much one can strech the innovation game by simply looking beyond your business, to that of your client’s.
Three of us from Prayag are attending the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum here in Mumbai, and its already a day well spent. While the general gloom on the recession and anxiety over what lies ahead pervades most sessions, speakers have also put up some clear ideas on how companies can emerge from the slowdown, not slower but stronger. Some of the key ideas
- use the time for improving productivity and efficiencies. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter one of the speakers put it, winning is not always about the big picture, but about smaller steps that everyone in the organization can take
- Expand customer relationships – using the time to really meet and listen to customers – and looking at the wealth of customer knowledge that we possess to create an offering thats of real value to them. All speakers agreed that that the only thing customers were willing to buy in this market were solutions that helped them optimize.
- Walk the talk – implementing internally what we preach to customers. John Chambers (Cisco CEO)’s speech focussed on this at great length. Do catch up with Sudha’s blog on the NILF blog site for a detailed take on this
- Focus on whats within your sphere of influence – where every employee looks at actions that he or she can take to help the company instead of just looking to the CEO for strategy.