Vande Mataram

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Technical support is mechanical nowadays.

I was reading the much talked about book of former IBM Chief Louis Gerstner. It was like a reference material for management students. Once Mr. Gerstner was referring to an incident with IBM tech support that happened when he was with Amex. The Amex technology people had installed a non IBM server in their department, and the IBM tech support representative refused to support the existing infracture of which 99% were IBM products. The reason behind that was one 3rd party product in the whole lot.

As a tech support guy, I could understand the reason behind the IBM stand at that time. It was early 1980s and technology at that time was not as people savvy as it is now. Even products from the same manufacturer would not be compatible with a different model of machine from the same company. So, a 3rd party server in the network would cause constraints in the support process. The way of expression of that IBM techie and the apathetic reaction to Mr.Gerstner's complaint on that were a cause of concern.

But this attitude of the tech support continue even today. We have an industry standard architecture for any hardware product. We have the most common Operating System, Windows, that occupies 95% of the computers nowadays. Even in cases of Linux or other Operating Systems , we have applications those enable cross platform compatibility. Well, the issue I'm here to discuss is that of the hardware part. Wehad an issue when one of the customers of the company I work with, had called us for.

He had a computer purchased from us which had a network adapter integrated to the motherboard. His internet was working fine for two years. Once he had an issue with the internet. He called us and asked for help. We checked it and found that the network adapter had to be replaced, but in this case the entire motherboard and offered to send a technician to his home to replace it. He said he could not wait for 2-3 days for our technician to go and replace the board. He said he would call us when he was convenient for this arrangement. Someone at his office gave an alternate solution also, that was to purchase a network card and install it. He opted to purchase the network card from a local store and called us for support.

Our tech support refused to help him with that card. That was a 3rd party card, so we should not support, was the reason given by our team. The customer had contacted the card manufacturer and they told that they are not sure about installing parts in this computer and asked him to contact the computer manufacturer. We in turn, referred him to the card manufacturer. After couple of hours of shunting back and forth he decided to hire a local computer technician to get the job done for a cost of a couple of hundred dollars.

Then came the mammoth trouble. The customer then called us asking for refund of the warranty money. His argument was that we didn't support him during a critical time. He was running a business and was in need of internet connection to work on his orders. He could not wait for 2-3 days, our tech support had asked him to wait for. For getting crucial orders processed he had purchased a network card, but we refused to support him citing policy and procedure.

Interestingly during these days, I had gone through a session (online, of course) on customer service. There they had mentioned an incident about a bank taking up a customer's personal request to inform his wife about a flight delay. That bank customer was overseas and called his bank's toll free number, asking them to inform his wife about the flight delay, since he didn't have enough money to make an international call. The bank could have given him some credit and asked him to call his wife and charged him later. Nobody would complain as it was not the bank's job to take up personal requests. But the bank's customer support did take up that request and promptly called the customer's wife and informed about the delay. Then that customer had started recommending this bank to anyone who asked him for any banking needs.

Where did we miss in our case? He was our customer. He had some emergency and had purchased a part from local store. He asked us for help. That part was compatible with our computer and the OS in that. We knew what to do to make that work. I think we should have helped the customer, after giving him the mandatory caveat that we're not trained in the product he had purchased, but we were help him trusting that the product is in compliance with the prevalent industry standards. We could have gained the customer's confidence, and might have got the "word of mouth" in a positive sense.

Our people were cursing the customer stating that he had asked for a warranty refund after violating policy agreement. We're not running any Government that could penalize anyone for violation of its policy and regulations. We're running a business. To sustain customer base and grow it, we have to be customer centric. We have to get rid of the rigid mindset of following policies and losing the customers, and start thinking rather issue centric and focus on resolving customer's problems. Customer support or technical support should have a dash of humanity to survive by serving humans. People who run the service industry must understand the basic tenets of service. Policies are for customers; but customers are not for policies. Would the metric breathing and number crunching corporate czars have time to listen to my voice, that echo most of our customers'?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Indian Citizenship for Eezham Tamils

It is reported in the media that the TamilNadu chief minister MK has asked for Indian citizenship for Tamil refugees of Srilanka. As a vote minding politician his demand is correct. He could boast of getting them citizenship and end up getting their vote en masse. The ruling Congress at the center, which too could not stay back in expressing its concern about the Tamils as it could not afford to have the "bad name" of not caring for Tamils. Hom Min PC has said that the GoI would favorably consider this.

This episode sends a signal that even our ivy-league politicians could not think of the pros and cons of an issue and come up with an argument for or against a stance in an issue. He has to play second or side fiddle to MK for fear of losing the Tamil votes. Whatever MK says with a dash of Tamil sentiments and a splash of Tamil brotherhood, others have to follow suit or they would be branded as anti-Tamils. This makes democracy a mockery and Churchill a prophet.

The moot question is whether the Srilankan Tamil people want Indian citizenship? They, spread all over the world, prefer to go back to Eezham land and lead a life of their own. They have taken citizenship of many other nations where they stay to make a living. But when it comes to the question of foregoing Eezham and staying put in the country of living, they would prefer Eezham. The question may - no, it should-arise that what should be the problem for India to grant citizenship for Lankan Tamil refugees when other nations have done so.

The answer is, technically by the law, there is no problem. But the spirit of the problem lies with the sentiments of Tamils. Our brothers have been driven out of their homes by some beasts. Do we prefer to keep them at our home forever, or take steps to beat the beasts out and make their home livable? Of
course we'll temporarily keep them at our home and take care of them, but won't we take real steps to get them back to their home?

The politicians of Tamil Nadu except quite a few have only done lip service to the
Eezham Tamil fraternity. Either they've got money from LTTE and supported them in the name of Eezham Tamils, or they've supported Eezham Tamils for getting votes in their name and on their sufferings. They have merely played with the sentiments of the local Tamil people. Some politicians may go for a defamation law suit against me. They will never have the guts nor facts to tell the court of law what constructive steps they have taken without fear, fervour, fiduciary and political benefits.

Why can't the TN Government pressurize the center to go for an embargo of Lankan tea and other products in protest against the despicable treatment meted out to the Tamil brethren who could not manage to flee the war torn island? Why can't we step up diplomatic pressure on the Lankan Government through the UN, G-20 and other international fora? With an eminent Tamil lawyer as Hom Min in the Center and with the influence in the ruling coalition, MK could easily have got things done in this way.

Rather he prefers to keep our brethren at our home and asking them patiently wait for the good to happen in its own pace. Citizenship for them is not correct politically and sentimentally. Work toward getting them back to their home and let them live with dignity. The feel of losing home and living at someone else's mercy is really painful. The granting of Indian citizenship to the
Eezham people would be a disastrous step that would result in forgoing the rights of Tamils for either a few thousand votes or sentimental foolishness. Step up a campaign against the holocaust of the east. Make the Lankan Government do the right things. That would really make MK a leader of the Tamil brethren as he wishes to be addressed to.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Refunds, Rebates, Returns & Recession

Nowadays we hear a lot about people asking for rebates, returns and refunds especially in the US market. Customer support and technical support of businesses get a lot of callers asking for return of products, refund of money or while purchasing they ask for a lot of rebates. Why this has become a trend now? Or are we getting a lot of spotlight on this aspect of business nowadays?

People ask for rebates and refunds but businesses are very reluctant in giving them. We have people lamenting about the worthlessness of products compared to the price. They whine about how they have been duped by the sales person to shell out lot of money on a product that would not meet their requirement.

Many of my friends working in the customer service divisions working on the US markets, tell a lot about this. At times people pay for a service and after completion of the service ask for a refund claiming that the amount charged was too much for the service provided. They would threaten a law suit claiming that the service they have been charged for was part of the free service agreement during the time of purchase. This prolongs the service incidents of the business and costs money as almost all businesses have toll free numbers for which they pay for the customers to call them.

Interestingly some of the businesses call the customers when the issues get aggravated due to unreasonable claims by the callers or untenable service quality by the representatives of the businesses. This case is worse than the tall free call. The business pays money for the call as well as higher pay for the personnel calling the customers and they would have to track the incident till they satisfactorily resolve the issue raised.

Abundance of knowledge through internet has also been a reason for this. Users of products surf the net and read a lot (expert opinion and casual remarks in expert language as well) and get worried when they experience a hitch in the functioning of the product. They tend to recall all they have read about the product, possible causes of failures, possible fixes for the failures etc. before getting the trained experts of the product take a look at the situation and provide a resolution.

Nowadays we see a lot of comments for product reviews and analysis online. Most of them highlighting a negative experience of a distant past and from a dim memory. Headquarters of businesses have seen a spate in receipt of complaints, most of them squealing for a refund/rebate. A careful look into the prevailing economic and social situation would lead us towards an understanding of this scenario.

The mindset of people is that with the loss of jobs and hardship to find new jobs, is to hold money as much as possible for turbulent times. Businesses would like to maximize their profit by cutting costs in every possible aspect. This most of the times put both the parties to the transaction in a denial mode. Customer refuses to accept what the business offers and business refuses to give what the customer demands. They both have no patience to sit and talk their problem out for a reasonable solution.

Businesses need to have people who have the patience, understanding and conscience of the prevailing situation to handle customer service especially during trying times like the present. But most businesses still run on a target of sales and good index numbers for QoS. This makes the representatives of businesses push the customers to buy products. Such a push leads to exasperation of customers who are already irritated.

An exasperated customer is very hard to handle and could hardly be convinced to stay put doing business with insensitive pushy people. Businesses those boomed and puffed their purse with money with sales without responsibility of service are now suffering. Those who were proud of minting money during the boom with insensitive sales and irresponsible service, have now suffered heavy losses. Some have been closed down many of their profit centers.

One good thing that has happened in the worldwide market due to the recession is that people have become price performance sensitive. Most of them already were, but the graph of sensitivity and the count people who have it, has the arrow representing both going upwards. Businesses have to understand this and instead of blindingly targeting to exceed the past number tally, they have to be innovative enough to hold their customer base in tact atleast until the economic recession recedes and boom blooms.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Opposition and Ideology

The BJP has sent shock waves through the political circles by expelling its most senior leader and a foreign policy expert, Jaswant Singh. The reasoning and timing stinks indeed. Reason being authoring a book, the title of which appears to question the basic beliefs of the party. Has anyone in the party come up with a strong reason to reject the book and the author? NOPE. A reason in the true sense of the word was not given for expelling Jaswant Singh. The talks of the political leaders are purely echoing the press opinion of the book.

The learned opinion is that the people who manned the "Chintan Bhaitak" (Introspection Session) had appeared not to have read the book, not even the synopsis nor a review. Singh argues that the Congress' top duo during the partition period are more responsible for the cut off than the often demonized Jinnah. This is a fact and that puts the BJP stand for decades that the Gandhi-Nehru duo were responsible for the ruins of nation and the spirit of the democratic system. History has scores of evidences that Nehru had often strong tongued Gandhi in getting things in his way. So, why throw out a man who comes out with a very supportive arguement for the party's stand?

The bottom line of this episode is that Singh has no political strong grounds to stand. He has raised reasonable questions that has put the top brass of the BJP in much inconvenience, by challenging their ego. So they threw him out, as simple as that. Every decision by the BJP brass from 2004 general elections were based on over confidence than on a perfect analysis of reality. Bharath Udai bombed as it painted a double coated rosy picture of the economy, while the plight of the common man was highlighted by the Congress. The fruits of the prudent economic decisions were in the stage nearing fruition at that moment, though.

The party lacked the will to go for the kill as they could have easily snubbed the financially futile Congress in 2004 by some tough politicking. They also lacked the skill to counter the Congress' charges of "Aam Aadmi" being ignored. BJP had some excellent minds those could convince even a staunch opponent to support their ideas. But the way they had conducted business from 2004 makes it very clear that the previous successes had gone into the heads of the party heads. They were over confident and had lost. They could not come to terms with the loss and were strenuously objecting even the negligible errors 0f the UPA Government thus getting an image of Communists who oppose everything for sake of opposing.

The current introspection session has had done no effective introspection on the pathetic performance of the party in the recently concluded elections. The leaders seem to live in an elevated world insulated with their own perceptions that they could not face the ground reality. The leaders have taken stances those defy common social etiquette. A person who was with the team of leaders for 30+ years was simply asked to keep away over the telephone. If a leader of this stature is treated in such an uncivil manner, what would be the fate of the common cadre who tends to question the decisions of the leadership on common man's logic? Only if the leaders show respect for the cadres they could command respect in the society.

It makes one who looks for an alternate to the GOP flinch with the developments in the BJP. Once it happened between the then law minister Ram Jethmalani, and the secretary of Dept of Law, Justice and Company affairs that they both got into a public spat and it was the then PM Vajpayee gave them strictures that usage of terms like Alice in Wonderland in official communication was much below the reputation of the personalities and the positions involved. They both went silent and solved their differences in a different way. But now the party management is termed as Alice in Blunderland, Humpty Dumpty, Jack Sprat etc and none comes forward to advise people involved on the necessity of subtleties in public communication.

This shows the entire party is in chaos. Things go haywire and no one comes forward to control. Those who have come to terms with the prevailing situation have been ridiculed. Those who have asked for streamlining party operations have been sidelined. The basic marketing concept that the same market strategy would not work for every market has been forgotten by the party "strategists" and the issues of the previous century are still hoisted with heavy clamour. People could not come to terms with temple building repeatedly showcased as nation building while the urgent issues of economic, national and social importance were not addressed. Either build the temple come what may, or leave it off and move on with nation building.

The bottom line is that the party still suffers from its historic blunders. It still fights over history and forgets the current affairs. Those who live and fight for the past can never be trusted with future building. Be it Jinnah, Nehru or the British that had divided the nation, now we have cut throat enemies across the border who still take pride in killing people on this side of the LoC.

Instead of fighting for who is responsible for the past, the party should come up with ideas on how to shape up the future of the nation keeping in mind every aspect of security in mind. Let us keep the discussion of the past mistakes for free time and take up the task of making the future.

We shall not give room for another generation to discuss who goofed up in early 2000s as we discuss now on who mess up in early 1900s. Nation needs a strong and vibrant opposition party which tracks the current issues and thinks for the better future. Anyone in the BJP ready to listen? There is a deafening noise over there within the BJP top brass. Who will make them to calm down and think properly? RSS? They can, but will they? Effectively? Hey Ram..... This should not become the last words of the party which was grown upon the same Name.

Unlocking of Lockerbie criminal - Compassion for what?

“Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.” - William Shakespeare.
We see tears, shrill and whine over Scottish justice minister's decision to free Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the criminal convicted of bombing the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie killing 272 people, on compassionate grounds. This leaves every sane mind with a question whether we need the provision in the laws to release criminals of such a grave nature on compassionate grounds. Megrahi was accorded a hero's welcome in Libya, as if he has done something extraordinarily good for his nation or for the world and had been jailed for a cause. Criminals who have the potential to be symbolized for recruits and trainees at the terror camps don't deserve to be released on any grounds.

Megrahi had killed people who hadn't chosen to die over the skies of Lockerbie. The people were common men women and children, who were going home or away from home for reasons personal, business and intimate. They were not allowed to live a life of their choice. They were killed at the behest of Col.Gadhaffi, by Megrahi and gang, to show to the world that they are someone that the world has to be afraid of. Releasing him on compassionate grounds is not what justice is, be it the system of whichever country. Earl Warren rightly said,"It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive".

The argument supporting his release is not based on strong legal or judicial grounds. People argue that the American bombers of Iranian civilian airplane were not punished, so none should question the release of Megrahi. American bombing of civilian aircraft is a different case. People concerned should have approached the International Court of Justice or the UNO for dealing with that crime. It is not wise to compare two crimes and justify one. Crime is a crime and it deserves punishment through a thorough legal system.

Megrahi killed people and that is a fact. If terrorists wanted to show “compassion” they wouldn’t have become terrorists. Therefore showing compassion to them is criminal. The abettor of the Pan Am attack is terminally ill and would like to die in peace. Let him do it in the confines of a prison cell. If that Megrahi had repented for the killings he had abetted and took part in, and atleast felt bad for the common people whom he killed under the orders of one who wanted to frighten someone else for some reason the dead were not allowed to comment or even think upon, then his release on compassionate grounds to have him a death at the place of his choice would have some credibility. Peace has nothing to do with the place you live, it is a state of mind.

If people have the maturity to live life peacefully with a calm mind, even petty crimes would not happen. Until then, we need to have mercy only for the victims and not for criminals, especially towards such brainwashed people who take pride in killing in the name GOD in a form they worship. Megrahi should not have been released. Scotsmen have erred in judgment. This is a costly error. This has already cost 272 human lives and may cost more because of the agony and angst.

Englishmen are accused of having vested trade interests in this crime of release. If that is proved we have to hail Sir. Winston Churchill for telling the truth about the mentality of his people so publicly. He said,“
The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that, when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are no longer strong.” Englishmen seem to be strong now and Americans are weaker. If this release is based on compassion, is it a compassion for justice or compassion for commerce?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sharm - El- Sheik: An episode of shame for India?

We've had a lot of discussions, lashings, defenses, promises, justifications and pleas on the Joint statement of the PM Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart in Sharm-El-Sheikh. The meeting was not a formal Indo-Pak summit. It was just a sort of a tete-a-tete on the sidelines of NAM summit. So, the first question we need to ask is what the pressing necessity was for a joint statement. Was it an unnecessary exercise by the over zealous foreign services officers? The PM had stepped over the External Affairs minister, a man he had trusted with the responsibility of taking the foreign policy forward.

S.M.Krishna is not a mere vote crammer who had risen to higher up levels only because of dirty political tricks and loyalty defying rationality. He is qualified lawyer from University Law College, Bangalore and was a Fulbright Scholar who studied and taught International Law at the The George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. He is a man capable of understanding the nuances of foreign policies and working on them. He is often referred to as the father of modern Bangalore by making it the IT capital of India. He was also instrumental in creating power reforms and was a torchbearer of the Bangalore Advance Task Force. So, his skills are not questionable.

If the PM wants to earn a name as a peace propagator that is fine. But that doesn't mean that he should slight the presence of his minister responsible for external affairs. The PM could have taken up some task in his own forte Economics and done something exceptionally good for the national economic development, while every one has been concentrating and boasting on economic growth. Testing new waters without proper assistance has proved costly, not only for the PM but also for the nation. The external affairs minister was reportedly not involved in this issue. He also did not comment on this afterward.

Why should the PM okay a statement that has ambiguities in many areas and sounding to be a statement of Pakistan. In the words of Kanwal Sibal," it was an ill-conceived and badly drafted joint statement that had compromised India's position and made unnecessary and damaging concessions to Pakistan". In other words, the PM had, at Egypt, agreed to de-link action on terror infrastructure in Pakistani soil as a precondition for "meaningful dialogue" and had backtracked on it upon reaching New Delhi. The PM had cited example of his predecessor Vajpayee's invitation to Musharraf after the Kargil and Parliament terror attacks, while defending his acts.

We still disapprove of Vajpayee's decision to invite Gen.Musharraf as a state guest, whom any other soverign nation would try as a war criminal. Vajpayee had also backtracked on and earlier stand that Indo-Pak dialogue would not resume till democracy was restored in Pakistan. But he kept Musharraf under constant check, by surprising him with Pakistan's official secrets. The foreign affairs minister was not slighted by Vajpayee. He also never backtracked on his own words to the Parliament, which Manmohan had done twice, once on the Indo-US nuclear deal and now on the Indo-Pak agreement.

It is a diplomatic goof up. A faux pas by a novice in foreign policy PM, and was subscribed by an expert career diplomat, the foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. We have had great minds with clarity of thought and the audacity to speak up the facts, no matter what the PM's intentions be, as Foreign Secretaries. T.N. Kaul, an ICS officer had remarkable ease in making friends and influencing adversaries, M.K. Rasgotra had the ability to reduce complex foreign policy issues to an intelligible political quotient, and J.N Dixit, with another foreign policy expert P.V. Narasimha Rao as PM, repositioned India in an emerging global order. We also have a south asia expert in the field of foreign affairs, G.Parthasarathy, who could also have been consulted. (sources for info in this paragraph: Articles by former FSOs of India)

But right from the Indo-US nuclear deal, we've had a PM who stands firm on his own beliefs and refuses to take people along with him, not even to hear their concerns and allay their fears. He had promised that the parliament would be taken into confidence before finalizing the nuke deal, but went back on that promise. Now that the parliament was in session, the PM had signed a documented dictated by his Pakistani counterpart, after making minor corrections. The inclusion of Balochistan in the document deserves explanation.

This would give Pakistan a chance to speak up that India is inciting terror in Balochistan and escape from it's long run crime of abetting terror in Kashmir and providing Governmental support to perpetrators of terror against us. The argument that the pathetic economic conditions of Balochistan would discourage Pak from raising Baloch terror as an issue in the international fora has no justification, but a mere attempt to cover up the PM by some of the supporters of his political Boss, under instructions to do so.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor's clarification that the joint statement was only a “diplomatic paper” and not a “legal paper” questions the basics of the diplomacy.Diplomacy is a gentleman's arena where people go by the words and not by reassurances and clarifications. One agrees to something and sign then come and tell the world that the signature has no legal binding, pushes one's credibility to a weaker ground. Not expected of an international veteran diplomat, Mr. Tharoor, though he tried to save the face of his erring super boss.

The timing of the statement reiterates Mr.Singh's undying desire to please the US. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to arrive after two days of the joint statement. So, to paste a rosy picture for Hillary to boast having got the warring neighbours to peace table, the PM had okayed whatever Gilani had written in that paper. It seems when it comes to pleasing the US, the PM wants not to trust anyone and do it himself. That was why the Minister mannig the MEA was stepped over it seems. The man who was tipped for the top UN job and had landed up in our MEA Shashi Tharoor was also not taken in by the PM and party.

One has to conclude, with all these considerations, that the PM had attempted to get an image of peace loving statesman, but ended up as a childish novice saying something and backtracking on that upon criticism of what was said. Are you serious about your job Dr.Singh? Please act with some sense of responsibility. We still respect you as an economist who is capable of doing good to the nation's economic development.

The Sharm - El- Sheik episode has proved to be a shameful encounter for India. Ironically Sharm means shame in Hindi.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Understand the Business before you attempt to run it

I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review, about why Robert McNamara-the most talented systematic analytical thinker who lead Ford to big success-failed in Vietnam and at World Bank. The bottom line conclusion was that McNamara didn't try to understand the dynamics of fighting a war while leading the US Defense department. He thought systematic rigorous analysis of data would help in fighting war in a better way, but ended up counting corpses. His failure here was that he didn't understand the basic differences between fighting a war and managing a business.

In world bank also he had good intentions but when it came to managing operations, his results were not successful. The reason was that he was not experienced in banking and directing economic activities such as poverty alleviation, employment generation etc. Though one of the whiz kids of the post WW-II economic boom has done a lot of good to Ford, his skills and thought process were not compatible with running Government and Global political economy.

While reading this story, my mind reminded me of a not much similar narration by my friend, who works with the technical support of a leading computer manufacturer.He works with an outsourcing company of the MNC computer manufacturer. He has a manager who hardly understands the intricacies of the business this particular department deals with. The department my friend works with deals with legal issues arising out of technical support provided or lack of it.

When this manager took over he asked about Average Handle Time and asked these people to cut it short. Cutting short AHT is a welcome measure, if done through proper training of associates and prompt support of the issues they face on the call. But when you deal with potentially legal issues, AHT should not be a metric, and that was why the client did not consider that as part of the SoW. But this manager and his know-it-all superior officer were skeptical about not having AHT as a metric. "You can't run a call center without AHT as a metric, damn it!", was the know-it-all's response when my friend and couple of his colleagues who were with the department from the day one, attempted to explain the modus operandi to him.

After 9 months of analyzing various data in various forms with all the available six sigma, lean and other tools, the know-it-all manager concluded that not the per call AHT or the C-SAT responses from surveys are important, but stopping further legal/quasi legal escalations was the prime job of this department and the metrics driven by the client right from the beginning drove the people towards that goal. But it was too late when he realized that. Damage was already done. People who were trained to work towards the client centric metrics have either left the job or driven out for non-cooperation.

My friend and his colleagues were taken off important assignments they had already been handling and were asked to look after the data collection and repository, kind of a clerical job. My friend was about to slip into depression but was saved by his never-say-die father, who advised him to do the work given in a non-comittal manner, so that his health would not deteriorate further. Now my friend is looking for different options out of this business.

As a management student, I found this story interesting as we could learn some lessons atleast how not to manage a business. In down south of TamilNadu a business community would call such a learning as purchase of knowledge. I spoke a lot with this friend to find out the character of this know-it-all manager. I found out a lot of funny things about this person. He really would treat his subordinates as dimwits, dorks and dunces. This had made people with self-respect to feel slighted and gave them a sense of alienation. People who never had the intellect but came into the business by sheer luck or referrals, would call this man a go getter, but the client once was heard commenting off line whether this man could fit in for an FLA role.

The main draw back of this know-it-all manager was that he had got known a lot of things and had failed to determine which to apply where. He would apply lean, six sigma, ISO, CMM and TQM principles for a single operation, and would finally end up messing up the entire business since people would lose sight of the purpose and concentrate on data analysis. It was found out that he had taken all the ideas of the quality tools from his managers and show off as if he knew all of them. He was also heard of telling my friend and other team members to show respect to him in front of others by not questioning his ideas. This is evidence that the said ideas were not his.

I came to a conclusion that too much of analysis of available data by putting them in different formats, plotting the same numbers in different diagrams, perpetuating the process of data mining would not serve the end goal, since perpetuated data mining deviates the operations from the end goal and induces people involved to live with multiple forms and formats of data and coming up with different analysis irrespective of their relevance to the purpose.

Everyone know McNamara was a man of good intentions and had indeed made good the ailing Ford Motor Company, but was not as successful in Government and World Bank. We could come to this conclusion from his biography "In Retrospect." But with the know-it-all manager I was referring to, none would know whether he was a man of having go getter instinct or just a person who happened to talk to many people and know the jargon of the business critical tools and trying to implement everything he (half)learnt everywhere intimidating people with all the jargon and his infamous examples. Now my friend told me that this know-it-all fellow blames the client for not being intellectually capable enough in understanding his way of running (ruining?) the business and went off to a different company for a lower position.

Unless we get to know of this person's background, brought up and thought process, we could not conclude about his intentions. We may have to wait until this person writes his autobiography, (GOD!!!) but the bottom line would still remain that with his know-it-all attitude, which is much discouraged by every sane management teacher and guru, this person had ruined a business process of an already troubled business. Though this may make some soft hearted people flinch I have a saying that perfectly fits this person. "Tough times won't build character; they put it to (dis)play."

For such people, I would recommend just to read and understand the title of the famous book which means,"know the rules before you break it." Gentleman know-it-all! Understand the business, before you attempt to run it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SriLanka and Tamils - An issue centuries old

Many voices and some fists have been raised in wake of the news of the LTTE head honcho Prabakaran's death in the hands of the SriLankan Army (or his suicide.) People tend to jump to a conclusion that with the death of Prabakaran, the Tamil-Sinhala fighting would be over. But I would say they are either overzealous about peace or have no eye for history. The Lankan Tamil crisis is not a one that had started during the British Raj. The Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and fighting is centuries old.

If we take a look at the history of South India, every one of the three dominant Tamil emperors the Chera, Chola and Pandias have had their war with the Sinhalese kings and had conquered the island then called Eezham. The Sinhalese kings have also shown their prowess by defeating the weaker kings of the Tamil dynasties. This has been continuing for centuries. The current ethnic problem has its roots in the history. Literature plays a pivotal role in fueling the fight. Sinhalese literature praises and lifts high of the Sinhalese king by showing the Tamils in dim light for the goods they've done and in bad light overall. The Tamil literature also boast that the Sinhalese kings lamenting about their ill-fate at the victory of Tamil kings over them, and shows the Sinhalese kings as born tyrants.

It is literature that gets more into the minds of the people than recorded history. Literature makes or breaks social harmony in such cases. But humans, with their emotionally charged mindset and fancy for fantasy, always prefer literature and it's mostly distorted visual form cinema. With exaggeration being the baseline of literature and cinema, the facts get distorted and human mind takes history as a reason to fight with others.

The present Lankan turmoil was due to the Sinhala only stance adopted by the Government of SriLanka. Instead of getting diplomatic pressure to deal with the potential ethnic cleansing, the Govt of India and the people of Tamil Nadu took the emotional path to deal with the issue, which made strategic thinking impossible. One man thought with a military mindset and he was left at the top with none to guide and mentor. He was Prabakaran and he gradually took course to eliminating other Eezham freedom fighters to hog the whole limelight. Had he been mentored properly, he would today have become the commander in chief of the Armed forces of Tamil Eezham with some political leader being the head of the nation state.

His unfettered desire with mentor-less thought process, lead to the separation of his own men from him, with which he lost trusted commanders like Mathaiya, Karuna etc. They were the people who translated the goal into military strategy into war tactics which lead to their invincibility for 30 years.
Also he earned the wrath of the people of India and the world with the killings of Amirthalingam, Padmanabha, Rajiv Gandhi, Neelan thiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadhirgamar and the level headed likes. His self-centric attitude brought to an end his life (suspicions surround this claim) and his organization, till someone else takes it up again.

The problem with the people of Eezham is that they don't like LTTE, but the TINA factor worked in LTTE's favor, as the people liked to hate the Srilankan armed forces. Military victory over the LTTE of the SL Army would not solve the Eezham crisis as it is an ethnic problem not a national problem. Both parties involved try to get the issue resolved in their terms. Negotiations have failed. Now that the remaining leaders of the Tamil political parties need to take up the initiative to take the cause forward, for which great men like Amirthalingam were killed.

Prabakaran's LTTE is history. But history teaches us not to trust the Lankan Government. So, the trained cadre of the LTTE shall be kept intact to get an edge in the negotiating table, since without an edge in the negotiating table, Tamils would be again put to trouble. We don't want another Black July and another Prabakaran's LTTE.

Eezham people want peace and tranquil life. It is the duty of Tamils worldwide to diplomatically pressurize the concerned Governments to get this done.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vox Populi: 2009

The nation has delivered its verdict as to who would rule it for the next five years. Though there were hiccups in the election process, results have shown some positive trends and a clear message. The election results though have not given a clear majority to any single party, has not given the regional parties the upper hand, which is a positive national trend. One of the national parties, Congress has won 206 seats, while the other national party BJP has won 116. The one state wonders with high national ambitions, AIADMK and BSP, were shown their places, while the two state wonder with exemplary back pulling capabilities, the Leftist group, was drubbed in it's own forts.

The movie magic shows and empty rhetorics failed miserably. Performance and governance were rewarded, though they measured fathoms deep down from the required level. An interesting thing to note in this election is that the Opposition had high ambitions, but lacked proper planning and concerted efforts to achieve them. The campaign was perfectly planned and executed by the Congress, while the BJP and other opposition parties resorted to mere rhetoric and empty statements of extreme hope.

The Congress campaign was aimed at the common man, who cares for who cares. The issues concerning the common man like employment guarantee, better roads and railways etc were discussed and highlighted in the Congress campaign. BJP on the other hand tried the run the show based on national security, foreign policy, harping too much on Mumbai terror attack etc issues not within the understanding of the common man, only to be rubbed back with the Kandahar episode by the Congress. BJP was forced to change strategy in the midway with the casual and cool rejoinders of the Congress star campaigners, which projected them in the light of immaturity.

Overall, the common man had delivered his verdict, which is perfect in the national interest with two national parties sharing majority of votes and remaining in the top two positions. The much longed maturity that regionalism shall be a plank for regional elections not for the national elections, has been silently emphasized by We, the people of India.

Hope for the best is the adage. But being happily tainted and never caring about being tainted are the characteristics of the winner, the Congress party. Shall we anticipate more Quattrochi like releases, more corruptions right from Planes to pickles, or for a change a combination of growth in economy, and development in corruption?

I remember Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiar, the great Tamizh poet who lamented, "Oh Fate!what have you in store for the humankind?" If you know the future for sure, the thrill of living would be lost. Let us look for the future with good hope and trust in GOD.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taking Business Client centric

There is story told in almost management every management seminar, class or workshop. There was a telephone company which was leading the market with large customer base. They outsourced their billing and customer support to a company called Alice services in wonderland. There was a proposal in the telecom company to club the bills of one customer for different services. For example, if a customer has 3 phone connexions, one for office, one for personal and another for his wife they would be clubbing together the bills of all the three. This arrangement was to check the paperwork and reduce the billing expense.

Customer were given an option to choose for it or ignore it. The next month, there was a call volume spike at Alice services, with customers who opted for the new joint billing finding it difficult and wishing to return to the previous state. Now that the Alice services have no clue what to do in such a situation. The customer were pressing for a restoring previous status or threatening to close the account. There was no SOP for such a situation.

Alice services were given the business of soliciting new accounts and also closures as and when necessary. So, when customers insisted on closure if their demands are not met, they opted to offer closure, as they have no specific instructions for such a situation, and customers were also demanding a quick solution so, checking with client was also not feasible. The client realized the impact after a week and a loss of hundreds of accounts. Then a roll back of the scheme was announced and alterations made to take necessary care for the business to stay. But the damage had already been done, smarting from that took a lot of time and money.

This is one of the banes in outsourcing, but there is another side to this issue also. Taking everything to the clients. To service a customer's special request, the outsource partners would wait and get the clients approval, by which time the customer would have gone out of hands.

The same happened in a place where one of my friend works. He was with a team that handles critical issues and dissatisfied customers. His team was trained by the client and they were deciding on the solutions to be provided for the customers. Once there happened a management change and the new manager didn't know an iota of the business intricacies. He was much concerned about the industry basic standards of TAT, on-time calls, and metrics like same day case closure, delayed case closure etc. The business was of a nature that the customer's were to be taken care of in every possible way. When freebies were to be stopped due to recession-bite, these guys still managed to get it in a different way for the customers.

But the new manager insisted on metrics through numbers. He didn't care for appreciation letters, praising mails etc. He wanted numbers to show that he mattered. When client came up with new work arounds, he would not question back as to the nature of the customers the team was handling. Had he done so, the clients not so business conducive proposals would have been scrapped at the start. Without discussion, the client's proposals were implemented and when results shot back they would still take "gaalis and golis" from the client and go around with the new work around.

None seemed to have realized the famous words of Jack Welch,"If an idea doesn't stand for a no holds barred discussion, the market place would kill it ruthlessly". The manager had his infamous justification, "If client says crow is white, crow is white. Because he is client and it is his business." Finally some of the people who were veterans in the business were sent off as they were not doing their "allocated job" and were asking too many questions. Now people who were retained in the business are looking around for opening elsewhere.

Well, what is the moral of the second story. BPO businesses should been run client centric. But making it centered around the client and according a demi-God status to the client would definitely ruin the business for the client- they are also humans and would err by nature- consequently to the outsource partners.

It should rather be a cooperative effort by both the client and the partners right from choosing the people to run the business. People who run critical business should atleast have a minimum business intelligence, rather than a "Yes Minister" attitude. The business managers and leadership team should dare to question the client on his proposals keeping the business in mind. Outsource employees should have the feeling of ownership towards the part of the business they run for the client. This attitude could be brought through by training, orientation and encouragements by the outsource management and the management of the client.

Jack Welch, Louis Gerstner and Lee Iacocca have developed a sense of ownership for GE, IBM and Ford respectively and they succeeded because of that. For that matter, take any of the successful business managers. They own it, they win with it. If you don't feel you own something, you will have indifference towards it. If you have indifference towards it, you will not care for it. If you don't care for it, you're not fit to run it, be it business, family, nation or a bicycle. Business managers need to develop a sense of ownership towards the business they manage to successfully run the show.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Panick-stricken perpetrators

The news that the Taliban has taken 800 police trainees as hostages in Pakistan has come as a rude shock to followers of news, but only as an expected development to people who believe in the universal law of life, "As your sow, so you reap". The Pakistani establishment gave an upper hand to the ISI as it is part of the armed establishment after the military established supremacy over the civil government. We cannot expect civility from armed people who have gross indifference towards the public sentiments and refuse to learn from history that every military dictator in that nation has been overthrown by either the democratic forces or by their heirs apparent.

The Pakistani military has a history of military blunders right from 1948, when they sent hooligans in the name of mujahideen (armed freedom fighters) to Kashmir in an attempt to separate it from India. It miserably failed. They invaded us in 1965 thinking that we were out with the Chinese armed fiasco of 1962, but we proved to them that we were only down. They planned to take over our nation in 1971, when we helped the suppressed East Pakistani people, but we proved to them again that their military thought process was fundamentally wrong.

Their association with the US in an attempt to get the Soviet Army out of Afghan was handled miserably without administrative sense of responsibility, by giving ISI a free hand to operate without any checks and without asking to balance its acts. ISI was allowed to grow like a motherless child, uncared for and unquestioned, that it grew up with a rowdy attitude. No one dared to question ISI because it worked with CIA and US gave money. With the Shariat Law adapted and adopted by Zia-ul-Haq, fundamentalist forces were given a free hand to operate at will.

This resulted in Pakistan slowly being swallowed by the forces of religious fundamentalism and the Government establishment there repeated its mistakes by playing along with the fundamentalists and the moderates with money pumped in to banish the fundamentalists. We have intelligence confirmations that the poor villagers of Pakistan were caught and sent over to Guantanamo stamping them as Al Qaeda operatives. The fact that these people were exposed only to the Islamic culture and knew only Urdu and Pashtun made it enough for the US forces to accept the words and people Pakistani establishment supplied.

Reports say every such man fetched $5000 to the Pakistani Government and thousands of men were sent over. Later this scam was found, but was covered up, as some of the thousands of people sent over were Al Qaeda. The cover up has an unofficial reason, dwelling into it might be revelation of a deal between Bush and Mush. Now that the financiers of war on terror asking to account for the rolled out bills, if not for the thrown out nickels, Government of Pakistan simply blinks. With Mr.10% at the helm and he has no clue of how to rule a nation, but only to play double games with people and groups, we have this grave development of a militant gang holding police trainees hostages.

Pakistan Government was in its usual denial mode when asked about the casualties. They might have thought of denying the very existence of the slain trainees inside the school, but would have later realized that this was not an attack on India to deny identification of the arrested or the killed. Now they come up with 10 terrorists attacking the academy, but this figure is just for numbers' sake. Apart from the 10 there were others. If their accounts have to be taken at the verbal value, it should be about 15-20 militants, some of them clad in police uniforms.

The free for all terror training schools in Pakistan, covered up in the name of Madarassas, were the root cause of this ruin. When the target was India, the ISI (parallel Government of Pak) had helped these establishments with place, pay and people. But now is the time to watch what the Pakistanis are going to do. Their own actions to destabilize their sane neighbor, has now started to back fire. Let me quote from former PM Atalji's poem, “If you think about setting our house on fire, be reminded that you're the neighbor". This was aimed at Pakistan's aiding of terror in India. We have a belief based saying in Tamizh, "Poet's words would come true". They have started to.