Tag Archives: BPO

eCode: Avoid like the plague

Note added after initial publication: The government involved in this blog asked me to remove their name in case of any confusion between their position and that of eCode. I have done so and replaced each mention of the country name with XYZ. However, there never was, and is not now, any claim that the government itself was ever at fault in this case – they paid eCode. It is eCode that did not pass on the money. Apologies if there was any confusion within government XYZ, but I hope this is now clear.


This blog is longer than usual, but read on and you will learn:

  • How consulting firm eCode has refused to pay me £3,000 they accepted into their bank account on my behalf.
  • How a major international analyst group suffered a similar, though much more expensive fate at the hands of eCode.
  • How it pays to contract with a client directly, rather than believing a prime contractor will ever pay you.

The European Centre for Offshore Development sounds like an august institution. At least it sounds that way. One look at their website gives another impression. eCode It looks like something Rodney Trotter knocked together in his night-school classes. That’s right. Possibly the only organisation in the world today still building a website that only works in Internet Explorer. A browser I don’t even have installed on my computer, though I can run through Chrome, Firefox, and Safari trying to improve things, this is a story that doesn’t get any better. I’m digressing from the main story, but it’s interesting to just state upfront how the impression one gets from the website can be reinforced by the behaviour of the company and its executives. More than a year ago, on June the 30th to be precise, I had the first meeting with Stephen Bullas, the MD of eCode regarding an interesting little project for the government of XYZ – specifically XYZ Enterprise, the government agency promoting trade with XYZ. A project that already had the prospect of follow-up work with the government, so although it was initially a fairly small gig, it looked like it could grow. I also had known Stephen for a number of years from the analyst and outsourcing conference circuit, so it seemed a good idea to get involved. eCode had been asked by XYZ Enterprise if they could write a independent research report analysing the good, bad, and ugly of the XYZ offer for IT outsourcing, call centres, and business process outsourcing (BPO). eCode decided to make the report more comprehensive and independent by producing it as a research coalition – so I would focus on the BPO research, eCode would focus on the IT, and one of the leading global analyst firms was employed to work in this partnership, to produce the call centre analysis. Contracts were drawn up. eCode was the prime contractor, the only organisation to have a direct contract with the XYZ government. The analyst firm and myself contracted with eCode, with an agreement that our payments would be made on a back-to-back basis… ie eCode would be responsible for getting cash from the XYZ, but as soon as payments are made, we would not need to invoice eCode again (other than for accounting purposes), payment would just come immediately to us as eCode receives money. As far as I was concerned, the project needed me to visit XYZ in September 2010, with an analyst from the analyst firm and Stephen Bullas from eCode. All expenses would be paid for a trip lasting just a few days. I would get £6,000 to go on the trip, gather information by interviewing people, then writing up my part of the report. I was also offered an additional £1,000 by the XYZ government if I would speak about my findings at a Financial Times conference in November 2010. I went on the trip in September 2010. XYZ is a very nice place and I highly recommend visiting during the European summer. The meetings went well and I filmed many of them, editing together 10 or 11 interview videos that I threw into the deal as a bonus – I never charged anything more for doing this. I received £2,000 in October 2010 – this was a ‘mobilisation fee’ and had been invoiced in September as the project commenced. I wrote up my notes, edited the video and sent everything off to eCode. In November I did my speech at the conference, and I even chaired an additional conference on the same day for the XYZ at a National Outsourcing Association conference. The previous evening I had dinner with the XYZ High Commissioner at his beautiful house in Kensington. When he had told me that he had a few spare dinner places I reached out into my network – again as a favour – and managed to bring along the technology chiefs of several organisations including the Metropolitan police, Transport for London, and the Department for Work and Pensions. The XYZ paid the £1,000 for me to speak at the conference, leaving a balance of £4,000 owed to me. I like XYZ. I had to write in the report that they have a few challenges in the global services market. I live in São Paulo in Brazil and the population of this city alone is about 47 times the entire population of XYZ. So they need to focus on specific services and not try to compete with places like India. But they realise this and, to their credit, they interfered very little in the editorial content of the report – except where they very strongly believed we had factual errors. Time went on. The XYZ government were a bit slow paying up the remainder of the money because of various internal disputes about which part of the government was paying… enterprise or the IT ministry. Time rumbled on, but by March they had paid everything that was owed – an email went out on March 1st thanking everyone for their patience with the editing process and agreeing that the project was complete. I expected to get my money. The project was finished, the client was happy, there was an email closing it all. But nothing happened. I chased eCode. Nothing. I was hesitant to go to my own contacts in the XYZ government because I was a sub-contractor of eCode – it was not up to me to chase payment to the prime contractor. But eventually in May I started asking my XYZ contacts what was going on. “We have already paid eCode!”, was their surprising response. So I started chasing eCode. No joy. Eventually, after what amounted to a series of mild email threats, I discovered that the head of accounts at eCode, John Dee, was on safari somewhere in Africa and Stephen Bullas had recently been taken ill on a flight from Germany to Egypt. I was asked to wait longer. Stephen would be out of action for weeks. I insisted that there was supposed to have been a back-to-back transfer of my £4,000 as soon as eCode was paid. John eventually relented and transferred £1,000 to me, saying that I would have to wait for Stephen Bullas to authorise the rest. I waited for Stephen to call. He did after a couple of weeks only to tell me that the cupboard was bare. His company had collapsed because he was ill. Contracts were failing all over the place because he was not working and he had no cash in the bank to pay me. “But it was never your money to keep. That was supposed to go into your bank account then out to me on the same day…” I cried in frustration. Stephen told me that there was nothing that could be done, other than to wait for him to return to work and to drive more revenue into the business again. I waited. I called him back three weeks later only to find he was still not back at work. I gave him more time because he explained a series of “deals just around the corner” and even an elaborate “we are about to be bought” story that turned out to be just as false as his promise to pay me on the day he got the money from the XYZ government. I waited through the rest of May, I started losing patience in June and gave Stephen some deadlines to pay, but he kept on forcing me to postpone any debt collection action by promising some special deal coming the following week. As July came around I realised that I have now spent more than a year on this contract, for just a few thousand pounds. I wish I had never agreed to work with eCode. eCode still owes me £3,000. Money that was paid from the government of XYZ to me for the work I did, only passing through eCode for the convenience of reducing the number of contracts required. eCode still owes the analyst firm a lot more than me. They were charging much more than me for their time and brand value, so they are much more in the hole than I am, but then as a large organisation they can afford to get a debt collection agency to go after Stephen Bullas and eCode. I personally have filed a case with HM Courts and Tribunal service for the money I am owed. Given that I was promised a back-to-back transfer, this amounts to little more than theft in my eyes. I know it’s not theft in a strict legal sense, but I keep asking myself why did I trust him? Why didn’t I contract directly? Why did I trust Stephen Bullas and eCode?

  • An organisation that has not paid me what I am owed and has consistently avoided my calls and emails on the subject.
  • An organisation that has not done this to me alone, but to one of the biggest and best known analyst groups in the world – and probably has other creditors too.
  • An organisation that has not paid me or the analyst firm, yet the homepage of the eCode website is advertising the XYZ report for £1,250 (see the screenshot above).

If you are thinking about hiring eCode, buying eCode, or purchasing their research then ask yourself a question: Do you want to get shafted? Just don’t do it. Don’t buy from eCode. Don’t buy them. Don’t believe a word Stephen Bullas says. If he can lie to ‘friends’ he has worked with in the industry for years, then what do you think he is capable of doing to those he cares about even less? Welcome to business with eCode, where eCode hires internationally known and respected analysts to produce research eCode then sells without ever paying the analysts involved… I will see you in court Stephen Bullas and eCode. I’m sure the big international analyst firm have their own plans for you too… Lego: Cash machine robbery

Communism finished in West Bengal

It was always an anachronism in India. West Bengal ruled by a communist party for the past thirty-four years and always trying to bend and flex the limits of communist ideology so they might embrace the real world. Now the communist rule is over.

I remember being in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) working on behalf of the West Bengal government a few years ago. They asked me to give a keynote speech at a conference and then do some consulting work focused on how to develop the local hi-tech services economy – IT and IT-enabled services.

I rose to speak to the conference knowing that the IT minister of West Bengal was going to speak immediately after me, but he had not briefed me on his speech and I had not been asked to brief him on mine.

My main thrust was that West Bengal should play to its strengths; the vibrant higher education community, the strong links between academia and industry, the sheer scale of educated young people…

I showed them that they have a unique proposition that is focused on highly trained resource. I explained that they should not try to ape other Indian states, such as Karnataka (where hi-tech Bangalore is located), and focus on offering low-cost labour into the growing call centre industry as it would not be a long-term opportunity for the region.

The minister stood up and the first image he presented described how much cheaper the labour is in West Bengal, compared to Karnataka, and how great this would be for call centres. The entire conference hall fell about laughing at him.

Embarrassing for me, and probably more so for him as it showed he was not really in tune with the business community and had not even taken the time to check what the speaker ahead of him was going to say.

But as I worked with the government there, one thing in particular intrigued me. The IT sector was declared a ‘special’ industry. The local government wanted to attract foreign investors so they decided that all the normal labour legislation would not apply to this one industry.

In West Bengal, strikes have always been common because workers often flex their muscles and refuse to work if they have a grievance with the management. In the IT sector, strikes were banned.

The minister smiled at me when he told me about this and declared that foreign investors have nothing to fear from the communist government, because of the ban on industrial action in the sectors they were trying to boost.

So I asked how the IT workers would get to work when the bus drivers were on strike, or how the computers would work when the power company workers were on strike, or how the workers could eat if the restaurant workers were on strike?

He couldn’t answer. He only gave some weasel words about IT staff sleeping in the office to avoid transport strikes, or companies bringing in food and using diesel generators to keep the lights on. None of it was a real solution and if I was a genuine foreign investor, I wouldn’t have been impressed because the government was trying to remain communist in spirit, yet also doing anything they could to attract foreign money to the region.

So the communists of West Bengal were never really communist in the sense of Plato’s Republic, they just liked the colour red. And Che Guevara T-shirts. West Bengal has joined the rest of us in the real world at last.

Jorasanko Mansion - Kolkata

I’m in Malta all week

I’m working in Malta all this week as part of a research team that includes Ovum and eCode. We are working directly for the Maltese government with the aim of producing some new information for people interested in doing business in Malta.

The focus is on the IT, call centre, and general BPO industries – so we are just focused on IT and hi-tech services. My focus is BPO, so I am exploring engineering firms, accountants, and other professional services.

If anyone has any good links to Malta or knows someone I must see during this week then do ping me on Twitter. I have quite a packed schedule, but it may be possible to arrange something.

Ryanair in Malta

Employees first, customers second

The CEO of Indian technology giant, Vineet Nayar, has just published a book called ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ with the Harvard Business School Press. It challenges the conventional wisdom of business in any industry – that the customer is always right – by suggesting that if you focus on looking after your employees then they will ensure the customers are happy.

I’m going to meet Vineet tomorrow to record an interview about the book and his philosophy on management. If you would like to send a question for me to use during the interview then do get in touch…

Getting ready for NASSCOM 2010

Mahindra Satyam at the FIFA World Cup

Have you been watching the FIFA World Cup? Perhaps you have given up now that England is out of the tournament. Or you might still be holding a torch for the South American giants such as Argentina or Brazil? Whatever your choice of team, it’s impossible to ignore the advertising at the stadiums. This time, the boards around every stadium are entirely electronic. They change about 2 or 3 times a minute, serving up huge exposure for the brands that sponsor these places. Companies such as Adidas, Brahma, and Coca Cola have had prominent advertising popping up. But what’s that Mahindra Satyam one?

Well, of course it’s the Indian technology firm Mahindra Satyam – the technology people that deliver the systems used at the world cup. No doubt they get the advertising as part of their arrangement to deliver technology services to FIFA. But is it actually worth anything to a company like Mahindra Satyam to even bother putting their brand on boards by a football match?

Mahindra Satyam is in the B2B business. They don’t sell a consumer product like Coca Cola. They only have a relatively small number of possible customers around the world – company chiefs needing help with IT or hi-tech services. I admit, some of those company bosses may be watching the football and may be impressed to see the company logo there. But is that measurable? And should a B2B even be focused on that kind of warm fluffy brand perception marketing?

Perhaps it’s a more oblique strategy to raise the profile of the firm, tainted by the Satyam scandal only just over a year ago – an accounting fraud often termed ‘India’s Enron’. The brand was damaged substantially and perhaps this blanket bombing of the world cup is to emphasise the strength of the Mahindra Satyam brand – as opposed to the bad-taste-in-the-mouth Satyam one.

So perhaps the perception building is more about trying to get good people working for them rather than trying to win new business. Coders sitting in bunkers in India must be puffed out with pride when they see their company logo all over the big world cup games – with TCS, Infosys, and Wipro nowhere in sight.

But even if FIFA is offering the ad space for free as a part of the IT contract, will it get Mahindra some new business? None of the technology or marketing executives I speak to think that this is the way to go… if someone from Mahindra Satyam wants to contact me, I’d be happy to talk to you about this strategy directly.
Press mob Kiran Karnik

Comment on Brazil

I went to Brazil as a guest of BRASSCOM recently, the Brazilian hi-tech trade association. Angelica Mari was the only other British journalist on the trip. Take a look at what we both produced in just a few days meeting people in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo:

Why no Wifi?

I’m at the Gartner outsourcing summit in São Paulo, Brazil today. I walked into the keynote session a little earlier this morning only to find that there is no Internet availability in the conference area of the hotel.

I asked the conference organisers why I can’t get online. They said that people at the conference are not allowed to get online.

Umm, so how is anyone supposed to blog the conference or make comments about what the speakers are saying?

I did ask them earlier what the hashtag for the event is, only to be greeted by blank stares… Come on Gartner, what’s going on? You can do a lot better than this in Brazil. At NASSCOM in Mumbai, bloggers are allowed seats at the front of the conference hall – with power sockets – so they can get unobstructed video and photo content out onto the web immediately.

This time it feels like I’m an imposition, asking constant questions and getting no answers.
Gartner Outsourcing Summit Brazil 2010