Tag Archives: ITO

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

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Back to NASSCOM

Every year in February the Indian hi-tech trade association, NASSCOM, runs their big annual conference in Mumbai. It’s the big annual get-together of the great and good in IT, especially in India, but these days there are around 30 countries represented at the event.

Now that I live in Brazil, it’s a 23-hour journey to get from São Paulo to Mumbai, and that is just changing plane once in London. So I’m going to be dosing up on new films on the way, provided BA has something worth watching.

I’m going to be writing about political risk for Reuters, filing a daily ‘from the conference’ report for silicon.com, blogging about any interesting social media content for Computer Weekly, and anything related to Brazil and South America on IT Decisions, plus I am gathering research for a report I am writing for PA Consulting.

It’s going to be very busy as always, with meetings from breakfast until dinner and this year I am not staying in the conference hotel. It always helps if your room is just above where the conference is taking place, but never mind, I’m sure I’ll cope…

If you are going to be there then do get in touch. I am arriving in Mumbai on Monday and will be leaving very late on Thursday night… once the conference is over I will get dinner then go to the airport to catch the 02.45 flight to London.
NASSCOM Global Leadership Awards

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