Tag Archives: outsourcing

Two Steps to Organizing A Great Corporate Event

Last week I was invited to chair a business event in London that was focused on celebrating the 20th birthday of technology company IBA Group. The company is one of the biggest IT firms in Eastern Europe and they have just opened an office in London, so it was almost a double celebration — an office warming and birthday party.

When IBA asked me to host their event I asked them how they intended to make the evening flow. A birthday party is always nice, but the harsh reality for a company like them is that London is full of parties and events almost every night of the week. I suggested that they need to think about doing a bit more than just offering some free drinks and expecting hordes of people to arrive full of interest in what they are up to in London.

Fortunately, they actually listened. They asked if I had any suggestions for the event that would make it interesting and worth attending for the business community, as well as fun. This makes a change. So many companies today are happy organizing a “panel debate” where a series of experts are lined up on stage and asked questions by a host in front of an audience waiting for the free booze.

I suggested that we get a group of experts together and make them compete. As the entire event was going to be a celebration of their 20 years in business, we should get some experts together and give them five minutes each to predict the next 20 years in the technology business.

Of course, nobody can realistically predict the business environment two decades out, but it would be interesting to ask people to do this within the constraint of having to give a sensible talk within five minutes.

To make it more interesting I suggested that the audience would be able to vote for the speaker they found to have the most interesting or credible ideas — and the winner, based on the audience’s vote, should get a prize worth having.

In the end, the event went really well. They managed to get four experts from different areas of industry: Martyn Hart, the chairman of the National Outsourcing Association, John Garratt, editor of IT Europa, Colin Beveridge, industry analyst at Better Practice, and Derek Parlour, head of commercial at National Rail Enquiries. This meant that they had the predictions of an industry analyst, journalist, trade body leader and a major buyer of IT services — a good mix.

We all know that industry events can be a bit boring, especially when you look at the agenda and see that there is still an hour to go and the speaker is only on PowerPoint slide 6 of 75, so I would congratulate IBA for bucking the trend a little and just trying something different. It made life a lot better for me as the MC because I could see the audience actually enjoying the talks, and with them all being so short, it meant we could zap from one speaker to another before anyone started to find the interior decorations more interesting.

And that would be my second piece of advice to any company organising a corporate event, do it somewhere interesting. This event was held inside the Wellington Arch in London. I have travelled past the Wellington Arch many times and I never even knew that you could go inside, yet there is a museum in there focused on the work of John Betjemen who led the post-war movement to get classic old buildings listed and protected.

It makes a difference, and having access to special buildings can be a draw in itself. It may be convenient to just host a conference inside a hotel, but nobody is coming because of the hotel. It shows a lack of imagination to host a corporate event in a hotel in a city like London when there is a classic or interesting building on every corner.

So, make the talks shorter and more interesting and find a great venue. It should be just common sense, but I’ve been to so many corporate events that ignore this advice – it was a pleasure to actually attend a technology themed event where there really was some useful information in addition to the good wine!

Wellington Arch

 

Photo by Studio Tempura licensed under Creative Commons

IT journalists in London – know about outsourcing?

One of my clients, the technology company IBA Group, has asked me to come over to London in September to MC their birthday party event on September 10th at the Wellington Arch.

It’s their 20th birthday, they have a great and historic venue and corporate birthday parties always feature plenty of Champagne so it should be fun, but London has no end of parties so I suggested they add a little bit of business value to the event for the people who will attend.

Of course, it’s a party so nobody wants to listen to endless speeches about SAP integration or how the cloud is affecting the future of IT. What I suggested to them was to invite a group of IT journalists to the event to give their view on the next 20 years in the technology business – especially how outsourcing is changing.

The CEO of IBA will open with his summary of the past twenty years, then each journalist who wants to try giving their view will have just 5 minutes to predict the future. The audience at the event will all have voting cards so they can vote for their favourite futurist…

As an incentive to the journalists, the one who is judged to be most compelling by the audience gets an iPad.

It’s only going to be about 40 minutes of talks, then a return to the drinking, but it should be quite interesting to see how different IT experts see the future playing out. I might even try to chip in myself, though if I win then it will be suggested that I fixed the whole event as I’m supposed to just be chairing!

If you are a London-based tech writer and think it sounds interesting – plus it means you get to spend an evening in the company of a bunch of other tech writers – then drop me a message here or on Twitter.

Videographers

 

Photo by Richard Masoner licensed under Creative Commons

Sunday Telegraph Outsourcing Feature

I’m working on an article this week for publication in the Sunday Telegraph feature on outsourcing to be published on Feb 12, 2012.

The focus is on new global hotspots for outsourcing. How expertise in different regions is growing and changing. Are contracts moving back onshore or to different locations and in particular how the BRICs and CEE are looking?

I’m interested in comment on any new services or recent deals and really only interested in end user comment – not suppliers – though I’m happy for suppliers to introduce me to their clients or give approved comment from their client, and obviously if a supplier is involved in the relationship then they will be mentioned.

I need to get comment this week as I will complete the write-up this coming weekend. Please get in touch with your comments or connections…

Lady Diana newspaper poster DSC_4202

Photo by Plashing Vole licensed under Creative Commons

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

This blog is one of the best – official…

This is a great blog. Official!

Even though this is my personal blog and I rarely talk about work here, the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network awarded my blog the first place in their annual ‘top 15’ blog awards.

I’m delighted to get this award. I’m pleased that even though this is my personal site, there is still a lot of interest in what I’m getting up to and the challenges of moving from Europe to Brazil and starting a new business here.
SSON TOP 15 BLOGGER

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

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