Letter to Finance Minister from an IT Professional!

Dear Mr. Chidambaram,

Trust you are reaching your target deficit to please financial analysts while pleasing your political colleagues with freebies. I am writing one simple wish too!

I don’t belong to any vote bank or powerful lobby, so why listen to me? I think you will because firstly, you are a gentleman, and secondly because I am a part of the 75 Billion IT industry bringing a lot of foreign exchange! I also don’t buy much gold so don’t add to Current Account Deficit. I prefer spending on lifestyle products, so contribute to the consumption story, help you get more taxes. I also spend a lot of money eating out and on entertainment so I pay service tax and entertainment tax through my nose! Reason enough? I guess so!

I hear that you are considering tightening a lot of pilferage in the system, ofcourse all backed by Aadhar identification. But you know very well that pilferage will continue! So may I request you to set aside some money for a waiver of my housing loan and of the loan of every IT professional in this country? Why should you do it? Because right now most of our EMIs go to private banks which you don’t get much access to! So when I have that EMI money saved, I will spend on the areas listed above and thereby give you more taxes and more revenues!

If my simple wish is fulfilled, I promise to vote for your party in the next general election and also impress upon my family, neighbor, friends, relatives and everyone on my daily visit to the market, to do the same! I also promise that I will not appear or use my vocabulary on these pesky English news channels who just want a sound bite attacking the government for their prime time newshour show! Maybe I can also throw in a promise to not attend any rally by any anti-corruption platform because when I get Government’s money, let the corrupt make money while the sun shines!

I end with a request to my colleagues in the IT Industry to aggressively pass this around with the fervent hope that it reaches you and in the midst of burning midnight oil to get the budget ready, you suddenly accede my request. Pipedream? Ofcourse it is!

Yours Sincerely,
Amit Prasad
An IT Professional in India

My Letter to Rahul Gandhi on 10 Things That Can Change India, Without Hurting Politicians And Vested Interests Much!

Dear Rahul,

I write this letter with almost 99.9% certainty that it will never reach you, or even if by some chance it does, then it might not be enough in sync with your own ideas to actually consider even a single point in it. Then why am I devoting the last 24 hours in mentally drafting this, and then penning it down? Time which was better spent on my fledgling businesses which need every moment that I can spare? It is because of that eternal hope to reach out and share my ideas with someone who seems to have the power to change the life of citizens of India for the better. So even for that 0.01% probability I will do my bit instead of going and standing with a candle to support Anna Hazare, whose efforts I so admire, but the impact of whose successful campaign will take 2 or more generations on the ground. I want results now, in my lifetime, I want to see improvement today in my country, and I know that you are one person who can do it, as no other politician can.

Today is your dad’s birth anniversary; 4 days ago it was my dad’s birth anniversary. When your dad became the Prime Minister of India in 1984, my father used to tell everyone that they flew together as employees, in India’s only Airline at that time, he was so proud of personally knowing the great man and also mentioned that he was 4 days younger than him! I met your dad in 1990 in your house in Delhi, it was an electrifying feeling, and I still keep that photograph of the 3 of us standing in a lawn, as one of my most cherished memories since both are no longer with us. I still remember his famous quote, “I am young and I too have a dream!”. Well, I was all of 12 years old when he became PM, and just 17 when I met him, I had not seen the real India, its corruption or its position relative to what the developed countries were enjoying, and what we were lacking, my parents took care of my needs and I lived a protected life. But what I do remember is that Rajiv Gandhi brought a whiff of fresh air for all middle class Indians, he had ideas, plans, wanted to do something and tried his best. I also believe that the congress party in 1991 only implemented the liberalization policy that he had prepared in anticipation of coming back to power. The policy which ensured I don’t grow up in the same India that my parents grew up in, the policy which changed India and where we are counted as one of the most promising blocks of BRIC, what a change from having to wait 10 years to get a Scooter or a telephone connection!

Why am I giving this background? Because his actions touched my life, now almost ready to touch 40 years of age, I have lived through the last 2 decades in one of the most exciting times that my 64 year old country has gone through. Several years ago, standing outside a queue of American consulate, hoping to get a visa to go on a family vacation and getting unfairly getting rejected even though I never had any intention to settle there, I fervently prayed that one day Americans should also be wanting to come to India and we should screen them out. Atleast, half has happened and for all professionals who want to grow in their career, now an India or China experience is becoming a cutting edge, good for us! Similarly, during my short stay in the US in 1998 I observed so many TV channels, very active media, several new technologies on telecom side; I wished that my country to get that, viola, that came to India too! But as Richard Gere says in the movie Pretty Woman, “Don’t tell me about wanting more, I invented the concept!”. I too have always wanted more than I got, because I know I can get more, I know that India can be better, and I want it to have that chance. When my children are exposed to the outside world 10 years from now, I don’t want them to struggle for the basics in daily life. Things which should come as a matter of right, things which I know people like you can just step in and make a difference, without upsetting the apple cart, without having to change the system, without risking your own life. Simple things such as;

1) Driving License: When we go for a fresh driving license or renewal, give us a fair computerized system with field test, where I don’t need to hire an agent, don’t need to pay a bribe. Ask the CBI and ACB of various states to take it as a challenge to make those offices at Zero Tolerance level of corruption. 20 yrs ago when RTA was said to be corrupt the number of pending files were negligible, today it is said to be free of corruption and look at the pending files, it is just that the bribe amount has multiplied several fold, and those who cannot afford higher amounts get stuck. Any officer with a file pending for more than 30 days should be penalized. When I am showing that I can drive, and know the rules, why should I pay money to get my license? Why should I drive on the road with millions of ill trained drivers who managed licenses with just a bribe, why should my country’s accident rate be so high?

2) Birth, Death or Marriage Certificate: Institute a process to issue these certificates seamlessly, without the need for any greasing of palms, if that needs privatization, if that needs an online system, ask someone to build a fool proof system. Why should I pay bribe for a document which proves whether I am alive, whether a loved one has passed away or whether I am married? If the process is supposed to stop rogues, well it does not, it just stops the common man and makes us go and stand with a candle with people like Anna when they raise a voice.

3) Property Registration: When we buy or sell a property, why do we need to pay handling charges to a broker? Brokers claim that from the clerk onwards, till the Minister of that department, money needs to be shared. So we have to give our 5000 to 25000 Rs depending on the size of the deal, and that the procedure is so complicated that we cannot do it on our own. When I have already stretched to my last penny to get my dream house, why should I shell out a bribe and not instead use that amount for a new item that my wife wants in that house?

4) Passport: I fondly remember earlier days when Passport office was said to be corrupt, fresh issuance, renewals etc were never a problem. I now hear that it is corruption free, but the only thing which has changed for me is the fee my broker charges, it is now 5x of what I used to pay earlier because he says the system is now more strict. The waiting list is again now 8 months or more in my city, so if I want to ensure I don’t get stuck, I better shell out? This proof of my being a citizen of India should be a basic right, why are the Passport offices having a backlog? You can just wipe it out in one stroke if you so desire.

5) Civic Sense: We don’t maintain our roads clean, we throw dirt outside our house, we spit on roads, we don’t drive in lanes, if traffic cops are not there we create a gridlock at every junction trying to get ahead even if it is not our turn etc, the list goes on and on. But when we go to Singapore, in fear of a 500S$ fine we don’t dare drop a paper, we don’t chew gum. You can make that extra effort at ensuring that rules like banning of smoking in public places, fine for spitting or urinating in public places and the like is strictly implemented, just rules are not enough. If we flout, don’t spare us or spare the cops who catch us and take 50 or 100 Rs to let us off, let defaulters be made to clean it up, and then sit in jail for a day to repent for it.

6) Safety & Security: RTI is said to have made life easier for thousands of people across the country, it’s a great thing your government has done. I too benefited when my passport was stuck and I threatened to file an RTI application to know why they were taking weeks to renew a 5 year old passport, viola, it came to my house in 48 hrs, no idea how! But it is also a fact that RTI activists are being brutally killed in broad daylight by corrupt elements, an officer in Maharashtra was burnt alive when he tried to do his duty. It is disheartening to read that whistle blowers are harassed, you can easily send a strong message in such cases by ensuring that those cases are fast tracked, punishment is so harsh and quick on anyone found even remotely guilty, that it sends out a strong message to others and ensures Safety and Security of those who speak out. You can ensure a witness protection program like the US and really safeguard the identity of those who want to come forward and help the country improve.

7) Roads and Transportation: It seems like ages since the golden quadrilateral project was started and some progress is there. Places which used to take 3 hrs to reach, now take 2 hrs, the amount of efficiency improvement is just fantastic on those stretches. But why is the pace of the road building so slow, can they not act like China and execute on war footing? That too when most of the recent projects are going to lead to positive cash for the government as royalty? Give them stricter deadlines, not dates which are chosen comfortably by contractors, and those which can even be flouted easily. Also, why is transportation efficiency not ensured through mandatory installation of GPS devices in all commercial vehicles? Technology allows it, an iron hand is what is takes to make commercial transportation more efficient and safe in India, saved millions of man-hours and benefit our country.

8) Power and Water Supply: Ensuring uninterrupted power and getting drinking water in our homes is fast becoming a challenge, we need to implement policies today which ensure that atleast in next 10 years we will be self sufficient and the system will not collapse. The pace of power projects and the importance given to them, the priority given to ensuring drinking water availability is quite low, we need to figure out ways how to make these as bigger priorities for all concerned departments, or private players. Why are basics such as Power and Water not having a guaranteed plan to ensure that in 2020 we don’t face what we are facing today?

9) Sanitation: Can every Indian get a clean place to freshen up in the morning, and be assured that his trash is disposed off in the best possible manner? Why are we so primitive as a country on both these counts? Offering incentives for building of millions of Shauchalayas in the country and building a municipal backbone with better planning on waste disposal can be such a big service to the country. It cannot be very difficult when thousands of crores are available for other schemes in the name of backward and forward classes or some religious group, to divert some of the leakage from a well funded scheme to some money for these?

10) PSUs: Get Government time, money and mindshare out of all useless businesses like airlines, railways, other PSUs which are just in their control so that every politician’s constituency is kept alive, jobs are doled out at will, money is made like crazy and no accountability is there when losses pile up. By listing the profitable entities on the stock exchange you have realized value, got some funds for the government, take it further. Implement a stance that while government needs to retain 51% for political reasons, don’t retain more than that, and while diluting will give you good chunk of cash, also hand over day to day management to professionals without interference from the ministry concerned. For loss making ones, just wield the axe and find a buyer please, this is not really too much to ask for.

The above is all it takes Rahul, to change the life of our generation and the next. These issues don’t need you to strike at the root of corruption, affect the fund flow to our entire ecosystem which is so necessary for both bureaucrats and politicians, will not affect illicit mining for ore or coal or whatever, not effect bribes paid by businessmen to seek favors in licensing and to define rules that help only them, tenders which needs to be given to a Mr. 20% in between, those things you cannot change easily. Let those go on till the country changes with the real impact of RTI, Cash Transfer Schemes, UID, and Lok Pal all start giving the true fruits of their intended original plan. During this period the country should hopefully transition from being so thoroughly corrupt to being less corrupt and we will live our life with the hope that atleast our children will not undergo what we had to.

But today, please don’t lose this golden chance that life has given you, to really make a big difference and not just be content that your family anyway is immortal in this country’s history, you can make a mark too. Pick up the broom and clean small things today, don’t waste your time in deciding how long Anna should fast, whether we need to respond to Pakistan in a certain manner, whether a political lady is right or wrong and spending time countering them. Else even when you become the PM tomorrow, history and citizens like me will write you off as just a cog in the wheel of politics, which came and went, without being able to help his fellow countrymen even when he had the opportunity. Hope that does not happen!

Regards

Amit Kishore Prasad

A Proud Citizen of India

Founder & MD, The SatNav Group

www.satnavtech.com

Business Lessons from Sai Baba of Puttaparthi

Post the death of the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, content sharing was phenomenal. What was startling was the volume of negative content being circulated. Sharing of videos of his magic tricks related to lingam or ash or gift materializing to show how fake they were, Pictures of him in female garb, links of a BBC feature in which many boys claimed they were exploited. Yet other references to rumours on how he built his humungous wealth and empire, how he was converting black money for some people to white, the stories go on and on.

I am not a devotee of Sai Baba. But I wonder why we become so judgmental and want to have an opinion on every single issue. If someone wants to believe in him and consider him a God, let him. It is upto his faith and belief. If someone else says that he has benefited from Baba, or Baba came in his dream, why get into his personal space?

In my opinion, we should only judge a person only if the person has made an impact on our life.

With the same approach, I look at Sai Baba and feel that as an entrepreneur I need to learn from what he did right and see if I can learn. Having learnt more about Puttaparthi, Sai Baba and Prashanti Nilayam in 3 weeks following his death than in the 4 decades before it, I have noted the following business lessons from his life;

Nothing succeeds like success: Going by the sheet number of people who consider him as their God, the fact that his immensely rich trust made the state government sit up and depute a 6 member team for 3 weeks to understand the nitty gritties, the fact that even non-believers like the PM and Sonia Gandhi had to fly down and pay their respects in tune with the public mood across the country, every single thing just proves how successful he was in whatever he did in his life. So my learning, you need to be successful in whatever you do, no matter what it is and people will fall in line just to be on the right side of success.

Handling controversies / challenges: Look at the many controversies; appreciate his ability to handle them and move ahead. My learning, every individual’s life will have controversies and challenges, how you handle them and move ahead towards your single minded goal will define your life. If negative news is x, focus should be on making positive news as 10x, to put the negative behind you. How do we get our ecosystem around our business to talk positively about us and our services or products? How do we get our own team to talk positively about us?

Cultivating the captive audience, devotees: 6 million devotees is the number being cited, this is not a huge number by any standards, many companies have shareholders far higher than this, and they get direct benefits much more than what Baba could have offered, so what was different? Difference was how he built the devotee base. My learning; we need to build a strong and loyal initial group of following for our image, our product or service. It is interesting to see the special care VIPs got from Baba’s manager. When Amitabh Bachchan was ill, he got vibhuti in his hospital. Many prominent people were approached by the managers of Baba in a sustained outbound marketing fashion. Dozens refused, a few accepted. The believers mattered because each Sachin drew the attention of another 10,000 people. So efforts should be made by all entrepreneurs to cultivate a strong set of loyal customers, word of mouth is the only thing which can build a fan following for you and your company

Executing a Project that builds image: If Baba did not take up the drinking water project, free healthcare, subsidized food, would the aura have been as big? 4 lakh free heart surgeries performed meant 4 lakh people propagating to another 8-10 lakh people about the great work being done. My learning; an anchor project that adds value to the overall goals needs to be identified. What project can impact the target audience and make them believers? Which product or service can help customers while we make money? Have we projected it as a significant contribution to the customer’s well being and used it to create a ‘bigger than life’ image for ourselves? 

Give customers what they want: Many question why Baba had to resort to making ash appear, or vomiting a Shiva Linga or make a gold chain appear? Think of the 99% of his followers. Imagine going to see Baba and going back home, how many people would you talk about it to? And now imagine a gold chain materializing out of thin air during your meeting, how many will you speak about it to? Definitely 10x or even 20x more the number, so it’s good marketing. Also, masses need to believe that they are listening to someone who is God. My learning; give customers what they want, what they like to believe, what they expect. Don’t give customers products you have or you like, not what you enjoyed creating, or what you think is best.

Everything takes time: First ashram set up in 1940, how many people knew him then? He very diligently built his empire and his following. My learning; Everything you want to achieve takes time, there is a famous saying that behind every overnight success is someone who was toiling away for years to get to that overnight success right. We should not be impatient and assume we are a failure if things are not working out in short term or right the first time. Success does not come overnight; it does not happen by chance.

Succession Plan: Many people say that Sai Baba left no clear succession plan, but if you look deeper he had an umbrella trust, then a range of other linked trusts associated with them, each of them funded through a myriad of sources. He has also said that though he would be reborn in another state, the new Baba would have nothing to do with Puttaparthi. So trust members can breathe easy that there would be no one who can create legal complications, they are free to run it as they have always done it under his guidance earlier, and of course money is bountiful.

As they say, money cannot buy happiness, but it helps! As a true and successful entrepreneur, Baba has ensured that his followers will never have any dearth of funds for any of their ambitious projects, let’s learn from him!

The True Story Behind High Profile Exits in India’s Top IT Companies

Why did Satyam collapse? Why did Wipro CEOs get fired? Why did Mohandas Pai quit Infosys? Why did Ashok Soota leave the company he founded? Why are margins collapsing at all next level companies in the industry? And what does the future hold for the entire segment of industry?

If you had all these questions in mind, and more, read on below because these are not isolated incidents nor one-of cases. These are the result of wrong policies being followed by companies for years. This are because of resources who have lost track of the basics of building a good skill set on either technology or on business side.

Though I had been running my venture since early 2000 as part of a larger organization, I started independently in 2004. My independent venture was a result of what I was foreseeing 5 years down the line. I am on record since then, with various media, when I said that Services companies will drop profit margins into their mid-teens in future so I wanted to get into IT Products and in Intellectual Property based work. My logic was based on the percentage level that multinationals who had set up base in India were charging for their work.

Margin reduction has begun to hurt the industry since even multinationals like IBM and Accenture have a large captive employee base in the country. Often, multinationals treat the India operations as a cost center instead of a profit center, so they are willing to work with margins of as less as 8%. This is what we hear from industry sources. So how do homegrown companies compete against that and how would they meet market expectations. Markets have seen 40% margin businesses initially and now are not comfortable with 15-20% margin ones! End result, unreasonably high salaries making IT industry employees the darlings of every consumer focused company, but at the same time making it a low margin business for the companies.

The period between 1999 and 2008 has been very unfortunate for the Indian IT workforce in terms of cost versus value parameters of a professional. That was the period of aggressive growth which should have been capitalized on by the industry and by the professionals to make themselves invaluable and to find ways to deliver better value for the money they were earning. However, what really happened is that in the rush to increase turnover and manpower, each company had been falling over the other in getting resources to join them and at the same time they took salaries to unrealistic levels. They just considered it as a replacement of a 50$ per hour resource in a developed country being replaced with a smaller cost one here.

To his credit, Mohandas Pai actually tried to stem this trend and make Infosys different, he moved from his CFO role to HR and Education almost 5 years ago, which I feel was to help the company solve the biggest problem it had coming up. His new model to increase the number of professional bands and to fix people on lower bands is rumored to have been linked to various skills that he wanted his people to imbibe. But unfortunately for him, and even more unfortunately for the industry which would have benefited if he succeeded, the markets again changed in 2010 and hiring is back again in India so the backlash started hurting the company and the scheme got watered down.

Technology changes regularly and the past few years have been exceptional. There was a huge need for every technical resource to keep learning all the time, attend training programs and get additional skills with certification. But there was no incentive or self motivation to do so. Even at in-house captive training centers at the business teams never had free time to attend those programs and it was difficult to get people to fill those classes except when they came from college and took their induction program. From an industry perspective the skill level across all levels of professionals went down significantly.

During a recent lunch meeting organized by an industry association with Consulate officials of a leading country, a representative told me offline that India has a big problem of employability coming up because the educated ones are not easily employable and those who are employed are not capable of becoming business leaders and adding value to the companies they are expected to contribute to. On probing further, he added that companies tell him the ability of middle level managers to execute tasks given to them is so limited that it is becoming very difficult to find right people to actually deliver results. Nothing could be closer to reality was my immediate thought when I heard those words. It would be a very big mistake if the professionals in our country at Management level did not see the correlation between what is happening at the CxO level in both Top and mid-sized companies and the issue of quality of manpower.

Once again, looking into the crystal ball in the coming 5 years, I feel there will be three distinct types of Managers.

At the bottom of the rung would be those who cannot get the business outlook into their thought process, who are so engrossed and burdened with their day to day professional and personal responsibilities that they have no time to learn, no time to improvise and no time to imbibe the business approach, just focus on more money from a new company they jump to. They will be consigned to the unsuccessful jobs and low growth areas permanently by hitting a glass ceiling at some stage.

At the middle level would be those who accept upfront that they do not have business skills and would rather stick to technical areas. They will choose their roles carefully, not look at money as the means to an end, but look at the roles they get as a means to earn the amount they desire. They will also learn technically through formal, informal training programs and spend time to improve their execution capabilities to grow technically. They will eventually become very valuable as a technical resource and while their reporting structure will not have too many resources under them, they will secure a strong and successful future ahead.

At the top of the ladder would be those Managers who do not wish to remain in technical roles in future, they want to acquire business skills. They will undertake management programs and people handling skills improvement programs to become smarter and more successful managers. Above all, they will start integrating better with clients, understand their requirements better, not from a technical design perspective alone, but also on how their output can improve revenues for that company. They will rise to the top of Management roles in organizations, be well rewarded financially and will have very successful career, well sought after in the job market!

Which rung do you want to be on? Time to decide is now, else it will be too late! The Information Technology (IT) industry gave opportunities to graduates, engineers, post graduates, housewives, retired personnel and the like. It leveled the playing field between an electronics engineer and a civil engineer or any other similar degree by putting them all on the same plane. It has increased the income levels of many middle and lower income group families. The benefits are just too precious to lose, and we need the country to double or triple the manpower that can be employed by this industry. Only a better qualified workforce is the key.

Stakeholders and Their Roles in GPS Technology Propagation

* The Government: The government needs to understand that like mobile phones which have been given a preferential rate of duty, this unique technology too can affect every aspect of daily life and should be placed on a nominal duty rate or incentives should be given to those who import it duty free but commit to aggressive pricing which will help increase penetration of such technologies.

GPS Tracking and Navigation devices are levied the highest rate of duty and after all taxes, surcharges etc, it amounts to almost 27% on the Freight On Board cost of any importer. This makes the pricing illogical and the value proposition as well as the return on investment unviable until the long term. Our representation is ignored in each budget.

On another note, vehicle owners too have been complacent and will never install this technology unless made mandatory. This has been done in some countries around the world. With new hardware costs as low as Rs 7000 and monthly charges less than Rs100, be sure that trucks which cost lakhs of rupees and earn crores for their owners, can easily go for this.

With time they will realize that the returns from increased efficiency will be more than what they paid for the technology!

* The Service Providers: The various providers who have been offering GPS tracking since several years follow the golden goose strategy. They have exploited both the B2B segment and the customers.

Research has shown that most customers use only basic functionality and end up paying for something they did not require but had to buy as it was a part of the package.. Even when buying monitoring package the situation is too complex.

An alternative, simple and effective solution would offer the following:

  • A bare bone tracking system that does not have many additional and complex features as most old vehicles don’t support it.
  • Allow a web based support to view reports. Have a call center facility or simple SMS features to get a location.

This can significantly increase the ease of usage and the comfort level of the potential customer considering the option of going in for full fledged tracking of his vehicles.

* The Management / Officers using the technology: The fact they who would have been embracing the technology were reluctant to do it all across the country makes them the white collared mafia. They have been effectively blocking the approval of such technologies.

This cuts across all sectors from a government office to an MNC or a private ltd firm. To quote a CxO,”no one in the system is interested in ensuring transparency because their ‘power’ vested in handling the 100s of cabs and pleasing their bosses with a vehicle at disposal will be wiped out!”.

These are the hypocrites who cry foul each time an unavoidable situation has arisen.

Technology has progressed significantly too in the last few years.

Earlier GPS devices required to be an antenna installed on the top of the vehicle, visible to sky, but latest GPS receivers now can be installed under the hood or in the glove compartment, and are still able to catch satellite signals. A low cost tracking device can now send cellphone tower details, which are then interpreted against map locations and the location of the vehicle is immediately known be it under a tree cover or inside a building.

Other features today include a unique ‘listen’ feature by which the owner can just use a pre-authorized cellphone to call the device and hear what exactly is being spoken inside the vehicle!

Also available is a ‘geofence’ feature by which you can define in which area you expect the vehicle to travel, and if it crosses that boundary the owner gets an instant alert. Such features those too at a reasonable cost were not available in the past. Now that the entire country’s attention has been brought onto this area’s problem, which has a simple solution, I sincerely hope that the government will walk the talk, and the Minister with a clean image who has promised to clean up the mess in this area will live upto his promise and deliver for the benefit of this country and all stakeholders involved.