Americans beat Indians at their own game? BW got foot in the mouth!

BusinessWeek carried an article about IBM’s success in India, it’s ramping up of operations in India very quickly to 53,000 employees, and winning big in the IT outsourcing deals in the subcontinent, especially from telecom operators — which is a gratifying read. However, the email from BW in my inbox had a line that completely pissed me off:

IBM once looked like a lumbering giant next to India’s agile tech upstarts. But in scarcely five years, Big Blue has come to dominate the Indian market, with a staff of 53,000 in the country and huge R&D centers in Bangalore and New Delhi. Read this edition of the Asia Insider to learn how the Americans beat the Indians at their own game.

The article never said anything to that effect! My best guess is that some guy in the PR department at BW who was responsible for the uninteresting, mundane and morbidly boring task of sending out spam suddenly suffered from a bout of foot in the mouth.

First of all, I don’t think anybody has beaten anybody in this game of outsourcing. The money has come following the talent, and it’s not just IBM, but Accenture (India’s the second largest Accenture operations), EDS (which acquired Mphasis – here and here) and all other IT biggies are making bit bets on using Indian talent to fight Indian vendors like Infosys, Wipro and TCS who have been snapping at their heels. However, I am not sure if that can be termed a win of Indian talent or of the American business acumen. (Actually, I would not prefer an argument about winning and losing at all — since it is too early to predict anything — the Indian IT vendors who used to be mere outsourcing outfits earlier now want a larger piece of the pie, become consultants, and go after bigger money. For example read this, this, this — I didn’t try to get the best articles in the area, but just some of the recent news).

<!– Digression begins

Another interesting aspect, is the comparison of the Revenues, Profits, Market Capitalization and the Price/Earnings for some of the biggies. [‘b’ indiacates a billion US Dollars and ‘m’ a million US Dollars. Data taken from Google Finance today.]

Company Revenues Profits Market Cap P/E Ratio
Infosys 3.08b 850m 25.8b 27.33
Wipro 3.64b 711m 19.71b 26.67
IBM 91b 9.4b 152.37b 17.19
Accenture 18.22b 973m 30.21b 19.45
EDS 21.26b 470m 11.59b 19.11

It seems obvious that Indian companies are far more profitable than their western counterparts for every penny (or cent perhaps) of revenue that they make — and the markets reward them accordingly. If you look at the MCap column, you would realize why the biggies are unable to try their luck at acquiring some of the larger IT companies in India — because they are bigger than the western counterparts! (IBM of course, has many divisions, and it might be difficult to get data on their software services division). So much for winning and losing.

end digression –>

Until recently, I thought that foot-in-the-mouth was not a very communicable disease and spread only on contact with a creature named George Bush. I have, obviously, been proven wrong. Ronen Sen recently caught it, and now BW! Looks like its spreading faster than I imagined. Is somebody aware of necessary vaccination which I can take?

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And we shall overcome…

Lumbini Park, Hyderabad Abhishek was rather happy. His first semester mid-terms just having ended at his engineering college, he and a bunch of friends had taken a long train journey to Hyderabad to enjoy the frills and thrills of a big city. Life in a rustic small town in the state of Maharashtra can get rather dull, without too many sources of entertainment. They all need a getaway. A chance to see traffic, high-rises, to savour pizzas, and to ogle at pretty women sashaying in a mall. Even a ride in an amusement park is a fair deal. And there was a laser show lighting up the sky – what luck!

image At the same time Sheila felt a craving for aloo tikki. It had been such a long time since she crossed the Narmada and made her home in a place where she could not find roadside chat vendors, who would charge a pittance for a mouth watering snack. Having gone to Koti Bazaar to buy some GRE books, she always inevitably landed up at a chat vendor to relive those moments, that taste.

Abhishek and Sheila were both excited, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Hardly did they know that their luck had just run out. Some SOB had made sure that it was the last time they were amusing themselves with such trivialities. Who would tell them that it is safe no longer in India to walk around on an idle weekend.

The two blasts that ripped Hyderabad yesterday terminated Abhishek. Ctrl + Alt + D, as he would have learnt so early in his engineering lessons. And mutilated Sheila – she who had high hopes of studying abroad, of liberating her family. Smashed.

The Times of India writes:

The killing just doesn’t stop. At least 40 people were killed and scores injured in two powerful blasts in Hyderabad, one at an amusement park packed with weekend holidayers and another at a landmark eatery in the heart of the city on Saturday evening…

Weekend holidayers ripped open in a blast. The sad part is (via The Hindu):

A group of 45 students from the Amritavahini engineering college in Sangamera town, Maharashtra, on a sight-seeing trip to Hyderabad, took the brunt of the massive explosion at Lumbini park.

When I think about it, I cringe. Barely a year ago, I was myself in an engineering college. And since it was in a village setting, we often made trips to a big city (Calcutta) to satiate our thirst for city lights. And who doesn’t crave for chat? Those mouth watering snacks you can get for a pittance?

Even if we forget the suffering of the victims, the unbearable agony of their families, and the rude shock to their friends, forget about individuals and stare at a larger perspective:

Such vicious attacks prove that cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, emerging icons of a vibrant nation, are firmly in the cross-hairs of terror groups which have made India a country with perhaps the highest number of civilian victims of terror (leaving aside war-torn countries like Iraq). [TOI]

I am not sure what our reaction should be. We mourn for those who suffer, but we need to show the perpetrators that we are not affected by them. Our lives should carry on — we flinch but we fight, we are devastated but determined. The growth phase that we have been celebrating lately — which has obviously been an eye-sore for many — can not slow down — not because of a bunch of freaks. We need to push further, undeterred, unrelenting, unwavering. The elephant, pulsating with energy, must show empathy, but not slow down. For that is what the freaks have been hoping for. For that is why she should not succumb. For that is why the country needs to learn from Bombay. For India is more than geeks, nerds, corrupt politicians, baniyas and snake-charmers. For it is also the land of milk and honey children extol. For it is that India for which we live. And fight. And, we shall overcome. Someday.

[Of course, the stories are made up. But not the reality]

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Finally, a technical blog!

I have done it! I finally fought off all my languor to start a technical blog, something I have been thinking of for quite some time. The blog has been born out of my desire to see better analysis on technology rather than technical news reporting (or which TechMeme is the best place). The content of the blog will obviously be limited by the knowledge of the author — any field of technology today is so deep and there are so many open questions that it is impossible to do justice to writing about it without spending a year or two working in it.

As I said, I plan to write few posts, but hopefully those which have more meaning and more technical depth. I will not talk about new products or services, fads and fashions but rather try to give commentary on more fundamental aspects of technology. I do not work in the Internet domain, and hence, I may be out of date, out of context, out of sync or all of the above, but hopefully the blog will be of use to some :)

So, to kick off the new bog, there is a rather long post on Identity (the best topic I could think of), the laws thereof, and a discussion about some of the newer federated identity management systems. Here’s presenting to you:

kpowerinfinity on technology

[Almost a week of reading has gone into it. Wanted not to underline this point, but well, had to :) A kind spattering of comments will be helpful for both the motivation of the author as well as in deciding future direction.]

Minekey at Stanford & on TechCrunch

I have written about Minekey in the past. It’s a startup that I had been involved in back in college. Today, was a great day for Minekey because it launched a new revamped site, with a much cooler widget and loads of customizability options which is what users have been looking for. The new site looks absolutely super-cool. Kudos to the team who’ve been working hard day and night.

The new updated offering is being showcased at the Always on Stanford Summit 2007, as one of the top 50 participants at the Stanford University campus. It is truly a momentous occasion for all of us — employees, alumni and well-wishers of Minekey. Minekey had also presented at Proto.in at IIT Madras last weekend.

Meanwhile, Minekey has been TechCrunched. This should drive a lot of traffic to the site, and create a lot of traction. I just hope that the servers can scale to the hits it is going to get in the next few days.

A word about Minekey again. Minekey aims to make the life of blog-readers simple by providing them recommendations based on both the content of the current page as well as the reader’s past reading habits. So, if the reader is generally interested in cricket news and visits a web-page about the stock market, it will show links from both cricket as well as stock market. It takes personalization to a whole new level because current services only provide recommendations based on the current context. The blog publisher can indicate a list of sources from which Minekey should aggregate content so show recommendations on their website. Hence, if you have multiple blogs you can aggregate content across all of them.

If you haven’t yet, try it out!

[Sadly, WordPress.com does not allow blogs to add custom widgets and so I can’t be the user of the Minekey widget :(]

UPDATE:

Some more coverage: pluGGd.in, StartupSquad, TekJuice, Bona Bhatia, Gulker, Rajiv Doshi, Delip Andra, 9:01AM, Venture Beat, VC Circle, alarm:clock, BlogSchmog, WebWare, ContentSutra, Pavithra, reyes-chow, American Venture Magazine,

And it’s also made it to today’s del.icio.us popular. (Link may not work later. If someone knows how to find the permalink of a particular day’s popular on del.icio.us, please let me know!)

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Life at Google – A Microsoftie Perspective

Link: http://no2google.wordpress.com/2007/06/24/life-at-google-the-microsoftie-perspective/

An interesting take on Google culture by a Microsoftie who left Microsoft to do a startup, got acquired by Google, and then moved back to Microsoft. I would condense it into the following points:

  1. Life is great for people who have just started work. Google takes care of most needs, and as a result, people spend a lot more hours at work.
  2. Very few people make use of the 20% time, since their managers don’t stress on it.
  3. Private offices for technical staff are not preferred at Google, which is not necessarily good (I would personally back this, since I have seen my productivity increase since I moved into a cabin).
  4. Career growth prospects are not clear. There are no growth tracks you can choose. It seems to suggest that there is very less clarity on how growth happens.
  5. There is more focus on freebies than on organizational structure and growth paths. In fact, there are one too many people under the same manager, which makes some things very complicated.
  6. In some ways, Google is a lot more flexible, eg. TechStop

Actually, right in the beginning the author claims that the culture at Google at the moment is very similar to what was in Microsoft a couple of decades back.

I am not clear if much credence can be lent to it, it might just be internet flotsam that has found its way into my inbox. I would, however, agree that as Google ages and as do its employees, a lot more processes will be put in place. Oh, and I think the view is very much Redmond and Mountain View centric, so we should not try to generalize finer details to international locations even though the culture would be close to head office. (For instance, they might not do laundry in Google office in Bangalore!)

[Thanks to AshChord for the tip]

What would you like to Read today?

Minekey was a wonderous experience. It all started off about a year and a half back, when Delip came to IIT Kharagpur with a vision to solve the world’s information overload problem. The aim was simple — let content consumers get access to the information they are interested in.

If we look at the world today, most content producers and aggregators produce content for the general audience. That means that the news will be of all flavors, all topics and categories. However, it also means that if you wish to track news on a particular topic from a plethora of sources (and there is no dearth of them!), it is like finding a needle in a haystack, or a key in an information mine – which is incidentally where Minekey got its name from (if you couldn’t guess it already ;-).

As it goes, a handful of super charged students from IITKGP got together with Delip and Prof. Sudeshna Sarkar, and started working on this new project with a new model for incubation. The company was based in Santa Clara, and we were doing the R&D and the initial bootstrapping from Kharagpur.

Ideas flew — personalization, networking, recommendation, search, social connections, groups, communities, feedback, ranking, clustering, collaborative clustering, geo-personalization — you name it. Lots of ideas, debates, deliberations, re-iterations, progress spreadsheets, throwaway code, reusing old code, search, open source services, days and months later, we had a strategy in place. We created a news portal for the world at large (which was still an Alpha), we had strong customer leads, a model seemed to be emerging.

A lot of water has since flowed in the Ganges. There is a definite strategy, the company is well funded, there are people who have left plum jobs to work at Minekey, the business model has been refined and Minekey is staring at an immense opportunity. Kudos to the current team to take a prototype and build a real product.

Minekey has now launched recommendations for blogs! You get a sweet looking widget on your sidebar in a matter of minutes, and your friends would be able to get recommendations. Minekey monitors their clicks and as the users click from the widget, the personalization kicks in, to recommend more and more stories according to the users taste. (Sadly, WordPress doesn’t support JavaScript, otherwise you would have seen one right here. I need to work on a workaround).

Go get it now!

Barcamp Bangalore 3

I attended Barcamp Bangalore 3 today, held at IIM Bangalore. I reached early and saw the place getting organized in a ad-hoc manner. Initially there was chaos, and gradually order emerged. It was very interesting to see how the whole thing got organized with just a handful of volunteers. The event was well attended, with I think an attendance of well over 300 people. Kudos to the organizers!

There were a number of interesting sessions arranged around the broad themes of Mobiles, Society, Internet and Demo/Training. I felt that the mobile room by far attracted the largest crowds. Randy Wang kicked off the society room with a talk about Digital Study Hall. Thereafter, I spent most of my time in the mobile room. some of those that I attended and liked:

  • Impact of Camera phones by Wwigo people — The key takeaway was that mobiles with cameras are becoming ubiquitous and there are interesting applications going to become prevalent. Some pointers are in the area of (1) scanning barcodes and finding more information about products, (2) Citizenship Journalism and many others. The form factor of the UI is a severe limitation. Privacy concerns abound and also to whom does the rights of a picture belong (subject or shooter). They showed a demo of their product Wwigo which lets you use your camera phone as a web cam with your PC.
  • Activ Mobs — This was by far the most exciting demo I attended. The idea is Yahoo! groups ported to mobiles. They let users create small groups (which they call mobs) using mobile phones and let people message all their friends at once with a single SMS. The utility is obvious and the product is already a hit with the target crowd (18-25) with more than 10k users and 25k SMSs sent every day. They are still trying to figure out their revenue story and find investors, but the concept is cool, and can spread like a virus. I tried it out and they have some kinks due to overloading, but hopefully the service will only get better with time.

They talked about their learning in the last 4 months that the service is up. For one, they add Activ-Tip when the message is less than 100 chars, and have found that people actually read them. That could help them monetize it by replacing the Activ Tip by an (context-sensitive) advertisement. Secondly, it is difficult to enforce a format/grammar on the users since it is difficult to remember commands and syntax. Thirdly, which is a really interesting concept — instead of providing a web-interface which is completely different from their mobile interface, they are building a command-builder UI which lets the users easy build commands on the screen and submit online (with suitalbe help/directions). This will not only help in usability, but also help the users to remember the commands.

They also described their stack – Linux, Kennel, MySQL, Ruby, and a web server.

Good luck to these guys (Akshat, Sidu and Vidit)!

  • mChek – mChek is a mobile payment solution which is currently live in Delhi. Airtel customers can pay their bills through their credit card using mChek as a gateway. It is good to see such gateways being set up since that is going to spur mobile commerce and more services being sold through mobiles. They use SMS + USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Data) to register and make payments. They claim that the USSD provides them an advantage over the other players such as Pay Mate and is also more secure (since USSD is not saved in sent items). They are certified by VISA. However, there were some issues raised about security in the light of the PIN and credit card number being sent in clear text.
  • Zook – This is a mobile search solution on both SMS and GPRS. They have tried to keep extremely structured data in their databases which the query against the users question and display results, unlike Google/Yahoo!/MSN mobile search which essentiallly try to mimic their usage of unstructured data as on the web. They currently only focus on a few categories (ringtones/wallpapers/flights/restaurants/events etc.) due to the restriction of having structured data. Another choice they have made is to prompt the user with more users in case they can not find exact solution. For instance, if you such for Pizza, they might come back to ask you if you are looking for Pizza in Bangalore? and even names of localities such as Koramangla. They feel that this interaction differentiates them from other providers. They also have the option of the users contributing to their knowledge base, but I would not buy this poing until they can demonstrate its efficacy with large number of users.
  • Socio-Net – This was about Social Networks becoming pervasive in future. Social Networks will evolve to become intelligent with personalization, intelligent minig of information, and closer integration with other applications, unlock collaboration and become drivers of many of our current applications. I feel that social networks have been in existence long before (LDAP, IM, Amazon, mailing lists) they became branded so, and what we are going to see is the defintion of Social-Networking applied to it. The reason I call Amazon a social network is because they are implicitly adding ‘friend‘-edges between people who bought the same book and doing collaborative filtering on it. There is need for more research in the area with many interesting applications possible (Mechanical Turk, Community Customer Support). There was a (rather) long discussion about entreprises having social networks so that employees spend time on their own social networks rather than external sites like Orkut. While I am all for leveraging social networks in an enterprise setting, I would not subscribe to providing a company social network like infosys.orkut.com on which employees can spend time. That is legalizing time pass :-) There can be better models.

Overall, some great ideas and it was great fun!

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