Thursday, July 31, 2008

IT returns filing

This year's IT return filing process went like a breeze. The IT department has put up wonderful online FREE filing system, which worked perfectly. Promptly received ITR-V by email, in form of read only PDF document. In order to get it stamped, they opened up additional counters in Institute of Engineers building (opposite to Indian express, near Shivaji Nagar) exclusively for private companies (check the picture below). Ample amount of space,volunteers and guidance was available to help people, who are filing returns using printed forms. Within 5 minutes I was able to get the acknowledgment from the counter allocated for my organization.


In case you have done it yet (BTW, today is the last day for filing) here are the steps to file it online:
  • Open the site https://incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in.
  • Register for user (give the user id also as a PAN number).
  • You will receive the registration mail.
  • Login to the site with the credentials provided in the mail.
  • Go to downloads menu.
  • Download ITR1 from Downloads.
  • Fill out all the details in the ITR form.
  • Validate each page General1, General2, TDS (fill either 21 or 23)
  • Click on Generate XML
  • Check the summary and click on 'Save XML'(which will save in the same location where the excel was there).
  • Open the site, click 'Submit return'
  • Upload the file and click on Upload. (Don't select the check box here, as it requires the Java run time updated)
  • You will see a message that it is successfully submitted.. if not error then go to (g).
  • Go to my profile menu -> my returns.
  • Select '2008-2009' and click 'Submit'
  • Click on the link 'Click here' to get the submitted ITR form or they would have already sent the copy to you.

On private security agencies

Following serial bomb blasts in Bangalore, security has become top concern for all IT companies. While its true that the blasts are not targeted on them, companies are not taking any chances. However all IT companies have private security agencies (on contract) to take care of the facility for 24 hours. I have my own questions about these agencies.

Who are they?

When many of the IT companies (especially MNCs) started their operations in India, they wanted to ensure their global security policy to be followed here as well. Sniffing this as an opportunity to make a business out of it, many people started jumping into security contract without having proper background information. Most of these agencies hire ex-army men (read it as retired army men) as their chief security personal and started providing services to companies. In order to meet a contract requirement of a company, they need to provide X number of people, which they were falling well short of. So these folks in turn go to rural or semi-urban areas (For example: places like Hosur, Dharmapuri etc.) of India and started bringing people who don't have any idea about what security profession is all about. These 'new hires' are provided a crash course (about their job), two uniforms, one pair of shoes and paid 3000 rupees are salary. They get food from the IT company they work for (left overs in the canteen) and get a chance to 'enjoy' amenities like mineral water, telephone, 24x7 supply of coffee/tea, air condition which they would have never imagined before. As this is primarily a labour market, attrition rates are very high. For example, in my apartment complex we have hired 3 contract security people I get to see a new face every month. Every time I need to use different language (Kannada/Tamil/Telugu/Hindi) for communication as they are from different states. In a way the security agency setup is similar to the way Indian IT services companies operate. Hire one high-caliber technical guy (ex-army men mentioned above),surround them with 10 freshers from any private engineering college and bill for 11 headcount to the client. Get money in dollars and pay peanuts to employees. Vow! As the nature of law goes, you get what you give to your customers.


Billing rates

Let me come to the billing now!

As mentioned in one of my posts, I am a member of apartment association,primarily handling the planning and budgeting. As of today we pay 24 rupees per hour as a contract amount to the security agency. Here is the simple math:

Billing amount per day/person = 576 (24 x 24)
Total billing amount/month = 17280 (576 x 30)
For 3 security people = 51840 (17280 x 3)

I am sure you will be surprised the amount of money spent on these agencies. They also have a separate billing rates for corporates which depends on the level, where ex-armymen will be billed at higher amount. The 17280 rupees per month is very high by any standards. Probably it is more than what an entry/fresher level software engineer takes home in many of the software service companies.

Is it really worth it?

The real problem is not with billing the amount, but the value they bring in. In fact, its true for any services business (be it with servant maids, car washing or writing quality software program). In my opinion -- its just not worth paying such a huge amount for these security people. Let me give some examples.

  • The office building (where I work from) it quite old and there was a fire breakout about 6 months back. It was caused due to the malfunctioning of transformer, which created smoke throughout the building. Power went off and electric circuits started burning in a few minutes. The fire alarm didn't blow and we all started running out of the building to save ourselves. Fortunately nothing happened to any employees. But the interesting site was to observe these security person's actions during the fire breakout. None of these junior security people know exactly knew how to operate the fire extinguisher (it took about 15 minutes) and they forgot to switch off the main power connection. Fire spread quite fast, damaging few equipments inside the building.
  • Sometimes I go to office very early (say 6:30 AM) after dropping my family members in railway station. Every time I see the security people sleeping peacefully in the sofa kept in the entrance of the building. The one who is sitting in the reception also almost in sleep with barely keeping his eyes opened. Without showing the ID card, I have entered the building without any issue.
  • In spite of keeping 3 security people and paying them 51840 rupees to the agency, my helmet was stolen. I forgot to lock as it was broken and left it on the bike seat itself. When I complained about this incident to their agency owner he promised of a reimbursement (in a casual manner), which has not reached me till today. Will he reimburse a life if it is lost due to their carelessness?
If they are not able to protect a helmet or put off a fire on time, how can we expect them to save lives? We cannot blame these guys because they are just making a living out of the job without knowing the real importance of their job. The real culprits are the agencies, who make tons of money by contracting them to IT companies, apartment complexes and shopping malls.

Verdict

I remember a quote my mother used to tell me when I was growing up -- "When you have anything in abundance you don't realize importance of it". Its so true with India. It has a billion population and we don't realize the importance of people's lives. Counteless number of people die every day, and nobody gives a damn about it. With recent bomb blasts in the country, every city needs even more strict vigillance and security intelligence. Unfortunately we can't expect it to be provided by these security agencies in the current situation. It is high time for corporates to wake up and cleanup the entire mess.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Piracy = Opportunity

We all know how omnipresent piracy has become in India. For example, I came across the following advertisement (check out the picture below) board in Chennai for refilling inkjet cartridges and laserjet toners.


Even though refilling is not legally approved by printer manufactures, its an organized industry in India. Check out their website for more details and check out their interesting caption "Almighty gives only one life, but ASHCOM gives 6 lives", thereby saying that they can smartly refill the cartridge 6 times before getting rid of it forever. In a country where regulations doesn't exist or taken for granted, its impossible to expect people to buy cartridges/toners every time they run out of ink. The piracy is not restricted to cartridges alone. In Bangalore, everybody would have seen roadside bookshops having pirated copies of "best selling" books (recent addition: Go kiss the word by Bagchi) for 50-100 rupees.

And I don't need to talk about software. Almost all the people I have come across use pirated version of Windows Vista or XP, just after it gets released. No matter how much amount of Microsoft applies, Indians override it with even smarter ideas. Last week I was talking to one of my close acquaintances, who said his Windows XP was throwing up a warning message saying it is a pirated copy and asked him to install a original version. Many of his friends faced similar problems and they found a hack for fixing it.By pulling out a install file from original XP and placing it in a particular directory, the warning message can be put off. My close acquaintance sincerely got that file from one of his friends (note the point: when it comes to breaking the rules Indians help each other, not other way) and made XP as a 'original version'. Kudos to great Indian thinking!

For quite some time, I have been thinking of why we Indians are not giving due importance to original versions?. Is it because the way we are wired? Should the regulatory systems need to be blamed? Are we bad people? Not necessarily. The answer is simple -- we are not ready to pay for anything upfront if it is costing more than what an individual can afford. In a country with per capitia income is about 35,000 rupees, how can we expect anyone to pay 10% of it for purchasing original version of Windows XP or 1% for original version of a book? At the same time we cannot ask the educated knowledge workers to buy original version just because they have more disposable income. They constitute only 2% population, who also tend to go with the trend. Even if they buy original versions, it cannot be a viable business proportion for companies.

According to me, piracy is an opportunity. More piracy means people want a particular product desparetely. As they are not able to afford it, they take the piracy route. In order to address the problem we don't need better products but innovative business models. The focus should be given on how to make things easily affordable by taking the "micro-consumers --> micro-payments" model. For example, take Indian telecom service provides. They have pre-paid plans for as low as 30 rupees (micro-payment), which is working out very well for customers (micro-consumers). With the sheer scale in sales, service provides are getting their profits. In fact India is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. If the rate plans are in thousands, it would not have been successful.

A similar approach should be taken for other businesses (book publishing, selling software etc..) to make it sustainable. Piracy should be seen as an opportunity rather than a curse. I am sure there is a huge opportunity, yet to be tapped in many areas.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bottom of the pyramid : Aravind eye clinic

I was watching some videos about 'Bottom of the pyramid' idea by C.K.Prahlad. One of their case studies was about Aravind eye clinic, which was amazing. Check out the video to get a 'eye opening' business model.

Embedding 'word of mouth' marketing inside products

One of my friends just got back from US and gave me a pack of stride chewing gum, which he bought there. More than the gum, their cover design fascinated me, because it embedded excellent word of mouth marketing messages (check out the pictures below).

Here are some of the interesting things I have learnt:
  • They have smartly used caption -- "The ridiculously long lasting gum",by mentioning "Good for you, bad for us".
  • Excellent sense of humor in their messages (even the cover cuttings include smile), while conveying the marketing message indirectly.
  • Asking customers to participate in conversation by logging new ideas into their website
  • Overall its a very interesting design, thus provides a reason for people to talk (crux of word-of-mouth marketing).
  • They have not spent anything extra to spread marketing message.
Embedding marketing messages along with a product is a great idea. Next time you buy a product (be it a chewing rum or gadget) watch out for its cover design, manuals, stickers and additional information they provide. It might convey a whole lot of marketing messages.

Check out this link to see more humorous stuff!

Serial blasts in Bangalore

After finishing a casual phone call with my mother at 2:15 PM, I opened up NDTV's website to catch-up with afternoon news. I couldn't believe my eyes to see big,bold,black letters which read "FLASH : SERIAL BOMB BLASTS IN BANGALORE". By the time I informed my family about my safe state, panic has set inside the office. Almost everybody was on phone finding about their friends, spouce, children, parents and informing that they are safe. Upon reading the news further, I leant that all of them were low intensity blasts, primarily aimed to threaten people. Started off from office early (at 3:30) to avoid traffic jams caused due to panic. The traffic was normal and the city is very much functioning except the affected areas.

I have been living in this city for the past 7 years and it always provided me 'home-away-from-home' feeling. Without any question, I have developed a emotional bonding with this place and it feels really bad when terror has struck the city. Its not as bad as Mumbai blasts, but it had left panic in the mind of Bangaloreans for sure.

The 'Garden city' will no longer be the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Art of listening

Times of India do publish some good articles once in a while. I came across one this morning. Check out the article titled 'The Art of listening'.

This article couldn't have come in a better time as I am learning this wonderful and powerful skill in a slow but steady phase. Even though the article has used terms like 'manager' and 'leader' in multiple places, I feel its very important for every individual to to listen to others to have a better understanding about with their spouce, children, boss, business partners, investors, customers and perspective employee/employer. In fact, many problems in life can be easily solved by developing this skill. For the past few weeks I am applying this in my personal and professinal life. Trust me -- it has yielded excellent results so far. Don't think listening is 'just another management fad' and rule it out.

Here is another related article by Bala:

You heard me but can you listen?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Marketing : According to Dilbert

Came across this interesting picture which reflects my current thinking.

May be Dilbert put is too bluntly calling Marketing as a 'fraud'. In reality (based my real time experience) it doesn't matter how great a particular product/service is. It is all about how well it can be marketed and sold to customers. Business/Entrepreneurship happens when the customer signs a cheque and nothing else is more important than that.

My dear idly Vada

My better half is out of station and I am back to bachelor life for few days. Its been quite a while since I had breakfast in roadside Darshinis. This morning I stopped by one such Darshini to have idly-vada combo. Got a shock when the shopkeeper returned 3 rupee change in return for my 20 rupee. Man! A plate of idly vada costs 17 rupees, that too in a roadside Darshini?

I am still better off as the 2-3 rupee raise doesn't pinch my pocket much. But what about a daily wager who is earning 50-100 rupee a day? 12% inflation means he may end up eventually skipping a meal? Added to global oil price raise, the local inflation is hitting Indians big time. What happened to UPA's 'Aam Admi' promise?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In search of a good news paper

I have been living in Bangalore for the past 7 years but not able to find a good daily newspaper of my taste. During my school and college days I used to read Hindu, because I had much more time with me even though Hindu's political viewpoints doens't match mine. After coming to Bangalore I was not able to continue with Hindu, mainly because it was looking as if I am reading Chennai edition. Their business section was totally hopeless -- primarily focussing on manufacturing/auto industries, which I don't have any idea. Added to that almost all the job ads,events and happenings were Tamilnadu and Chennai centric and very less about Karnataka and Bangalore.

In order to feel more connected I had to choose TOI, which turned out to be a total crap. Other than some of their supplimentaries (Times Wellness, Ascent and Education times) and Sunday columns by Sashi Taroor, I don't see anything useful about it. Their daily supplimentary 'Bangalore Times' carrys semi-nude pictures almost every day and other Bangalore specific initiatives (Bang-on-bangalore, Times-of-voice etc..) didn't create even a small change to the City. Nowadays I hardly spend 5 minutes just to browse thro front page and business sections.

Not sure about Deccan Herald and Vijay Times though!

Book release : New Age Of Innovation

Last Friday there was a book release function held in Crossword Bangalore. Famous strategist and professor C.K.Prahlad and his colleague M.S.Krishnan launched the book and spoke about what new age of innovation is all about. For more details check out their website.

As businesses are growing globally, it becomes critical to provide a great 'experience' to each of their consumers. Every consumer is unique with their own choice and providing great experience comes with having proper offerings. This is what they call 'N = 1', where N denotes the unique customer experience. In order to provide a great experience, companies end up sourcing resources from multiple sources, which they call 'R = G'. Prof.CK quoted the famous example of Apple iTunes business model, built around their revolutionary product iPod. Every user of iPod has their own choice of music (Classical, Rock, Pop etc..) which is unique to him/her (N=1). In order to provide N = 1,Apple sources music contents (R) from many sources(G). The R = G phenomenon, is caused by connected global networks like integrated supply chain, social networking and on-demand applications.

After the brief introduction mentioned above, authors answered some of the questions asked by audience about US recession, cost effectiveness of Indian firms, innovation etc. Overall it was a well planned session (spanned for 45 minutes) with about 50 focused audience. (check out the picture below) I learned that there was a separate business session hosted in the evening, which I couldn't attend.

Got a copy of the book signed by the authors. Will read and post the review later. Anyways, many book review blog posts are pending, which includes:
  1. Search in secret India by Paul Brunton
  2. Satyagraha in South Africa by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
  3. Political history of Pakistan by Pa Raghavan (Tamil)
  4. Go kiss the word by Subroto Bagchi
  5. Business at the speed of light by Bill Gates
  6. Astronaut Sunita Williams by Aadadhika Shama and S.Seshadri

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Give me a missed call

Found a very interesting sponsored 'no parking' board this afternoon.

It reads: 'just give a MISSED CALL to xxxxx and get information about Bangalore (picture below)' In their website the caption is mentioned as 'A new gateway to Bangalore just a missed call away' :)
This is a really cool marketing technique, which generates instant word-of-mouth.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The corporate lingo

I live in a apartment complex, where most of them are working in the IT industry. We have formed a committee to take care of various aspects like resident grievances,moderating accounts, maintaining equipments, planning budgets and organizing events etc. We also appointed a operations manager to execute these activities in a planned manner. The committee has various positions (President, Vice-president, Secretary etc..) which in most of the cases held by folks who are in entry/middle level management positions in IT industry. These folks use 'corporate lingo' in every other opportunity they get. Recently I came across couple of interesting scenes.

Scene 1: Operations manager's resignation

Last Sunday Mr.President of the association called for an 'urgent' meeting to announce the resignation of the operations manager. Here is what he has to say:

"This is to inform you that our operations manager X has resigned from his current position. He got such a lucrative offer that its impossible for us to match it. Looking from his career prospective it is a good decision and he will grow well in his career by taking this decision. I have accepted his resignation and asked Jayakumar (me), Gupta and Krisha to work on the transition. The last working day of X will be July 5th 2008. Let us wish him all the best!"

I was stunned to hear such speech and thought "Am I sitting in company meeting or apartment
association meeting?". I know X (operation manager) personally and he is a 55 year old ex-central government employee. He opted voluntary retirement, took up the current operations job just to keep him occupied and make some decent money. What career aspirations or growth he can have at this age? Who can offer a high-growth career for him for looking after mundane things?

Scene 2: Discussions regarding rain water harvesting

Couple of months back we had another meeting to discuss the possibility of installing rain water harvesting system in the complex. During the same time we were purchasing water from tankers as our borewell levels has gone down significantly. Here is what Mr. Vice president has to say:
"How much we will be spending for installing the system? By installing this how many meters the ground water will come up? How much amount we can save by stopping external tankers? Can you provide me the overall Return-On-Investment (ROI)?"
This was a bumper to me! It was exactly sounding the way my project manager asks questions to engineers by keeping the commonsense in a corner. Doesn't he know that rain water harvesting is a community initiative? Even if he don't know can't he ask for more details? Why should he ask typical "manager" questions and quickly jump into ROI?

According to me 95% of things in life and work is all about applying commonsense. One need to understand 'what-to-apply-where' and 'one-size-doesn't fit-eveyone'.As I mentioned above Mr.President and Mr.Vice presidents are a mid level manager IT managers primarily doing people management. They got used to asking same set of questions in their workplace, which got
carried away to apartment association meetings as well. If at all they would have applied basic commonsense,those questions would not have come. As time progressed, the 'corporate lingo' got into their blood.

Will they ever learn the importance of commonsense?