Sunday, August 26, 2012

Please, please buy my book…. Because I have paid reviewers to say you should

There is a fascinating article in New York Times this weekend on the growing business of self-published books. And how self-publishing has created an "industry" of hired reviewers who produce favorable reviews.  (The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy)

The article features Mr. Rutherford and the Web site, (interestingly the URL is now for sale!). A few interesting takeaways from the article
"One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, and that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.  
In 2006, before Amazon supercharged electronic publishing with the Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to the data company Bowker. Last year, Bowker estimates that more than 300,000 self-published titles were issued in either print or digital form.  
“I don’t know how many people have a book in them trying to get out, but if they do, all the barriers are being removed,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research. “This is a golden age of being able to make yourself more widely known.”
With the barriers to entry on self-publishing being minimal, hundreds of thousands of writers have jumped the bandwagon. And to get noticed, many are willing to pay-for-reviews!

When my book Offshoring IT Services was first published by McGraw Hill, India, it was a big deal for me. The book was not self published and  McGraw Hill dedicated resources for editing, publishing and to some extent "marketing" the book. Though the book did fairly well – sold off the first and second print run – I didn't get rich from the royalty. I also got my share of egoboo. The corporate marketing team from my then employer, Infosys, bought a lot of copies to distribute to clients. In hindsight, it was not written to be a "bestseller": the genera – offshoring  and technology management – is not one the masses are interested in. 

Now, there are over a million practitioners of the craft of offshoring but I guess the market for offshoring books hasn't grown. Most of those in the industry are happy learning on-the-job rather through formal means. For instance, there are still not many formal, university level courses in Offshoring Management though there are some MBA courses that focus on aspects of globalization or international business.

If I were to self publish Offshoring IT Services, would I be willing to spend hundreds of dollars like Mr. Rutherford’s customers to get favorable reviews on and elsewhere?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Notes from Tech news watch

Two noteworthy items in the news of interest to tech watchers

One is the one the one pertaining to my former employer and offshoring giant "Judge Throws Out Palmer Case Against Infosys" Offshoring services industry is sure to breath a sigh of relief, especially in the context of American election year focus on global sourcing.

The second is the news from Microsoft. Just when I thought curved edges in everything – cars, cellphones, logos - was cool, Microsoft flips it around and tells us square edges are in!

Microsoft’s official blog explains "It’s been 25 years since we’ve updated the Microsoft logo and now is the perfect time for a change. This is an incredibly exciting year for Microsoft as we prepare to release new versions of nearly all of our products. From Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 to Xbox services to the next version of Office, you will see a common look and feel across these products providing a familiar and seamless experience on PCs, phones, tablets and TVs. This wave of new releases is not only a reimagining of our most popular products, but also represents a new era for Microsoft, so our logo should evolve to visually accentuate this new beginning."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Should CIO's worry over a visa fraud trial? Musing on Immigration, visas and Offshoring

Last week I was musing about Indian Outsourcing firms hiring "thousands" in U.S. I briefly touched on the visa angle in the post. Continuing the thread, there was an interesting blog post by, Joel Schectman on Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal titled "Infosys Visa Fraud Trial Should Leave CIOs 'Worried'" The blog states
"The practice of improperly using business travel visas is common for outsourcers that send workers to client sites, said Phil Fersht, CEO of HfS, an outsourcing research firm. The H1B work visa–the appropriate document for longer-term onsite work–costs companies thousands of dollars per employee and the federal government has reduced their availability in recent years. "Outsourcers are trying to get staff to work an engagement as quickly as possible and they will work the system as much as possible," Fersht said."

A few days after that Phil Fersht posted a viewpoint (perhaps clarifying his quote) "Give Infosys a break" stating
"Forgive me if I am wrong, but if an India-based expert visits a US client temporarily to support a contract process or consult on getting an onsite-offshore project working, then there really ain’t too much wrong with using said visa for said purpose."

Not surprisingly, Don Tennant who has blogged extensively on the "Infosys visa issue" had a viewpoint on this "Who Will Infosys Throw Under the Bus in Visa Fraud Case?"

Besides the sensational titles, the blog posts are perhaps a case of the same old wine in new bottles.

There are new issues/risks that a CIOs have to ponder over. Sure, CIO’s or their proxies sometimes have to sign off on invitation letters - for staffers of sourcing vendors - which are attached to visa applications. And if a vendor is indeed found culpable of systematic fraud, one would have to really dig deeper to research whether the person/s signing the invitation letters did so in good faith or was equally culpable.

Bottomline: what’s new here? Such letters have been required by immigration authorities for as long as business and work visas have been in vogue. And such requirements for invitation letters and documentation is not unique to US visa applications alone. Most western governments that have stringent work-visa policies require similar support letters and documents.

(footnote: none of what is stated above is legal opinion…. Just simple common sense!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Indian Outsourcing Firms Hire “thousands” in U.S. Really?!

I don’t have to tell you that it’s election year in the US. Politicians are making promises, and so are some business leaders. A recent wall street journal has an interesting article on "Indian Outsourcing Firms Hire in U.S." This follows articles of similar genera in mainstream media in recent times in the US, Europe and other western markets. This article states several obvious reasons why Indian oursourcing firms want to hire Americans
  • Political reason: It is election year and economy and job-creation rhetoric is bound to veer towards outsourcing, which has already started to happen. Outsourcers and their lobby has to defend a viable business model "India's outsourcing companies also have defended themselves, saying they are creating jobs in the U.S."
  • Practical consideration: With a prolonged economic slump, protectionism in western countries is bound to continue to be a stated policy. "Outsourcing companies are faced with tougher U.S. visa rules that have made it difficult to relocate Indian employees to client locations in the U.S. to carry out technology projects."
The reasons quoted in the article are obvious, but a bit aspirational. The author picks on an interesting factorid that contradicts the rhetoric; Indian firms have been hard pressed to hire locally "At the end of June, nearly 93% of TCS's 240,000 employees were based in India, compared with a little over 1% in the U.S."
In my past life working for offshoring giant Infosys, I had seen more than a few North American and European natives jumping through the hoops to get hired. The few that survived and thrived in the offshoring culture were those who brought in niche Sales and technology Consulting skills. The synergies were obvious: Those in consulting and sales are inclined to be road-warriors, willing to pack a suitcase and fly to client locations on demand: A key occupational qualification if you will. In my book (Offshoring IT Services), I had quoted the late management guru CK Prahlad who observed how the mobility of (young) Indian technologists contributed to the success of offshoring. While explaining the tenacity of Indian professionals to an audience of global managers, he alluded to the fact that the real edge of people from India and other developing economies was their cultural adaptability and ability to travel/relocate to the west to participate in global projects.

A few years ago I wrote a viewpoint on Indian technology firms hiring in North America (re: Getting Hired in a Flat World). Most of the hiring "onsite" in western regions was primarily in consulting and sales support. Not much has changed in the basic business models of offshoring firms. Consulting and sales continue to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staffing roles at offshoring firms. The basic DNA of Indian software service firms is to offshore work from client locations in the west, to India and elsewhere where it continues to be cheaper to hire a majority of staff.

Even with continued political pressures and immigration hurdles, it is hard to picture Outsourcing Firms turning their back on offshoring. Nearsourcing - sourcing a large development or maintenance project from a fortune 500 or a global 2000 firm in a "more expensive" city in North America to another (cheaper?) development center - turns the clock back on traditional outsourcing (minus offshoring) that companies like IBM, EDS et al had practiced in the 1980s and 1990s.

This said, I would be hard pressed to bet against TCS, Infosys, Wipro and other software service firms that have been known to beat the odds before, without altering their offshoring DNA.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Musing on Mother of all blackouts and black money in India

Amid the euphoria over Olympics, news of the worst series of power blackouts in global history occurred in India, impacting millions of people, bringing renewed attention to the crumbling Indian infrastructure. There is bound to be a lot of soul searching among the digerati and political class on the recent power grid failures in India. As is to be expected, there are several angles the Fourth Estate in India and media around the world are going to be examining. Not just the media and career analysts, everyone and their cousin is bound to have their opinions on crumbling infrastructure, inept governments etc etc; Non-Resident Indians like self included.
Reading accounts of the blackout in the media and hearing debate about it on NPR, I am left to wonder if the international media is making a bigger deal of it than it really is? Growing up in different parts of India even in the seventies and eighties, we were accustomed to scheduled and unscheduled blackouts (aka load shedding), especially in summer months when the grids would get overloaded by demand! And this was in an era much before the heralded-India Shining-economic-boom with an insatiable demand for power and energy.
While all this brouhaha will probably lead to a vague call to action, there will be very little soul-searching on the role of businesses in Indian government and society. In case one is wondering why this is important, one must realize how governments around the world, including India, “make” money: they do it primarily through taxes. And herein lies the catch: businesses in India are loath to pay their “fair share” of taxes.


Business, Government and Society
Bribery, graft, tax evasion and black money is so ingrained in Indian economy that business and corporate leaders are rarely in a position to stick their neck out to “demand” infrastructure from the government, as they should rightly be doing
·         They are too bogged down by the system and are trying hard to circumvent their way around the bureaucracy to have the energy to demand what is rightfully theirs
·         Bribing their way to get their share of services from the governments at all levels is perceived to be a “competitive advantage”
·         And because they have circumvented the system to begin with, they are afraid that by standing up and demanding infrastructure, the babus will hit back at their weakness and lack of contribution to the system – tax evasion, bribery, black money. An income-tax or excise tax “raid” can cripple the business for days if not weeks or months

Aam Aadmi, Government and Society
The average aam aadmi - average Joe- in India, just like business is trying to get by, survive and thrive in a bureaucratic system. For most of those in the non-service sector, tax payment is an “evil” that must be avoided, evaded or circumvented. And the little benefits s/he needs from the government, he gets by bribing his way around. A pay-as-you-go model if you will. This means, the aam aadmi is neither vested in the system nor has the tools to hold the government and society accountable.
The complex multi-cultural layers of governance with little accountability make for an interesting implementation of “democracy” in the world’s largest democracy
If businesses and aam admi are not in a position to demand change, can media, armchair analysts, bloggers and digerati do it alone?