Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness: lessons to add to US naturalization test

As we look forward to yet another year, I was musing on the year gone by. During the past year, I had the privilege of “using” my acquired passport to make a business trip across the pond to Switzerland, sans a visa: a big deal for those born with third world passports but something westerners take for granted as a birth right.

A friend, the other day asked if I felt any different about living in America as a naturalized citizen this year, and I began reflecting on what really makes Americans Tick.
The naturalization test focuses on several aspects of civics and American history that most kids here would have learnt by rote in middle school. To prepare for the “test,” USCIS provides a handy “guide” with about 100 questions and suggested answers. The modern American society, however, is much more complex and dynamic than any test can prepare one for. The concept of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness that America’s founding fathers envisioned is being redefined, perhaps by every generation.
My two cents, shaped in part by the topics American mainstream media seems to focus on over and over
Middle class America
Americans like to believe they are a classless society, but like most other societies, there is a marked distinction between the rich and poor with a middle class sandwiched in between. If Americans believe their cities, unlike those in “third world” countries, aren’t bustling beggars in street corners, ask them about panhandlers with street signs. That’s one extreme end of the society; bottom of pyramid if you will. The other extreme is the mulit-million dollar mansions that dot Anytown USA.

The point at which the middle class begins at the bottom and ends towards upper class is a topic politicians love to bring up during elections (of course without providing answers)

Fascination with Economy: whatever the term means!

The term economy is used very loosely by media pundits, analysts and others fascinated by a number of “economic measures.” There is almost a constant focus on stock market, monthly labor market report, ISM manufacturing index, housing market, crude oil price  etc etc. ADP payroll report, and the monthly “Fed” FOMC meeting where they supposedly discuss heavy sounding fiscal topics like GDP, inflation, deflation, interest rates, Quantitative easing

There is enough in the news and media to entertain us but very little to help make educated decisions: if you listen to the “economic analysis” in the media, it is never the right time to invest in stocks, buy a house, Switch jobs, or have babies and start a family. But Americans do all this, all the time.
Politics: A nation deeply polarized by two parties (nothing new in any democracy!)

One is either a Republican or Democrat, with extremists and centrists on both sides sandwiching the Centrists. Generally speaking,
  • Democrats have socialistic or leftist leanings and believe that the role of government includes social and “welfare” net – social security, medicare, medicade, and now “obamacare”. They generally oppose unregulated business and finance, and favors progressive income taxes.
  • Republicans (a.ka GoP), on the other hand are rightist leaning, more socially conservative and economically libertarian and believe in minimalist government and governance. In a sense, the GoP believes capitalism is the panacea for all social problems.
Although Democrats are Left leaning, Americans can’t openly profess to being far left since any alignment to Communism or socialism is a big no no.  Interesting titbit: US naturalizationapplication still asks

“9. Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with:
a.    The Communist Party?”
Even though both parties disagree on most aspects of governance, one thing that both Republicans and Democrats DO agree on is the larger role of America in global politics, including the military machine, which beats me: how can “big” government military be a sacred cow if Republicans dislike the idea of big government?  Is it because big military equals big spending equals big military contracts equals capitalism?  Of course, most Americans are unsure how we will pay for all this!
Gay marriage and right

Growing up in India in the eighties and early nineties, the term Gay wasn’t associated with sexuality, but rather used as a benign verb (as in “happy and gay”). Of course, Americans like most westerners continue to be deeply divided over their collective views on Gay, gay marriage and the role of LGBT community in the society.
This is a hot button topic if there was any. Just recently A&E media did a complete flip-flop after the Duck Commander Phil Robertson the hugely popular TV series “Duck Dynasty” made remarks on homosexuals

The catholic belt in America is certainly unwilling to come out in the open (pardon the pun) in support of Gays. And as of end of 2013, most states in the US still don’t recognize the union of two people who are not Man and Woman. This said, influential opinion makers in America – politicians, media and sports superstars and to a lesser extent corporate honchos – continue to “come out” and it is perhaps a matter of time before social opinion changes. And as if charity doesn’t just begin at home, Americans want to export their values on gay rights before they firm up at home: media loves highlighting suppression of gay rights in rest of the world – Russia, or Middle East and India (with the recent Supreme Court verdict)
Make no mistake; Gay rights are not just about freedom of sexuality. The real fight is for fiscal benefits and tax rights: are gay spouses entitled to the same benefits as that of heterosexual couple? Of course, there are several other angles here including Immigration rights: are gay spouses/ partners entitled to a visa to visit/immigrate?

Immigration reform

Immigration policy gets muddled when mixed with highly charged opinions on racial and economic protectionism. America that was much more whiter – Caucasian – even a generation ago, is finding itself browning and yellowing thanks to the legal and illegal migration of people of Hispanic and Asian origin. John or Jane Doe Americans, who take immense pride in their Italian, Irish or African heritage from several generations ago, are coming to terms with neighbors’ fresh of their boat, clinging to their Indian, Mexican and Chinese heritage and values. Not an easy situation to be in.
As of 2013, Even a “black” president in his second term, born to a black immigrant and Caucasian American native who takes prides in his himself on his  an international perspective has found it hard to change the perspectives (ref my review of Obama's Biography: Dreamsfrom My Father)

Bottomline: Most first-generation immigrants, self-included, have their favorite stories on immigration snafus or dealing with checkpoint Charlie at the border or embassy. The laws continue to be highly nebulous, and enforcement of policies more so. The only beneficiaries: immigration attorneys
This surely is not the last word on these hot-button topics shaping and influencing our views on life, liberty in our pursuit of happiness in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My two cents: Indian-American Diplomatic Row

To followers of news on India and American- Indians, the recent “diplomatic row” over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, Indian diplomat from the consulate in New York is intriguing to say the least.

Most of us civilians hardly understand the role diplomats play in managing foreign relations other than the terms and titbits media occasionally throws at us during incidents like these. Perhaps the closest we come to personal interactions with diplomats is while applying for visas to travel overseas or in case of those acquiring foreign passports while relinquishing one’s citizenship or acquiring national id’s while overseas. And even those dealings are extremely cursory, hardly going beyond the few minutes it takes for the “diplomat” to scrutinize one’s paperwork if done in person. Terms like “diplomatic immunity,” “diplomatic bag,” “persona non grata,” “diplomatic passport,” “expelled diplomat” are buzzwords one reads about in spy thrillers, movies or occasionally during “diplomatic row”
Which is to say those in Foreign Service are generally unsung heroes toiling away with little fame or recognition, except during times of crisis, notoriety (current example) or when they achieve some laudable: remember Vikas Swarup, author of the bestseller and Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire 

Before we look at what’s the big deal about Devyani Khobragade being arrested and “strip searched” like a “common criminal,” a few recent incidents involving American government officials and diplomats abroad
  • Missing Former Jewish FBI Agent Spied on Iran for CIA: After months and years of claiming "Former FBI agent Robert Levinson was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran during a trip in 2007,"  (link) The Associated Press stated in an investigative report that “Robert Levinson, a former Jewish FBI agent, was working directly for the CIA on a mission in Iran when he was last seen in 2007” (link)
  • An American contractor working for CIA in Pakistan claims “diplomatic immunity” after he shot dead two Pakistanis in a street in LahoreInterestingly, the contractor, Raymond Davis, was set free and came home to the US after US government paid in the region of $700,000 (£436,000) as "blood money" to each of three families whose relatives were killed.
Which brings us back to the Devyani Khobragade. The case supposedly centers around underpaying her Domestic Help. According to media reports “The diplomat had allegedly submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for an Indian babysitter and housekeeper in her Manhattan home, the Associated Press reported. Court papers said Ms. Khobragade, 39, claimed in visa documents that she paid the worker $4,500 a month when the worker actually received less than $600 a month. The Indian diplomat, who pleaded not guilty in court the same day, was later freed on a $250,000 bond.”

Wonder if the actions of Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara – who, by the way just happens to be Indian American -  is an overzealous US official out to extract “blood money” (Political mileage) from Indian government or just someone out to ensure the rights of all foreign born housekeepers and maids are upheld?! Much as the socialist in me would like to root for uplifting the underprivileged diplomatic maids, I would hate for Mr. Bharara to claim any more political mileage from an international diplomatic row.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Musing on Passports, citizenship and Immigration and Book Reviews

An interesting article in Weekend WSJ made me reflect on Citizenship as a “flag of convenience.”  The front page article is titled “A Venture Capitalist Invests in His OlympicDream: Paul Bragiel Pauses Career to Ski For Colombia in 2014 Games” It features Paul Bragiel, an American citizen and entrepreneur who decides to pursue a dream: making it into the Olympics! For that to happen, the self-described "chunky, out-of-shape computer nerd" not only has to find a sport that he can learn to compete in but also find a nation that will host him. The article describes Bragiel’s quest: “A U.S. citizen, he found a way to become Colombian as well, although he doesn't speak Spanish.”

Paul Bragiel's story is a mirror to the aspiration of millions of Desis (South Asians), Chinese and others who try to pursue their dream: migrating to America and other western nations and eventually finding a footing by acquiring citizenship in their host nations. Citizenship, immigration and migration is also a topic Indian Americans, self-included, find fascinating.

A couple of recent books that I read capture a slice of the immigrant stories, albeit from different angles.
  • One is The Billionaire's Apprentice,  a best seller by Anita Raghavan that received a lot of coverage from mainstream media. The book is primarily a chronicle of the rise and fall of three protagonists – Sri Lankan born billionaire, Raj Rajratnam, Indian born former head of McKenzie Rajat Gupta and former McKenzie partner Anil Kumar. The author attempts to build the initial narrative in the book by highlighting how South Asian immigrants to the US are a “twice blessed generation,” who benefited from educational system in post independent India and also the relaxed immigration rules in America.  (link to my review on Amazon)
  • Another is “The Caretaker” a debut novel by A .X. Ahmad in which he throws in a lot of masala: story spanning continents, transnational characters, power and intrigue and a bit of melodrama. The author also weaves in bit of geo politics – a US senator trying to get brownie points by getting involved in Indo-Pak conflict and hostage negotiation in North Korea - and quirks in US immigration. A different slice of immigrant life and aspiration. (link to my review on Amazon)
It is interesting that while millions aspire to be economic migrants, a few prevelidged to be born with western passports also aspire to swim against the tide, acquire passports of developing nations to pursue their “dreams.”  Border controls, immigration and visas are modern constructs that human aspirations transcend. Passports, in that sense are just tools of convenience

Other links
Business Book review WSJ
Inside Men: NYT Book review

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review : Enterprise Architecture As Strategy

"Enterprise Architecture As Strategy" (Amazon) by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, David Robertson is perhaps the most quoted book. Online forums on the topic quote this as one of the few really good references on the topic and I agree.

The authors do a great job of introducing and packaging concepts in Enterprise Architecture – operating model, maturity model, core diagrams, IT engagement model  – that are referenced by EA practitioners, consultants and academics alike. The case studies based on academic research of over “200 companies” keeps the narrative grounded.

Who is this book for?
  • Practicing Enterprise Architects and EA consultants will find the topics and case studies refreshing. It certainly got me reflecting on my employer’s target operating model  
  • The book speaks to business executives as much as it does to EA practitioners.  Executives will also find it a handy reference that can equip them to “govern” IT strategies
  • Those looking to get into EA (many IS/Technical Architects, business analysts and process consultants) will find the book a good introduction to EA “big picture” topics; and perhaps an introduction to some consulting jargon

The book is not an EA “cook book” or a “how to” guide. Unfortunately, learning how-to-do-EA will only come with experience and a few grey hair.
Tags: review / reviews

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

$35 million Immigration Fine for Infosys: powered by intellect, driven by values?

There has been a lot of commentary in the media on the announcement that “Indian Outsourcing firm expected to pay about $35 Million for Illegal Use of Visas” (wsj). As is to be expected, the settlement comes with a legalese statement “The Bangalore-based tech giant did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, and said in a statement that it “denies and disputes any claims of systemic visa fraud, misuse of visas for competitive advantage, or immigration abuse. Those claims are untrue and are assertions that remain unproven.” (Time)
As an interested Infosys stakeholder – shareholder, tech observer and former employee – I find the case and settlement with DOJ intriguing, though not very surprising. Intriguing because one would typically not settle if there is no wrongdoing. Surely a case of smoke and mirrors. What is surprising, however, is the settlement amount. The amount in question, about $34 million, “the largest immigration fine ever” from United States Department of Justice, claims “the Indian outsourcing giant illegally placed workers on visitor, rather than work, visas at big corporate clients across the U.S.”
$35 million fine is not small change even for a multibillion dollar company with billions in cash reserves. For years, Infosys ran an ostensibly clean business operation with tagline “powered by intellect, driven by values,” a tagline that was replaced a couple of years ago by the more business friendly 'Building Tomorrow's Enterprise'. (ET) One wonders if the tagline change was recognition of reality: a culture shift from values to an attitude of “calculated risk-taking.”
In early 2000s, like many of my peers of Indian descent living in the west, I was observing the offshoring phenomena. Rather than be content to observe, I decided partake in the offshoring experience by relocating back to India, to join Infosys. This was back in 2003 when Infosys was a media darling, portrayed as squeaky clean Made-in-India multinational that could do no wrong. It was lead by the co-founder Mr. N. R. Narayana Murthy who was credited with coining the original tagline and driving much of the company's values. The Indian services troika of TCS, Wipro and Infosys continued to be viewed as tech darlings, even after the implosion of another large Indian giant, Satyam (Time)
During my stint at Infosys, I had the opportunity to observe, experience and participate in the Global Delivery Model (GDM) and lead offshoring initiatives both from offshore in India and onsite, consulting with clients in Europe (Switzerland), Canada and the US. Based on my observations, I wrote the book “Offshoring IT services” (Amazon) which also lead to a spinoff of a popular Infosys corporate blog Managing Offshore IT that I anchored successfully for years before leaving the company at the end of 2011.
At the time of joining Infosys in 2003, I was already a US permanent resident (green card holder) though I also continued to hold an Indian passport. This “legal status” provided me an opportunity to experience the process of applying for travel visas and work permits to several countries including Singapore, UK, Switzerland and Canada. My relocations also came with layers of fuzzy math in offshore and onsite salaries. There were times when I felt the “process” of relocations and onsite/offshore salaries was designed to shortchange India based employees traveling overseas. The fact is employees of offshoring firms operate in an environment where an onsite opportunity is a “privilege.” Visas and offshore-onsite travel and relocations are “costs” that are extremely well “managed” by IT service firms.
It was obvious that the visa challenge was a recurring issue that played out over and over when teams had to scramble to meet client requests onsite. Offshoring firms operate in a visa constrained business model that requires movement of people across national boundaries. On one hand clients need IT resources onsite, and there is an abundant supply of eager “resources” ready and willing to travel to meet this demand. On the other hand, the demand has to be tempered by the highly restrictive national immigration policies, especially in western countries that place quotas and restrictions on numbers of visas of certain types that can be issues.
To be fair, much of the operation at Infosys, including managing the visa process was done by the book. Planning and application of visas, especially for highly coveted H1 Visas operated like a well-oiled machine. However, there were times when it felt like middle managers were pushing the envelope, especially when it came to unplanned, “urgent” onsite requirements from clients. Managers were continually expected to balance dual pressures: clamor from eager-and-willing employees asking to be “visa enabled”, while also fielding queries from visa processing specialists to adhere to all applicable requirement. The average project managers or onsite engagement managers are neither qualified nor equipped to question the intricacies of ever changing visa regulations. However, they realize that they operate in an environment where bending over backwards for client requests is a prerequisite of hyper competitive services industry. 
Hyper competitive industry operating with restrictive immigration laws and changing regulations on guest workers keeps middle managers, employees and visa departments on their toes. Just a couple of examples:
  • Years ago, a guest worker could travel to the US on an H1 visa and move across job locations as dictated by needs of their sponsoring employer. This law changed, requiring employers to file paperwork every time there was a change in location, even when the original H1 visa continued to be valid. Same is not true of a business visa where an employee on an onsite trip can travel to locations across the country for meetings with clients (but not “work” for the client)
  • A green-card petition for permanent residency filed by an employer requires several stages of processing. A few years ago, employees who had a green card petition pending were indentured to their employer till they received their green cards, a process that could take several years or decade. This has changed and employees are free to switch employment while a green card is being processed.
Keeping track of changes in immigration laws and following the letter and spirit of law is no trivial task. Consulting firms like Infosys have teams of lawyers and specialists focused on tracking implications of visas for individual scenarios, which in some cases do lead to room for interpretation. Engagement managers, who are generally under the gun, facing clients, are perhaps inclined to push the envelope and explore potentially risky options unless counseled by lawyers.
The crux of the issue in DOJ investigation: “Department found that the Indian company used inexpensive, easy-to-obtain B-1 visas meant to cover short business visits—instead of harder-to-get H-1B work visas—to bring an unknown number of its employees for long-term stays, these people say.” (WSJ) Such misuse of business visas for work related travel is a gray area that only legal experts can decipher. For instance, A US passport holder can travel to Switzerland or Canada for temporary business purposes without a visa, but would require one if they intend to work there. Could a business meeting with a client or a billable consulting engagement lasting a couple of weeks be interpreted as “work?” Sure! But then, employees for multinationals routinely travel across Atlantic for such meetings and short consulting engagements, with border and immigration officials hardly raising an eyebrow. Therefore, such cross border short term travel for “work” without visas by those holding western passports may be kosher while such travel by those holding an Indian passport is improper. Law is blind goes the old adage, but is surely not logical.
If jumping through the visa hoops is such a big deal, why don’t offshore firms hire more locally in western markets, you may wonder. Two obvious reasons: 
  • Cost: The nature of business being such, sending Indian employees (with a base salary in India) overseas is much cheaper than hiring an equivalent full-time employee onsite, even after accounting for costs of visa and travel. The deputees typically have much lower salary base in Indian rupees, while their counterparts hired in local markets (in US, Europe etc) receive salary, allowances and emoluments which can be substantially greater.  The onsite allowances and “salaries” for deputees are typically based on complex “formula” of city/country and duration of stay determined by the companies. Service firms justify this model to buffer themselves against unpredictable durations and frequent deputation/relocation of the employees. 
  • Flexibility: Years ago, management guru Prof. CK Prahlad astutely observed how eager college graduates from India were more willing than their western born counterparts to relocate oversease. (Ref case study “From Tumkur to Toronto” in my book). It is not just one time relocation but a willingness to live out of a suitcase. For instance, when an offshore deputee is done with a project in Seattle, Washington, she may be more willing to relocate to Bentonville, Arkansas than to travel back to her base in Bangalore. Would a graduate hired in Atlanta be willing to frequently relocate and live in Bentonville or anytown, USA and work on projects for extended periods of time?  It is not just offshore firms that leverage this flexibility of Indian resources: Accenture, IBM and other “western” IT service firms have also been hiring hundreds of thousands in India, and sponsoring thousands of H1 visas.
Offshoring industry experts and government policy makers are sure to spend time analyzing the implications of Infosys DOJ saga
  •  Lesson for Infosys is obvious: get your house in order, which I am sure is already underway. While you are at it, why not bring back the old tagline (at least the part about being driven by values
  • Lesson for other technology service firms: make sure you get your house in order to. This settlement is not just about Infosys
  • Lesson for companies hiring global IS services firms: while you can't ensure your consultants  dot all the I’s and cross the T’s, you should expect a statement from the consulting managers  to this effect. Make sure the formal statement is recorded in your MSA and contracts
  • Lesson for lawmakers and parliaments: Globalization of services is a reality. Don’t fight it by introducing bureaucracy and ambiguity in laws. Streamline it where you can.

Links of interest

Friday, October 11, 2013

Business, Government and Technology : Observations of large IS stagey in execution

The US government continues to be in partial “shut down” this week. Most analysts and political pundits are unclear on what the negotiation between Republicans and Democrats is going to be about, or when it will happen. However, the focus on government shutdown has distracted media attention from two key technology enablers in the US government landscape that will have far reaching consequences, impacting lives of citizen here much after the current debate fades from memory.

The rollout of obamacare and meltdown of NSA’s super data center, both of which made the front pages of Wall Street Journal this week, only to give way to news of US government shutdown.

Affordable healthcare (aka Obamacare). While the focus of politicians and media is on the socialist angle, role of government in healthcare of citizen, it is really about use of modern Information Technology and tools of integration. The complex health exchange engines are designed to be powered by equally complex software and IT systems. There are always challenges when new systems are rolled out to the extent proposed. Timothy Lee blogs in Washington Post “Here’s why getting theObamacare exchanges to work was so difficult
“This week, the new health-care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, have come in for a lot of criticism. The sites cost millions — in some cases hundreds of millions — of dollars to create. And some of them weren't ready for the traffic they received on Oct. 1, the day Obamacare went into effect.”

The blog quotes a healthcare IT expert reflecting on the challenge: "It wasn't because of the complexity of building high-volume websites—that's their bread and butter—but because of the complexity of the contracting and project arrangements with all the prime contractor and subcontractor relationships. …… Everybody who's on the inside has really expected it to be pretty rocky at the start. It's a very large undertaking, and there are so many players involved. Such fixed deadlines. Everyone has expected it to be quite a challenge.”
Another interesting observation from the blog post: cost of corporate websites is a question I hear often. Why does a corporate website cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, when I could go to goddy and get a website hosted for a mere hundred plus dollars?  [California's exchange, for example, reportedly cost $313 million to build.]

“There are lots of different reasons. Part of it is these are large IT projects being conducted by government agencies, by large contractors with large teams. There are a lot of layers of project management, of requirements, design, coding. It looks very different than your small start-up where you've got 10 people in the room working closely together and rapidly developing things.
Even though in this type of setting the development teams are using what you might call agile methods, there's still a huge layer of requirements and review and sign-off. There's lots of policy decisions that have to be made that shape ever step of the way. There's much more overhead involved in this sort of thing than if you're trying to have a small set of people developing the Web site.”

US Government’s NSA and massive data crunching needs: This was another issue that made headlines this week “Meltdowns HobbleNSA Data Center” (WSJ) : The Utah facility, one of the Pentagon's biggest U.S. construction projects, has become a symbol of the spy agency's surveillance prowess, which gained broad attention in the wake of leaks from NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It spans more than one-million square feet, with construction costs pegged at $1.4 billion—not counting the Cray supercomputers that will reside there.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines acknowledged problems but said "the failures that occurred during testing have been mitigated. A project of this magnitude requires stringent management, oversight, and testing before the government accepts any building."

The reason for reflecting on these problems is obvious: Though still early in the rollout, there are lessons for technology strategists and Enterprise Architects in both scenarios.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Big Data meets big Agribusiness: Monsanto acquires Climate Corporation

Business of Agriculture continues to be dynamic as always; the challenge of feeding a growing world population, coupled with managing global supply chain, geopolitics and of course trying to cope with the biggest challenge of them all: Mother Nature's upper hand. 

Just following Mother Nature’s mood swings requires enormous data crunching, analytics, use of communication networks, satellites, drones and newer tools and technologies. And here I am just talking of Information Technology and not the product “Technology” that enables the agribusiness industry (pesticides, herbicides, genetic seeds, traits etc etc).  
I came across an announcement yesterday by Monsanto that it was acquiring a big-data technology firm, Climate Corporation, for approximately $1.1 billion (link). I think it is a fascinating opportunity if done right, and if taken to farmers around the globe. Of course, Monsanto is not alone in the quest to integrate lego blocks of agribiz puzzle together; Another large agbiz firm, Syngenta* recently announced “The Good Growth Plan

The reality is that most small hold farmers, especially those in developing nations have very little access to tools and technologies that enable “modern agriculture” practices. There again, lack of modern technology may be an opportunity in disguise. Case in point, the wireless telecommunication revolution in India that helped the country beleaguered by lack of traditional telephone lines leapfrog directly to modern cellphone age.  Wonder if access to insights enabled by digital farming technology and tools - big-data enabler in the example above – do the same for the small farmer in rural India, or sub-Saharan Africa?

*Opinions on this blog are mine alone and not that of my employer

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Quiet and musing on Introvert and extrovert Enterprise Architects

I happened to come across Susan Cain’s bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,  mentioned in an online blog debating personality of technologist and Enterprise Architects and decided to check it out. Peppered with anecdotes and stories, the book well researched and highly readable, not in the style of usual self-help books.   It is certainly an interesting book that takes a 360 degree view of introverts, extroverts and their interactions.  (my Amazon Review)

The book starts by exploring the extrovert culture in America.  The reason for the book’s bestseller status is obvious. It speaks to many of us who might have been called “shy,” “reserved” or at times “introverted” and “quite.” Nobody wants to be labeled thus, especially in professional circles where it can spell “failure.”
At work and in professional engagements, speaking up is seen as a virtue, and an opportunity to stand out.  By not doing so, one could miss out on opportunities; or so it is perceived by most of us. In  our professional life, many of us who might prefer the solitude and quite reflection might put on an extrovert façade.

 Just as the label is contextual and not permanent, there are aspects of the book that one may relate to more than others. As the author and most analysts of human behavior have noted, there is a sliding scale of being extroverts and introverts with a vast majority of us finding a place somewhere in the middle, most of the time.

I love the section on Soft Power explaining the Asian-Americans and the extrovert ideal. It highlights the cultural variances as it pertains to extrovert ideal and introverts while also bringing in the cross-cultural dimensions.  The author’s research is based on review of Asian Americans and Chinese American “kids” in America. She summarizes “Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression and personal destiny.  The point is not that one is superior to the other, but profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personal styles favored by each culture. In the West, we subscribe to the Extrovert Ideal, while in much of Asia (at least before the westernization of past several decades), silence is golden. “

Musing on Enterprise Architects and personality types:
  • Communication skills, both verbal and written along with an ability to listen attentively is a key success factor. Introverts need to trust their gut and share their ideas as powerfully as they can.
  •  It is typical to see an EA team with all personality traits; would be too much of a group-think if it were otherwise. Susan Cain explains there is a place for both extroverts and introverts in corporate world (If you are in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clicking glasses on the patio, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head.).
  • Enterprise Architects should train themselves to be both introvert and extrovert as the communication scenario demands.
  • Attitude matters more than personality types. By attitude, I mean perseverance and willingness to stick one’s neck out if the situation demands. Willingness to speak up when something is not right is perhaps as important as the right way to say it; and finding right forum where voicing an opinion will matter.
  • If you’re a manager responsible for Enterprise Architecture, a tip from Susan Cain “remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear that way or not. … make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems and spot canaries in your coal mine
Bottomline: Personality type plays a lesser role in most business interactions than we give it credit. With the right experience, grounding and training all personality types – introverts, extroverts and those in between –can make good architects.

Tags: Books

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Enterprise Architecture lessons from City Planning: Don’t let the 'Walkie-Talkie' slip by

​“Enterprise architects are practitioners of enterprise architecture; an information technology management discipline that operates within organizations” goes the Wikipedia definition. In a sense, we are practitioners of a unique craft that entails bridging business drivers, goals and vision with technology capabilities and solutions, while ensuring the proposals align with the organization’s roadmaps and regulations. All this can be a bit overwhelming as an elevator pitch. When asked to describe what an Enterprise Architect does, it is common to refer to the “City Planner” analogy. For example, US Government's NIH reference of Enterprise Architects starts by explaining how “You can relate enterprise architecture to the more widely understood concept of city planning. In city planning, zones are established for very specific purposes. The buildings that are built in these zones are constructed to specifications to meet those purposes.”

The EA as City Planners is exactly the analogy I was reflecting on when I came across recent news accounts of the car melting skyscraper in London (“'Walkie-Talkie' skyscraper melts Jaguar car parts”). A few thoughts and perhaps lessons here:

An article quoted the developer of Walkie Talkie building analyzing “the phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately 2 hours per day, with initial modelling suggesting that it will be present for approximately 2-3 weeks.” It is unclear whether the Architect and city planners analyzed this bit of information and decided, the residents of the neighborhood could live with the problem for about 2 hours a day for 2-3 weeks in the year? There is a distinct parallel to the challenges Enterprise Architects face. EA's are sometimes requested to let “tactical” solutions and proposals slip by because the potential impact is “calculated” to be minimal? An example perhaps when the business stakeholder indicated security of data was an “important” Non Functional Requirement (NFR) but got a sticker shock when told what it would cost for the system to be architected with the right principles within our firewalls. The Business stakeholder may also have been sold on a much cheaper alternative: a SaaS solution, hosted on the cloud by a third party vendor. The vendor might have promised that the risk of data breach was “minimal.”

The EA question here: Could the business live with this security risk for "2 hours a day, 2-3 weeks in a year?" Enterprise Architects should review findings of pilots, POC and modeling during initial design; and also stand by the right thing to do!

Another article on the topic mentioned how “The Architect Behind London's Car-Melting Skyscraper Has Had This Problem Before"Rafael Viñoly, the Uruguayan-born architect who designed the new London building that's now frying eggs across the street because of its intense reflection, is the same architect who designed another notorious "fry-scraper" in Las Vegas years ago. In 2010, guests of Viñoly's Vdara Hotel and Spa at MGM's Aria began complaining of severe burns from the glare being reflected off the building's facade."

This is also an issue Enterprise Architects are distinctly familiar with: Governance, feedback loops and of course the courage to say "No" to recurrence of design flaws. And holding a vendor accountable.

Of course, the biggest assumption with the City Planning analogy is that cities are populated by citizen who want to be governed and live by the rules, which would exclude cities in most of the developing world. I crack a smile every time I visualize the city planner analogy applying to Bangalore, the Indian Silicon Valley. On googling, I discovered that the Bangalore Development Authority does have an elegant master plan (link) with a Town Planner Member on board; an Enterprise Architect exists! Per the description, Bangalore’s Plan considers the present situation, the various growth trends at work and future issues. It integrates key influencing factors including City's natural environment, its heritage, and issues of economic efficiency and social equality.” And the visuals on the web page are akin to landscape diagrams Enterprise Architects in a fortune 500 enterprise would be proud of recommending!

My guess is that the town planners in Bangalore, like their peers in most developing nations encounter every imaginable resistance from “stakeholders” - from power hungry politicians who sign off on variances to zoning ordinances, to corrupt planning inspectors and bureaucrats willing to look the other way at major and minor infractions. Of course the City Planners also operate in cities that are populated by residents willing and intent on bending or breaking every zoning rule that doesn’t meet their fancy!

Just like much of the world's population inhabits the third world cities with toothless City Planners, much of Enterprise Architecture is practiced in enterprises without strong governance and stakeholder buy-in. Perhaps Enterprise Architects are really like Bangalore’s Town Planners: defining elegant master plans, landscapes and roadmaps from an ivory tower while their peers rubber-stamp every variance to the standard that “stakeholders” demand!

Other popular EA City Panning references
  • Enterprise architects are like city planners, providing the roadmaps and regulations that a city uses to manage its growth and provide services to its citizens. Wikipedia
  • Companies are focusing on "building codes" that define the principles and guidelines for architecture and on "building permits" that are granted to change initiatives that have been deemed compliant through the architecture review process. City Planning: A Metaphor for Enterprise Architecture: CIO.com
  • A Simple and Flexible Specification Enterprise Architecture Practice - CMU Reference

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Murthy and Son @ Infosys: what’s the big deal?

Everything that the Indian offshoring giant Infosys does comes under intense scrutiny, especially from Indian media that has been enamored with the hi-tech sector for long. Not surprisingly, the return of Infosys’ founder and godfather of Indian offshoring lead to intense analysis in media. Comparisons include to that of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple and Michael Dell’s effort to take charge of Dell’s strategy. If there was any doubt about the move by Infosys to seek the return of its founder, it was reassured by the stock market (re: Infosys Jumps Most Since January as Billionaire MurthyReturns)
Leadership changes are bound to follow major management announcements. Not surprisingly, there has been a barrage of announcements, among which has been an interesting move by Mr. Murthy: recruiting his son to be an executive assistant to the Executive Chairman. Following that announcement are reports of Murthy junior being appointed “Vice-president” at Infosys.
Analysts and the media are torn between two school of thoughts here
  • The sour grape school of thought. The thinking goes something like this: most of us have to work extra hard to survive and thrive in a crowded world of  business while a select few who happen to be born into a family with the right last name are automatically admitted to the club.
  • Acceptance school of thought. Acceptance of the reality of dynasties in business and politics. The last name Bush (Wikipedia) can get you elected as a President of America, or governor of Florida just like the Gandhi name in India. Same goes for successful business dynasties scions of which have not only proudly carried the family name but also managed to outshine their fathers and forefathers.
Back when I worked for Infosys, the grandiose sounding title of VP was something the company didn't dole out to employees lightly. This said, there were scores of “Associate” VPs, many of them senior engagement and sales managers, consulting partners who were given the title. This was done generally to signal clients and others that the title holder was empowered to negotiate a proposal or sign a SoW on the company’s behalf.

I continue to closely watch the company, wearing my shareholder hat (I still happen to hold a few shares that vested from the options I received when I joined INFY nearly a decade ago). All I see here is a storm in the teacup.  The stock price has bounced nicely since Mr. NR Murthy’s return. The news of Murthy Junior coming aboard and debate over his title has barely caused the stock to budge. There is another key fact to bear in mind: The Murthy family holds nearly a 4.5% stake in the company. And Rohan Murty, himself is a significant share holder with 7,949,782 shares (1.38% stake) has a skin in the game.

As a significant individual shareholder, Rohan's voice of course counts. And if he wants to be at the forefront and ensure ROI of his investment: Sure, by all means!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musing on Public libraries: Vote yes to support them!

While driving to work the other day, I was listening to the NPR program “For You To Borrow, Some Libraries Have To Go Begging.” It reminded me of the recent survey request from Phoenix public library, a library I haven’t visited since I moved from Arizona a couple of years ago. It got me thinking of the significance of Public libraries, and how public libraries are trying to stay relevant, and thrive, despite the pervasiveness of digital sources of information.

Growing up in India years ago, I used to frequent the state central library in Cubbon park. This was much before the days of pervasive internet, and for me and other locals, an opportunity to read latest magazines and periodicals. Newspapers were laid out on tall tables around which patrons stood and read. Magazines, on the other hand could be enjoyed sitting around a desk and chair. Even in crowded public libraries, there was a social etiquette: it was “okay” ro invade one’s private space to "share" a newspaper but generally not a magazine. And there was a sexist element at play in public libraries too: few members of opposite sex were to be seen at libraries, and fewer still in the male dominated magazine and newspaper reading rooms.

In my travels, especially as my job moved me across countries and provinces for extended periods of time, my relocation or extended stay in a city would typically begin with a stopover at local library. Just a sampling of a few of my favorite haunts over the years

The NPR program agrees with what most of us empirically believe to be true “More than 90 percent of Americans say public libraries are important to their communities, according to the Pew Research Center. But the way that love translates into actual financial support varies hugely from state to state.” Many public libraries across western cities are morphing into community centers, attracting the digital generation with both digital tools (eBooks) and community and after-school events. The library, with story-time for preschoolers in our city has been a boon for parents, a fact my wife appreciates all the more during long days in summer months when the school is out.

A few generations ago, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was credited with doling out funds for public libraries across the US. “A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.” (Wikipedia)

Now that the billionaire and digital entrepreneur, Amazon's Founder Jeff Bezos has staked his claim on marquee print publication The Washington Post, one wonders if he will follow Andrew Carnegie’s footprints with a legacy of re-funding public libraries?

Till a wealthy white knight comes around to rescue, it is for local patrons to voice their support for libraries in their communities. Perhaps take a leaf from the Troy library’s playbook on how to take on Tea Party activists targeting funding for local libraries!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Enterprise Architects and a tip for Entrepreneurs on mobile strategy

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is wetting his toes in the mobile app development space, following the time honored startup tradition by hiring a few developers proficient in mobile technologies to dream up the next killer application. The hope is: build it and they will come. Dreams of mobile entrepreneurs are buoyed by stores like “Mobile app growth exploding, and shows no signs of letting up
The conversation reminded me of the NYT article on mobile application boom from a few months ago (“Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living”) One could spend time pondering the odds of entrepreneurs beating others in the mobile gold rush, or if we are already at the tail end of one, but that's not the point here.
To seasoned industry watchers, Enterprise Architects, and those in the “buy” side of technology, there is a parallel to the mobile-world crystal-ball-gazing: the dot-com-boom and bust from over a decade ago. We are probably encountering a parallel with a torrent of news and “activity” in the space, ranging from partnerships – Microsoft (MSFT) and Nokia - to stories of market darlings imploding and struggling to survive with a fierce battle for #3 spot  (Interestingly, just this week, Blackberry board announced it is up for sale!). And if one were to draw a few lessons from the “history
1.    A few persistent – and lucky – entrepreneurs will not only survive and thrive but lead us to game changing innovations well after the bust: Amazon, Priceline, ebay are just a few examples
2.    Capturing hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and page hits was the currency of dot.com. Parallel to this in mobile space is the quest for cool-app with hundreds of thousands of downloads from an app store
3.    Innovation in the space continues much after the bust - Facebook, twitter, istagram all came much after the dot.com bust
4.    Corporate IT catches up with entrepreneurs. Though much of the tools techniques and technologies of web-enablement are now mainstream, architecting and developing scalable corporate E-commerce portals and integrating web applications with back-end systems continue to be the holy grail of software development. (my earlier blog on the topic). The parallel between eCommerce/dot.com era, circa 2000/2001, and the dynamics of mobile ecosystem is obvious. Corporate IT is getting over the novelty of mobile hype cycle and BYOD. However, most IS shops are just starting on the long journey of mobile enabling corporate applications. 
What does it mean to Enterprise Architects? Taking a Gartner’s PACE model view, organizations without a strong mobile strategy may be considering platforms to support mobility to be a System of Innovation (SOI), at least initially. After pilot and initial rollout, these may move to being yet another System of Differentiation (SOD) and eventually when the usage matures, System of Record (SOR). The implication is on several fronts including guiding investment, need for piloting and lining up architecturally significant use cases for mobility.
My response to my entrepreneur friend? follow the money. Vendors are already converging on platforms with three letter acronyms MDM, MDS, MADP etc etc. Mobile platforms are also converging around iOS, Android, Windows mobile and/or BlackBerry 10... and so is the application ecosystem. Which leads us to the opportunity: mobile enablement of corporate applications using standardized techniques. Entrepreneurs may be able to use the learnings and skills from mobile app development ventures and turn and "sell" those skills to corporate IS departments looking to mobile enable their application ecosystem.  
Larger SI vendors are already positioning practices around “mobile enablement,” while niche players showcase their agility and skills in the space. The opportunity is for System Integrators, large and small that can help seamless transition of corporate applications to mobile devices running on multiple platforms on “any” form factor.
Bottomline: Rewards from working with corporate IT may not be as instantaneous as developing the next-killer-app-netting-million-downloads but will certainly be lucrative, especially for those who can carve a niche in this dynamic space.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Musing on Agribusiness, Modern Agriculture and Enterprise Architecture

Friends, peers and former colleagues occasionally ask me what I do for a living and when I say Enterprise Architect, they raise they eyebrows. And when I say an EA for a multinational agribusiness firm, eyes begin to glaze over.
My journey into the complex and fascinating business of modern agriculture started a little more than a year-and-half ago when I took on a role of Enterprise Architect with a multinational Agribusiness company. In my previous consultant roles, I was well aware of the intricacies of EA, trained and certified in one of the popular methodologies used in the industry (TOGAF). In a sense, I had a broad understanding of the practice and application of EA. I was, however, removed from the intricacies of the business of my employer, agribusiness.

Learning about the “business” is critical for Enterprise Architects given the role we play in bridging the IT-business divide. It also helps that my employer prods employees to gain insights on our business of Modern Agriculture. One such recent program was the campaign to complete the Masters of Modern Agriculture through CLA, which prompted me to reflect on my journey thus far.

As is to be expected, many executives and business and functional leaders here have a farming or agriculture background. One could argue many of us – even urbane city dwellers - are not too far removed from agriculture perhaps with just one or two degrees of separation from agriculture.

Think of farmers and farming and one might visualize the quaint old man in a turban in a paddy field in India or the frail farmer tilling a dry plot of land in sub-Saharan Africa or the tall guy in wrangler jeans and cowboy hat standing next to a lush corn field somewhere in Iowa or Mid-western United States. Though I grew up an urban kid, and mostly lived in larger metros in India, my link to agriculture in childhood began when we would visit my dad’s ancestral town in Tamil Nadu for summer vacations, a trip that would include trek to the lush paddy fields that his brother and extended family managed. Family discussions during such get-together would revolve around vagaries of nature, monsoon, labor shortage and the like, though I recall very little discussions on agronomy or the business of modern agriculture as western farmers know it.

That image of farmer extended to that of a “grower” after I joined my employer. Perhaps because farming and agriculture is a vocation, engaging with Mother Nature. And for most, if not all farmers, even for subsistence farmers, growing is a “business.” Even subsistence farmers aspire to eke out a bit more out of the land that they can barter for other life’s necessities.

Farming: Business, government and society

Policy makers and governments around the globe struggle with “food security” issue, feeding 7-8 billion people with limited resources that Mother Nature provides. Some of the answers lie in the judicious use of science and technology to aid modern agriculture including use of “sustainable agriculture” techniques, chemicals – fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides – and genetically modified and hybrid variety seeds that can ensure greater, consistent crop yields on limited land and resources available for agriculture. And this is where the business of agriculture step in.

Agri-business value chain is complex, and includes “input companies,” like my employer that are engaged in the business of research, manufacture and supply of crop-protection chemicals – pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides - as well as biotechnology products, seeds including genetically modified, specialty breeding etc etc. Though this could be lifted out of a ag-biz promotional brochure, the goal is simple:
  • Maximize yield for the grower and minimize risk of loss from pests, weeds etc 
  • Enable sustainable farming with minimum resources – land, water, labor etc – at our disposal
All this to what end? Feeding the ever growing human population. And what you won’t always see in agbiz brochures is the increasing theme of enabling sustainable bio energy, ethanol and bio fuels!
Farming and Technologies

Twenty-first century agriculture is much more sophisticated and technology driven than most of us realize. On one hand we have large industrial scale mega-farms that use of GPS, automated Chemigation and irrigation systems, water pivots, genetically modified and hybrid variety seeds, sensors and drones and satellite images to monitor crops. On the other hand, we also have small subsistence farms like those prevalent in much of Asia and Africa where millions of farmers subsist on extremely small land holding. And in between the two extreme, we have all varieties of farmers including Ogranic farms, serving niche markets.

Enterprise Architects multinational agri-business firms, just like our peers in other businesses have to continue to focus on BDAT dimensions with the firm goal of aligning IS investments with business drivers. A sampling of architecturally significant use cases:
  • Supply chain: complex forecasting, demand planning manufacture, production, distribution of seeds and chemical products. Of course, some of this has an added business twist. The production of parent seeds is also impacted to a large extent by the issues our growers face: vagaries of Mother Nature. The supply chain of agro-chemicals is highly regulated by federal, state and local authorities, with an increasing focus on security. 
  • Partner integration: An agbiz company like most large multinationals has to integrate with partners, suppliers, vendors and others to ensure seamless interchange of data and information. 
  • Enabling Research and Development (R&D): In this business, a new product can take nearly 10 years from ideation in research to getting to market with a series of complex steps in between. Emerging technologies including analytics, big data management, high performance compute are increasingly being adopted to enable accurate, faster time to market. 
  • Thinking of future of farming includes scanning horizon to bring in newer technologies. This includes enabling complex agronomics enabled by timely information and data. Emerging thinking includes Digital Farming, Precision Agriculture, use of GPS, satellites and drones – enabling “use” of data. All of it targeted to provide actionable insights to end users, (in this case) here the grower.
Just my two cents and by no means a comprehensive list of the critical role of Information Technology plays in managing the complexities of agribusiness. And somewhere there comes to critical task of defining the blueprint for Enterprise Architecture that streamlines the process of bringing new techniques to the vocation of agriculture.

Links of interest

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Transformational Outsourcing: Maximize Value From IT Outsourcing

Review of Sanjay Chadha's Transformational Outsourcing: Maximize Value From IT Outsourcing :

During a recent scan on the sourcing landscape, I came across Sanjay's book which takes a good view from the buy side of sourcing though it also considers the selling (outsourcing vendor's) perspective too.

The book starts with an overview of outsourcing models and terminology, a good primer for those new to the industry and a handy reference for rest of us. The section on outsourcing strategy has good insights and planning inputs helpful for sourcing managers. Likewise, the outsourcing design section is a primer on key design aspects.

The book made me reflect on the maturing of IT sourcing, especially offshoring. The author continually weaves traditional IT outsourcing best practices - that have been honed by industry experts over the past few decades - with offshore outsourcing techniques that have emerged in the past decade or so. Rightfully so since offshoring is now an integral part of IT sourcing and there is little distinction between the two. Pure play outsourcers who don't offshore some if not much of the work are a really small

Repost from Amazon review Technorati tag : Books

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is my wristwatch destined to go the way of Indian Telegraph?

Last week I had my battery replaced on my 10-year-old Swiss-army wristwatch and within a few days, it stopped working. Since then I have been walking around watchless. I continue to instinctively look at my bare wrist when I have the urge to tell time only to resort to pulling out my smartphone or look around to see if there are wall clocks nearby and sometimes resort to sneaking a peek at a passerby’s wrist watch.

(image: BBC)

I should perhaps take a lesson from the strategists in India who finally decided to pull the plug on Telegraphs (wsj blog). Just a few similarities between wrist-watches and Telegraphs:
  • Wrist watches and telegraphs are just things we grew up with, accepting them as an integral part of our lives 
  • Both have been subsumed by other technologies. Cellphones/smartphones which we all carry can also tell time. Technologies like SMS, cellphones and ubiquitous emails have long superseded most if not all the need for telegraphs. 
  • Just as in case of telegraphs where habits or nostalgia kept the system alive thus far, most (if not all) men who grew up with wrist watches continue to wear one. 
  • ROI on watches are not justifiable, just as they aren’t for Telegraphs. For instance, I go through new battery every year or couple of years. A $10/$15 “investment” to keep the lights on for a $200+ technology that has probably depreciated to 0 in the past 10 years since I got it
I have been meaning to go back to the mall and confront guy at the watch repair kiosk, assuming it is just a defective battery not a watch whose time had come. In the meantime, I continue to sit on the fence debating whether to pull the plug on my wrist watch.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Musing on US Citizenship and Edward Snowden saga

Following the Edward Snowden saga made me reflect on the power that governments have over citizen when it comes to asylum and citizenship, a power one cannot take very lightly.

Edward Snowden leaked US Government’s NSA secrets and has reportedly spent the past few weeks in a “transit zone” in Moscow. While there he has continually been in news applying for asylum for a slew of countries. In the meantime, the US government has revoked his passport and continues to pressure countries from granting asylum. (interesting list of countries where Snowden applied)

The saga also reminds one of the plight of Viktor Navorski, a character played by Tom Hanks in the movie “The Terminal.” The film was supposedly based on a real life incident “The most famous transit-zone dweller was Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who stayed in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport for 17 years, but he moved freely within the terminal. Some have noted that the film appears to be inspired by the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris from 1988 when his refugee papers were stolen until 2006 when he was hospitalized for unspecified ailments.” (wikipedia)

Play the Snowden saga against the immigration debate in America and one can see two sides of the coin emerge. One side are people like Snowden who willingly risk the privilege of American citizenship to make a point at the world stage. On the other side are millions who continue to make the trek to the land of opportunity, only to find they have to climb huge walls, sometimes literally and mostly walls of bureaucracy before they are granted the privilege Snowden is willingly relinquishing.

Few countries in the world are able and willing to offer asylum to someone wanted by big-brother. If anything, this saga shows the real might of America in the world stage.

Technorati tags: Edward Snowden, Immigration

Friday, June 28, 2013

Apple Designed in California! Does it matter if it was made in China (not USA)?

One cannot seem to miss Apple’s designed in California campaign this summer. It’s on TV commercials, a new film, web banner adverts and even double-page spread out in Wall Street Journal.  

Apple has long positioned the “designed in California” tag on its products but only now seems to be going to town with it. While the campaign sounds like a smart move by the tech giant to get consumers to look past the “made in china” label on iProducts, it is also a tacit acknowledgement of the reality of our times.  Chris Rawson blogs Many Americans, all the way up to the President himself, have wondered why Apple has outsourced virtually all of its manufacturing overseas. At a dinner with several top US technology executives last year, President Obama asked Steve Jobs flat out what it would take to bring those jobs back to the US. According to Jobs, there's simply no way for it to happen.

Globalized nature of business of manufacturing, supply chain and even consumerism means multinational firms find it hard (if not impossible) to manufacture in a region or country alone.  There was a time, not so long ago when "Made in USA" gave the perception that the product came with a stamp of quality. Similarly, other nations had their claim to fame: Swiss watches, cheese and chocolates, German engineering, Japanese electronics and cars and so on.  The stamp of provenience was more than a stamp of quality; it was a matter of regional or national pride

And then came the outsourcing wave with China taking the lead on manufacturing and assembling every product conceivable. And it is not just China as the recent Bangladesh clothing factory disasters brought to our attention. Offshoring IT Services to India and its impact on immigration and visas has been a hot button issue in western countries for much of the past decade.
Brand managers increasingly have very little claim to provenance or origin that they can attach to a product’s marketing. Which is probably why  those at Apple are trying to shift the focus from “made in” to “designed in.” On the surface this in itself sounds like a smart argument, a marketing coup if you will. Similar is the case with Blackberry’s claim of being a Canadian crown jewel Other firms following Apple’s marketing mantra include Noika's imitation: “Designed in Finland. Made in Korea” and the hip sneaker brand Vans claims to be "Designed in California."  
On the flip side, quintessentially Japanese car makers like Honda and Toyota are increasingly trying to look and sound American (ref: Toyota Camry beats Ford F-150 as most 'American made'). If Toyota were to start branding Toyota Camry as Designed in Fuji Technical Center, made in USA, would that stick?!
I wonder if this is why LA times is already calling “Apple's'Designed in California' TV ad flops with consumers