Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Adult diapers in India: Emerging business to meet a growing demand (Elder care)

I first heard about 'adult diapers' while reading an article about an astronaut's wife who drove from Texas to Florida non-stop. (link) She drove over 500 miles to confront a romantic rival. She was able to drive  considerable distance non-stop, without even a bathroom break aided by adult diapers. This tidbit was filed away in the back of my mind for years till the need for adult diapers hit home; literally.

A couple of years ago, my dad, who is suffering from Prostate cancer began to wet the bed at night frequently. We realized that the involuntary bedwetting while sleeping wasn’t healthy. It could lead to infections and other complications too. After exploring medical alternatives and therapy to control frequent urination, we decided to get him adult diapers.

Having that chat with a parent or adult who needs diapers 

It is not easy to have a conversation with an adult or senior-citizen who may obviously need an adult-diaper. While the symptoms of bed-wetting may be obvious, having the conversation can be awkward.

At some point, we realized that wearing an adult diapers was a medication-free alternative to his 'problem,' but convincing him was not easy.  After all, my dad, a proud Air Force veteran had refused to use a walking-stick even in his late seventies, till it became absolutely essential.  He would argue that an 'accident' was a one-off or that he would 'control' himself, but with persistence we were able to finally get him convinced.

I realized that we were not alone in this endeavor.  It is interesting how the term 'diapers' is itself a bit touchy, as a Wikipedia entry on the topic explains
“In the medical community, professionals are trained to use alternative terms such as "briefs" rather than "diapers" for the sake of dignity, as the term "diapers" is associated with children and therefore may have a negative connotation. In practice, though, most health care workers are accustomed to calling them diapers, especially those that resemble children's diapers.”

Market demand and supply 

I got the first few cartons of diapers for my dad while returning back from the US. The diapers I got in bulk from Sams-club were relatively inexpensive, but of rather good quality. At the time, my dad would go through one diaper a night. My brother, who lives in England also got a few cartons during his visit. After the initial stock of diapers got over, I realized that importing the diapers was neither practical nor sustainable, and I began to explore alternatives in the Indian market.

My brief research indicated that the market for adult diapers in India has really taken off as the aging and relatively affluent middle class continues to live longer.  A couple of other factors also drive this trend. A middle class that can afford to spend 40-50 rupees on 1 or 2 diapers a night, and is increasingly aware of its benefits and use. The topic of 'good quality and cheap' diapers is surprisingly common among the younger generation who are comfortable 'shopping' for it at pharmacies and online stores. Hiring full-time domestic help and caregivers in urban India can be relatively expensive. Use of diapers at night for senior citizen can be a viable alternative for some.

During the past year, I have shopped for a variety of adult diapers brands in the market. We tried unbranded diapers from local chemists, though we generally stuck with popular brands like Tena, Friends, Kare, Keane etc. My dad also tried several kinds of diapers including pant-style pullup diapers and the other velcro-enabled ones. We finally zeroed in on a couple of pull-up diapers that he used like an extended underwear at night and for hospital trips and outings.

Other Practical Applications of Adult-diapers

Adult diapers seem to have other practical applications to. For example, Astronauts wear trunklike diapers called "Maximum Absorbency Garments", or MAGs, during liftoff and landing. On space shuttle missions, each crew member receives three diapers—for launch, reentry and a spare in case reentry has to be waved off and tried later. (NASA)

The Wikipedia entry explains “The super-absorbent fabric used in disposable diapers, which can hold up to 400 times its weight, was developed so Apollo astronauts could stay on spacewalks and extra-vehicular activity for at least six hours.  Originally, only female astronauts would wear Maximum Absorbency Garments, as the collection devices used by men were unsuitable for women; however, reports of their comfort and effectiveness eventually convinced men to start wearing the diapers as well.”

Bottomline: With an aging population of an affluent middle-class, demand for this practical aid for adults  will continue to grow India. While senior-citizen are the primary consumers of adult-diaper, most of the shopping and research is done by the middle-generation (like self) or even tech savvy youngsters stepping in to help grandparents.

Articles on the topic:

A review of cottage industry around ‘elder care’ in India

During the past year, I have taken on the responsibility for caregiving for my elderly father and mother. My 80-year-old dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and Parkinsons, and needs help with his basic needs including care and feed. My mother, senior in age herself, was unable to manage the affairs at home. Therefore, my wife and I decided to move back to India to live with them.

I decided to hire a caregiver to assist with my father’s day-to-day needs. For about six months, we hired an elderly lady to help at night with dad’s diaper change and bath and breakfast next morning. For about a year, he was a bit mobile and was able to walk around with assistance. Towards the end of last year, his condition took a nosedive and he was bedridden. We decided to engage a full-time caregiver at home.

My experience in hiring and managing caregivers has given me some insight into the highly fragmented cottage industry around senior-care. The vast majority of elderly-caregiving in India, is still managed by family members. However, nuclear families like mine are realizing that they are ill-equipped to take on the complex chores involved in supporting aging parents while also managing their own lives and families.

These are my observations on my year-long journey of vetting, hiring and managing caregivers for an elderly gentleman in India.

Hiring a caregiver for an elderly? Define your requirements

Elders at home who need a caregiver are obviously going to be infirm and helpless. They may find it hard to acknowledge that they need help with caregiving. The senior citizen will generally not be in a position to define all their requirements.

In a reversal of roles, the younger members of the family take on the responsibility of vetting and hiring caregivers and supervising them.

Caregiving for the elderly requires a person with empathy who can manage - and sometimes challenge - the whimsical needs of frail elders. They also need the physical and emotional resilience to manage highly stressful situations; and sometimes pushback doting family members who might have their own demands.

If you happen to be responsible for caregiving, you should begin with a simple checklist based on your specific needs and commitments that may include
  • Help with basic care and feeding of the senior citizen
  • Help with bathing or sponge bath and a change of clothing and general hygiene (e.g to prevent bedsores if the person is bedridden)
  • Change of diapers and cleanup, and fixing a catheter and urine bag as required
  • Administering medication and assistance with basic medical needs like a nebulizer or inhaler 
  • Generally keeping the environment clean and sterile to prevent infections
A checklist like this can be handy while vetting and hiring a caregiver since you will have to guide her/him with your specific needs during the initial days after they join your family.

A good caregiver can certainly help with basic needs, including feeding, bathing, toilet and other requirements of the elder. However, I realized that even engaging a full-time caregiver does not let a family abdicate its responsibilities that can include managing the logistics. For instance, I still have to manage the procurement and administration of medicines, medical supplies and other sundry needs.

My wife and mother manage the domestic chores at home, that now include care and feed for my father and also the needs of the caregiver. After all, a full-time caregiver becomes an extended member of the family, and will have their needs.

The cottage industry around caregiving for elders

The caregiving needs of home-care in India is unique since the middle-class families are increasingly fragmented and nuclear, and elders try to live and manage on their own till they are unable to. The concept of old-age-homes and senior living is still at a very nascent stage and is generally not tailored for the infirm and bedridden elders. Elders generally fallback on family at their hour of need.

Given the unique needs of the Indian middle class, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in this sector. Most caregivers are either individuals or small ‘agencies’ employing a few people who get clients via word-of-mouth referrals.  Unlike other menial services – like hiring servants or cleaners - caregiving for the elderly and infirm is a highly personalized affair. The needs can range from simple care-and-feed to more unique care depending on medical and other health-related conditions.

Caricature of Dad's caregiver - by our son Vijay

Caregivers in India are generally independent contractors who work for small-time agents. A few elder-care ‘chains’ like Portea are also trying to grow in this market by hiring and training caregivers and might include other ‘packages’ like service of nurses and doctor home visits.

There are some vocations like nursing and caregiving that require people with a certain even temperament who can step up and care for the needy and helpless. Caregiving is a service job that requires minimal training. As there are no requirements for training or education, the barriers to entry are low.

For a manual-job, with minimal medical skills, caregiving pays reasonably well. The current rate for a live-in caregiver in large cities like Bangalore ranges from 20-25,000 rupees a month; and about 14-16,000 for a day or night-shift. The ‘agency’ keeps a percentage of this amount as a fee and pays the caregivers about 10-12,000 rupees a month. Of course, the price I am quoting (circa 2018) is a ballpark and is generally open to negotiation based on one’s specific requirements and location where you live.

Hiring Caregivers: Lessons and tips: You can’t abdicate your responsibilities  

If you are hiring a live-in caregiver, you will also have to plan for other basic logistics like a living area for the caregiver and the elderly so that it doesn’t intrude into the day-to-day activities for the rest of the family. We are fortunate to be living in a house with a spare room with an attached bathroom that we have dedicated for my bedridden father and the caregiver, Andy. I arranged for a TV and some bedding for Andy and he was all-set.

By hiring a caregiver, you are essentially ‘outsourcing’ your day-to-day responsibilities. And like any outsourcing contract, you may delegate, but will have to retain administrative control. A caregiver can be expected to help with the basic needs of the senior-citizen, but will also require some active monitoring. You should also be willing to step in when required. For example, a senior’s health may not follow a steady trajectory and one must be around to understand the day-to-day changes and step-in and seek medical help when required.

Andy, the caregiver, we had hired for a small-agency, was from Manipur and had decided to travel back to his hometown for Christmas. His reasoning was simple: he had spent the past four years in Bangalore working for the agency and needed a break. He and I knew that he was probably not going to come back, but my mother had become very dependent on Andy. The agency promised a replacement a month in advance, but the transition to the new caregiver, Wyisng, wasn’t seamless.

The agent said he had identified Wyisng, who was coming out of another contract, but couldn’t ‘hold’ and house him till Andy was relieved; would we be okay to have two people living with us till Andy left on his vacation? My mother was distraught and confused that she would have to depend on yet another person to help with caregiving for my father.  I weighed my options and said we couldn’t accommodate two more people at home. I asked the agent to house the new guy till Andy was ready to leave. This is just a small example of a ‘firefighting’ I couldn’t have done if I had delegated the caregiving remotely.

The lesson here is simple: Vetting and hiring a good caregiver can certainly help with the basic needs of the elderly, but others in the family need to continually chip-in. A caregiver also needs to be continually monitored.

Dad's caregiver Wysing

Friday, January 26, 2018

26th January - Lalbagh flower show 2018

One of the must-do things for folks in Bengaluru is the Lalbagh flower show.  Form karnataka.com: 
"Every year on Independence Day and Republic day, flower shows are organized at the Lalbagh Botanical Garden. The event is jointly organized by Department of Horticulture and Mysore Horticulture Society, this flower show has been one of the most awaited events in the Garden City."
At the center of the 207th show this year is a 15-feet floral tribute to the legend of Bahubali, and the historic Glass House itself has been turned into a mini Shravanabelagola. A few pictures from our visit on the 26th follow

The life size Gomateshwara Mahamastakabhisheka left a fair share of schoolgirls giggling, but hopefully enlightened.

The Ramayana Theme was well depicted with a garden and flowers.

Flowers everywhere to feast one's eyes

What's an outing without a few family selfies !

Getting there: Drove down to Mantri mall near Malleshwaram and parked our car. Took the Metro from Mantri station to Lalbagh. Walked from West gate to the Glass house area.

Lalbagh is a 240 acres garden and is located in south Bengaluru. Lalbagh was started as an orchard in the Bangalore Fort by Hyder Ali in the 1760s, something his son Tipu Sultan further developed by introducing native and exotic species of flowers from Europe. Extensive development work in the lung space, however, started in 1874 when John Cameron took over as superintendent. At the turn of the 19th century, Lalbagh expanded from its original 45 acres to 100 acres. Cameron constructed the Glass House in 1889 and also started commercial cultivation of fruits. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

What is a Bandh, and Why do citizen of modern India continue with the practice?

If you happen to live in the Indian Silicon Valley of Bengaluru, you will be aware of a "Karnataka bandh" declared today (25th Jan 2018).

If you work for a major tech company, you perhaps informed your clients and global counterparts that although tomorrow – the 26th January – happens to be a national holiday on account of the Indian republic day, the company has also decided to shutter operations for the day.

Your will probably take an extract of a Wikipedia entry to respond to the question  “So, what is a bandh?”
Bandh is a form of protest used by political activists in South Asian countries such as India and Nepal. It is similar to a general strike. During a bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike. The community or political party declaring a bandh expects the general public to stay at home and not report for work. Most affected are shopkeepers, who are expected to keep their shops closed, as well as public transport operators of buses and cabs who are expected to stay off the road and not carry passengers. There have been instances when large metropolitan cities have been brought to a standstill.

Indians take pride in how the country is modernizing and globalizing. However, Indians seem to accept the archaic practice of ‘Bundh’ used by powerful politicians to paralyze civic and commercial activities to score political points.

Image from https://twitter.com/ndtv/status/956363289792995329

Growing up in Bangalore in the eighties and nineties, I had got accustomed to periodic "Cauvery Bundh" over the sharing of water from the river that flows from Karnataka to the rice bowl in neighboring Tamil Nadu. The agitations and Bundhs would be more frequent and widespread during drought years or when ‘tribunals’ passed orders adjudicating water sharing agreements. Tamil speaking minorities living in southern regions of Karnataka would occasionally be targeted and buses and cars bearing ‘TN’ license plates would be brunt to get on front page.

Fast forward to 2018 when the mere murmur of a Bandh sends head-honcos at Infosys, Wipro and other tech giants to fall in line and announce shutting the doors. (ref: Information Technology majors Infosys and Wipro are among those suspending operations on Thursday in view of the Karnataka bandh call). Of course, you can’t fault them for focusing on ‘safety first.’ A bandh doesn’t affect fat-cat businesses with high-margins alone; the real sufferers are daily-wage earners, small-businesses vendors and hawkers who are not allowed to eke out a living and lose a day’s wage.

Organizing a bandh: top down and bottom-up

Having lived and worked in a dozen countries across three continents during the past two decades, I am morbidly fascinated by the grassroots mobilization capabilities of Bundh organizers. It takes considerable resources and money to hire and motivate local political activists in subdivisions across a major metropolis, who in turn engage ‘muscle men’ to walk around or ride around in bikes and cars ‘enforcing’ the dictates of their political bosses.

The local hired-guns may not know or care much about the issues triggering a bandh, but will enforce it because they are asked and are being paid to do so.

Of course, not all Bandh work with the same level of severity, and enforcement varies for local, partial-bundh to “total” ones that can impact major metros like the “Karnataka Bundh of 2018” is impacting folks in Bangalore.

Why do modern Indians tolerate this medieval practice of venting political frustrations?

We are seeing a demographic shift in India, with nearly 40 per cent of the Indian population between 13 to 35 years. Urban youth are increasingly educated and tech-savvy. However, none of this seems to matter when it comes to aping the culture of bandh.

In a cricket loving nation, the Cricketing star Virat Kohli’s tweet today succinctly summarizes the frustration of a section of the intelligentsia:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

In Modern India, it takes a village … to care for an elder

A while ago, my wife and I decided to move back to India to care for my aging parents. (ref blog: Life lessons on relocating to India: Six lessons from a six year old). This blog has my continuing musings on the topic of elder care in India.

Many of us take on the responsibility for parents and family members when they age. About a year ago my wife and I moved back from the US to take care of my aging parents. In the year gone by, I have been reflecting on my experiences with the growing cottage industry around elder-care in urban India.

A generation or two ago, it was quite common for joint families – three or even four– generations to live together. One would frequently come across middle class families with grandparents living with uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings with their kids. In many cases, the families would live in a large house, under one roof or in a compound with conjoint units.

Festivals and celebrations would be a joint affair, and there was an informal division of labor when it came to household chores. Some finances, resources and effort would be pooled in without much thought or effort since it was the norm and expected. The communal process was also designed to provide for care and support of children and elderly in the family. Even when families didn’t live together under one roof, they lived in close proximity – perhaps the same village or town – giving them a sense of belonging and being there for each other.

Demographic shift: two sides of a shifting coin

India is certainly a youthful country with a large population. With over 350 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population; and over 70 percent of Indian population is under 35 years. Thanks to improved access to medical care and increased affluence of the population, the life expectancy of senior citizen in the country continues to rise. Many seniors are also living well into their eighties and nineties, which bodes well for elders if the earlier social support model had continued.

Image result for old age india

In the past couple of decades, the Indian society has transformed. Rapid and widespread urbanization, migration of population from villages to cities, and emigration of the younger generation to western countries has changed the social fabric considerably. Younger generation of Indians are increasingly aping western model of independence and self reliance, leaving home as soon as they are ready for college, and then continuing to pursue their jobs and careers wherever opportunities beacon.  
The logistics and expectations of senior care in India, however, has not kept pace with the change in the society. 

In the west, the fragmenting of joint families was accompanied by an emergence of senior-care system across a wide spectrum. Care giving for seniors is a serious and lucrative business. Organizations and entrepreneurs provide services ranging from senior living apartments and condos, assisted living homes to a network of hospice and terminal care systems. This has led to a large network of service providers focused on various aspects of home-healthcare to meet medical and caregiving needs. These facilities are designed to accommodate people from across social, economic and demographic segments.

Senior citizen in the west willingly – or sometimes goaded by family members – move from one stage of elder-care to the next as their physical faculties and abilities change as they age. Such changes are generally accompanied by downsizing of one’s house, assets and other amenities of life. 
One can argue that much of the senior-care is ‘outsourced’ without emotions and encumbrance by family members. The society has begun to accept this as a norm and people begin saving for their own retirement and old-age. In some western countries, personal savings are supplemented by an advanced system of social security that comes handy for a variety of senior needs.

Emergence of old-age care in India

Young, Indian nuclear families who opt to live away from extended families and hometowns still feel obligated to support their elders but are unable or unwilling to take on such responsibilities that might weigh down their lives and careers. As the society transforms, the Indian middle class is beginning to explore a wider range of elder-care facilities to accommodate their eclectic needs. This translates to an increased demand for elder-care and home-care services.

Old age homes, that in earlier generations were the last refuge for poor and destitute are starting to transform. Many “old age” homes are being designed to cater to the needs and desires of the urbane, affluent middle class and also the needs of the NRI community. Some of them advertise modern amenities, 24-hour care and security along with communal facilities including access to nursing and medical care. Some facilities in larger cities also advertise “elder day care” where one can drop off elders during the day to engage and entertain with fellow seniors.

Builders and property developers are beginning to capitalize on this opportunity to develop flats and communities for ‘senior living.’  The sweet-spot is the relatively affluent class of empty nesters and newly retired senior citizen in their sixties who are looking to downsize from their flats and villas to planned senior communities.

Such planned senior-living communities and old-age homes address only a small segment of the needs, especially since senior citizen have unique health and other challenges. Much as we desire to maintain good health as long as we live, nature and age takes its toll. No two seniors age in the same way. Disease ranging from benign aches and pains and temporary loss of memory to more serious cancers can derail the best laid retirement plans.  Ailments that incapacitate and cripple elders can be excruciating. Such a crippling of physical faculties can affect the morale of the elders, while also draining the energy and resources of the families that unwittingly get sucked into the role of caregivers.

My father, a proud veteran of the Indian Air Force enjoyed a relatively good health well into his seventies after retiring from service. He and my mother enjoyed their golden years living alone in an independent house and frequently traveled to temple towns across South India. All this slowed down after my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer – in itself not a life-threatening condition. However, in quick succession he was also diagnosed with Parkinsons, that began impacting his motor skills and physical movements. While he was mobile and active during the day, he needed help with diaper change at night and to escort him for his morning walks. After a few phone calls and quick research, I engaged a caregiver from an independent agent who had provided a similar service for a relative’s family.

The middle-aged lady, Kamala, would come at around 8 in the evening and spend the night at home and after the morning walk and breakfast with dad, would leave. Her temperament was well balanced and she brought in a rich background in caregiving from her previous experiences. This setup continued for about a year, before my dads’ condition abruptly took a nosedive after a mild stroke, when he was hospitalized. After a few weeks in the hospital, he was discharged and advised homecare where he continued to be bedridden.

We realized that the night-caregiver wouldn’t be sufficient and that Kamala alone wouldn’t be able to manage my father’s advanced needs. After additional word-of-mouth research, I decided to engage a live-in caregiver from another small organization managed by ex-servicemen.  

A good caregiver can certainly help with basic needs including feeding, bathing, toilet and other requirements of the elder. However, I realized that even engaging a full-time caregiver does not let a family abdicate its responsibilities that can include managing the logistics. For instance, I still have to manage the procurement and administration of medicines, medical supplies and other sundry needs. My wife and mother manage the domestic chores that now include care and feed for my father and also the needs of the caregiver. After all, a full-time caregiver becomes an extended member of the family, and also has needs to be cared for. 

Cottage industry around Senior care

My experience in hiring and managing caregivers has given me some insight into the highly fragmented cottage industry around senior-care. The vast majority of elderly-caregiving in India, is still managed by family members. However, nuclear families like mine are realizing that they are ill-equipped to take on the complex chores involved in supporting aging parents while also managing their own lives and families. 

Given the unique needs of home-care in India, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in this sector. Most caregivers are either individuals or small ‘agencies’ employing a few people who get clients via word-of-mouth referrals.  Unlike most other menial services, caregiving for the elderly and infirm is a highly personalized affair. The needs can range from simple care-and-feed to more unique care depending on medical and other health-related conditions. This requires a person with empathy who can manage - and sometimes challenge - the whimsical needs of frail elders. They also need the physical and emotional resilience to manage highly stressful situations; and sometimes pushback doting family members who might have their own demands.

Other small businesses are also emerging in this segment, offering a variety of services. Some organizations offer home visits by nurses and doctors while others offer in-home visit by lab-technicians for blood and other sample collections. Many ecommerce ventures offer online ordering of drugs, medicines and other medical supplies needed for in-home caregiving.

Bottomline: The newer generation of elders, caught between rapid urbanization and prevalence of nuclear families is realizing that they need to be more involved in planning for their own sunset years and many not have the social support previous generations enjoyed. However, without an advanced network of providers catering to needs of seniors, those who can, still fall back on their families. It still takes a village to care for an elder; though an increasingly affluent middle-class has to pay for the village!

Enterprise Architecture 101: Should Enterprise Architects Offshore re-brand themselves as General Managers*?

During the past few months, I spent some time coaching and mentoring Architects working at offshore development centers. A perennial challenge highlighted by Architects is the lack of 'global exposure' and stakeholder engagement. This is not surprising since much of the IS services – both at captive centers and IT firms – are focused on IS and business services for the global operations of their organizations or clients' business units.
The role of EA in offshore centers can be nebulous, especially in organizations where they lack frequent interactions with a wider group of functional stakeholders. Most of the EAs day-to-day activities focus on servicing requirements from clients or their global teams. In larger organizations, they try to ensure alignment of BIDAT aspects with their global counterparts, but such engagement generally adds a degree of abstraction from their end-users and clients. I am making a couple of broad assumptions here:
  • Assumption 1: Architects in many organizations have a hard enough time engaging with business stakeholders; more so for EA's in captive and offshore centers who work with their counterparts or other client facing business partners for such engagement.
  • Assumption 2: The bulk of an Architect's time and effort is spent on ensuring solutions are delivered in accordance with agreed principles and guidelines.
Visible aspects of "strategy realization," i.e. engaging in business funded programs and projects is where most Architects demonstrate value. They do this by reconciling roadmaps across functional and technical domains (link). Well defined roadmaps take into account the existing application platforms, infrastructure and processes. Architects also ensure that roadmaps focus on technology enablers, including Non-Functional Requirements (NFR), Integration principles, Data and analytics that will underpin successful digitization.

Follow the money : EA as a General Manager

Successful Enterprise Architecture teams try to ensure stronger Architecture governance by embedding it with the portfolio governance processes. While Roadmaps, Architectural artifacts and solution designs are important, it is equally important for these artifacts to be aligned with platforms and solutions being delivered to clients. After all, the clients and business stakeholders pay for a well functioning solution and not for the 'Architecture' and artifacts alone.
In many organizations, especially among the offshore delivery teams, the term 'Enterprise Architect' is loosely used to denote a senior technical or delivery lead. Therefore, it may make sense to take on the responsibilities and title of a 'General Manager.' Not only does it sound more operational, but in some cultures and organization the title may enable one to engage in broader aspects of Enterprise Architecture, that goes beyond typical 'solution design' activities, and may include:
  • Influence and enhance daily operations of the business unit or organization
  • Define and track Key performance indicators (KPIs) for a group or division and ensure 'profitability.' Tracking such KPIs and profitability may help influence specific organizational needs.
  • Engage with external vendors and wider group of stakeholders on broader organizational strategic planning activities.
  • Communicate strategy and results of strategy realization.
In many organizations, Enterprise Architects seem to have a hard time explaining the title and their role and responsibilities to stakeholders. Aligning the role with a title like 'General Manager' should bring them closer to the operational aspects of business, while continuing to influence strategy realization. This will not only enable them to gain credibility with their functional counterparts, but also engage in business funded initiatives they can influence. 
* There is another unintended, practical benefit here too: in large organizations with matrixed reporting structures, 'titles' still matter (even though the HR would like us to believe they are 'flattening' the organization.). In a few organization I have seen my counterparts include titles like "Director, Enterprise Architect" or "Vice President, Head of Architecture," therefore extending the title to include "General Manager" may be the logical next step too. 

Thanks for reading! Please click, Like, Share, Tweet or Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted on my Linkedin blog

Monday, January 15, 2018

Nandi Hills - A day trip out of Bengaluru

A day trip to Nandi-Hills is a perennial favorite for Bangaloreans. I had been  there several times during my school and college days and decided to take little Vijay for a summer day-trip.

About Nandi Hills (Wikipedia) or Nandi betta (Anglicised forms include Nandidurg and Nandydoorg) is an ancient hill fortress in southern India, in the Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka state. It is 10 km from Chickballapur town and approximately 60 km from the city of Bengaluru. The hills are nestled near the town of Nandi. In traditional belief, the hills are the origin of the Arkavathy river.

Our visit : 22 April 2017

Mode of transport: One can drive down from Bangalore or take a bus. We decided to avoid driving and took the KSRTC bus from Bangalore. Direct bus from KBS to the top of hill leaves at 8 AM and if you miss it, you can take a bus to Chikkaballapur from where there are frequent buses to Nandi Hills.

Tips: Whether you drive or take a bus, you may have to walk a few kilometers (up the stairs along the hilloc); be prepared.  Not many food outlets on the hill. A couple of shops near the bus stop sell Chips, snacks and ice cream.

A few pictures from our visit 

Father and Son

Walking Trail up the hill

Get closer to Nature

And a selfie with Suja

The only eatery on the hill: near the bus-stop

Note to self: The area around the Nandi-Hills are getting commercialized. Lot of builders and developers have taken over pristine farmlands and converted them into plots, some of which are being sold as 'hill view.' I am not sure who would want to live 60-kilometers from Bangalore in an area that is yet to develop but I guess those investing are doing so for the 'future' Caveat emptor; buyer beware. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Aadhaar, a Unique ID for a Billion people: is it time to fall behind and move forward ?

Among the first documents you will have to acquire after you happen to migrate to the US or Canada is a Social Security/Insurance Number (SSN or SIN). This number is required for almost every public transaction starting from employment verification, payroll and taxes, engaging with financial institutions, banks and other businesses.

You will need the nine-digit number to apply for a driver’s license. Your landlord will ask for it to do a background check before renting you an apartment. Same goes for a bank or financial institution you wish to transact with. Although its primary purpose is to track individuals for Social Security purposes, the SSN has become a de facto national identification number in America for taxation and other purposes.

If like me, if you happen to be a returning-NRI, the similarity between the ubiquitous use of an SSN and Aadhaar in India will be striking. An Aadhaar card with a picture and bio-metric data takes it a step further from the SSN card.

After returning to India last year, my wife, son and I had to apply for an Aadhaar; and the application process was almost effortless. (link) We walked into a local ‘Bangalore one’ center with a couple of required documents and in about half-hour had completed the process. I got an SMS a few weeks later stating that our application had been approved, and received the card by post a few weeks after that.

Image result for aadhaar

Prior to migrating out of India, I had a PAN card, and a driving license, but it seems that for all practical purposes, an Aadhaar has become the de facto 'government id' document to have.

Identity for a billion people 

Growing up in India in the seventies and eighties, I remember the hoops the common-man used to jump through to acquire a government issued id. Ration cards were coveted documents issued selectively since they gave the holder the privilege of subsidized food-grains, rice, wheat, sugar, kerosene etc. PAN cards were the domain of the salaried class – primarily folks who paid income tax. Voter ID cards, driving licenses and other documents were selectively used by people who had access to them.

The common man neither had a permanent-roof over his head nor the documents to prove his residence and would spend a lifetime without a proof of identity.

On returning back to India recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pervasiveness of Aadhaar. Almost all urban residents from all walks of life seem to possess one. And those without it are slowly but steadily applying for it to ensure they can operate a bank account and continue to use a cellphone.

Of course, like many other digirati, I have also been following the controversy over Aadhaar and issues over privacy, though at times I am left wondering if all this is a storm in a teacup.

Privacy is a serious issue 

Citizens in western countries with SSN like systems are acutely aware of privacy issues surrounding digital identities and continue to address them. Identity theft happens at such a large scale that an entire industry has sprung up around “identity protection.” At periodic intervals, one reads of major security breaches at banks, financial institutions, retailers and other places of business. In 2017, sensitive personal information concerning 143 million American consumers with credit records was ‘exposed’ in a massive data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

News of the breach led to a lot of outcry and congressional inquiries. While residents question the potential misuse and security breaches, the use of SSN as an individual’s primary source of identity is institutionalized and generally goes unquestioned.

Residents who want to deal with government agencies, financial and private organizations generally don’t have an option but to use the number. Technically, like an Aadhaar, the use of an SSN for nongovernmental transactions is voluntary, but guess how many Americans will risk turning down a loan offer, or a job just because they don’t wish, or are afraid to share their Social Security Number? Not as many as you think.

Issues surrounding privacy, and use of data certainly raises questions that policy makers need to address. A cross-section of Indians, however, seem to be finding fundamental issues with Aadhaar and the policies surrounding its implementation. As per media accounts, a number of petitions pending before the Indian supreme court include:
  • Petitions against making Aadhaar mandatory for social welfare schemes: Shantha Sinha & Anr. v. Union of India (W.P. (C) 342/2017) 
  • Pan card and Income Tax (Section 139AA): Binoy Visman v. Union of India (WP(C) 247/2017) and S.G. Vombatkere & Anr. v. Union of India (W.P.(C) 277/2017) 
  • Infringement of Right to Privacy (Article 21): Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Another v. Union of India (WP(C) 494/2012
  • Aadhar Act passed as a Money Bill: Jairam Ramesh v. Union of India (W.P.(C) 231/2016)
Some are questioning if this is a ‘voluntary’ or ‘mandatory’ Unique ID issued to residents of the country. Again, drawing parallels with the American SSN, let us make a hypothetical argument that acquiring and using an Aadhaar is ‘voluntary.’ Even if one assumes the use of Aadhaar is voluntary but continues to be pervasive as a basic proof of identity, one wonders how many Indians will stand on principles alone and refuse to use the UID? Perhaps a minority of the intelligentsia, with those with the mean and resources to acquire an alternate ID – a passport or a PAN card will.

Time to move forward, not look back

It is hard to say if the government will address all the challenges surrounding Aadhaar but one thing is for sure: rolling back to a time before Aadhaar like UID for Indians is unthinkable.

In the twenty-first century, a country with over billion citizen needs a centralized Unique Identification (UID) for its citizen. We are better off agreeing on the need for the Unique Identification, and focus our energies in ensuring its judicious use, and add checks-and-balances to ensure a design for privacy surrounding digital identities.