--> Gill Blog: May 2004

Gill Blog

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Soothing Quality of Colour in the Case of Crisis

After settling down in a familiar environment after a productive trip, it's time to return to a familiar theme. When one thinks of an emergency recovery site, an image that might come to mind is that of a bunker, with concrete walls, sterile interiors and bare-bones amenities. Synstar, an Edinburgh-based company that specializes in devising IT risk management strategies for its clients has taken the notion of recovery sites to the next level, with, well colour and interiors, as described in this company press release:
"The intended to be welcoming, warm and calming. This has been achieved through the use of colours that have been proven by psychologists to help people adjust more quickly to their new surroundings and become productive more immediately than other recovery centres allow"
If this indeed proves successful, look for this to prompt other significant players within the space to follow suit with a fresh emphasis on interior ergonomics. One might suspect that free non-fat lattes and biscottis couldn't be that far behind.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

On the Way Home With Lots to Discuss

Just left India yesterday, and I currently find myself in the midst of a 36-hour stop in the Netherlands. This India story is much much bigger than I anticipated. There is so much information to pass on that I just can't do justice to even beginning to talk about the information that was gathered. What I can say is this, I got a much more comprehensive picture of the story by being right in the midst of the action, and meeting with a truly amazing array of experts from a broad range of fields.

This list not only included IT and BPO-oriented firms, but I also received some valuable input from a prominent legal scholar (a former legal counsel for Indira Gandhi who has presided over much of the changes in the legal system that have taken place since economic liberalization), the managing director of the Indian operation of a global real estate services firm, multiple BPO operators who have set up shop in second tier cities, prominent participants in the financial sector, political analysts, as well as academics who have imparted their knowledge on how cultural and educational factors have fuelled what can only be called a breathtaking rise.

Can't wait to share with you what I found.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Battling to Maintain Objectivity in an Election Year

As the India trip winds down and I become better attuned to some of the basic realities of globalization, I can't help but see how sound policies can be impacted by the forces of election year politicing. Much to the suprise of many, India elected a new government yesterday in a campaign where some politicians have routinely resorted to promising free electricity if elected. In a country where the differences between haves and have nots has always been pronounced, it can be understood why some voters lacking formal education might buy into such ludicrous promises, but our basic hope about democracy is that those who cast ballots make somewhat informed decisons. Surely, we would expect that voters in the world's most advanced democracy would laugh at such rhetoric.

Unfortunately, expectations are not always realized. As the US election nears, politicing becomes crucial. Accordingly the messages conveyed and promises made start to take on a quality eerily similar to promises of free electricity. Let's continue with our outsourcing discussion and look at how the press is able to find ways that literally tug at the emotions of the voting public. Radio-Flyer, the Chicago-based manufacturer best known for it's production of the little red wagons we all seemed to own when we were kids, has announced it's shifting manufacturing operations from Chicago to China:
Outsourcing - the trend of businesses cutting costs by shipping U.S. jobs overseas - continues to be a red hot issue in Campaign 2004. As Treasury Secretary John Snow outlined his views in a Tuesday newspaper interview on creating jobs in the U.S., word spread that Radio Flyers will soon be made in China. Radio Flyer Inc., maker of the little red wagon that has been symbolic of childhood for generations of American children, said it will keep its headquarters and distribution business in Chicago but decided the Chicago plant where the metal wagons are built is too expensive to maintain. With the plant closing later this year, Radio Flyer will lay off nearly half its 90 employees.
Can there possibly be a better way to reinforce the evils of outsourcing than showing how dark foreign forces can steal away an American icon?

While the outsourcing debate reaches a fevered pitch, it is refreshing to come across items that actually present their own version of reality using hard statistics. This article in The Economist does an excellent job attacking each assertion point by point by using readily available data:
Despite strong productivity growth and an accelerating recovery from the recession of 2001 (the economy grew by an annual 4% in the fourth quarter of last year), jobs are being created at a feeble rate of 100,000 or so a month. The jeremiahs point out that a net total of 2.3m jobs have been lost since Mr Bush came to office. Although this date is often used as the starting-point from which to make a comparison, it is a silly one. In early 2001 the hangover effects from the investment boom of the late 1990s were only starting to be felt. Unemployment, at 4.2%, was unsustainably below the “natural” unemployment rate, consistent with stable inflation, that most economists put at around 5%. In other words, perhaps two-thirds of those 2.3m jobs were unsustainable “bubble” ones.
Despite the attempt to instill some reason and objectivity, don't expect the anti-outsourcing rhetoric to tone down until at least November.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Interrupting IBM's Announcement With More India Controversy

I was sitting here about to alert you to a piece I came across in Business Week introducing IBM's new Web-based software called Workplace. It seems IBM's platform is flexible, it hits the right note for the mobile worker and the timing is right on the money:
The IBM strategy isn't aimed at convincing corporations to tear out Microsoft software and replace it with something else. That's too risky a move for all but the most daring chief information officers. Instead, IBM plans on cohabitating with Microsoft on the desktop -- like a cousin from New York moving into your apartment in Seattle.
Interesting stuff indeed and very much in alignment with our workplace continuity initiative.

However, I couldn't help but notice this article in today's Economic Times about how the whole outsourcing saga is about to hit the big screen. Indeed, Santa Monica-based television producer Greg Spotts is working on his directorial debut "American Jobs" which provides a chronological look at the effect of outsourcing on American workers. My first reaction is that this might be a modern day spin on "", but beyond that, I will say that the phenomenon of pointing to places like India as the cause of the economy's woes is to say the least extraordinary.

After being in India now for almost a month, I have seen a place where outsourcing is just one of many businesses or segments that find themselves blossoming. I read in The Economist last week that if the U.S. were to cancel all outsourcing contracts to India, the cumulative effect on India's economy would barely register (somewhere in the order of 1-2%). I have a very good picture on the current state of affairs here in India, and remain convinced that moving some operational functions to places like India makes good sense for a number of reasons, including those related to business continuity. Stay close to this website, especially in the June to July timeframe, as a full analysis of the reality of India will be presented.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

IT Boom Creates Space Shortage in India

We firmly stand behind our contention that areas such as real estate, business continuity and outsourcing are strongly connected. India's certainly booming, but as the boom continues, pressure is exerted on the real estate sector. Specifically, with so much new demand and a supply that can't be instantly adjusted, supply shortages seem inevitable as demonstrated in this article in India's Economic Times:
Real estate consultants say that currently, India adds approximately 8-9 million sq ft of space, which can at best be increased to 11-12 m sq ft a year on a pan-India basis. Even if 80% of this supply is made available for the IT/ITeS sector, it falls way short of the projected demand of 20 m sq ft of real estate.
Imbedded within any problem, however, is an opportunity, and in this case, it seems clear that the doors seem wide open for foreign investment:
“Where this funding will come from is another worry,” says Balaji Rao, director, TCG Urban Infrastructure, suggesting that the opening up of foreign direct investment (FDI) for software parks and commercial complexes in India and capital market reform for real estate need could be important measures for the government to address at this stage.
Just one more thing to chew on when we turn our sights from regional to global.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Business As Usual in India - No Suprises Here

I last visited India four years ago as I was about to embark on what could best be described as a Beta version of a BPO project. I set strict limits on the duration of my stay – 10 days max - because I felt the need to remain connected to my central place of work. Any longer, I thought, and I'd seriously jeopardize my ability to remain in the swing of things. Today, I’m back again – but this time I’m here for more than four weeks ready to test my theory that in our connected world, our office can be virtually anywhere.

I'm not only here for client work, but to write about how to better connect the BPO phenomenon to workplace continuity. All the while, I will be continuing with three of the projects I have been working on. Part of the challenge is to see how well I can carry on with my normal activities while being on the other side of the world. So far, so good, as I can report things have been moving along as though I never left. Much of this has to do with how much our world has changed in such a small time.

Just how much has the landscape changed? Well, let’s start by considering this news item from the same year I made that stressful 10-day journey abroad. It’s in the form of a news summary and describes the release of a major research report discussing how organizations will change the way they use office space based on cutting edge innovations such as “hot-desking”, “hoteling”, and “home-working” (for more information about this paper, click here). The basic premise of the piece (sponsored by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) was to suggest the efficiency of physical office space could greatly improve if larger organizations implemented emerging offsite working trends:
“There is a totally new way of working today…people work in their cars, in the street, and in coffee bars, but a lot of organizations, particularly larger ones – do not appear to be formalizing this, or converting it into more flexible and efficient space management…Companies fail to use new working practices inclined to pack employees more tightly or buy more property – than introduce alternative working methods”
The basic notions posited in this early piece have not only confirmed that alternate working methods can redefine how office space is used, but in the process have created an entirely new definition of what office space is. Four years later, companies have adopted new models that decentralize operations through a network of geographically-dispersed offices and even outsourced arrangements to places like India – clearly, the inclination to pack employees in one location seems outdated. In fact, just the opposite seems to be holding true.

A recent article appearing in Business Week provided a sneak peak at tomorrow’s office, and suggests that as decentralization takes a firmer hold, companies become increasingly committed to creating a more livable working environment for their employees:
“As work becomes more decentralized, office building may change, too. Partly, that will happen as Generation Y…finds itself doing more and more collaboration to solve difficult problems. Thus, many companies are starting to enlarge and redesign common areas in office buildings so they’re more spacious and homey.”
The article also does a neat job in describing the new technologies on the near horizon engineered to support the remote office, as well as identifying the driving factors of the phenomenon.
“…the idea that an office is an enclosure with walls is already disappearing, thanks to technologies such as Wi-Fi, which provides high-speed access to a network or the Internet from any place a connected employee chooses to wander, be it down the hall, or to a café, airport or hotel.”
As these trends gain more acceptance (and in fact move from the realm of ‘trend’ to that of ‘standard operating procedure’), the workforce itself will trade briefcases and file folders in for an entirely new toolkit that aligns with the newly defined workplace.

Now if they could just do something to provide a quick-fix solution for this cursed time-zone difference and the jetlag that never seems to go away!