Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Should Startups Focus on Profitability or Not? by Mark Suster. “There is a healthy tension between profits & growth. To grow faster businesses need resources in today’s financial period to fund growth that may not come for 6 months to a year.”
  • Telecom Predictions for 2012: from Strand Consult. ” We believe the number of employees working for mobile operators around the world will decrease by between 5 and up to 20% in most countries.”
  • Solar Energy: Bright future in India (NYT), but business challenges globally (WSJ).
  • India’s Year of Drama and Stasis: by Sadanand Dhume in WSJ. “The middle class and investors are frustrated with India’s corrupt and inept politicians.”
  • The C in Congress: by Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “Perhaps the Congress is in love with the “C” in its name. Corruption was not enough. It had to become corrupt, casteist, communal and cynical. India’s tragedy is that there is no national level challenger to this party that is diminishing us all.”

Best of 2011: Politics

Best of 2011: Digital India

Following a tradition from 2008, 2009 and 2010, in this last week of the year, I am giving links to what I think where some of my better posts. I have categorised them into five topics: Digital India, Entrepreneurship, Politics, Personal and General.

Digital India

Blog Past: CSI Panel on Affordable Computing

I was on a CSI panel last November. Here is one of the points I made:

We need to set up computing infrastructure at key data collection and dissemination points.

Schools, Hospitals, Agricultural extension counters and Panchayats are the places where computing infrastructure needs to be set up. In schools, thin clients or network computers with content delivered from a local server can assist the teacher in ensuring the children get better education by making up for the lack of quality teaching staff across the country. In health and agriculture, connected computers can provide information access at the point where it is ended. Computers at panchayats can play a key role in ensuring availability of eGovernance services for citizens, as well as financial transparency on how money is being spent.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Marc Andressen 2012 Predictions: from cnet. “Most of the people in the world still don’t have a personal computer, whereas in three to five years, most people in the world will have a smartphone…. If you’ve got a smartphone, then I can build a business in any domain or category and serve you as a customer no matter where you are in the world in just gigantic numbers–in terms of billions of people.
  • 10 Tech Predictions for 2012: from WSJ. Amit Agarwal’s “top 10 predictions for the consumer technology scene in India next year.”
  • Biggest Questions of 2012: from Forbes India.
  • India not shining any more: by Ashok Malik in YaleGlobal. “India’s reversal on FDI in retail trade exposes weak governance that paralyzes global success.”
  • Sidney Awards by David Brooks: for the best magazine essays. Part 1 and Part 2.

Transforming India: Voting for Leaders

I have said this many times but it helps to repeat it: Leadership matters. No nation, no organisation has been built without strong leadership. In Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and China’s Deng Xiaoping, we have two examples of leaders in the Asian region who transformed their countries. In India, Vajpayee did many things right during the 1998-2004 period when he was in power. No leader is without his faults, and one can always criticise what they did. But the fact remains that they led from the front, took the hard decisions, and put their nations on a positive path of progress.

In India, we have seen first-hand what weak, split, unaccountable leadership can do in the past few years. We have to start thinking harder about the leadership issue going ahead. Instead of saying “I will vote for Party X in the Lok Sabha elections because I have always done so in the past”, we need to start looking at the leader and then decide the party we want to vote for. In other words, 2014 needs to become much more ‘Presidential’ (as in the US context) in India. That is what can create the wave and take India a step towards better governance.

For this to happen, it does not require 100% of the voting population to change their minds. If just 10% of us come together through a formation like United Voters of India, we can change the course of this country and play our role in Transforming India.

Transforming India: Right Leadership Matters

We tend to underestimate the importance of transformative leadership in politics and government in India simply because we haven’t seen much of it in our lifetimes. Mediocrity has ruled the roost, and we have all tried to build lives that don’t intersect with the government. But when decisions made (or not made) come to hurt us, if we are not going to step back and think about the leadership issue, then we have no right to complain about our future fate.

Thomas Friedman, writing in Sunday’s New York Times, called for leaders with the know-how and willingness to govern from the bottom up.

“As power shifts to individuals,” argues Dov Seidman, “leadership itself must shift with it — from coercive or motivational leadership that uses sticks or carrots to extract performance and allegiance out of people to inspirational leadership that inspires commitment and innovation and hope in people.”

The role of the leader now is to get the best of what is coming up from below and then meld it with a vision from above. Are you listening, Mr. Putin?

This kind of leadership is especially critical today, adds Seidman, “when people are creating a lot of ‘freedom from’ things — freedom from oppression or whatever system is in their way — but have not yet scaled the values and built the institutional frameworks that enable ‘freedom to’ — freedom to build a career, a business or a meaningful life.”

So, what does that mean in the Indian context?

Continued tomorrow.

Transforming India: Target 272 in 2014

Having watched how a single state chief minister like Mamata Banerjee with 18 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha can dictate what Bills the government can pass and with what provisos, it is quite clear we are now in a situation where we are only as good as what the smallest party in the government coalition decides.  Compounded with the fact that there are regular state elections to be fought and every caste, community and lobby has to be pleased, freebies, write-offs and quotas will be the norm.

I have reached the conclusion that the only way India is going to move forward faster is if a single party gets majority in the Lok Sabha. Only then will it be able to drive through legislation and the big decisions that India needs – including making government smaller and smarter. Until that happens, we have to be resigned to our fate. The UPA 2 had its opportunities in the first year of office, but it let that go in doing succession planning for 2014.

Winning 272 for the Congress is perhaps easier than the BJP simply because it contests more seats across the country. But given the mood of the nation, a Congress government with 272 in 2014 is unlikely to happen. Things could of course change, but the direction is downward, not upward. For the BJP to win 272, it needs to make 2014 into a “lamp-post” election by orchestrating a wave that will ensure it wins 4 of every 5 seats it contests. In other words, replicate what Jayalalithaa and Mamata did in 2011.

Is such a wave possible?

Continued tomorrow.

Transforming India: The Real Problem

TN Ninan, writing in Business Standard, put forth an analysis by Raghuram Rajan on the core issues which are at the heart of India’s challenges:

Delivering the third Business Standard lecture on Thursday night, Raghuram Rajan provided an interesting insight into the reason for high inflation in India. The professor of finance at Chicago, who is also an adviser to the Prime Minister, argued that productivity growth in Indian agriculture had been poor, so rural incomes were not growing fast enough. In its effort to deal with this, the government was pumping subsidies and income transfers into the countrywide, to put money in people’s pockets — which the recipients were spending. Since this expenditure was not matched by productivity growth, it was causing inflation.

…The bald truth is that half of India’s workforce toils in the fields to generate one-sixth of GDP….The way to even out the imbalance is to get people off the land, and into non-agricultural occupations….The answer to the problems of high inflation and slowing growth, and low farm incomes, would lie in addressing the basic reforms that India is still to attempt – like labour laws. Instead, we have a food security Bill that will create irrational incentives which end up threatening agriculture itself. Talk of committing hara-kiri.

Have you heard the Indian Prime Minister laying it out like this? Or for that matter anyone else in the government? Without an understanding of the real problems, the solutions we are going to come up with, as we have experienced in India with NREGA, will only make matters worse. The productive Middle India will continue, in the name of inclusive growth, to hand over money to rural India so that votebanks can be sustained, leading to what I think of as “perpetual planned poverty.”

Every sector in India has a right solution. But we aren’t even talking about it.

This is the trap we need to get out of.

Continued tomorrow.

Transforming India: Opportunities and Optimism Lost

We are in the last two weeks of the year. It has been a year wherein we have a slow ebbing of confidence on multiple fronts in the country. The economic indicators are a reflection not so much of the global state of affairs (however much our Finance Minister would want us to believe otherwise) as an outcome of decisions not taken and reforms not done within. For that reason, the year 2011 has been one where our optimism about the future abated as we lost opportunity after opportunity to put the country on a growth path for the future.

It is easy to say that the Prime Minister, being at the helm of affairs, is responsible. After all, he and his government would have taken credit had things gone right. If Time had a “Person of the Year” for India – one who for better or worse has made an impact – I am sure our Prime Minister would have definitely made it to the shortlist, if not headed it. As commentator after commentator has said, we need to go far back in memory to see such a pathetic government and state of governance at the Centre.

But is that all? Will just a change in Prime Minister solve India’s problems?

Continued tomorrow.

Blog Past: Business Monitoring Ideas

One of five ideas in a series I wrote a year ago:

An idea I have implemented recently in NetCore for some of the business lines is the concept of Projected Score and Required Run Rate. It borrows from the cricket ODI and T-20 matches. An example will help explain.

Let’s say in the first 10 days of the month, we have generated Rs 15L in revenue. Then, the Projected Score for the month is Rs 45L. Now, if the target for the month was 60L, then the Required Run Rate to achieve that is (60-15)/20 days left = Rs 2.25L, vs a Current Run Rate of 15L/10 = 1.5L.

These numbers monitored daily give more predictability to what one can achieve in the month, and also shows the gap between target and current run rate. Based on that, one also can get an idea of the push required to achieve the target.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Customer Lifetime Value Equation: from Knowledge@Wharton. “As software companies increasingly turn to subscription-based business models through cloud computing, CLV will become an even larger issue, according to Wharton experts.”
  • 4 Tech Trends for SMBs: from Information Week. On cloud, mobile and social.
  • William Buckley book review: from New York Times Books. On the rise of American Conservatism.
  • TIME’s Person of the Year 2011: The Protestor. “”Massive and effective street protest” was a global oxymoron until — suddenly, shockingly — starting exactly a year ago, it became the defining trope of our times. And the protester once again became a maker of history.”
  • Seeking a new set of political leaders: by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha. “There is a new lot of princelings waiting in the wings, but what most of them are lacking is solid administrative experience.”

A Night in a Temple

I spent a night in a Jain temple in Mehrauli. A colleague suggested this as a possible alternative to staying at some random hotel. Given that all I need to do is to sleep, I figured that this could be an interesting option. And so it was. Temples are a nice place to walk, pray and so some reflection – undisturbed and cocooned from the world outside.

The Jain temple in Dada Badi is built on quite  a large land area, and has excellent rooms as part of the dharamshala. I reached quite late at night, and left early morning, but that was enough to soak in the tranquility of the place.

National Rail Museum

In July en route to Binsar, I had visited the National Rail Museum in Delhi in Chanakyapuri. If you have kids who like trains, this is a must-see place. Of course, things can be done better, but it is a start. At that time, I could not visit the Souvenir Shop since we reached after it had closed.

On this trip, I made it a point to go check the shop. As I reached the museum, it was good to see buses with students entering and leaving. The shop itself can do with a major overhaul. They need to have many more models of trains – the few engines that are there are expensive and not for playing. I can imagine that kids would be big buyers if they created models of Rajdhani and other trains and engines that can be played with (moved) by hand.

I bought a Railway Atlas (Rs 520) for Abhishek — it has every station in India neatly placed on a map. Really good!

Delhi and Mumbai Roads

The overall infrastructure in Delhi has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade, especially the roads. Traffic moves smoothly for the most part, and the road surfacing is also quite good. The metro has also presumably helped take some traffic away from the roads. Now, if only numbering of buildings and homes can be done, so it should be possible to get to places without stopping and asking people! This is a universal problem in India.

Mumbai roads, by comparison, are quite pathetic. One Sea Link only ends up shifting bottleneck points. Mumbai needs to be ringed with roads in the sea – there isn’t enough space on land to do this. Of course, I cannot see this happening in the near future. When we cannot get the next leg of the Sea Link from Worli to Haji Ali started or even an elevated road built at Peddar Road, we have little hope. The surfacing of the roads also is quite bad – travel in a taxi and one will realise it.

At the core is an issue of government and governance. Unless that is fixed, we are not going to get the basics right.

Awards Judging

As I participated through the process of judging for the IAMAI Digital India Awards, a few thoughts came on how the process of awarding can be improved.

First, the entries in any award need to be pre-screened so judges are review a smaller number for each category. Some basic and objective filters can be applied for this process. Judges should be reviewing maybe 10-15 categories for each category, so more time can be spent for each entry.

Second, the judges should then create a shortlist of 5 or so ranked entries. This process should be possible to do within a day.

Third, the shortlisted entries should be put to vote by the general public. An excellent example of how to do this is the way Mashable is doing it with its Social Awards.

Weightage for what the judges say and what the people say can be 50:50.  Collate the points, and you have the winners.

Three Days in Delhi

I made one of my longest trips to Delhi last week. Two days were for the IAMAI Awards judging, preceded by a day of my own meetings.

I used to visit Delhi a lot in the early days of IndiaWorld to meet content partners. Most trips in the past decade were 1-day trips. I am one of those who like coming back home at night, however late it may be!

These were three busy days. I also caught up with a few friends – which normally doesn’t happen within the constraints of a 1-day trip. In meetings that I do, my goal is to see if I can get one good idea or insight which I can use. And that invariably happens, if one pays close attention or asks the right questions.