Categories
Economy

Relevance of the H1-B visa to offshoring …

I spent a good amount of time at Vel‘s place last evening drinking a couple beers and talking about the economy, university life, and other general stuff. During the course of our fun conversation, and after I had had 2 beers, the topic of the H1-B Visa provisions was brought up.

I believe that the H1-B Visa program, if implemented well, could actually curb the offshoring of jobs to a great extent. Ofcourse, like Vel said, an H1-B employee is akin to a regular employee for all practical purposes. Offshoring is inevitable, and the low end jobs are always going to be offshored to a cheaper country/location. We have seen this everywhere including India.

Before I explain my thesis, we must realize that one of the factors fuelling offshoring is the lack of a good primary education system in America. It is increasingly becoming harder for technology companies to find skilled and qualified people within this country. At the same time, it is crucial for these companies to maintain “primary” presence in the US on account of a good judicial system, mature company laws, and availability of global marketing resources. For example, Intel has 60% of its business outside America today. This is a common scenario across technology companies as the developing world plays catch-up and comes up as a big market for American products.

As a lot of people have pointed out, H1-Bs work with their American peers in America to further enhance the economy by paying taxes, buying billions of dollars worth of goods and services etc. This also means that they are being paid at par with the current wages prevalent in their industry. So, how exactly is this better than just offshoring the entire group to a cheaper place for the parent company?

You have to understand that it is not always cheaper to set up new operations in a cheaper country. We touched upon this last evening, and one argument against this was that it is always going to be cheaper in the long run. Well, when you offshore, you also have to factor in the quality of labor, and the value of such an investment. Value is derived from project turn-around times and other factors. These factors include local government policies etc. It is cheaper to offshore mundane tasks like call centers, basic IT development, and even telemarketing. At the same time, it is very difficult to offshore anything strategic. It is cheaper in other countries because of the availability of a large quantity of “mundane” labor. The very best is still in the developed world, and especially the US because of the quality of life and the higher institutes of learning that ensure that the very best stays in the US.

Sure, we are seeing the offshoring of research as well as product development now, but this is because of the growth of the developing world’s economies as a whole. USA is unable to keep development on its shore at such a high pace, and a lot of it has to do with politics, Govt. policies, and again, lack of etremely qualified and diversified people here.

Now, imagine if companies like Microsoft had their way, and the H1-B scheme was liberalized. The local companies would be able to hire the top talent from the world and stop other countries from getting forward. Sure, offshoring would still continue abated, but it would be more strategic than not. Surely, there is a reason why companies want to hire foreigners when they could just as well go with cost. I have been a firm supporter of the belief that costs catalyse offshoring, not fuel it. If costs were the only factor, then there would be no software companies in the Western Hemisphere. The McKinsey Global Institute has links to some very good articles and a panel discussion that touches on the need for a more liberal H1-B program.

If the H1-B caps are maintained at their current levels, at a time when the US economy needs more specialised workers than ever, it could prove catastrophic in the long run. I see offshoring as a short term solution. Other countries are not at all in a position politically, economically, or even socially to be havens for a global business. A car made by Ford in Mexico could cost the same as a car made by Toyota in the US. What matters is that Ford is still an American company and Toyota is a Japanese company having a bigger American business unit than a Japanese one.

I hope that the US policy makers realize this sooner than later.

Addendum: Interesting read – Immigration and Offshoring: The Graying of America

Categories
Tech and Culture

A cell-phone that receives and sends faxes …

Today’s cell-phones are loaded with features, many of which are almost too trivial or just too modern for a phone. Too much is never enough though, and we keep longing for newer and newer features.

I kept receiving fax calls from a certain number today, probably because they had the wrong number, but it made me wonder if there is technology to be able to send and receive faxes on your cellphone. This does not sound especially weird considering that there are cellphones with huge displays and excellent graphics capabilities. It is but logical to expect a modern cellphone to be capable of receiving faxes and then displaying them on your screen.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any such device on the market. I was, nevertheless, able to find third party software for smart phones and PDAs that would let me send and receive faxes on an email account.

I wonder how hard it would be technologically to implement native fax support in modern smartphones. If there is a voice call, activate the ringer, and if there is a fax call, simply receive it !

If the user wants to transfer this fax to a computer or to print it out, he/she could just forward it to an email account or simply sync with a computer. I hope something like this hits the market pretty soon !

Categories
Economy India Tech and Culture

Why India will never see anything like Kozmo …

I am sure everyone is aware of Kozmo, the first ever e-tailer of sorts that was actually somewhat successful before closing shop in 2001, three years after its inception. Google Answers has a great thread giving background information about this company. Kozmo.com was started by Joseph Park, a Time Magazine nominated Innovator in 1997. There is a movie called e-Dreams that chronicles the growth and demise of this innovative Internet based retailer that actually delivered everything from ice cream to video tapes. The idea was to have inventory for common frequently ordered items, and to forge deals with other vendors for the remaining items.

It was ultimately the pricing and the incorrect and somewhat unclear target customer focus that killed Kozmo. The new CEO had lost focus, and was trying to compete with mail order companies citing quick delivery as the only USP for using Kozmo’s services. I would also say that the idea was pre-mature and ahead of its times. There were still no stringent rules and regulations about Internet privacy, and online advertising was still controversial and somewhat monopolised in the hands of 1-2 key players. All in all, a good time to make short-term money but not to write a sustainable business plan. Only a few companies survived the dot-com crash, and hence, I would not blame Kozmo entirely for its own debacle.

Now, when I say that an enterprise like Kozmo.com is never going to be sustainable in a country like India, I base my analysis on the relatively lower importance of the Internet in an average Indian’s daily life. I will stand up against all refutations who claim that it is only a matter of time when the Internet gains as much importance in India.

India differs culturally and socially from the US in more than a thousand ways. Inspite of the Internet and all that buzz, people prefer to carry on their lives using more personal communication means. The Internet is not personal enough to make any difference in an Indian’s life. Sure, it has already replaced newspapers when it comes to classifieds, and postal letters when it comes to time insensitive communication. People still love to go out with their families to shop, and students know better than to order pizza on the Internet. Very busy professionals can often afford manpower to do their chores for them.

Even then, all it takes is a phone call to your neighborhood super-store to get anything you want delivered free to your doorsteps without any minimums or delivery charges. And this has been in place before the rise of the Internet in India. There are companies like P&G India that have actually started telemarketing operations with free delivery. The prices are actually lower than super-stores or discount stores like Big Bazaar. The delivery times are minutes not hours, and you can order anything from the P&G catalog of products.

With all this aready happening, do you still think that there is a market for services like Kozmo.com in India? I certainly don’t, and I might be proved wrong in the coming years. All I know is that it would take a lot to have an average Indian consumer pay more to get what he wants in lesser time and without physical effort.

Addendum: I just came across a similar new service in the NYC area, called MaxDelivery.com

Categories
Economy India

The Global Face of the Indian IT Industry …

The Indian IT industry isn’t all about doing world class work at rock-bottom prices. That is one of its most regarded facets. There is another side of the coin that everyone so easily neglects. The Indian IT industry is global in the truest sense of the word.

Recently, I have been getting emails from college batchmates about positions in their companies that require the knowledge of a European language. There is an actual need for multi-lingual Indian software professionals at almost every company. For example, Tata Consultancy Services is hiring foreign language experts and multilingual software professionals for overseas projects.

Even in urban India, school and college students are not content with knowing just 2 spoken languages. Almost every school student is learning French, German, or Spanish as a hobby. These same youngsters would later on work for the world!

All I can say on this American Independence Day celebratory evening is that India is numero uno.

Categories
Tech and Culture

Google Earth – Can it be used to find Osama ?

Google Earth was released for free last week. After having bought technology from Keyhole, Google has released a basic version of the Google Earth software for free without any recurring charges. There are enhanced versions available for different needs that feature better satellite images and higher quality printing.

Even in its basic form, the Google Earth software can be used in many different ways, and is highly customizable. Check out this website [snotmonkey.com] for addon files that can be used to really show off this software’s abilities.

It is still a beta so I guess a lot of features would be added on later, but imagine being able to search for people using the software with only their names or phone numbers. That would be truly mind-boggling. Then, imagine implanting a “geo-tracking” chip inside every human on earth, and being able to pull up their location in real time. We could catch criminals so easily ! Ofcourse, different users would be given a different access level based on their role in society, but in theory this system should be able to curb crimes.

I will have a drink to Google’s success tonight. Let’s hope it changes the cyberscape for the better…

Categories
Tech and Culture

Look Ma, I run a blog …

After a not-so-short conversation with Vel, I started wondering about the blogging phenomenon that has swept the cyberworld in complete awe just like current Google stock prices have. The term blogging really caught up with the masses after the 2004 US Presidential election that for the first time featured a faultering conventional media. Blogs run by republican and democratic supporters did a very fine job of bringing “real news” to the world.

One has to wonder; is this phenomenon just a fad? How long is this fad going to last? Is it really going to change how we assimilate information? I don’t view blogs as anything more than a website that is easy to update fairly regularly and is much more interactive than a static website in the sense that it allows for some level of reverse interactivity. A blog is just a website, after all. Throw in a few tools like trackback pings and RSS Feeds, and you have a ring of information.

Is this a fad? A short answer is yes. There are millions of blogs out there. Everyone has a blog. How many of these are actually useful? Very few. I think we’re facing some sort of information overdose at present. The problem lies in actually assimilating all the information out there. This is why search is so hot these days. Then there is this whole issue of trust. A blog is a piece of personal opinion. Unlike traditional media outlets, blogs can not be monitored for factual accuracy. Search engines, especially Google&reg, are designed to assign more weightage to negative information when it comes to ranking pages. Clearly, this is a computer science issue here.

I think we need to learn something from E-Commerce technologies when designing the next generation news and information aggregators. Autonomous trust is a keyword in E-Commerce, and this needs to be adopted in dynamic information search algorithms. So, if you have a network of trustworthy blogs giving a certain repertoire of events, they should be deemed credible. Simply assigning priorities to blogs based on traditional link-based page ranking is not a good idea for blogs.

This fad is here to stay, although we will see shifts in how we actually log our thoughts on the Internet. Podcasting is hot now. Something new will enter the scene later. The bottomline is that the pervasion of the Internet has made all of us information producers in the virtual world. It is our responsibility as citizens of the free cyberworld to make this information flow as trustworthy and reliable as possible.

Categories
Politics

Mr. President, what do you think tribal sovereignty means ?

I just came across this clip on a message board. You have to watch it !

President Bush is asked a question about his views on tribal sovereignty, and he replies by saying that a tribal sovereignty is just that, sovereign. There is laughter everywhere. He says the relation between the federal Government and the tribes is a relationship between “sovereignties”.

Disclaimer: I have no personal opinion about this clip except that I find the laughter in the background really hilarious.

Categories
Tech and Culture

Making sense of Bollywood movie piracy …

I watched Kaal in the evening today, and logging back onto the Internet got me thinking about the effect of the Internet on the Indian movie industry. As everyone is aware, it is possible, and rather easy to download the latest movies from the Internet. Ofcourse, since I do not formally condone piracy, I will keep the discussion on techniques and tools to do this out of here.

It is a sure fact that total numbers representing piracy of Bollywood movies are dwarfed by those of Hollywood movies, and the distributors of Hollywood movies do in fact lose a lot of money on account of piracy. On the other hand, in the case of Bollywood movies, piracy actually leads to proliferation of the industry to other cultures. For example, after the ban of Indian movies in Pakistan a few years ago, the only way to obtain Bollywood flicks is through piracy. As such, Indian movies are very popular in Pakistan, and that country also serves as one of the main “godowns” of bootleg prints re-manufactured for distribution.

Outside India, in the US, although there are cities with impressive cinema hall facilities to watch movies on the big screen, for the most part, expatriate Indians still depend on VHS tapes and DVDs to get their dose of desi entertainment. This mode of entertainment does not serve well to pass on a pie of Bollywood to a typical non-Indian who is either indifferent to anything other than Hollywood, or depends on International film festivals organized at prime locations for broadening his movie experiences.

This is where piracy through the Internet really contributes to extending the reach of our film industry. Anyone with a broadband connection can, practically, download top quality rips of Indian movies to be viewed later at their convenience. My rationale is that in such small international markets, piracy is going to happen one way or the other due to lack of infrastructural support. Keeping online piracy unabated does not really affect Bollywood’s bottom line a whole lot. On the contrary, free access to Indian movies often times motivates expatriates to actually invest in India to make quality movies on themes they deem appropriate for the international audience.

Back home, piracy has always been present, but has never been curtailed with a very high level of zealousness. This is because going to movies is an entirely different social and cultural activity in India. Movies are watched to bring the family together on that odd weekday. Such an event is often times actually planned a lot in advance. It is like a celebration of sorts. Hence, as long as a movie has any appeal, people will spend money to watch it at a cinema hall. Watching it in front of the TV or on the computer just doesn’t cut it. How are you going to throw in the popcorn, the pre-movie shopping, the samosas, and the fun evening out if you sit in your home to “celebrate” a movie.

Hence, I am of the opinion that unlike its Hollywood counterparts, Bollywood should not be rigid about enforcing copyright and anti-piracy laws for its movies. Maybe we could then show the world how not to make the average college student unhappy, and make profits at the same time…

Categories
Economy

I think India is going in the right direction and if India were a stock, I would buy it

These are words from Thomas L. Friedman in an interview that appeared in The Financial Express last week. Normally, I read Friedman’s “lectures” on globalization with a grain of salt as I do not believe that it is possible to make a positive or negative case for it without observing the economies on a micro level. But, this interview, which was published a little while after his column “Bangalore: Hot and Hotter”, made me really ponder about how globalization has actually helped India win a proverbial war against social and political stagnation.

The stock market is at an all time high, and is actually showing a somewhat linear curve at present. Definitely, if India were a stock, it would be really prudent to buy as much of it as possible. The economic growth fuelled by the very pro-liberalization attitude of our politicians (in general) has made India the preferred investment destination of the world. Ofcourse, being rich in natural resources and having a good agricultural economic model helps. The population growth over the past years has actually placed the current generation in perfect position to leverage the advantages of globalization. There is no dearth of educated smart people willing to work a 35 hour day.

One of the biggest changes I noticed in India during my trip last month was how the youth is running the show in every field. Economic liberalization and public sector disinvestment pushed by the center has forced a “renaissance” of sorts in how companies portray themselves. The corporate ethical code is mature and enforced well, and the standard of living is very high thanks to the availability of labor and the extensively variable social stratum.

All this positive growth has motivated the common Indian man to dream big and achieve bigger. Just look at the business section of any website like Rediff.com and what do you see! “Tata Steel is world’s best steel producer”, “India’s largest FDI deal signed”, “Now, Indians are a confident lot!”, “From tandoori dhaba to Versace”, “Sensex ends at all time high of 7,145”; these are the headlines that are fueling motivation and pride. Something that has eluded us for so long…

-es

Categories
Economy

Welcome to Odyssey!

Starting now, I am moving to the WordPress software to manage my Blog from the program by PluggedOut. The main advantages of WordPress are a better support, more visible clarity, better options, improved theme support etc.

I would still maintain the old blog at this location.

Best!

-es
http://phoenix.gargs.com