Monday, June 28, 2010

Winners and Losers - a policy perspective

I recently visited Hyderabad, and had the opportunity to inspect closely the technology city they have built over the past decade, over a rocky terrain (literally). My hosts were kind enough to drive me around, and show me the complete landscape from various vantage points, explaining the workings too.

It was quite an eye-opener, not that we are oblivious to the state's growth (having read in the media so many times).. but seeing it firsthand is always an eye-opener (literally!).

I remember that a few days ago, a senior journalist from a local media house at Indore had interviewed me, and in the volley of questions, there was this one about "how can Indore and MP be made an IT hub like Hyderabad (and Bangalore)?".

I am now in a position to answer it better!

Let me list the things that actually work in favour of making a particular city a "hub" of something. Let me generalise my thinking, and offer a broad perspective. What I write now applies to all success stories, and the lessons are of enduring value.
  1. Political will to transform the status-quo: The whole story starts with a fundamental change in the ruling political party's point of view. When that party sees a big opportunity to make a positive difference (howsoever selfishly that might be construed) and when it starts to articulate a policy based on this changed perspective, things start moving for the first time. Nothing at all will happen without such a political will from the top. It is sad, but true. That "one" person at the top proves to be the harbinger of positive development, and without that person, all dreams are but just dreams.
  2. Personal mission of the top politicians and bureaucrats: It is not enough to have an amorphous vision from the "Party". You need someone, some "one" to take personal charge of the mission to make that difference. You need that one charismatic and sensible leader who makes this vision his/her own, speaks about its need, and then goes about implementing the same. While this happens, the party at large has to support this "one" person, and not pull him/her down, which may happen in case the vision is truly compelling and may end up making him a star!
  3. The first breakthroughs: Once the mission is articulated and starts to take shape, the first breakthroughs must happen rather quickly. All stops need to be pulled out for that. Realising fully well that there will be others in the race to attract the same few companies that set up shop as the pioneers (in that state), speed is all too crucial. The machinery has to move very fast, in a lubricated manner, to attract the best of breed corporations (of that particular sector) and help them start operations. This again, requires personal commitment from the top political leadership. There are bound to be significant hurdles in the way - of every nature - and they have to be strongly (brutally) pushed aside for the new vision to take shape. Yes, a democracy tax needs to be paid (in terms of legal wranglings arising out of differing perceptions in matters like land acquisitions etc.), but all that has be contained to a level that does not throw the mission off the track.
  4. Building on the first breakthroughs: As soon as signals are apparent that the first breakthroughs have been achieved, the system needs to quickly build on those. The success stories need to be circulated to other majors of that sector, so that they are prompted to invest quickly, lest they should miss the bus. Roadshows need to be accelerated in this phase.
  5. Healthy overall eco-system: A virtuous cycle automatically builds up in this process. Good companies, good humanware, good support services, good public response - they all end up supporting each other. The region's economy starts to transform. Things look positive for every stakeholder. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a big victory. Isolated success stories of individual companies may not make that big a difference (WalMart in Bentonville, Arkansas surely is an exception!) but a whole set of factors surely does.
  6. People's support for the change: It is interesting to note that largely, the people of Andhra have not supported the IT cyberisation of Hyderabad. This is obvious from the fact that the pioneer Mr Chandrababu Naidu lost elections due to oversell of the IT story. But the people did not say - "throw out the IT companies". They simply said "Enough of all this - now focus on the villages". That is a big eye-opener. Those who got in, stayed there. They were not charged in a hostile manner. They continued to operate profitably.
  7. Consistency in policy: What is good about such stories is that the next government (of a different political party) finds it profitable to continue the old policies below-the-radar as that helps the international image of the new party in power. This has happened in AP. Policy continuity was welcomed by the IT majors operating there, and the virtuous cycle continued to benefit thousands.
  8. Good luck! No matter how much one plans, ultimately a lot of it boils down to sheer good luck. States that have successfully managed to bring a revolution (in some sector) owe a lot of it to the positive confluence of a lot of factors many of which surely they could not have controlled. So lady luck is always to be sought in abundance!
Unfortunately, if we talk of IT, my state (Madhya Pradesh) has missed the bus. None of these factors seem evident, and yet there are hopes expressed off and on in media about a positive possibility. It is not happening anytime soon! Interestingly, winning states may lose in other fields to losers (in IT for example), and so on. But the lessons must be learnt fast for that to happen.

The horrible truth is : these states (like Andhra Pradesh) have built the critical mass in IT infrastructure already. It is all too easy for an IT major to set up shop profitably there - everything is readily available. So with every passing month, the entry barrier for the other states goes up significantly. Why should I, as an IT major, even bother to think of any other state when established solutions are already available? So honestly, when someone tells me that they have constructed one huge building (call it an IT park) and that will be the IT hub of a city, it sounds like a cruel joke to me, as cities like Hyderabad have hundreds of those-sized buildings already brimming with action, life, hope and revenues. It's not about a building, it's about a whole friendly ecosystem. I am not a pessimist, but this surely beats all imaginable heights of optimisim!

Have we learnt the lessons, and are we willing to outdo others in other fields at least? With every major battle won (and lost), we do tend to come to final conclusions about the end of the world! But it is not so. There are always emerging industries waiting in the wings. Genetic science, renewable energy, next wave of Telecom and 3G.. it's all yet to happen. Business has a certain cruelty to it - successful empires often are left by the wayside when new ones emerge. So there will be another set of winners. And losers. Wait and watch.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Obama solves Palestine problem, to move it to outer space

I wrote this article in a moment of agony, reading about the repeated Israeli attacks on innocent (?) Palestinians, and the utterly confused American stand on the whole peace issue that's going nowhere. The article presents a comical solution to the embroglio, and hopefully will force the reader to consider the sheer lunacy of the actual situation. The article also got published on a popular fun news site Enjoy!
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Obama solves Palestine problem, to move it to outer space

Washington, DC, USA. In a surprising development late last evening, President Barack Obama (of the USA in North America), emerged from a 22 hours marathon meeting with representatives of NASA, CIA, FBI, Mossad, CBI, the BSP, Al Qaeda and the states of Israel and Palestine, to make a landmark announcement. He sounded optimistic, although desultory and shaky due to sheer fatigue despite consuming 43 cups of Starbucks discounted coffee with Dunkin diabetic donuts, while releasing his official press note.

Surrounded by all these representatives all of whom were equally shaky out of sheer fatigue, he said, and we quote. “The USA has realized that the tremendous efforts, time and resources invested over past 3 decades into solving the shitty Israel-Palestine problem have turned to precisely that – shit. There is more and more of that being generated with every passing week. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s efforts to clean up the mess are leaving more of it (blush). Hence, in a multinational operation of unprecedented magnitude, all parties involved have decided to agree to a project in which the entire physical state of Palestine will be moved to the outer space, 33 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. This way, the problem will be solved forever.”

To the tumultuous cheer of the media persons present in the briefing room, the President continued, “We have also realized that the Israelis actually enjoy attacking, maiming, handicapping and killing the Palestinians. It goes beyond their call of state-duty. It is a form of national sports, and is used for daily mock training of their regular troops. Since this cannot be changed we decided to change the target itself. Now the entire state of Palestine, including the disputed settlements in the West Bank (and the Gaza strip) will be dug out till a depth of 500 m into neatly packaged chunks (with humans inside) using giant Caterpillar machines (for which contracts need to be taken out) and will be transported to outer space using giant tows tied to Saturn 22 rocket series (for which contracts need to be taken out). All these chunks will then be neatly assembled by the leading engineers from Toyota’s famous assembling units (that manufactured those brake-pedal assemblies that have led to worldwide recalls) and in a short span of just 29 years, the project should see completion.”

Upon media queries on what will happen to the people tied inside these chunks, the President replied, “They will be supplied enough food, water and sanitation facilities to last at least three decades. They can continue to enjoy their safe lives (better than what they would be back on ground anyway) and continue to reproduce inside. As soon as the assembling would be complete, they can emerge to a victorious settlement of their new found homeland. What Gods could not do, we will have done.”

To a question on possible Republican vetoing of the project later, the President accepted that it represented a tricky matter and that if the Republicans were to come to power anytime in the next 3 decades, they could reverse his administration’s call, and then the fate of the Palestinians out there would literally be hanging in the air. He offered no solution to that future emergency, denouncing critics as naysayers, and advising them to believe in the power of “we can”.

His address was transmitted live to the entire world, with an estimated 1899 TV channels beaming it live, and 11 billion humans watching it to their pleasant surprise, including some from the forlorn and forgotten islands in Micronesia, who could not hide their tears of joy. Out of sheer joy, thousands of Palestinians fired several rounds of AK-47 shots into the Israeli territory, killing hundreds of civilians who could not hold their tears of joy on this stunning development. The Israelis too returned fire out of sheer joy, and maimed an equal number of Palestinians.

[submitted by International News Correspondent Inane Stupidities Amplified (I S Amplified)]