Tag Archives: India

The story behind India’s struggling Aakash IT project

By David Bicknell

The New York Times has carried a couple of excellent blog posts reporting on India’s struggling “Aakash” IT project.

The India Ink posts detail the story behind a plan to introduce a cheap computer built for Indian students. As the blog explains, last October, the Indian Ministry of Human Resources Development unveiled the new, $35 computer.

Now, more than six months later, with thousands of university students still waiting for the laptop, “the tale of the Aakash looks a bit like an Indian soap opera, complete with a convoluted storyline, multiple characters, and massive personality clashes.”

As India Ink says, the Aakash project, if successfully completed, could enable millions of students to connect with the larger digital world, and is being closely watched outside India as the national government tries to attract foreign investment in public-private partnerships for everything from infrastructure to vocational training.

“The original idea behind the Aakash seemed pleasantly simple. A cheap computer would benefit Indian university students by enabling them to watch lectures or get lecture notes and other class information online. In 2009, a team of government researchers developed the basic design for the low cost device.

“The job of putting the project out to bid fell to I.I.T. Rajasthan, which by spring of 2011 had received 477 million rupees — about $9.2 million — in government funds to pay for procuring and testing 100,000 low-cost tablets. In writing the tender, I.I.T. Rajasthan detailed the technical specifications for the tablet but did not specify the criteria for testing and approving the devices, according to a government source involved in the project. That omission was to prove disastrous.

Here is Part One of the tangled tale of the project, which involves issues with procurement, outsourcing, testing and governance.

And here is Part Two.

India’s $35 Aakash tablet comes apart
Aakash Tablet Problems: India’s $35 slate slammed by testers

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How do you create successful software development teams? (Part 2: Outsourcing)

By David Bicknell

I recently reported on a roundtable organised by the Dutch software specialist Software Improvement Group (SIG) which set out to determine what makes successful teams in software development.

The roundtable featured two specialists in creating specialist teams: Andrew de la Haye, chief operating officer, at RIPE Network Co-ordination Centre (RIPE NCC), one of five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) providing Internet resource allocations, registration services and coordination activities that support the operation of the Internet globally; and author and management expert Kevan Hall, chief executive of Global Integration.

In Part One of the discussion, which focused on creating excellent teams in software development, we examined teamwork, Agile empowerment, a commitment to quality, remote working and getting the right level of teamwork.

In this part of the discussion, we focused on managing multi-disciplinary teams, structure, reducing waste, and outsourcing.

Managing multi-disciplinary teams

Kevan Hall pointed out that when you’re working in a multi-disciplinary environment – for example, if you’re building a very complex piece of kit with tens of thousands of bits – there is a point at which you need to have some co-ordination.

But he added, “There is also a big part of the work where I’m an engineer off doing actual work or I’m somewhere writing code. And that’s not teamwork.  If we have this mentality that everything we do is a team, then we can’t make a decision until the next meeting. I distinguish between a team, which is kind of truly interdependent i.e. if you’ve got multi-disciplinary skills, R&D etc,  you really need to work collaboratively, tightly, and you can’t do it on your own, you need teamwork. But most work isn’t like that: most work is me doing my stuff.

“And therefore a simple hub and spoke group of organisations might be much simpler to do that. When you’re working globally, or virtually, that’s much, much easier because in a hub and spoke structure, if I want to talk to you, I just pick up the phone.  If I’m in a team, I have to go into all your Outlook diaries and hope that in the next month, you’ve got some time where we can at least all get on the phone.

“So hub and spoke is much simpler for virtual teams and for remoteness and those kind of things. So when we are  working collaboratively that’s when we really need to focus because it’s really expensive and quite hard to do.”

Waste reduction and communication

Andrew de la Haye from RIPE explained the need for what he describes as ‘waste reduction.’

“One of the things we do as standard culture in our software teams is every three to four months we do waste reduction sessions. So in the old methodology, you do retrospectives. You start a sprint – a sprint is two weeks – you deliver to the business, and after that, the team sits together and then they discuss what went well and what should be improved in the next sprint. And as a larger group in the whole department, we get them together once every four months for an hour or two at the most and we say, ‘OK. Where is waste? Where do we see waste?”

“And most of the time it is not coding or the real work they do, most of the time it is in the communications area.  And we try to get rid of it. So we changed the team from 2 x 6 to 3 x 4 people. It’s just part of our being to look at the waste we created after the last period and where can we improve. And they became  much more efficient and effective.”

According to Kevan Hall, one of the things you often see with teams is the ‘community decay curve’.

“When you have a team, virtual or not, you have a kick off and everyone’s very enthusiastic. And then you start doing the work, and it’s quite hard. And then you come to the end of something and you’ve succeeded and you have a celebration. Successful virtual teams create a rhythm. For our teams, it’s a year. You have a long old slog and there is a ‘periodicity’ of communication. A software team is perfect because you have a closure, a learning opportunity, a celebration and then you go and do it again. If it’s longer than that, then you have to think about other things that are going to have an impact, like a conference call or a coaching call.

“Even worse, if you’re managing a remote organisation or a remote supplier, the risk is that you only call them when you need something or you’ve got a problem. So they don’t really look forward to your next call. ‘Oh, no. Look who’s on the phone.’ You demotivate people just by your number coming up. It’s about keeping that rhythm. It’s a bit like an ECG. You’ve got to create those peaks to keep motivation high.

“Social media has a very powerful role to play in virtual teams, because it’s much easier to share the other things that I’m doing rather than just project updates. I also like Instant Messenger because if you have people in Asia you can see that they’re ‘on’ and to me it’s just like passing someone in the corridor. It’s the virtual coffee machine. Occasionally, people will see say, ‘If you’re there, can we have a quick call?’ And it’s another part of the rhythm for me – like keeping the heartbeat going.”

Outsourcing

“I used to sell a lot of outsourcing,” said Andrew de la Haye. “But I haven’t seen it really working (teamwise). One of the issues with outsourcing is the commitment bit, which is very important in my teams. My people are committed to me because they know me, and they know what the company stands for. If you outsource to somebody, who are they committed to? You hope that they are committed to the organisation they’re working for, but they’re certainly not committed to you. And they are probably more committed to themselves, especially in India because people move around like crazy.

“So one of the issues with outsourcing is the lack of commitment, I think. I don’t see a solution to that. There are two ways of outsourcing: outsourcing commodity items, where there is a new version of SAP and people need to upgrade. That kind of stuff. That’s good enough – it will work fine. But if you truly need to build applications and you need to work together with a company to create business value, and that’s what a lot of outsourcing is about as well, I haven’t seen it working.

“I tried it again last year, and I gave a company a chance. I had a really good relationship with this consulting firm and they told me that they had an excellent team in India, and ‘Let’s try this project just for a three-month trial.’ And it was more or less the only project in the last five years that went belly-up.”

As Kevan Hall pointed out, when you’re managing across distance, culture, time zones, working through technology, and commercial considerations, outsourcing is so much more complex.

“One of the things we see a lot with clients who have outsourced is what I call the balance of trust and control. Because I don’t know you and I don’t trust you, I tend to control you. And so we go out to India and we have these incredibly heavy processes which we beat you up to make sure you follow without any sense of initiative or change, and then you start complaining that the Indians don’t have any initiative and don’t innovate.

“Well, you’ve told them not to and they’ve very smart people, albeit with higher turnover, and then you’re finding that problem of ‘how do we build trust?’ So many organisations outsource processes and spend an enormous amount of time on process, but they don’t have the travel budget to even go and meet the people who are doing a service for them.

“So how are you ever going to build a relationship? You wouldn’t do it in your own business. So doing it in an even more complex environment…how’s that going to work?”

“You have to look at the type of activity being outsourced,” said Dr Joost Visser, SIG’s Head of Research . “There is a lot of success in outsourcing in all sort of activities. In software application development where you are trying to create business value and where people are being creative, like in the automotive industry, thinking of the next engine or concept car, I think that by basically taking the team you need and pulling it out over locations and over time zones, you’re creating a challenge for the teamwork you need for that activity.”

There is another factor: the customer, suggested Kevan Hall.

“If you decided that you’re going to bring your development team into one place and therefore take away one barrier to complexity, which is distance, which makes a lot of sense, then aren’t you just exporting that level of complexity to the customer? Because they still have to manage with the fact that they still have stakeholders spread around the world in different time zones and different cultures. And they’ve got complex needs. It’s OK for you now. But is that the right thing to do for the customer?

“Human Resources has done that. They’ve gone to specialist centres and business partners. And all that’s done is that the business partner has to manage all the complexity rather than the organisation.”

How do you create successful software development teams? (Part 1)

Innovation and change: a world tour

By David Bicknell

With innovation and change in mind, I was interested in this blog by a French writer, Francis Pisani, who is undertaking a ‘five continent tour’ taking in innovation worldwide.

He’s been in Australia, South America, and India in April, before heading to Africa (South Africa, Rwanda and  Israel) in May, then Eastern Europe in June and July, and finally the Far East in August and September.

Here is his interview on his travels in India with Raveev Suri, an old contact from Infosys who is now a CEO and entrepreneur based in Bangalore.

Related Reading

UK technology firms spurn BRICS deals in favour of home investment

UK technology firms spurn BRICS deals in favour of home investment says Grant Thornton report

By David Bicknell

Medium-sized UK technology companies are forgoing demonstrable investment opportunities in the BRICS economies in favour of domestic deals, according to new research from audit specialist Grant Thornton. 

The research shows that three-quarters (75%) of medium sized UK technology companies have no plans to invest in new markets in the next 12 months.

The study reflects trends over the last five years for mergers and acquisitions in the technology market, which show that domestic investment continues to be the number one priority for ICT businesses. 141 UK to UK deals were completed in 2011,  a higher volume than with any other market.

In terms of outbound investment from the UK technology sector, mature markets such as the USA, Australia and Germany have consistently remained at the top of the league in comparison to other emerging markets. 

Wendy Hart, Head of Technology at Grant Thornton UK, is calling on investors in the UK’s technology mid-market to think beyond traditional investment regions and seize opportunities. She says: “Over the last five years the volatility of the global market has inevitably had an impact on the volume of cross-border deals taking place.

“Traditional, mature markets such as those in the G7 remain attractive to UK firms because of a familiar business environment, language commonalities and greater access to highly skilled employees. In contrast, outbound investment into fast-growing, tech-friendly economies such as India, China, Brazil and Israel is still relatively low.”

To help highlight the opportunities available, Grant Thornton has produced an ‘expansion index’ guide, which compares existing UK investment markets such as the UK, the USA, Germany, France and the Netherlands with emerging economies. The data demonstrates that the markets with the biggest opportunities are also the markets that present the biggest challenge for investors.

Wendy Hart continued: “The sheer volume of information that a business has to get to grips with before making an investment into an unfamiliar market can be daunting. There are three key stages that are vital foundations for a market entry strategy: full assessment of the opportunity available; thorough preparation so that a business is ready for execution; and management of the actual execution itself.”

In the report, Grant Thornton has also called on technology investment experts from around the world to provide detailed insight about key technology markets, both traditional and emerging.

Nick Farr, Head of China Britain Business Services at Grant Thornton UK, said: “One of the reasons that UK technology businesses are reluctant to enter China is a fear of copying or reverse-engineering of their products. Whilst this is still a risk, as China’s patent system evolves there are increasing opportunities for businesses to protect their intellectual property (IP). These opportunities are being noticed. Recent research by the China-Britain Business Council showed that 59% of UK businesses with a presence in China want to increase their R&D activity there.”

Some snapshots from the report:

China

“Grant Thornton’s Technology Expansion Index ranks China second for economic growth and third for infrastructure and technology. On the flip side, China is one of the lowest ranked markets for political and legal landscape and has one of the most complex systems in the world for business start-ups. It is this dichotomy, paired with the complexities of Chinese culture, that best explains the lack of UK businesses looking to enter the Chinese market.

“However, great returns are never easily achieved. The opportunity in China is huge, not just in terms of salary arbitrage and tax incentives. Despite the recent slowdown in China, growth is still upwards of 8% and this high growth potential means that those companies able to access the Chinese market will be better at meeting consumer needs and faster to market, leaving those who shied away from early investment trailing in their wake.”

Brazil

“At 8.5 million square kilometres, Brazil is the size of a continent, and currently accounts for 40% of Latin America’s economy. IMF GDP growth forecasts through 2013 are strong at 4%, potentially underpinned by the impact of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, which will drive technology investment. The domestic market for IT in Brazil is now the seventh largest in the world. $165.7bn was spent on ICT in 2010 with only $2.4bn of services exported.

“Brazil is a potential technology investment hotspot because of its large, stable, growing economy; a modern financial system that has largely escaped the global financial crisis; a strong base of local investors; and robust capital markets and a middle class of almost 100 million people aspotential technology consumers.”

India

“The Indian Government’s new ICT policy aims at speeding up development, including plans for fibre optic cable installation and aggressive broadband implementation.

“A strong driver for IT investment is India’s own Generation Y who are primed to become hungry consumers, particularly of IT, consumer technology and social media. India’s consumermarket, currently the world’s thirteenth largest, is expected to become the fifth largest by 2025. Its telecommunication industry, the world’s fastest-growing, added 227 million subscribers duringthe period 2010–11.” 

UK

“According to our survey, 18% of UK technology companies plan domestic investment in the next 12–18 months. Despite the economic downturn, or perhaps because of it, many technology companies are still lookingto consolidate and strengthen theirpresence at home rather than seeking out riskier, but potentially more rewarding climates.

“There is a trend in the UK technology market where large corporates are increasingly looking to acquire companies that provide specialist services or offer some innovation that addresses a niche they want to reach. Importantly, the current state of the overall market means that these companies can be acquired more cheaply than might have been possible pre credit-crunch,” says Wendy Hart.

For more details or for a hard copy of the report, which also features case studies on a number of UK technology companies, including Galleon Holdings, Ideal Industries, Mobile Tornado, Kelkoo, and Tessella, contact Emma Ap-Thomas at Grant Thornton. Tel: 0207 728 2348 or emma.ap-thomas@uk.gt.com

Grant Thornton UK website

Fast-growing BRICS countries face IT challenges, says economic think tank

Much has been written about the economic potential offered by the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

And yet, despite improvements in many drivers of competitiveness, the BRICS still face important challenges to more fully adopt and leverage IT, according to the latest  Global Information Technology Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnected World, published by the World Economic Forum.

Despite efforts over the past decade to develop information and communications technologies (ICT) infrastructure in developing economies, a new digital divide in terms of ICT impacts persists,  the Forum says.

Even for the fast-growing BRICS, an insufficient skills base and institutional weaknesses, especially in the business environment, present a number of shortcomings that stifle entrepreneurship and innovation.

It’s not unreasonable to argue that they may have something to learn about delivering successful IT projects too, as developed countries have had to do. Alternatively, they may have some insight to pass on.

When it comes to leadership in IT adoption and usage, it is the usual suspects, Sweden (1st) and Singapore (2nd) that top the rankings in leveraging information and communications technologies to boost country competitiveness.

Switzerland (5th), the Netherlands (6th), the United States (8th), Canada (9th) and the UK (10th) also show strong performances in the top 10.

It is equally perhaps no great surprise to find that ICT readiness in sub-Saharan Africa is low, with many countries showing significant lags in connectivity due to insufficient development of ICT infrastructure, which remains too costly.

Even in those countries where ICT infrastructure has been improved, the Forum suggests, ICT-driven impacts on competitiveness and well-being trail behind, resulting in a new digital divide.

China

At 51st place in the rankings, China leads the BRICS countries. Yet, the report says, “this should offer little consolation in light of the important challenges ahead that must be met to more fully adopt and leverage ICT.

“China’s institutional framework (46th) and especially its business environment (105th) present a number of shortcomings that stifle entrepreneurship and innovation, including excessive red tape and long administrative procedures, lofty taxation amounting to 64 percent of profits (124th), uncertain intellectual property protection—it is estimated that almost 80 percent of installed software in China is pirated—and limited or delayed availability of new technologies (100th).”

In terms of readiness, the country ranks only 87th in terms of its infrastructure and digital content, mainly because of its underdeveloped Internet infrastructure.

In terms of actual ICT usage, although the figures remain low in absolute terms, they should perhaps be considered in light of the sheer size of the country.

ICT usage by businesses is significant (37th). China is becoming more and more innovative and this in turn encourages further and quicker adoption of technologies. The Chinese government is already placing significant hopes in IT as a catalyst for future growth, because more traditional sources of growth are likely to dry up.

The efforts of the government in promoting and using IT are reflected in China’s strong showing in terms of government usage (33rd). For the time being, though, the overall impact of IT on the economy remains limited (79th).

India

However, contrast China’s position with India and you find that India, ranks nearly 20 places behind in 69th position.  India delivers a very mixed picture, with encouraging results in some areas and a lot of room for improvement elsewhere, notably in the political and regulatory (71st) and business and innovation environments (91st).

Extensive red tape that stands in the way of businesses and corporate tax is among the highest of all the countries analysed by the Forum. For instance, it typically takes four years and 46 procedures to enforce a contract in India. Starting a business is longer and requires more paperwork than in most countries. Other variables fare better, such as the availability of new technologies (47th), the availability of venture capital (27th), the intensity of local competition (31st), and the quality of its management schools (30th).

One of the weakest aspects of India’s performance lies in its low penetration of ICT. The country ranks 117th in terms of individual usage, with 61 mobile subscriptions for every 100 population, a relatively low figure. Only 7.5 percent of the population uses the Internet; just 6 percent of households own a PC and broadband Internet remains the privilege of a few, with less than one subscription per 100 population.

“The big story is how India is falling behind in relative terms as far as its overall measure of technology and competitiveness is concerned,” says Soumitra Dutta, Roland Berger Professor of Business and Technology at INSEAD, a co-editor of the report. “A few years ago, India was ahead of China.”

Brazil

Another member of the BRICS, Brazil, positioned in 65th place, benefits from  strong levels of business ICT usage (33rd). These, combined  fairly advanced levels of technological capacity (31st) in particular segments of its industry, allows the country to achieve one of the strongest performances of ICT-enabled innovations in the Latin American region, both in terms of new products and services (29th) and more efficient processes (34th).

However, despite these strengths, its overall business environment with burdensome procedures to create new businesses (138th) and high tax rates (130th), in addition to its high mobile phone tariffs (133rd) and poor skills availability (86th), hinder the potential of the Brazilian economy to fully benefit from IT and shift toward more knowledge-based activities (76th) at a faster pace.

That said, Brazil is now the seventh largest ICT market in the world, with £106bn spent in 2010.

World Economic Forum Global IT Report

Will the BRICS learn the lessons from developed nations’ limp track record of IT project delivery?

By David Bicknell

There’s not much doubt of the hot spots for IT spending over the next few years:  the BRICS.

According to this piece on ZDNet, while Europe remains transfixed viewing a Greek tragedy, other countries, notably the BRICS, are pushing ahead in terms of IT spend. 

Research firm IDC suggests that total IT spending will grow 5 percent in 2012 with emerging markets, smartphones, storage and software at the head of the pack.
 
Although European IT spending is likely to remain weak for the foreseeable future, spending in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China – this seems to exclude ‘the S’ of South Africa) will see double-digit growth rates:
 
  • Brazil IT spending will rise 9 percent;
  • Russia will increase 11 percent;
  • India will  be up 16 percent;
  • And China’s tech spending will jump 15 percent

That spending means we can expect large increases in new IT projects – or perhaps I should say business projects delivered through IT.

Will the BRICS do a better job of the project management and delivery of these IT projects than we’ve managed in the developed world? Well, let’s just say there’s plenty of useful best and worst practice for them to take on board.

Links

Russia last in BRICS for faith in business

Can Brazil drive innovation?

BRICS countries face identity card IT project delays

By David Bicknell

Two of the BRICS countries are wrestling with project management challenges as overambitious IT projects face an uncertain future.

India and Russia, which are two of the emerging so-called ‘BRICS’ – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – nations have implemented large identity card schemes which are now facing implementation hurdles.

In India, an ambitious biometric identification scheme for 1.2 billion people faces is likely to have to be redesigned if it is to survive.

The Asia Times says the Indian government has budgeted US$603 million to give a 12-digit number to each of 600 million residents by March 14, 2014, in the first two phases of the  project, dubbed “Aadhaar”, which means “foundation” or “support.”

The Asia Times says the Indian government had asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) project to enroll 200 million people by January 2012, in a first phase.

The UID number, which is set to prove identity, though not citizenship, would be supported by biometric devices such as facial recognition systems, eye and fingerprint scanners. However, a committee in the Indian Parliament has questioned its practicability and credibility.

The Standing Committee for Finance also challenged the legality, quality of technology and potential misuse of the UID information collected over the past two years.

The project had “no clarity of purpose,” observed the 48-page report from 53 parliamentarians, “and it is being implemented in a directionless way with a lot of confusion”.

It concluded: “In view of the afore-mentioned concerns and apprehensions about the UID scheme, particularly considering the contradictions and ambiguities within the Government on its implementation as well as implications, the Committee categorically convey their unacceptability of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 in its present form. The data already collected by the UIDAI may be transferred to the National Population Register (NPR), if the Government so chooses. The Committee would, thus, urge the Government to reconsider and review the UID scheme as also the proposals contained in the Bill in all its ramifications and bring forth a fresh legislation before Parliament.”

Meanwhile in Russia, according to the Moscow Times, a universal electronic card is facing delays, with a rollout scheduled for this month now being pushed to January of 2013.

The card – a combination of an electronic ID, driver’s licence, car insurance certificate, ATM card and migration document, among other possible functions – is the result of a project the government estimates will cost as much as 150 billion rubles to 170 billion rubles ($5.2 billion to $5.6 billion) to put in the hands of every citizen.

Limited initial use of the card was scheduled to take place this year, but the law that set up the project was amended in December to allow for a one-year delay.

The Moscow Times reported that the program will begin to function next year and that this year will be spent organising sites that will receive applications for the card. Application sites are expected to be set up at post offices, banks, and other locations.

A ministry spokesman confirmed that infrastructure for the project is just beginning to be created, and only four out of 83 regions having begun work on it.

“The delay in starting the project is related to issues around interagency cooperation and underdeveloped infrastructure in some regions,” said Yulia Kuchkina, a spokeswoman for the Universal Electronic Cards company (UEC). “Pilot cards are being issued — with employees of government agencies and ministries becoming the first users. In Moscow test cards have been received by employees of the Moscow Department of Information Technology,” she added.

Mail Online India: Setback for Planning Commission as Prime Minister bats for UID

Standing Committee for Finance Report