Posted on 25-08-2013
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

How many times have you repaired your toaster, washing machine or TV set? India’s is not a use-&-throw culture; the repairman tinkering with whatever’s gone wrong is a familiar sight; nobody questions why some equipment starts malfunctioning so soon. In fact discarding any device for technology obsolescence is unheard of, except in recent times when acquiring added features in mobile phones has become a craze. Of course the wife over 35 years or old parents happily gets the old phone, so why use-&-throw?

Heterogeneous usage practices: The erratic, unpredictable touch points of our heterogeneous billion on consumer durables are a veritable nightmare for service wings of home electronic product companies. The crux here is heterogeneous behavior and usage. The simple drawing of electric power can be in a plug point with or without a switch, by sticking wires inside an open power source or illegally pulling a line from an electric pole. When load shedding happens, sometimes for 12+ hours, people resort to diesel generators or low voltage inverters where sine waves are not pure. With no homogenous usage practice in the same equipment by different people, or mishandling domestic appliances, is it any wonder that high breakage and technical failures are commonplace here?

Heavy consumer durables called White goods like refrigerator, washing machines, stoves, and light electronic durables called Brown goods like TV sets, digital media players, computers all face harsh and demanding situations because people have innumerable ways of using them. The famous example is a Punjab roadside dhaba making lassi in a washing machine. Aside from the functional part there’s voltage leakage, switches reversed, too many buttons to push on the product or the remote. Products designed overseas work beautifully there but miserably fail in India. Who can read the fine English print in product manual? A few companies try to customize using Hindi, but when India has 22 recognized languages and thousands of dialects, what should product companies do? Let’s take a look at some technical woes too.

Fluctuations galore: Unpredictable power fluctuations and punishing weather conditions make products ready for repair sooner than later. Equipment in India can face 0 degree in winter, 46 degree in summer and 95% humidity during monsoon in coastal areas. The failure rate of the same product in a developed country is one third that of India. Our unique cumbersome conditions include varying mains supply that’s supposed to be 240Volts. Bureau of India Standards says +6% and -15% is acceptable, that is 207V to 253V variation. In reality, that’s not true. Interiors of all states will vouch that it can drop to 120V or fall below 100Volt. If your house is close to a power station, you can get 270Volts, under fault conditions even upto 300Volts.

Developed countries operate under controlled temperature and humidity conditions with room heating in winter and air conditioning in summer. Their products designed for 240V with ±10% tolerance face no problem with consistently correct power supply. Unless equipment for India are designed to withstand operating voltage ranging 120V to 265Volts, there will be no let up for service requirements. The mains frequency also drops to even 46 Hz from 50 Hz. A 1980s story goes that an MNC introduced its largest selling in Europe clock model in India, but it would run slow an hour a day. The 4% reduction in mains frequency caused 4% error every 24 hours. The company recalled its clock radios and made them based on quartz crystal.

Power blackouts: A large number of mostly semi-urban businesses run by dragging power illegally, but authorized by bribed electric servicemen. So it should not have surprised us that excessive loads on power stations led to the Northern Grid collapse in July 2012. India’s blackout was the largest power outage in history affecting over 620 million people, spread across 22 Indian states.

No servicing mentality: Problems are compounded as India believes in extracting longevity in every product by repairing it again and again. With 5 years warranty, the products are supposed to be serviced for at least 7 years. So stocking spares incurs a huge cost for manufacturers. If products are sourced from China, you’ll get 1% free spares with the order. That works just fine for developed countries where small appliances are never repaired, rather replaced due to technology obsolescence even if they work perfectly. India’s failure rate is more than 1% per year, and customers expect appliance maintenance for a longer period. So many companies end up having more employees in their all India service divisions than in all other functions put together. Spares management can be quite frightening logistically.

Hiring service personnel is just as nighmarish due to our social shilly-shally. I was amazed to find that very often service equals to slavery, at best a lower caste job. Service personnel, commonly with low education and even less soft skills are barely given much respect when they arrive for repairs. They have to deal with demanding, fuming customers who have paid good money for appliances not working. Middle class parents generally discourage their children from service jobs, even high flying ones in airlines and hotels. Workers don’t like to publicly be at the beck and call of others who are not directly paying their salaries. The main reason for not doing door-to-door service work is that it has very low value consideration for marriage.

Actually if our unemployed youth can overcome social hesitation, heterogeneous product repair service provides great scope for business. Companies can easily train them to work as entrepreneurs. It would reduce the strain on their service wings and help generate new jobs.

The bottomline of neglect and missed opportunity is in not designing new styles of products for a heterogeneous society’s special requirement. No company, either Indian or international, has created relevant affordable products like handy tools specifically tailored for livelihood generation. This remains a greenfield area to explore, new digital-tech techniques to exploit, and provide benefit for heterogeneous millions to enjoy what modernization should provide.

To download above article in PDF Handling heterogeneity

Financial Express link:

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Posted on 18-08-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Incredible quality of customer understanding will take you to the summit of business. When your product or service better resolves the customer’s purpose by increasing tangible benefit with exciting distinction, your customer will pay extra. Only then will your bottom line grow. Surpass Practice that I wrote about last week applies both at individual and enterprise levels in today’s world of banality.

To contribute to a company’s premium earning, mere cost cutting and standardization will not work. No matter which continent your business is in, China Bazaars are proliferating the world with low cost products in every domain. Digitization helps in standardizing quality, ease of use and operating cost reduction. But to really add value in customer delivery and raise business profitability, you must have to create the Surpassmark quality standard. That’s done through the voluntary urge of people in your enterprise towards capability building.

Here’s a terrific example of an individual’s deliberate urge to build capability. Fifty years ago a young African American, a minority community in society, had the guts to dream of becoming the greatest in the world. He overstretched himself running 6-kms per day. Having fixed a 4-km fitness schedule his coach reprimanded him for running more. With steely conviction he told his coach the extra kilometers were to fulfill his ambition, so nobody can block his exalted goal. This is the story of Cassius Clay who became Mohammad Ali, the world’s No 1 heavyweight champion (boxing era 1960-1981). He achieved Surpassmark by building his capability, the most important active agent in human life.

In India, managers tend to hide capability but overexpose good spoken English and educational degrees from so-called high-end MBA & Engineering institutions. They’d rather not discuss their own function, but point out defective practice in others. Industry leaders lend an ear to street smart subordinates who can express themselves, often promoting them over those who have strong capability. This prevalent, unhealthy HR practice rarely takes into consideration the kind of delivery capability customers positively talk about. Unfortunately this attitude of mistakenly valuing extroverts over real performers results in not building up capability in management and operation levels.

An enterprise aiming for Surpass Practice has to train people to develop competence without complacency to adopt the new. At all levels, people must have a high level of common understanding. I’ve regretfully experienced the reverse when some clients have advised me to lower training levels explaining mismatch with their people’s capability. Tailoring a training process to a lower level of capability actually defeats its very purpose; the enterprise pulls itself down instead of up.

A pertinent example of discounting capability building is India’s IT business that’s focused on the demand-led market. Global clients need low-cost services, so go net in fish without much effort. That’s probably why IT service has linear growth.  There’s no capex investment to get an order, just hire more people to get growth and profitability. Manpower size counts, as do high profitability and share market results. Initially India’s engineering cream from IITs were hired, now basic graduates are adequate, making it evident that skill level required is not high. No Tier 1 Indian IT company has tried to make an outstanding difference by creating global Surpassmark, save for one that’s galloping up right now. 

In 2010, while on some global research across 4 continents interacting with top business leaders of billion plus dollar companies, I found Cognizant, an American Indian company, had become a buzz with outsourcing customers and industry advisors. Whether or not they worked with Cognizant, they appreciated that Cognizant had invested to understand a client’s future requirement as per its specific industry, helped shape the client’s business strategy, and also did so during recession time. They commented that Cognizant’s key client-facing personnel were of higher standard and generally younger than other Indian IT service providers. This would mean that Cognizant invested in developing people capability too. When I shared this point with Indian IT biggies and predicted Cognizant’s quick growth, everybody said it was a smaller company. But that’s exactly what happened. In 2013, Cognizant become no. 2 after TCS.

Cognizant’s ascent just proves that a highly demand-led market like IT service can be transformed to surpass in value if the process of handling customers and delivering outstanding customer value can become perpetual. This is Cognizant’s corporate Surpass Practice leading to exceptional business result among Indian competitors. I’m sure Cognizant will encounter the global biggies to establish that this Surpass Practice can become their Surpassmark worldwide.

Everything boils down on how differently from competitors an enterprise understands customers. There’s a scale of 4 levels, basic, average, superior and unbeatable, to understand customer requirements. Every enterprise can make the choice. To establish the market reputation of being a high value business, look at unbeatable level delivery. It will automatically impose that your employees have a high level of business understanding and delivery capability. Such capability does not appear on waving a magic wand. The whole enterprise has to first recognize its necessity, accept and adhere to the change required to live up to the unbeatable platform. Willingness of the workforce is clearly essential for raising the learning curve.

When people reflect on my Surpassmark examples for individuals, of Charlie Chaplin in entertainment I wrote about last week, and Mohammad Ali from sports now, they enjoy their delivery capability. The crux of delivery excellence for an enterprise is such Surpass Practice that establishes Surpassmark.

What is the perceptible code of Surpass Practice? It’s the working process of an enterprise that repeatedly delivers surpass value that’s perceived by customers in the competitive environment. That means employees have such a high level of common understanding that they empower themselves to reject delivery that does not meet the Surpassmark. As Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle, who lived 384-322 BC, said, "You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an event, it is a habit."

To download above article in PDF Benchmark to Surpassmark

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Posted on 11-08-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

surpass Bowler hat, mustache, cane, a disproportionate pair of shoes, bizarre way of walking, and you have The Tramp, the international superstar of the silent-film era created by Charlie Chaplin. This was his Surpass Practice, unmatched till today.

British-born Charlie Chaplin started his entertainment career at age 5. Abandoned by a drunken father, Charlie’s mother was making a living by singing, when suddenly one day her voice failed on stage. The stage manager who’d heard little Charlie imitate his mother before, pushed him to finish the vaudeville act. Charlie bewitched the audience with his natural talent. Through a childhood fraught with hardship, poverty and living in workhouses after his mother was committed to a mental asylum, Charlie emerged "a sort of Adam, from whom we are all descended," says renowned filmmaker, Federico Fellini.

Chaplin recounted his beginning like this: "I was newsvendor, printer, toymaker, doctor’s boy, but during these occupational digressions, I never lost sight of my ultimate aim to become an actor. So, between jobs I would polish my shoes, brush my clothes, put on a clean collar and make periodic calls at a theatrical agency." Chaplin’s story felt a little familiar in one section, reminding me of my early struggling era in Paris. Even as a sweeper in a lithography printshop where I used to wear workers blues, I’d dress well with a tie from time to time to meet various art related people in my ambition to become a designer and painter.

In different comic roles when Chaplin toured British music halls, worked as stage actor and comedian, he followed the best practices of traditional comic theatrical genres, including the Harlequinade developed since the 17th century. At age 19 Fred Karno Company took him to the US where he entered films. In 1914 Chaplin created the Tramp persona by accident. To play a comic role he was rummaging through props in Keystone Studio, when he tried on the hat, outsize shoes, tight jacket, cane and mustache. The bumbling, childlike, good-hearted vagrant developed from there. Chaplin continued to hone and sustain this character as his Surpass Practice through his career.

The Tramp portrayed the human spirit through comic, pathos and subtlety. This was a Surpass Practice, being totally different from all earlier comic expressions. TIME magazine listed Chaplain among 20th Century’s 100 Most Important People for bringing laughter to millions: “He more or less invented global recognizability and helped turn an industry into an art." According to film critic Andrew Sarris, “He’s arguably the single most important artist,… certainly its most extraordinary performer and probably still its most universal icon." Film historian Mark Cousins says Chaplin changed the imagery, sociology and grammar of cinema. So breaking all previous benchmarks for comic acts, The Tramp became Chaplin’s all-time Surpassmark.

Surpass embodies excellence. It is defined by words like excel, outshine, standout. Surpassmark immediately brings in a competitive spirit whereas benchmark is just a catch-up game. Surpassmark is active whereas benchmark is passive. My story today is on how to garner expertise by following the existing best, absorbing that very best, and then going beyond to express yourself differently, to surpass everyone in your path-breaking innovation. Being able to surpass existing best practices by bringing in your own originality on top of them, you will create your “Surpass Practice.” I call this the Surpassmark that competitors will vie to have. 

Once you become a benchmark, your enterprise obviously becomes iconic, but it’s not a given permanent success status in any industry in the current, ever-changing digital world. An enterprise sometimes unmindfully lives in that glory, in that comfort zone, just like Kodak did. They forgot to create discomfort, to watch market happenings seriously, so they fell into the Titanic Syndrome of not being alert, considering uccess to be infallible, so that a small fissure in it can become a strategic hole that drowns the business. Kodak missed the Surpass Practice here.

We’re familiar with Philips’ invention of the tape recorder sound system in the last century. But it was Sony’s marketing ingenuity that created a personal, musical, mobile, electronic device Walkman as the benchmark since 1979. Sony reigned, decade after decade, with this outstanding best practice but failed to surpass its own best practice with renovation. The 21st century saw computer science enter entertainment to change the market rule. Apple redefined consumer electronics, making iPod a personal pocket music library, an example of Surpassmark. From the 2001 iPod with iTunes, Apple has evolved through versions to iPod Touch, enhancing consumer benefit with inside engineering, not merely aesthetics, thus sustaining its Surpassmark.

To achieve sustainable profitable growth and establish a Surpass Practice, yours has to be a learning enterprise. Cultivate management and operations to continuously absorb two kinds of best practices: (1) your own industry’s best practices, to benchmark with the finest existing working process; (2) best practices of other industries, to extract diverse benchmarks that are bubbling the marketplace, adding external newness, becoming leading trends that create society’s new habits. Then filter those best practices and go beyond to create your own Surpass Practice.

When you redefine your own working process and customer delivery, the enterprise has to change to leap forward beyond the best practice. The result will create a Surpass Practice, the real plus with exciting distinction that your enterprise can own. Surpass Practices will increase your enterprise salience, make it outstanding, and attract multiple external and internal stakeholders. Such a seamless process can grow the enterprise harmoniously by absorbing and internalizing all relevant emerging external factors year after year. Most importantly, Surpassmark will become the reference your competitors will covet.

I’ve heard a lot about best practice, benchmark even the concept of next practice, but in my experience, unless that learning transcends to Surpass Practice which can stand for Surpassmark, you remain a me-too. So my proposition to enterprises, irrespective of their industry or size, is to learn best practices but deliver Surpass Practices to become the reference point through Surpassmark.

To download above article in PDF Best Practice to Surpass Practice

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Posted on 04-08-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Dynamic airfares are plunging deeper without a moment’s notice, enticing flyers in India’s low-occupancy Monsoon season. The impact of August is diametrically opposite in my adopted country France. More or less the entire 11 million Parisian population empties out; it’s the start of 5 weeks of paid holiday, most offices, schools, even shops are closed. Replacing residents are foreign tourists, part of the 83 million who flood into France every year, making this the highest tourist arrivals in the world. The second highest attracter is the US with 67 million arrivals; in contrast India welcomed just 6.5 million tourists in 2012.

Visitors to Paris make a beeline to the 1,050ft tall Eiffel Tower erected in 1889. This world’s most recognized monument gets almost 8 million tourists making a meandering queue every year to climb its top floors. A recent study by Italy’s Monza and Brianza Chamber of Commerce has declared Eiffel Tower to be the world’s most valuable monument at €435 billion. Rome’s Coliseum has the next highest brand value of €91 billion, while Tower of London takes third place with €70.5 billion. India’s most visited site, Taj Mahal, gets 3 million visitors per year, less than half of what the venerable ‘Iron Lady’ landmark of Paris pulls in.

Eiffel Tower’s design was originally sketched by engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier with inputs from architect Stephen Sauvestre. They worked for Gustave Eiffel who bought the rights to the design’s patent. He entered this design as a centre-piece for the proposed 1889 Exposition Universelle, planned to celebrate the 1789 French Revolution centennial. He won the contract for this World Fair, but was granted only 1.5 million of the estimated 6.5 million francs required for construction. So Eiffel was allowed to receive all income from the tower’s commercial exploitation during the exhibition and the next 20 years. Even Gandhiji was present in this World Fair. The French “writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris” made a huge hue and cry against this construction. Eiffel allayed their fears saying, “Will it not be grandiose in its way?” that this tallest structural art ever erected by man will use the latest technological knowhow to become a scientific wonder of its time.

When the exposition opened, the tower was an immediate hit with the public; two million visitors bought tickets to climb it then. As per Gustave Eiffel’s permit, the tower was to be dismantled in 1909, and its ownership transferred to Paris City. But plans to tear it down was reversed as, fitted with powerful radio transmitters, it proved valuable to jam German communications during World War I. In fact the beautiful Dutch dancer Mata Hari, a spy for the Germans, was captured when the Eiffel’s radio antenna intercepted a German message in 1915. On decoding it, the French read that H21, her code, had provided information to the Germans. Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in France on espionage charges in 1917.

I‘ll never forget the grandeur I experienced in front of a floodlit Eiffel Tower, under the Paris evening sky, during the 1998 World Cup football where France won and Zidane shot into fame. The majestic, rich and penetrating sound of The 3 Tenors, a name given to Spaniards Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and late Italian Luciano Pavarotti, reverberated the entire area thronged with music and football enthusiasts. These classical music singers set their competitive instincts aside to create an awe-inspiring musical event. I had enjoyed The 3 Tenors in the philharmonic orchestra conducted by the greatest Indian maestro Zubin Mehta in Rome and Los Angeles earlier, both were thrilling, but the electric atmosphere under the Eiffel was truly mesmerizing. Here the Eiffel became not a mere metal backdrop, but a signifying icon that made this French moment unforgettable for a global audience.

In keeping with the times, Eiffel Tower is currently undergoing a €25 million green renovation project to improve its energy performance by 30%. About 20,000 light bulbs that consume 7.8 million kWh of electricity per year are used to sparkle the Tower every night. Solar panels and wind and hydraulically-powered turbines will be installed, but they will not be visible from the ground, nor will the tower’s familiar silhouette change.

Aside from its commercial and physical magnificence, did you know that Eiffel Tower is also sexually attractive? Ask Erika La Tour Eiffel; she’s a mid-30s, former American soldier discharged for psychological reasons, who came from San Francisco to marry this latticed iron structure. In a small intimate ceremony with close friends, she pledged to love, honour and obey it, and even changed her name legally. Erika is Objectum Sexual, an OS person who believes her love with objects is reciprocal. Around 40 people in the world have declared themselves OS, saying they can telepathically communicate with objects and physically have relationships with them. Among other OS objects of desire have been the Berlin Wall, a fairground ride, a church banister and the Empire State Building.

India is yet to attract OS people in spite of having erotic historical monuments. Indian tourism can potentially become the world’s largest due to its 5000-year-old history, variety of geographic features and diversity of heterogeneous people, culture, food and wildlife sanctuaries. If Dubai has attracted 5.5 million tourists in 6 months, January-June 2013, for shopping alone, and Eiffel has fascinated over millions of people to date, why can’t India magnetize the regular visitor to come and spend money? To do so we need set marketing processes and systems in place to connect to different kinds of people with different perspectives in the 5 continents. Tourism could be huge source of income in India for poverty reduction too.

To download above article in PDF Eiffel brand worth is €435 billion

Financial Express link:–435-billion/1150874/0

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