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IT-YT in Remote Places, feat. Raikkonen’s new helmet.

Briefly and without adding layers of complexity, here’s the actual challenge. First, the view from top-down.

The Central Government or a particular ministry releases funds for a public scheme which percolates down to the State Government and further trickles down to the districts or blocks. From the districts / blocks, either the banks come into play or the talukas or villages or panchayats, and the funds are allocated to who-so-ever is the beneficiary. The last mile, as we call it. Sounds simple enough.

Now from the bottom-up.

The beneficiary utilizes the fund or does not and irrespective of either, the village / taluka / panchayat has to provide a utilization certificate – consolidated, taking into account all beneficiaries, and the same has to be consolidated for all the villages & talukas and bumped up to the districts, where, again the consolidation happens for all districts or blocks and so on and so forth till New Delhi receives the final report.

The challenge?

For any IT company, the solution is simple. Provide something that tracks the fund flow and provide the reports, except that it is not simple. From bottom down, each taluka maintains its own distinct report format. Each format needs to be customized in the software. And we’re talking about thousands and thousands of villages. It requires flexibility from the software and a good understanding of the processes from the people doing the system requirement study. Patience is a virtue. Then, there is the challenge of little or no electricity and the project implementation site, meaning access to data is not 24×7. Cloud computing, much in vogue these days, fails at this critical moment. Probably the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel is the answer. Probably excel is all that they need to teach in the two years of MBA. Internet access is another hindrance. X network, claiming to be there by my side anywhere I go, gives up on me, 70 kilometers outside Mumbai. And when internet is not an issue, the hardware at these remote locations is. Because hardware needs maintenance. Also, because hardware gets stolen.

Then comes the people issues. The men and women have to be trained in a) accounting and b) technology. It is not that easy. Not everybody can train people in remote areas. Costs are involved, also motivation. And it is very difficult to keep a tab on how well the training has been given.  Also, far more important is the availability of trainers. The best solution is to have trained manpower got from within the community. That takes time. Time is money. Budget is an issue in all of this. The solution provided has to be financially sound for both the Project Implementation Agency and the Government / Stakeholders. Most departments do not provision in the budget to drill down to the village / taluka level. Tech-enabled blocks in India is still a work-in-progress.

It is a challenge. Tamil Nadu is a good example where IT implementation in remote villages has been possible due to several positive influences, including fast tracking projects and able administrators. Steps have been taken in other states as well but it is not a universal phenomenon yet. Apart from this, some big tech names have failed to give the solution required to the unique challenges India possesses. There is a humongous opportunity for technology to change the face of this country. We need the best minds working on this rather than fighting over whose religion is superior. That would help.

Lastly, on the topic of Kimi Raikkonen, from Patna to Delhi to Bangalore to Kolkata to Mumbai, I have now seen more people wearing the “Kimi” helmets than the number of people who know who Kimi Raikkonen is. In which case, I let the situation be, for that exuberance of old at drilling into everyone the greatness of his High Lord the Iceman sounds like too much work now-a-days. I do like his new no.7 helmet for the 2013 season though.

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Nine Months Later..

 

Two things have happened this past week which I thought would not happen and yet knew the probability of them happening were not nil.

 

It has taken nine months; from 23rd April in the year 2012 to the third week of January 2013, but the SOS call to home asking for money was a ticking time bomb. It had to happen. The issue was introduced slowly and for obvious reasons a tele-call was preferred to a Skype chat. It was explained there were no ongoing legal battles, no facing bankruptcy thing, no bad loans given and was not a victim of the very enticing offer of inheriting a million pounds from the King of Somalia, provided i furnished my bank account details to the e-mail sender.

 

The first year of the job is where you are on top of the world; financially independent and in no ways less than a personal finance minister except that you’re pretty much a bad planner. So for the first two quarters of the FY, things looked rosy, up until the point when it became obvious that certain financial declarations made were going to be touch-and-go in terms of them being met. So three scenarios were played out – the best, average and worst cases of self contribution towards meeting those commitments and based on the median of the average and the worst case, it was thought to be prudent to inform home. And therefore, the call. 

 

Onward to the second and the more important thing to have happened.

 

We’re an indirect sales company. We do not sell to the customer directly; rather manage partners who sell on our behalf. More of a manager-cum-pseudo-seller; yes I’m there infront of the decision maker/s if there’s a need but it is still not direct sales. More of a Mahesh Bhatt movie. It is not his own life story in his movies except that it IS his own story in some ways.

 

This was up until now. New product out in the market; priced almost six times the highest priced current product and it promises to help take the growing SME businesses to the next level. And with such high expectations, and especially when it is the initial market-acceptability phase, for a certain period of time, you have to trust your own people to go out and deliver value to the customer; in this case a select few customers filtered on certain parameters. This is exactly what is happening and thankfully so.

 

Always wanted to have an experience of direct sales. Go to the customer and sell. As simple as that. It is one of the most challenging and yet rewarding jobs out there. And when it is selling to the business heads of Indian SMEs and LMEs and the solution you’re offering runs into lacs and the guy may/may-not be technically sound; you have to sell value or you’re Uday Chopra from Dhoom. You’re there but you’re not really there.

 

So a few things have changed in order to take on the extra responsibility. The sleep times have changed. The evening exercise time has been shifted to morning. Much grudgingly. There’s even more travel now on the cards. Product knowledge now is more important than before. There’s more of pre-planning involved now as compared to before and more of jotting down things. And there’s much less free time overall. Interesting times work-wise.

 

Here’s looking forward to a good end to FY 12-13. In other news, here’s also looking forward to Lotus unveiling their 2013 challenger – online, on the 28th of January and celebrating one year to the day when was victorious at the Biz Quiz at IIM-A on the 29th of January. For the time being, Happy Republic Day guys! Celebrate the good; skip the cynicism. Life’s short.

 

WhatsApp!

 

Disclaimer: This article is based on true happenings and not a single thing has been exaggerated. Well, maybe the love letter writing thing in high school. But nothing else.

 

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get this person who thinks they will mess up my life by being in touch, to use whatsapp. So far, so fail. When two equal logics collide, Murphy’s Law will act and your point will no longer hold significance.

 

So in the face of the above, the app suddenly became less important. Yes, there are multiple college groups present, various joke sharing groups – categorized by age, gender and content and of course, an office group as well – because who wouldn’t want to know where their sales guys are but one suddenly started to wonder if the app were as important as one thought.

 

In amongst all of these, I forgot my XYZ bank’s net banking transaction password, for the account had been dormant for a long time. The ATM card had been blocked due to the card being lost only to be found later once the request for it to be blocked had been given, and the current cheque book is not CTS compliant, so pretty much useless. For requesting the issuance of a new cheque book online, one needed the transaction password. The second bank – a salary account has, as of 1 pm today, 800 rupees and I needed cash. That present in the earlier mentioned account. A request for a new transaction password was generated a week before, and as in such cases, the new password was sent to the home branch where the account was opened. Patna. Collection of the password in person is mandatory and so is the unsaid rule of not taking a leave from office during Jan-Feb-Mar. I needed the money but I also needed the job.

 

So, as in such cases, home was called and asked to persuade the bank authorities to hand over the documents to my father, in my absence. He’s had an account with the bank for more than a decade and a half and what started as a small bank branch back then knows him quite well. The authority first spoken to asked for a hand-written letter to be couriered along with the necessary identity proof documents. That would take time, so the Branch Manager was approached. Consensus was reached on a fax of the letter being sent at that moment. Thanks to the boring letter writing classes during high school – where more love letters were written than those to the police telling them your bicycle was stolen, a neat and crisp and polite letter was penned down within minutes and the only place within 4 kilometers from where fax on a Saturday is sent was traveled to. Now Murphy must have been a Saturday person for neither the fax machine nor the scanner was working. Crisis dictated that something else was thought of quickly for option A and B both, had been ruled out. Clicking a photo of the letter and sending it to my father’s e-mail ID, maybe?  The bank manager rejected the suggestion, simply stating if a proof was sent that the photograph was being sent by the account holder, he’d consider the plea, else, we were back to the point of sending a courier with the undertakings.

 

And so, it was at this point in time, whilst returning back from the fax-center that the idea first raised its head – what if the bank manager had a WhatsApp account? I could send him the required photographs via the app from the registered number with the bank and maybe things would work out. The bank manager did have a WatsApp account – on a less than desirable phone and although it took 10 minutes to convince him of the entire thing – having to answer a few questions for verification purposes, things worked out and the password was duly handed over to my father.

 

So, with a new found respect for the App and notwithstanding the issues with it for the moment, the photograph there has been changed, the status updated and three people blocked. Also, will muster courage someday to have a debate round two with the person mentioned in the first paragraph on the subject. Till that happens, happy enough to be playing banker online once again.    

 

Tax Savings Proof

 

Growing up, the budget on Doordarshan was the most irritating thing on Television. No control over the remote, long monotonous narration/s, numbers which did not make sense and worst of all – for something which was related to finance, it did not result in a pocket money hike. Similar was the case when taxation and investment proofs were talked about.

 

Fast forward more than a decade and it was time to do everything mentioned above. The company yours truly finds himself working for involves  a) accounting – taxation and everything finance and b) software. So logic says your taxation part would be again, a) simplified and b) filed w/out any hassle – we are in the IT business, afterall. The company, on its part has tried to make things simpler and employee friendly but ultimately the burden of proving your investments lie entirely upon you. And worse still, if you’re doing everything on the last day. 

 

Compunding everything was that the declarations were made way back in April-May and up until October, things were pretty much like the declarations by the majority of our politicos – all words and very little action. So, when accounts in the co. sent out a mail to TSPL (the cos’ abbreviated name) and the “last date” of submitting the proofs was intimated, and having done nothing of the sort that would produce any proof of investment, it was time to act as also the fact that motivation to do so itself rose by 25 percent on reading “last day” – the two words made infamous during the post-grad days.

 

As a first step, Anthony was summoned to the apartment. Readers unfamiliar with Anthony would be interested to know that the round guy always seen dressed shabbily – with the top three buttons of his shirt unbuttoned and wearing the same very old pair of sneakers since July last year, is the caretaker of our flat and who after taking large sums of money as deposits pays the tenant on the expiry of their agreement with money got from the next tenant. It is a mini-Ponzi scheme and someday somebody is going to pay. For the time being, keeping my fingers crossed. 

 

So Anthony was explained the concept of rent receipts and after ensuring that all the furniture in the house was Ok and the things provided by the owner were not misused or tampered-with beyond a particular point, the necessary documents were furnished. 

 

Next up was to tackle the issue of opening up an xyz a/c in a Canara Bank branch for abc scheme. Now, I have only once had an experience with Canara before – Dwarka Sector 12’s Canara bank ATM which did not return my money or the ATM card post usage in the year 2010. It was a mini heart-attack and I remember being angry at the bank for obvious reasons and telling it to somebody and then having to backtrack when after years of knowing each other found out at that particular moment that her father worked in the same bank. Never have had much luck in these matters as it is.

 

So hoping for much better this time around, and having taken a break between working hours to do the needful, went and sat in the Branch Manager’s cabin – the guy a relative of my current flat-mate. After having had two cups of coffee, was directed to Mr. P who would complete the formalities except that 5 minutes into the conversation, got to know it was the first xyz a/c being opened in the branch. It wasnt the most assuring thing had heard the entire day, simply because a) was working on a deadline – had 6.5 hours to furnish the proofs and b) it was almost 5:30 in the evening and Mr. P then needed to call the nodal brach in Nagpur and follow the steps over the telephone to get things working. 

 

In what was to eventually become the most irritating hour and a half spent in 2013, Mr. P could not get the user ID – password combination to work, had connectivity issues with Nagpur, had no idea how to give a proof of something which he had not dealt with before and ultimately ended up reducing the planned investment figure to one-tenth its original value so that in case of failure, the reversal would involve a watered-down figure as also that the proof for the remaining amount could be submitted during March. Sensing no point arguing, agreed to everything Mr. P said and a simple counter-foil was signed and the a/c number noted. It was the most kachcha of kachcha proofs you would ever see. 

 

From Chembur to Malad takes the better part of an hour. It took two and a half hours on the day because of too-many people wanting to return home post work at the same time and so by the time workplace was reached to get the documents scanned, there wasn’t a single person to be seen except the guard. The peculiarity with the scanner at ours is that only a particular guy’s computer can access it and it does not help when the said PC is the finance and document hub of the place. No access to the scanner meant i now had 3.5 hours to upload the documents. The mobile phone was then commissioned into action. The nearest photocopy/scan/cyber-cafe was 2.5 kilometers away and the phone number mentioned did not work. Should one take the risk or travel >5 kilometers for the next option indicated. The cyber-cafe 2.5 kilometers away did exist but would require a wait of 30 minutes to sort out the net accessibilty issues faced. 

 

An hour later and with everything done,  it was time to log in to the company’s intranet and upload the documents. At 10:30 in the night and with dinner now skipped for the day, it took 20 minutes to read the how-to notes and another 20 minutes to upload the documents successfully – 40 minutes before the option to upload freezed. 

 

Apart from the rent receipts for the months of April-May-June (Bangalore bureaucracy to be blame for the exclusion) and the toned down figure of xyz, it was a process which was simple and easily done. Almost a year into starting work, it is yet another thing which when growing up had thought would not do and yet, here many years later, find myself conforming to the system after a better undertanding of the processes involved.    

 

And yes, will keep a keen eye on the numbers mentioned in the budget later this year. 

 

Of 31st December in the year 2012 and Resolutions which were Broken even before Starting.

 

Here we go. From Blogger to WordPress in the 25th year of existence. Should the old posts be imported here?  No. Lets start afresh. 

 

Lets get started. People in touch with yours truly would know 31st december 2012 was unfortunately a working day for self. And as the night promised nothing and being alone on the day, there was a lot of time to think things while returning back from office in an auto which took 35 mins to cover the last 1.2 kilometres.  When, how, what exactly transpired to bring the thought will be of little consequence, so, to put it directly, the challenge of ‘surviving’ without Facebook for an entire year at first seemed illogical. Why should one do it? What was to be gained except testing one’s patience for a return which was as guaranteed as a Salman starrer crossing 100 crores within five days of its release these days (btw, have you seen Salman kissing Aishwarya in public? No?  Take some time out to think where your life is heading. Seriously. In the meantime, here you go -> http://bit.ly/U4MXgT )  

 

So, returning to the issue at hand, as one thought deeper into the subject and as the traffic got even worse at the same time, one could see the magnitude of the challenge.. not a week, fortnight or a month. A bloody YEAR without Facebook. A return on 1st Jan, 2014. Sachin would probably retire by that time from tests as well, people will grow older by one year, 20,000+ marriage updates on facebook missed, ten lac marriage photos missed in the time period, not able to comment, share, stare at things. It seemed tough. But then, since there’s two aspects of  everything and since the traffic didnt really show any signs of moving, started thinking of reasons good enough to give up Facebook for a year. And surprisingly, a lot many pointers did emerge. Also was reminded of the last challenge undertaken – travelling 300 kilometres one way and returning with all places to see visted and twice eating proper meals all within a budget of 200 rupees and not a paisa more. Yes it was done. Not comfortable, but successful. And thus, the optimism of completing the recent resolution went up by several notches. 

 

But self confidence is one thing. With plans such as these – where unlike the 600 kilometres of self travel, other people are also connected to your decision, it becomes important to let other people know what you’re going to do – else rumours take even less time to start. So called up this friend of mine i have known for 12 years and between the talk slipped in the resolution made. Now i totally respect girls but the reaction wasnt too good. And it went downhill from there. Bad start. Took ten minutes and explained to her why i wanted to do it expecting her to agree. There was a sarcastic “Jao kar lo” in the end and something about hospital and treatment was mentioned but i took it as a yes. But also, now this wasnt a straight yes so i figured to have to explain everybody why I wanted to do it wouldnt be such a good idea and may take a week. So, in ten minutes, I had three paras written in a notepad why the resolution was made and pencilled in 8 points each for why it was doable and why it wasnt, and was happy when this second friend pinged just as i completed writing. Known the guy for 15 odd years now. Told him the resolution. The choice of words from him to describe the entire thing was undesirable and remains unprintable even a day later.

 

Anyways, with two old friends, both the genders being asked having not much good to say about the decision, it was time to ping somebody who’s been a friend for three years now. Maybe a recent friend would not involve sentiments while answering. Now i dont know how he did it but this third guy managed to mix both the earlier friends’ opinion and gave a different perspective altogether to things. Still negative though and not much respect received. Also, i know people dont give too much heed to what i say at times but serious doubts had now been created as to the sanctity of the challenge. The fourth friend didnt help either. Atleast the conversation was short and he did give me a reason to stay on Facebook which was duly added to the list later. So, four friends down, not much support had, it was time to take a final opinion before taking a call. So ringed up somebody who i’ve again known for 10+ years, who is not on Facebook and she knows as much about what a timeline is as the amount Ravindra Jadeja knows about left arm bowling. The reply was blunt, negative and i think i heard laughter. Also said if i went ahead, i wouldn’t last a week before returning. I liked the confidence with which the claim was made considering everything was unknown to her but it was of little help to what was now a gradually sinking motivation. 

 

So what do you do when the chips are down? You come out fighting even harder. It was my decision, my resolution and I believed I could survive 365 days without facebook. So the notepad paragraphs were pasted in a facebook note and before it was finally posted and the decision was made irreversible without breaking the resolution,  i decided to take a one final look at how facebook was at that point in time before seeing it again a year later. Needless to say, the post never got posted. Got involved in a chat with a friend going abroad, commented on a couple of photographs, saw people sharing happy pictures, replied to a friend wishing an Happy New Year an hour earlier and decided resolutions such as these need more preparation and are not made in haste, how so much big the challenge. And did not think on it again until having spent four hours into the day in the office on 1st January, 2013 with very little work. What am I doing right now?  Sitting in an auto and finishing this note before it is time to call it a day. Did i make a new resolution? Yes. It is to start wearing a wrist-watch for the first time since 2004.  Happy New Year everyone.

 

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 For those interested in reading the resolution from yesterday, here you go. 

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31st December, 2012 has been a working day. In a parallel universe, i hope 2012 does not happen. Looking forward; that time of the year when people make resolutions.  Hit the gym?  Populate that WordPress account created in April but not touched thereafter? Material things? Non-material things? Marriage? World Exploration? IPL contract? What? And as the auto struggled to find space on a really REALLY congested Link Road, the thought came. There were so many things not going for it but as one thought on it for some time, pointers in favour of doing it also emerged. And then i needed an opinion. So pinged this friend of 12 years now and put the point across. The reaction wasnt good. And then i explained why I wanted to do it and there was a pause and a sarcastic ‘do it’. And having not convinced and yet gotten the approval of one, things seemed brighter. And since i cannot ping everybody – more of a logistical problem, therefore this note to say the the new year resolution for 2013 is to be seen on Facebook in 2014. Short notice so will be out of here tomorrow evening. I hope they do not permanently delete the account. Will have to read on settings.

 

So very quickly, 8 points on why it did not seem a good thought at first?

 

1) I know what is going on with your life even w/out being in touch

2) Wont get to see the marriage pics of guys whose wedding have not been able to attend / wont be able to attend

3) Facebook Chat 

4) status-es / comments / cricket posts / opinion shared / your pictures / new contacts – friends

5) New movie release trailers and Memes

6) Some of MY photos have come out pretty ok lately, unlike the bachpan. wrong time to leave

7) No quizzing, events and check-ins. Shit.

8) Will miss out on a lot many Birthdays 

 

And 8 points on why it seems doable.

 

1) Challenging. A week or a month or even two month seems legit, a whole year LONG 

2) There are two pending books that need to finish writing. Time is of essence

3) The second year of a job is where it gets really serious if one is serious about doing work 

4) Would like to know how different everything is here an year later 

5) Phone conversations ought to last longer. Null hypothesis

6) There will be a blog, a whatsapp and a twitter account still active for SNS activity

7) Would like to observe my own feelings and will be tweeting the withdrawl symptoms

8) I can return whenever i want to. Resolutions are meant to be broken.

 

But it is a very tempting challenge. Also, by the time this much has been written, THREE more people have said not to do it. But its a challenge. And very tempting. Hmm.

 

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