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Book Review : The Indian Media Business {3rd Ed.}

Published May 9, 2015 by vishalvkale


BOOK REVIEW : THE INDIAN MEDIA BUSINESS

BY : VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR






Image result for the indian media business vanita kohli 3rd edition


ABOUT THE AUTHOR : 
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and writer. She has been tracking the Indian media and entertainment business for over a decade. Currently she is a columnist and writer for Business Standard and Mid-Day. Her earlier stints include one at Businessworld and Ernst & Young. A Cambridge University fellow (2000), Vanita teaches at some of the top communication schools in India.
THE BOOK
The book is, in simple terms, a reference book on the entire Media Landscape of India; at the same time, it is also a book that teaches you the basics of the game, and then proceeds to take you into the inner working and nut&bolts of this industry and all its constituent sectors. It traces the development of each sector right from its beginnings, right from the start, and develops right upto the present time. It furthermore  also covers regulatory and legal aspects of the business, making it a one-step guide to this industry, and a must read for anyone even remotely connected with Indian Business in any function; more so for Sales and Marketing Professionals, for whom this should be required reading. 
It devotes one chapter on each sector of the Media Business – Print, Television, Film, Music, Radio, Telecommunications, Internet, Out-of-Home, and Events. Within these chapters, the book uses a standard layout for all chapters: introducing the industry, a brief but powerfully hitting strategic summary, then tracing the entire industry from its origins to the modern day {till 2009, when the book was penned}; as well as its operational realities & how the business works, topping it off with a reasonably thorough look at the regulatory history as well as current landscape of each sector. After this data supported {extensively data supported, may I add} portion, we are treated to Case Studies from India and the World, which are very relevant and pertinent. All in all, a complete reference guide for the Indian Media Business!
THE REVIEW
First of all, the content is a bit dated – there is an updated version now available, which is recommended for purchase.  {I shall be reviewing that as well on my website}. But that apart, there is almost nothing that is bad, or even debatable, or even far-fetched. This is a superb book that is factual, data supported and full of  pertinent information for the interested reader.
1.  Print Media : “The Indian Print Business Is In The Best Years Of Its Evolution” The book starts with the Print Media, and packs a surprise right on the first page for the uninitiated – India is one of the fastest growing newspaper markets in the world. I liked 2 things in this chapter : one, content quality and corruption / issues and challenges – which she has taken head-on in no uncertain terms; and the other the short and succinct analysis of why Print is not likely to fade in India
2.   Television : “The Market Will Remain About Broadcasting For Very Long” This is a rather detailed chapter, which could have been better, in my opinion – but the author was constrained by having to cover all points as per the chapter layout planned for each sector. My main take-away – the rise of the Regional Channels in the industry, as well as the advertising section. The rise of regional channels leaves you wanting to know more, which is only a tantalizing glimpse in the book!
3.  Films : “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be In The Movie Business” Most of us know zilch about this sector and how it operates. Well, you’ve got the right book for understanding this segment; the piece de resistance of the book for me – along with the Out-Of-Home segment. Here again we run into the rise of the regional cinema, in a short tantalizing look; confirming that there is a case for the Author to devote more space to the regional language media, whose rise does feature, but gets drowned in the other stuff. That apart, this chapter offers a complete understanding of the business of Movies from content to distribution, attendant risks, challenges and issues – which will not be found anywhere else as far as I am aware.
4.  Music : “The Music Industry Is Finally Enjoying The Growth Possibilities Created By New Media” This is the one single chapter I look forward to reading in the new edition… that should sum it up. No further comments here!
5.  Radio :  “The Radio Business Needs To Move On To The Next Stage” The second take-away from the book; the unsung Medium in the Indian Media story, which is normally dominated by Television and Print in the Media. This chapter has the Author in her element, as she goes about tracing the challenges and pluses, which are reasonably well covered. Again, in the opening strategy section, we get a glimpse of deep insight as the author notes with pain the absence of true localization in the content – leaving the reader with a sigh of dissatisfaction, at the prospect of having a more analytical look into this Medium… let us see if the next edition is upto the mark in this
6.  Telecommunications : “Telecom’s Ability To Master The Media Business Will Depend On Its Flexibility” So much has changed, that it would be futile to go into this here. Suffice it to say that the chapter gives you a hold on this industry {unfortunately my industry L }, its basics and its history. And yes, its regulatory mess.
7.  The Internet : “The Coming Years Will Be Tough For The Internet As A Medium” Written in 2009, current 2015, look above in point no 6. Repeat most part here. Enough said; will look in the review of the current edition!
8.  Out Of Home : “The Similarities Between Out Of Home and Cable TV Are Startling” This is the chapter, this is the sole reason you should read the book… the least understood and most brutal area of Media. And one of the most ubiquitous in terms of customer interaction points. The chapter takes you deep into this business, into its growth, its unregulated and fragmented mess, its potential as well as engaging case studies of how a growing economy of the 90s onwards created both a mess as well as space and opportunities.  
9.  Events : “Everything is an Event” – again, an updated edition is sure to have more masala as events have now grown quite a bit into various streams and industries, so passing up any comment here. Repeat points 5 and 6 here, in short – understand the basics of the business!
SUMMARY
In short, I can say truthfully that this is a primer book; one that gives the reader a thorough and painstaking look at the constituent factors and operational realities, challenges, regulations and history of each Media segment. The sad part is that it could have done all that, and gone into greater detail on some strategic aspects, which I shall cover after reading the updated edition – perhaps they will find justice in the new edition! All in all, a vital and important contribution to the literature on Indian Media!
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The Screen As A Strategy : Understanding The Internet

Published April 29, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed the previous article {found here : Understanding The Internet : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems} with a statement that few organizations truly understand how to use the 5-21” space of the screen;  this article looks at this aspect in a little more detail. A great many companies use the customer-facing aspects of the internet as merely another tool to communicate and connect, completely ignoring the full power of the internet ecosystem.
The Screen, first of all, is mistakenly defined as just a mere device that displays, or acts as a window, disseminating information to your prospects and customers, and the general audience. The screen is more of a doorway, a portal that transports – or has the ability to – transport your customer into a world of constantly interacting stakeholders in your product, your company and your addressable market segment. If that doesn’t scare you as a Brand Manager, as a Marketer, and as a Sales Professional, high time it did.
Before the internet ecosystem evolved, the touchpoints a customer had for interfacing with your products were limited – The Shop, Company Offices, Other Customers who were limited to those who were met personally, Media, Competitors and a few more. But cut to today and that has undergone a sea-change, with the potential ability of the customer connect having increased to almost infinity, with the feasibility of getting exposed to and influenced by a much larger array of touchpoints, viewpoints, opinions – as well as both positive and negative customer feedback and experiences
It stands to reason that in the changed environment of freer flow of information & increased touchpoints, the customer communication has to change from a one-sided monologue to more of an engagement with the customer. The reason is straightforward – a greater number of touchpoints mean larger information volume and interactions, contrarian opinions, noise and greater scope for replaceable products to engage with prospective customers, as well as greater potential of the medium to enhance audience experiences.
Thus far, we are on established management jargon, which is spouted by a good number of companies. Only a select few organizations manage to actually convert the monologue with an active engagement; very very few, in fact. For, a large majority of the sites I visit, at least in India, still adhere to the old style of communication; little effort is made to enhance the customer experience, and make it more rewarding and meaningful. In some cases, the customer experience is actually negative in many ways. The reason this is not showing in sales is either due to the price differential; products are cheaper on the Ecommerce sites, or due to other attendant disadvantages.
Let me illustrate with 2 examples : one B2C and one B2B. The internet is so vast, that it is not feasible for me to cover more in a blog post; neither is it advisable. In B2C, let us take books. Why does a customer buy a book online? There are two reasons : Price, and Convenience, which has lead to galloping sales at online book stores. But halt a moment, and analyse in depth. And, instead of asking what does the internet give you, ask what does a book stall give you? Reverse your viewpoint for a minute!
In a book store, you can get a feel of the book, you can flip its pages – which is pretty damned important if you are reading a new author, or a serious topic; you can easily compare similar books or two options on the same subject. Furthermore, you can far more easily spot new books; the interface is much bigger than a small screen; in a store, you are exposed to 4 walls crammed with books, which  make for easy discovery.
To compete with this, you have the price-offs and the convenience factor of the small screen; till date there has been on attempt at going beyond this. Reviews do not count in the age of the convergence of technology; it is simple enough a task to look a book’s reviews on your smartphone and purchase offline! The offline stores are also now becoming more nimble, willingly offering discounts to regular customers, and other small facilities, like getting selected books for them. They are now allowing customers to sit on sofas in comfort, and browse books to their heart’s content – in other words, they have added several value-additions to the customer interface, making for a much more rewarding experience
And that is where the digital players are not doing anything : trying to make the customer interface more rewarding. Sure, this will be expensive, time-consuming and demanding; but it will have to be done sooner or later. Currently, you are not facing the pain as the market is untapped, and there is a scorching growth pace, that is hiding the underbelly. All are advised to study Telecom, and how its ARPU fell, and draw parallels and extrapolate to the future, with penetration at higher levels. That is a reality every industry has to face.
In our example, a moments’ thought and you can spot any number of ways that the customer experience can be made more rewarding. You can facilitate browsing titles – and the usage of technology can ensure that the browsing experience in online stores will be leagues ahead of the offline experience, as you can offer targeted searches in the book’s content. Author-searches, cross-selling opportunities, specific searches of interest – all of which can make the customer experience exceptionally powerful.
You cannot match the dexterity and ease of new book discovery in offline stores; but you can work around this issue by offering other advantages. You can offer first 1o pages downloads free, as an example. You can look at facilitating direct interactions with the author, fan pages, discussion forums; you can facilitate book searches and book discovery in a much wider database, and can give options for time of delivery if book not in stock {beyond the current We Will Get In Touch When In Stock} and so on and so forth.
All this can be achieved at the touch of a button for the customer, which cannot be matched by the offline store. The current model of price-driven sales online is already driving a deep schism into offline models, leading to a massive backlash by offline models, who are competing with extraordinary tenacity and dexterity, and are in the process not only maintaining relevance, but actually winning back lost ground.
And all because the online people aren’t using the full power of the medium; and that is because the pain isn’t showing in the numbers, as the high growth rate is ensuring the new customers are greater than Churn. As I said, learn from Telecom : there will come a time when Churn will exceed new customers. And no one can say how far away that time is, given the stunningly scorching growth rates in this industry.
In the next article, I shall take a look at the B2B marketplace, as well as some interesting entirely avoidable mistakes made by the best of them in this trade in both the B2B and B2C Space. 

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems

Published April 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems



At first glance, the title – understanding the internet – seems an anachronism, something out of place in the modern world, where the internet is ubiquitous, at least among the educated classes; and is rising fast in the rest of the people. You only have to look around to see people using the internet, gaining from it, and being completely comfortable with this medium.

And yet, that is precisely what my contention is : that this medium is actually the least understood, and in just about everything. The potential of this medium is being felt in just about every human endeavour, and as I have observed before, its raw power to reach into the gut of existing models is only just being felt across industries. What is this raw power I am referring to? And why is it the least understood medium?

The average person comes across individual levels or layers of the internet at various times; this interaction is in two distinct areas in terms of purpose of usage : Personal, & Business / Professional. On a personal level, we come across Facebook and Twitter, News Apps, Online Shopping portals, and many more sites targeted at the individual; traditional classification extends to such terms as Social Media, News Portals, and so on and so forth. But, on a professional level, depending upon our profession, we similarly interact with many sites and types of portals like dedicated B2B or B2E portals and other sites – which include the above listed personal sites!

If the above sounds confused or disorienting, let me clarify : my point, simply put, is that we need to reverse our outlook; when we think of the internet, all of us think of it from the lens our personal interaction on the internet, even when looking at the professional aspects. We always think of how the internet has reduced distances, made price discovery easier, information dissemination faster and borderless, made customer contact easier and so on – in other words, looking at it Point-To-Point, individually or lacking a systems perspective

The internet is all that, and much much more. We need to turn it around 180 degrees, and look at it from a business perspective, from a strategic perspective and a systems perspective to understand the raw power, as well as appreciate how little we understand this medium, or just how wrong we have been. This has profound implications for all businesses, as we shall see.

Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems
Let us start at a very basic level – the simple point-to-point interaction. Consider pricing – in any market, it is now common for a customer to compare prices with the internet; it is equally common for a customer to compare prices across geographies. This applies to retailers and distributors as well; meaning, quite simply, that price differentials within the same market will go the way of the typewriter. What all team managers, especially senior managers, tend to forget is that this also applies to your teams, which is now stunningly well connected internally.
It has always been a simple sales tactic, that of differential pricing, which in an earlier era, was nearly undetectable, given the low interconnectivity between the constituent customer profiles and the channel partners / retail / Your own team members. This at times unhealthy practice gave results while harming the system and leading to a leak of corporate money, and harm to many a top performer and talent, as needless discounts are given;  in the current era of Facebook + LinkedIn + Whatsapp + Email + Mobile Telephones, this is just not tenable, as people are way too interconnected at each level of the business ecosystem – making for easy discovery of the stated underhanded tactics.
The combination of just these 5 – Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Email and Mobile is hard to beat. You can share information over the mobile – back it up with proof of pricing by the simple expedient of a mail or a Whatsapp photograph, or look and compare online and offline prices with ease, given the penetration of the Mobile Internet. Convergence of technologies at its very, very best.
From a systems perspective, this means that the old tactic of having differential prices for varied distributors and geographies is now a much more challenging task, given the convergence of technologies and gadgets, and ease of connection. It has meant unhindered flow of information across and within markets, ensuring that the price differential gets easily exposed. This is driven by the entire interconnected ecosystem, as employees and the channel connect with each other with ease over various media; customer openly voice opinion on the internet etc.  
What most companies further do not understand is this : there is an increasing push-back from the retail end of the business as well as from teams, who are now converging into interest groups and power fora, and getting together to force companies and managers to alter their short-term tactics of differential pricing within the same channel as well as across channels. This is a direct result of the free flow of information wrought by the internet, the mobile and the entire information ecosystem.
And that is what I meant by stating reversing from an outward looking perspective of how the internet is changing the business environment and making life easier for businesses. That way is a strictly personal look – you are essentially analyzing the advantage you have as a professional. What needs to be done is analyse the entire impact from a systems perspective, from the perspective of not the Manager, but the entire business. In other words – get into the shoes of the Business, not the shoes of the person managing the business.
And that is the most critical learning, and the real power – we aren’t talking about just the internet, we shouldn’t be thinking about just the internet, but rather the entire ecosystem – The Internet, The Computer System, The Mobile, The Falling Cost of Access, The Fast Rising Usage. We should further be looking at it holistically, and from a dispassionate analytical perspective, and changing the operating style as the market changes all around you.
In simple terms, the entire basis of business, the entire basis of doing business on the ground is changing fast, driven by a vastly changed ecosystem. And managements just aren’t in sync with this simple reality. What has happened is, quite simply, the entire bedrock on which internal systems are based has vanished almost overnight, contributing to an exponential rise in pressure on employees, managers, systems and organizations alike, as they failed to change with the times…
There are many other parameters – like the impact on the simple things  – like telling the truth, or stretching the truth; and how the internet ecosystem is setting about revealing the truth and making lying impossible for organizations; or the simple fact that even some of the most tech-savvy organizations don’t understand the 14-21” screen, and how it is to be used for maximum impact, or indeed how to strategically use it… which is the subject of the next article in the Digital Series, of which this is the third…

Book Review : India, Uninc. By Prof. Vaidyanathan

Published April 8, 2015 by vishalvkale

Book Review : INDIA, UNINC

By Prof. Vaidyanathan

About The Author : R. Vaidyanathan is Professor of Finance and Control and UTI Chair Professor in the area of Capital Markets. His areas of interest are Corporate Finance, Investments, Portfolio Management, Risk Management and Pensions. He is the Chairperson for the Centre for Capital Market and Risk Management [CCMR] at IIMB. He is a National Fellow of ICSSR. A graduate of the Loyola College, Madras and a Masters from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta he obtained his Fellow in Management (Doctorate) from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta where he also taught for four years… Read his full and very impressive Biodata and achievements Here


ABOUT THE BOOK

photo

The book is about the unsung and discounted sector of the Indian Business Environment and Economy in the first part; it goes where no book has gone before, at least not in my readings. This is a book that looks at the Small and Medium Enterprises, or more specifically, the unincorporated sector and its contribution to the Indian Economy in exhaustive and nevertheless entertaining detail

The second half is where the real fun and games begin, as the author takes you into deep insights and truths about the Indian Business Environment, in a roller coaster journey that will leave you breathless. These are not words that can normally be used to describe a business book, but fit the bill nonetheless. The Author has skillfully managed to connect culture with business, in a fashion that makes eminent and practical sense. How? Read on! 

This is a book that should be compulsory reading in each and every Business School and in each and every organisation. Why? Read on!

THE REVIEW

The first part of the book is a treat in numbers, and more numbers – and when you get tired, you get treated to even more numbers. Then, you get exhausted. And, as a welcome relief, you get an even greater variety of numbers. The beauty lies in the presentation – an easy to understand tabular presentation that drives home the point the author makes. Then, the long and uninterrupted series of numbers are never boring, because each is cogently explained by the text, as well as concern a variety of areas and sectors, keeping the reader riveted. 

This is a point that needs to be underscored, as the Author has presented a theory that shakes many a concept in our minds – making it vital that the theory be supported by data. What is even more important, the author has relied on authentic and irrefutable data from official sources, and has also presented a multitude of perspectives and data sources from various data-collection and presentation sources, ranging the entire gamut of available data. 

The Unincorporated Sector
The book looks at several aspects – contribution of the Unincorporated Sector in GDP, Income, National Savings, Employment. The data is conclusive; the unincorporated sector is the major contributor to the Indian Economy, whereas the corporate sector contributes only 18%. If you add Unorganised Agriculture, the contribution of the Unincorporated Sector comes to a humongous 60%+, which is a shocker, and a wake-up call, as the data forces you to rethink quite a number of concepts. {I shall go into details in further articles, as this is a book that can spawn several lines of thought and analysis}

Factors of Business
It looks at the important factors of business – especially credit offtake from banks and support mechanisms, the role of Social Support Groups, Chit Funds, NBFCs, Taxation coverage, Bribery as well as the challenges faced by this sector bringing you face to face with a rather uncomfortable reality of the problems faced by these organisations. The most important is the data-supported contention that Bank Credit is not easily available to this sector – which contributes the most to our Economy. 

Service Sector
The book takes on a life of its own in two segments – the Service Sector, and the social aspects of business. The data and logic presented in the entire section on the Service Sector is superfluous, as the argument presented is completely logical and intuitively sensible; you end up wondering why didnt you see or think of this, as you see it around you every single day! 

We think of the service sector as the or in terms of the IT industry, in our uninformed or prejudiced urban metro MBA-schooled viewpoints; here is data – irrefutable data – that proves that IT isnt even a drop in the ocean as on date; it brings you face to face with the intuitively logical reasoning that IT is only and only an enabler, and that the real service sectors’ contribution far outweighs not only IT but a good many other sub-sectors; we are referring to {“we” as I fully agree with the Author here} the innumerable retail kiranas, travel shops, restaurants, transport, real estate, construction services etc. 

And in this sector, the unincorporated sector has a 75% contribution, dwarfing the other corporate contribution. I find it hard to refute the statement that conversely, it is the corporate sector that is garnering the lion’s share of the focus of everyone in India, whereas the data shows that reverse should be the case. We should actually be celebrating the innate ability of the small Indian Entrepreneur to succeed, given the environment and the chance. 


The Social Aspects of Business
This is the frontispiece of the book, the piece de resistance. In 4 or 5 short chapters, the author has presented what can be called the real Indian way of doing business, and this is something that needs no data proofs – it is obvious to anyone who has been in business in India, and has seen and observed keenly. The way Indian Entrepreneurs leverage social contacts and social structures to create a business, open markets, gain access to working capital, employment is evident in the cornering of various verticals by various groups in India – numerous examples can be quoted, and have been extensively quoted in the book. 


The Role of The Stock Markets
The book contains all this and more; it looks at the inflated role of the stock markets, and the obvious conclusion that they arent representative of the Economy {we intuitively knew that in the recent past, comparing the stock indices which is diametrically opposed to the fundamentals of the economy; it was an amazing sight : disturbed and shaky fundamentals,and yet a robust stock market!}; here you find the data to back that intuitive logic. 
If corporate India contributes 18%, and Unincorporated 45%, Agriculture {unorganised} 17%, if 34%-41% of manufacturing is by the unorganised sector, if 70% of national savings are by households and unorganised sector, then by no stretch of imagination can an index representing 30 or 100 or even 500 stocks be called representative. Period. End of argument as far as I am concerned. And yet, the focus is all on Corporate India. 


Summary and Criticism…
I am purposely summing them in one, after expostulating the many positives of the book; the reason is that this book is a must read despite its weaknesses. The book draws a contention that the unincorporated sector succeeded despite the corporate sector and the government, and draws a clean line of separation. That cannot be strictly true – only partly true; as the role of the corporate sector and the government in creating opportunities that could be exploited by small units, travel shops, restaurants, hotels, construction etc cannot be denied.
Having said that, it is equally true that, given the paucity of Bank Credit, and an attendant lack of focus, the achievements of this unsung and real-cum-most-important sector  of the Indian Economy are truly fantastic in the past 2- years. That cannot be doubted. It is equally evident that this is a feat that required commendable ingenuity, planning, strategising, courage as well as superb execution skills to achieve. That is a given. 
The other weakness is the rather critical tone that is taken on many aspects, and the sometimes flippant attitude; but this is not a major concern anywhere in the book. Yes, it does stray significantly in one conclusion – FDI in retail, where I dont agree with the contention that FDI and organised retail will destroy Indian retail. The book itself is the greatest proof-  the small entrepreneur has succeeded because of self-driven passion, and without much support; hus, the contention that organised retail will inconvenience them in any way seems fanciful at worst, and premature at best, to be honest. 


Summary…
This is a book that brings to face to face with the real India, the real Indian Economy – not the one extolled by the Pink Papers, or other Media Outlets and Business Pundits. This is a book that brings you face to face with your business prejudices, and raises several deep and penetrating questions in your mind, its shortcomings notwithstanding. This is a book that presents a fact-based, extensively data-supported and nearly irrefutable chronicle of all that is wrong in our approach individually and severally, and that India is different to The Great West in just about every way from Religion to Culture, and from Economics to Trade. 

This is a book that introduces you, possibly for the first time in your business career, to the Real Indian Business, The Real Indian Economy, and the real way forward. But that is another story, to be told in another blog post; for now, suffice it to state that this book stands as one of the most powerful, entertaining and educating books I have ever encountered in my entire life…

Corporate India : The Self-Perpetuating Vicious Conditioned Response

Published March 20, 2015 by vishalvkale

A LinkedIn Question on Managers, and their attitudes towards employee’s mental health triggered a thought process; Do managers really care about employee’s mental health?
No, they dont. I dont think this can be an argued, with; neither is this open to question. There are several documented surveys in existence that bear the proof : that disease of every kind is rising, and fast. Question is, does anyone care? No. Also true. Next question : can anything be done? Answer : No. Concluding Question : Why? Answer : The stupid idiot who tries to do something gets sacked, regardless of level. Statement of simple fact. 

It doesnt take a genius to figure out that you run everyone under incredibly high stress combined long with 14-hour days – there are going to be cases of burnout, breakdown, mental disorders, heart attacks, diabetes, Asthma, etc. That is basic 10th standard Biology. Everyone should and does know this. Still they dont care. If they did, things wouldnt be as they were. That is also an unfortunate truism. People at the top – some of them, at any rate – are also well aware of the range of issues, but shy away from doing anything about it. Why should this be so? And why is bucking the system so damned tough for even a top manager? 

But first, the proof. As proof, in May 2013, The ET carried a damning indictment of Corporate India and its work culture. { Analysed on my blog here : Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction. } It holds an interesting divergence, and a hint of the key. While the Employer view was that employees value Career, the Employee view was the e.x.a.c.t opposite : they value job security. Another sector specific survey identifies rising mental illness in Corporate India. A third has clearly delineated abnormal and rising rates of sickness – especially lifestyle diseases. Just reading these surveys makes clear the TOTAL disconnect between Top Management and Middle-Lower-Frontline Staff. 


At core of the issue lies a bunch of cowardly middle managers, who are too scared to speak; brow-beaten frontline and firstline managers who know that if they speak, khatam, finish. And at the core of that lies a disturbed authority-responsibility matrix that gives power to people who dont deserve it, or dont train people for the higher responsibilities. And it is this self-perpetuating matrix that is in effect a vicious circle, breaking out of which is virtually impossible. 

This vicious circle is actually indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. 

And the proof of that {malaise} is simple; all you have to do is look, ask the right questions – for example, in the sales function,  just trace sales, cost of sales, distributor and team instability, cheque bouncing, customer complaints, vendor issues etc : all are directly proportional, whereas logic and experience both dictate they should ideally be inversely proportional. This is basis practical experience of tracing numbers. The problem : The PMS does not measure anything except the first parameter, which means that there is no reason to do anything about the rest. Result? Also simple to trace. Trace the brand failures, their number and rising incidence. {To those, esp HR people, who lay claim that the modern PMS does measure other parameters – my rejoinder; no, it doesn’t, but that is another story, for a different blog post. Stay connected}

At one level, people are just plain dumb, and too scared of chucking their jobs; that is admittedly a part of the problem. To that, I can only say  : come on, everyone! You are educated, a post-graduate {at least a graduate}, qualified, intelligent… dont you have confidence in yourself? Just because someone threatens you, you back down and do something against your nature, or the law, or plain common sense, or something that causes a loss to your team or the organisation or both? What that means is that you are good for nothing except what you currently do; that outside that comfort zone, you are a total failure.  

The second level is the rampant and completely one-sided belief that people who stay and compromise are resilient; nothing could be farther from the truth. Resilience does not mean compromising on the virtues and good values that differentiate a human from an animal. True resilience is standing up for your beliefs, and fighting it out. Staying and admitting defeat or compromising is admitting that you are incompetent, that the system has changed you! And, as we shall see later, this is the compromise that actually deepens the problem; it is this compromise that creates a vicious cycle.

What you see is a conditioned response; a response conditioned by organisational policies that are as harmful to the organisation as to the employee, policies that, acting in concert, create a vicious cycle, strengthening one message, and one message only. These policies, acting in concert, selectively build unhealthy competencies, simultaneously undermining the organisation’s internal strengths and capabilities. This is a matter that lies at the door of the CEO, HR heads, OD Teams, Line Functions VP’s and above, requiring deep-rooted policy level action and lots of time to correct. 
The policies in question the entire breadth of the organisation, and together coordinate to co-create what we see, what is evident in the various surveys, suicides, murders, pink slips, anger, heart attacks and lifestyle diseases cropping up. For example, the moment you promote based on end-result alone, without looking at the underlying factors, you are sending a strong message that reinforces the learning that anything goes. 

Even during hiring, the same message : with the focus being on your achievements, not how you did them; background checks also just check the veracity of the written documents, when they should in reality be talking to all concerned to get at the gist of the real performance of the person : has this person left behind a sea of problems, dissatisfied customers / team members etc? The proof is the ease with which people who are sacked for rampant financial irregularity get hired.

The same reinforcement goes into the people during meetings, with the focus being on achievements, with no serious questions being asked as to how these were done. Fact of the matter is that all of us know that there is no hanky-panky / short-cut that cannot be revealed in a set of targeted questions at the so-called high-achiever. Any fool with experience can expose the reality; it doesn’t require either intelligence or extraordinary levels of skill to pull that off.
This message is further reinforced when someone who has not performed is pulled up, usually in public, with no attempt to analyse the reason for the non-performance. This is actually a serious business risk- as a lack of competitive ability in the organization and its products first shows up in the non-performers’ numbers; the so-called performers, skilled as they are at getting numbers any which way, hide the erosion in competitive ability of the offering in the market. Result? Organisation after organization is taken by surprise as the entire edifice crumbles… when all you really had to do is put some time and energy understanding the non-performing areas in terms of strategic offering, not a purely tactical view. 

But this isn’t done – sending, yet again, an exceptionally powerful message. A conditioned response is created. The same thing happens as leaders try to inculcate a uniformity in companies, leading to a team that thinks along a defined line, lacking the perceptive and functional in-depth skills that are built up by diversity. Yet again, the same message. This is further deepened when people compromise, and say “this is the way it happens”…

The exact same thing happens when people hire for stability, or for deep skills in one skill area; you are building a team that can and does crack open under pressure; these so-called stable, or skilled people, in reality have never seen adversity, or have no exposure to other areas, knowledge sets and experiences; this is a vital and needed parameter that builds a vital and strong organisation. In each and every case, a strong message is going : to succeed, this is what you have to do…

Each  and every policy and step taken, rather than engender a positive attitude and out-of-the-box thinking, further deepens the problem in a self-perpetuating cycle.
I have said it before; I say it again… 

In 16 years and counting, in a full 100% cases of failed products and launches, the frontline teams have predicted the outcome with 100% accuracy. Organisations regard them as not having knowledge; my experience at front, first and second line tells me they know more about the business realities than anyone else in the company; this is across functions as well, with faulty policies being rightly called as such in 100% cases by the people who are not listened to. You ignore them at your organisation’s peril. No one speaks for the simple reason that speaking up is not encouraged; I have been told on occasion : teraa aadmi bahut boltaa hai, chup karao yaa nikaalo! Yet again, you are gving a message… a reinforcement…

This requires deep-seated change, and can only happen when people at the bottom start saying no, and give a push-back; which can only happen in a crisis period for the industry, when the bloodbath begins… Examples abound. Sad part is, in the bloodbath, many innocent careers are sacrificed. Hansa chugegaa daanaa…. etc etc… how to change this in any other way? I have no idea… if you do, drop a comment, and educate me! Cant be more honest than that.  

Make In India – A Critique

Published March 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

Make in India is the flavour of the season, almost – with Media going overboard on its prospects, and waxing eloquent on the benefits it holds for India. Lost in all this panjandrum are the voices – some small, like mine, and others highly influential, who have been raising questions {not objections} on this entire affair. Let us look at some hard facts, conclusive facts that can drill a hole through this initiative, or at least raise some serious questions. 
1) India is a primarily agricultural economy with employment in agriculture being at around 57% 
2) The total number of dependants on agriculture can easily be around 500-700 Million people, perhaps more 
3) Data supports the above : let us look at just one data point – number of land holding in agriculture. There are 121 Million individual land holdings in India. If you assume one family per holding, you are straightaway staring at a figure of around 500 Million. Add landless labour and support services, and you have a humongous number. 
4) Another proof can be had by taking a look at Census Data; more than 75% of the population stays in Rural India. The population of the top 200 Urban agglomerations do not exceed 20%. It was 15.4% as pre census 2011, and 14.4% if you take out the agglomerations and list only the cities. That is the reality. 
5) The Indian Economic structure is not a large-company structure; Corporate India – towards whom this plan is pointed – contributes less than 20% {I think it is less than 19% even} of national income. Ditto on any other parameter you may care to check up on. 
6) Another proof is the data on employment, which also shows a skewness towards unincorporated and unregistered employments, as also data on Rural-Urban split of employment 
7) Consumption data is another interesting data point, with the consumption of the bottom layers of economy having grown by around 1% since 1978, and by 3% in the top layers of the economy, thereby proving that increased economic activity does not lead to riches for all. We do not have consumption trends of consumables, unfortunately – so we have no way of knowing the relative speads of this increased consumption 
India isnt just about Corporate India, which is a rather insignificant contributor to any economic number you may care to anaylse; and there is a strong possibility that Make In India might not directly benefit the people who need change the most – the rural population, whose needs and challenges are not the same as those of Urban India; the same can be said of the economically deprived segments of our society.
In order that the potential of the bottom 80% of the population is unlocked, and the impact of growth is felt across all sectors and income-levels in a more equitable distribution, some basic steps are vital. In fact, it may even be possible that the absence of these steps might actually stall the entire MII initiative, and ground it fully and finally. I havent seen any indication from the GoI that it intends to do these; if it is in the works, excellent. If not, we are still hurtling form one crisis to the next. 
1) Agriculture ; Data again clearly show that nearly 93 Million of the 121 Million holdings are losing money on every crop {NSS – 2005; am not aware of any survey conducted after this}. This indicates that earning for the farming community have to improve; which means that the entire ecosystem needs looking at : viz subsidy structure and outlay, inputs, market access, price controls, APMC, price realisation at farm level, education of farmers in latest techniques, spread of knowledge from ICAR and other research places to farmers, etc. Not one point from these is being talked about. 
2) Unless the farmers and those dependent on agriculture earn real money, there is zero chance that they will educate their children beyond the basics – and even that is doubtful. Literacy does not mean education – and economic growth requires education, not literacy 
3) Rampant Health Problems in rural India; economic growth means health is a prerequisite. And we as an economy spend among lowest on health worldwide. Fact. 
4) Education{1} – IITs and IIMs are not required, where the focus currently lies – and quite a few of these people run away from India, and that leaves out scores of colleges that require upgradation. Why should we focus on building capabilities that enable those who dont want to call India their home encash and leave, forgetting their mother? Not all leave, I admit – but then again, we do not require more IITs and IIMs for internal candidates – it is far better to upgrade existing infrastructure that will benefit not the select few but the large majority! That is the need of the hour!
5) Education{2} – For the mid and lower level colleges to perform better – another input is the quality of incoming students; improving their education levels requires investment in primary and secondary education. This isnt happening – GoI is not spending on these 
6) Education{3} – Participative growth requires education that enables people to take advantage of the opportunities. This will not happen under the current MII plan, that is a foregone conclusion 
7) Education{4} – Education is a state subject, or a subject in the concurrent list, What initiatives are being taken by the states? What pressure is there on them to improve, to ensure proper education and implementation? 
Ditto Agriculture – with focus being on freebies and irrelevant matters like GM Crops which will have no impact whatsoever. Ditto health. It is one thing to give them money – which is excellent; quite another to ensure its proper utilisation. RBI report on states budgetary health 2013-14 categorically lists the improvements as well as shortcomings of the states of India, as I stated in an earlier article. Please google and read.
It is indeed a laudable objective that GoI has undertaken – MII; but the question remains, is the timing right? Can it be postponed will we have the right infrastructure and mechanisms in place? Of course it can; these years can be far better utilised in building strength and capabilities across the board rather than undertake a high-risk venture like MII. 
An initiative like MII requires a few basics to be in place for it to be successful and implemented smoothly without which, delays are inevitable, as also massive cost overruns as businesses find a lack of requisite resources playing spoilsport. Some, like a digital backbone, can be implemented side-by-side {see data at the end}; others cannot. These others are matters related to people parameters like health and education. 
1) Factories require workers, Where will you get them? If you get them only from Urban or Semi Urban India, the time taken for the percolation to reach rural India will ignite resistance as the perceived gap between Rural and Urban India increases. The objective is to make all India a wealthy nation – not just Urban India. Does rural India have the ability as of now? I do not think so. As I stated above, there is a massive difference between literacy and education. We need education, not literacy.
2) They require Land. Where will you get land? Create draconian laws that ignore the interests of farmers? You do that – and you are guaranteed failure. We are a democracy, and have an excellent judicial system. The only result of ignoring the land-owners interests will be court proceedings, resulting in stalling of the entire MII initiative fully and finally. Irrefutable historical evidence exists of this. There is no option but what the UPA did- approval of 70% {pecentage negotiable as per me; point is community interests need taking care of} of the community who stand to lose. 
Urban India has no conceptualisation of Rural India; MII only stands to benefit the Urban population, not the interiors. And the result of a skewed growth will be another crisis as Urban India will not find the resources to fuel their growth as they go into hinterland, leading to a massive crisis of gargantuan proportions, given Corporate India’s idiotic penchant of investing without proper analysis and on half-hearted reports created by people living in secluded AC environs of Metros, from excel sheets and data inputs which are highly suspect for their content and accuracy. 
That leads me to the most vital set of reforms – proper data collection, and statistical analyses; and digitisation of everything – which includes digitisation of land records, economic activity, data collection authentication and analysis, everything. Please remember that Millions of our enterprises are unregistered, and Millions more do not reveal the full story. For a proper reasoned analysis – data is vital; and unless captured properly and completely, surprises will arise that will cause hiccups, delays and wrong turns.
There will be tax and legal repercussions that will need to be thought through – which is relatively simple; It will also require taking various vested interests on board, which is exceptionally hard, and the only real challenge; vested interests who will see no benefit in lieu of losses in various ways – not without the concurrent reforms in the comments above. The result? More delays. 
On the dream of digital India etc, please take a look at the reality in a national perspective. Coverage alone will suffice, we need not go into the aspect of quality of coverage, which is a subject unto itself. Data Points in the coverage do not support the contention of most people that India is a digital nation. And data is sufficiently important a factor for it to merit an independent analysis, given that we are in the information age. The reality is starkly exposed by data :
Average Data Usage Per Customer Per Month on GSM : 62.16 MB; CDMA : 192.99; Avg Tot : 70.10
Broadband : 68 Million; Narrowband : 190 Million subscribers approximately

Data Arpu, while it is growing, is still in the doldrums; the average Indian consumer consumes less than 500MB as per this news article – a figure that is corroborated by the TRAI report.
The figures above are again borne out in this report : http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/WhatsNew/Documents/PR-TSD-80-05122014.pdf, which clearly states on page 12 that the number of user in India on 31st October accessing speeds of greater than 512kbps is 75.73 Million, including 60.61 Million from mobile devices.
We are a nation of 1.27 Billion! Penetration is abysmal; can we afford to wait till penetration rises? Will it rise in the absence of other reforms – or will it hit a glass ceiling? The data clearly states that only a small insignificant segment of our population stands to benefit from the data revolution as of now; things are changing fast – but this is where it stands today. This goes hand-in-hand with income – for the people in the bottom income levels to gain, they should be educated, and earning enough to have access to the services. 
We do not, as per me, have the proper ecosystem to sustain such an initiative; at least not one that can ensure fast devolution of benefits to the lower income segments. We run the risk of increasing the income differential. Furthermore, MII requires an ecosystem conducive to it, not rhetoric.Is it rhetoric? Or is it real? We dont have enough data to make a definitive conclusion of that as yet. But the indicators are worrisome. Let us see.

Is This Government On The Wrong Path?

Published March 3, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed my previous article with these words  : 
What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so – as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish. “
Given below are the problems that I consider to be the real problems that impact us as a nation, encapsulated in very short : 
A) DEFENCE : Dramatic increase in budgetary allocation to defence. The plain and sad fact is that The Indian Armed Forces are in dire need of funds infusion; we need Fighter Aircraft : Medium Role Combat Aircraft in particular; we need Artillery Guns to replace the ageing bofors; we need munitions; We need urgent infusion of Naval Craft in several categories and so on and so forth. We further need to the Eastern Army corps that is being planned as a defence against China. The status of the Armed Forces has been extensively documented in the books by Gen Malik, in Gen VK Singh’s leaked letter, and in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines 
B) EDUCATION : Major focus on Primary and Secondary Education, not higher education. India does not need any further higher educations institutions as yet; what it needs are the refurbishment of existing facilities, and major fund infusion in Rural India especially. In terms of budgetary allocation, we are among the lowest – which is sad for a developing country. 
C) HEALTH : A clear definable plan to counter malnutrition, and fund infusion in the Rural Health Sector, encompassing PHCs, Taluka, Tehsil and District HQ hospitals in terms of staff, medicines as well as facilities. We need an increase in budgetary allocation to bankroll this 
D) RURAL INDIA / AGRICULTURE : A clear shift in focus from Urban to Rural India in terms of infrastructure : easier access to nearest agricultural mandis, markets, rural facilities like digitisation of land and revenue records, connectivity of the village with the local district and state capitals, making it feasible for the farmer to sell his produce directly ensuring better price to him, amending APMC etc related acts and so on and so forth. What is required is a clear focus on forgetting Urban India for now, and focussing on Rural India; with the benefits from the above, Urban India stands to gain automatically given the productivity enhancements. This requires budgetary allocation of funds, and a workable plan for the same – and a clear implementation focus.
E) SUBSIDIES : Tackle wasteful subsidies. On Agriculture, streamline subisidy; remove undue focus on Nitrogen, and develop a more equitable and more logical subsidy plan. I do not recommend cutting back on Subsidies in this sector; farmers cannot afford it. That is a fact. What is needed is a rebalancing. This is a structural component, and cannot be so easily altered. Reduce subsidy even further on petroleum products for all IT payers; they can afford higher cost of petrol. The farms cannot. Alternatively, remove petroleum subsidy altogether; develop cash reimbursement through Aadhar for the poor and the rural sector. 
F) RAILWAYS : Increase fares across the board, period. Invest proceeds on modernisation and increased security. Stop cross-subsidisation of passenger with freight; be logical, consistent and transparent. 
G) EXPENDITURE : Curtail wasteful expenditure, and all non-productive expenditure; period. No explanation required, no justification need be given. It is our money you are spending. This does not include expenditure on social imperatives, and support causes, without which we may have a human tragedy, Those expenses are a priority; here I refer to Governmental expenses, making the states accountable, cutting back on wasteful non-productive freebies etc. 
This, in the order of priority, is what the nation requires. What I am a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y shocked is that few people thought of defence. Boss, they defend our lives, and their problems are serious! It is a shocker that no one – not one person here thought of the needs of the defence of India! And their needs have been documented by several authentic people, and in detail. Shame on you, India. Shame!
Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some – education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms… And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states – without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances – RBI Report
What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented – or is being planned to be implemented – to ensure that the states’ budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 
The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing – or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government’s actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time – and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!
Why the hell do we need more Engineering Colleges? That too IITs? And more management colleges? So that they can run away from India, rather than help solve the problems? And that too in a scenario where  thousands of Engineering graduates, management graduates and other graduates are running around from pillar to post jobless? That is being smart? The definition of smart has certainly changed, if that is the case. Why not upgrade existing colleges from D and C category? 
You know why not? Because it is hard to do. Because you will have to roll up your sleeves and really work! Because you will have to challenge vote banks; vested interests; etc. I feel jilted! I had high hopes from the BJP. I feel jilted! They are doing exactly what the Congress did – NOTHING!
Next, defence. “Already, more than 90 per cent of the defence capital allocation is pre-committed towards instalments for purchases made during previous years. While the exact figures would become clear only after March 31, it is already evident that no more than Rs 8,000-9,000 crore of the Rs 94,588 crore capital Budget for 2015-16 would be available for new purchases. A few percentage points of army revenue overspend (it overspent 5.5 per cent this year) would whittle that down to zero.” 
This is a brutal shocker – the nation’s armed forces are in dire need to refurbishment, and the best you can do is this? Add to that the zero action on health and education : the conclusion is inescapable : the priorities are wrong. The Government is wrong on this, demonstrably so.
The needs of Agriculture which have gone unattended for many years, have again been postponed. Agriculture needs subsidy rebalancing – not done. Ideal ratio – 4-2-1. Indian ratio – 6.5-2-1. QED. Largely due to the Subsidy imbalance. Why wasnt this attended to?
Next, APMC act. How do you intend to ensure that the farmer gets the right price- the government states it want to do this – without dismantling the credit scenario-mandi power and giving free market access etc? {This is not just a budget issue, but also a governance one} Why hasnt this been done? This isnt a good government, sorry. I feel jilted. And I can do a similar analysis for Health, Education etc. I feel jilted.
And we, the middle classes, we are all jumping for joy as rates were not increased in Rail budget. We travel with family once or twice a year, and earn Several Hundred Thousand every annum. Total additional expense to us taking 2 trips for 4, and a {huge} 15% rise : 2000 Rs.
Wow man, WE middle class can go bankrupt if we have to shell out 2000 Rupees extra. F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C! Keep it up!
What is required is a sense of balance : while the needs of growth and business are real, and vital – they will, after all,  generate the profits and the employment to solve our poverty problem – the needs of the people are also equally important, so that they are in a position to partake in the economic development in the form of an educated and healthy people of India. I am worried since this is a good government we have; but whose direction is as wrong as the previous ones!
India isn’t about the Middle and above classes alone; it is equally about the other 80-plus percent. What we are currently doing tantamount to giving them freebies, and alms, and not developing them so that they can stand on their feet. What they need is the ability of stand on their feet, and assistance in the form of support programs till the time they do. That is a fact – and the sooner India realizes this, the better for all of us.