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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why The US Needs to "Friend" India.....

InFoSys Mysore Training Facility

I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to visit the infamous InFoSys Training Center in Mysore, Karnataka, India.  As I have mentioned before InFoSys is not only one of India’s largest companies but a global company that provides IT Support and Software Development Services to companies, governments, institutions, etc…all over the world.  To put it a bit plainly, when most Americans think of “india taking all of our American jobs”, many of those jobs are being replaced by Infosys labor, development, and business service offerings.  Visiting the InFoSys Mysore heightened this perception to an entire different level after I was done my 2 day tour of the training center.

I know, a visit to a training sounds pedantic or “uneventful”.  Many of us industry professionals have seen training centers before, and they are not particularly special or noteworthy. Most training centers that I have seen were very plain rooms filled with customer service representatives, computers, and the better ones encompassed high end training classrooms. The InFoSys Mysore training center, is at the least, a wonder! It is actually amazing. 

The InFoSys Center, which really can be called a full out University,  spreads over 200 acres, trains more than 14000 new trainees at one time, houses trainees, entertains new trainees with world class and newly constructed tennis courts, cricket fields, track courses, resort like swimming facilities, squash courts, badminton, basketball courts, movie theater(s), a bowling ally, etc…. , educates them with expert instructors, and provides the highest state-of-the-art smart classrooms for 6 months at a time. After the trainees have completed their studies, InFoSys then sends them back to various InFoSys centers all across the world to work and provide InFosys services throughout the global tech eco system, mostly to US businesses.

I have never seen anything like this before in the US.  They take training, education, integration, and service standards to levels that are clearly placing India as a rapidly growing super power.  I have had many conversations with Indian leaders, policy thinkers, etc... One of the most poignant statements I heard in discussion was "A country is a good as it s labor force. The Nation to provide the cheapest and best educated labor, monies will always follow and they will end up winning the race".  That statement was clearly made after visiting this center. 

I couldn't help but to feel like an underachiever after my tour....not myself personally, but as a representative of the US. I began to say to myself..."Wow....we have got to better or engage in more meaningful partnerships with India, China, etc....if we are going to stay at the top of the global “food chain”.  With facilities such as these taking training of a very young Indian labor force to these new levels, it may be that the US will continue to play “catch up” in providing US labor for technology and engineering professions.

To give you more context of this facility, the first TED talk  in India took place here in the early 2000s.  Organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, Google, Microsoft, IBM, etc….all have utilized this facility for business and training purposes.  Presidents of State, Prime Ministers, high cabinet leaders, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, come to visit not only this InFoSys Mysore facility but several of their world class facilities located strategically all around India and other various parts of South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

All in all, the InFoSys Mysore visit was a unique and honored invitation…but more importantly a “wake up” call.  Until you see what other Countries are doing to position their power, resources, and assets, you really never can perceive what truly how and what action steps the US should take as we climb our way out of our own systematic pitfalls that have placed the US economy in a spiraling downward direction. Why I believe President Obama visited India almost exactly one year ago was to do exactly that, make steps to “friend” India and make them our partner versus our adversary and our threat.  
In the end, with a 1.2 Billion young workforce and self sustainable economy, India is on the way up up up. Again, I am honored to have had the opportunity to create relationships in this Country, in particular relationships in the technology private and public sectors. The ability to tap into a network that we will need as a Nation in order to fully engage the US and India in true trade and commerce partnerships, will, I think come in handy years to come.  I always say that I never would have figured receiving this Fellowship, at this time in our history, but I did.  Hopefully I can use this opportunity to help spur these connections in a positive way for our Nation.  We will need them. Believe me. B

Technology In Mumbai!

Mumbai is known moreso for its financial institutions rather than its Technology organizations.  However, there was one particular tech company that I was very interested in meeting and had offices located in Mumbai.  They are Sterlite Technologies.  Sterlite Technologies is an manufacturer of fiber technology in India.  The company is only about 15 years old and they abide by a mission mantra that they want to connect every home in the world at the lowest possible cost.

Sterlite Technologies

I met with Vijay Jain, the CTO of Sterlite, and Mandeep Bhatia, the COO.  I found Mr. Jain very interesting. He used to work for Verizon in the States for sometime specifically in the deployment of the FIOS technology that Verizon has been building all around the US for the past 4 years.  He knows all about what Verizon is doing or has done in Philadelphia and was hired by Sterlite to lead a somewhat “FIOS” like initiative for Sterlite in the India.

I was very eager to meet with Sterlite.  I had heard from various companies and organizations that they were interested in getting into the US marketplace with their fiber to the home technologies.  Although it took some time to get the meeting, I finally was able to pitch my request in a way that led me to meet with the CTO and COO of the company. Not bad brig!

Overall the meeting went well.  We spoke about what Wilco was undergoing in Philadelphia, the infrastructure needs, the Freedom Rings partnership that we were a big partner in putting together, and the overall landscape of network infrastructures in India. 

One thing that I understood after that meeting was that, Wilco is right on the mark with what we had designed and built as a middle mile network for the City, PHA, and other community anchor institutions in Philadelphia.  This is exactly what Sterlite was doing in India, a middle mile network that serves many providers but connects “not to the classes, but the masses”. 

The meeting ended with real action items on how to engage our companies in mutually beneficial outcomes for the acquisition and implementation of the fiber for infrastructure purposes. Apparently the President and CEO of Sterlite is a Wharton grad and knows the Philadelphia area. They would like to be in the pool of providers who can offer fiber and other networking services for infrastructure in Philadelphia.  Getting into the US is a primary focus for them. Liked that they are interested.  Will definitely continue conversations with them to see what can be done to start a relationship, join venture, co-investment strategy for broadband infrastructure for underserved communities.

Eisenhower Fellows In Mumbai!

There are several influential Eisenhower Fellows, located in Mumbai, that are providing a strong intellectual and solid home base for the network and the continual building of the Eisenhower program in India.  During this visit, I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of the local Fellows who are in town that helped to provide a better and more informed landscape of India, not only in technology, but in various fields of interest and compliment to my program objectives.

Mr. Saineth traveled on his Eisenhower Fellowship in 2001.  He was apart of that first Eisenhower Fellowship group to travel from India to the USA. Mr. Saineth works for Hindu Times and is the Rural Area expert for the long established publication. 

I have only had a couple of meetings during the entirety of Fellowship where I felt discouraged or uninspired by being in India.  This conversation was one of those times. However, it was one of the best discussions I have had about the harsh realities of rural India compared to the upper and middle classes that I have mostly been associating with and engaging in conversations. In addition, my fellow EF colleague also expressed rightful concerns about what could be done to help and spur the development of these citizens and the poverty rate, on a whole.

Due to his position at the Hindu Times, Mr. Saineth has a firm grasp on the key issues that frame the debate and dialogue in re: helping the underserved communities in rural India.  He has written for the Times for over 15 years and is considered an Authority on the matter. We spoke about the uses of technology and how they could better support rural  farming and voting initiatives.  Mr. Saineth is a bit unimpressed and skeptical of the resources being allocated for the development of technology for rural India when the electricity or lack thereof is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed before technology takes a front seat.  He believes that the government may be in the business of inflating the mobile use numbers and subsequently may publish factually incorrect information about rural India for the purposes of the mobile service provider industry.  He stated that I need to be cautious about whenever any entity publishes information about rural India.  For many years, information has never been accurate.   He did acknowledge that some of the key innovations coming out of the Indian marketplace, could be applied to US underserved communities, and prove to be a better platform and model because all of the missing pieces to make it potentially more successful are accessible within the United States,  ie….electricity, training and content, enhanced assessment of the population , etc…   I felt better about this. 

Abha Narain Lambah
Abha Narain Lambah is a 2001 Eisenhower Fellow from Mumbai. By trade she is a Conservation Architect and Historical Building Consultant.  She is the President of Abha Narain Lambah Associates and is an overall diva!! I loved meeting Abha. As I mentioned earlier in my blogs, I haven’t met too many women during this Fellowship let alone in leadership positions. So it was a breath of fresh air to finally get together with Abha and sit down to talk India, Eisenhower chit chat, and an overall sense of my Fellowship.  

Just another bit of information about Abha, not only is she gorgeous, a mother, and wife, she neglected to tell me that her firm is the organization commissioned to restore the magnificent Taj Mahal!!!! Yes, that building that I “ohhh and ahhd” about just a few backs. Abha gets to go there and work on keeping the building in tip top shape for generations to come, and she gets paid to do it.  WOW!!!!   I had to hear this from a young lady that I met after meeting Abha who mentioned that she wanted to get into architecture.  I congratulated her on a such a wise and creative profession and asked if she knew of Ms. Narain Lambah. She of course, said “Yes”…she is major…” I responded by saying ,”Wow….I just had dinner with her last night….she never told me is a celebrity”.  

I felt so honored to know Abha and have her as my Eisenhower Colleague.  Abha has become my new "I want to be ‘her’ when I grow up” role model.  Thank you Abha for being such a beautiful representative of her organization. Love that the aspect of India that I fell in love with, is something that has ties to our dear Eisenhower Fellowship program. 

Apparently, many of the Eisenhower Fellows in Mumbai associate with each other on a regular basis.  They live near each other and mostly all of them get together frequently during the year for dinners, social events, EF events, etc….  Thus, I wasn’t surprised when Ramon emailed me to ask if I wanted to have dinner with he, his wife, Abha and her husband. I immediately answered YES!!!  Love those dinners and love being to meet Fellows all at the same time. 

Raman Madhok is a 2004 Eisenhower Fellow and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Ramon last year prior to my trip during one of the Eisenhower Conferences in 2010.  Glad to have met back with Ramon when I got to Mumbai.  Ramon is currently the Managing Director of Blue River Capital a private hedge fund in Bhandra, Mumbai.  Ramon has the distinct skill set to enter into organizations as the top executive, lead the organization through either a merger, deal, transition, grow their revenue, etc…, and then exit, as if he wasn’t even there.  He has done this multiple times and is apparently very good.  He likes to talk about the fact that he gets bored very easily from being at one place to long. So this kind of ability is very good for him.  Get in, get out, get paid to do it. 

The Mumbai group is a very classy and glamorous kind of crowd.  Many of them live in Bhandra which is considered an affluent coastal town right outside of Mumbai. You might say its comparable to Malibu in California.  

In the end, I admired their close knit and somewhat exclusive demeanors. And I do not mean exclusive in a negative way, but moreso in a proud way. The Eisenhower Program in India is very well revered and they know they are apart of an elite group of Indians and of an elite global network.  I too felt proud and honored right along with them.

Again,  very interesting to see the differences amongst the chapters around India.  It was a great conversation and dinner with Ramon and the EF crew.  As always, EF hits the mark!


E-Governance Initiatives in Mumbai

ABM Technologies
Through my fellow EF colleague, Ms. Vennelaganti Radha I was able to meet with Mr. Prakesh Rane, President of ABM Technologies. ABM is a private owned IT software company and is quite successful in developing, implementing, and providing IT services to government/municipal agencies.  ABM earns approximately 25 million in revenue, employs approximately 550 people, and provides services to Western and Northern India.  The company was founded by Mr. Rane in 1998. They pride themselves on the ability to provide superior citizen services through E-Governance platforms. 

 ABM is one of the key partners in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) aka the Bombay Municipal Corporation, along with TATA and Reliance Industries.  The MCGM is Mumbai’s central network operating center that manages and deploys all of Mumbai’s telecommunication services for specific government and key community anchor institutions.  This department would be comparable to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Technology.  About 5 years ago, ABM bid for the building of the MCGM project, along with its partners, to provide the soft infrastructure for the deployment  of the Network Operating Center (NOC) that now provides the backhaul to all of the telecommunication municipal services. 

Mr. Rane and I had a very good conversation about how to provide key services to Government bodies, understanding the gov’t body and being able translate the technology matters, being the small business in a project such as this and pros and cons of partnering with larger businesses.  He offered some key insights that again reiterated what I have learned being an executive for our company in Philadelphia. For example, in re: partnering with large businesses, “You have to ensure that they depend on you for something”, said Mr. Rane.  In addition, “Make sure you know and they know your competitive advantage when dealing with large service providers”.  These words are very true indeed.

Thank you Mr. Rane. I look forward to continued conversations on this front . 

MCGM ( Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai)

After I met with Mr. Rane, he had someone take me to the MCGM to visit the actual Network Operating Center (NOC)  for the City of Mumbai.  A NOC is a facility that is responsible for monitoring and controlling a telecommunications network. In most cases, all of the servers and equipment are houses there that are used to run and manage the network. It is a very highly secured location and the general public rarely gets to a chance to see a NOC due to all of the sensitive and private and important functions that take place for at these facilities in regards to the management of services.

The MCGM’s NOC serves approximately 12 million citizens and about 8 different wards. All systems are integrated through SAP software and uses SAP as the platform for the City’s services.  All of the services are integrated with the finance department and due to this, the City of Mumbai has acquired many awards and accolades on this very interesting public/private partnership and moreso for a system that serves so many in an urban dense space. 

On the visit I was able to tour and walk around the NOC rooms and speak with managers and developers on specifics of what was built and by whom, the size and scope of the Center, a thorough analysis of the set up of the servers and the racks used for the server rooms, and listen to a presentation about the project on a whole. 

The Visit went well.  Had a great opportunity to see what type of servers were used,  obtain a full technical analysis and breakdown of the implementation of Mumbai’s Network infrastructure, see how big the rooms were, speak with the internal staff on hand to handle all the tech, development,  and troubleshooting issues, and the view a full presentation on the various interconnections of the community anchor institutions that are tied to the infrastructure build of the network. This all was very familiar! This is the same type of network that Wilco designed just 2 years ago for a broadband technology opportunities program under the Obama Administration.  Almost exactly the same. This made it very easy to have conversations with them about the creation and end to end solutions that this network would provide.  Glad that I had this knowledge base. It felt good to know the technical verbage and intricacies of network engineering.  On a side note: Beginning to forget that I am a lawyer by trade ;-)

I was very happy with the outcome of my visit to the BMC.  Very impressed and happy that was I offered the trust to see and discuss sensitive technology infrastructure matters for an entire City operation.  Definitely this visit and these conversations will be put to great use.

Disaster Relief Center
My last meeting that dealt with e-Governance matters was held with Mumbai’s Disaster Relief Center (DRC) . The DRC ‘s is Executive Director is Mr. Mahesh Narvekar.  Mr. Narvekar spent a lot of time with me discussing the mission, aims, purpose, and vision of the DRC. He also gave me a very in depth tour of the facility and explained all of the various facets of the DRC’s operations.

The essential goals of the DRC are to protect and provide disaster relief to the City of Mumbai 24 hours a day. The operation is very well run and provides an important but unsung backbone to the City.  Because Mumbai is a coastal town disaster relief is key for the maintenance and sustainability of the City’s operations, infrastructure, and safety of the 12 million people who reside in Bombay.

Meeting with the DRC was a great opportunity because the City of Mumbai is apparently a role model city when it comes to global disaster relief.  In 2010, the Mumbai DRC was named a 2010 Role Model City by the United Nations.   

I had the chance to also visit the DRC’s infrastructure network and speak with all of the various departments, officials, and employees in the DRC, that provides all of the customer services, regulation, and engineering expertise of this multi layered labyrinth of a disaster relief eco system. 

One special quality that I enjoyed learning more about the Disaster Relief Team was that this particular City is highly well known and regarded around the world for their disaster relief techniques.  To that end, The Mumbai Disaster Relief Department issued a Disaster Risk Management Master Plan based off of the resiliency of Japan after the March 2011 Tsunami.  The Report basically studies and lays out a plan that efficiently addresses the challenges, preparation, response, and recovery of community after a disaster.  The Plan focuses on 10 primary indicators of community resiliency that will dictate how successful a city is after a major disaster. They are 1) The Calm, 2) The Dignity, 3) The Ability, 4) The Grace, 5) The Order, 6) The Sacrifice, 7) The Tenderness, 8) The Training, 9) The Media, and 10) The Conscience. 

A very interesting concept to measure community resiliency.  I liked the approach and the positive nature of how to help people prepare, sustain, and survive a major city disaster.  In addition, I loved seeing how technology plays its role in the monitoring, sustainability, and continuance of the DRC services. I thought about Philadelphia and what our disaster recovery plan would be in the event something major happened to our City.  I am sure those who are in leadership positions for this area, have it under control. However, it would be nice to share this report with them.  Thus, in the spirit of the Eisenhower Fellowship, let the sharing and collaboration begin ;-) 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Education and Technology

As I travel the world exploring various methods that other Countries are improving and implementing the current models of broadband deployment, access, and training to bridge the global digital divide, I am more and more coming to the firm understanding that education and technology have to go hand in hand.  Now this is not a new concept or idea, but what types of educational content that will be effective in truly presenting underserved citizens with empowering uses of the Internet, will be key in this fight to connect every home and person on a global level.  You can not have technology without the complement of educational content in order to address digital divide impediments. On the other hand, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in how technology will be the one uniting factor to fuel, progress, and advance future and impacting educational initiatives around the world.  Thus, the quest for the right model continues…..  

Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB)
The Indian Institute of Management Bangalore is India’s comparative to Wharton in the United States. A 100-acre oasis in south Bangalore, the IIMB, with its all-stone architecture, lush verdant woods and landscaped gardens provides an idyllic environment to engage in management studies, academics and learning. Located in India’s high technology capital, IIMB is in close proximity to some of the leading corporate houses in the country, ranging from information technology to consumer product companies, giving it the added advantage of integrating classroom knowledge with practical experience.
IIMB was established in 1973, the Institute has since then built on its base of highly accomplished faculty, world class infrastructure and motivated student body to emerge as one of the premier institutes for management education and research promoting managerial excellence in the country.  IIMB strives to achieve excellence through partnerships with industry, and leading academic institutions, the world over. IIMB’s mission is to “build leaders through holistic, transformative and innovative education.”

Dr. Rajeev Gowda, the Chairperson for the Centre for Public Policy and Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, invited me to speak to the IIMB Women’s Entrepreneur group on a very beautiful Friday afternoon.   I had the opportunity to speak and make a presentation to about 25 young IIMB women entrepreneurs, policy researchers, and various students of differing disciplines, about Wilco, our business, the Eisenhower Fellowship program, technology and the national and local broadband initiatives taking place in the US.  This was my first time as a guest speaker at an academic institution of such high repute.  Loved the opportunity. Especially was overjoyed to have a conversation and dialogue with young Indian women about these issues and hear what concerns, questions, and feedback they had in regards to deployment and processes in the United States. 

In the end, I received some tough questions from this very energetic and engaged group that has lead me to further hone the supposed outcomes and what exactly needs to be assessed from this our broadband efforts in the States. Overall, a great way to end the week and my time in Bangalore.

Thank you Ladies! You made my day. 

International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore ( IIIT-b)
The International Institute of Information Technology, a Deemed University, popularly known as IIIT-B, was established in 1999 with a vision to contribute to the IT world by focusing on education and research, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Since its inception, IIIT-B, with its unique model of education, research, and industry interaction, has grown in stature to become an institution of considerable repute in academic as well as corporate circles. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Professor S. Sadagopan, The Director of IIT-b, and about 5 other professors at to share and discuss the Eisenhower Program, my proposed objectives, Wilco, our missions and goals for growth, and to discuss overall, technology in India and what can be utilized in the US marketplace. 

Professor Sadagopan and his colleagues were very versed and extremely knowledgeable about what is going on globally in technology and where India takes its place in this vast eco system.  During our discussion, the suggestion that corporations or businesses who are part of these digital divide private / public partnerships must be able to employ or offer employment to underserved communities after they have completed training, if jobs are going to be an assessment factor for the success of these government funded initiatives.  In addition, computer based “task centric” assessments should also be a considering factor when including specific action items associated with success and outcomes of these broadband/ digital divide partnerships as well.   This will help to justify the need for additional government funding if specific outcomes are able to articulated, monitored, and met.
Thank you IIIT-b! Great conversation on many different levels.

Shristi School of Art, Design, and Technology

Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology was founded in 1996 by the Ujwal Trust with the objective of providing art and design education in an environment of creativity to maximize the individual’s potential. Srishti's mission is facilitated by its organizational structure – a “community of learners” comprising industry-experienced faculty and energetic students who continually explore and experiment with art and design pedagogies, aesthetics, values and innovative practices.

Srishti has a strong indigenous cultural grounding in the teaching of the visual arts and also provides a liberal arts curriculum comparable to reputed institutions in the West. Srishti is interfacing with institutions across the world with a vision for and commitment to quality education through new technologies and pedagogies.  

Through the Artists-in-Residence and Research Associate programmes, Srishti supports new and critical innovations in the field of art and culture using real world projects to enable an integrated cognition of the design and communication arena, facilitating at times an environment where one can “earn and learn”.

I ended my week long list of meetings in Bangalore at a place which is surrounded by one of my favorite things, arts and culture.  Indira Chowdury who is a professor at Shristi and a Center For Advanced Study of India Fellow through the University of Pennsylvania, invited me to the campus to meet several professors and technologists who engage in learning, research, and the education of students through creative and innovative methods. 

While at Shristi, I met with Warren Greving and Girish Prabhu who run the Shristi labs group out of the campus.  Their mission lobo says it all “ enriching the early phase of innovation”.  Essentially, under the leadership of Warren, who is an US ex-pat who has basically settled in India for the last 10 years, conducts research in the rural India that deal with technology for corporations, organizations, institutions, etc..  The conversation I had with Warren and his team was very beneficial in regards to how to assess our marketplace and their needs and success in digital divide initiatives.  Content surveys were suggested. As well as broad levels of group sharing in order to not only cut down on theft of service but begin innovative ways to engage the community we serve.  Overall a great conversation that again, helped to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Lastly, I was able to visit two classrooms in engaged in creative and innovative learning. One class had the students drawing art forms that they were learning from local artisans to increase technology models of education in the labs.  So cool to see this! I also visited a school and classroom for under-privileged children that were engaging in textile and embroidery making in order to enhance the educational outcomes and successes of the various creative and innovative curriculum models.  These kids were the highlight of the week. Loved talking to them, laughing with them, and seeing their faces glow after creating pieces of beautiful art and innovation.

Thank you Indira! A great way to cap a wonderful and blessed week in “India’s Silicon Valley”

Goodbye Bangalore!

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