Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kausani, in Himalayan view

Kausani Range View
For most travel lovers from Delhi, a trip to the hills is a favorite weekend getaway. A long break at the year end offered us the perfect timeout. Nainital was our original intent, but Kausani came much recommended from colleagues.

We started off on a wintery thursday morning, with dense fog covering quite a bit out of the route out of Delhi. The traffic was sparse. We crossed Ghaziabad and Garmukteshwar rapidly and reached Moradabad by late morning.

Going from past experience, we decided to take the Kaladhungi route to Nainital, as it was quite scenic and well paved the last time I drove. Little did I know that the road was being paved, and came across the worst road I have ever seen. Over a period of 3hrs we covered approximately 10 kms, bumping over stone of every size and type - the poor car received many a beating.

The climb from Kaladhungi to Nainital was quite scenic though, with coniferous forests covering the route. We reached Nainital around late lunchtime and quickly checked into our hotel near the lake. Nainital has quite a few narrow winding climbs, and despite all my driving experience, landed a bad gash to the car that I badly regret.

Nainital was cold. Freezing cold. The mall road was lit up, but few tourists sauntered around the streets. We quickly made our way across the market, looking to buy a few souveniers. A friend had asked for some wax creations. We were surprised to learn that wax is a major produce of the region, with exquisite wax creations unlike anything we've seen anywhere before.

Next day, we got off to a late brunch, savoring the steaming hot maggi, bread pakodas and steaming tea served around the lake. A walk around the lake added to the sense of joi de vivre.

The standard road to Kausani from Nainital goes via Almora, but a recent landslide had made the route untenable. So we took the alternative longer route, via Ranikhet.

Ranikhet is an active cantonment town, with well paved roads and a beautiful view of the Nanda Devi range. The drive from Ranikhet to Kausani feels like a drive to nowhere, with winding narrow roads that cut across river valleys and sleepy village hamlets. Yet no doubt beautifully scenic.

We landed in Kausani after a 4 hour ride, only to realize that the hotel we had booked, advertised as an “eco-hut”, was just about that. A small hut. With a painfully long winding climb. And under construction.

Anashakti Ashram
All hotels seemed choc-a-block for New Years, but thankfully we found one with vacancy. Krishna Mountain View is a charming 3/4 star hotel with a brilliant view of the Himalayas, situated right next to the Anashakti Ashram. The Ashram was the abode of Gandhiji, when he wrote his treatise on the Anashakti yoga. A statue of his still stands in the Ashram, and is a major tourist spot in Kausani.

Next morning we did a quick hike up the mountain path bordering the hotel to reach a forest covered temple, that provided a sunny view of clear blue skies, cottony clouds, lush green trees, and brown mud tracks.

Kausani has a pretty shawl factory, where shawls are still made by hand. An old weaver patiently showed us the process explaining the warp and weft of the fabric. We were humbled by the amount of effort he put into each shawl, with each thread woven with great care.

Baijnath temples
We also made a quick trip to the Baijnath temple, stopping over at the tea gardens briefly enroute. The architecture of the temples resemble those in Puri and those in the South. The temples are eons old, said to have been built by the Pandavas, in honour of Lord Shiva.

After a good two day stay in Kausani, we decided to head back, taking the Ranikhet-Kathgodam route back. This route was clearly more scenic than the climb, with the road taking a circuitous mountain path, along the Corbett sanctuary. The road from Kathgodam to Moradabad is badly maintained, but not as abysmal as the route through Kaladhungi.

For those who plan to follow: Avoid the Kaladhungi route to Nainital. If going to Kausani, the Kathgodam route is the best bet. Kausani is a worthy visit if seeking peace and quiet, but it ain't no party place with just a few shops to keep busy. Krishna Mountain View is a great hotel, but may be a bit pricey - budget travellers may want to consider staying at the Ashram itself which seems well maintained. Finally, a navigation device like the MapMyIndia navigator we had is an invaluable asset to navigate the poorly mapped roads of the hills. God speed!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Helping Pharma Cliff Dive

Cross posted from Everest Group's blog, with minor contextual edits: 

In late November 2011, the world's largest branded drug by revenue - Lipitor® - went off patent. The forecasted fall in revenues for Pfizer is expected to knock it off the perch of being the world's largest pharmaceuticals firm. By 2015, industry analysts expect the patent cliff (revenue loss due to patent expiries) to cumulatively knock out more than US$200 billion in pharma industry revenues. For an industry that brings in just under a trillion dollars annually, this is a major revenue hit.

Exacerbating the problem is continually dipping R&D productivity that has constrained pharma firms’ capacity to replenish their pipelines. While R&D spend has doubled to nearly US$50 billion annually over the last decade, new drug approvals across the industry have more than halved.

To manage this unprecedented change, pharma firms are taking a re-look at their business profiles and cost structures.

Emerging market expansions are the industry's new mantra for growth. IMS, a leading provider of information services for the healthcare industry, estimates the industry's share of revenues from emerging pharma markets to double to nearly 40 percent by 2015. And all players, from the big pharma companies to generic manufacturers, are expanding their footprint in these markets, aggressively building and buying distribution capacity, and expanding sales and marketing networks. For example, Pfizer teamed up with ITC in India last year to leverage its distribution network to sell drugs to rural consumers.

In the face of steep revenue declines, productivity and cost optimizations are but a given. The R&D function is being restructured into leaner and more collaborative partnerships, with growing industry-academia interfaces. For example, in 2011, Pfizer aimed to reduce its R&D budget by US$1.5 billion with sizeable job cuts. And in the commercial function, sales force reductions have become the norm. In December 2011, AstraZeneca announced that it would cut its U.S. pharma sales force by over a quarter (even as it announced plans to scale up its emerging markets sales force).

Further, as the industry tries to manage its risk profile, it has begun to diversify into new consumer-centric business areas including generics, consumer healthcare, diagnostics, nutritionals, health management and animal health. For example, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today lists the creation of a ”diversified global business” as its top strategic priority.

In this era of significant change, technology and business service providers have a great opportunity to exhibit leadership and step up to stronger partnerships with the industry by:

·         Helping drive innovation in the pharma industry
o    Bringing in ideas from other industries, not just in R&D, but also in manufacturing, retail, and distribution, e.g., helping pharma improve field-force design based on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) principles, and its manufacturing and supply chain with ideas from logistics
o    Enabling a more effective use of technology to drive business results, e.g., through use of collaboration technologies to improve research, and by leveraging digital media more effectively for a more effective consumer presence

·         Helping pharma firms address the myriad of complexities they face as they enter and expand in emerging markets, e.g., establishing local market relationships, navigating regulatory issues, building distribution setups and partnerships, structuring low-cost solutions, etc. Established service providers with significant emerging market presence also have the potential to enable the industry with more holistic propositions to address a number of these complexities end-to-end.

·         Helping the industry optimize its cost structure:
o    Improving field-force effectiveness – where nearly one-third of pharma spend is concentrated – through enabling sales force management tools, data and analytics (in next generation areas such as effectiveness research and digital analytics) and back office services (sales operations)
o    Driving manufacturing and supply chain efficiencies through more integrated technology architectures (e.g., redesigned ERP implementations, and emerging rollouts)
o    Managing regulatory complexity (an area in which pharma firms spend a couple of billion dollars each year) through building validated, compliant technology environments and cost-effective BPO services in areas such as pharmacovigilance
o    Driving R&D efficiencies through collaborative platforms, and helping manage large volume high-throughput data environments
o    Increasing flexibility in the face of rapid change, e.g., through cloud-based models

Today, service providers seem focused on servicing the pharma industry's IT-BPO requirements largely in a “vendor” capacity. Traditionally, the pharma industry's cash rich and risk-averse culture often drove this arms-length positioning. However, in this time of massive change, a more proactive approach is called for, and smart technology and business service providers will not miss the opportunity to challenge the industry's status quo and support its growth through bold, provocative offerings and thought leadership.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Complexity breeds corruption

One of the biggest drivers of corruption in the India is the complexity involved in interfacing with Government departments. Anyone who has applied for passport, or a driving license, or a voter's id here is well aware of the myriad of processes and procedures that is encountered in the interaction.

This complexity is driven by multiple factors:
1. a lack of understanding or awareness of the process
2. the multitude of specifications that need to be addressed and the range of hand-offs involved
3. the number of human processing points involved
4. a lack of service levels or clarity in turn-around times - which often provides a perception of greater complexity

The average man who seeks to independently interface with Government machinery often gets frustrated by this complex set of opaque processes, and is forced to utilize middlemen who provide a greater understanding and structure to the process.

Now, it is fair to understand that the use of middlemen (touts, brokers, agents, consultants!, call them whatever you will) often occurs in public and private spheres where is significant complexity involved. Take travel ticketing: the rise of the travel agent industry is a function of the significant complexity involved in planning travel and booking tickets among the range of options available. Middlemen often provide a layer of encapsulation to manage complex processes. To that extent, it is not wrong.

Where it becomes a wrong is when the middlemen come in cahoots with officers to maintain the complexity. This drives corruption and inefficiency in the system, as the officers have now a vested interest in slowing it down.

Where it becomes wrong is when the process becomes exploitative and accessible to only a privileged few in the population who have the capacity to pay. When a free public service becomes a pricey interaction, where the wealthy have the option to pay 'speed money', it becomes a wrong.

Unfortunately, this is a reality in most parts of India today.

So what can the Government do?

a. Increase citizen awareness and provide transparency through better technology use
Providing information about services online, and providing means to access Government services online is a big way to mitigate the complexity involved. It improves the accessibility of services, provides greater transparency and helps manage work-load better.

Enable self service online. People who have worked in the contact center industry know this as one of the most effective ways of reducing the volume of processing requests. With most Government departments claiming to be buried under the load of volume, this is an effective approach.

The RTI Act has clearly been a path-breaking piece of legislation in improving Government transparency (I made an RTI application during a passport re-issuance, and got detailed process information within a week of putting it in. That was a 'Wow!' moment for me). Now its time to the RTI applications online - the current process of making offline applications in an unstructured format makes it cumbersome for applicants, and makes queries open ended for Government departments.

The Electronic Service Delivery Act is a foresighted piece of legislation in the works to move services online, though its up-take by States and the extent of its implementation still needs to be seen.

Better still, it is time for the Indian Government to proactively move data online. Government 2.0 initiatives in the US have been a great hit in improving citizen access and interaction, and its time for India to emulate these. The Ministry of IT's draft Framework document for use of Social media is an interesting start.

b. Simplify processes and rules, and standardize
Awareness and transparency will not be enough if Governmental processes continue to remain as complex as they are currently. The Government needs to take a close look at the number of steps and processes required in all citizen interfacing processes, and prune relentlessly.

Isin't there a better alternative to having stamp papers, court fees, court stamps on almost every application? (there must be alternative ways and means of financing the judiciary). Isin't there an alternative to having gazetted officers and notaries stamp every affidavit or declaration?

And standardize. Most Governmental procedures involve multiple levels of citizen identification or authentication, and simplifying this into one standard will help reduce complexity significantly. That's why UID has so much potential if managed well.

c. Institute a customer service culture
It is time for Government departments and officers to realize that citizens are their true customers, rather than viewing the service as a favor, as most currently seem to. A change in attitude will go a long way in improving the interaction into a more pleasing one, and give greater confidence to citizens that middlemen are not required.

Better still, it is time for the Government to consider instituting service levels (after all, isn't it 'For the people'). At least for the most common of interactions. The lack of a definitive turn-around time is one of the biggest concerns for citizens making an application. The Delhi Government's start in this - the Right to Citizen of Time Bound Delivery Act 2011 - is a brilliant move.

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India definitely needs to reduce the complexity of its citizen-Government interfaces if it needs to has to attack the malaise of corruption in the system. While there have been attempts at various fronts, we need more serious thought and effort behind this issue.

(For the record, this post is written as an outcome of one such extremely grevious Government interaction) 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The 'Growth' obsession

One of the great things of working in emerging markets like India is about being witness to the incredible amount of growth that some industries and firms here are going through. But, is an obsession with growth the 'right thing' in the long run? With stock markets and investors tracking growth on a quarter-by-quarter basis, many firms (and executives) have no choice but to put all their efforts behind relentless growth.

The problem with the relentless focus on growth is that it brings short-termism into decisions that executives make. A recent client had to choose between becoming one of the industry's largest players and becoming one of the industry's most distinctive value creators. Adopting the distinctiveness plank would create significant value for clients and itself in the long run, but would require it to patiently invest in shaping next generation opportunities. Adopting the scale plank would give it immediate growth, but would relegate it to a commodity positioning in the long run.

Guess what the firm chose? A typical senior executive spends 3-5 years in a specific career role during which he/she is measured largely by the extent of business growth in the duration. Who has the time for long-term thinking in this context?

Yet, long-term discipline is the basis of most things that stand the test of time. Launching new initiatives takes time, bringing about a change in thinking and approach takes time, creative innovation takes time, making structural changes takes time. An excessive focus on the short-term takes away attention from the long-term.

Is all this obsession with growth taking us in the right direction in the long run? I worry.