Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An "All-Out" Affair!

3rd day of the workshop and this day, we have a full itinerary out! We visit 2 companies, first being Astra Zeneca in the morning, and the other Cognizant in the afternoon.

Astra Zeneca is a large pharmaceutical company, which is currently focusing their resources worldwide on tuberculosis drug discovery. The lecture in Astra Zeneca gave us an insight into the theories behind their work as well as tuberculosis. However, there was little or no information given to us about the company and its work ethics until we had time for our Q&A. In addition, we were not permitted to enter the labs due to safety and security reasons. Thus, we were unable to take away much from this visit.

After a stopover for lunch back at our lodging, ECC, we headed back out for the huge IT services company, Cognizant. Their focus is on providing business with IT capabilities to strengthen themselves in their respective industries. The company gave us a slight insight into various kinds of outsourcing like BPOs, KPOs, Cosourcing and Insourcing, which Theepan has touched on in his post.

On a side note, the speaker was one of the Directors in the company and in his presentation to us, through his behaviour, it gave me a picture into the working culture there. As we posed questions about the company to him, very often he would not answer the question directly and eventually digress. Also he tended to have a superiority complex when he spoke to either his colleagues or us, the guests. We came to a presumption that employees there are probably used to such a culture of "You do not question your boss".

Later in the evening, it was time for some R&R and our first trip to the main shopping district, M.G. Road & Brigade Road. It felt a lot like the Orchard Road of Singapore with a ton of designer labels and other familiar brands. There we met up with the rest of the May batch of NUS students in Bangalore, where the brought us to a great (and very spicy) Indian restaurant for dinner.

More on the streets on India.

Our driver & one of the nicest persons I've ever met, anywhere in the world.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Our 1st Jam-Packed Day

So after a very exciting first day, we started to enjoy more of the cool weather. Even in the day with the sun shining brightly, the nice weather was a pleasant throwback to Singapore's hot and humid weather.

Starting off this day were lectures by some guests specially invited by Prof. Ayer. Again, Theepan has mentioned in detailed the guest lecturers and their topics so I will not go in depth but I will mention a few key points I learnt from the talks on this day.

One of the key drivers of India's booming economy in recent time was the introduction of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) and one of the more popular examples are call centers.

A good question was asked of whether China will pose as a tough competitor to India because of its similar low-cost labour. However, the fact that India is the largest English-speaking population in the world is a strong advantage over China. China has begun to introduce English as compulsory to their education, but until one can THINK in a particular language, they will never be fluent in it. Thus, until China can get the same level of proficiency of English as India, they will still be at the losing end of this competition.

Something else I will always remember from this day's lesson was from Ms Nandini Vaidyanathan. A great quote she mentioned was, "You can't step in the same river twice. You also can't even step in the same river ONCE!" What she meant was directed at entrepreneurship and opportunities. Take some time to think about it!

After lunch, we travelled to Mercedes Benz Research & Development Centre about an hour and a half away from our lodging. Just in that complex alone, there were many other big names located there. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit them. At the centre, we learnt more about what their current projects are and what other KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing) services they provide to Mercedes Benz. For example, creating mathematical models to test the technologies of the company.

This night we met up with some of the May batch NUS students who were interning in Bangalore. They brought us to some interesting places as well as their home to find out how they were coping in a foreign country and their companies.
When I said that travelling on the streets of India are never one and the same, I meant it. And each post I will show you how unique the streets of India are.

Experience India! Day 3

On this day, our schedule was packed with site visits to Astra Zeneca Research Centre and Cognizant. Although each site visit lasted only for about 2 hours, the amount of content which I absorbed is definitely a lot.

Astra Zeneca is a world leading pharmaceutical company and it’s operating in over 100 countries. It’s one of the first major pharmaceutical companies to devote an entire research unit to developing world diseases. Astra Zeneca Research Centre in Bangalore is equipped with state of the art instrumentation to tackle diseases and mainly focuses on tuberculosis (TB) drug discovery. The presentation of this company was very much irrelevant to Computing students (due to medical jargon I guess) but it really benefited my fellow friends from other faculties and Lionel and I still learnt a lot of new things. Anyway, I will still share some important facts from Astra Zeneca presentation in point form.

- India and China have 50% of global disease burden

- TB is a leading killer among young adults and adults

- BCG is not effective for adults

- TB causes enormous social and economic disruption

- In Asian countries like India, burden of TB is enormous and is hidden by stigma and poor diagnostic quality

- Current therapy available comprises of 1st 2 months (Induction phase) followed by 4 months of treatment (Continuation phase) – proven to be effective

- Some argue that present- day therapy is too long and the drugs given are incompatible with anti-HIV drugs

Astra Zeneca didn’t permit us to enter their labs due to security reasons but they compensated us with their company videos which showed their labs and the activities which take place there and the site visit more or less ended up like a lecture. I think the whole presentation was a little out of point as this whole trip is about developing the entrepreneurial talent within us and perhaps, they must have given us a brief history and specialization/focus of the company and then discussed more about the challenges and process of setting up their companies in Bangalore, India. However, we still enjoyed the site visit.

On our way to Astra Zeneca Research Centre

The next interesting site visit was at Cognizant, an IT services company, which has one goal, that is to make their customers’ businesses stronger by empowering them to be more responsive to their customers and to the competitive environment. Even though, the company is geographically located in India, there is no Indian company in its client list. Initially, it was shocking for me and the rest. This particular visit made more sense to us as the speaker discussed about outsourcing, insourcing, and cosourcing. There are two terms which you might not be familiar with, so I’ll give a simple definition. Everyone knows what’s Outsourcing and if you don’t, please refer to my previous post (Experience India! Day 2).

a) Insourcing - transfer of outsourced function to an internal department of a company, managed by employees.

b) Cosourcing – business function is performed by both internal and external centres in different parts of the world.

In addition, the speaker pointed out that customer expectations are increasing.The overall customer behavior of today’s world has changed. Firstly, the customers expect companies to listen to them. Secondly, instead of building professional trust, the customers prefer the companies to build a professional and personal trust. Thirdly, companies are expected to collaborate instead of controlling. Fourthly, the supply of expertise is insufficient and supply of insight is more valued. Lastly, they expect the companies to manage complexity and ambiguity.

There is another essential point which he mentioned during his presentation and he stressed a lot on the importance of conveying our ideas to our customer or client or boss effectively and efficiently. He gave some tips on how to be successful in selling our points to others during a presentation. They are:

a) Presentation must not be more than 7 minutes

b) A maximum of only 6 slides is allowed

c) There must be continuity (same frame, same colour and most importantly same


After the presentation, questions were welcomed and they were delighted to answer them. At some point of the Q & A session, some had a hot debate and somehow both parties reached an understanding.Concluded my day happily as it was a fruitful site visit to Cognizant.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Experience India! Day 2

Forgot to mention yesterday that Ms Roopa introduced an Entrepreneur’s guide which covers everything from Indian law to doing business in India. The guide can be found in the following link: http://www.narasappa.com/Resources.html

The 2nd day started off quite slowly but later it picked up and become interesting. 1st half of the day, we had guest speakers to give lectures and for the other half , the one we were anticipating for very long time, we had a site visit at the Mercedes Benz Research and development centre.

Now, let’s see what we learned during lectures before moving on to the interesting site visit. Our first guest speaker of the day was Dr Kavi Mahesh, professor from PESIT, he gave a lecture on Culture and Business practices in India. I learnt that the Indian GDP has increased significantly which led to a sharp rise in the direct employment, later he moved on to give a brief history of Indian Economy from the past to present- day. It was brief but it gave us an insight of Indian economy within a few minutes.

He also mentioned that Bangalore city has a generation of highly educated population, and I think that this must be one of the key factors in attracting many MNCs there. In Bangalore and elsewhere in India, inexpensive and high quality education is available. Furthermore, the best universities in India are autonomous and as a result, it gave birth to reputable institutions and Science and technology manpower also. He discussed about challenges in IT industry which are:

a) Recruitment

b) Operations Planning

c) Rupee Exchange rates and etc.

At least, this part of the lecture was more relevant to SOC students like me and Lionel.

Next, Prof. A.K.N. Prasad from Institute of Management gave us a lecture on the Growth of Outsourcing in India. I learnt that Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a form of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business processes to a third-party service provider. GE is one of the pioneer companies to do it in India. In addition, he said that British Airways operates call centers in Mumbai and this is the place where reservations and many other activities take place. Availability of cost effective Telecom infrastructure to handle transatlantic communication is the main factor for the companies to setup call centers in India. The other factors are:

a) Service Maturity

b) People

c) Infrastructure

d) Catalyst (incentives, government support)

Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) is a form of outsourcing, in which knowledge-related and information-related work is carried out by workers in a different company or by a subsidiary of the same organization, which may be in the same country or in an offshore location to save cost. KPO is merely a continuation of BPO actually and KPO involves, for example, medical diagnostics and many other activities. Eventually India became a natural choice for exploring outsourcing opportunities.

In the picture: Prof. A.K.N. Prasad

Then a very motivational speaker, Ms Nandini Vaidyanathan, came into the room to give us a very motivational lecture. To me she looked like a modern Indian lady in her late 40’s but I got a shock when I discovered that she’s 67. A little bit of background, Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan, an alumnus of Delhi School of Economics and London School of Economics, spent 20 years in the corporate sector with MNC’S all over the world. She has been teaching Entrepreneurship and International Business at premier Business schools in India, US, and UK such as IIM-B, Princeton, and London School of Economics, for the last three years. She is Mentor-Promoter of a company called Startups which mentors young entrepreneurs with management inputs .I would simply say that whoever attends her lecture will be inspired to become an entrepreneur one day. And guys, I need to tell you that she is the right person to seek advice if you really have the passion to become an entrepreneur and I mean it. She’s offering free advice, assistance and inputs for young entrepreneurs without expecting anything from them. To me, she’s a Goddess.

In the picture: Ms Nandini Vaidyanathan

Thereafter, we went for lunch and prepared to go for a site visit at Mercedes Benz Research and Development centre. On the way to Mercedes Benz, I saw so many high-rise buildings and big companies like IBM which I don’t really see in Singapore. One thing I noticed about most of the company visits, they do not allow us to bring cameras, mobile phones with cameras and thumb drives also. I think they are prohibiting all these items due to security reasons. The presentation at Mercedes Benz was a little extraneous for Computing students and I think it’s more for Engineering and Chemistry students. However, I still understood what they were talking about as I’ve learnt them in my JC before. They spoke about fuel cells and the processes which happen within the cells. Later part of the site visit, they brought us to a lab where we saw a live experiment going on.

Then, we went for shopping at Cosmos mall at Brooke fields which is quite near to the place where we stayed, White field and then a few of us visited the May batch students who are interning in Bangalore for about 2.5 months. I was quite fortunate to meet Sofia Tania who is in Bangalore on summer internship and she shared her personal experiences, challenges which she faced and the pros and cons of this summer internship. Well, after hearing that, I think it's still a good exposure for us to go for a summer internship in Bangalore and I need to thank her for the invaluable advice. All of us got a chance to celebrate one of the guys' birthday and that's it for day 2.