Monday, July 31, 2006

India IT News Capsule - July 2006, Issue 5

  • DOT orders Indian ISPs to block errant sites only: Facing the heat from the blogosphere for issuing website block orders following the Mumbai blasts, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has put the ball in the ISPs court by clarifying that it wanted only the specified web sites to be blocked by the ISPs and not the parent domains as eventually it happened. DoT came under a lot of fire from the international as well as national community following a blanket clampdown on blogging services in India by the ISPs
  • ICSA receives patents for pipeline and AMR services: ICSA, Mumbai has received two patents on pipeline monitoring services and an Automatic Meter Reading service that it offers. ICSA is a software services company that caters to the power industry.
  • R-System to buy out US firm: R Systems International Ltd. said on Wednesday it plans to buy U.S.-based technical support firm WebConverse for up to $10.7 million.
  • NIIT buys out UK based Element K: NIIT, India's leading computer trainer has bought out UK based Element K for $ 40 million mainly to boost its presence in developed communities. NIIT and Element K together would have more than 3,000 employees, about $250 million in revenues and a presence in 32 countries to offer comprehensive learning solutions
  • Satyam plans BPO branch in Hungary: Satyam's BPO arm Nipuna plans to open up a BPO setup in Hungary, making it the third overseas branch following branches in US and UK. Some of Nipuna’s largest clients include BellSouth, Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns & Co, Caterpillar Corp and Glaxo-SmithKline.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Mankind's epoch journey via Internet

A few days back a MBA classmate of mine was enquiring about my hometown. I not only told them about it, but also showed her my home via Google Earth. Today another batch mate was reminding himself of having to download an alarm clock into his system to make up for the lack of an alarm clock in his room. This my friend is the digital age we all live in. You don't buy an alarm clock, rather you download it and turn your PC into a live alarm clock. You don't just describe to your friend how your house is located at the U-bend of a river, rather you show them from the sky, the actual spot. You no more have to go searching for a phone to call up your folks home. you just call them up from your PC. You also do not ask the route to the nearest restaurant, rather you Google for it. You don't lug around all your MP3 songs around...You just tune into your favorite Internet radio station. You don't miss your local newspaper while on that lightning trip to the European Union. You just scan the e-version of the newspaper. Chatting on the net too is passé. You just chat like next door neighbours using VOIP. Neither do you wait for that yearly trip of your cousins to your place to show them the snaps of your latest trekking expedition or your new born just e-mail them or even better upload them to Flickr for them to see. Once a never lose track of him/her ...courtesy online social networks like Orkut, MySpace, etc.

All this was not there 150 years ago, neither was it present a 100 years ago. 50 years ago....30 years ago...20 years ago...Nah....Just 15 years to be precise And what a transformation the world has undergone. Dramatic would be a understatement, coz you might have seen your own seniors in the family struggling to grapple with such a monstrous change that is turning yesterday's fiction into today's reality. Sometimes, I myself feel overwhelmed to keep abreast with the kind of changes happening and I am at a dilemma as to what to present to my readers. Sometimes when I think of it all, the whole fantastic fabric of this digital age has been carved by the simplest language man has invented. The binary system with just its '0' and '1' forms the basic building block of all that we do online today.

This unique journey that mankind has embarked on and that we have all been fortunate to be a part of was touched upon by CNN in a beautiful manner. It is must read for all you guys out there.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Digitizing the power sector in India

The latest copy of the Engineering & Technology magazine carries an article on how Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) in Sweden has proved to be big business. Stockholm based Nacka Energi power supply company has tied up with Vodafone, Sweden and power meter manufacturer Actaris to provide a unique AMR service to the customers. This service involves installation of 25,000 meters in Swedish homes that will be capable of communicating with the Vodafone based GSM mobile phones and transmit the meter readings via the cellular network to the Nacka Energi servers which would then use the data to transmit bills to the customers.

The existence of such a direct communications link between the energy provider and the customer also opens up the possibility of using 'smart' meters that can display the price of the energy consumed and accommodate variable tariffs that favor off-peak consumption.

Mobile phone companies too are eyeing the AMR as a major business opportunity especially as the data can be collected at night when there is much less traffic on the networks, The technology also provides a platform for energy companies to offer additional services such as burglar and fire alarms.

Closer home, New Delhi Power Limited has developed a homegrown solution that restructures its billing system and has the potential to impact 8.5 lakh people across Delhi. The billing and metering system deploys an Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) function. AMR is a remote controlled device that collects the meter reading and uploads it into the company billing servers automatically. This prevents manipulation of data, even at the stage of reading the meter. NDPL also has a spot billing facility. Meaning that with the use of a spot billing machine, the bill can be generated instantly after the meter reading. Hence, the customers see the bill generation process and can make the payment from home itself.

The logical extension for a pre-existing AMR system like the one in Delhi would be to go the Swedish way and offer customers the option of hooking up their meters to their mobile networks. That would surely be a revolution of sorts because that would mean
  • lower costs of billing,
  • less pilferage,
  • more customer oriented services,
  • incentives of saving by moving consumption to non-peak hours.
Privatisation of the power sector in the country was a big success. It is now up to the private regimes to grab the latest that IT has to offer to push the Indian power industry into the digital age.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

US relinquishes hold on Internet

Yesterday happened to be a Red letter day in the history of Internet, thought I must say that it failed to impress the general public of the significance of the event. The event in focus was the announcement by the United States of America that it can no longer expect to maintain its position as the ultimate authority over the internet.

Having been the internet's instigator and, since 1998, its voluntary taskmaster, the US government finally agreed to transition its control over not-for-profit internet overseeing organization ICANN, making the organization a more international body. The Register though reports that the US made it clear that it intends to keep control over the net's root zone file, at least for the medium term during which the transition of power to ICANN to make changes to the authoritative root takes place.

The event assumes significance coz it clearly means two things.

  1. Countries could breathe a lot freely now that they can be sure that the US would not attempt an Internet shutdown in the country which exercises power in a way that may not please the US too much, thereby crippling these countries to a large extent. Governments would be encouraged to embrace e-governance much more faster than before.
  2. What it also means is that the Internet would evolve much faster now that contributions towards its improvement might be accepted from all quarters of the world.
These both would go a long way in helping Internet become a ubiquitous medium of communication in countries across the globe and that would mean an accelerated path of growth for developing countries like India. Hail the US decision.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ears and Eyes go Mobile Now

If all goes as planned cellular-residents of Delhi might be in for a visual cum auditory feast. Radio Mirchi FM station and Hutch cellular provider in Delhi have unveiled plans to roll out something called Visual Radio. The concept though simple has been contrived only now and envisages beaming out cellular content related to programs currently being broadcast over the FM stations. It could be things as simple as the ringtone for the current song doing the airwaves or something handy like the route map to the nearest bookstore that might be housing the book being reviewed over air or even something for the film crazy Indian public-say the ability to download trivia on Big B Amitabh Bachchan while his songs are being aired.

The service though requires a phone with multimedia and GPRS facilities like the Nokia N series. Having a inbuilt FM tuner is a definite help. The service charges that Hutch's proposing to impose on users is quite nominal at Rs 3-4 for every hour of service. Downloads would be charged extra. Airtel is sure to follow suit soon. It is just a matter of time before Mumbaites, Kolkatans, Hyderabadis, Chennaites and Bangloreans get to taste the new service. If you are technology freak then Delhi is the place to be in right now.

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India IT News Capsule - July 2006, Issue 4

  • Satyam ties up with GigaSpaces: Satyam, the Indian IT biggie has tied up with GigaSpaces Technologies to provide end-to-end solutions for service-oriented architecture and grid environments. Software would be GigaSpaces provided while Satyam would be involved in the implementation of the software.
  • Wipro sets up e-waste disposal services: Following the urging from GreenPeace, Wipro has announced e-waste disposal services to its customers. Green Peace had urged the IT major to come up with a clear roadmap on phasing out toxic chemicals from its products. This would mean that customers could avail the free e-waste services for nominal freight charges.
  • Govt. to allow mobile companies to offer internet services: The government has passed the bill that sought to allow mobile telecom companies to offer Internet services to their customers. This would mean that a lot of companies could come out with clubbed plans of mobile and internet services and even free mobile internet access when they are within the home base.
  • Wipro partners with Motorola: Wipro Technologies, the global IT services arm of Wipro Ltd., has entered into a a join venture with Motorola to set up the company WMNetServ. Wipro, which provides IT solutions and services like system integration and software application development and maintenance, would set up a dedicated centre in Bangalore as part of the joint venture agreement. The company would focus on delivering outsourced telecom services.
  • Sasken buys out Finnish firm: Sasken Communication Technologies, India has bought the Finnish firm wireless technology developer Botnia Hightech Oy for EUR 35.50 million in cash. Sasken would be able to strengthen ties with global wireless product makers with this acquisition. "Botnia's European presence combined with Sasken's India-based development centers will enable us to offer a compelling portfolio of value added solution," Sasken's Chief Executive Officer Rajiv Mody said in a statement.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Schools to SMS Parents

SMS has been one overworked technology service in India for sure. We have been innovating continuously to find new uses for the SMS service that has become such an integral part of a middle class Indian's life. So much that the original Nokia alert for SMS message, the ubiquitous Beeeep....Beeeep sound is linked only with an SMS and never with a call.

Now Indian schools seem to have discovered the power of SMS. about 60 schools in Bangalore have tied up with Pac Soft Solutions Ltd. to offer SMS alerts to parents. These alerts would keep parents abreast of how their wards are faring at school - everything from the latest test marks, next proposed parent -teacher meeting, info circulars, fees to be paid and even the day's home assignment allotted to their kids. At times the SMS alerts would direct them to a website for detailed information.

The service is already available at Students of participating schools are given a unique id on registration and parents can get their mobile phones numbers registered.

Related Reads: SMS in India - Triggerring Off New Age Protests

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Blogspot Blocking in Major Cities Only?

Following my earlier post that brought up the issue of blogspot blogs being blocked by Indian ISPs, there has been a hulla baloo across the Indian blogosphere about the indiscriminate blocking and the non-explanation being given by the government. One source however does mention that this might have been prompted following the discovery that the Mumbai serial blasts terrorist suspects used blogspot blogs to communicate with their group.

This has prompted Western bloggers to take up the cause with Boing Boing posting an extensive article on the same. Mercury News, TechMeme and Rediff too have brought the news into the open domain.

Some of the bloggers have even kicked off a wiki site that allows you to report if your ISP has blocked the blogspot blogs. Amit has come out with another detailed post that has FAQs on the whole issue.

At the time of this post being published, I did not face any problem accessing the India-IT-Pulse blog via my ISP, Tata Indicom. The Wiki mentioned above however lists Tata Indicom as the first ISP that has blocked access. I tried the same with BSNL dial up and that too allowed me access without problems. My place is a sleepy town about 250 kms from Bangalore. This has lead me to suspect if the drive to block blogspot blogs is taking effect in major cities first or maybe only the major cities?. Only time can tell.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

India Blogspot Blogs Blocked

The Indian blogging world is waking up to a rude shock the past two days with more and more bloggers reporting that certain Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are blocking access to the blogspot blogs. Amit of Digital Inspiration was one of the first to break the story and several other eminent Indian bloggers like Amit Varma of India Uncut, Desi Pundit, Neha of Within/Without have been flashing stories of certain blogspot blogs not being accessible via certain ISPs.

There were reports of the ISP representatives speaking of a certain order copy that they have received from the government directing them to block specific blogs. Instead, the ISPs choose the easy route and have blocked the entire domain. Amit in a more recent post confirms that the order from the government is a certainty but the way the ISPs have gone about implementing the order has raised hackles among the Indian blogosphere. Amit though has gone on to provide a detailed mechanism to access blogspot blogs like this one via alternative means in case you are not a position to access the posts. Will keep you all updated as the mystery unravels over the coming days.

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India IT News Capsule - July 2006, Issue 3

  • RediffMail gets a makeover: RediffMail, one of the largest free e-mail providers in India, has re-designed its email offering using XML and AJAX technologies that allow it to provide more user based options without sacrificing precious bandwidth. Rediff has also introduced the facility of writing email in 11 different Indian languages. It has also tied up with mobile operators in the country to provide 3 free SMSs every day to its email service subscribers. Every reply generated would further earn 3 more free SMSs that could be sent via the mail service.
  • World e-Book Fair Opens on Internet: Indian book lovers can rejoice for a whole month this July and August with the opening of the World e-Book Fair on the Net. Accessible at, the site allows free e-book downloads for an entire month. Boasting of 3,30,000 e-books in the form of PDFs in 110+ languages divided into 120 categories, the fair is spearheaded by the Gutenberg association that aims at digitizing all the world's books. The fair is open till August 4th, 2006
  • Red Hat and IIT, Bombay offer software scholarships: Under the Ekalavya Open Source Initiative, Red Hat and IIT Bombay offered scholarships worth 4.5 lakhs to engineering students who won the open source programming competition conducted by them. The winners in order were IIT Bombay, Cummins college, Pune and JC college, Mysore.
  • NASSCOM releases Cyber Crime book of cases: NASSCOM, the body representing Indian IT and ITES companies along with KPMG has released a book that presents 16 cyber crime cases in India, how the law dealt with them and how the guilty were punished. Titled 'India Cyber Cop Awards 2005: Compilation of cases', the book is intended to act as a reference guide in dealing with future cyber crimes.
  • India mulls amendment of IT Act to give it more teeth: The Indian IT Act 2000 will shortly be amended to make it more effective announced Dayanidhi Maran, cabinet minister communications & information technology at the 'Cyber Crime : Today and Tomorrow' seminar recently held in New Delhi. This amendment will chiefly aim at appointing an examiner to study all digital evidence and provide assistance to the police and the courts. Currently, major cyber crimes reported in India are denial of services, defacement of web sites, spam, computer virus and worms, pornography, cyber squatting, cyber stalking and phishing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

India CAT Exam Registration Online

Following IIMs decision to go online for the CAT registration and introduce IVRs to address student concerns, several Indian dailies today carried the details of availing these new facilities. I have reproduced the same for the benefit of our readers.

CAT bulletin Sale and Online Application Form Submission :

Interactive Voice Response System Numbers

IIM, Ahemadabad: 079-26307258
IIM, Bangalore: 080-26484650
IIM, Calcutta: 033-24380266
IIM, Indore: 0731-4058370
IIM, Kozhikode: 0495-2803005
IIM, Lucknow: 0522-2736666

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Bangalore School Goes Hi Tech

I was amazed to read that a Bangalore based school has decided to go hi-tech and adopt technology to teach kids. Kamla Bhatt has an interesting post about the Padma Sheshadri Bala Bhavan or the PSBB school that has earned the distinction of being the first fully digital and wireless enabled school. The school even has plasma TVs installed in each classroom with rich multimedia programs directly being beamed to kids. The principal of the school who has spear headed this project is known to be quite tech-savvy with similar projects being attributed to her during her former stints at schools in Chennai. Quite an interesting read with Techtree too commenting on the school. On a more sombre note, the author notes that this might just be the panacea for the controversy surrounding the heavy school bags that Bangalore kids lug to their schools and back on a daily basis.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

CAT Management Exam Registration Online Now

Registering for the biggest management entrance test in India, the Common Admission Test (CAT) has just turned much more easier. Registration for the exam conducted in the month of November every year can now be done online.

With 1.8 lakh candidates appearing for the exam last year, the number is expected to further go up this year and online registration will go a long way in making it easier for the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) to reduce errors from candidates while filling up the form by placing software checks in place. Online registration will also help candidates to keep a track on their application at each stage.

This year the last date for CAT applications is Sep 9th, 2006. The CAT exam is scheduled for the 19th of November.

The IIMs have also planned on introducing an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) system to aid the thousands of students who call up the IIMs to seek clarifications. The IVRS number will be made known to the public on the 16th of July, 2006.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

GSLV & Agni failure due to IT Boom... Ridiculous.

The last 48 hours must have been a painful one to Mr President Abdul Kalam, whose penchant for rocket science is well known, as much as to the millions of Indians who associate India's travails and successes in missile and space technology as being symbolic of the emergence of India as a modern vibrant, dynamic and forward progressing state among the comity of nations. The double whammy that Indian technological hubs received with the failure of Agni III, the long range ballistic missile followed by the failure of the 256 crore Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the INSAT 4C payload has indeed cast shadow on the string of 16 successful launches India has had till date.

While debates have begun with a section of Indians arguing that we need to take the failure in our stride and not read too much into it, there are groups of people who say the failures have seriously dented India's and Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO) credibility of being a low cost, reliable space cargo delivery firm. They are quick to point out the losses suffered by TV channels like Kairali, Times Now and other Direct To Home (DTH) operators who had booked transponders on board the INSAT 4C to enhance their reachability.

However the funniest argument was the one I found on whose editorial smacked the failure and attributed it to the diverting of all engineering talent to cheap outsourcing and software body shopping firms from the West. To quote from them

"Agni III and INSAT 4C failure - instead of diverting all talents to outsourcing projects of the Western nations India should focus on engineering and technology. It is a good lesson for the Indian Government thinking only about foreign exchange earnings and foreign direct investment from outsourcing. India has diverted most of its engineering and technology talents to MBA schools, call centers, data operations and simple low revenue application software development that requires hardly high school level of competency. In the mean time Indian technology has gone nowhere.

In India 99.99% engineers end up working for software body shops servicing American and European companies. The rest 90% of 0.01% left goes abroad to enhance western science and technology programs. Whatever is left out work for premiere agencies like DRDO and ISRO.

India has become a servant nation after deviating from its original course in mid eighties after the death of Late PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
Whatever the intentions of the editorial, one thing is certain that the writer has not researched his subject thoroughly. I say this because I personally have about 5 friends who kicked off prestigious job offers from software companies like Oracle and Wipro to join government organizations like ISRO and DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization). These guys were not among the 0.01% of the people left behind after filtering by software and BPO companies. They were crème de la crème of the institution they studied in. 3 among them are rank holders in the college I studied. These institutions are highly valued among the merited students of the country who fall head over heels to secure a job in one of these. If I personally know of 5 of such candidates, I am sure each one you who is reading this will be in a position to recall at least one such candidate to whom a job at ISRO or DRDO or any other such establishment meant the world to them. Even salary wise, these organizations are not mean masters. They do pay entry level salaries to engineers in the range of 20K to 25K pm excluding perks and incentives. Even otherwise patriotism is also a key factor that drives talent to these organizations.

Either the editor has assumed things before penning his opinion or the source of his statistics is horribly wrong. May better sense prevail the next time around.

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Tech-aided Spying On in India

It was in May 1998 that the US spy agency CIA was totally thrown off guard when the Indian nuclear tests took it by complete surprise. Even the reported "eye in the sky" over India that the US had deployed failed to alert US officials. 8 years down the lane the US has virtually agents or moles in almost every Indian defense establishment reports Hindustan Times.

This time around the US had ensured that technology is helping it not just thousands of kilometers above the Indian subcontinent in the form of spy satellites, but also in intelligence gathering and constant data mining across top secret programs that are in progress across the country. Much of the problem is compounded by factors like
  • Low salaried staffers at defense establishments in India who can be easily pocketed with the lure of quick money
  • The easy-go attitude among the babudom in the country
  • The lack of knowledge on how much spy technology has got sophisticated and miniaturized.
  • The lack of a coordinated security and critical infrastructure protection policy in the country to safe guard key establishments.
The recent capture of S S Paul, a disgruntled computer analyst with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) who passed on information Rosanne Minchew, third secretary in the US embassy in Delhi for about 23 lakh rupees has brought the spotlight on the depth to which the US might have its agents planted across the Indian security establishments. He was caught stealing data via USB memory sticks from the NSCS.

Following this incident that has a red faced government facing the media, it looks like tough measure are being planned.
  • All sophisticated mobile phones, USB drives etc have been banned in the security establishments across the country with immediate effect.
  • USB detection software has been installed across computer systems that relays information of USB systems that are being used, the systems on which they have been used, the period for which they were plugged in, etc

It is time that the country woke up to a real threat that technology aided spying poses to the country. The same technology also provides solutions to stopping the spies dead in their track through the use of effective counter measures. When our politicians have been intelligent enough to use special jamming devices that were installed in their homes and offices to jam cameras and video recorders of journalists on sting missions, it would be a pity if the government fails to take a leaf out of their book.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

India IT News Capsule - July 2006, Issue 2

  • British telecom firm logs out of India: British based telecom firm Belair Communications has ceased all BPO operations in India and has left in lurch the 93 employees on its India rolls. Neither have the employees been paid compensation nor any reason given by the company for winding up its India operations. Its closure comes in the wake of the HSBC fraud that was unearthed recently.
  • HCL technologies to ink deal with South African firm: HCl Technologies Ltd. is on the verge of signing a $400 million multi-year outsourcing deal with Skandia, the South African firm that was recently taken over by old Mutual.
  • India accounts for 40% of BPO business in the world: India, the best Asian outsourcing destination is set to garner 40% and more of the BPO business in the world which is set to generate 6 million jobs in Asia. The other 5 benefactors of BPO outsourcing in Asia are China, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. India has a dominant position in this outsourcing industry that has grown from $ 570 billion in 2002 to $1.2 trillion in 2006. India is still showing a turbo charged growth of 14% in this industry.
  • Wipro to form crack team to handle large acquisition deals: IT giant Wipro has formed a crack team of six individuals headed by Sanjay Joshi, the head of Wipro Consulting to handle large acquisition deals that top $ 50 million.
  • Australian firms planning on more offshoring: Telstra and Optus, the Australian telecom giants are planning to offshore more jobs to India as part of their cost cutting intiatives.The move would involve moving parts of IT development and management offshore.

National Market - MP3 players unveiled

My brother and me had been to the National Market in Bangalore. Quite famous for electronic items both original and imitations, this market is next only to the SP Road market in terms of the variety and the wares on offer. The chief differences being that this market is open all days of the week unlike SP Road and you need to bargain harder, feign disinterest in case you feel you are paying more and most importantly, have a tough skin to endure verbal abuses that shop keepers hurl at you in case they fail to persuade you to buy at their rates and you just walk away.

MP3 players were what caught my brother's fancy in one of the stores. Manned by a burly oldie past his 50th birthday, the shop's display window had brands from all leading manufacturers. "This one plays MP3, MP4, has FM tuner, can record FM songs and has 512 MB memory. Just 3500 rupees, sir", piped a voice even before we had completed gazing around the wares the shop had to offer. A young teenager came from behind us and left us wondering who the actual owner was. I was amazed at the alacrity of the boy that mesmerized everybody standing around us as he went to reel the capabilities of each of the MP3 players we pointed out. One old lady was so impressed by presentation that she settled on a 128 MB MP3 player to be presented to her grandson at his upcoming birthday. She had no qualms announcing it to all and sundry.

The boy had definitely done his homework, I thought and decided to probe him further. I feigned innocent curiosity and asked him how these players work, how they stores songs and so many at that. He went on to explain without batting an eyelid... of flash memories, MP3s and MP4s. I was amazed at his knowledge. I persisted however with an, "But how exactly can Flash memory store data when you do not supply power to it". Somehow, my ego wanted to prove that I knew better. I was in for a rude shock. He went on to explain about NAND gates and all the inner circuitry that goes into making an MP3 player. I gave up and let myself get enlightened. A very humbling experience, I must say.

My brother meanwhile had gone ahead a chosen himself a dainty blue colored MP3 player. We completed the formalities and I wanted to thank the teenager for sharing his knowledge, but he was nowhere to be sighted. He had disappeared as quickly as he had materialized. With a heavy heart I thanked the burly old man and we were exiting when the old man must have sensed whom I was looking out for. "Shyam college gaya hai. Woh mera beta hai. Electronics mein engineering kar raha hai. Uska abhi class hain" ( Shyam has gone to college. He is my son. He is doing his engineering in electronics. He has got his classes now ). I smiled and walked out confident that he would surely add passion to the business acumen he had inherited from his dad, if ever he took over his dad's business.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

BPO Fraud - Future of security in financial institutions

It was the morning of 27th June,2006. I was poring over the morning newspapers. All newspapers carried the same headlines that spoke of the HSBC fraud involving a BPO employee who reportedly had leaked out customer bank account details to third party. Not to mention the siphoning of money from HSBC customer accounts that eventually had to happen when the anti-social elements got their hands on privy information. As I was picking up the bits and pieces of story several points registered in my brain

This was the second security related fraud that saw the light of the day in the BPO industry in India. The first had been the MPhasis related scam that had struck the then fledgling BPO industry in the early years of the new millennium. Though doubts had arisen about the continued viability of the BPO industry in India then, other factors that had initially driven outsourcing to India were all too compelling for companies to even think of searching for immediate alternatives in terms of new centers, lower costs, higher security, English speaking resources, etc. However, this time around the fallout of incidents like these could turn out more disastrous for 2 reasons.
  • One, companies are already on the lookout for new BPO incubation centers to fend off rising employees costs in India, which is past incubation stage and has become a voracious resource consumer too. They are readily discovering such centers in Latin America, South East Asia, South Africa, etc.
  • Two, the very concept of maintaining data privy to the customer at offshore locations has been dealt a death blow. As highlighted in both cases, BPO employees who had access to such data at offshore centers were the ones who played the devil. Housing of data in the customer's home country would mean that BPO operations would shrivel up in terms of the host of services that they are currently in a position to offer the customer. The end result would be that of the customer being tossed back and forth between call centers in his country and offshore centers located elsewhere depending on his service requirements.
It really is a non-enviable position that the BPO centers are in currently. They are really caught between the devil and the deep sea. At one end you have the customers who have got used to low service charges and high quality services. Shifting back offshore operations would mean incurring all the high costs back at home that the financial institutions can ill-afford. Not doing so would raise the big question mark in the customer's mind about security concerns of his/her data. Treading the middle path would be walking the razor edge.

Two days later, when my mind was still receptive to any new developments in relation to the BPO fraud that had been unearthed, I received a thick packet via courier from HSBC. The packet contained a small plastic tab with a LCD screen and a single button. The accompanying letter said that HSBC was issuing this device as an additional security fence to be crossed while accessing our HSBC accounts online. The device at random generated a 6 digit code based on a internal algorithm every time I press the button. This code was to be submitted along with my account details and password every time I access my online HSBC account. I was perplexed as to how the six digit code could be authenticated when the plastic device in my hand never communicated with the HSBC systems. My only close guess was that the six digit code was being generated with a strong tie-up to the current date and time and the HSBC systems used the same algorithm to validate the code so generated. Quite ingenuous, I would say, because what HSBC has done is remove part of the customer account access details completely from their system and place it in the next safest place : the customer himself. This would render any of the information passed on to outsiders by dishonest BPO employees almost useless unless they also have my code generating device with them. A perfect example of how technology can be harass you or be harnessed to work for you. A perfect example of also how each scandal drives the paranoid being within us to erect one more security barrier around our data. Either way you take it, there is no denying that the technology vortex is dragging use deeper and deeper with every passing day.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

India IT News Capsule - July 2006, Issue 1

  • INSAT-4C ready for launch: Weighing 2180 kilograms, equipped with 12 high powered Ku band transponders and designed for a 10 year mission, the INSAT-4C, one of the heaviest Indian satellites is ready for launch the coming week from the Sriharikota launch base. The launch too would be carried out by the indigenous GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).
  • WorldSpace turns attention to India: WorldSpace, the NASDAQ listed satellite radio service provider, aims to focus on India that has been responsible for $3.4 million revenue of its total $11.6 million worldwide last year. From a mere 21.000subscribers in 2005, the company has enlisted 1,10,000 subscribers in 2006. World Space currently offers 40 digital channels in India at the rate of Rs. 150 per month.
  • Wipro and PWC eye Mizoram: IT giants Wipro and PriceWorth Cooper are scanning the state of Mizoram in North East India to set up software development parks. The pollution free environment, cool climate and the fact that 70% of the youth in Aizwal, the capital are computer literate and English speaking has prompted interest from the companies.
  • Sun to set up next-gen lab in Bangalore: SUN Microsystems plans to invest in a showcase lab that would power the R&D centre through utility computing and grid technologies in Bangalore. Besides powering development work, the lab would also serve as a showcase for Sun's advanced technologies for prospective customers. The current Indian centre is doing work on various areas such as software and systems management, Java, NAS and SAN storage software, application server, web server, portal server and Solaris OS
  • India's desktop computer sales up by 27%: Sales of desktop personal computers in India grew 27 percent in the year to March to over 4.61 million units. Sales in the previous year stood at 3.63 million as revealed in the report by the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology. Notebooks registered the fastest sales growth -- 144 percent to touch 431,834 units.

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