Thursday, February 28, 2008

Idol Projection: David Archuleta Wins

Since I'm nearing 40, I can admit that I watch American Idol with the kids. I gotta tell you the winner is going to be.... David Archuleta. He's simply the best of a very good field of men - a group for the first time that is stronger than the women. The way he did the Lennon song, "Imagine" could have been a disaster because it is heartfelt and powerful in its simplicity. It does not, however, stretch a person vocally. David did it all. He has that connection with the audience. It was unbelievable. He's gotta win.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reflections from India and Singapore

I just returned to the US after a whirlwind 1 week trip in India and Singapore. This time we accomplished quite a bit - reviews of progress with the Client Management, Delivery, Tech and Administrative Team along with some focused business development activity. Rather than recounting each aspect of the trip, here are some random observations...

- Singapore Airlines great, Euro/US airlines so-so to suck. I fly coach, it's shareholder money y'know, but nothing beats the service of Singapore. You are treated like a real person as opposed to cattle. Friendly stewardesses that get you whatever you want whenever you want. I'm not saying that because they choose so well or dress attractively. It's all the other stuff too: a menu with drinks to order and well-presented meals (silverware, no plastic) with ice cream desert, a 10 inch personal screen with a massive on-demand selection, little care packet and just a generally good attitude. Everything they give you is just a little better than other airlines. They don't make you feel bad that you went coach vs. business class. The price was similar to Lufthansa and United, but the aircraft was newer and fresher. Rather than previewing the latest chick flicks for my wife on old burned out cathode ray screens, I took advantage of 6 movies, 3 TV shows, 4 book summaries and 1 Hindi course in the 40 hours of travel.

- Mumbai airport super fast and low on hassle, Bangalore needs lots of help. Bangalore can't get a new international airport soon enough. I don't know how many deals have not happened as a result of a terrible airport experience. Bangalore, now the mouthful Bangaluru, is overcrowded to get your bags. It's like warfare as people create gridlock with baggage carts and pushy people trying to box out for their spot. Then you are accosted by taxi guys as you walk out. It's hard to find to the driver sent for you while these guys are in your face. Finally, there's a mess of a drive off spot where the accosting behavior continue. Normally, people from Bangalore are fairly shy and very service-oriented. This stuff just puts prospective deal makers off. In Mumbai this is not the case. People wait behind the line and you can sign up for a prepaid taxi before you leave the quieter confines of the airport. To get in, you don't have to endure long lines to get security-checked in. Or watch as self-important Europeans pay off baggage handlers to get them in front of the line. None of them actually carry bags, they just remind Indians of that Raj mentality - just needs to end. As you can tell, it burns me because I see the potential of a great country.

- Prices rising everywhere. It's not just gas prices in the US, it's salaries in India and costs in Singapore. The age of globalization has brought on an age of demand for skills and products - across the board. The cost of a movie ticket is about $5 in Mumbai - hey that's not far off. Though the seats were sold out, they were not filled. A lot of people can afford to blow off the movies. In Singapore, a lunch entree at a mid-level restaurant cost $10-15. It still costs less in India, though our night of drinks and snacks (no entree) at the posh Pause in Mumbai cost $300. Shots of Jagermeister costs just as much as the US.

- Salaries will meet the US recession. There are young adults in Bangalore that have known nothing but 20-100% salary increases year after year. With companies laying off 1000s in India due to a slowdown in growth and a rising rupee, harsh reality will set in. If you want to do better, do better work. Employers will not consider 4 months in the job as anything resembling real experience.

- Quality is rising. The level of foreign investment in India and Asia has raised quality expectations. In Japan, this took time before cars went from poor quality in the 60's to high quality in the 80's. In India, I've seen people respond very quickly. People are so eager to do well, I've seen turnarounds in as little as 2 months. As the quality expectation gets built in, competitiveness will need to rise in developed counties.

- US retail still the most efficient. I thought that prices for electronics in Singapore would be low due to its proximity to China. I thought that brand name clothing would be cheaper in India due to lower salaries. Same thing for hotel prices. A room at the Intercontinental in Mumbai goes for $500/night (and there's no pool), Dockers in Bangalore costs $40, a Canon HD video camcorder goes for $1200 vs. $660 on in Singapore. Except for groceries and souveniers, US retail is king.

- Cranes everywhere. I saw at least 20 cranes in the Mumbai skyline and at least a dozen in Singapore. I hope they've figured how to get people to all those places. I'm sure Singapore has - it's the model of hyperefficiency.

- Pollution...argh. It's a big deal in India. People really need to get involved and do something about it. Even with the price advantage of CNG and LPG, not enough people have converted. There are still too many rickshaws, scooters, cars, buses and trucks spewing all kinds of toxic stuff out of those tailpipes. I've stopped running in India - walking is enough indoors. I feel for all those kids. It took the US 30 years to turn it around. I hope India finds a way to do it as well. It's an amazing country that has progressed in so many ways. The people just have to want it.

- Singapore... an expat heaven. There are a lot US expats in Singapore. It's understandable why. Everything is first class - the dining, shopping, clubs, infrastructure. Singapore has an unbelievable airport with direct connections to everywhere in Asia. It's a super clean city where as long as you play by the rules you can do anything you want. There's are even government sanctioned brothels, something that the cab drivers are happy to tell you about. Take that, Thailand! I've seen the super-efficient business side. I hope in my next trip I see some of the soul.

- Happy to be home. My family let me sleep this weekend. Ready to hit the ground running.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Microsoft: Why is Quality So Hard?

You would think that with Microsoft bidding for Yahoo, I would be writing about my opinion of it (it's good if they can execute extremely well). Instead, I want to reflect on how we deal with such lower quality expectations with Microsoft dominated products. Today, at the San Jose Tech Museum, a number of exhibits were down due to application freezes, execution errors, or just the blue screen of death. This combines with my daily battle with Outlook - every time I don't clean out my Inbox, my whole computer freezes. Applications endlessly need to be restarted.

Why is this so difficult? You would think that a company that has been in business for 23 years would have found a way to make it's product bulletproof. If you talk to people in the company, there is a preponderance of brilliant people. Yet, after multiple iterations of the OS and Office application set, there are continuous quality and performance issues. Microsoft could tell the hardware folks exactly what they want. They could tell the peripheral and component makers exactly how they want products to interface with the OS. Yet, for whatever reason they don't do it well. Here's one example: my son has an XBox which we recently threw away because it crashed and will not start up again. Microsoft controls every aspect of that box. Yet his old (and new) Playstation keep motoring on.

Even upgrades confuse people. Our CFO is an Excel expert yet he has lost functionality with Excel 2007. On Outlook 2007, I still can't find the Picture toolbar to crop images. You'd think an upgrade would give you more multimedia functionality.

Now as an SEM agency, we love Microsoft because they provide an alternative network for search and advertising content, even though we suffer highly functional, low reliability interface (everyone in SEM knows what I'm talking about). However, I'd ask the good smart folks at Microsoft to spend their energy on 2 things - reliability and performance. That would be good for all of us and truly cement their hold on computing.