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Travels in Uzbekistan: Faizulla Khodjaev & the dilemma of leadership

It is hard to find a leader whose life exemplifies the dilemmas of leadership in a muslim-majority country more than that of Faizulla Khodjaev who was head of the Bukhara Socialist Republic from 1920-24. Bukhara, of course, is no longer an independent republic but part of the state of Uzbekistan.

As we pick up the action, Bukhara was an independent Emirate but had a Czarist Russian Agent overseeing matters much like the British Residents in Princely States in pre-independent India.

Khodjaev was the son of a well-to-do merchant in Bukhara and like scions of many wealthy families in the Bukhara of that time was sent to the Soviet Union and then Turkey for higher studies. In Turkey he came under the influence of the Young Turks movement, that restive group impatient with the old ways of the Emir-ruled states and wanting to bring them into the modern world.

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On his return to Bukhara in 1912 he founded a newspaper, ‘The Holy Bukhara’ which preached the need for democracy, secular education and such other modern ideas that were sweeping the world of that time. It is said that the ulema whispered into the Bukhara Emir’s ears asking whether the Emir had now embraced Christian ideas such as these and the emir panicked and ordered the newspaper shut after just 13 issues. The political movement he had co-founded, the Jadid, which among other things wanted a separation of the State and Religion, split into a conservative faction ready for a long and patient attempt to persuade the Emir to modernize and a radical faction, of course led by Khodjaev which wanted immediate action.

By then it was 1917 and Russian revolution shook the world, so Khodjaev and his radicals presented a plan to the Bolsheviks proposing radical modernization. With Russia’s support the plans were again presented to the Emir who had no choice but to accept it.. It is said that the Emir , after accepting the plan, encouraged the ulema to use their  reach to the masses through Friday prayers and the madrasas to oppose it. This set up clashes in the streets of Bokharo between the Ulema and the radical faction of the Jadid. The Emir used this excuse to arrest the radical faction leaders.

This made Khodjaev and his team decide that they had no choice but to ask the Emir to go if Bokharo was to modernize. This coincided with Lenin’s announcement that all former Russian colonies were free to go their own way and could even ask for the help of the Red Army to unseat the traditional emirs who ruled all over Central Asia.

Khodjaev and friends, in a move that he was to judge to be a tragic mistake later on, took this offer at face value and invited the Red Army’s help in unseating the Emir. This of course took no time since the Russian army was not only overwhelmingly powerful compared to the Emir’s one  but also because many basic utilities in Bokharo at that time including the railway system was run by Russia.

Khodjaev and his Russian allies quickly despatched the Emir, renamed his party the Communist Party of Bokhara and in 1920, as the First Secretary was effectively the head of the People’s Republic of Bokaro.Khodjaev promptly got down to modernize his state, opening schools to impart secular education, side-lining the Ulema, separating the State’s functions from religion.

The first sign of trouble for Khodjaev was when he tried to alter Bokaro’s role as the cotton plantation of the Soviet system. He pushed for a larger allocation of land and resources to food crops, famously telling Stalin that people cant eat cotton. It is said that Stalin viewed this as an expression of nationalism which ran counter to the views of the Communists at that time.

Ominously, in the 1937 election to the Party posts, Khodjaev’s name was not proposed. The next year, he was summoned to Moscow and after a brief trial was condemned to death for his anti-people attitude. He was promptly executed and his mother, wife and two daughters were packed off to Siberia to do hard labour from which only one daughter survived.

Khodjaev’s struggle to modernize his country makes a poignant tale. He was swimming against the many strong tides of his day: the rise of Communism, the social structure of the Central Asian emirates of that time with a tightly coupled relationship between the ulema and the Emir, a country which was a single-crop ( cotton) commodity producer vulnerable to fluctuating prices, the Great Depression of 1929, the formation of the Soviet Union in 1924 and the consequent isolation from world markets.

After Uzbekistan was set free from the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Khodjaev has been posthumously rehabilitated. There is a university now named after him and his ancestral home is a museum.

Yesterday we stopped by to see the museum and found that we were the only visitors there. Later in the day we visited the Emir’s ( yes, the same Emir who foiled Khodjaev’s modernization plan) summer palace , a scaled down version of the Czar’s in St Petersburg, which was flooded with peasants from Fargana, newly-weds on their first picnic etc.

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Running into the creator of the algorithm in Kiva

There aren’t that many places in the world as remote as Kiva in the Korezm province of Uzbekistan. Even from Taskent, the capital of Uzbekistan, you need to fly an hour and several hundred kilometres westward over desolate steppe to get there.

This is why I was astonished when on a morning stroll in Kiva on a recent holiday in Uzbekistan, I turned a random corner and what should I see but a giant statue of an old acquaintance, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi.

For those of you who did not pay much attention to your high school history teacher, he is the man from whose name the mathematical term ‘algorithm’ is derived from. And again for those of you who have not been paying too much attention to what’s been going in the world of late, the algorithm is what drives, among other things, Search Engines, Social Networking sites and other marvels of our age.
The term ‘algorithm’ is the latinization of his name. ‘Al-Kwarizmi’ in Latin became ‘algorismi’ and from there ‘algorithm’. He worked in Baghad’s House of Wisdom at a time when wild beasts roamed the areas where Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne now stand. His book, ‘On Calculation with Hindu Numerals’ (‘Kitab al-Gam? wa-al-tafriq bi-?isab al-Hind’), written in 825 was translated into Latin in the 12th century as ‘Algoritme de Numero Indorum’, literally, ‘Al-Khwarizmi on the Hindu Art of Reckoning’. This book introduced a decimal system of numbers composed of the numbers 1 to 9 and a 0 to the western world. His other book, ‘al-Kitab al-mukhta?ar fi ?isab al-jabr wa-l-muqabala’, is considered to be the foundational text on algebra, the word ‘algebra’ itself being a latinization of ‘al-jabr’

Al-Kwarizmi, means ‘from Kwarizm’ and Kwarizm is another way of spelling Korezm, the modern name of the Uzbekh province in which Kiva now stands.

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As I stood staring at my friend’s giant statue many questions swirled through my mind. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi is normally talked about as a Persian or from Baghdad, so why were the fair people of Kiva claiming him as one of their own? Even conceding that he was in Kiva in the years before he went to Baghdad, how on earth could he have, living in this remote part of the world, developed the skills required to even ask questions that could lead to the kind of answers that enrich his work?

One of the answers to this puzzle could be that this tiny town of Kiva with a population of about 3000 in Al-Kwarizmi’s time had half a dozen madrasas which is roughly the equivalent of New York City today having 67,000 colleges. So Kiva was clearly a university town in its time.  The educational programme in these madrasas at that time lasted three years and students had to study the Koran and related things for about 40% of the time, the rest of the time was spent in learning astronomy and mathematics. Each student was admitted based on the recommendation of a tutor. On admission each fresher was attached to a senior student and the pair, through discussion and debate, worked their way through the questions of the day. The final exam at the end of the three year stint had two parts to it. The first part was where four different tutors other than the one who recommended the student for admission quizzed him on all that he was supposed to learn. The second part was when the student had to tell the tutor who had admitted him, something that the tutor did not already know! Thus was the frontiers of knowledge pushed a little further by every student who attended a madrasa. The penalty for not coming up with an original thought was to repeat the three year program. It is said that some students spent their whole life trying to achieve a pass grade.

But how to explain how such frontier and research based education took place in this remote corner of the world?

The answer to this is that Kiva in the Al-Kwarizmi’s time, the 9th century AD, was, directly on the Silk Road, that vast international trade system which carried merchandize and ideas from producing centres such as India and China to consuming centres in Europe. In that sense Kiva was at the centre of the world of that time and open to the flow of ideas back and forth across the Silk Road.

How does a city which lives and prospers in the centre of the world become relegated to a corner of the world? The answer of course is that the centre can itself shift.  Christopher Beckwith, in his book ‘Empires of the Silk Road’, says that the discovery by Europeans of the direct sea route to India and China shifted trade almost completely away from the Silk Road.

The Europeans established an Asian Littoral zone attracting people, culture and technology to the port cities that they established and controlled throughout Asia. Even the Russian Empire, despite its control of vast swath of Central Eurasia, shifted its trade to sea from its capital St Petersburg in the Baltic to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. In short order, the Eurasian economy had changed from the continental-based Silk Road system to a coastal Littoral System. With this shift, says, Beckwith, ‘Central Eurasia disappeared’.

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Telemedicine at Work

Last week when we spent New Year’s eve in my hometown Cannanore in Kerala,  I ambled over to the Cancer Society and saw for the first time the practical possibilities of telemedicine.

High expertise cancer diagnostic experts are few and are located in the Regional Cancer Center at the state capital, Trivandrum several hundred kilometers away. For a patient to go to Trivandrum from Cannanore costs Rs 4000-8000 per visit including the cost of staying in a hotel for him and a helper. It also takes up 3 days time. A patient needs to visit several times for follow up.

The Cannanore centre folks have  variety of diagnostic equipment like ultrasound scanners, colposcope, etc which are connected by VSAT to the Trivandrum center so that diagnostic data can be instantaneously sent to the experts at the Regional Cancer Centre. TV monitors and screens allow the patient in Cannanore and the doctors in Trivandrum to converse.

The highest cost person in this operation is a radiologist who locally
costs Rs 2.5 lacs a month. I made a mental note to check whether machine
learning could help reduce this cost.

A typical Kerala Panchayat has a population of 25,000 and the Cannanore
survey finds that 50 or so are in pre-cancerous stage and 30 are in the
cancerous stage.

It appears that the incidence of cancer in Cannanore is above average. This is partly because Cannanore is a major centre for beedi manufacturing and at one time employed 350,000 people in beedi factories. Thhttp://datastore.rediff.com/h5000-w5000/thumb/5C66667261/kemgy0kyzcic8eib.D.0.Ultrasound_Scanner_smaller.jpgis has decline now to about 100,000 because of the declining popularity of beedi and smoking in general. The likelihood of cancer in a beedi factory worker is several times higher than the average person.

The second reason for the above average incidence of cancer according to local doctors is that vegetable and fruits in Cannanore ( and for that matter in all of Kerala) are imported from large scale farms in Tamilnadu and Karnataka where dangerous pesticides like Endosulfan are extensively used. Endosulfan, incidentally, is banned in the West but is still legal in India. The Cannaore municipal food inspection authorities dont have the time or the technical skills to spot and remove such fruits and veetables from the market. And thei charter presently extends onlt inspecting cooked food in restaurants.

The Cannaore Cancer Society folks have van equipped with high tech diagnostic equipment also linked to the Trivandrum centre specials by VSAT which they take to remote viilages for diagnostic drives.

Apart from the high-tech equipment, they also recruited and trained 25,000 volunteers to do a house to house campaign to educate citizens about easy-to-detect pre-cancerous conditions and to tell them that early detection can increase the chances of cure exponentially. Their recors show that when they started in 1994, only 9% of the patients were detected in Stage 1 whereas nowadays 60% of patients are detected in Stage 1. Patients detected in Stage 3 or 4 used to be 75% but has been brought down to 20% now.

 More information at their website http://www.cancercaremccskannur.org

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Donna Harman on the Evolution of Search Technology

http://datastore.rediff.com/h5000-w5000/thumb/5C66667261/2l3n5wyf7aewehc2.D.0.geveva_searc_conf__blog.jpgListening to Donna Harman’s account of the evolution of Search technology at the SIGIR 2010 Conference in Geneva was a rare pleasure as I doubt whether many others are as  well qualified as she is to give such an account.

She titled her talk, ‘Is the Cranfield Paradign Outdated?’ alluded to the seminal work on Search at the School of Aeronautical Engineering at Cranfield in the UK between 1958-60.

The work at Cranfield involved comparison of four indexing schemes on 18,000 papers on aerodynamics were manually indexed under these four types of indexing. The authors of the papers were asked what were the basic problems addressed in the paper. Manual searches were then done. It was discovered that it made no difference what indexing scheme was used. The real issue, it was discovered, was the descriptors that were used.

This work was extended in the 1962- 66 period ( referred to in the literature as Cranfield 2). The goal here was to retrieve all relevant documents from a collection of 1400 papers on aeronautical engineering  based on four indexes of 31,25 and 13 descriptors each all of which were done manually. Again, the authors of the papers were asked about the basic problems addressed in these papers. Five levels of relevance assessments were used: complete, High, Useful, Minimal Value, No Interest. It was in this experiment that crucial breakthroughs in Search were made: Relevance and Precision as metrics for judging the efficacy of a Search and the discovery that words in the documents could be used for indexing.

This,says, Donna Harman, was the Cranfield Paradigm: Real questions were asked, there was a large enough collection of documents, the collection was made before the questions were framed and intuitive metrics were used.

The arena then shifted across the Atlantic when Mike Klein from Cranfield spent time in Cornell in 1967-68. The SMART project, as it was called, used the Cranfield collection of documents plus Medical Abstracts.

But things really got going only after the US Defense Department, through DARPA asked NIST, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology ( something like the Indian Standards Institution that we have here in India)  for help in an intelligence analysis project in 1990. NIST was Donna Harman’s perch and her involvement with Search started here.These were  the so called TREC studies.

As Donna describes it, the ‘user model’ for this project involved intelligence analysts searching through a full-text collection of diverse documents with a goal of high recall, i.e. all possible documents relevant to a query needed to be returned without worrying too much about the precision of the search. The document collection was made up of  the Wall Street Journal ( 1987-89, 1990-92) , the Associated Press ( 1989,88), the Federal Register, Ziff-Davis Computer Abstracts, and DOE Abstracts.

The TREC studies went through several phases and practically all the technology in use in today’s Search industry evolved out of this project.

The Cranfield Paradigm of (a) modeling a real user application (b) having a large enough collection of documents (c) building the collection before the queries were formulated (d) one query to produce one answer, conversely the same query ought to return always the same answer,  still held through these TREC experiments.

…which really brings us to the question that Donna Harman posed at SIGIR 2010, Geneva. Does the Cranfield Paradigm hold in an era where we know that user models have evolved in many new directions. For example, one-query-one-answer is not really the user model that reigns today. Users , today, do a sequence of queries, each query is often based on the answers returned in the earlier query. Or , take the example of a Hotel Search where the search provider has large financial incentives to take you down a path you may not want to go, or a user model such as in Amazon book search where they want to persuade you to buy. Or when we know that users usually look at only the top few results which flies against the Cranfield paradigm of re-usable collections. This latter piece is an important consideration because, says, Donna Harman, much of the benefits of Cranfield ( and TREC) came from the re-usability of their document collections.

So, is the Cranfield Paradigm outdated?  was the question she posed to all of us in the audience at the University of Geneva ( incidentally founded by Calvin, the Protestant Reformer)

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The Paid versus Free Debate at CII Digital Media Conference in Bombay

I chaired a panel at the Digital Media Conference run by CII the trade organization yesterday in Bombay; the panel had some very talented media practitioners on it.

In my opening remarks I made the point that the free ( which is to say ad revenue is the main revenue and consumers have free access) versus paid ( where the consumer pays a periodic fee for access) is a debate that periodically surfaces.

It is rumoured that Alexander Bell, soon after he invented the telephone, seriously tried running it as a free service supported by ads but soon gave up on it.

The debate recently re-surfaced when Mr Murdoch raised the question about search engines making money by crawling and indexing newspaper content that has been created at great expense.

It is worth examining what are the circumstances under which a paid model works as opposed to the circumstances when a free model works? Or more realistically, since practically all media have some mix of each,  when does ad revenue become most of the mix and when does subscription dominate?

When the web industry started in 1995, we at rediff thought that subscription would be the order of the day but discovered within days that it owld not be so! Is the issue then that you cannnot charge for content when everyone else is giving things away free?

Music looked destined to be ‘free’ in the early 2000 period with web-based services like Napster and devices like the Creative music player, but Apple came along and combined a service ( iTunes) and a player (iPod) and built a very sucessfull model. Did this work because the payment process was so simple? Or did it work because the vertical integration helped simplify the whole business for the consumer?

Or does the stage in the life cycle of the industry matter? Broadcast TV was free ( ie mostly ad revenue) but Cable TV came along and built a subscription-based model. And the TV industry has always had another business mode- where the State subsidizes all or part of the cost of running the business: BBC TV ( where the consumer pays a license fee) , many European TV channels, PBS in the United States and Doordarshan in India are examples of variants of this  third business model, if we can all it a business model.

And then Radio was always free- till Satellite Radio came along and charged a subscription.

And finally, newspapers always charged a subscription till Metro in Europe created a business out of a free newspapers and this is spreading to the US as well.

What are the circumstances which create these different pay vs free regimes?

Tarun Katial, who runs the radio and TV business for Reliance Broadcast: The way the TV value chain is constructed with broadcasters, producers, cable MSOs, local cable operators and consumers , it is often not easy to spot why pays who and how much in the TV industry and also unclear from the way the value chain is constructed who makes the choice of what program is aired.

Ajai Puri, who runs Airtel’s DTH business: the total cost of creating and delivering content in India is about RS 1400 per user per month whereas the consumer is not prepared to pay much above Rs 200 per month.

Harish Dayani, who runs Moser Baer, asked the audience of over 300 media professionals for a show of hands from all those who can truthfully say that they never ever have consumed any pirated DVD. No hands went up.

Jaspreet Bindra, who runs Microsoft’s X-Box and related consumer businesses: is it that tools for creating and distributing content have evolved so much that the marginal cost of producing and distributing digital content is near zero- is this the reason, he asked, that the free model is possible?

Paritosh Joshi, who runs the Star CTV business described how he is experimenting with an v-commerce business- running a TV channel by generating income from TV-based ecommerce.

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Deconstructing the Brin/Page Paper: National Systems of Innovation

Remarks I made at Silicon India’s Start-Up City event in Bangalore in May 2010

Lets try and ‘deconstruct’ the famous research paper that led to the foundation of one of the most famous and valuable companies in the world, Google, and see whether that would lead to insights about how Innovation Systems work.‘The Anatomy of a Large Scale Hyper-Textual Web Search Engine’, by Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

First, note that they give their address at a university. This in itself is remarkable. In an earlier era, you would expect an innovation of this kind to emerge from an ‘industrial lab’ like AT&T’s Bell Labs.  Industrial Labs, like those and others maintained by large American, German or British companies were responsible for many, if not most of the innovations in the chemical and electronic industries. Now, the ‘site’ of innovation activity seems to have moved to universities.

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Second, note that they are graduate students. That is another feature of contemporary innovation: the locus of innovation is more and more PhD students working on their doctoral dissertations.

Note also that Brin and Page are located in the Computer Science department. In an earlier era their work would have been located in the library science department. The application of techniques of computer science to issues that librarians normally dealt with, itself is interesting. The Page Rank technique that they applied to the problem of deciding which web pages are more valuable than other itself is a technique from bibliometrics: research scientists have known for decades before Brin and Page that a research paper that lots of other research papers refer to is likely to be more valuable than one which a lesser number of people refer to.

Now, look at the people they thank for support in doing this breakthrough work. First, is a list of three industrial companies who donated equipment that they could use for their work: IBM, Intel and Sun. These companies at that time could not possibly have foreseen how the work of these two researchers could help their own businesses. So, such acts of open-minded generosity, are perhaps part of fostering Innovation.

The Brin and Page project itself is part of a larger project: the Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project. You can see here that some visionaries, other than Brin and Page, had thought  at that early period to start of a project on Digital Libraries. If  such a master-project had not been in place, one would wonder whether the problem that Brin and Page worked on would have been posed to them.

Finally, look at the financial supporters of the project: the National Science Foundation, a US Federal Government sponsored funding body; the US Defence Advanced Research Project Projects Agency ( DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defence; the US National Space Administration ( NASA).  Please note the preponderance of State financial support in the project.

Lets tie all this together to see how the US National System
of  Innovation works: large scale US Federal Government financial
support channelled through civil and military agencies, Master Projects
addressing emerging areas and located in Universities where graduate
students and their guides interact to produce breakthroughs.

The notion of a ‘National System of Innovation’ is an
interesting perspective to view the innovation issue. For many of us,
Archimedes leaping out of his bath-tub shouting ‘Eurekha’ or a Newton
thinking up his Theory of Gravitation in a flash on seeing an apple drop
is what innovation is about: a lone innovator accidentally, or in a
flash of genius, hitting on an innovation.

Scholars, more and more, look at the underlying network of universities,
government research and financing bodies and companies and the complex
interactions between them to unravel the puzzle of Innovation.

Nelson’s book National Innovation Systems. A Comparative
Analysis
, is a good cross-country survey

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Speechmaking at FICCI Entertainment Event in Bombay

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How IIM Calcutta Fared in Thought Leadership in 2009-10

    For the last two years, its been a ritual for me to lock myself in a room for a week-end and read through the vast output of our faculty during the year. I get immense pleasure  from this and in sharing  with you today what I discovered I hope you will get a similar pleasure. The scale and width of the issues that our faculty have tackled is immense.

For example, why do some alliances between Indian and international firms succeed and others fail? Prof BN Srivastava, of our Behavioral Sciences group, in a paper presented at the Academy of Management meeting in Chicago in August 2009, titled Positive Organizational Scholarship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective from Five Nations used the Positive Organizational Scholarship approach to study this issue and concluded that success is based on the quality of the connection. The quality of connection, in turn, depends on  the emotional capacity to withstand both negative and positive experiences, resilience or capacity of the person to bend and withstand strain and to function in a variety of circumstances,  and the relationship’s generativity and openness to new ideas and influences and the ability to deflect the pressures that shut the generative processes.

We have of late observed the phenomenon of foreigners being hired for top management positions in Indian firms. Prof Rajiv Kumar of our Behavioral Sciences group studied the circumstances under which Indian companies hired such foreign talent and developed twelve propositions about this phenomenon. The desire to learn  superior execution skills from these ‘foreign nurtured talent’, getting their help in managing overseas subsidiaries particularly in dealing with the external environment are two examples of these propositions. He also notes that the Indian companies who hired such managers are ones that have global ambitions in growth and technical excellence. His paper, Foreign Nurtured Talent in Indian Business Houses was accepted for the 10th International Human Resource Management Conference held at Santa Fe, New Mexico in June, 2009.

We have seen the film industries in Hollywood or Bollywood where In independent business elements like studios, producers, directors, actors, technical personnel create a temporary network structure, which is project-based  and inter-organizational in a “system of recurrent ties among the various major participants who usually work under short-term contracts for single films”. Economists have been baffled why they continue this so-called network organization structure even though it has been demonstrated that the transaction costs of such a structure are far higher than a hierarchically or purely market oriented structure. Since networked structures are increasingly evident across many industries, Professor Amit Jyoti Sen of Behavioural Sciences Group with a doctoral candidate, Apalak Khatua, proposed a framework `for understanding the circumstances under which such network structures emerge and their paper, Inside the Interorganisational Network, accepted for Association of Heterodox Economics Conference at Kingston University, Kingston-on Thames, UK, July, 2009.

Outsourcing is what has driven India’s emergence as a global economic giant, yet little organization theory has developed to understand the many different organization forms these outsourcing firms take. In a study of sixty such firms, Professor Leena Chatterjee of Behavioural Sciences Group and Kirti Sharda, a doctoral candidate at that time, proposed five dominant types: Clear Eyed Strategists, Adapting Professionals, Focalizing Artisans, Conservative Controllers and Overambitious Associates. Their paper Configurations of Outsourcing Firms and Performance: Exploring  Organizational Gestalts was presented at the 2009 Academy of Management Meeting held in Chicago during August, 2009.

Businesses have, since the 1990’s gained great benefit from the Business Process Re-engineering movement. Re-engineering  involves a re-configuartion of “core processes” that “set of interrelated activities, decisions, information, and material flows, which together determine the competitive success of the company.” Is it possible to apply such a tool to governmental processes where what is ‘core’ and what is not is often under dispute, the concept of “value” and “value-adding process” are difficult to measure.   Professor Priya Seetharaman  of our MIS Group and Prof Raghabendra Chattopadhyay of the Public Policy Group, based on their study of West Bengal Panchayats, propose a system of ‘process channeling’ in their paper Process Reengineering in Government Institutions: Walking A Tightrope, presented  at the 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, 2009 held at Chengdu, China during October, 2009. This , incidentally is a great example of researchers from two different groups, MIS and Public Policy, collaborating on a common research project.

Algorithm-based recommendation systems are all the rage nowadays be it on Social Networking sites where you are recommended people you may like or in eCommerce sites where products are suggested for you. These face a continuous challenge in improving the quality of their recommendation. A paper entitled  by Professor Ambuj Mahanti of Management Information Systems Group has proposed such an improvement in his paper , Improving Prediction accuracy in Trust-aware Recommender Systems,  was presented at the 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences in Kauai, USA in January, 2010.

In another paper, also in the broad area of machine learning, Professor Uttam Kumar Sarkar of MIS Group, and his associates used mathematical techniques to locate interesting patterns in the reporting of adverse effects of pharmaceutical products using the US FDA data and presented their findings at the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics conference at Prague, Czech Republic in August, 2009.

Prof Debasis Saha of the MIS Group devised a new protocol to improve the efficiency of Wave Division Multiplexed Optical Networks, and the paper describing this work titled, An Intelligent Destination Initiated Reservation Protocol for Wavelength Management in WDM Optical Networks was presented at the 12th International Conference on Advanced Communication Technology held Republic of Korea, in February, 2010.

Prof Debasis Saha and his collaborators presented a second paper, this one describing a new technique for improving the quality of service when a local area wireless network and a 3G network operate together presented their paper, An Improved WLAN-first Access Scheme for UMTS/WLAN Interworking System, at the ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland in March,2010.
Profs Subir Bhattacharya,  Rahul Roy and others from the MIS group used a Systems Dynamic modeling to evaluate the future of Software-as-Service as a business model and presented their paper Quo Vadis, SAS, at the International Conference of Information Management at Chengdu, China, April, 2010.

Prof Subir Bhattacharya and his co-worker devised a solution for a specific type of financial portfolio selction and presented a paper on this at the Conference on Automation Science and Engineering, Bangalore August, 2009. This paper is an early example where people from the MIS faculty used the facilities at our new Financial Lab and I hope we will see many more such cross-functional research endeavours.
Prof Anup Sen and his collaborator thought up an improvement to the so-called ‘greedy algorithm’  a way of quickly getting an approximate result, and presented their paper at Sixth International Conference on Autonomic and  Autonomous Systems, March 2010 – Cancun, Mexico, and has been subsequently published by IEEE proceedings.

Prof  Rajesh Babu analyses the dilemma of protecting ‘traditional knowledge’ and recommends a way to do that under the existing TRIPs/WTO regime and presented his paper, International Protection of IPRs in Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, at the International Conference on The Challenging issues under WTO at Koh Samui, Thailand, October 2009

The increasing demand for internet connectivity has resulted in access points sprouting up everywhere: in parks, shopping malls, restaurants, etc. Efficient algorithms are needed to connect wireless nodes such as a Laptop or a Mobile Phone evenly to the many Access Points available. Prof Uttam Sarkar of the MIS Group along with his co-author proposed a new algorithm to do this using the emerging 802.21 standard and their paper, Balancing Load of APs by Concurrent Association of Every Wireless Node with Many APs, was presented at the 5th International Conference on Networking and Services in Valencia, Spain in April, 2009.

Prof Asim Pal and others devised a new algorithm for improving the co-ordination mechanisms in e-market Supply Chains and presented their paper, Cooperative Game for Multi-Agent Collaborative Planning, at the International Conference on Operations Research at Hong Kong in March 2010.
To round off the rich work in our MIS Group, Prof Asim Pal, used game-theoretic concepts in another problem area, that of detecting so-called ‘sybils’, pseudonymous entities, that launch malicious attacks on computer networks and his paper, A Discriminatory Rewarding Mechanism for Sybil Detection with Applications to Tor, was accepted  at the ICCCIS 2010 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  in March, 2010

We have all watched in amazement as international commodity prices doubled between 2005 and 2008 and then in a six month period halved to a level that wiped out all the increases. How did this violent fluctuation affect the lives of the 400 plus million people in the Asia Pacific region whose lives are dependant on agriculture. Did the price increase benefit them as producers and since they are also commodity consumers, did it hurt them? Prof Parthprathim Pal of the Economics Group studied this issue and drew some policy implication for developing countries for the ongoing WTO negotiations. His paper, Commodity Price Movements and Their Impact on Human Development: Evidence from Asia and Policy Options, was presented at the 9th International Working Group on Gender and Macroeconomics conference, at Bard College, New York in July 2009.

Neo-classical economic theory postulates that growth rates between countries should ultimately converge because technology, capital and other supply side factors can, in today’s world, freely move around from country to country, but putting this theory to test has posed formidable methodological problems. Prof. Manisha Chakrabarty of our Economics Group and her co-authors presented a paper proposing some methodological solutions to this at the Tenth Islamic Countries Conference on Statistical Sciences at American University of Cairo, Egypt in December 2009.

Basing promotion and compensation decision on a rational and formal Performance Appraisal system is seen as a hallmark of professional and modern companies and is generally believed to be free of political and power and control issues. How does it fare in the Indian corporate situation which is believed to be relatively more paternalistic and relationship oriented than in other cultures?    Prof Amit Diman of our Human Resources Group devised an instrument for measuring the appraises perception of Performance Appraisal Politics and his paper, Performance Appraisal Politics from Appraisee’s perspective: Exploration in Indian Context was presented at the Academy of Management conference held at Chicago in Ausust, 2009.

Industrial Relations theory has largely been a creation of the Anglo-Saxon industrial experience. How does it fit the new paradigm in India in which an old formal economy of heavy industry and public sector enterprises, co-exists today with the new formal economy of IT and Financial Services and the massive informal economy of casual labour and petty trade which forms the majority of Indian employment? Prof Debashish Bhattacharjee and his co-author undertook a sweeping study of both the historical evolution of Employment Relations in India from 1947 right down to the effects of the Global Recession of 2008 as well as an equally magisterial look at how the Indian academic tradition of Industrial Relations has gradually transformed itself into the Human Resource Management movement. His paper, Comparative Industrial Relations Narratives and their Relevance to India, was presented at the 15th Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association meeting in Sydney, Australia in August, 2009.

Our newly formed Public Policy and Management Group has kicked off to a great start.
Profs Bhaskar Chakrabarti and Raghabendra Chattopadhay addressed the problem of developing the right measures for judging the effectiveness of Local Government Bodies and presented their paper, Administrative Reforms for Local Governments in Rural West Bengal at the Annual Conference of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil d August, 2009.

The same team presented two other papers, Village Forums or Development Councils: People’s participation in decision-making in rural West Bengal and Local Governments in rural West Bengal, and their Coordination with Line Departments at the Commonwealth Local Government Conference in the Bahamas in May 2009  and a third paper titled, Decentralization of Irrigation Management in India: Problems of Participation and the role of Water User Associations together with Suman Nath at 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, in Chengdu, China October, 2009.

Prof Manish Thakur, of the Public Policy Group did one of the few academic studies available on India’s giant National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. He points out that the value of this  scheme should not be judged merely by the preset targets they achieve but also by how they mobilize the poor  and also sets in motion the consolidation of a constellation of interests which for years to come will help the poor articulate their collective rights. His paper, Public Policy Interventions and Social Inclusion, was presented at 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, 2009 held at Chengdu, China in Oct 2009.

In his paper, Social Welfare through Business: Study of Home Based Ayah Service for the Aged, Professor Kalyan Sankar Mandal of the Public Policy Group presents an example of how a business can contribute to social welfare. This paper was presented at the 9th Conference of Asia-Pacific Sociological Association at Bali, Indonesia in June, 2009.

Prof Mandal also took a look at the prospect of private sector initiatives helping out in the gigantic task of improving primary school quality in his paper, Towards Universalising Primary Education: A Business Solution presented at the International Conference on Primary Education held at Hong Kong, November 2009.

Last year, the film Slumdog Millionaire, poignantly portrayed the despairing lives of people in our great cities. India now has over 35 such metropolitan areas each with a population of over 1 million. Over a 100 million Indians now live in such metropolitan settings and they live in unequal access to health care and education. Prof Annapurna Shaw of our Public Policy Group studies what she calls “place inequalities” at the metropolitan level in her paper, Metropolitan Governance and Social Inequality in India which was presented at the conference on Metropolitan Inequality and Governance in International Perspective held at University of Southern Californea, Los Angeles in January 2009 and at the 105th meeting the Association of American Geographers at Las Vegas on March  2009.

In a rare look at India’s Small and Medium industrial companies who collectively produce 40% of the industrial output of our country, Prof BB Chakrabarti, presented a paper titled, Capital Structure of SME’s –a Puzzle that Merits Attention: The Case of India, based on a ten-year data set of 1300 such companies and presented at the West Lake International Conference on Small & Medium Business held at Hangzhou, China in  October, 2009.  What is exciting about this paper is that it was produced collaboratively with a business organization, Bitscrape Solutions and is hopefully a sign of more such collaborations that will come in the future.

Banks wooing all of us through SMS barrages on our mobile phone, television advertising, and advertising in newspapers and billboards is a feature of India’s new landscape of a hyper competitive consumer banking scene. Yet , there are few studies on how do Indian consumers judge service quality of banks. Prof. Koushiki Choudhury of Marketing Group took a shot at this and her paper, Exploring the Dimensionality of Service Quality: An Application of TOPSIS, was presented at the 4th International Conference on Services Management at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, U.K. May, 2009.

Complete flexibility in allocating products to manufacturing capacity based on realized demand is the holy grail of modern manufacturing. However, this kind of ‘total flexibility’ where all plants can produce all products can be a costly solution. Could there be an optimum combination of plants and products that maximizes the ability to meet demand and at the same time minimizes various types of costs? Prof. Ashis K Chatterjee of Operations Management Group demonstrates how this can be modeled and his paper, Benefits of Partial Product Flexibility, was presented at the 23rd European Conference on Operational Research, Bonn, Germany in July, 2009.

Signaling a new class of studies where our professors collaborate with those of international universities, Prof Rahul Mukherjee of our Operations Management Group, collaborated with Prof Hong Chang of Chosun University, Korea in presenting a paper, Highest Posterior Density Regions Based on Empirical-Type Likelihoods: Role of Data-Dependent Priors, at New Zealand Statistical Association Conference at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in  September, 2009.  This paper has since been accepted for publication in the prestigious Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference.

Prof Saibal Chattopadhyay, of the Operations Management Group also presented a paper, Exponential Clinical Trials: Sequential Comparison under Asymmetric Penalty at the same New Zealand Conference.

Professor Bodhibrata Nag’s book titled “Optimal Design of Timetables for Large Railways: a framework to maximise schedule robustness and minimise resource deployment, using a multi-objective mathematical model” has been published by VDM Verlagsservicegesellschaft mbH, Germany in February 2010.

Dealing with the demand uncertainties of short life cycle products such as fashion goods have always posed a challenge.  Prof Balram Avitatthur, of our Operations Management Group with his co-authors, developed a mathematical model to do deal with the associated procurement and transportation discount structures and this paper has been accepted for publication in The International Journal of Production Economics, from Elsevier.

Indian media and policymakers are fond of pointing to India’s youthful population and the demographic dividend.  Prof Janakirman Moorthy looks beyond to the year 2050 when India will have three times more people in the 60+ age group than we have now and tries to draw some implications of this. His paper on this phenomenon was accepted as a book chapter in The Silver Market Phenomenon Business Opportunities in an Era of Demographic Change, Edited by Florian Kohlbacher, and Cornelius Herstatt. Prof Moorthy also contributed , Cross-National Logo Evaluation Analysis: An Individual-Level Approach, to the September 2009 issue of the international journal, Marketing Science, and an article titled, Buying behaviour of consumers for food products in an emerging economy  to the British Food Journal’s  second issue of 2010.

Prof Jacob Vakkayil, co-authored a chapter titled, Conflict Management and Resolution in the book, Doing Business in India, published by Routledge.

He also contributed a paper, Dynamics of Multiple Memories, Reflections from an Enquiry, to the Sage journal, Journal of Management Enquiry. I found it one of the most valuable ruminations I have read in recent years about one of the frontier challenges in the new knowledge economy. Companies try all sorts of methods to capture as organizational Memory what they learn as they go along in business: project documents are stored in databases, case studies are caused ot be written, white papers and best practice documents are created, reviewed by gate-keepers and stored. These are then used in knowledge-sharing sessions. Yet, to new entrants all this seem like just another training session. Knowledge Management efforts in many companies lead only to disappointment. Jacob, then wonders what is the nature of Organization Memory? Is it one or is there a plurality of memories? Are organizational memories messier and more improvised than we think? Are local, relational memories more effective than global ones? Are there communities of practice with two strands, one inside the organization and the other extending beyond into other organizations? Are there tentative, nebulous memories which are more real than the grand schemes of long-term storage and retrieval?

I found these reflections on the very nature of knowledge breathtakingly inspiring and I feel it deserves to be heard beyond the confines of a Sage management journal.

And it is also a fitting book-end to my review today of the exciting intellectual effort going on at IIM Calcutta. I hope you got as much pleasure in listening to this recounting as I did in preparing this summary.

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India Abroad Person of the Year Awards March 5th 2010, New York

Here is one of the videos:


…and here is my speech at the start of the event:


    Take a look at the picture on the screen; some of you who are longtime, loyal readers of India Abroad will recognize that as the very first issue of our paper. That was in 1970, nearly forty years ago.
   
    When you look at the contents you will recognize how much some things have changed in one way and how they remain the same in other ways.For example, that was the year that the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty was signed by 43 countries, but notably not by India. And, you will remember that event started a long period of estrangement between India and the United States which was turned around completely recently, again hinging on the nuclear issue.
   
    1970 was also when the north tower of the World Trade Center was completed and thus could claim to be the tallest building in the world. And forty years later, not far from where I stand today and speak to you, a reconstruction effort is going on that same site.
1970 was also the year that the US and World economy was starting recover from the 1969 recession, and a similar effort is under way as I speak.

    India Abroad has been reporting and analyzing and interpreting the tumultuous events of the past four decades, the first three decades under the able guidance of its founder Gopal Raju and the last ten years under ours.

    The India Abroad Person of the Year Award is now in its eighth year and a glance at the winners over these years will tell you how far India and America and the relationships between our two countries has evolved and how rich and diverse is the talent that Indian Americans bring to this country.

    Swati Dandekar, who was the first winner, was an Iowa State Representative; Sonal Shah, who was the next winner, was a social activist and has, as we predicted, gone on to bigger things in government; Mohini Bhardwaj, who won the following year, completed the unbroken run of women award winners.

    It took Bobby Jindal to break that run of women awardees but women returned in the following two years: Indra Nooyi, the PepsiCo chief, in 2007 followed by Mira Nair, the filmmaker in 2008.
    Fareed Zakaria, the journalist, was the winner last year.

    See what a rich diversity of talent Indian Americans bring to life in America: Social activists, political leaders, business leaders, and creative professionals like filmmakers and novelists and journalists!
    Who will be the winners this year? What talents will they showcase? What new directions will they get us to think in their acceptance speeches?
    I, for one, can’t wait to hear.
    Thank you for coming today and enjoy the evening.
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Citizens’ Efforts to Improve Elections


I got this mail from Gerson Da Cunha of Agni:

“Since 1999, AGNI has sought to mobilize and guide citizens at the time of elections, whether to the Lok Sabha, Maharashtra Assembly or Mumbai municipal corporation.  Citizens of Mumbai have now come to look to AGNI for help in this sense.  It was no different for the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha, roughly February to April 2009, with demands and phone calls intensifying as Election Day, April 30, approached.

The queries often became angry, with citizens believing that AGNI was virtually a government department, in charge of the electoral rolls / voter registration etc. As for every election, AGNI ran consultations on, and developed, a Citizens’ Charter and Local Area Action Groups to impress on citizens the great importance of voting. Near Election Day, the Charters were presented to all candidates at citizen meetings.

AGNI made a special point of involving and supporting the media both press and electronic.  Not for just this reason, the media supported and promoted the elections in an unprecedented way.

AGNI’s efforts were concentrated on citizens exposed to the media, print and electronic, and those that AGNI naturally relates to: the middle classes.  The overall voting percentage was 41% of a voting population of 8 million plus against 43% of 1 million fewer in 2004.  But it is now established that there was substantially lower turnout in the city’s slums – 60% of the population – and in Muslim dominated areas. The reasons are numerous and complex, among them problems with interests now called “vote brokers.”  Who, then, brought the voting proportion even as high as 41%?  It is not illogical to believe that the middle classes turned out in greater numbers this time round, a development presaged by the unusually large queues at polling booths in middle class areas.

This is an eminently desirable development given that these classes are more aware of political issues, are less affected than others by caste / religion / language compulsions, and by money or muscle power.

Some features of the AGNI Campaign

There was a significant volume of citizen ignorance and complaint voiced to AGNI. To help with registration, a locality drive was flagged off in a quiet locality of Central Mumbai.  The local AGNI Coordinator got an officer from the local ERO to run a street corner registration office. As many as 200 registrations were effected in an afternoon, compared to only 2 applications over a whole week at the ERO.  This is an initiative that deserves to be widely replicated in the city and supported by the CEO / Collectors.

Ms Shyama Kulkarni of AGNI and college students, forming an “I-Vote” group went out to some 30 colleges, supported by local AGNI Coordinators.  The CEO Maharashtra wrote to some 80 college principals asking them to facilitate registration of eligible students. In this way, AGNI Coordinators and volunteers were able to get as many as some 12,000 young people registered.

Supply of CDs and Rolls

Citizens’ concern about their enrolment status is a major issue.  The CEO’s website is of little use because not everyone has access to the internet and, once there, numerous problems assail the enquirer.  The CEO making available to AGNI the rolls on CDs did help.  But this is an area that demands study and new measures of assistance to citizens. The AGNI / ERO relationship in several areas helped to resolve some problems but the solution should not depend on this relationship and cooperative EROs.  AGNI has the satisfaction of having helped countless people to verify their registration status and to orient Citizen Help Groups e.g. SEVA in Dahisar.

 “Meet Your Candidates” events

AGNI conducted or participated in about a dozen events of this kind.  Candidates were invited to interact with citizens, sign off on the Citizen Charters and commit themselves to implementation of those demands.  We are now in a period of dialogue with elected MPs on an implementation process.  Meetings are being fixed. In some constituencies, AGNI was able to motivate voting despite calls for a boycott of voting for local reasons. Five of the city’s six constituencies were covered in this way.

 Spreading awareness of candidate disclosures

Alongwith the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR),  AGNI summarized and summed up in easily identifiable form the disclosures made by 100 odd candidates as to their police record, if any, education and assets / liabilities.  Very useful tables were produced.  They were published in an AGNI organ “Mumbai Meri Jaan” of which 3 lac copies were printed and distributed.

 Janaagraha of Bangalore ran for AGNI and other citizen groups a series of training sessions in which citizens were prepared for running training sessions in their own localities.

 Collaboration with the CEO and State machinery

The CEO and Collectors (City and Suburbs) were understanding and prompt with their cooperation. This cannot be sufficiently applauded. But their attitude was not always reflected at the ERO level, the vital interface with citizens, where neglect, ignorance and carelessness were often experienced.

 The election mechanism in the land has to depend on staff from a variety of other departments whose careers do not depend on performance at election time.  This explains some of the problems, but not all.  Training of such “visitors” must be taken much more seriously by them as well as the election authorities in the State.  They will be aware of other ways in which the citizen can be better served, an issue that is given an undesirably low priority, well below the convenience of the administration.”

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