The stunning contrast between the Western world and the wonderlands of the Asia Pacific is that while every city in North America seems to struggle for what one of my philosopher friends calls “better sameness”, the wonderful countries in our part of the world are all unique and distinctive, yet flourishing in their own right. A week spent across three cities in three countries brought this into sharp focus.
The first was Shenzen, less than an hour’s drive from Hong Kong. From the red carpet welcome to potential investors and lack of bureaucracy to the broad roads and wide smiles, Shenzen is truly representative of modern China. Visiting the facilities of one of our clients, it was quite an experience to see immaculately uniformed young Chinese workers working on one of the most sophisticated PCB manufacturing facilities in the world. And the impeccable English of our tour guide and the energy she put into the explanations of even the most complicated product lines could be an object lesson for some of our manufacturing exporters.
What makes Shenzen unique and indeed half a dozen other Chinese coastal cities is the energy that seems to flow through the city and its people and their keenness to become an integral part of the global economy. Quite in contrast with my next destination–Sydney, Australia–where the people and the country itself are still struggling with the decision to behave like an “arrived” First World country or join the ranks of India, China and the other outsourcing destinations and seek movement of manufacturing and services jobs to, rather than from, their shores. The main point of conversation was the uproar caused by the Telstra Infosys deal and the fear of job flight from Aussie shores. While most people agree at an intellectual level that Aussie firms are right to seek more bang for their IT buck, the resentment simmers and will take some time and lots of reassurances to settle. Having learnt from similar experiences in other countries, Indian companies need to work together to engage with industry associations, opinion leaders and the government to ensure that knee jerk reactions are minimized.
If there is one thing that truly differentiates Australia, it is the alacrity with which both the federal and state governments are embracing information technology. Capable project managers, contractors earning top dollars to drive implementation, active use of outsourcing panels and very clear objectives drawn up and communicated–many of our e-government pundits can learn a lot from studying the Aussie approach. Private sector corporations too exhibit the highest standards of professionalism in their partnering programs and technology investments and their CIOs are as aware of the Indian offshore capability as their savvy counterparts in the UK and US. And, of course, Australians continue to be a great sporting nation full of wonderful people, eager to be friendly and talk about Sachin Tendulkar and his ilk–truly a great place to spend some time away from home!
And talking about home brings me to my third city tale–after 14 hours of travel from Sydney through Singapore to Mumbai, the Singapore Airlines flight could not land at Sahar airport as the main runway had been rendered non-operational because of a domestic flight stuck on the runway and the ever careful Singapore Airlines flight with 280 of us on board was diverted to Delhi. Landing there well past midnight, we discovered to our chagrin that we could not leave the plane for three hours and finally were let loose inside the Indira Gandhi Airport terminal only because the SQ crew decided to call it a day. Finally seated in an Air India flight, and another two hour delay caused by the ubiquitous “technical snag”, we were again offloaded because the Delhi airport was closed by the Air Force. We finally reached Mumbai 12 hours behind schedule, cursing the sequential inefficiencies of the air traffic control, the air crews, the airport authorities, the maintenance engineers and finally the VIPs who so often cause entire airports to shut down. Is privatization the answer to finally push our country into the new world? Only time will tell!
The author is deputy chairman & managing director of Zensar Technologies and chairman of Nasscom’s SME Forum for Western India