BB: ‘Black’ is ‘Berry’ much back!

August 31st, 2010

After, apparently, some assurances from the Canadian government, and after much deliberation by Research In Motion (RIM), the Indian government has agreed to let the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) operate in the country. RIM’s BB, one of the world’s most popular smart-phones, has approximately one million users in India. Given the present status of the country’s economic prowess, and the adoption of advanced technology in the business sphere, RIM certainly has a firm future in India.

The Indian government, concerned over the domestic security situation, insisted that the Canadian company yield its ‘secret formula’, namely, the BES, in an un-encrypted and readable format to security agencies. The uptight stance taken by the government on BB’s highly-secure enterprise services emanates from confirmed threats to India’s security situation, and as of today, RIM has been given a two-month reprieve for providing a permanent solution to BES’s services, sans the security threats ‘embedded’ in the smart-phone’s enterprise solutions structure.

When customers purchased BBs, they mustn’t have even imagined the potential these sleek devices have to wreak to havoc and destruction. These smart-phones were used in nearly every stage of the 2008 terrorist attack that left part of Mumbai crippled.

Really, I would never have anticipated that something as innocuous as a BB could be used for such sinister motives. Yet, when the government sought a total ban on BB’s enterprise services, it wasn’t quite justified. For all the ‘security issues’ the BB poses, it is a complete device which facilitates seamless communication, between individuals and businesses alike. Business transactions are expedited faster, even when these transactions are carried out while in transit.

RIM defended the BB enterprise services saying it actually added value to a firm’s operations, and enabled greater productivity at the workplace. Several businesses, small, medium and big, rely on services such as the BES to fulfil their official communication needs.

Corporate data that is exchanged over the BES is so secure, that even the manufacturers of the smart-phone cannot access an individual’s mails and data through any ‘master’ code. Even so, why should a productivity-enhancing product be rendered almost useless because of some incident in the past?

Agreed, today’s anti-social elements are tech-savvy, and they are succulently funded to afford the best technologies to address their irrational needs. In this sense, isn’t it obvious that if these elements don’t have access to the BB services, they’ll scout for some other such service?

Hopefully, two months hence, the RIM-Government stand-off will culminate in a logical manner. Sacrificing business productivity and efficiency for the sake of the nation’s security would be acceptable had there not been any other way of accessing the crucial data which is transferred over the BES. Finally, RIM has consented to establish a server in India which will allow the government to monitor and intercept data exchanged through BB’s super-secure network.

As for the yuppy BB customers, they can be relieved that the ‘Instant Messaging’ (IM) service will remain ‘secure’ for the next two months, at least. A highly-regarded form of tech-nosh, the IM service provides free messaging facilities to several youngsters looking for constant connectivity through cheap, in this case, free, and exciting features.

Being a BB user myself, I am becalmed that there has been a co-operative attitude in handling a situation which would have otherwise turned into a lose-lose situation for both parties. While RIM would have lost out in an expanding market, and Indians would have lost out on enjoying a substantial technological feat, the government would have earned the flak of several ‘socially-healthy’ people who use the smart-phone for furthering their own lives, and subsequently, for furthering the growth of the economy.

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HQ: Headquartering Inspiration

July 14th, 2010

Last week, I was fortunate to view an entertaining, interesting and awe-inspiring programme on one of the ‘news and knowledge’ channels — fortunate, because of the dearth of sensible programmes on television these days.  The programme I’m talking about showcases engineering marvels around the world, and the one in focus on that particular day was the world’s first spherical structure, the HQ building in Abu Dhabi.

HQ is a high-end, ultra-luxe and uber-glamourous commercial building which has been developed by Aldar Properties PJSC, one of the foremost real estate developers and managers in the Middle-East. The company enjoys close affiliation with the Abu Dhabi government, and is supported by a nexus of strong financial sources.

HQ has been designed by internationally renowned firm MZ & Partners. It enjoys the status of one of the most innovative buildings to have graced the Middle-Eastern landscape. The prestigious ‘Building Exchange Conference’ recognised HQ as the ‘Best Futuristic Design’, a notable achievement for not only Aldar, but also the Middle East. The developers of this ultra-modern commercial premises have undergone unimaginable challenges to design and construct an edifice which has truly revolutionised the face of an already infrastructurally advanced region.

I watched the show with child-like curiosity, eager to know what was next. Such was the footage. The show began with the conceptualisation of the mega-structure, and ended with the intricate construction of HQ. What began as a designer’s playful fancy soon caught Aldar’s attention. The rest, as is rightfully said, is history.

Every stage of the development process was a daring confrontation of the unknown. Designers, engineers, contractors and specialists, from diverse geographical, cultural, lingual and philosophical backgrounds, converged at HQ’s blue-print. One can say that HQ almost ‘headquartered’ a team of innovative visionaries who sought to translate a simple idea into a serious product.
It was amazing to see the dedication and patience with which this project was dealt with. Abu Dhabi isn’t blessed with many of the resources that go into the construction of such a complex structure. Money is perhaps one of the only resources that are available in the Emirate region with ease, after oil ofcourse. Steel, cement, glass, aluminium and other assorted elements, including custom-built toilet blocks, had to be imported from around the world.
The atypical design of the HQ made construction tricky; engineers and architects had to redraw the external skeleton of the building, because natural elements like sunlight and wind, both of which are in abundance in the region, posed safety problems for the HQ’s glass and steel structure. Wind and glass engineers were regularly consulted before any decision was taken by the designers and architects.

‘Wind’ and ‘glass’ engineers came as surprise; I mean I have heard of sound engineers, but never wind and glass! The determination of those involved with HQ was a valuable learning. Owing to its spherical design, even the manner in which components like the triangular glass panes and circular steel super-structure were manufactured was unusual. A glass-pane manufacturing mini-plant was set-up in the periphery of the HQ compound. This was done to accommodate last minute changes to the specifications of every single pane, because even an inch here or there could disturb the strength of the entire building. Massive cranes were erected, and each crane had a special role to play- while one of the cranes lifted the panes for fitting, another one orchestrated the joining of steel panels. Yet another one pushed down toilet-blocks through an exact-measuring internal cavity of the building.

Coordination between the various departments was seamless. A 19-month deadline for developing such a massive structure, complete with interiors suited to every client’s individual requirements, is anything but practical. However, for MZ & Partners and Aldar, it was an opportunity to defy the norms, which they did in style.

The project was complete in all respects well within the stipulated deadline. As the show concluded, I felt agitated. I knew I wouldn’t get to see something as enlightening in a long time to come. It also made me wonder, in a familiar jaded manner, that if Abu Dhabi can achieve something as superlative as the HQ, with a scarcity of resources required for infrastructure advancement, why couldn’t India? We are more or less blessed with resources, raw and manufactured, to meet any infrastructural demand. However, enterprise, the most important resource in such cases, is amiss. Be it trained designers, architects or engineers, the spirit of enterprise is woefully missing in our country. While it is true that the Emirate nations can rely on sturdy financial bedrock, they do face substantial deficiencies in labour and raw materials, vital for infrastructure development. In India’s case, both labour and raw material is abundant. India’s dependence on raw material imports is much lesser as compared to that of any Middle-Eastern country.

It’s not even the ideas that are in short-supply; Indians are among the most innovative and intelligent people in the world. It is the entrepreneurial will that we lack. Along with some oil reserves and companies like Aldar…

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Re’tire’ment: Who is tired?

June 24th, 2010

The French government’s decision to raise the retirement age for those employed in public and private service to 62 years earned the ire of a majority of the worker unions there. This seems a rather boorish reaction on part of the French, considering France itself, along with several other member countries of the European Union, is under a deluge of debt.

France, whose budget deficit is currently 7.5 per cent of its GDP, however, is at a marginally better position than other EU countries such as the UK, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The euro crisis has sobered sentiments across the European continent. Spending has trickled. Governments are trying hard to resuscitate their respective economies, but their efforts seemed to have yielded naught thus far.

France’s pension reforms, analysts say, are a welcome move. The French government proposes to raise the retirement age bar from 60 to 62 years over an eight year window. With a low percentage of the youth entering the workforce, and an ever-increasing ageing population, a constructive action such as this will enable France to answer at least some, if not many, of its fiscal infirmities.

An annual pension deficit of approximately 32 billion euros threatens to burden the French bourses further, with projections estimating that this amount will touch nearly 114 billion euros by 2050.

Upping the retirement age in France signals a positive trend, irrespective of the resistance generated by labour unions there. The advantages can be enumerated thus: first, France’s pension liability will be reduced to a certain extent, facilitating a quicker return to acceptable fiscal statistics.

Second, there will be a greater utilisation of human capital. An aged, or, rather, experienced population can bring more to the table by way of sound knowledge and a mature skill-set, which can benefit public and private organisations alike, because experience is a highly-valued asset across the board.

Third, at a psychological level, the aged will have avenues to make their lives more secure, because an increased retirement age will also mean better post-retirement facilities provided by the government, due to improved public finances.

The Indian government, too, is contemplating increasing the retirement age, from 60 to 62, for those who are employed in the public sector. In the private sector, the retirement age bracket is 58 to 62 years. However, considering the rate at which the Indian economy is growing, it would make sense for the government to mandate a higher retirement age in the private sector at least.
Given the fecund service sector in the country, if companies allow for a retirement age bracket of 65 to 70 years, it would translate into a golden opportunity for senior professionals and firms alike. Today, the mature population seldom wishes to retreat from an active professional life. By provisioning softer taxation policies and simple, safe and profitable investment opportunities, the government can encourage senior professionals to contribute significantly to the growth mechanism of the country.

Given a chance to work post-retirement, most service-sector professionals would lap it up. Sentiments in this regard have been strong. If insisted upon by the service sector, a higher retirement age could soon translate into reality. This move, in turn, would indicate a developmental trend in the growth dynamics of the economy. Although a far way off, if this idea is mooted at the right time and place, by service-sector and industry oriented bodies like the CII and Ficci, it would herald an important socio-economic development in an otherwise unpredictable economic growth story.

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