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ST Team
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
A-Viva on BOT
In a first-of-its-kind exercise in the Indian ITeS industry, Aviva—the world’s fifth largest insurance group successfully completed the transfer of 1600 employees from its 3rd party BPO vendor 24/7 Customer to its own BPO wing Aviva Global Services (AGS) in early January.

Spiraling out of a well-thought off shoring strategy on Aviva’s part, the BOT (Build Operate Transfer) transfer in Bangalore was the first of the four such transfers, all operating out of BOT contracts entered into with the vendor partners over three years ago.

Though there are three more BOT transfers waiting to happen in 2007 viz. 1300 employees each from WNS-Pune and EXL Services-Pune and 300 employees from WNS-Colombo, this one was significant considering the anticipation in the industry over the efficacy of the BOT model on such a large scale. Though such transfers have taken place in India, they have primarily been in the IT space, involving a headcount of merely 300-500 people.

Says Rajnish Virmani, CEO, Aviva Global Services who steered the transfer, “When we began thinking about effecting the transfer, there was absolutely no precedent that we could refer to. We were treading on virgin ground.”

The risks were manifold; AGS’ team took around nine months working on mitigating the prospective perils and fine-tuning the modus operandi of the transfer. Around 8-9 people—experts from varied fields, formed the BOT core team and divided themselves into various work streams, concentrating on financial matters, legal and taxation concerns, people issues and due diligence separately.

“One of the major issues was to discover a way to make the transition seamless, such that customers in the U.K. would not even know about it,” says Virmani. Incidentally, timing played an important role in the transfer. Aviva had entered into the BOT contract with the vendor partners in late 2003, and the first transfer has taken place after nearly three years. Had the transfer been effected earlier, the company could have saved on the premium it paid to the vendor, in this case 24/7 Customer.

But Virmani opines that the three-year time period was essential to get the facility to stabilize. Since the ramp-up during the initial phase was very fast, Aviva thought it best to leave it to vendors who knew how to manage the situation. “Any such transfer should be a non-event,” he says. So headstrong is his belief about the time-bound model that even today, if he has to enter into a BOT contract, he would choose the same.

With 1600 people already added to AGS’ rolls, and another 3000 slated for the year, Virmani has the job of ensuring their integration into the new set-up, reigning in cultural diversity and language factors.

“Risks are always there in such a transfer, but it will give the employees enhanced opportunities in terms of job rotation prospects, training with various universities Aviva has tie-ups with, and migrating to foreign shores.” The wages of employees won’t be affected, since Aviva has over time standardized the wages in all the facilities it runs through vendors. On the company’s front, the transfers will mean painting on a much larger canvas of leadership development, owing to the larger employee base.

IBM leads with the highest patents in 2006
2006 sets all-time record with 173,772 patents issued—an average of 476 per day

IFI Patent intelligence, a unit of Wolters Kluwer, an information service company, released the annual compilation of the world’s top-ranked U.S. patent winners from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office data. According to IFI’s analysis, 2006 was a banner year for corporate patents with 173,772 issued—an all-time U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) record and a hefty 20.8 percent increase compared to 2005.

This increase comes on the heels of two years in a row of patent-grant decreases and appears to negate the position that intellectual property activity is on a downswing. “Although the number of patents being granted is not the only gauge of technological advancement, the relative increase in number of patents being generated indicates a growing emphasis on the value of intellectual property.” said Darlene Slaughter, General Manager, IFI Patent Intelligence.

Embarking on innovation IBM proved it again that they are the masters when it comes to devising ideas. For the 14th year running, the Big Blue IBM bagged the highest number of patents, which is a whopping 3,651. They took over their own record of 3,453 patents in 2001. Previously no organization other than IBM had ever broken the 2,000 barrier.

It is interesting to note that Japanese companies lead the patent-assignee list with nine while companies in United States took only seven in the top twenty slots. Other U.S. companies from the non-electronic sector included in the list were semiconductor makers Intel Corp. featuring in the sixth slot; Micron Technology Inc. at the tenth position; software giant Microsoft Corp. at twelve; General Electric Co. at fourteen and Honda Motor Co. held the twentieth slot.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. jumped to No. 2 in the rankings from No. 5 in 2005 with 2,453 patents, showing a 49 per cent increase. Canon Inc. dropped to No. 3. Japan's Matsushita Electric and Hewlett-Packard rounded up the top five. All the first-five companies exceeded the 2,000 mark and had their biggest issues yet.

Though dominated by electronics, the list also featured other sectors like pharmaceutical and biotech with an approximate increase of 22 percent and 29 percent respectively in 2006.

IBM: The Patent Machine
Over the past decade, IBM has won over 25,000 patents, nearly triple of any U.S. tech competitor. Engineers and researchers within IBM have generated an average of more than $1 billion in intellectual property royalties annually.

The master inventor at IBM, Michael Paolini seized the maximum number of patents last year—38. In his 13-year career at IBM, Paolini has to his credit 150 patents. He is involved in developing computerized calling services that makes the customers’ phone systems far more productive. He’s part of an effort at IBM to develop more commercial computing applications for the Cell processor that was developed in partnership with Sony and Toshiba for use in the PlayStation 3 video game console.

IBM Fellow Ravi Arimilli is also a top patent winner. This Indian techie has more than 200 patents to his name. In 2003, Arimilli won a whopping 53 patents—nearly one every week. He won record patents of 78 in 2004. He handles the advanced microprocessor design in Big Blue’s Austin facility.

Innovation, Paolini believes, is born where insight and invention intersect. He opines that it is this insight that separates innovation from invention. When something new is applied to old areas, it disrupts the obvious thought process. And this disruptiveness proves to be the hallmark of innovation.

Very few people understand the critical part innovation plays in the advancement of science and mankind. Keeping this ideology in mind, Arimilli strongly suggests that everyone should apply to these causes.

Paolini and Arimilli belong to the innovators guild in IBM who believe that within 20 years there will be unprecedented changes in science, society and business. They are in the hope that products like transistors, the PC, Internet, virtualization and globalization will act as catalysts of the bigger revolution that IT is still to enter. And this, according to them, stresses the need for innovators.

The first step to becoming an innovator is to possess the ability to recognize a problem or an opportunity with a futuristic vision. Many of the best innovations have come from people looking at things that no one thought broken or needed improvement and then finding the potential to take it a step further.

Arimilli makes it simple: Have a martini and look at the world around you. Complexity does not lead to creativity.

‘You’ and web-searches
The internet has undergone a sea-change: No longer is it a repository of stagnant information. Continuously, and increasingly, sites like Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers and YouTube, all driven by user-generated content are coming into existence, and enticing users into their fold.

“In such a time and age, it is essential that search engines reign in this fundamental aspect while displaying results,” said Rahgu Ramakrishnan, Vice President and Research Fellow, Yahoo, addressing the first of the Yahoo India Big Thinker Series.

“The key to improving web search is by including the source of information, and building the trust, and more importantly, understanding the user community,” he said. Elucidating his point, he sighted the example of Yahoo DB Life, a beta version of an online community of database managers that his team is working on.

On keying in a person’s name, say David, in the search category in DB Life, the results returned are broken down into a number of components. Apart from the regular listing that a search engine gives, DB Life returns probable pictures of David and asks users to vote for whichever person the user is looking for; this helps eliminate duplicity. That apart, a panel on the right hand side enlists, under various headings, the papers David has presented, the books he might have authored, the events he is going to be part of in the near future, among other things.

“The idea is to give the user complete information on all aspects of the person he has searched for,” said Ramakrishnan. Further, understanding user intent might help search engines deliver accurate results. For example a person might enter the keyword Aditya in the search category; if the user is from the business community, he is likely looking for Aditya Birla; in case he is associated with the media, he might be seeking information about Aditya Chopra. In such circumstances, tracking the keywords a person searches for over a period of time is one of the ways of predicting user intent, and thus delivering better results.

Tagging information is also essential to improve searches. The search criteria “Seafood Palo Alto” for example returns links to seafood recipe and seafood ingredient stores in the top ranks. What the user may instead be looking for is seafood restaurants in the area. If a search engine is able to interpret such data, and ‘tag’ them, then results will be more streamlined.

As competition increases and user-driven sites gain popularity, community based search engines, streamlined to provide information in specific fields may be the answer improving accuracy of web-searches, and building credibility.

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