THE NEW GLOBAL WE.

Paperless World

Posted in Big Thought, Business, New by Harsha on March 23, 2008

“Paperless office” if I recall correctly, was the buzzword in the very early 90s. Later Adobe was heralded for Acrobat and paper was declared irrelevant. That was then, this is now. I just saw Mojo HD’s “Start-up Junkies” and their first season is focused on Earth Class Mail Inc.

I realized just how paperless I have gone since 2002/2003. For instance, I no longer receive paper statements for my credit cards or checking account. Checks that are deposited in the ATM now appear as images thanks to Check21. 100% of all faxes that come into my office are all “efax” – and as long as we’re not mandated to send back hard copies of signed contracts, we just fax the printed copy to our eFax number, which comes to us as an email. Invoices for services delivered are also now almost 100% paperless. And of course, greeting cards have been electronic since 1997.

Similarly, while in the MBA program, I wrote all my papers in MS Word and some were even uploaded to Blackboard that is prevalent in US educational institutions, but not exploited to its full potential by all professors (some disliked it even!). For some I had to submit print copies. Many tech-savvy professors reviewed the papers online and submitted grades in the system as well.

In a flat world, being paperless is the only way things can work and have been working since outsourcing began 12+ years ago. The other day I was emailing chatting with my friend Subbu who lives in Bangalore and works for Ernst & Young doing taxes for it’s American clients. How do you think he is exchanging information with the US office? I am pretty sure he gets all his work electronically, he works on his computer and then sends it back electronically. Paper is analog and obviously, email is digital. And it looks like you can take any existing system and re-imagine it digitally and almost automatically you can create a product and start a business.

Subbu also talked about microfinance. In traditionally poor countries, paper receipts are prevalent. So many of these entrepreneurs borrowing micro loans, are quite electronically adept. Many even have hand held computers. So going paperless can solve a small problem of avoiding missed micro loan receipts all the way to processing tax returns globally.

So when I saw and learned about Earth Class Mail, I was blown away in some respects and skeptical in others. Obviously I am not an immediate potential customer because I don’t own a PO Box, but the solution is brilliant. If I review all the mail I get electronically, trash all the direct marketing pieces of crap and have them recycle it (which is a service they offer for free) and electronically store anything else that is of value, then I think it is a brilliant piece of personal management. Owning a PO box now immediately looks like something my grandfather would have liked using, enjoying a leisurely walk down the street to meet his post office friends and have a chat

Of course, the coverage on Mojo HD (which is on cable) is something I absolutely love because it tells a story neatly edited yet with the fervor and excitement in a startup on small victories (I work in one). One of the episodes shows Ron Wiener who has just started blogging, talking to the Post Master General of India Post and was able to get him and PM Generals from many other nations to agree to run pilot programs. So even these bureaucratic government run organizations are looking to go paperless. That too all at once, globally.

So looks like paperless has finally arrived. I would be delighted if Ron Wiener would be interested in a discussion on this interesting topic.

UPDATE: On further research, I ran across this really nice blog about a Chiropractor in San Diego, CA trying to and then running a paperless office. Here are all the paperless posts, and here is an interesting post in particular.

Indians

Posted in Big Thought, Pulpit by Harsha on November 29, 2007

An oft-repeated question is “When will India become a superpower like the US or now like China?”

There are visions abound in India that forecast it’s supremacy in the next decade. The dream is that India will finally harness it’s economic horsepower and acquire a commanding stature in the world. Since 2000/2001, the economic and cultural climate in India has changed tremendously. Goods that were once luxuries are now commodities. Foreign nationals now are common sight in the city streets. Foreign Direct Investment is at an all time high. India is the leading outsourcing destination since a large chunk of it’s populace speaks fluent English (it is one of the official languages in India and a uniting factor in a country where every state speaks its own unique language). Over 400,000 engineering and business graduates come out of educational institutions yearly and Indians are adaptable. The top 10 Forbes richest include multiple Indians. The largest steel company is Indian-owned. Hotmail was an Indian’s creation. Bentley sold more cars in 15 days than what it planned for 1.5 years. You have diamonds encrusted million dollar cell phones. The list is endless.

All these are commonly known things in the world and often trumpeted by Indian politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists to show you that India is the next major force to contend with in the world. Next major force – that is an interesting phrase, kind of almost like setting up a constant expectant goal in the distance that is never reached. I am skeptical because I have suffered at the hands of Indian organizations that purport international awareness only to be backed up by ultra-poor Indian quality standards.

Try purchasing and using a calling card or a credit card or use an Indian website like www.sify.com or www.chennaionline.com. How lousy is your experience?

So, in order not to be skeptical or sound bitter, I spent sometime thinking about these problems and the two questions that go hand-in-hand. One – how is India going to become the next superpower and two – how did China become a superpower in ~10 years?

You think you know the answer for China: their non-democracy (what else can you call a capitalistic looking communist-dictatorial state?) is probably why they are leaders in today’s world as they are able to develop slave labor, charge nothing for resources and send their citizens to the US to improve their English and learn international/American customs. And India still seems to be stuck in a rut. True, there has been a lot of economic development but do you know that it is a tiny % of this largely agrarian based economy?

But the truth of the matter is, you need to look into history. Both countries were marauded by the British and America herself is a former colony. This is the common factor that binds these three diverse nations. Yet even though they are cousins in their legacy, America has been the world leader for 300+ years and now China is reaching up for the stars. India remains a distant last. Why?

Everyone jokes about how the world lives it’s life one way and America is pointed in the opposite direction (light switches, driving on the road .. you get the point). The fundamental reason is that America cast off it’s colonial shackles and the very basis of this country’s founding takes it away from colonial pressures and lifestyle. I believe that the only reason that China is where it is today, is because it is slowly doing the same – casting away the aspersions of it’s British legacy and going in the opposite direction.

India, dear India, on the other hand is firmly set in it’s British ways. It’s people, like me, are set in their approach and thought. We are still our British-servile selves because it gives us a “solid” foundation to base our preferences and lives on. It is deep rooted in our psyche. But it is not about preference for tea or old country clubs.

Until such time that Indians figure it out, we are going no where. I am not talking about the technological and economical development we see in India today – it is just a small piece of the pie. If you want to sum up the outsourcing industry in one word, then I believe it is “parasitic” – depending on others to feed you when your own infrastructure reeks.

No, I don’t hate the developments at home nor am I jealous of it. I am just frustrated at our ability to adapt so well and yet remain as a parasite, and be so reactionary to the whole situation. The variables for outsourcing presented themselves and we jumped on it. When are Indians going to create those variables for ideas and industries that the world has not yet seen? Nassim Taleb writes in his book and I paraphrase that despite all the ridicule, people around the world can’t seem to live without their iPods and their email and Internet – all American inventions. That is what I am referring to when I say that outsourcing and India itself is a parasite parasitic in today’s world.

China found it’s niche by employing it’s super-cheap natural resources, slave labor, lack of copyright protection, iron curtains and took it, no, embraced it.

So, what is India’s niche?

Nita Kulkarni, a freelance journalist in India writes about this topic.