Archive for December, 2012

The timeless Christmas classic

When the rest of the world is merrily celebrating Christmas, I suddenly thought of a classic piece I read in my childhood and several times thereafter. I’m sure it’s something most of us have read in school. It’s the famous Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, ‘The Little Match Girl’.

match girlEvery time I read the story, my heart gets heavy and I sit in silence for some time. The grey and blue illustrations of the book make me touch the little girl’s sorrow though I know one can never really feel it unless she experiences the same. It often makes me wonder that – it’s not just New Year or Christmas – but in every festive occasion or fiesta, when people have (and waste) so much of food and exchange the best of gifts, there are thousands of kids like this little Match Girl, wandering in the chill winter, barefoot, either orphaned or nearly abandoned by their parents – who choose not to care. Not that I can do much (other than some charity which I consider pretty insignificant) but my heart bleeds!

‘The Little Match Girl’ – The story sends a shock wave as it introduces death in bright sparkling images as the little girl keeps burning the matchsticks. I could visualize the radiance in the girl’s face as she wakes up to an alternate form of reality through those seemingly-magical matchsticks. The description is indeed poetic and also surreal as she began to imagine “a big stove with polished brass feet and handles until the match runs out…”

Even her imagination of the stuffed goose with a carving knife on it and a huge Christmas tree with thousands of lighted candles gleaming under its branches – were shockingly implausible. But in all her vision and the imagination, we come back to face the glaring truth. The reality that the little girl is dying! And then Andersen sweetened the harsh reality by his powerful literature on the vision of the girl’s beloved grandmother holding her in her arms.

“Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. “Someone is dying,” thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.”

The story makes us realize the alternate forms of reality. We realize that how privileged we are to have lived inside the glossy secured bubble – though the narrative is such that it does not make you feel guilty over your profusion. At the end of the story, it calms your soul like a sad prayer and makes you rethink your priorities and what we can contribute to the society – the needy and the helpless!

Christmas holds a special place in my heart and this is one festival like several others I celebrate with a lot of zeal, but every Christmas and New Year eve, the story of The Little Match Girl flashes in front of my eyes. The timeless Christmas classic will always be close to my heart.

 

Mermaids – The wild and exotic!

Mermaids – The wild and exotic!.

Doraemon’s Magic pocket

Doraemon’s Magic pocket.

The power of written words

Writing, in many ways is like that of meditation

Writing, in many ways is like that of meditation

The other day while flipping through the pages of a book on Communication, I came across an interesting anecdote by an amateur writer that inspired me. She writes: “a writer is married to her solitude and solitude pays her an exceptional opportunity to witness the world. Rather than speaking how anything appears to her, the writer fetches that up on a piece of paper.”

I found the statement not only undeniable, but also a powerful one! Writing to me has always been my personal de-stress mantra and should remain that way. Very often I’ve come across circumstances when I don’t feel like talking to anyone, but prefer to pen down my thoughts. Believe me it works wonders.

No matter what I write, if I just sit with my notepad and pen, with the intention of writing, and something comes up, it’s spur-of-the-moment. These days, it’s no longer about the notepads and diaries I used to wait for throughout the year – the ones dad especially got for me during Christmas. These days I too get a plenty of them, but I use planners and diaries for other purposes now, not for scribing my memoirs. Technology has made things simpler. I’m so used to my laptop now that I just can’t do without it. All my thoughts are neatly woven and locked up inside my creative folders… And once you are done with it – recording your day’s thoughts or musings – it induces a sense of relaxation. Blogging is currently hot on trend and a favorite pastime for anyone who loves to write. I personally think that it has changed the writing landscape as writers can express more freely through this platform.

Writing, I believe, in many ways is similar to that of meditation. “Your breathing slows as you concentrate on or rather swept away by the words and then you slowly allow them to flow out of your head onto the keyboard or that piece of paper,” my professor told me once. It calms the mind into stillness and allows your deeper consciousness to reveal itself – that’s the power of written words.

If you’re a writer, or somebody in the making, you should meditate. Willpower and a sense of order apart, to produce words effortlessly, and come up with a good piece – if not a masterpiece – you need to know how to nurture abstraction and cultivate creative reality. For this, meditation could be the best tool in your pack. Think of words, talk to yourself, read, play mental word games… there are so many ways to rear your senses.

And most importantly, pen down or key in whatever you feel like if you have the love for the art. As famous writer Henry David Thoreau said, “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”

“IT is our key service level differentiator”

In an exclusive interview with Sohini Bagchi, Dr. Amarnath Ananthanarayanan, MD & CEO, Bharti AXA General Insurance elucidates the role of CIOs in the sector and throws light on how internet based insurance selling will make technology all the more relevant for the growth of the insurance companies in India.

amarnath-bharatiaxa

Dr. Amarnath Ananthanarayanan, MD & CEO, Bharti AXA General Insurance

How has been your entrepreneurial journey and what have you enjoyed the most in your role as the CEO at Bharti AXA general insurance?
It all started when I moved to college from school and my father told me to do something of my own and establish my credentials rather than join his Chartered Accountancy practice which would have been the normal thing to do. I did my PhD in Economics and taught in Rutgers University before moving back to India to start working with GE Capital in Gurgaon. I took up multiple roles in GE including operations, business development, marketing and sales with an attempt to improve on my areas of weakness. In addition to making my weakness less pronounced, it also gave me a lot of confidence to do things that I had never done including taking calculated risks. The 11 years in GE which provided cross country and cross culture exposure culminated with my being the GE Capital Asia leader for insurance distribution. The challenge of setting up Bharti AXA general insurance attracted me and for the last three and half years we have been growing by leaps and bounds here. What I did and enjoyed doing here is creating an empowered and motivated team and the most enriching experience has been developing a common culture that imbibes innovation, professionalism, pragmatism, teamwork and integrity. We hope to continue building the trust and confidence of all our stakeholders and come across as the preferred general insurance company in India.

Please elucidate the role of the CIO in your organisation and how do you think the role has changed over the years?
The CIOs role in an organization is one of the most critical because to a great extent, it defines the way the organization operates. At Bharti AXA general insurance, the CIO’s role is to pave the way for the organization to maximize its resources at minimum costs apart from helping us create the vision for the future. I believe that the CIO’s role in vision creation is very important. Over the years, his role is becoming even more strategic. The technology and telecom innovation is happening at a very fast pace in our country – much quicker than in other areas. This would provide a perspective in the way enterprises will be structured and operate in the future.

How has technology shaped the insurance sector, especially in India?
In the insurance sector especially on the retail side from application forms processing, to issuing policies, to receiving claims information, to settling claims, IT provides a key service level differentiator for the business. It is increasingly improving turnaround times, minimizing defects and lowering operational costs significantly. All of these add to the overall profitability of the business helping it to grow even faster. The advent of internet based insurance selling will make technology all the more relevant for the growth of the insurance companies. In fact the online insurance market is going to be the next big thing offering customers their preferred products only at a click of a button. In the insurance market, the online strategies would also bring about more control from an operational perspective. Moreover, as the internet penetration is growing rapidly in the rural parts of India, the right mix of telecom and technology solutions has the potential to create a completely new online distribution channel that will play a significant role in the future.

Tell us something about your company’s roadmap?
Bharti AXA general insurance has grown from an annual gross written premiums of Rs 32 Crore to Rs 1000 Crore of gross written premiums soon focused primarily on motor insurance. Going forward, we would like to diversify the portfolio and get significantly more contribution from commercial lines of business and health insurance. We hope to grow at a CAGR of 20 percent plus for the next few years in our quest to become the preferred general insurance organization in India.

(The interview has been published in cxotoday.com. For more information, log on to: http://www.cxotoday.com/)

Doing things the IT way

bikram-globsynIn an enlightening conversation with Sohini Bagchi of CXOtoday, Bikram Dasgupta, Chairman & CEO, Globsyn Group explains the integral role IT plays in Globsyn, and the CIO, like all other department heads in his organisation is expected to play a leadership role to steer business.

You played an important role in India’s IT revolution since its early days. Please tell us something about your journey so far.

I always wanted to do something different and worked towards that goal in my own ways. I passed out from IIT Kharagpur and then went to the Harvard Business School in the US. I started my career with HCL in the early 1980s. After being one of the main forces of the company, I quit HCL in 1984 and co-founded Pertech Computers Ltd (PCL) with five other people, looking after major operations including sales and marketing, international business development and new strategic project. PCL became one of the leading names in the Indian PC market and an attempt to bring PC to the masses. It was there that I bagged an export order of $50 million from Dell Computer that still remains a landmark deal in the Indian hardware industry.

When the industry was going through a transition, I felt this was the right time to start a business model built around the fundamental concept of infrastructure and institution. In 1995, I returned to my home town Kolkata and founded Globsyn that emerged as an innovative institution in the field of education, training and software. An important part of my career journey was creating Infinity that played the role of being the catalyst in bringing the IT revolution in West Bengal in terms of manpower and growth.

In a career spanning close to three decades, it had been a wonderful journey being at the forefront of founding organisations, mentoring people, particularly yourngsters and spearheading industry associations, thereby, putting India on the global IT map.

What role has IT played in transforming the organisation? What new technologies are you planning to explore?

IT is synonymous to the Globsyn culture and values. We believe in doing everything here the IT way. From the very beginning, we at Globsyn hired a team of experts who can manage everything from storage to security and various enterprise applications within the organisation. At Globsyn, IT focuses on building add ons that offer our customers a competitive advantage. Our IT systems, be it our servers or web applications always ensured operational efficiency and spurred innovation and are strongly aligned to our business goals. We have four major divisions including Globsyn Business School, Globsyn Crystal, Globsyn Infotech and Asian Institute of Family Business. To manage all the operations seamlessly, we have implemented a centralised server system. We have deployed an in house CRM to strengthen customer relations and a software system to track new business developments. We further invested is high definition IP cameras for surveillance that allows us to monitor what’s going on in the classrooms by sitting on the desk. We have also invested in a digital library that is the first of its kind in the state.

What are the new technologies you are toying with?

We are a highly technology driven company and believe in constantly exploring new technologies and innovate with IT. Currently, we are upbeat about cloud computing as it has a huge growth potential, especially being in the education domain. The need for large and expensive hard-drives and processors are reducing by the day. I believe that everything will move to the cloud in the days to come. And this is one area we are toying with especially with connection to photos and videos.

Social media is another area we are aggressively working on. Our student portal ‘Kommunity’ which is soon to be launched will be one of the leading platforms to connect and share with education as the primary theme. We are also exploring the various advanced modern tools and techniques of ICT that can be integrated into our learning system. With the help of new technologies, we are taking our information to the rural level and this I can tell you in going to be a landmark project.

What is the role of CIO in your organisation? What are the traits you believe a new age CIO should possess?

The CIO like all other department heads has a decisive role to play in Globsyn. There was a time companies hired technology heads to look after technology infrastructure and management. But change is inevitable you see for example, look at the media industry itself and the way technology has changed news reporting. Similarly, CIOs role started changing with the change in the business landscape and the evolution of new and emerging technology. Today a CIO is no different from any department head, especially in Globsyn, where he assumes a leadership role. And like any other leader, he should have the vision, the power to mobilise and inspire groups and have the integrity to win the trust of his team and the management.

Most importantly, the new age CIO should use technology as a mean to drive business growth and therefore he should be extremely business savvy. He should have a thorough understanding of business operations, work closely with business and navigate the management in IT related areas that can bring maximise business value within the enterprise.

(The interview has been published in cxotoday.com. For more information, log on to: http://www.cxotoday.com/