Wednesday, December 01, 2004

NCR: First big-time hire by a tech MNC

NCR, represented in Pakistan by Teradata, have established the first "global consulting" center by a tech multinational. This means that the company no longer just sells software [as most big companies do]. It now supports services for its CRM setup for clients in Middle East, Europe and Africa through skilled techies based in its Islamabad office. 75 locals have been hired and the target is set to reach 150 by next year at the Center of Expertise and Teradata Professional Services. The company also became the first software house to reach CMM Level 5 certification. Sigh. I hope certification speeds up for some players in the industry.

Entries are also invited for the 6th NCR Awards. Deadline: December 22nd. Some categories allow 'self-nomination'. Hurry ;~)


Merlinx said...

I don't think Teradata is CMM-5 certified. It's level 4. At least they're not listed in the SEI's official listing as CMM-5 certified ( But then again they were CMM-4 in 2000 so in case they achieved that level this year it is different. (The list for 2004 hasn't been updated yet because the year's not over.) Also I think this is more of an inheritance forced down the ranks from the higher ups at NCR.

Certifications are good but for an outsourcing player like Pakistan, there is a fine line between its value and its cost. Maintaining a corporate certification like CMM or ISO incurs an overhead for the company and often that cost overhead is passed on to the customers. For small and medium-sized s/w or IT companies, this can be detrimental because they need to remain lean and mean rather than having higher billing rates because of unnecessary overheads. A company needs to fully understand when the time is right to go for a certification process. Else it is nothing more than a bumper sticker that may actually hurt a company.

Further having a CMM certification does NOT warrant necessary quality. Certification audit processes only look at samples of projects and work. They don't look at everything a company produces so a company might be CMM certified yet still have below-par projects. If you pick up the number of certified companies worldwide you'll see a ridiculously small handful. As a matter of fact, save a few big brand names like IBM, Accenture, NCR, Xerox or HP, you won't find any renowned (IT and s/w vendor) names that have any certifications. Most follow their own internal processes and QC/QA standards. The reason certifications have higher-than-average hype in Pakistan is because the largest subset of certified companies in the world today are Indian and we're partly playing the age-old tradition of "they-have-it-so-we-have-to-have-it-too".

Certifications have their benefits but some coaching and awareness is needed on this subject for companies here rather than having another "bhair chaal" where everyone is trying to get on the bandwagon.

Zunaira said...

NCR Pakistan became CMM Level 5 certified in November. It was all over the press and you can read about it on the company website.

Of course its a pricey process and no one expects ALL software houses and SMEs to jump the gun on it [they can't]. That stamp certainly makes those that can stand out from the crowd when they show off a portfolio to buyers outside Pakistan. And yes, I know, that alone isn't enough to nab a deal but what kind of QA standards prevail in the industry currently that match this 'bumper sticker'?

Merlinx said...

I stand corrected about Teradata...muchos gracias. :-)

As far as companies getting CMM-certified goes, the big ones need it to allow a smooth, streamlined flow of their operations. For a big company, getting certified is akin to lubricating oil in a car: you can run without it, but you'll be burning up parts every day and things will be popping out in all directions unless you apply it.

For the SME sector, call it a personal bias but it's a no-no. For one, it adds too many overheads to make them competitive. Remember that generally, SMEs will get business from other SMEs until they grow into bigger entities. In such a scenario, the customer-base is interested in getting more bang for their buck on costs and worry about standards later. This is unlike the big-enterprise market where if someone is going to get a solution from Teradata, that customer will also be a Goliath that will be more concerned with standards as much as costs like the govt. Heavyweight customers usually don't go to ma's and pa's grocerystore type setups for their solutions. (It's almost like an invisible caste system really!)

As a consequence, smaller companies need to keep their pricetags low and getting certified escalates pricetags. That added cost gets absorbed to some degree in larger corps but with SMEs it sticks out like a sore thumb in the bottom line.

Secondly, smaller companies that are starting out need to develop a culture from within rather than "buy" a culture that is imposed from without. I have seen myriads of business-cases where smaller companies get too caught up in this stuff shining the brass on their shoulders and never really figure out who they are and what exactly do they have to offer to their prospective clients. They don't survive and perish at a young age because they get squashed under the weight of their garb and gold, trying to look good to the world and never make it to being able to stand on their two feet. Certification for a small company, that hasn't found itself first, is just a big medal that gives it a dislocated shoulder, nothing more.

Getting certified requires a certain baseline maturity on the part of the company, else it can be damaging more than helpful.

Zunaira said...

I completely agree: ref. the need for baseline maturity before landing ANY 'stamp'. What signifies this baseline maturity, in your opinion? [Yep, I don't think you've said enough on this ;~)].

Are we looking at the scale of an organization depending on:
- Number of projects in hand
- Number of employees
- How a company outlines its business strategy including QA, R&D
- Marketing strength
- Names associated with the organization

It sounds too idealistic a list to me. Your thoughts M? Basically, I'm trying to find out what you consider are benchmarks for a 'good' firm. In the light of that, I can understand where this argument is headed. Perhaps, we can discuss the possibility of an article for Spider? :~D

Merlinx said...

Zunaira: What signifies this baseline maturity? Hmm... {scratch, scratch...?} Well the answer is more qualitative than quantitative. While I agree that metrics have a role to play in deciding this, the decision has something else to it...that transcends mere numbers. Think of it this way: supposing you have a team of 20 people but they're all stuffed into a single hall with cubes. It's more efficient for people to just get up and talk to each other or pick up and dial extensions to resolve issues than to have any bureaucratic or intensive communications procedures in place. They can just log their discussions somewhere, as needed. Imposing hefty processes that are documented in manuals the weight of dumb-bells is overkill and only retards efficiency and performance. Make sure you understand the distinction between the two very clearly about what I am saying here: there is a difference between being organized and being gift-wrapped in some CMM or ISO process unnecessarily. Any team of people that wants to achieve something as a common goal, whether they're building a spaceship or writing a comic book, needs to be organized. But unnecessarily adopting compliance with standards (that don't really apply to you or you don't need at the time) and imposing efficiency procedures can be counter-productive. Remember that all standards have prerequisites that also tell you whether these standards apply to you or not. Getting certified is not some kind of panacea for getting organized.

What happens is as you get more and more organized, you start to document and formalize more and more procedures. These procedures collectively define the working of different aspects of you business. Certification processes don't hand you down these procedures and processes, they confirm whether you have them in place (as per your needs) and whether you actually follow them once you have defined them. It's basically all about protocol, and certifications like CMM or ISO are about protocol compliance. Baseline maturity will vary from company to company. It is the responsibility of the key players of a company to know when their organization apparatus warrants enforcement, compliance and control using more formal measures. That is when it is time to get certified because you have just evolved into that stage.

Often companies that are starting out fresh or are in their infancy get bogged down trying to decide how to do things before they have much to do because they're hunting for business and don't have a core focus yet. Certifications and stamps don't describe who or what you are. When you pursue your core goal and vision, you automatically get certified when the time comes because you know it's a business need. That's why it looks good and makes sense for companies like IBM or Teradata. How many years do you think Teradata was around before it made the decision and effort to get CMM certified. They had long-established who they are, what they do and what they are all about and only added CMM certification later down the road like engine oil to keep the thing running smoothly. That's all certifications are: engine oil. Getting it too soon is analagous to a kid trying to shave before puberty because wants to look like a man to everyone. ;-)

As for the number of projects, as I said -- qualitative. I know companies that got certified for a SINGLE project. But it made sense because the project was so large and integrated with such a large disparate setup that it made sense to get certified to handle the magnitude of work. I also know companies that haven't gotten into it dozens of projects later, because they don't do projects complex enough to force formalized certified procedures. They have the right information systems in place, their teams know what they are doing and they're making money. That's all that counts. The number of employees I would agree has to be more than a handful I guess. More than the number of employees what affects this determination is what they are exchanging b/w themselves, how and how effectively. QA or R&D also follow the same philosophy. If you have two developers and a R&D person and a QA person, it won't do much good to get CMM certified. It is more important for them to be able to record what they're working on, exchange it, track it and audit it later. This in a nutshell simply means being organized. When they need more formal control over this organization, protocols are put into place for governing things and these protocols lead to certification. You can have all these functions even on a small team -- that doesn't necessarily mean you need to get certified. You'll find ISO certifications for everyone from bakers and mithai-walas to textile mills and s/w houses. It's just a stamp to say they have specific processes in place for doing things and they're continued audits certify that they're following their own procedures adequately.

Again an example: You publish Spider. Si? Think of all the different functions you guys have. I am no media or journalism person so I am just wild-guessing here: you probably have writing, proofing of some sort of the original input, addition of pictures and stuff, magazine layout and collection then some sort of prototyping stage where you create what the final output will look like and then the printing and final pre-mass-scale printing check followed by printing and delivery? You probably follow a lot of procedures for this, right? Now let me ask you, do you think your system/team/unit works efficiently? Are you satisfied with the workflow? Maybe you're a candidate for getting certified. :-) I suppose it would have a +ve impact because you guys have a distinct focus and are organized to achieve this focus, too. You're just imposing another degree of order on the way you do things. It's a step up the ladder for you.

I once worked at a place where they had this huge manual that described how to handle telephone calls. (They were ISO certified.) It covered everything from standard greetings to how to put people on hold, transfer calls, log calls, even how to place the telephone receiver down when putting people on hold and other trivialities. For that company, given their call volume, it made sense to have this in place but it came with a price.

So the answer to your "idealistic" list is that nothing yet everything belongs in that list. It's a mix. The key is to know when the time is ripe based on your own unique set of circumstances (i.e. responses to your list). And getting CMM or ISO certified is a cultural step in a company's evolution that comes with time. A barebones roadmap leading up to certification is:

1. Establish your vision and company based on that vision.
2. Start working and get organized with what you do.
3. Find and settle in with your core focus. This will only happen when you establish your customer-base and you'll know this is what you're all about. Start doing what you do (or want to do best) first.
4. Let your procedures (and underlying information systems) get fine-tuned as you evolve and gel in. Let your people get organized and used to using these procedures as a natural part of their lives. Don't force a cultural revolution. (There will always be naysayers but you know what I mean.)
5. Once you're in the grind of things and have a set way of doing things based on the above clauses, and you have created some kind of legacy for yourself that identifies you very distinctly, then give consideration to getting certified and putting a seal of approval on your distinct cultural identity. At this stage you'll be able to sustain a certification, long-term, and it will also look good (and justified) on your profile.
6. And remember, these industry standard certifications also come and go. Yesterday it was ISO then along came CMM. Tomorrow something else will also come along. That is exactly why it is so important for your organization to establish and know itself above all...because these "medals" will come and go during your venture's lifetime. They don't define who you are. You need to know that yourself.

As for the article in Spider, thanks for the generous offer. I am sincerely flattered BUT believe me, I am not really writer-material. I don't think I'd be very successful as a writer. :-) And I can certify that for you. Hehe. However, you're quite welcome to use any of my thoughts that you find useful towards any article that you write on the subject, no royalties attached. ;-)