Defence Procurement Procedure’s new avatar inspiring; some players seek more tweaking

The much-awaited changes to India’s Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) were announced last month. This was in line with the promise made by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, after he took over the reins of Ministry of Defence in November 2014. The new look DPP, set to take shape in the next two months, gives major impetus to the Narendra Modi government’s flagship Make in India mission. It has some inspiring elements to boost Indian private companies to undertake research and development in the aerospace and defence (A&D) sector.

OneIndia elicited the views of some of the private A&D players to capture the mood of the industry, which has always felt that enough is not being done to win their hearts. Here are the excerpts from a series of interviews we did recently. Offset mechanism not working in interest of country G Raj Narayan, Managing Director of Radel Advanced Technology (P) Ltd, has been a visible voice in the last couple of years in various A&D forums. He says it was clear from the beginning that the offsets mechanism wasn’t working to the interests of India. “The insistence of the foreign OEMs to dilute the same on the pretext of ‘not finding capable Indian partners’ was only an indirect method of preventing any exposure to Indian companies on related technologies.

The only way to improve our state of self-sufficiency is to develop R&D in-house and design from whatever technologies we are presently exposed to (LCA, Jaguar & Mirage), and then move upwards to higher levels indigenously,” says Raj. According to him, the raising of the offset applicability to acquisitions of Rs 2000 crore and above is irrelevant. “The higher preference to ‘indigenously designed, developed and manufactured’ items certainly makes more meaning than the vague ‘Make’ and ‘Make & Buy’ categories. This is a confirmation of the preference for Indian products which needs to be applauded. Further, the focus on enabling and empowering R&D as well as supporting MSMEs through funding is a huge step forward. Though this could still throw up problems in distinguishing between ‘mature and capable’ MSMEs and ‘raw’ MSMEs, proper processes could certainly be set up to ensure that the right company get the right amount of funding appropriate with its track record and status,” Raj added.

Radel’s ongoing projects for various military programmes include, auto-selector bomb release system, speed switch, anti-collision lights, cockpit control unit and ground test rigs of various aircraft and helicopters. Introduction of IDDM a good move Puneet Kaura, MD and CEO, Samtel Avionics, says that the introduction of a new category — Indigenous Design Development Manufacturing (IDDM) – is a welcome move. “We welcome the move to introduce the IDDM category in the DPP as it will back companies like us who have proven competencies in indigenous design, development and manufacturing. Furthermore, the announcement of funding by the government for R&D purposes will help build a technology base in the country,” says Puneet, among the early players in the A&D sector. He said the growth of the Indian defence industry has been marred by delays.

“The new DPP addresses this through a definitive step to cut down the delays in procurement by reducing the time lag between AoN (acceptance of necessity) and the tender or request for proposal (RFP),” says Puneet. Samtel through its joint venture with HAL, has been developing MFDs for Su-30 MKI within its facility in Greater Noida. The Samtel-HAL JV has already delivered 125 sets of MFDs for Su-30 MKIs. Will boost investments and better quality of products According to Rajeev Kaul, MD & Group CFO, Aequs, told OneIndia that that take on LI policy in the new-look DPP is a positive step. “L1 policy is a bold move and it credits the capability of the bidder. This would encourage quality consciousness and boost investments in better quality products,” says Rajeev.

Aequs has been supplying main landing gear shackle for the B787 programme. Aequs manufacturing facilities are located in Belagavi, Bengaluru, and Houston. Offset limit should be brought back to Rs 300 crore Col H.S. Shankar (Retd), CMD, Alpha Design Technologies Pvt Ltd, feels that increasing the offset applicability limit is a retrograde step and will deny Indian industry, particularly MSMEs, large chunk of their work content. “It is our view that offsets (with Rs 300 00 crore and above limit) was working satisfactorily (except for few glitches at MoD) and benefiting Indian Industries enormously. This will be a big blow to Indian industries. The limit should be reviewed and brought back to Rs 300 crore.

He said the MSMEs/FICCI had listed many suggestions to the the DPP Review Committee, but they were not accepted. “We wanted the ‘Make’ category to be split into two categories: ‘Make’ large industries with higher limits and ‘Make’ MSMEs with a limit of funding up to Rs 500 crore per project,” says Col Shankar. Commenting on the ‘strategic partners,’ the veteran A&D expert felt that it was a retrograde move of brining in ‘public sector mentality’ into private sector by reserving few big players in private sector. “This is a back door entry for big private sectors – something which Kelkar Committee had recommended as ‘Udyog Ratnas’ in 2016 and rejected and not implemented by successive governments,” says Col Shankar.

MSME categorisation limits for A&D products must go up Naresh Palta, CEO (Aerospace), Maini Group, said the government funding of 90 per cent for indigenous R&D will spur domestic products and technologies. He also felt that ‘accepting offers in single tender cases’ would remove major hurdles for industries developing niche products. However, Palta felt that the DPP’s new avatar is silent on measures for SME segment. “We want the new policy to increase MSME categorisation limits up to Rs 150 crore for A&D projects specifically. Further taxation relief to Indian products vis-à-vis imports, for level playing. We are still unable to compete our products in the domestic requirements with imported ones due to higher duties and taxation incident,” says Palta.

The original article appeared on OneIndia.

New Defence Procurement Policy results in dynamic changes

In an attempt to streamline defence acquisition and give a boost to the “Make in India” initiative, the government on Monday approved changes to the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). This will give Indian private companies a chance to locally produce equipment and invest in research and development (R&D).

At a meeting chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday evening, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which is the supreme decision-making body for the Ministry of Defence, allowed changes to the DPP after a one-year review, The Tribune said.

“Recommendations of the expert committee headed by former Home Secretary Dhirendra Singh were considered and most of them were approved,” Parrikar was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

As per the changes, the procurement policy of 2016 will have a new category — an Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured (IDDM) platform. Under this category, if the design is indigenous, it will be mandatory to have 40% local content, but if the design is not local, 60% content will be mandatory.

Another major change to the DPP is “small and medium-scale industries will get opportunities,” Parrikar said. However, two issues have to be addressed: “The method of blacklisting for firms” and the “requirements for guidelines to select the correct strategic partner for producing equipment in India”. The DPP offsets limit has been increased from Rs 300 crore to Rs 2,000 crore, The Tribune report said.

“Issue of Offsets is actually irrelevant since this was not working in any case. As I have been saying all along, Offsets even for projects in excess if 2000 crores will be of no use from a defense technology point of view,” said G Raj Narayan, Founder & Md of Radel Group.

India is currently the largest buyer of military equipment and weaponary, which accounts for 15% of all international imports, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Sweden-based think tank said.

The original article appeared on IBTimes.

He is at ease designing musical instruments and missile launchers

A musician credited with inventing the electronic tambura and electronic tabla, G. Raj Narayan may seem to be an odd man out at a seminar on military hardware and electronic warfare.

But Raj, as he is popularly called, is not only at ease with both the fields but is among the lead panellist, given his foray into defence and aerospace, involving manufacture of military-grade weapons for the Indian defence establishment.

A former design engineer at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. in Bengaluru, Mr. Raj Narayan, who has a master’s degree in electronics from IIT Madras, has a passion for Carnatic music and was a regular on AIR and Doordarshan till 10 years ago before he decided to strike it out as an entrepreneur in aerospace and defence equipment manufacturing.

Given his background in HAL and experience of working on platforms ranging from Gnat to MIG and Jaguar, Mr. Raj Narayan floated Radel Group, a precision engineering group in Bengaluru, which now develops components for the fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

May seem hi-tech for the uninitiated but not for Mr. Raj Narayan who said the design and circuitry involved in making a digital musical instrument or military equipment were the same. Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the Indian Science Congress, Mr. Raj Narayan said, “My exposure to electronics and miniaturisation as a designer in HAL enabled me to design circuits for musical instruments”.

Mr. Raj Narayan, who was part of the team that built India’s first indigenous cockpit simulator, also invented the electronic tabla and electronic veena, and mass produced them for the music industry. The music unit grew and supported his venture back into aerospace in 2005; the two companies are located in the same building in Bengaluru, and what is more, they have the same employees.

Today a design engineer may be working on a musical instrument, tomorrow he may work on ammunition firing equipment of an aircraft. “That is the beauty of the whole exercise as the process of electronic design and packaging is the same but the only difference is that defence products have to be conceived and designed at a higher level than for a consumer product,” said Mr. Raj Narayan.

The musician, who received the Karnataka Kalashree award in 2001, recently innovated a missile launcher for the Jaguar based on the latest micro-controller technology to replace obsolete circuits and it has been cleared for induction by the IAF.

The original article appeared on The Hindu.

MSMEs should scale up their capabilities

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises will have to scale up their capabilities to design and manufacture parts, sub-assemblies as well as complete products which requires a wide variety of skills, said G Raj Narayan, founder and MD Radel Group and Chief Mentor of Drona.

Speaking at a Plenary Session at the 103rd Indian Science Congress on Aims to focus on the Make In India initiative with particular reference to the Defence and Aerospace sector’, he said that MSMEs in India contribute more than 45 per cent of the industrial output and hence constitute a large section of the manufacturing chains of almost all products. He said that ‘Make in India’ opens up far more opportunities of raising their value proposition than being mere vendors to the large DPSUs.

Considering that less than 10 per cent of the engineers churned out of Indian colleges are found to be employable in the core engineering industries, imparting practical skills is the need of the hour for MII to succeed.
Institutions such as the Drona School of Engineering Practice, which orients engineers to practical hands-on exposure to high value engineering skills in an industrial environment, are the way forward.
The ‘Make in India’ is a paradigm shift from the past two decades of Indian obsession with IT and ITeS services during which manufacturing industries were allowed to collapse.

There appears to be a new found realization of the benefits of manufacturing A&D products in India for domestic consumption rather than import them.
However, ‘Make in India’ goes beyond just manufacturing, to design, innovate, manufacture and support in India.
Viewed holistically, this has profound implications across a wide section of businesses.
It involves huge numbers of creative engineers, technicians, professors, research scholars, sales, marketing and support staff, etc.
all of whom need to possess specialized skills, he added.

The original article appeared on UniIndia.

Designing, creating and innovating in India

Prime Minister’s ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’ initiative can succeed only when the focus in our colleges shifts towards creating and owning intellectual property. Creativity is a talent nurtured right from childhood. Various types of arts, crafts and hobbies expose a child to a variety of skills that develop creativity. Design, per se, need not always involve either creativity or innovation. It is only when creativity is embedded into the art of design that innovation happens. Innovation can also result from a strong desire to find new or improved solutions to existing problems. However, this talent is reinforced by a creative aptitude. A combination of all these characteristics is what actually results in innovative designs, products and services—some of which can be revolutionary.

It is, therefore, obvious that innovative engineers cannot be created overnight. The process has to be part of an integrated system which includes parents, teachers, schools, colleges and industries—all of which encourage inquisitive curiosity with practical exposure, leading to development of interest, aptitude, skills and aspirations to excel as a practicing engineer.

The reason that barely 7% of the approximately 1.5 million engineers graduating every year in India are employable in core engineering sectors is the absolute lack of aspiration. They get into an engineering college—or a medical college, for that matter—only because of peer and parental pressure, and not out of desire or deep interest. If their ultimate evaluation is also based on rote-based learning and marks obtained, we are neither inculcating in them the “ability to learn” nor practical capabilities that are relevant to a prospective employer. “Learning to learn” and “learning to apply” should, therefore, be the cornerstones of education, be it engineering, medicine, accountancy or management.

Design, innovate & make in India: The Prime Minister is charming young students by ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’ initiatives. However, we need to not just make in India, but create in India, design in India and innovate in India, so as to create and own intellectual property. What we need is a solid design and manufacturing base to enable these initiatives to succeed. However, without competent engineers to drive these programmes, how can the campaigns even take off—whether in aerospace, defence or consumer sectors? For this, we need to skill our engineers not just as computer operators, but also as intelligent designers and engineers in practice.

The core of all these will be effectively addressing our flawed education system—right from primary school to the highest education. If we need to create, innovate and design, we need performing engineers, doctors and scientists who are capable of designing products, or can at least reverse engineer like the Chinese, and then innovate further.

Design & innovation: Design skills lie at the top of the pyramid, which include a variety of multidisciplinary abilities. Creative design requires the essential powers of creative, analytical and critical thinking.

Skilling cannot happen only in a college environment. Universities and engineering colleges need to tie up with industries to provide the engineers hands-on exposure to “live” projects within the industry.

So, what should be the action plan for educators? Or, in other words, how can engineering students create and innovate in the next year or two?

Foundation: Educators need to start the process with first-year students. The laying of strong fundamentals forms the foundation, on which the superstructure of “engineering practice” can be built. Fundamental concepts can be better grasped by students when they are explained with the help of simple, practical, everyday examples of theory.

Innovation: It is then possible to climb the ladder of innovation step-by-step, by teaching students how to think and create, starting with simple hands-on projects that are made by students as early as the very first semester.

Action plan for students: For students, the motto should be “empower yourself to learn”. It is not easy to overhaul the engineering education system. Yet we occasionally read about a handful of students who have created a gadget for the farmer, or a solar-powered vehicle, etc. How did these students achieve the same, in spite of being part of the same system? They educated themselves outside the “syllabus” and college routine. Engineering students need to read the latest journals, magazines and information online in the core sector of their choice—be it electronics, mechanical, chemical or any other. Project work today is considered a dreary chore, to be completed by hook or crook to qualify for a degree. So as to become a creative engineer, students need to break out of this mindset. They need to develop the interest to try and make simple projects themselves, learn from mistakes through analysis, and finally succeed in creating a simple project. This exercise itself is bound to provide a lot of pleasure and excitement, besides providing invaluable educational insights about the subject. Ultimately, these very habits—of keeping oneself abreast of developments, of working with one’s hands and trying out an idea in practice—are the ones that will stand them in good stead throughout their career. Indian students can certainly innovate and create in the next two years, by using their imagination and practical experimentation to create products and solutions for everyday life.

The original article appeared on Financial Express.

Skill set development for the A&D sector – An MSME perspective

This Plenary session on January 7, 2016, at the Indian Science Congress being held in Mysore, aims to focus on the Make In India initiative with particular reference to the Defence and Aerospace sector.

The ‘Make in India’ is a paradigm shift from the past two decades of Indian obsession with IT and ITeS services during which manufacturing industries were allowed to collapse. There appears to be a new found realization of the benefits of manufacturing A&D products in India for home consumption rather than import them. However, ‘Make in India’ goes beyond just manufacturing, to design, innovate, manufacture and support in India. Viewed holistically, this has profound implications across a wide section of businesses. It involves huge numbers of creative engineers, technicians, professors, research scholars, sales, marketing and support staff, etc. all of whom need to possess specialized skills.

MSMEs in India contribute more than 45% of the industrial output of the country and hence constitute a large section of the manufacturing chains of almost all products. ‘Make in India’ opens up far more opportunities of raising their value proposition than being mere vendors to the large DPSUs. MSMEs will now have to scale up their capabilities to design and manufacture parts, sub-assemblies as well as complete products. This requires a wide variety of skills.

Considering that less than 10% of the engineers churned out of Indian colleges are found to be employable in the core engineering industries, imparting practical skills is the need of the hour for MII to succeed. Institutions such as the Drona School of Engineering Practice, which orients engineers to practical hands-on exposure to high value engineering skills in an industrial environment, are the way forward.

MSME's in India

Is ease of doing business only for foreign investors?

There is an urgent need to cut unnecessary costs that hinder Indian businesses. PM Narendra Modi has been travelling far and wide to invite foreign companies to invest and ‘Make in India’ with an assurance that doing business in India is going to be made far easier than it has been so far. From a foreign investor’s point of view, it is not the number of places that India goes up the bottom of the ladder that matters, but the actual position towards the top of that ladder that the Indian government intends to reach. But the more important question in every Indian businessman’s mind is whether this so-called ‘ease’ is only meant for foreign investors with Indian businesses continuing to suffer all the woes.

‘Make in India’, ‘Defence Indigenisation’, ‘Self-reliance’ and ‘Digital India’ are great slogans for creating the hype, and also causes the hungry Indian businesses to salivate. If our PM is serious about enabling and empowering Indian businesses to play in the competitive global market place, everything boils down to competitive costs, whether for local consumption or exports. Let us look at what these costs include. The adage ‘Time is money’ is certainly not understood either in our bureaucracy or government decision-making, and least of all, our honourable judiciary. ‘Delivery time is the essence of the contract’, says a purchase order of a DPSU that takes eight months to process tender bids for a relatively low value item.

‘Ease’ of Funding: ‘Funds, funds, funds’ is the cry of the most MSMEs across the country. Various glorified schemes exist on paper, but rarely made available even to the most successful of entrepreneurs with orders worth crores on hand. An MSME entrepreneur is expected to kneel and beg, and work through the maze of red-tape, only to get a few crumbs thrown to him while companies providing ‘good times in the sky’ get crores even if they are bound to result in NPAs. Private funds are available for budding startups — preferably in the online space— but for the manufacturing industry this comes at a significant cost.

‘Ease’ of Regulations: Tax authorities are accorded enormous powers that are often abused. The sales tax department goes around attaching banks accounts of assesses on flimsy grounds so that it can show inflated revenue collections even if these are bound to be refunded a few years later after judicial intervention. The businesses meanwhile, suffer a huge cost that is never reimbursed, not even the interest on the amount unfairly seized by the government.

Many MSMEs have faced this situation, and have had to take one of these three hard decisions, all of which involve significant financial costs: (a) bribe their way out of it (most MSMEs opt for this solution), (b) go through the lengthy judicial process (very few MSMEs have the courage and patience to go through this) or – for several entrepreneurs, the worst but only option—(c) take the financial hit and shut down. Why should assessment officers be empowered to execute summary assessments overruling evidence in spite of an assessee filing all the required documents? If there is no cost attached to such malpractices of the bureaucracy it makes merry at the cost of the entrepreneur.

Income tax and Central Excise departments are no different. Refunds are rarely made within three or four years leading to loss of interest which is a cost to the entrepreneur. The Legal Metrology Department too has joined the party, confiscating electronic white goods ridiculously classifying them as ‘packaged, commodities’ that require registration with the department.

‘Ease’ of Labour: What about costs imposed by outdated labour laws? Anything and everything can be contested in a labour court, even if an employer has abided by the laws. This leads to litigation costs as well as unproductive wages being incurred in one form or the other, besides fees to consultants and advocates. If labour reforms are only going to target garage operations with less than 40 workmen, does it mean that larger MSMEs will continue to face the woes of running a manufacturing establishment?

‘Ease’ of Infrastructure: Certainly not the least important, infrastructure costs add significant amounts. Shortage of electricity has been a perennial problem in Karnataka for decades, and businesses are forced to operate on DGs which imposes multiple costs if an employee needs to spend three hours travelling to work in a messy city such as Bengaluru, that is a cost due to unproductive time. By the time the much hyped ‘Namma Metro’ achieves full connectivity, it would itself be as congested as the Mumbai trains, which would be self-defeating.

Cost of urban land, provided to foreign investors at a fraction of what is charged to Indian MSMEs, makes the whole business proposition unviable. If any subsidised rates are offered, it comes with ‘hidden’ costs. The lion of ‘Make in India’ will continue to sleep, or subsist with low value addition ‘manufacturing’ using CKD kits of MNCs as long as we fail to look for holistic and long-term solutions involving both the State and Central Governments.

The original article appeared on Deccan Herald.

A stronger Make in India will beat the Chinese threat

If India is to match China in both technology and scale, many bottlenecks will have to be removed. The idea of ‘Make in India’ is not just about internal development, but also effectively countering threats from the outside. In terms of both geography and potential, India’s biggest competitor today is China.

To compete with this economically powerful neighbour, India needs development on multiple fronts. While China has raced far ahead of India, today its manufacturing is slowing down, wages are rising and the labour force is dwindling. On the other hand, the Indian labour force is just coming of age. If we are to match China in both technology and scale, many bottlenecks have to be removed. Apart from the well-known issue of poor infrastructure, there are several areas that need to be tackled on a war footing.

Skills: It is estimated that by 2030, India will have the largest labour force in the world. Yet, the availability of a large workforce alone is not enough. Jobs also need to be created and most importantly, skills have to be developed. ‘Make in India’ seems like the perfect platform to absorb an annual 12 million-strong workforce with jobs. However, unless this workforce is equipped with the required skills, India will miss the bus again. China invested in education and is reaping the benefits. Consider this; in 2004, while China had only eight universities in the world’s top 500, and none in the top 200, the current respective figures are 32, and six. China’s universities are now second only to those in the US in terms of the total research output.

The correlation between the quality of education and the nation’s progress is obvious. The Indian government and the private sector should join hands to align education to practice by encouraging meaningful apprenticeships within industries by amending the Apprentices Act, 1961, to make it relevant in the 21st century.

Multi-pronged reform plan

Over the last two decades, China has striven to transform itself into the world’s second biggest economy, through a slew of reforms, including the mass reallocation of labour from low-productivity agriculture to high-productivity manufacturing. What motivated Chinese workers to slog day and night? This is partly answered by a sociological reason: the people of China and other nations in the Far East have always been disciplined.

A dose of strong-arm enforcement injected into oriental values ensured a disciplined work ethic. By combining worker benefits with relaxation of hiring and retrenchment norms in its labour reforms in 1995, China was well on the way to becoming a manufacturing powerhouse. While China does have unions, they are virtually, without exception, under the control of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions which is controlled by the government and the party (Communist Party of China). Collective bargaining, legal strikes or dispute resolution are non-existent. Here, in democratic India, the present labour laws impede industrial growth. Labour reforms are never easy, as there are multiple stakeholders involved, from workmen unions to politicians and the government.

How did China manage to develop absolute advantage in so many industries? The answer is simple — with the government’s whole-hearted help. State-owned banks give loans to local companies — large or small, at rates as low as two per cent, and local governments across China allocate cheap or free land. In India, funds are grudgingly provided to MSMEs at crippling rates of interest. The export subsidies and incentives granted by the Chinese government helped grow a vibrant manufacturing sector with thousands of small, medium, and large industries, focused on high-volume mass-manufacture aimed at exports. In addition, the market access available to China as a result of its WTO membership, contributed to its impressive trade performance. China also created barriers for imports to maintain huge trade surpluses. For example, products that have passed international quality certifications have to again undergo tests like the China Compulsory Certificate (CCC) for entry into the Chinese markets. Hence, today, China is the shop floor of the world.

In India, on the other hand, myriad rules, regulations and harassment are killing the manufacturing industry. The so-called incentives and subsidies for exports are so difficult to access through the maze of red tape, that manufacturing industries, especially the smaller ones, find them unviable. It is not surprising therefore, that a World Bank report ranks India at 130, and China at 84, out of 189 countries, in terms of the ease of doing business. As a result, Chinese products turn out to be cheaper than the local ones in spite of import expenses, though not necessarily better in quality.

The way forward

While India soared ahead digitally, the manufacturing industry was neglected. The government should now aggressively focus on building robust infrastructure from the foundation, providing support to the industries in the form of low interest loans and subsidies. However, the Chinese model of export-oriented industrialisation is not the way to go. Although China is at the helm of global exports, it is now struggling to boost internal consumption. India has the potential to become a thriving manufacturing hub. There are multiple factors in favour of India; it is up to us to leverage them and race ahead. If all the concerns of the manufacturing sector are addressed, we may well see India and China trading places in the future.

The original article appeared on Deccanherald.

Quality in customer relations and services

The Indian media today is inundated by claims of marketers who promise exceptional customer service experiences, luring the unwary consumer to buy their product. They bolster their campaign with assurances that if anything goes wrong, there is always a human voice at a phone’s reach to fix the problem.

Yet, Indian businesses lose up to Rs.11,640 crore in revenue every year simply because customers end relationships when the company’s post-sales services fail to meet their expectations. About two in five Indians have threatened to switch to a competitor, while a third of them have hung up the phone on customer care executives. Sadly, ninety percent of Indian customers have experienced poor post-sale services across most sectors especially utilities, retail and telecom in the last six months alone. With companies allotting minimum priority for dealing with customer enquiries and complaints, it is not surprising that consumers are unhappy. 56 percent of Indian consumers admit to have ended their relationship with the company because their expectation of customer service was not met. These range from products – small home appliances, water purifiers, electric appliances etc., to services – transport, hospitality, telecommunications to name a few.

The consumers approach an organisation’s helpdesk hoping to resolve their complaints and queries. The automated response system developed to help customers actually makes the situation worse. The customer who is already unhappy over the product’s poor quality expects a service that assures direct personal contact, putting his needs first and making sure no question goes unanswered. What actually happens is quite different. The consumer gets a mechanical response from the voice at the other end of the phone that could easily be mistaken for a robot. Why is this? It is because the focus shifts from the very purpose of the call-centre – customer service – to a ‘process’ similar to “If question ‘x’ is asked, reply with answer ‘a’”. The employees read out the answers or rattle it off by rote in a rapid-fire manner, having no concern for the consumer’s problem. This over-dependence on automated processes developed in the BPO business is proving to be detrimental to personal contact with customers. This has been fuelled by the desire to achieve quantity (number of customer queries replied to) rather than quality (solving the customer’s issue). The scene is not very different in large retail outlets. Here again, the employees at the floor level have a minimal knowledge of the products they sell, and very often resort to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude to make their work easier. They have no commitment to sell the product, and very often, the customer goes away in disgust.

The common factor in both these cases is a lack of quality-awareness in a customer relationship and need for immediacy in addressing their requirements or problems. The root cause of this is the lack of a sense of ownership of work. Superficiality has crept into every sphere – be it daily life, education, or work ethic. Most people go through the motions of performing daily tasks, studying, or working. They do not care to do any job perfectly. They do not feel pride and ownership in every action, however small or insignificant. This attitude spills over into the all-important sector of customer relations, leading ultimately to loss of business.

The service providers need to train their employees to take ownership of their role and pride in their service. Their intent should be to satisfy and delight every customer. Once this is taken care of, the rest of the training complements and augments their capabilities.

Radel, a small manufacturer of niche products in the consumer electronics sector, has received many accolades from its loyal customers spread across the globe. One such letter puts customer relations into a nutshell: with people like you so devoted to the mission of pleasing “one customer” at a time, I think your Radel will continue to be at the top of the musical world as it is already.

That is the key – pleasing one customer at a time!

Quality-Awareness in daily life

The average Indian has absolutely no drive to be professional. An unhealthy work ethic has seeped into all sections of society. A quality as simple as reaching a place on time, is missing in the Indian mindset. Indians are notorious for their habit of littering in public spaces. Both these traits have their origins in the lack of quality-awareness at a personal level.

A shift in attitude must begin at homes and schools. Awareness of quality in everyday activities has to be indoctrinated right from the primary school stage, strengthened by a 360 degree quality-awareness. A child must grow up witnessing the need for quality consciousness in every aspect of life – even in the way one behaves and responds to situations and in the manner of presenting oneself. There must be a sense of pride in every activity that the child performs. Whether the grows up to be an artist or an engineer, a doctor or a teacher, quality consciousness must be incorporated in daily activities – and thus spread in the larger Indian work ethic.

Where do we start? Let us look around to see the situation on the ground.

A boy accompanies his mother to the market. His mother carries a garbage bag to throw in the public bin. She throws the plastic on a heap of garbage right next to the empty bin. She does not perceive that this action contributes to a lack of quality in her surroundings. Below a board that says ‘Do not urinate’, the young boy sees a man urinating, without a thought for the impact on cleanliness and hygiene, and therefore, on quality of life. At the market, he sees his mother compromise on quality of essential goods for cheaper prices. He watches them use foul language to arrive at a bargained price – showing a lack of quality in speech. He sees her jump queues to pay her bills and violate traffic rules to get home faster, and effectively casting ‘quality of civilised society’ by the roadside. Most children, urban or rural, grow up witnessing such situations every day. Children imbibe this careless attitude which negates the concept of quality in everyday life, and believe that it is acceptable to live in such a manner. They grow up having the same attitude both at home and workplace – an attitude that his parents, neighbours and society have taught him as being good enough to survive.

This is how the child learns to compromise on the quality of a small everyday activity. He detaches himself from the implications of his actions on the society. He does not take responsibility for the disruption he brings to the society and therefore to the quality of his own, personal life.

When the individual, as a citizen and a part of the workforce, is unaware of the importance of quality in every action in daily life, and cannot see that dirty surroundings, badly maintained buildings, lack of civic sense or road discipline etc. reflect a lack of quality, he / she cannot perceive the difference between good and bad quality in a product.

A poor quality item should ideally make the customer protest and demand good quality. But in India, the customer does not see the need for quality as there is no awareness of good and bad quality. The manufacturer too sees no necessity for producing a good product or maintenance and service of the product. Since the problem has a social origin, the change in attitude must be societal.

Quality awareness, therefore, needs to be inculcated across all sections of society, from children in primary school to the entire adult population. Whether it is the home-maker maintaining every nook and corner of the home spic and span; the office worker being meticulous in work and keeping his desk and surroundings neat; every plumber, electrician, carpenter and mason being particular that his work is perfect – this awareness of quality should be cultivated and propagated on a war-footing. Only then can India not only be equal to, but overtake other countries and be admired for the Made in India quality.