Info-tech

eMass customised bureaucracy at work in IT

D. Murali | Updated on May 22, 2011

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The concluding chapter laments that not many firms in India adopt the full-grown HRM model which involves strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce and which uses an integrated array of cultural, structural, and personal techniques.

While most information technology enabled services (ITES) firms have introduced HRM (human resource management) practices such as performance-based pay, empowerment, and employee communication, they have not been able to increase employee discretion or their opportunities for promotion, rues Subesh Das in ‘Managing People at Work: Employment relations in globalizing India' (www.sagepublications.com). Adding that their employment relations system does not represent the ideal HRM pattern, the author describes their ‘complex hybrid form of work organisation' as ‘mass customised bureaucracy' that has some aspects of bureaucratic control and HRM practices.

Performance measurement

A section on ‘performance measurement' notes that, in call centre operations, the performance-related information on individuals and groups provided by the IT network on a continuous basis is used as the objective data to establish and reinforce performance norms. “In most call centres, there is clear statement about what is expected from the CSRs (customer service representatives). Their tasks are very focused and their performance is measured based on a set of numbers generated by the networked systems.”

The author observes that in general the performance matrix is defined using a set of indicators such as average handling time. And that, besides meeting the targets, adherence to company guidelines is an important aspect of performance management. “The agents, for example, need to use documented legal terms so that customers are not misled and there are no legal complications.”

The concluding chapter laments that not many firms in India adopt the full-grown HRM model which involves strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce and which uses an integrated array of cultural, structural, and personal techniques. The author is, however, happy that most firms in India have focused on improving the skill, knowledge, and attitudes of workers. “Their focus has shifted from cost containment and conflict management to the development of highly skilled, flexible, and productive workforce.”

Of research value.

The techie COW

An IT professional fits into a COW, says C. R. Jena in ‘22 Things You should know about Indian IT' (www.applebooks.org). The acronym, as the author explains, stands for conceptualiser, operator, and writer.

Conceptualisers are the most important IT workers, and in most cases they have already been an O or a W in their career, he informs. “On an average the Cs have at least 7-10 years of experience as an O or a W before they assume the role of C. The Cs can also come from non-IT background having worked in other industries. The IT organisations hire them because of their domain experience…” The conceptualiser may have varied job titles such as project manager, business analyst, domain expert, system architect, IT analyst, process consultant and so on.

If the C is like an architect, O and W are like the mason and construction worker, one learns. Os – with titles such as hardware engineer, network administrator, operations engineer, system support engineer, and infrastructure specialist – are the ones who install the desktops and servers, load the software, and put the networks in place. Their more complex activities, Jena lists, include maintaining the server, managing your mailboxes, scheduling batch jobs to run, and ensuring that the network is up and running.

The Ws, popularly called programmers, constitute the maximum number in the Indian IT workforce, he finds. With job titles such as technical lead, developer, database administrator, functional consultant, and project leader, the Ws write computer programs, and perform such allied activities as testing, reviewing, quality assurance, and user training.

Engaging perspective.

Calamity of the information age

One of the sombre aphorisms in ‘The Bed of Procrustes' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (www.landmarkonthenet.com) reads thus: “The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits.”

Another aphorism brings out the difference between the medieval man and his modern counterpart – that the former was a cog in a wheel he did not understand, while the latter is a cog in a complicated system he thinks he understands. “Most info-Web-media-newspaper types have a hard time swallowing the idea that knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people's heads,” is Taleb-speak for the bold.

He narrates the story of Procrustes, from Greek mythology, the cruel owner of a small estate who had a peculiar sense of hospitality. “He abducted travellers, provided them with a generous dinner, then invited them to spend the night in a rather special bed. He wanted the bed to fit the traveller to perfection. Those who were too tall had their legs chopped off with a sharp hatchet; those who were too short were stretched…”

But what is the connection, you may wonder. The answer, as the author explains, is that we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditised ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and pre-packaged narratives.

Further, as he frets, we seem unaware of this backward fitting, much like tailors who take great pride in delivering the perfectly fitting suit, but do so by surgically altering the limbs of their customers! “For instance, few realise that we are changing the brains of schoolchildren through medication in order to make them adjust to the curriculum, rather than the reverse.”

In the ‘Postface,' the author reasons that because our minds need to reduce information, we are more likely to try to squeeze a phenomenon into the Procrustean bed of a crisp and known category (amputating the unknown), rather than suspend categorisation, and make it tangible. “Thanks to our detections of false patterns, along with real ones, what is random will appear less random and more certain – our overactive brains are more likely to impose the wrong, simplistic narrative than no narrative at all.”

Cautioning that the mind can be a wonderful tool for self-delusion, because it was not designed to deal with complexity and nonlinear uncertainties, Taleb avers that more information means more delusions, and that our detection of false patterns is growing faster and faster as a side effect of modernity and the information age. “There is this mismatch between the messy randomness of the information-rich current world, with its complex interactions, and our intuitions of events, derived in a simpler ancestral habitat…”

A book that can keep you awake.

> dmurali@thehindu.co.in Tailpiece

“To detect the errors in the ‘most wanted' list, we ran an advanced AI program…”

“And it cleaned up the list?”

“We believe so, because it rejected all the 50 names and presented a whole new set of 500!”

Published on May 22, 2011

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