Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Beverly Hills

Last Saturday I went back to Rodeo Drive, the place which was kind of etched in my memory from a few years back during my last visit to LA and Beverly Hills. It reeks of exclusivity and its evident to one and all who pass through, the tree lined avenues, the perfectly manicured gardens, the beautiful houses, the opulent hotels and the world's most expensive shopping street, Rodeo Drive is quite something.

Last time I came here on a Sunday so there weren't much people around but all of a sudden a gentleman dressed in a red coat stepped out of somewhere and started speaking to me in fluent Hindi, he greeted me, asked where I was from and hoped that I would enjoy my day in Beverly Hills. I was more than astonished and very much pleased to hear my language in a country far away from India. That memory has always remained with me and it is what that took me back to the place.

On reaching, I find the very familiar, portlier and older "Mr Beverly Hills" in his element on a Saturday when the place was thronging with tourists. He never let a person pass by without asking where the person came from and promptly spoke a few words in his or her language, the reaction was always one of amazement and then happiness. He gave me his usual line, 'Aap bahut sundar hain" and then added that he said the same to Ash (Aishwarya Rai) and Shabana Azmi who had come there to shop. He also put his arm around Ash and took a picture (which is usually frowned upon by Indians but she let him put the arm around), which sent me into a fit of giggles. I said that I was pleased to see him again, he promptly fished out a few brochures to show that he was the mascot of Beverly Hills and on every possible travel brochure which mentioned it.

Right across Rodeo Drive is a well known hotel, also the hotel which was featured in the movie "Pretty Woman", a group of Japs were standing there and gazing at the entrance. Mr Beverly Hills said in a loud voice "You know why those guys are standing there? They are suffering from the Pretty Woman Syndrome"! Another round of giggles from everybody and then suddenly he announced "You see this lady out here? She has come all the way from India to take a picture with me", he snatched the camera from my hands and handed it over to someone who obediently clicked. He sure knows how to get visibility!

After a highly entertaining time, I walked down the street and did some serious window shopping, all the world's fanciest shops, shops where one could shop with prior appointments only, the worlds most expensive men's clothes store (Bijan's) where only royalty, the rich and the heads of states all across the globe shop, Valentino, Chanel, Prada, van Cleef & Arpels, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Guess ... You name it, every possible upmarket store had a presence.

Finally I took this Beverly Hills Trolley Tour which was a very charming ride around the small city, the houses of the celebrities (actors), the witches house from Hansel & Gretel, the Beverly Hills Hotel which is owned by Sultan of Brunei, who forgot for a while that he owned it, the big mansions of the businessmen, the grand limos, the Ferraris and the associations of the streets with a particular movie. Beverly Hills had showbiz, glamour and affluence stamped all over it but thankfully lets us in to see it as well!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Night @ the Call Center

No this is not a book review, but a personal experience, that too in a call center in the USA rather than in India. I spent some time at the call center to understand the business process better and in the process got an insight into the much more than business processes.

I was greeted by Yvonne, who was a very amiable and friendly lady, 62 years old, a hot shot COBOL programmer who worked in Bank of America in her hey days and could debug code by just looking at a dump. She was made redundant because technologies changed and jobs were outsourced, however to keep the home fires burning or may be just to occupy her time rather than just being forgotten, she chose this job of working nights as a supervisor at this call center. She showed me around, introduced me to people I should spend time with and offered me some soda and pretzels.

Next I sat with Nicole, who was an Australian who had shifted to USA fifteen years back. Initially for years she worked both shifts probably to make ends meet but now she works just nights and has been with the organization for a good 10 years. She showed me the screens of the application she used to enter data, how data got validated, posted etc. In the midst of all this we talked about Cricket, since she was Australian. I updated her about how well Australia was doing in Cricket. She and I agreed that Cricket was kind of boring if one did not understand the finer aspects of the game, she told me that she loved playing a girl’s version of cricket when she was at school which was far more energetic, fast and exciting as compared traditional men’s cricket. She also asked me that when the new IT systems were going online, she knew the new IT system would automate much of the work she did and it was to assess how much time she had.

My next session was with Ken, he has been working the graveyard shift for the last 10 years, but one does not really get used to such times, he said. He sleeps from 6 PM to 2 AM, when it’s dark outside and reports to work at 2:30 AM and works till 11 AM and has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, when he catches up with friends etc. He has a very key role of collating and distributing the information before 5 AM every morning. Ken has two people assisting him, who are students and work nights to earn some extra bucks. He runs reports one by one, does a quick proof reading and sends it off to its location, some need to be formatted and emailed, some need to be hand faxed, some need to be printed and couriered while some are sent electronically by the existing system. He has trained several business analysts who came to him to understand the reporting and distribution section. The new system will have SQL Server Reporting Services which will have the intelligence built into it which will take away the human element from collation and distribution. With the new system in place, the customers will not hear Ken’s friendly voice telling them the top 10 figures, all they’ll see is a web page which is updated every 10 seconds.

I came away awed and humbled, awed because of the warmth and co-operation extended towards me despite being an ambassador of the IT solution which would do away with them and the stoic acceptance that they will eventually loose their jobs because the company wants to save on manpower costs by paying millions of dollars to consulting companies. Humbled because no matter how great technology is, people are special and important and you can’t have technology work without their contribution.