Friday, February 20, 2009

Infosys to award 5 top Indian scientists

Infosys Technologies on Tuesday said it has instituted a Rs 50 lakh award each for five top Indian scientists in recognition of their outstanding research contributions and achievements.

The five awards will be given annually under the aegis of Infosys Science Foundation, a non-profit trust set up with a corpus of Rs 21.5 crore, the software major said in a statement here.

"The company will also annually grant Rs 2 crore to the trust to supplement the prize for each of five scientists of Indian origin working in the country or abroad. The award carries the largest prize money (Rs 5 million) to be given to any Indian scientist," the Infosys board member, T.V. Mohandas Pai, told reporters.

The five top scientists will be selected by a jury of five consisting of eminent international personalities and academic experts in each area.

The five Infosys awards will be given under the category of Physical Sciences in physics and chemistry, mathematical sciences in mathematics and statistics; engineering sciences in all branches of engineering; life sciences in biology and medicine; and social sciences and economics in economics, history, sociology and political science.

"India needs bright minds across all areas of academics, government, business and society to strive for global excellence. We need to encourage research in India to address our developmental problems. This award will honour outstanding researchers who will make a difference to India's future," the Infosys chairman and chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, said.

Are 1,000 employees of TCS under scanner?

Putting employees under performance scanner seems to be the new thing at IT companies. The country's largest software company TCS has reportedly put its 1,000 employees under performance scanner.

The Mumbai-based IT company joins its smaller rival Infosys which too has put around 5,000 of its employees under the so-called performance scanner.

Incidentally, TCS spokesperson denied that the company's performance improvement plan is any different this year than previous years. The spokesperson claimed that this is an annual exercise to ensure that we continue to drive delivery excellence for our customers. Less than 1% of our workforce has been put under the scanner in the current fiscal.

Last year, the company had asked 500 employees to leave after a similar performance improvement plan.

Recently, in a client note, brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets said that TCS has seen project cancellations in the last four weeks. Quoting TCS chief financial officer S Mahalingam, CLSA said that the company sees slowdown in demand bottoming out in the March quarter and expects a recovery in the June quarter.

In Infosys case, the company has asked senior managers (project managers, senior and group project managers, delivery managers) to give lowest performance rating (4 on a scale of 1-4) to the 'underperforming' 5 per cent as a part of its consolidated relative ranking (CRR). Though lowest rankings are not new in the company, this is the first time that Infosys has made it compulsory.

Some 40-50 sales executives at Infosys too have been reportedly asked to quit in the last two months. Most of these were located in the US and were from consulting background.


No impact on KPOs due to global downturn

Knowledge Processing Outsourcing (KPO), over which India's holds the sway with a potential $12 billion market by 2010, is expected to grow despite global recession and the country could maintain its leadership in the KPO sector with stable government policies.

"India has competitive people costs which is sustainable at least for the next seven to ten years. There is an established ITeS (Information Technology Enabled Services) sector with good management, plus a reasonable sized talent-pool of human expertise in many areas. All this coupled with fairly stable government policies could help India in its quest to maintain leadership in the KPO sector by a wide margin," Chandu Nair, President and Director of Scope e-Knowledge Center, a leading KPO company, said.

According to an earlier estimate of National Association of Software and Service companies (NASSCOM), the apex business association, the KPO sector is expected to be worth $17 bn by 2010 of which $12 bn would be outsourced to India.

“Despite the recession in the US and UK/Europe, Nasscom still feels that IT/BPO sector would grow in the FY 2008-09. There has been an impact on certain companies, especially those with clients predominantly in certain sectors -- financial services -or high exposure to clients which have gone bankrupt,” he said.

Seeking to differentiate KPO and BPO, Nair said BPO is essentially process or rules based while KPO is more expertise or judgment based. Asked about the competition, he said India's key competitors in the KPO domain are Russia, China, Ireland, Israel, Philippines among others. The competition for India could vary depending on the nature of work.

"For instance for certain kinds of foreign language oriented services, locations in Eastern Europe or South America are favoured. Russia and Israel have scientific talent pool to provide certain specialist KPO services. The major challenge for them as also for say, the Philippines, Ireland is that the talent pool is much smaller while for China and Russia, non-English speaking population is relatively small."

About the scenario five-ten years hence, he said the KPO sector has the potential to grow faster and bigger and create more jobs.

“There is certainly a challenge in terms of availability of certain skill sets and basic employability of fresh graduates which hits small and medium sized companies,” he said.

Nasscom has embarked on some initiatives with respect to improving the skills and is working closely with the government, he said.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oil near $35 amid grim US economic news

Oil prices rose slightly to above $35 a barrel on Thursday in Asia despite grim U.S. economic news that pointed to a deep recession and weaker crude demand.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery rose 54 cents to $35.18 a barrel by late afternoon in Singapore on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract on Wednesday fell 31 cents to settle at $34.62.

The March contract expires on Friday, and traders switched their focus to the April contract, which rose 62 cents to $38.03.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday confirmed what many investors already suspected _ that the US economy has significantly deteriorated in the last few months.

The Fed said it expects the economy will contract between 0.5 and 1.3 per cent this year. Its previous forecast from November had a 0.2 per cent contraction as the worst case scenario.

The Fed also said the unemployment rate will likely rise to between 8.5 and 8.8 per cent this year, higher than its previous forecast of between 7.1 and 7.6 per cent.

The current global economic slump began in 2007 with a crisis in the US sub-prime mortgage sector, and the housing market continues to buckle under the weight of surging foreclosures.

A report from the Commerce Department on Wednesday said construction of new homes and apartments plunged 16.8 per cent in January from the previous month, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 466,000 units, a record low.

``The housing data suggests the recession is even worse than we thought,'' said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of sales trading for Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore. ``We need to see the housing market stabilize because consumer sentiment is very much correlated to it.''

Investors are skeptical that a $787 billion stimulus bill signed this week by President Barack Obama will spark a quick recovery. The White House on Wednesday said the government will spend $75 billion to help prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes.

Crude investors are also concerned a jump in oil inventories is reflecting a steep drop-off in demand.

Analysts expect crude stocks will grow by 3.5 million barrels when the Energy Department releases inventory data for the week ended Feb. 13, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. Inventories have risen more than 30 million barrels in the last six weeks.

``Inventories are the focus now,'' said Moltke-Leth. ``If they rise again, it will put more downward pressure on crude.''

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has struggled to bolster prices as output cuts fail to keep up with falling demand.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Wednesday the group may cut production again at a meeting on March 15, on top of the reduction of 4.2 million barrels a day announced since September. Ramirez said the 13-member cartel would like prices to rise to $70 a barrel.

``OPEC is looking very weak right now,'' said Moltke-Leth said. ``There's a lot of chatter from them, but the market isn't really listening.''

Moltke-Leth said prices will likely fall to about $32 a barrel, which would test the 10-year average price.

``$32 and a half is a significant line in the sand,'' he said. ``It's a key support level, and I expect the market to test how strong it is.''

In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures rose 0.83 cent to $1.07 a gallon. Heating oil gained 1.71 cents to $1.16 a gallon, while natural gas for March delivery jumped 3.0 cents to $4.24 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, the March Brent contract rose 98 cents to $40.54 on the ICE Futures exchange.


Do Indians lag behind in online social networking?

Internet users in the country may be growing substantially, but when it comes to networking online, India has been placed among the nations with least exposure to social networking sites in the Asia-Pacific region.

The US-based internet marketing research firm comScore in a report has said that only 60.3 per cent of internet users in India are used to social networking sites, making it one of the Asia-Pacific countries with least exposure to the activity.

In terms of the penetration of social networking sites, India is ahead of Japan (50.9 per cent), China (45.6 per cent) and Taiwan (42.4 per cent).

According to the report, Singapore has the highest number of social networking site users at 74.3 per cent in the region, followed by Australia (68.3 per cent), South Korea (68 per cent) and Malaysia (66.6 per cent).

Hong Kong and New Zealand have the same per centage of such users at 62.8 per cent, the report noted.

However, comScore said that the number of visitors to social networking sites has increased by 51 per cent in India.

In India, the number of internet users visiting such sites rose by 51 per cent to 19.37 million in December 2008, the report said. The number of visitors stood at just 12.8 million in December 2007.


Yahoo offers iPhone-like Web for masses

Yahoo announced a new mobile service on Tuesday that will deliver an iPhone-like experience for people who cannot or will not splash out for the iconic but pricey Apple device as times get hard.

Yahoo Mobile will launch at the end of March in a form downloadable to any phone with a Web browser and from May in custom versions for hundreds of smartphones.

"There is a growing number of consumers out there who are not Apple iPhone users but want a rich starting experience," Marco Boerries, the head of Yahoo's mobile division, told the media in an interview.

Yahoo will also launch a version of Yahoo Mobile, designed to be a starting point for users to access the Internet, for the iPhone itself at the end of March. A test version for a limited number of public users is going live this week.

Yahoo Mobile offers a front page with colorful, boxy icons resembling the iPhone's for launching popular applications such as a Web browser, mail, news, weather and social network sites like Facebook.

Users also have the option to easily add any software or Web sites they choose to download on their phones.

The company plans in coming months to promote Yahoo Mobile via a series of 70 major operator partnerships it has struck to reach 850 million mobile subscribers around the globe.

Fifty of those partnerships already offer Yahoo services and the company expects the rest to adopt Yahoo Mobile in coming months, Boerries said.

Yahoo has developed versions that work on hundreds of mid-range and high-end mobile phones from BlackBerry maker RIM, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, as well as phones running Microsoft Windows.

Boerries defines the universe of phones that can effectively run Yahoo Mobile as "every phone that's shipped in the last two years that has a decent HTML-capable browser." He added: "We don't want to make lowest common denominator stuff."

A more general version of the service downloadable from the Web will also work on older phones but will not be tailored to those phones' specifications. Boerries demonstrated it on an old Sony Ericsson model.

Boerries said last year's on-again off-again talks with would-be buyer Microsoft had not significantly distracted his team, and said he had kept his key staff together for years.

After some prior delays in introducing services such as Yahoo Go, Boerries professed relief that his fuller vision of putting the Web on phones had arrived on time: "It is really, for me, making it all come together."

"This is like the uber-replacement of Yahoo Go."


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Has the crisis left Dubai migrant workers out in the cold?

Low-paid Asian workers who toil long days to build the skyscrapers of Dubai have become the latest victims of the global financial crisis as companies run short of business and money.

For many years, the Gulf emirate was a magnet for South Asian workers who fed the booming economy with cheap manpower -- from cleaners and gardeners to skilled and unskilled builders.

A report issued earlier this month showed that 582 billion dollars worth of building projects in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, had been put on hold due to the slowdown. That was 45 percent of the total.

Arnold, a 26-year-old Filipino machine operator, found a job in a small aluminium factory only two months after arriving in Dubai last summer. But in January, he and six others from the 15-strong workforce were laid off.

"I am staying in Dubai trying to find another job," he said, pointing out that his previous employer lost a great deal of business when many construction projects ground to a halt, cutting demand for aluminium products.

Six years of spectacular growth in the UAE construction sector, mainly in Dubai, absorbed hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly from South Asia. That had a knock-on effect, creating further opportunities for migrants.

But the financial crisis, mainly in construction and related industries, is reversing that trend, forcing foreign workers to go home.

"The crisis is worse in the Philippines. We have no future there. We are looking for part-time jobs here, anything," Arnold told AFP as he hung out with two friends who had also lost their jobs.

Christopher, a compatriot, said he has been in Dubai for around nine months working as a welder during the day and a barista in the evening.

He and his wife, who also works in a Dubai coffee shop, used to send 500 dirhams (136 dollars) a month home, where their two kids were left behind.

Migrant workers send billions of dollars home every year. One money transfer firm, UAE Exchange, said its volume last year was 12 billion dollars, most of it to India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Like Arnold, Christopher was working illegally in the hope that an employer would get him a work permit. Now he is searching desperately for anything.

But even for labourers who were brought to the UAE on a work visa to satisfy the needs of the once-booming economy, many are receiving the pink slip.

"Some 200 gardeners were sacked recently from our company" out of about 10,000 workers, said an Indian as he planted saplings in the garden of an elegant office building in Dubai.

"They told us the company does not have much work and is short of money," said the man in his mid-40s, refusing to give his name.

Two other colleagues, an Indian and a Bangladeshi, carried on trimming the hedge, appearing hesitant to say anything that might jeopardise their jobs.

"We are expecting to lose our jobs," said the man, who earns a meager 500 dirhams (136 dollars) a month in return for 48 hours a week.

He lamented that two years ago he had to pay what was for him a fortune of around 10,000 dirhams (2,725 dollars) to Indian intermediaries to get a job in Dubai.

Murukesan, an Indian cleaner, said his employer, a large cleaning and maintenance company, last week told workers who had completed at least two years of work to go home on four-month unpaid vacations.

"They said do not come back until we call you," he said with a faint smile, appearing content as he has completed only 18 months of his contract.

"In the past, workers were not taking vacations, even after four years of continuous work," he said, highlighting a huge work load in the immediate past.

It appears some of the unpaid "vacations" are simply a way of getting rid of people without having to pay them off. Under UAE law, workers laid off must be paid 21 days' salary for each of the first five years worked and a month's salary for every year after that.

"They are trying to find excuses to bypass the rules of terminating a contract," said Monir al-Zaman, labour attache at the Bangladeshi embassy.

"Compensation should be paid if workers are being fired," he told the media, adding that companies should resort to cutting overtime work and even reduce salaries before laying off workers.

In December, Khalfan al-Kaabi, a member of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said up to 45 percent of construction workers could be laid off this year if private sector projects in the UAE were delayed or cancelled.

Zaman said he could not provide a figure on Bangladeshi workers having lost their jobs in the UAE, because the process is not done "formally".

He also pointed out that he noticed, during inspection visits to labour camps, that many workers stayed in the UAE even if they were not being paid, in hope of finding work.

But poor unemployed workers cannot linger for long if jobs remain rare.

"Maybe this month I have to decide to stay or go ... because I don't have any money. Now I'm borrowing from friends," said Arnold.


Is Delphi preparing to layoff about 800 workers?

Nearly 800 jobs are being eliminated at the steering division of Delphi near Saginaw, Michigan. The cuts are hitting 425 hourly workers and 350 employees who are on salary. The layoffs were announced on Monday at the Delphi complex in Buena Vista Township and will kick in March 1.

Mike Hanley, president of United Auto Workers Local 699, says the news was anticipated. Delphi has had temporary furloughs since the start of the year.

Hanley tells The Saginaw News blue-collar workers who volunteer to leave will get severance.


Is California to layoff 20,000 state jobs?

California, which is on the brink of running out of cash, will notify 20,000 state workers on Tuesday their jobs may be eliminated, a spokesman for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Monday.

The announcement came a day after California lawmakers narrowly failed to pass a $40 billion budget that would have plugged the state's deficit with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.

"In the absence of a budget, the governor has a responsibility to realize state savings any way he can," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the Republican governor. "This is unfortunately a necessary decision."

The layoff notices will affect about 20 percent of state workers, McLear said, adding the cuts would extend to every part of state government.

The positions would be eliminated in June in preparation for California's next fiscal year, which starts in July.

California, America's most populous state and the world's eighth biggest economy, has experienced a dramatic fall in revenues because of the housing downturn, rising unemployment and a sharp pullback in consumer spending.

To conserve cash, the state has stopped public works projects, furloughed state employees for two days a month and postponed sending out tax refunds.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Sun Microsystems to layoff 150 more in India

The global layoffs by tech MNCs have started spilling to their Indian operations. IT giant Sun Microsystems reportedly laid off over 150 employees in India around late in January.

According to a news report in a leading daily, most of the laid off employees were software developers working in the company's Bangalore office.

The news report adds that the company may go for another round of lay offs in the last week of February. This round is likely to impact support staff from departments like marketing, human resources and sales.

In November last year, Sun Microsystems announced that it plans to cut as many as 6,000 jobs as the company tries to cope with plunging sales of server computers to financial firms, market-share losses to bigger competitors, and a spiraling stock price.

The reduction, which will eliminate as much as 18 per cent of the staff, will shave $700 million to $800 million from annual expenses, Sun said in an e-mailed statement.

Last week, a Goldman Sachs analyst put the server and software maker's stock on Goldman's `Americas Conviction Sell' list. Goldman analyst David C Bailey said in a client note that Sun's heavy concentration of financial services, telecom and manufacturing customers put it at a disadvantage to its more-diversified competitors. Bailey said that Goldman expects a low double-digit revenue drop at Sun in 2009 due to weakness in several of the company's key verticals and accelerating deterioration of its Unix server market.


Will BMW layoff 850 workers at UK Mini plant?

BMW said on Monday that it will lay off 850 workers at its British factory which builds the Mini car to adjust to weaker demand.

The job cuts are the result of a review of operations at the factory in Cowley, near Oxford, where production will be suspended throughout this week and staff who currently work weekend shifts will be moved to weekday work, effective March 2.

BMW has 4,700 workers at Cowley, which can turn out 800 cars per day.

``While Mini has been weathering the economic downturn, it is not immune from the challenges of the current situation,'' BMW said in a statement.

``Against this backdrop the company felt that a review of its shift patterns was necessary. This decision has not been taken lightly. The plant's union representatives have, of course, been involved in the discussions.''

BMW reported earlier this month that sales of the Mini model rose 4.3 percent in 2008 to 232,425 cars. Overall, the company said sales dropped 5 percent across its product range.

In January, however, Mini sales were down 35 percent compared to January 2008. About 80 percent of the Minis built in Britain are exported.

Auto sales in Britain fell sharply at the end of the year because of the recession. Nissan has cut 1,200 jobs at its plant in Sunderland, England, while Honda has halted production at its Swindon plant for four months.

``Sacking an entire shift like this, and targeting agency workers who have no rights to redundancy pay, is blatant opportunism on BMW's part and nothing short of scandalous,'' said Tony Woodley, joint leader of the Unite union.

``BMW's parent company couldn't attempt this in Germany because it would be illegal to do so. It is a disgrace, therefore, that workers in this country can be so casually thrown to the dole.''

BMW acquired the Mini, a symbol of the swinging 1960s, when it bought the Rover car company in 1994.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alcatel to cut 1,000 manager jobs

Franco-American telecoms gear maker Alcatel-Lucent said it plans to cut 1,000 managerial posts from its global workforce will see 198 positions in France eliminated.

Alcatel-Lucent managers in France told a works council meeting on Wednesday that 450 managerial posts would go in North America and 450 in Europe, of which 198 in France, the CFDT union said in a statement.

The company announced the decision to trim its executive ranks on Dec. 12 as part of a strategic plan aimed at cutting cut costs by 750 million euros by the fourth quarter of 2009, but did not say where the cuts would fall.

An Alcatel-Lucent spokeswoman said: "I can confirm the figures for France, but we are not making a statement on the other numbers."

According to the CFDT, 1,602 posts are classed as managerial in France, and while France makes up 10 percent of Alcatel-Lucent's workforce, it will bear 20 percent of the job cuts.

Alcatel-Lucent, the No. 3 player worldwide in terms of market share, behind Sweden's Ericsson (ERICb.ST) and Finnish-German joint venture Nokia Siemens Networks [NSN.UL], employs 77,000 worldwide and 11,000 in France.

The company, formed by the merger of Alcatel and Lucent in 2006, saw its share price fall 70 percent in 2008 after a string of profit warnings and last week posted a 5.2 billion euro loss for the year amid a record 4.7 billion euros in depreciations.

Since June, its share price has dropped more than 70 per cent.


World Bank says eight-year ban on Satyam can be reviewed !

Giving some hope to crisis-ridden Satyam, the World Bank has said it could review the eight-year ban imposed on the company provided the software exporter takes "corrective action".

A World Bank official said Satyam has to show it has again become a responsible vendor to do business with, when asked whether the multilateral lending agency would relax the ban on the software exporter.

"The vendor would have to demonstrate (that) corrective action had been taken to address the original causes of the ... ineligibility," a World Bank official from Washington said in an emailed statement.

The official further said action should substantiate that Satyam is "again a responsible vendor with whom the Bank can do business".

The World Bank banned Satyam Computer Services for eight years in 2008 for providing "improper benefits" to Bank staff and for failing to maintain records relating to fees charged for sub-contractors.

Satyam has a strong case for a review of the ban since its old board and management have been changed after its disgraced founder Chairman B Ramalinga Raju admitted to fudging accounts to the tune of Rs 7,800 crore.


Oil companies cut ATF prices in India

Public sector oil companies on Sunday slashed jet fuel or ATF prices by 3.7 per cent, the tenth reduction since September.

Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) prices in Delhi were slashed to Rs 29,158 per kilolitre, effective midnight tonight, an official of Indian Oil Corp, the nation's largest fuel retailer, said.

The fuel used by airlines till Sunday was priced at Rs 30,288 per kilolitre. After Sunday's Rs 1,130 a kilolitre reduction, jet fuel is priced at early 2005 levels.

For the 3.3 per cent increase in rates on January 16, jet fuel prices have been reduced for the tenth time on Sunday since September 1, 2008, when international crude oil prices started to decline.

In Mumbai, home to the nation's busiest airport, ATF rates were down by Rs 1,191 per kl to Rs 29,985 per kl on Sunday.

ATF prices had peaked to Rs 71,028.26 per kl (in Delhi) in August on international crude prices touching historic high of USD 147 a barrel. But they have since been slashed every month till October and twice in November.

State-run Indian Oil Corp, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum revise ATF rates on the 1st and 16th of every month based on the average international jet fuel rates in the preceding fortnight.


Did Satyam turn small software cos into bn dollar industry?

Though blamed for tainting the image of the Indian IT sector now, Satyam Computer Services was indeed the first IT firm in the country to use communication technologies to turn pygmy software companies into a billion-dollar industry.

In his latest book 'Transcending Boundaries', author Deepak Chopra said that Satyam was one of the pioneers in using satellite-based data communication, which enabled the Indian software industry to take a quantum jump in the 1990s.

Satyam, which came under the scanner after its founder B Ramalinga Raju confessed to cooking the company's account books for years, was the first Indian software company to use dedicated satellite links in 1992.

In the 1990s, IT firms suffered due to lack of high-speed data links.

"A Hyderabad-based startup, Satyam Computer Services, which had signed up its first major offshore customer in June 1991, applied to VSNL for a dedicated satellite link in August that year," the book said.

Using this link, Satyam wanted to execute a re- engineering contract, worth one million dollars, for John Deere Corporation by remotely working on Deere's IBM mainframes located in Chicago.

Following this, many other IT firms started using the dedicated satellite links.


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