Category Archives: Book Report

Outsourcing industry facing more immigration complexity

This week, President Trump is revisiting United States immigration policy.

The President signed an executive order on Tuesday to prevent immigration “fraud and abuse”:

“It’s America first—you better believe it,” Mr. Trump said during a speech at Snap-On Inc., a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., before signing an executive order that calls for a government-wide review aimed at stricter enforcement of immigration and other laws governing the entry of workers into the U.S.

A by-product of the Trump administration’s attempts at modifying immigrant labor regulation is a drop in H-1B applications for the first time in years:

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said Monday it had received 199,000 H-1B applications for the next fiscal year, according to the federal immigration agency. This is a steep decline from the 236,000 received last year and the 233,000 it received in 2015.

SFGate.com spoke with Martin Lawler, a Bay Area immigration attorney that suggests H-1B applications declined due to frustration. Applicants are selected at random and have to wait months to learn the final decision on their status.

Companies operating in US technology hubs like San Francisco have been complaining that these modifications will result in access to less qualified resources with math-based skills.

The biggest companies using H-1B visas are large Indian outsourcing firms like Tata, Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro, and Accenture. The Trump administration specifically called out Tata and Infosys as abusers of the existing program by supplying low-paid, low-skilled workers instead of the high-skill labor the program was designed to support.

The Trump administration is looking to raise the minimum salary requirements to issue a visa and would also like to place a limit on the number of employees with H-1B visas a company can hire. With these rules in place, Trump is expecting American companies will have no choice but to hire from the domestic labor pool.

Interestingly, even with all of the labor turmoil, Tata Consulting is reporting an actual rise in profits:

Mumbai-based TCS said profit in the fiscal fourth quarter ended March 31 stood at 66.08 billion rupees ($1.02 billion), up 4.2% from 63.41 billion rupees a year ago. That was just below the 66.23 billion rupees consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. Revenue grew 4.2% to 296.42 billion rupees.

As the President refines his immigration policy, will Tata and its competitors be able to maintain growth? More importantly, is President Trump taking actions that will help the US economy in the long run by giving US workers (potentially) more opportunities, or will these decisions ultimately inhibit economic growth?

Update: Epilogue 

The Atlantic published an article detailing how a “buy American” strategy could backfire economically:

Laura Tyson, a professor at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who chaired President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, described much the same fundamental problem with the policy. “For every dollar spent, the amount you get for that dollar is going to depend on the price you have to pay,” she explained. “This kind of policy will reduce competition and raise the price of the product. So, instead of a global set of suppliers competing for U.S. government contracts, only U.S. suppliers will compete. And in some product areas, there won’t be a large number of U.S. suppliers, and [they] may not have the superior products or the superior technology. So, in those cases, both the quality and the price of the product that the government faces with a limited budget to spend on procurement will actually deteriorate.”

The critiques seem to focus on government procurement and explains that by closing bids to foreign companies, products and services will cost more and potentially provide inferior solutions.

Here is a podcast I did a few months ago on the H-1B topic:


Photo: himanshu-singh-gurjar

Tagged , , ,

The impact of H-1B modification on tech companies

Note: This blog is apolitical and I will do my best to keep this post free of spin and stick to the facts.

During my research for last week’s supplier report, it was clear that President Trump’s immigration policies were a major pain point for IT companies. It was such a reoccurring thread that I felt I needed to go deeper to better understand the situation.

On January 27th, 2017 Donald J. Trump released an executive order that modified travel rights into the United States from several countries.

The executive order imposed a 90-day travel ban on the citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. Additionally, it indefinitely prohibits Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.

As of February 5th, the Department of Justice is blocking the President’s executive order:

The US Justice Department filed an appeal just after midnight Sunday, asking to pause a sweeping decision from the judge that temporarily halted enforcement of several key provisions of President Trump’s executive order.

The status of the executive order has fluctuated during last week, and it is clear that President Trump is planning to fight this most recent setback:

Trump’s modification of immigration policy has many in the technology industry concerned that the order was just the first step of more sweeping immigration reforms. It is being reported that the Trump administration is also drafting modifications to the H-1B visa program.

The US H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, medicine, etc.

The program allows for 65,000 (+20,000 additional IT workers) into the country annually. Depending on the country, a worker can stay in the United States for 3 years with an option for an additional 3 year renewal.

Although there are annual controls on who is accepted into the via program, there doesn’t seem to be precise records on how many people in total are currently working in the U.S. under the H-1B visa program. It is estimated to be between 650,000-850,000.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the possible executive order on work visas “is part of a larger immigration effort” and stems from “an overall need to look at all of these measures.” C-level executives from many of the large technology firms have denounced this activity:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:

“There is no place for bias or bigotry in any society, in any context. That’s where we start from,” Nadella told employees. “It is the enlightened immigration policy of this country that even made it possible for me to come here in the first place, and gave me all this opportunity.”

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin:

“I think it’s important to not frame this debate as being ‘liberal’ versus ‘Republican’ and so forth,” Brin told the crowd. “It’s a debate about fundamental values, about thoughtful policymaking and many of the other things that I think are — apparently not universally adored — but I think the vast majority of our country and of our legislators and so forth support.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to employees (and has not yet publicly commented):

There are employees at Apple who are directly affected by yesterday’s immigration order. Our HR, Legal and Security teams are in contact with them, and Apple will do everything we can to support them. We’re providing resources on AppleWeb for anyone with questions or concerns about immigration policies. And we have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company.

As I’ve said many times, diversity makes our team stronger. And if there’s one thing I know about the people at Apple, it’s the depth of our empathy and support for one another. It’s as important now as it’s ever been, and it will not weaken one bit. I know I can count on all of you to make sure everyone at Apple feels welcome, respected and valued.

Perhaps the Trump administration’s investigation and overhaul of the H-1B program is due to accusations of companies abusing the program. For example, Disney has been accused of laying off qualified domestic workers in favor of cheaper H-1B workers coming from India.

While the argument is being made that American interests are being protected by these measures, there is concern that by increasing the wage requirements for H-1B workers and making it more difficult to get these resources, US companies will just shift the job entirely to cheaper labor markets like India:

India’s technology companies, led by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys and Wipro, have argued they are helping corporations become more competitive by handling their technology operations with specialized staff. They also contend the visa programs allow them to keep jobs in the U.S. and that if they have to pay more for staff, they will handle more of the work remotely from less expensive markets like India.

This is (clearly) a complicated issue that only gets more complex through a political filter. It seems possible that the H-1B program has been abused in the past and it is alarming that there isn’t precise documentation on how many people are working under the program currently.

The United States is a country that was forged through immigration and there are many examples of people coming here with nothing and creating companies and jobs. Turning away from that cultural identity can be damaging and have long lasting impact.

Photo: Ferdinand Stöhr

Tagged , , , ,

China: Bust or Boom?

sn_china_Travel Coffee Book

China is a country that captures imaginations and can fill the role of the exotic destination, land of adventure and opportunity, and in some cases, it can be painted as a villain.

As Americans, we bemoan the loss of manufacturing and scowl at the influx of affordable gadgets and exploding hover-boards that have flooded into our homes. We fret over Chinese businessmen coming into this country and snapping up all of the available real estate:

Between 2010 and 2015, Chinese buyers put more than $17bn into US commercial real estate, with half of that spent last year alone. Unlike many countries, there are very few restrictions on what foreigners can buy in the US.

But during the same period at least $93bn went into US homes. And in the 12 months to March 2015, the latest period for which relatively comprehensive data could be gathered, home purchases totaled $28.5bn.

China’s economic advancement has come at a cost to the country and its 1.35 billion people. This post highlight some of those issues to give my readers a better understanding of difficulties China will face in the coming years.

Population

Everyone knows that China has an enormous population, but you might not be aware that 194 million people in China are over the age of 60. That is close to 15% of their population.

You might say to yourself, 15% doesn’t sound too bad. From a percentage view, the United States has a similar age distribution.  However…

Until last year, China had a population control methodology in place that limited couples to only one child. The policy started in 1978 and impacted an entire generation of Chinese families.

Thanks to modern medicine, people are living longer. China is no different.  But the unintended consequence of the population control measures and people living longer is that China doesn’t have enough people to care for their elderly population (yes, that is ironic)

This dynamic is called the 4-2-1 problem: 4 grandparents, 2 parents, all being looked after by 1 child who is also the person who is expected to earn an income.

Another interesting wrinkle in the 4-2-1 problem is the lack of brides. Due to the one child policy and China’s cultural preference towards male children, there are almost 40 million men in the country that will remain bachelors:

Today, an estimated 35 to 40 million women are “missing” from China’s population. For years, demographic experts have predicted the huge surplus of young men would cause a rise in sexual violence and social instability. Now the first generation of children born since 1980 has reached marriageable age, and problems such as bride-kidnapping and forced prostitution are soaring.

The bachelors in areas like Da Xin are the least likely of all to find love. As the gap between rich and poor widens in China, uneducated rural men have little means of upward mobility. “I don’t have any money to move away to look for a wife,” says Jin. “I must stay here to work our land and support my elderly mother.”

Think about these 30-something men (basically men my age) who work all day, not to come home to a wife or child (and a reason to get up everyday and go to work), but to their aging parents and grandparents. Knowing that the only way to change things is to abandon their family.
sn_china_paygap_rural_urban

Working Conditions

Some people do leave their villages and their families in the hopes of finding better jobs and better romantic prospects.

Manufacturing represents 44% of China GDP and is supported by an estimated 100 million workers. In the video above, you can see hundreds of people waiting outside the factory every day with the hopes of finding work inside the plants.

sn_china_employ_manufacturing

Once they do get jobs, employees might find themselves working 12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week, and living in cramped dorm rooms.

The conditions became so bad at some factories that administrators had to put up nets to prevent employees from jumping off the buildings:

The Foxconn suicides occurred at the so-called “Foxconn City” industrial park in Shenzhen, China. The 18 attempted suicides by Foxconn employees resulted in 14 deaths—the company was the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer at the time. The suicides drew media attention, and employment practices at Foxconn were investigated by several of its customers, including Apple and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Foxconn is a major manufacturer that serves high-profile consumer electronics firms such as Dell, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, and Sony.

Chinese workers are concluding that perhaps factory work is not for them and are shunning that life:

Finally, many first-generation migrant workers have worked in the cities for 10-15 years, yet they are still denied entitlement to any social benefits. While government policies now require employers to pay benefits for their employees, implementation is still at a primitive stage and differs vastly across the country. Naturally, migrant workers would prefer to work in regions where social-welfare policies are better implemented.

In addition to potentially poor and cramped working conditions, Chinese workers are also rejecting factory work due to the health issues…

Environmental Problems

Why has the rest of the world outsourced their manufacturing to China? Yes the labor is cheap and (mostly) abundant, but they are also very lax in their regulation of pollution.  Yes, our beloved gadgets are a result of some very toxic manufacturing processes.

So toxic in fact, that many employees have been poisoned:

In mid-July, Long found herself unable to move her legs. “I was just lying on my bed all day and needed help to eat,” she says. Long ended up in a hospital in Guangzhou with more than 30 other Fangtai Huawei workers. Doctors found they’d been exposed to n-hexane, presumably in the “banana oil.” It’s an industrial solvent that causes neurological damage at just 50 parts per million. Workers using it are supposed to wear respirators and operate in a ventilated area. As treatment, Long endured daily injections—she says they “hurt more than anything else in the world.”

Not only does making the stuff cause pollution, but keeping the lights on at all of these manufacturing cities takes energy… lots of it.  And like many other countries (including the United States), China’s primary sourcing of energy is burning coal

sn_china_energy

Burning coal is dirty (as seen in the video above)

China’s apparent demand for crude oil will reach 550 million tonnes (11 million barrels per day) and apparent demand for natural gas will hit 205 billion cubic meters, Nur Bekri, head of the National Energy Administration (NEA), said, according to Xinhua.

Electricity consumption will rise to 5.7 trillion kilowatt-hours and coal consumption will be 3.96 billion tonnes.

Burning coal and running factories is such dirty business that China has a tendency to shut down production when visitors arrive. They shut down factories for the Beijing Olympics, and they are planning to do so again for the G20 Summit in September.

Since this is a supply chain focused webpage, I am curious to see how the supply chain will be impacted by this production shut down. If you think you could be impacted, check to see which of your suppliers (n-Tier) are receiving goods from the affected region (especially from chemical, electro mechanical, building material, and pharmaceutical industries).

Conclusion
This is not a condemnation of China. America has a long and horrible history of mistreating workers and our natural resources:
sn_cleveland_river_fire
Cuyahoga River Fire (Cleveland), 1952

In the coming years, Americans won’t be moaning about China taking their jobs, because the Chinese don’t want them. Those jobs will taken by automation and robots.

There is actually an opportunity for America to re-emerge as a manufacturing leader, but powered by the same robots and AI that will replace Chinese workers.

China is at a critical point in their own history: they have a massive population with needs that are going unmet and they don’t have the infrastructure in place to address those needs. Additionally, the poor treatment of their own natural environment is going to lead to even more medical and social distress.

As the country grows and becomes more connected with the rest of the world, the people who are making the stuff you love, are going to want stuff to love for themselves. It is already happening.

China is going to grow and evolve regardless of what I type here.  But will the country continue to be the hands and feet of the global economy or will they clean up their cities, open their borders (for workers and for brides), and create something new?

It is going to very interesting to see how this plays out.

Note: Here is the Fair Labor Report referenced in the video.

Photo: Travel Coffee Book

Tagged , ,

Book Report: All things must pass – Tower Records

sn_record_Luke Chesser

This will come as a surprise to those of you that know me, but I sat still and watched a movie over the weekend (thanks to a busted foot). 

I came across All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records. As you could guess, the documentary tells the tale of Tower Records as it grew from a drug store add-on in the 1940’s into a global corporation.

What does a documentary about a record store that died in 2001 have to do with the businesses typically discussed on this blog? There are actually great lessons about the culture they developed that made them successful and ultimately the decisions that led to their demise.

What they did right:

  • The company built an extremely loyal employee base over the years. The earliest employees went on to become the leadership of the company and fuel their growth.
  • Drilling down further into their employee base… they gave them autonomy. Stores were left to develop their own culture and methods. Leadership (Russ Solomon) had the luxury of cherry-picking the best ideas and implementing them across the growing franchise.
  • Employees had direct access to the top leadership – Russ Solomon and Bud Martin. Good ideas were acted upon quickly.
  • The stores attracted musicians and fans, establishing a community and a means of product discovery which resulted in more sales.
  • Everything that you saw in the stores was mostly created by employees: the murals, the displays, the art work (which eventually led to in-house print shops creating art that was distributed throughout the entire chain).

What they did wrong:

  • They expanded too quickly and borrowed too much money.
  • They expanded into markets that they didn’t understand (South America, Thailand, basically any Asian country that wasn’t Japan).
  • During the area of compact disk (CD), they killed the singles market, forcing customers to pay for full albums. Customers started to become weary of paying $20 for an album.
  • Big Box retailers like Walmart started selling CDs for cost and killed Tower’s community and walk-in business.
  • They didn’t adapt to changing technology and they failed to establish an online portal.
  • When they were failing, they eliminated all of the leadership that brought them to the dance (under duress from the banks) and had no plan to pull out of the death spiral.

Everyone assumes music piracy killed Tower, but that technology only broke an already weakened company. Tower over-expanded internationally and lost money. During this time, big box retail stores sold music at cost to improve their own walk-in traffic. Customers stopped going into Tower and it impacted their ability to help (up-sell) customers other music when they were in the store.

In their hubris, Tower also had a direct hand in eliminating the singles market. This forced customers to buy full albums at high prices. When peer-to-peer file sharing appeared, customers who felt that they were over-paying for their music embraced the new technology.

But did file sharing kill Tower Records?  Japan provides us with an answer to that question.

The first international expansion (before Tower even expanded into the Eastern US) was Japan. The stores were massively successful (the records were direct US imports. which Japan had demand for). At the start company’s financial troubles, the Japanese stores were sold off entirely.  They are still in business today and thriving.

In a time where even the biggest online retailer in the United States is opening physical book store locations, it is becoming clear that consumers are looking for a more personal shopping experiences and retailers are looking at better ways to understand customer behavior.

Perhaps there is wisdom to be found by looking at how Tower operated in their glory days by encouraging strong employee interactions, developing subject matter expertise, and growing a culture that customers wanted to be a part of.

Photo: Luke Chesser

Tagged , , , ,

The future of sourcing automation

sn_terminator_arnold

Strategic sourcing and its cousin procurement have always been welcoming of innovation and automation.

Anybody with a business degree knows the basics about warehouse procurement and the 40-year-old ability to have a computer system automatically purchase more of a “widget” when inventory is too low.

Then the ability for a system to search against multiple suppliers for the best price of said “widget” was introduced.  We are cooking with gas!

Customers seem to think that this level of computer intelligence and automation is limited to commodities.  It is becoming clear that is not the case.

Contracting

The physical act of papering a deal can be tedious and time consuming.  Evolved sourcing departments have developed templates to ease the process.  As the work becomes more repetitive and less strategic, departments look to have that work performed by third parties or entry level positions.

Those jobs will not be transferred or go offshore in the coming years, they will be completely automated via computer systems.

Don’t believe me?

Did you know that several articles being released by the associated press are written by bots?

A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith that generates simple news stories based on things like sporting events and financial news. The stories are published on Yahoo! and via the Associated Press, among other outlets.

It is only a matter of time before this technology is turned to repeatable contracting events eliminating simple transactions.  Solutions from Seal software are already close to making this happen.

Market Intelligence

Senior level sourcing professionals might take comfort in the higher functions they are performing such as category management and supplier performance. In the coming years this job will become easier.  Bad news is there will be less jobs.

Frequent readers of this blog will notice a reporting trend on IBM’s Watson technology:

Right now Watson is focused on mining health information, social media, and big data.  There will inevitably be a focus on supply chain market conditions.  It has the potential to become a living, breathing Gartner report that changes daily focusing on software, services,  labor pricing, and even cloud pricing (and thus a hybrid of commodity and service).  And if Watson doesn’t do it, somebody else will eventually.

Having a system that is monitoring which suppliers are getting into certain service markets and who is doing well and who isn’t (via formal reports and customer feedback via social media) is very powerful.  There may be well-meaning sourcing professionals who are doing this by hand right now (hello), but it takes days or sometimes weeks (trust me) – with AI, it can be done in minutes.

Will your job go away?  No.  But a company will be able to do so much more with less bodies.

Moving Forward

Even with automation reducing certain kinds of jobs, the good news if you are a sourcing professional is that there is a looming talent crisis.  The key is to have the right skill set…

sn_sourcing_sweetspot

Be thankful it wasn’t a pie chart

Sourcing departments are essentially responsible for risk avoidance and cost reduction/savings. The better teams also provide strategic focus and trending for their customers.

The days of martini lunches with the big box sellers are over.  They are being replaced by analytic dashboards and reverse auctions (maybe we can make serving mint juleps at the auctions a thing). Take a look at the capabilities companies are focusing on:

sn_sourcing_deloitte_figure2

Change is coming (I was going to make a terrible Game of Thrones reference and say “winter is coming” but that sounds so ominous and I am already going with a terminator theme).  Automation, bots, and other AI technology are going to impact the procurement and sourcing industries… for the better.

As platforms become more transferable via Openstack and other open source initiatives (and as software itself becomes a platform),  the view will shift from an intangible/incomparable concept of service into a familiar commodity-like view that can be evaluated and presented like a rising or declining stock asset (with the same dashboards and buying intelligence ).  Sourcing professionals and their customers will finally have the right mix of information to make better decisions and develop true supplier strategies.

 

Tagged , , ,