Friday, April 10, 2009

Tryst with Destiny

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the lunch hour, when the inattentive cashier at the cheap restaurant takes the wrong order, Anwesha will awake to difference between the taste of beef and chicken. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, fail to differentiate between beef and chicken by merely looking, when an age ends, when we taste beef and wonder why the chicken seems to strange today, and when the soul of a poor God-fearing beef-ignorant Hindu, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the cause of the cow and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

Hum Bill De Chuke Sanam

For the tiny spoke that I am in the mighty wheel of outsourcing, to bill or not to bill is the question. Through the recession and slack times, the customer wants me to work more and bill less while my employer wants me to work more and bill even more. And to chain in this tug-of-war with time, the customer decided to outsource the time-entry software to a third party. We started by entering time at the end of every week. Extra hours were automatically recorded as over-time (OT) hours much to the delight of my employer and the bane of my customer. Then, the customer decided to introduce a two way matching system and introduced an in-house time entry system where we recorded the same hours every Monday. This software being an in-house effort, required manual intervention to record extra hours in over-time. Most of us forgot to do that. In fact, nearly all of us started receiving mails for invoice mismatches. In order to correct 25 hours from regular to OT, I added 25 extra hours and a week later I started receiving mails of invoice mismatches to the effect of 50 hours. Another colleague who was trapped in this infinite loop of cumulatively increasing mismatched hours now has a total of 345 mismatched hours in his kitty. In the meantime, not to be outdone, the employer insisted on a three way invoice match by introducing the company's time entry system into competition. Again, this software does not recognize extra hours worked, because in the Indian software industry there is no such thing as OT. So, extra hours were treated as regular hours for us employees, while the company billed the customer for those additional hours. Things were getting muddier because of this dual treatment of extra hours and the employer demanded to have hours reported by project. That's when the project leader introduced spreadsheets where we had to enter the same information all over again every weekend. So, these days, I spend every Monday and Friday entering time in four different applications, all of which are slow to respond and record.

We then proposed to record the time we were spending on time-sheet entries and other 'project management' activities. This created confusion, because project management is not strictly a customer function, and so we were not supposed to bill the customer for such activities. However, we could not work during office hours and record the time as non-billable. Yet, nobody wanted to work on these activities outside customer hours because we did not have access to these software applications from home and staying in office beyond office hours would be akin to charging over-time to the customer for using the customer's resources to do work which er..the customer did not commission.

Next arose, the issue of vacations and leaves, all of which were recorded differently in different systems. The customer's outsourced system recorded leaves as 0 hours worked, while the in-house system recorded leaves as 8 hours worked on any particular day of leave but in a different cost center. The employer's time-entry system recorded leaves as billable to the company but not to the customer and the project leader's spreadsheet had no provision for leave whatsoever. When I took an hour off work last week to see a doctor, I was in a dilemma. The customer's system would allow me to bill by the hour. But the employer's time entry system mandated that I could take a minimum of half-a-day's leave or no leave at all. Had I taken a half day's leave and still billed the customer for half day minus an hour, there would have been an invoice mismatch in the multi-way multi-confusing, multi-redundant matching system.

To dig my way out of this complexity, I do not take leaves, and when I have to go for that blow-out sale, I don't inform anybody. I comfort my conscience by coming back and making up for the lost hours. Tips to keep in mind, always call-forward your desk phone to your cell phone and make sure you always appear online on instant messenger. With half the world working remotely, you could be very busy in a meeting that your project leader (who does not have a clue about what work you do in office) will consider and relent. And it always helps to have a trusted ally who will over up for you when the customer, project leader, team mates all decide at the same time that you are the (wo)man of the hour and start barging you with emails, phone calls and IMs.