Money for Nothing: Software for free
We have been seeing this for a very long time in the software industry and the same behavioral pattern plays out in other knowledge industry like ours. People are willing to pay 1.5 times for a cool computer but they want all the software for free. If you ask them for half that amount, for a software that can improve the performance by 1.5X, you should see the expression on their face.
Coming to our industry, if folks are setting up a plant or a kitchen and you tell them here is this really cool equipment, imported from XYZ country, with the latest technology, they are happy to pay any price. But if we tell them we will charge you for designing your factory/layout so that the plant is efficient, they never have the budget. The outcome is a badly put together plant layout which has no sense of man or material flow with heightened risks of contamination.
The other approach people take is to use the equipment vendor to do the layout and design. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but then one should understand that the motivation for the equipment vendor are very different from yours. They need to fit their equipment (and a lot of times overspec the requirements) while you have to actually run the plant and deal with things like maintainability, safety, hygiene, contamination, trace-ability. So while you see the cost savings in the short term, you are getting it at the expense of a long term benefits.
To share a specific example of lack of valuation for software we ran into recently was where the cost of the training room was charged at Rs. 600/- per hour and but people were wary of paying the trainer anything close to that. Clearly there is a disconnect in terms of expectations. It is high time that we valued the software on par (if not higher) with the hardware.
Not every person/company behaves like this, but this seems like a general trend in the SME segment. Unfortunately, this is also the segment where the software is the most critical. As you try to scale and compete, it will always be the knowledge that gives you a competitive advantage and not plant and equipment which can easily be purchased.
Diwali is come and gone but the feeling lingers. So we thought it was a good time to look at the various customs and beliefs we hold so close to our heart and how they affect food safety. We run into situations like this all the time.
LORD HELP FOOD SAFETY
Image Source: bhartiya1947janta.blogspot.com
In our factories and processing plants it is very common to find an installation of god within the production area. Every morning the lord is worshiped by lighting a deepa (an oil lamp) and incense stick, not to mention by offering flowers and fruits to the lord. While this may make the lord happy it is definitely not the right way to avoid cross-contamination. The offerings also act as baits to lure the agents of contamination like insects and pests.
Now the lord him/herself provides a fix for this. The lord says "I am everywhere". So the key is to believe in him and move the place of worship out of the production area to say, the director's office.
LORD OF THE FACTORY
Image Source: http://insightsindia.blogspot.in/
Among the divine installation, along with all others, we have a lord of the factory as well. And we celebrate the lord and seek his blessings once a year in the form of Vishwakarma Puja (if you are in the north of the country) and Ayudha Puja (if you are in the south of the country). On this day we shut shop, decorate the tools with ash and vermilion and of-course take that day off. Hearty feast is a given but dancing to loud music is optional. So far, so good.
When you show up in the factory next day what do you do? There are no SOPs for that. And not everyone has the gumption to erase the holy markings and anger the lord over the remaining 364 days. And so the markings stay slowly wearing out through the cleaning or by falling off. Where it goes, lord only knows. And this time, even the lord does not come to the rescue. We humans have to take charge and proceed with cleaning, not an easy task we must say.
The idea of this post is not to ridicule the beliefs but to say that some of these can be in direct conflict with the expectations of quality and safety. To ensure quality, we have to objectively evaluate things like this and make the right call. We may not be gods, but people are relying on us to delivery on our promise of quality.
The Noodle Doodle
"Our criteria for deciding what is good and what is bad is very fickle, specially in this country" - Roberta Flack. And how true this is to all countries, is visible from our m(n)aggi issue. We all love to pass judgements, but do we even understand what is going on.
Let's look at the Indian Express report on the issue. It says "Two dozen packets were tested" and "all the packets of instant noodles tested in the state-run laboratory were contaminated". "A company spokesman confirmed Uttar Pradesh had ordered it to withdraw the batch dating back to March 2014". The question to ask is, were all these 2 dozen packets from the same batch? If yes, why did the government/FSO collect samples from the same batch. If not what was the report on other batches of products that were tested. If there were other batches that were contaminated, why wasn't a recall order issued? If the other batches were not contaminated then why was that not published.
The Deputy General Inspector of FDA Uttarpradesh, D. G. Srivastava's comment "Our experts conducted several tests and each time the results were shocking" clearly seems to be aimed at sensationalizing the issue more than anything else. Another point in question, why is nobody talking about availability of packets which were way beyond their "Best Before" date and instead why is government going about testing packets which are beyond the best before date? Bear with me for exaggerating this a little bit but you pick a rotten potato, send it to lab and come back claim to the world that it is rotten.
Next, let's look at the response from Nestle. They claim that they have tested 600 product batches and their results (covering 125,000,000 pkts) all show values within range. They have also put up a copy of the test reports here. Of-course we don't trust the companies to do the right thing, which would mean they are doing selective publishing of only their success reports, or the reports are doctored. If case is the first one, why isn't the government questioning the company on the methodology of the testing instead of everybody going around picking their own samples, doing their own tests (for which they neither disclose the methodology or the labs) and making claims which are more sensational than the last one. If we say the case is the second, and the reports are doctored, then why is the government not taking any actions against the lab which is colluding with the manufacturer? The lab is a NABL accredited lab and if the accreditation does not guarantee independence or authenticity why are we not question the accreditation procedure and why it failed.
Finally, lets try to understand the issue of heavy metal contamination, which is in the eye of the storm. It is not like Nestle (or any other company) adds these heavy metals to the product. These come from the raw material. The two main ingredients into Maggi are maida (which comes from wheat) and water. If the maida/wheat is contaminated means our soil is contaminated. Which means maggi, or any other food we are manufacturing from the crop growing in this area, contains heavy metals. So all your food, whether you are getting in packets or not, is contaminated. For the scientifically inclined, checkout the research on Heavy metal contamination of soil and vegetables in suburban areas of Varanasi, India. If it is water which is the source of contamination then we are directly impacted. So what is the government doing about addressing this issue? Making a hue and cry about Maggi does nothing to fix the real issue of contamination in our food.
As a footnote, we are not saying that Nestle should not be taken to task. We have a fairly progressive law in Food Safety Standards Act, Rules and Regulation which for the first time talks about a systematic approach to managing food safety. If the standards were not followed by Nestle, we need to understand why. If the standards were followed and we still got into the issue, we need to plug the hole in the rules and the regulation. This will ensure that the rule is applied for all the manufacturers. That is what will take us to safer food for everyone in the long run, not sensationalization of the issue.