Monday, 27 December 2010

How EIDA could've been better implemented

For those of you living in the UAE, you would've seen the whole mess that has been associated with the implementation of the National ID card (EIDA) that the government's been trying to implement.  The horror stories regarding queues of people trying to apple for their EIDA card, deadlines being shifted and passports being retained by typing centres show just how and where the implementors of this scheme failed to have proper foresight in launching this.

The idea of an ID card is not something revolutionary and definitely carries along with it many advantages (though those who feel it violates it civil rights may feel otherwise).  EIDA, when fully implemented would be good as it saves you from having to carry your passport around when at a government office, applying for a telephone connection, opening a bank account or carrying a separate e-Gate card around with you at immigration.

Having grown up in Hong Kong and being a Hong Kong ID card holder, I've seen how the whole process works and it is much less painful than what the UAE's going through right now.  A recent example that most people from Hong Kong would be aware of is when the government in Hong Kong decided to effectively upgrade their ID cards in 2003 and issue everyone a "Smart" ID card.  Hong Kong may be a small place but with a population of over 7,000,000 people, it's certainly had a greater challenge than the UAE in implementing such a scheme.

Just like in the UAE, there were special application centres that were setup all over Hong Kong which were put in place to handle the throngs of applicants that the government expected to receive.  However, where the real difference came was in the way these centres were used.

In the UAE we've literally seen a free for all at times when we've had everyone rushing to apple for their EIDA card everytime a deadline looms.  The special centres setup are overloaded and simply can't handle the load.  These has led to rather ugly scenes at times and if you look at the accumulated value of productive time of people wasted, you realize the UAE economy would've been much better off having these people at work instead of worrying about waiting in a line at a typing centre or EIDA application centre.

In Hong Kong, they did things rather differently and intelligently.  They spread out the process over a period of four years and within this setup mini-deadlines.  Each mini-deadline was based on the year a person was born and if you then knew when to apply based on when you were born.  This avoided immediately the big rush that you see in the UAE.  By knowing also how many people are in each age group, the government knew also how long to keep the window open for each age group to apply.

Communication of these mini-deadlines was also very clear and everyone knew exactly what the process involved.  Even if you weren't sure when it was your time to apply, there were more than enough available resources at the time there to guide you.  If you missed it (as I did), not a problem, there was an efficient process to manage this as well.  The end result was that I applied for HK ID card in 20 minutes.

I was lucky enough to apply for my EIDA card a few years ago now and I had gone to Fujairah to apply for this.  Apart from the two hour drive there and back, I found the process to be very efficient.  There were two people applying for their EIDA card on the morning I was there and I was done in less then 30  minutes.  The people who worked there were very nice and even suggested I recommend more people come to Fujairah to apply as they were not fully occupied there at that time.

This then makes you think.  EIDA applications started now about two years ago and the government has certainly spent money in having EIDA centres setup all over the country, they've got well-trained people working there but had they found a more effective mechanism of implementing this scheme, we wouldn't have seen the ugliness of applying for it as we're seeing today.

Furthermore, the communication of this has been confusing to say the least.  Multiple spokespeople, multiple government departments and multiple interpretations have only gone on to confuse people further.

Sure, things can't always be compared with Hong Kong but if the UAE wants to increase productivity and make life easier here for people, they have to re-think how they go about implementing such programs in the future.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Why are we so stubborn and why can't we just accept things the way they're meant to be?

As a loyal Liverpool fan for the greater part of my life, I've understood frustration.  Frustration at watching the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea leapfrog above Liverpool in the last two decades, frustration at this season watching Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City do better than Liverpool and frustration at seeing lowly-ranked teams, week after week hold Liverpool to a draw or worse still, beat Liverpool.

Nothing though frustrated me more as a Liverpool fan than having Rafael Benitez as Liverpool manager in the last few seasons.  So when Inter Milan decided to sack him last week, I can emphasize with Inter's fans and understand the sense of relief they must be feeling after watching how Benitez completely destroyed any sense of team morale and spirit in what was an otherwise successful team under Jose Mourinho.

At the heart of the issue though was one issue that has consistently dogged Rafael Benitez in the last couple of years and that is stubbornness.  Being stubborn is human nature, I can understand that.  There is a sense of insecurity that everyone has from time to time but when you're in the public spotlight, surely there has to be a time when you need to suck up your pride and understand that things have to change.

However, like Rafael Benitez, we've seen too many examples lately of people, companies and governments just been too damn stubborn.  Whether it be policies related to the "War on Terror" which have at times gone woefully wrong, the handling of the economic crisis whether in the US or even in this region or the outrage that the current WikiLeaks scandal is causing, there is a sense of stubbornness that seems to be underlying in the policies that dictate what's happening.

All too often, we tend to forget that the best way to move forward is to accept the situation at hand.  There are some things we can influence and control but there are many things we can't.  Accepting the situation the way it is, then moving forward has always proved to be the more successful route forward.  The refusal to accept a situation or scenario then leads us as mankind to want to make everyone else around us perceive the situation differently and this is where the problem starts.

The moment you start  trying to influence everyone else's thinking into what everyone knows is obviously the wrong route down, you start to lose support of those who you really need backing you.  To quote an example of this from Rafa Benitez's time at Liverpool, you saw his unwillingness to accept the fact that he never managed to actually manage the situation with Xabi Alonso when he tried to sell him a few seasons ago or to admit he had failed to effectively replace Alonso when he did eventually leave Liverpool.  The list of Rafa's gaffe's can go one for pages (remember the whole Harry Kewell signing and then leaving in six months for a huge loss!).  Had Rafael Benitez only accepted the pickle he was in, he would've probably been much more successful as a Liverpool manager.  Instead he went on to destroy any sense of team spirit or unity that existed, much like he was doing at Inter Milan.  Liverpool were lucky enough to have strong characters like Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina and Jaime Carragher to carry over the situation, else who knows where Liverpool may have ended up.

The next time you get yourself into a jam, take a deep breath, take stock of the situation, accept it and I'm pretty sure you'll find yourself better off.  Try it and hopefully it works for you, the way it does for me.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Will our kids one day turn around and ask us "What's a newspaper?"

Typing this Blog entry, I know I'm making myself feel old by asking this question.  My kids will probably still know what a newspaper is knowing that I'm a keen fan of the printed newspapers that come to my doorstep every morning but it's a thought that troubles me somewhat.

Having already had to explain to my older daughter what the audio cassette slot in an old stereo she had come across was for, I know the time will come when she will be wondering if I'm still senile as I start talking about the days I used a 5-1/4 inch floppy disk or when I used to go to a music store to buy a CD (as opposed to downloading or streaming it online).

While there is no shortage of information online and I probably get most of my most immediate news updates online via Twitter, Facebook or e-newsletters that I subscribe to, I still find a satisfaction in reading my newspaper in the print edition that I get every morning.  There has been a lot of talk about the death of newspapers in many parts of the world and renowned publications like the Boston Globe or locally the likes of Emirates Business 24/7 have had their share of trouble in recent years but it makes you wonder if newspaper publishers have actually realized we still want our newspapers but instead of focusing on trying to give us "news," they should probably focus on giving us more depth than they would otherwise provide by talking about the bigger picture instead of the just the news angle that we most likely got through other sources online.

While most journalists probably get a thrill over splashing out their headline, newspapers today have become more than headlines.  The glitzy headlines are for the online publications.  Newspapers for me are about the content.   A well-written, detailed story that actually digs into the guts and glory means a lot more for me.  Given the fact that when you read a story online, whether it be on your laptop, tablet or smartphone, you're most likely to be in an environment where you're more distracted, you find reading off a newspaper is a much more focused exercise.  It actually gets you concentrating on matters on hand. You often see the same when you read a document on your computer screen or if you print it out, you start to see things in the printed document that you missed when reading it off your screen.

I may be old-fashioned, but I do hope newspapers will be around and that most publishers learn to re-invent themselves and evolve with the times.  Most newspapers will have to  understand the different content distribution models that exist and hopefully somewhere in the mix, the conventional newspaper will still live on.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Barcelona's Shirt Sponsorship Deal. Is renaming their stadium the next step?

Barcelona fan's this week were left incensed by news that Barca, for the first time in the 111-year old history have decided to sign a shirt-sponsorship deal with Qatar Foundation.  The only exception to this to people who weren't upset was probably Barcelona fans who live, have lived or are connected with Qatar and those who don't realize Barcelona is the pride of the Catalan's.

While Barcelona have been noble enough to carry the Unicef sponsorship on their football strip for the last couple of years, they are certainly not breaking any boundaries in footballing terms by signing a shirt sponsorship deal.  Rather it is surprising why it has taken them this long as the economics of the game and the mounting levels of debt that football has seen in general has meant that sponsorship revenue is vital.

When I heard of the uproar this created and based from my experiences of seeing Catalan's being extremely proud to preserve their culture, it made me wonder, would there been as big a fuss created if Barcelona had signed a sponsorship deal with a bank, electronics company, FMCG brand, etc?  Is signing with Qatar the issue here?  Has nationalistic pride been hurt or compromised by signing with Qatar?

Qatar from their part certainly want to enjoy some level of visibility having recently won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.  Qatar as such has not been big in footballing terms as far as visibility has gone whereas neighbours Dubai have been everywhere with Emirates sponsoring the likes of Arsenal, AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain and Hamburg.  Apart from this, Emirates is also an official sponsor of FIFA-events.  Etihad in the meantime are the shirt-sponsors of Manchester City (which is of course owned by Abu Dhabi).

For what it's worth, Barcelona have said they will handle the placement of the logo tastefully and will still maintain the Unicef logo on their shirts.  However, it makes you wonder, what sort of uproar we may have seen if Barcelona had also announced they'd renamed the famous Nou Camp to Camp Doha as well.  It may never happen but it doesn't hurt to let your mind wander at times, does it?  :)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

China: The Monk who can now afford a Ferrari

Having just spent a few really hectic days in China, you can't help but be in awe for all that's happening there.

No matter how many times you visit China, how often you visit or where you visit, you have to be impressed.

Case in point, I was in Hangzhou for a couple of hours this week.  Hangzhou is a city on the outskirts of Shanghai which is home to a lot of industry and agriculture.  While driving around here, one thing that absolutely dumfounded me was the sight of Ferrari and Aston Martin dealerships.

Seeing Ferrari and Aston Martin dealership in the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou is fine but considering Hangzhou is only two and a half hours away from Shanghai, you don't quite expect to see these dealerships there.  For those familiar with India, it's like expecting to see a Ferrari dealership in a place like Nasik (you'd expect one in Mumbai but not quite yet in Nasik).

Whereas Robin Sharma famously sold his Ferrari in his book, in China, you suspect the monks can quite literally own their own Ferrari's now.

The overall volume of wealth in China is simply incredible and China's ability to stage world class events like the Beijing Olympics, Shanghai Expo and Guangzhou Asian Games is a testament to this.

Where China has been a big exporter of products, I hope China evolves into being a major exporter of know-how as the rest of the World certainly has a lot to learn from China.  Just think about any part of the World and I'm sure you'll find some way Chinese knowledge can help improve it.

Also, on a lighter note, in case you do ever visit China, the going rate for Mont Blanc pens is now 20 pens for RMB 100 (approx. USD 15).  No, I didn't buy any but in case you're ever there, you now have a place to start negotiating from.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

An Attempt to Mislead - Apple iPad vs. Galaxy Tab

A new consumer poll pitting the Samsung Galaxy Tab against the iPad discovered that an overwhelming majority -- 85 percent -- prefer Apple's touchscreen tablet.

It's always a bit of a concern when you see a headline like this.

To say Apple's iPad is preferred by 85% of consumers over the Samsung Galaxy Tab seems to be a bit of a surprise and an attempt to mislead.

Reasons for this are:

  • The Galaxy Tab was released towards the end of September / early October in most markets and effectively, we saw stocks rolling out towards the end of October and early November in most markets with any sort of volumes that would excite us.  Even today, there is a severe shortage of Galaxy Tab stocks and you're lucky if you can get one.  Effectively, you can consider that the Galaxy Tab has only really been out for 45 days or so.
  • The Apple iPad has been out now for about 7-8 months.  Most people have seen it, touched it and played with it.  Most people have probably still not seen the Galaxy Tab because of their own supply issues and the fact that it is still so new.
  • Given Apple's first-mover advantage, App developer's have had the advantage of developing thousands of more Apps for the iPad before the Galaxy Tab was even launched.  The Android-based Galaxy Tab has by comparison much fewer Apps available because it was released that much later.  It may not eventually have as many Apps as Apple's iPad but as we all know, without Apps, your tablet is useless.
I'm not doubting that the iPad is probably still the unprecedented leader in the tablet space but I don't think it is fair to make a comparison at this early stage on consumer preferences when most consumers haven't seen it yet.  A few months from now, we could see a different story but I don't know if those behind these headlines would publish this story at that time.

P.S. For the record, I'm an iPad fan.  I've played and tried using the Galaxy Tab but my personal preference still is the iPad.

How the Balance of Power shifted in the Football World

After seeing South Africa host Africa's first World Cup competition, FIFA have stayed on track to move the tournament around as much as possible by awarding the 2018 competition to Russia to host and Qatar for 2022.

With Russia hosting the 2018 edition of the tournament, we'll see the first time any country from Eastern Europe has hosted what is arguably the most popular tournament in the world.  The fact that Russia failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup didn't hamper their bid much to England's disappointment.  The charisma of England's diva, David Beckham is not impressing anyone anymore and it probably would've been better for England to drop him from the bid team this year.

The 2022 World Cup coming to Qatar is also a shocker.  Thought I live in the Middle East and Qatar was being touted in the regional press as the odds-on favourite, I had my apprehensions.  The first of course being the climate in this part of the world during peak summer which doesn't naturally suit the game.  Even though Qatar spoke of air-conditioned stadiums, you can't completely eliminate the 40 degree plus temperatures for those visiting the country during that time.  FIFA is also intent on the fact that the dates of the tournament have to be in the summer and we'll all be waiting with much anticipation as to how Qatar pulls this off.

The other reason I was somewhat surprised was that I was in Qatar during the Asian Games in 2006 and frankly, it was a mess.  While Qatar had superb stadiums in place, the overall organization of the event had much to be desired for.  Many of the hotels and infrastructure projects were delayed and didn't even open in time for the Asian Games.  Having been the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006, I know Qatar will have to really get their act together to make it the success we all hope it will be.

Overall though, today's announcements mark an interesting turning point.  South Korea-Japan in 2002, Germany in 2006, South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014, Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.  When you look at this list of host countries, it just shows you how the balance of power in the footballing world has shifted.  The old guard who normally hosted such tournaments have largely been left out in the cold (except for Germany in 2006), so who knows now when England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, etc. will ever host a World Cup again.  The fact that Western Europe may have to wait till at least 2026 to host the World Cup again is a thought I don't think would've ever been conceivable a few years ago but has become a reality.

My only thoughts on this are whether England will get to host the 2026 edition of the World Cup or will China pip them to it and ensure that the balance of powers in football is forever changed.  In any case, we can expect to still hear stories of England in 1966 for another 16 years to come...

Yikes! I'm trying to Blog...

Am I too late to join the party?  Am I committed enough?  Is this for me?  Do I have enough interesting things to talk about?

These are all questions that have gone through my mind every time I've ever thought about starting a blog through the years.  I've always thought I wouldn't have enough to say or the time to maintain a blog but I guess you never know until you don't start so here goes.

Today is a rather convenient day to start with it being a public holiday here in the UAE and the country celebrating it's 39th anniversary.  While most people aren't citizens here, there is a sense of pride we all share whether we be expats or Emirati's.  The achievements of UAE have been remarkable in such a short period of time and even though the challenges of the last couple of years has proved to difficult, it has been good to see everyone so proud of the country.

As proud as I am to have been here, I'm also smart enough to now know through years of experience you should be nowhere near Beach Road today.  Unless like you like sitting in a car for hours on end, it's a "No Go Zone."

So go ahead, enjoy yourself today, have a great weekend and make the most of the fantastic weather out there.