India and it’s ways: Automation…er, what?

The sight never ceases to surprise me. A man (or a woman in some places) standing next to parking ticket vending machine, pressing the button, pulling out the ticket and issuing it to the cars entering the parking lot. Why an automatic vending machine if there is a person to do the job? More importantly, why a person when there is machine to do the job?
Another scene. Arrive at any Indian airport. After the long queue at the immigration and a longer examination by the immigration officer, your passport is stamped. You walk through the gate and within a few feet there will be another officer to check your passport and make sure it is stamped. Why so when “checker” can easily see the passenger going through the formalities? And, wouldn’t a turnstile controlled by the immigration officer be more effective than this?
We have discussed this and laughed about this many a time with friends and guests. Today, spending three lone hours at the passport office gave me more time (note: uninterrupted time) to mull over this longer.

At the surface, the reasons seem obvious.
– India has a huge population and this is one way to create employment
– Manual labour is so cheap that we can afford to create checks and balances rather. Missing out a process step could be more expensive.

But I sense a deeper under current; cultural; may be even psychological.

My work exposes me to Business Operations, outsourcing, offshoring and Shared services. I have seen this culture not just in India but in other offshore locations as well, particularly Manila.

There is a tendency to check and recheck everything because there is a reluctance to take accountability; to take “the call”.
As we used to joke around about a colleague, there is a tendency to “double confirm” before accepting a decision.

Going deeper, this comes from generations of being taught not to question elders and the tradition being handed down to you. You don’t make the rules; you follow them. Growing up like this, authority comes from hierarchy. Grandfather to Father to the son. So a person lower in the hierarchy is not meant to make decisions. The supervisor will always inspect his or her work, not just accept.

On a more practical side, particularly on India, the intent and effect of automation is easily lost on people. The population that is comfortable with everyday automation is still exceedingly small.
Manning an automated machine, in operational terms is plain business sense to prevent baffled customers creating chaos.

What is interesting though is that, with spreading western influence we are bringing up a generation who are not expected to follow the rules. They know that they can have their own voices and thoughts and it will be respected. They will hopefully see the meaninglessness of duplicating labour and come up with something cleverer to do with all the available potential.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Vipin Bhatia says:

    Well-Noted and Well-Captured, Maggie !!. While technology has definitely streamlined and optimized the processes but it also brought displacement of many jobs. And this may not be necessarily best thing for country like India with such a large workforce. I guess these are just ways and means and indian jugaads to keep people engaged in some sense the meaningful activities and keep them off the streets. Not saying that technology is not wanted but just that alongside duplicate labor is stemming unproductivity.


    Vipin Bhatia

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