Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Developing IT becomes core part of businesses

In-sourcing has been the new trend as businesses have gradually realised that to have a competitive advantage, it's necessary to grow your own in-house technology team to be able to quickly help the business adapt quickly and be in the forefront.

Looking after customers, predicting trends, developing in-house tools so that processes can be more stream lined which translates to faster turnaround time. All these are becoming increasingly important and if you do not have in-house expertise, your competitive advantage is as good as the other company that is hiring the same vendor as you.

Out-sourcing has gradually lost its shine as businesses realised that technology has become ingrained into all types of businesses, be it a simple manufacturing company (think SCM), or even a provision shop (think CRM). Customers will only be loyal to the company if the company shows that it is able to innovate and understand the customers need. That would mean investments in technology that will help you to predict such trends, or a superman who has a very good memory and intuition.

Like it or not, to survive in the ever changing world, businesses need to start developing IT as part of their core, and not outsource everything and hope to get the cheapest quote.

Quality is never cheap. That's a fact.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Increasing productivity costly?

Recently I've been reading about businesses complaining about the high cost of productivity. True, I do not deny that investments in productivity can be costly if you look at it from the short term perspective.

Many businesses are usually improving productivity by replacing manual labour with some machines that will be able to automate certain processes for higher efficiency and quality. Machines, and the people who maintain them are sometimes not cheap.

However, think of it the other way. The days of cheap labour is over. It's no use thinking of yesteryear. It's already evident even within China that costs are rising. Not only that, mismatch of education vs jobs available will get worse over the years because the world is moving too fast. Kings of the market can be overthrown in a blink of an eye and what you've learned can become obsolete very quickly.

Why put your apples into a basket which already has a big hole in the bottom? The days of cheap labour will never come back and one should look forward on how to do businesses and adapt in the ever changing world, or you can 守株待兔, also known as "guard the tree and wait for a rabbit". Your choice. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

What has high rentals have to do with employee retention?

Sometimes I feel that in every budget year, businesses will try their best to avoid paying anything to the government, and think of weird reasons to get any kind of exemptions. One of the latest that I heard was about employee retention. Trust businesses to think that high rentals are linked to employee retention. They are in no way related.

Seriously... If you wish to treat the problem, you need to treat the root cause, and not put a band aid to it. High rentals have to do with shortage of supply, putting ownership of units into a selected few that raised prices as and when they feel like it. What has employee retention have to do with it? You can retain the employee but it will not help your high rental. Totally unrelated.

The help required would be more on the way land sales are done currently, especially for office or retail shops. You want lower prices? Time to restrict block purchases of units. Only allow an individual to buy one unit out of the whole block, which I believe is also known as strata title units. This will put the ownership of the shop directly to the individuals. Singapore is so small and research has shown that Singaporeans are willing to travel, if the quality is good and value is there.

Treat the root cause, and not ask for exemptions just because it exists.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Words are empty

I quote from Paul Gauguin:
Life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one's will. Virtue, good, evil are nothing but words, unless one takes them apart in order to build something with them; they do not win their true meaning until one knows how to apply them. 

Words are empty if you do not understand the objective, and following it up with action.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Inflation is up 4.3%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2012:
January: 4.8%
February: 4.6%
March: 5.2%
April: 5.4%
May: 5.0%
June: 5.3%
July: 4%
August: 3.9%
September: 4.7%
October: 4% 
November: 3.6%
December: 4.3%

Transport and Housing are leading the pack, rising by 8.2% and 6.7% respectively year on year, rising significantly from November's inflation. In fact, inflation has raised almost across the board compared to November.

This year's inflation is 4.6%, 0.1% more than what I expected because I did not expect December's inflation to be that high. That only means one thing. Retailers may be hurt by the on-going problems in Europe and USA, not to mention the sky high property rentals in Singapore, so they may not be able to offer the discounts as per what I've seen in previous years.

Economy growth, 1.2%. Inflation, 4.6%. Oh well. We are after all still in the throes of a global recession. At least it's not the great recession. Looking at the on-goings this month, I'm also not very optimistic that inflation will be going down much.

Let's see...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Send a message to India

I'm astonished and outraged by some of the reasons used by the accused for the notorious Delhi case. Reasons like suing the male companion for not protecting her, and that the victims are responsible for the assault because as an unmarried couple they should not have been on the streets at night.

The reasons given are ridiculous. I believe the world should send a message to India that such nonsensical reasons should be directly thrown out of court. Will you feel safe if your loved ones go on a holiday in India, and that you get sued when someone robs you because you should not have allowed your things to be stolen so easily?

Well, looking at the news coming out from India on this case, I will avoid going to India as much as possible. Do you feel safe if you're in India?

Visit Rhinestic's Knick Knacks @ Etsy for handmade goods and supplies!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Error message in a plane?

I was "amused" when I read about some of the problems encountered by the new Boeing's Dreamliner, and that the pilot saw an "error message" in the cockpit. Although I'm in the technology line, it sets me thinking if there is too much technology everywhere such that we're now seeing "error messages" in places other than our personal computers.

In my line of work, I frequently advised people that sometimes too much technology will over complicate matters instead of simplifying your problem and making it easier for you. In this case, I don't think I have a whole lot of confidence if a transport that I'm riding gives me an "error message". Or worse, what happens if you see a blue screen?

There are a few types of programming, and the types that I'm more confident in its efficiency is embedded programming, where the programming can directly controlling the circuit boards. For those type of programming that shows an error message, I'm sorry but that's more higher level programming which is more prone to errors.

The lower the language that you go (assembly anyone?), the more direct control you have, and the more certain you are in knowing what exactly you're doing.  The higher level programming language usually has a lot more flexibility, but also more prone to errors due to the flexibility. I guess most people do not know this, based on my experience that everyone wants "flexibility".

Now back to the dreamliner. Well... I hope that the "error message" was something minor.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Maintenance for trains during normal hours?

I was talking to my wife recently about the NEL breakdown when she made a comment on why maintenance of the trains cannot be done during normal hours if they do not have time in the early mornings. That set me thinking about the possibilities of that happening. In fact, I think it is possible.

The concept is very simple. The MRT operators will have to maintain buses to backup the train operations in the event that the trains breakdown for long periods of time. Why not use the buses for other purposes? Why don't we just shut the train operations down for extended maintenance, and let the buses ply the routes for all the train stations if extended maintenance hours are required?

The train operators will get the extended maintenance window needed and the "backup buses" are deployed during this period. The problem will be further reduced if the bus operators are allowed to duplicate the train routes so that we have alternate ways of getting to our destination.

I guess this will also push the train operators to better maintain their trains and to excite innovation instead of spending the time opening more shops in MRT stations.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Do not complain of imperfection

I quote from Joseph Addison:
It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we become towards the defects of others. 

This is the kind of reverse thinking that I like to always remind myself. Imperfection is not a crime. In fact in some cases, it is also quite subjective. Perfect to some, imperfect to others. Understand, and you might find out that it's not that imperfect after all.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

8 in 10 households near MRT/LRT by 2030

Looks like what I said back in 2009 here is coming true. With 8 out of 10 households in the future that will be near MRT/LRT, what's the premium then that people are paying previously? You can find more information about the new rail lines here.

Personally, I believe that this may in the short term cause prices of flats near the new MRT stations to rise, but in the long run, I feel that it's more likely that the prices of all flats to normalise, and the pricing is instead based on how near the city centre or ammenities are, as what I said in the my post previously.

My thinking has still not changed. Premium for flats near MRT will start to moderate. That is unless all of us suddenly get a salary raise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why can't we accept independent elderly?

Some time back, I overheard some young folks (not that I'm very old) talking about the elderly working at certain low paying jobs and remarking that they will never let their direct relatives work at such an age. I guess they haven't really seen much of life yet.

People should accept that in this world, there are older folks that are more independent, and wish to rely only on themselves for their living. In fact, I often see people jumping into conclusions when they see elderly working. In fact, some immediately jump into a certain conclusion when they see elderly sleeping at void decks, not knowing that they prefer to sleep outside and they have their own flats.

In life, there are people who wants to rely only on themselves for their own living. They reject all kinds of help as they strongly believe in reliance on oneself. Help is only at the last resort. Some also love to work as it also keeps them occupied and connected to the world. This is actually healthy living.

Therefore next time when you see elderly working, look at them with a more open mind and do not automatically jump into conclusions unless you have the facts to back it up. Who knows. The elderly may be having more fun that you at your own workplace.

Visit Rhinestic's Knick Knacks @ Etsy for handmade goods and supplies!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is making a place livable all about upgrading transport infrastructure?

Recently I was hearing about the recent changes in Punggol and specific mention was made that the infrastructure needs to keep up with the population growth. However, it seems that there is no specific mention of upgrading of any other infrastructure.

Is making the place livable all about connectivity? I happened to pass by HDB hub one day and I had a look at a mock-up of the new Punggol. Seriously my heart sank when I saw it. The whole place is just full of flats.

Previously, I had the impression that the government is going to develop Punggol to more of a nature friendly place. However in recent years, all the green lungs that was in Punggol have all been made way for construction. All the "kite flying areas" have been greatly reduced and it seems to me that everywhere I see, I only see flats. After I saw the HDB model, I could understand why. Flats are everywhere. Do you know that the Punggol waterway in the future will be surrounded by flats?

Why is transport infrastructure the only reason why a place is livable? Where is the greenery that makes the place more stress free? Certain research shows that stressed workers can reduce mental and physical strain by up to 60% by staring at greenery for 15 minutes. The only greenery I can see now may be the fake wallpaper on someone's wall, or the small plants that we have at HDB carparks.

Seriously, after staring at so many tall buildings that are built so closely at our workplace, it would be good to go back to your home, a place where buildings are much more evenly spaced out, with greenery in-between and parks near every housing estate.

Stressed at work, and stressed at home. Transport infrastructure is not the only thing that will make the place livable.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Android being used for smart appliances?

Seems like companies are beginning to take the leap to install Android on our normal home and kitchen appliances like rice cookers and refrigerators.

Is this new? I doubt so. Personally, I think that the first few versions of smart appliances are running on some variations of Linux as it's the cheapest method. The only difference with Android is that there is an established market and it is built to be connected to the Internet.

However, I believe the companies should ask themselves the fundamental question, what's the use of smart appliances? Seriously, do I care if I can connect to my rice cooker or refrigerator using my smartphone?

I cannot think of any reasons why I will like to connect to my rice cooker but for refrigerators, it will be useful if the refrigerator is able to tell me what's inside the refrigerator at this point in time. But then again, is the technology there?  Unless all the food items inside the refrigerator are tagged with some sort of NFC that is similar to the ISBN number so that it is able to calculate accurately all the items inside the refrigerator, I feel that it is useless at this point for me to connect to it from the Internet. Serves no purpose.

Idea is good, but I believe that there must first be a fundamental reason why our home and kitchen appliances need to connect to the Internet. Let's not forget that as long as you're connected to the Internet, you're vulnerable to hacking attempts. Can you imagine someone hacking into the system, causing your refrigerator to turn off by itself, or switching on your air-conditioning when no one is at home, causing your power bills to go sky high.

Let's see for now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Yours is not the only path

I quote from Paulo Coelho:
We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.

I think I've seen a lot of instances where I see people think that their way is the only path and insisting on others to follow that path where there may be an easier way to achieve that objective.

Do we persevere and show them the new way, or give up because it is too tiring to change a stubborn mind?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

US Political Impasse

The latest US budget impasse just before 2013 is just like an action movie, with both sides waiting until the very last moment before finding a compromise. The funny thing? They both want the same thing but are divided in how to achieve it. The problem with politics.

I'm not sure if the US government remembers the reason why they are in such a discussion in the first place. The combined total public debt is more than 100% of their GDP and is definitely unsustainable. Reducing debt definitely needs a combination of cut in spending, entitlements and increase of revenue.

Frankly, I'm surprised by certain remarks by Republicans. I guess that they have very short term memory and forgot that the public debt rose from about $5.8 trillion dollars to almost $12 trillion under a Republican president. In fact, the great recession happened under the watch of a Republican president.

With the type of spending and entitlements that the US are having, I do agree that they need to start cutting back because frankly you should not be spending or giving entitlements to people if you do not have the money in the first place.

Raising revenue by increasing taxes is sadly one of the few ways that you can reduce your debt because when you have increased revenue, you will not need to borrow as much to fund your spending and entitlements, some common facts that some Republicans conveniently forget if you listen to some of the recent remarks by them.

Yes, cutting spending is important but I hope they do not forget the main reason why they are doing it in the first place. With all the cash that the Feds are injecting into the economy and records amount of cash that the US companies are holding, I hope that they can find a solution to this impasse. Political impasses are the worst because it serves no useful purpose.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Need for a cap on EC's price

The 2 million price tag on the recent executive condominium (EC) for the sandwiched class, shows that the developers are somehow again finding ways to circumvent the rules, once again. They did it for DBSS, and now they are doing it for ECs.

Again, we always need to go back to the fundamental reason behind building ECs. Who is it for? Is there a great demand for it? If the answers to both questions are yes, then why allow the developers to create penthouses with such sky high prices when you can build maybe 2 units with more affordable pricing with that space?

I think the time has come to introduce an absolute cap to the price of an EC so as to let developers know the reasons behind building ECs. Since the ECs are built by HDB, what better way to introduce a cap than to use the maximum loan for the HDB concessionary housing loan as a basis for the cap. For example, if the household income is $10,000 a month, the maximum loan will be about $882,000 with a repayment period of 25 years. That would put the maximum price of a EC unit to slightly less than 1 million.

Personally, I find that is an acceptable maximum price of an EC because let's not forget the reason behind building ECs. It's for the families who are not able to afford private housing, but are not eligible for HDB flats. If they can afford to pay $2 million, then they can afford to buy private housing. Leave ECs to the families who really need them.

Let's also not forget about financial prudence, and not make the same mistakes the United States made in the Great Recession of 2007-2008. Be certain that you're buying a unit that you can afford. As ECs are headed by a government unit, it should also reflect this ethos.

Otherwise, why HDB should build ECs? Might as well leave it to the private sector since it seems to be as expensive as private condominiums.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Laziness again

I was reading the local news on how litterbugs were caught during the new year celebrations and I'm frankly a little astonished by the excuses that the people give on why they litter. One word to describe them. Laziness.

Reasons? No bins at every row. Bins are full.

Let me ask you. If you do not have dustbins in every room in your house, will you throw your litter on the floor? If you are doing that, most probably you're not the one picking up your own litter, relying on domestic helpers or even your parents to pick up after you.

Seriously, is it so difficult to carry a small plastic bag with you to bag your trash and throw it away later? If you do not want to do that, then don't bring anything that you need to throw away.

Be responsible for your actions. Beauty is only skin deep.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Be yourself

I quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Be yourself and you find that you will find life more worth living. To conform to what others think you should be, but what you have no interest for, is a recipe for disaster because you will not have the passion for what you're doing.

Be true to yourself and be certain.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Poor 3G coverage maps

I was searching around the Internet when I saw some crowd sourcing at work. Apparently, someone has created poor 3G coverage maps for the 3 Singapore telcos. Looking just purely at the maps, it seems that Singtel has the worse coverage. However, do not take it as the whole truth as there are many factors in play, such as number of subscribers and number of people contributing to the map. This does not mean that one telco is better than the other.

It seems though that many of the telcos do not cover 99% of the island. You can take a look at the 3G coverage maps below:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A need for stricter definition of work-life balance

I was reading an article recently about companies implementing work-life balance and a thought came to me that newspapers are using a wrong definition of work-life balance. Work-life balance is not about giving how many different types of leave benefits to an employee. It is having enough time for work and enough to have a life.

It does not matter how many leave benefits you have if you cannot take it. I think it is quite often that employees nowadays have to work during their leaves to finish the work they have. What's the use of having so many leave benefits if you still have to work even when you're on leave?

Is that considered as taking leave? What's the use of all the leave benefits if you cannot achieve the ultimate aim of work-life balance, which is to have enough time for work and to have a life?

Seems like it doesn't matter how many leave benefits you have unless you have legislation that dictates that a person cannot be called back if they are on leave. Otherwise, on paper, it looks like we're on leave. In actual fact?
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