Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Financial Database

How many system can an organization have? Having worked for a Bank, I always thought that a single system usually does the job. For different functions or departments it might have different modules but in the end they must all work together like the cogs of a machine. For smaller tasks, spreadsheets such as MS Excel could be used but it would be just a simple analytical tool and not a system. How wrong was I?

The company uses one finance system at the Operations Site. However, to analyze the data it is uploaded into another project management software in my division. However, the vouchers are also sent directly to Central Accounts division who upload the data onto an Oracle database. Whereas the first system was for financial and material consumption aspects, for services rendered by the Operations another database is used. To top is all off, report generating solution is used to generate information from the data generated by all these systems. The authenticity of data is not assumed correct unless the numbers tally with the Oracle output. I am sure you are finding it confusing. Believe me I have been at the company for around a month and I still find it confusing to obtain all kinds of reports from different systems. For a further analysis, all of this is downloaded in Microsoft Excel where a day is usually spent in organizing the data using VLOOKUP etc. followed by the analysis.

To top it all off, everyone knows that system generate inaccurate information. They always ask for information outputthat is 80% accurate (for an actual revenue and associated numbers – not some false forecasts). This is the situation when we are using 5 systems. How did they work before computers arrived?

Earlier I have worked in Banking sector of Pakistan in operations at Branch level. My first experience was at a small IT oriented bank and we were used to closing our books daily online. It also gave us a clear idea how an efficient system should work. By nature, banking solutions need to be accurate. My second stint was at one of the Big Four banks of Pakistan where they were still using paper registers and ledgers in tandem with computers to keep track of assets and liabilities. Though the system may be inefficient in terms of time and effort required for daily balancing of books yet it was accurate.

Using a computer based solution is much easier once you get the hang of it as everything flows smoothly through the system. The paper and pencil system requires a special skill and temperament which is developed after years of working through the system. I was involved in the migration from paper and pen based system to fully computer based solution. Overnight the skills honed after years of burning oil in branches become useless. The computer does everything automatically. Consequently, a lot of people lose their jobs and even if they don’t lose their jobs, the importance of their jobs gets reduced very much.

At the present company, they are bringing some new consultants next week who are going to make a presentation on a Enterprise wide solution. I am looking forward to the meeting. Its not that I expect the system to be implemented and all the old stuff to be thrown out. On the contrary, I expect it to be one of the numerous meetings I would attend during my time in this company without any change. The advice that I have seen many people recommend as the best advice for Middle East is “Don’t try to change the system.”

Whether I will heed it, the answer is No.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Women: Lebanon Factor

No. This post is not about Middle East crisis.

The other day, me and a Lebanese colleague of mine, M, had gone to the mall to watch Pirates of Caribbean. Looking at the varoius Kuwaiti women thronging the mall, he commmented that, "Kuwaiti women walk differently, talk differently, dress differently and wear makeup differently".

In Kuwait, the local women/girls dress accross the spectrum from the all enveloping Burqa to tank tops and short pants. Its unlike Saudi Arabia where publicly everyone is in Burqa or Dubai where locals are usually in Burqa or modest dresses and foreigners in various levels of dress-less-ness.

This post is not to discuss their dress sense. It is to discuss their styling/make-up. Kuwaiti women are naturally fair, yet they still put on a heavy foundation to appear fairer. As you can't get whiter than white, the heavy makeup is there just for makup's sake. Otherwise, it does not make them any fairer.

In Pakistan, among well-off classes, the colour of the skin does not matter. I have seen women perfectly comfortable with their wheatish or dark complexion because they know that at the end of the day, what counts is their brain or... money and not their colour. I am not saying that they don't put on makeup, just that they don't try to hide or cover up their complexion. Whether this has something to do with stardom of wheatish models such as Iraj, Vaneeza, Sumita, Tooba ... I can't say.

M said to me that its because of Lebanese women. Kuwaiti women suffer from an inferiority complex i.e., they believe that Lebanese women are very attractive and try to become like them by colouring their face, dyeing their hair, and using very heavy makeup followed by very heavy eye liners. He told me that fashion and makeup form a significant part of Lebanese economy and the only reason for that is women from other Gulf countries want to be like Lebanese women.

He told me that all the ladies hair stylists in Kuwait are Lebanese and charge very highly for their services. Women pay an average of USD500 for wedding makeup. I told him that wedding makeup is expensive even in Pakistan. He countered that it must be for the bride. This is just for the wedding attendees. (I dont know maybe the prices are similar in Pakistan because its been a long time since I drove anyone to a beauty parlour).

I don't mind them paying high prices for makeup. But after paying this much, one should look attractive and stylish not like women you see in Muree hailing for poor villages of Punjab who had whitened thier faces by what appears like limestone or chalk. Had Kuwaitis been poor (read illiterate), it would have been understandable. However, they are amongst richest people and are already fair.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Whats in a name?

There are so many people here and quite a few departments. I am being introduced to new people everyday usually on first name basis. There is a large Indian community in the company as well as in Kuwait.

Though I can remember English names being exposed to Engligh movies, dramas, novels etc., and having studied in UK (A friend of mine once said that some people flaunt their London connection their whole lives after spending just 10 months in UK. So what?).

Anyway, I find it very hard to remember Indian names unless it is Amitabh, Abhishek, Bachan, Anil, Kapoor, Mithun, Chakraborty, Sachin, Tendulkar or Rahul (courtesy Shahrukh Khan). However, at the present company I find names which I am not used to hearing such as Arvind, Amit, Yogish, and Hemant etc. and sometimes more than one person has the same first name. In that case I also have to remember the last name further adding to the complexity.

Its not that I am complaining or have some vendetta against Indians. Whether in UK (here is my London connection again) or here, I usually hangout with Indian because they are humble and easy to get along with. However, this does not change the fact that they have unusual and very difficult names even for a London return Pakistani (sorry. I just cant help avoiding the London connection).