Thursday, March 04, 2004

A taste of his own medicine:
March 4, 2004

Small and Smaller and Smallest and Smallerest

Jerry Rao wants to write the Op-Ed column in your newspaper.

Ah, you say, you've never heard of Jerry Rao, but the name sounds vaguely Indian. Anyway, you already read a newspaper for the Op-Ed columns. Well, Jerry is Indian. He lives in Bangalore. And, you may not know it, but he may already be the pundit you read in your newspaper..

"We have tied up with several small and medium-size newspapers in America," explained Mr. Rao, whose company, LpresA, has a team of Indian journalists able to do outsourced Op-Ed columns requested by newspaper editors across the U.S. All the necessary political data is entered into a database that can be viewed from India. Then an Indian journalist, trained in U.S. clich├ęs and beltway conventional wisdom, fleshes it out.

"This is happening as we speak — we are doing several thousand essays," said Mr. Rao. American pundits don't even need to be in their offices. They can be on a beach, said Mr. Rao, "and say, `Jerry, you are particularly good at doing trite, banal essays, so you could do Tom's essays." He adds, "We have taken the grunt work" so U.S. pundits can focus on twiddling their thumbs and thinking up appalling new metaphors.

Mr. Rao's ability to service U.S. newspapers this way is at the core of a business revolution that has happened over the past few years. I confess: I missed this revolution. I was totally focused on 9/11 and Iraq. But having now spent 10 days in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, I realize that while I was sleeping, my eyes were closed.

There has been a convergence of a variety of software applications — from e-mail, to Google, to Microsoft Office, to specially designed outsourcing programs — that, when combined with all those PC's and bandwidth, made it possible to create global "work-flow platforms."

These work-flow platforms can chop up any newspaper job - reporting, opinion writing, editing - into different functions and then, thanks to scanning and digitization, outsource each function to teams of skilled knowledge workers around the globe, based on which team can do each function with the highest skill at the lowest price. Then the project is reassembled back at headquarters into a finished product.

Thanks to this new work-flow network, pundits anywhere in the world can contribute their talents more than ever before, spurring innovation and productivity. But these same pundits will be under more pressure than ever to constantly upgrade their skills in this Darwinian environment.

So now I wonder: when they write the history of the world 20 years from now, what will they say was most important? Will it be the convergence of PC's, telecom and work-flow software into a tipping point that allowed India to become part of the global supply chain for the media, at the expense of high paying jobs like mine?


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