Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Back to Hong Kong and Home

Sitting at Hong Kong airport, waiting for the long flight home. It was only 11-some hours in the air because we had a very large tailwind (and turbulence) that propelled us back to San Francisco as quickly as one could hope for.

Will be reporting in more detail after Christmas. Thanks for accompanying me on my trip, and Merry Christmas.

Shenzhen's Silicon Valley

The border area of Shenzhen was nasty, just like nasty border towns anywhere in the world. Reminded me of Juarez. But once we got about an hour away, we found this salubrious Silicon Valley-type area, with hundreds of thousands of workers, and even warm, sunny Bay Area weather on this particular December day.

The park looked to be modeled after Taipei's Hsin-Chu, although the local Chinese may never admit that. Hsin-Chu in turn was modeled after Santa Clara County. Wide boulevards, modern low-slung buildings, nice green areas and ponds, and not a place to eat (or buy something to eat) in sight.

These guys compete with Cisco, and have 40,000 people in the tech park here. They also have a nice green area, replete with pond.

Entering Shenzhen at LuWo Station

I flew into Hong Kong the night before meetings in Shenzhen. Mistake, because I had to use up my second (and final) entry from my limited-entry visa into China.

"One country, two systems" was the philosophy behind China's re-acquisition of Hong Kong in 1997. Duh, I should have realized the implications of this on entering into China.

Anyway, I took a fast train/subway system from Kowloon to the border. Walked across, and I was warned my many people to be careful in Shenzhen's LuWo station. "They cut some woman's hand off last week for her cellphone," "there are pickpockets everywhere", "you are are a foreigner so they will steal your laptop," and on and on.

I used to walk through New York's Time Square without fear in the bad old days, and the only real fear I've felt in recent years was when I foolishly attended an Oakland Raiders game. But everyone had me spooked about LuWo, so I stuck my wallet in my suit jacket, took the strap off my laptop case, tried to look big, and practically ran all the way from the station to a hotel where I met my colleague.

Really, there was no problem. The only trouble we had was with the world's nastiest cab driver (see below).

World's Nastiest Cab Driver

Well, I always thought that San Francisco had the surliest, least helpful cab drivers in the world. I am always embarrassed by how badly my city treats its guests, and the cab drivers are at the forefront of this abuse.

But the guy in this picture, who took us from LuWo train station on the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border out to a meeting in a Silicon Valley-style technology park was the meanest dude ever. He didn't want to run the meter, but wanted twice the normal fare. After my colleague politely but steadfastly refused for 15 minutes, he tried to stop the cab and dump us out on the highway.

Then he got "lost" trying to find the place and then suddenly couldn't understand my colleague's Mandarin (since he spoke a different dialect as his first language). All this over about a difference in $4 in cab fare. I realize 30 yuan is not a trifle in Shenzhen, but I didn't think it was worth this sort of confrontation. Oh well, it was a nice day that day anyway. Felt like Bay Area weather there.

Everything's Up to Date in Shanghai City

An obligatory night shot here. I lost my cool little FlipCam along the way, but was still able to shot a few things with my blackberry. The really cool thing about Shanghai is that it sort of feels like Europe, but it's not Europe, it sort of feels like New York but it's not New York.

One of my colleagues (a Shanghai native) lectured me on this apparently condescending attitude. "You think China is still like the 19th century in movies. You think you will see men wearing pigtails. Well, this is wrong. China is very modern and we are very proud of this." Yes.

Big City Business

Standing here in front of the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Got some information on background, and drew the interest of a security guard when I snapped a pic of the ticker sign inside. :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This Just In from the Capital of Asia

This is my first trip to Shanghai and I was left speechless by mid-afternoon yesterday. Those who know me would say this was some sort of great miracle.

I won't try to summarize it here, and will refrain from the cliches you've all heard a hundred times. The city is overwhelming in a good way. Yet it's interesting to hear local businesspeople talk about how much more progress needs to be made in China, even with Shanghai.

From one American's business perspective, this city is now the equal of New York or London, and in some ways far superior. I had a notion before this trip that China wasn't quite ready to discuss the most forward-leaning IT ideas, but that is simply not true.

Everyone knows that this city has long had a cosmopolitan reputation, but there's more to it than that. Somehow this is a very Chinese city while being absolutely at the forefront of what's going on in the world, in serious business and popular culture. (Oh yes, they have Christmas trees and Santa as well, although with slightly less ubiquity than Beijing.)

My only problem has been with younger businesspeople asking me to teach them how to swear creatively in English, because they want to be the best in the world at this, too. I politely refrain, telling them I have no idea what they're asking me. They settle for my approval of their usage of "mindshare," "paradigm shift," "abstracting" and "virtualizing," "crossing the chasm," and one phrase that seems to amuse everyone, "figure it out!"

"Show us that you have fresh ideas and that you are serious about them, and we will listen to you eagerly. We must keep moving as fast as we can and we need the most fresh and best technology to do this," is a refrain I have heard over and over.

Visiting the Shanghai Stock Exchange today, and hope to have pictures of it up soon.

Random Shanghai Scenes

Morning Rush

High Rises

Customer Visit - Happy Faces!

Street Scene

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On to Shanghai

People have been trying to draw facile comparisons of Beijing to Shanghai and of the two cities to US cities, eg is the "Washington" and Shanghai the "New York" of China. As the kids say, whatever. The two cities, as with all great cities, are unique.

I do know that at least one Shanghai Airlines pilot brings the plane up and down at a much steeper angle than anyone in the US. The good news is that they still feed you on shortish domestic flights in China; the bad news is it's hard to keep it down when you're climbing and descending at a 45-degree angle. Herewith, a quick shot of the ground scene upon arrival at the local Hongquiao Shanghai airport (not Pudong, the one that most travelers know).

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

If you're going to record your trip, you might as well humiliate yourself early and often. This moment taken just before we hit the road from the VanceInfo CDC to another meeting...

We Visit the VanceInfo TIBCO CDC

Had a nice, long discussion with Michael Zhang, head of the VanceInfo TIBCO China Development Center (CDC). Located in the "ZPark" software park in suburban Beijing in a Chinese version of a Silicon Valley setting, the CDC's 200 engineers are a unique resource, Zhang says. And once again, SOA and BPM and how to develop and serve sophisticated customer initiatives at breakneck speed were the main topic of conversation.

Michael is also an avid basketball player, who lead the company team to a ZPark league championship this year, whipping Microsoft, IBM, and everyone else. He was a little camera shy at first (see below) but was a marvelous host and once we turned the damn camera off, he led a very nuanced discussion of enterprise IT software challenges and opportunities in China and the world.

VolgelBurda Editor Outlines Manufacturing IT

We met with one of the most respected IT editors in China, Li WeiZhong, whose eManufacturing reaches more than 300,000 people. He noted that the manufacturing sector in China trails only financial services and telco in the private sector, and has very strong growth forecast for the coming year.

He was recently at a major even in the US as well, and said that in the world he covers that Chinese enterprise IT is as current as the US in terms of SOA and BPM. Detailed thoughts from WeiZhong to appear in the Chinese-language issue of NOW. Here's a quick shot of him as we were ending our meeting.

Beijing at Night

Another one of those ubiquitous Christmas trees, as we prepare to meet some local IT execs in the early evening.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Thought Leadership" in China

So I was involved in some discussions about high-level enterprise IT with half a dozen people in Beijing. I had the help of an interpreter, although everyone involved had a good grasp of English and had been to North America at least once.

I noted how NOW Magazine has a mission to focus on "Thought Leadership" within enterprise IT architecture, and I wanted to see how that phrase sounded to Chinese ears. During our discussion, held in Beijing, no one would translate the phrase into Mandarin. They just kept repeating "Thought Leadership."

So I said "you know, this phrase sounds just great to my ears. It demonstrates individual initiative and the willingness to seize opportunity, eg 'I am a Thought Leader.' But I think we need something else for China."

Why yes, everyone agreed. The original phrase just doesn't scan well in Mandarin. After further discussion, my new friends revealed that the ideal companies in China were said to be "forward looking" (Qian Zhan Xing) and that companies with this ability could "be influential" (Ying Xiang Li). Less ehmpasis on the individual, and the leadership is implied rather than stated directly.

So a new tagline was born for NOW China -- Qian Zhan Xing/Ying Xiang Li. (Sorry but I don't have the fonts to put the Chinese characters here!)

Now that's Thought Leadership!

The Obligatory Tiananmen Mao Shot

Have to prove I'm in Beijing, right? This should do it. We're in early morning traffic on the way to our first meeting of the day.

More Christmas

The ubiquity of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and reindeer continues to crack me up. Everyone tells me they don't really celebrate Christmas in China, but they think the trees are beautiful and the Santas are cute. People here don't even do extra shopping--meaning they don't embrace the "true meaning" of Christmas--but they do love to decorate for it!

The end of this short vid has a shot of my colleague Liny Yang (she's based in Shanghai) and an interpreter we used for interviews today.

The Need for Speed

"So what do you do if a vendor comes in tells you it will take 18 to 24 months for your new deployemtn," I asked a group of industry people today. The question was followed by the expected gales of laughter. "I think most people would tell this vendor 'bye bye'" was the most printable response I recieved amidst all the mirth.

Enterprise IT managers--whether in government, private business, or somewhere in that grey area one finds here--cannot wait. Period. Even in an economic slowdown, growth in China is breakneck. Branding is important, but branding is something that can be created quickly here as well. A Chinese corollary of "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" existed during the early stages of the current boom, but no more.

"We need flexibility, so that we know that what we build today will still work six months from now, a year from now, two years from now," was what I heard more than once. The market faces critical needs to integrate application silos and islands of information, just as in what Westerners think of as "traditional" markets.

SOA, BPM, and Hardware vs. Software

The first meetings in Beijing have been quite informative. SOA, BPM, even BI and CEP are on the minds of IT executives, integrators, and analysts here. Even had a spirited discussion of virtualization and cloud computing at the analyst firm CCID Monday afternoon.

Yet existing side to this leading-edge mentality is the fact that much of China's IT industry was still thinking of "hardware vs. software" until very recently. Brand-name hardware was the highest priority, and "only recently have executives thought that software is the important thing that will make a difference," according to several people with whom I spoke.

The reason for this seeming incongruity is speed. The China market is simply growing too fast for people to sit back and analyze change. I actually heard the term "paradigm shift" today. Not surprising for an IT market that is expected to "slow" to 14% growth this year, with enterprise IT software pegged at 30% growth. I heard these numbers several times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Christmas Time in Beijing

Along with the who's who of retail names featured along the main thoroughfares of Beijing are many very large, bright Christmas trees. You'll find big, beautiful trees in all the new malls and hotels as well.

I asked a colleague of mine if this meant that Christmas is celebrated in China these days, but no, the trees are just there because they look nice in the cold climate of Beijing this time of year and their presence encourages Westerners to buy stuff.

See Anyone You Know?

Sure sure, seeing lots of people trudging through an airport is not real compelling. Hang with this one until around the 35-second mark and you'll see a familiar face on an ad. This is no surprise, either, but merely shows that arriving in Beijing these days is not any different than arriving in any other big city.

At SFO - Ready to Head to Beijing

I'll be posting some raw footage during the trip, then edit things once I return. The lighting was not good here. I moved here and there in the terminal but just couldn't get the light to work well. Hope you like it anyway!

Arrival in Beijing

I arrived in Beijing on a grey Sunday afternoon in December following a 13-hour flight from San Francisco. I'm taking this trip to talk to people throughout China about their visions, missions, and progress with enterprise IT software initiatives.

A 6,000-mile flight really seems too long, you know?

But I made it. Winter is closing in on this northern capital, the trees were bare, and the air quality was quite poor. Nothing unique about these observations to be sure.

There was a formidable looking taxi line outside the lower level of the gleaming new terminal at Beijing Capital airport, but a squadron of of drivers made the wait quite bearable.

I rode in a tired old VW Jetta to my hotel in the central city in about half an hour, with a fare of 90-yuan ($15US given the extortionist exchange rate I got at SFO). There were some exciting moments during the ride, but I've had hairier rides in San Francisco, and Belgian taxis are still the craziest in the world in my book.

To say Beijing has been transformed in the 30 years ago since Deng Xiaoping first touted capitalism is to say that Cher or Michael Jackson have been transformed during these years as well. The statement is factual, but hardly captures the enormity of it all.

Beijing's facelifts, tucks, peels, and implants have been beneficial, however, at least to the capitalist American eye. It's as if city planners visited New York, Paris, and Dallas, then decided to create long Paris-style boulevards with a New York skyline, populated by buildings of a scale that would make Texans jealous.

So this is how China is using all the money Americans spend on products from the Middle Kingdom. The basic style here is massive and modern. The good news is that I could be sitting in any great city of the world. After a long flight and debilitating time change, I'll admit it's OK to be in nice, familiar surroundings. Keeps the nerves from getting too jangled.

Ate at the hotel restaurant last night, a place called "Made in China" that had the ambiance, clientele, and pricing of many places in Palo Alto or Santana Row in San Jose. A western business traveler--particularly one from the very Asian San Francisco Bay Area--can visit Beijing and feel right at home. So maybe the bad news is that modern-day, central Beijing is not a place to seek the uniqueness of ancient Chinese culture. Does that mean that what's really going beneath the surface here will be obscured to me?

But I'm hardly an architecture critic or social commentator; to me what this means is there must be a lot of modern IT infrastructure lurking underneath all this planning, building, business, and development. With luck, this trip will uncover many stories on this topic.