Outsourcing has been much on my mind, and given the way the world is evolving, this may become more relevant…
“Welcome to Singapore Mr Smythe, is this your first trip?”
“Ah thanks, no. I’ve been here a couple of times.”
“Excellent, if you’ll just follow me, we have a car waiting for us.”
Smythe followed the man, PK Kumar, through the glass doors of Changi Airport’s arrivals area and out into the smothering April heat. He could never decide which was worse, the heat or the humidity, either way he immediately felt even more sweaty and dirty than he had after landing from his twelve hour flight. The car was waiting, and stepping in Smythe felt blessed cool air. He sat down and waited.
After half a minute or so PK got into the car as well, and almost as soon as he’d closed the door the car pulled off.
“We’ve taken the liberty of booking you into the Ritz Carlton, a truly wonderful hotel.”
“Good, I’ve stayed there before.”
“Indeed, did you like it?”
Smythe was not feeling very talkative, there was grit in his eyes and wool in his brain. He was also a little annoyed, he recognised this tactic. PK was a representative of Technology Control Systems, the company he was here to negotiate with. They should have just sent the driver, but by sending a clearly mid-level manager they were upping the stakes a little. The idea would be that in his weakened state he might let slip a few useful bits of information which would undermine his position.
“Mr Smythe, we’ve arranged your first meeting for 1100 tomorrow, as we thought this would give you time to settle in.”
His short answers were clearly starting to irritate PK, but the man was smooth, he’d give him that.
“I did wonder if you would appreciate company for dinner tonight, or indeed any other night?”
It was fairly clear what ‘company’ PK meant, and it would be another form of leverage. It seemed highly likely that any girl who was provided would be an employee, of some sort, in one of TechCon’s many enterprises.
“I’ll be fine.”
That was the last gambit, and the rest of the short journey passed in silence, if not entirely comfortably. At the hotel his bags were taken out of the car by the doorman, and realising he had a chance to ditch PK he held out his hand.
“Good to meet you Mr Kumar, until tomorrow.”
“Ah, yes, and you Mr Smythe. The car will be here at 1030.”
Without a glance back Smythe strode into the hotel. The change from cold through hot and back to cold again always made him feel a little strange, almost like he was getting ill, but he shook it off and headed to check-in.
An hour later he was relaxing in the large bathtub, looking out over Singapore and towards the sea. There was a knock at the door, and he shouted, “It’s open.”
His room service had arrived. She swayed into the bathroom and shed her robe, and slipped into the bath with him. When he said he’d be fine, he meant he knew how to provide for his own entertainment.
The next morning he had breakfast sent up, and after a bit more fun he sent his room service away, with some extra cash and a confirmation of a return that evening. He felt much sharper today, and he dressed appropriately. He knew it was going to be tricky to get the services they needed within the budget he had, but he was confident he could achieve it.
The car delivered him to another glass-clad building, but instead of dropping him at the front it went underneath the building. When he got out of the car, bracing for the wall of heat, it was actually still fairly cool. He noticed there were blowers either side. Whenever someone arrived the blowers would be triggered a few moments before they arrived to provide a cool channel for them to walk through. He nodded appreciatively and entered the door.
“Good morning Mr Smythe.”
“Good morning Mr Kumar, I must apologise if I was a little short yesterday. I was somewhat tired after my flight.”
There was a slight pause before PK responded, “Of course, not a problem, and please do call me PK. I’m one of several Kumars here, but the only PK. So far.”
Smythe smiled. PK led him to a conference room. It could have been anywhere, and Smythe wondered why he’d had to fly to Singapore to be treated to the same grey walls, wood veneer table and strangely uncomfortable chairs he could have experienced in the London office.
There were five people in the room waiting for him. PK introduced them, but Smythe concentrated on the two men in the centre, Kalyan Rai and Sunil Rao, who were clearly the decision makers.
“Mr Smythe, welcome to our offices, can we show you the presentation of the services we’re offering…”
“No, I’ve seen the presentations, and I’m aware of the services. My employers are keen that we get the right level of service for the price. Our intention is to start with a limited contract, and then we will review again before full roll out.”
His intention was to put them off their game by cutting through the formality, but Kalyan Rai was unfazed.
“It is much easier when cards are on the table. We will be honest, a yearlong limited contract is not a priority for us. It represents a large investment for an uncertain return, after all you might choose to go with one of our competitors. We want to know what would be required for the first phase of a full roll out.”
Smythe had been worried that this was where it might go. Head office had given him authority to agree to a first phase, but he was very uncomfortable with the responsibility. The sums involved were large, and if anything went wrong he was quite sure he’d be hung out to dry.
“Are you capable of running a first phase?”
He needed some evidence from them, what could he ask for? Before he could think of something Sunil Rao said, “Mr Smythe, can we demonstrate the efforts of one of our teams?” He gestured towards the screen on the wall.
“Please.” It would give him time to think.
“This is the team.”
The screen showed four people, two men and two women. They were all smiling rather cheesily.
“They have been tasked with eight subjects for the last three months. Here is their report on one of the subjects. They used only data feeds available within the contract, no additional cameras or physical devices were used, so this is a like for like representation.”
Photos started to flash up on screen with commentary. There was a picture of Smythe in his flat. Then leaving, getting a cab.
“The fare was fourteen pounds fifty and the subject added a fifty pence tip.”
He sounded so tight.
“The subject was two hours and seventeen minutes early for his flight. He spent an hour of this in the bar where he drank seven gin and tonics and spoke to five other passengers, all female. One of them appeared to give him her number, but a separate check confirmed that this was in fact the number to her ex-boyfriend. Further details on both the woman and her ex-boyfriend have been stored.”
The film continued, at first Smythe was amused, and then bored. When they started showing footage of his activities the night before he became annoyed.
“Now really, this is unreasonable, you have no right…”
“Actually Mr Smythe, we checked with your manager at the ministry, and he was happy for us to track you as a test run. He asked that we send him the full file once we’d shared it with you.”
Smythe nearly choked. It was unlikely the ministry would be happy with where he was staying, but they’d have to do something about his use of professional entertainment. These bastards had him, and they knew it.
“Fine. That’s all very well, but that doesn’t prove you can do the job.”
The men around him just smiled, and the screen in front of him split into eight. The same type of analysis was shown of seven other people, including his brother, his parents, his next door neighbour and two old school friends. The last person was someone totally unknown to him.
“These were all tracked by this one team. They were operating at five percent capacity. Here are the cost estimates.”
Sunil Rao pushed a folder over to Smythe, he started to read it. At first he was still numb from the implied threat, but then as he read further he became more confident that this might actually work out.
“You can really commit to these prices?”
“Where are your personnel based?”
“Eighty percent are in India, that’s how we keep our costs down. Some are here, and some will need to be in your offices, to ensure access to the various data feeds, and help manage the overall contract.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
“One of our sister companies provides the IT systems for most of your police and internal security forces, so we will be able to automatically pull in any additional feeds those groups make available. We will also route all suspicious activity, with appropriate evidence, to those groups. That comes without additional cost.”
Despite himself Smythe nodded appreciatively. Then trying to get the upper hand, he asked another question.
“Phase one anticipates eighty percent coverage of high risk subjects, with nearly thirty percent coverage of the population.”
“We are aware of that. At this point we have enough staff to take on half of that, and can ramp up to full capacity within six months.”
The numbers had started to overwhelm Smythe.
“But, but that means you have fifty thousand trained people already waiting?”
“Yes. We’re committed to this contract. If you approve it, and the subject names are passed through to us, we can provide the first detailed reports within six weeks, and then every week thereafter we will provide updates.”
Smythe marvelled. Back at Security HQ he’d wondered how they’d ever track three million people in phase one, let alone the rest. They’d always joked that they’d need to employ half the population to watch the other half. The solution was obvious, instead they’d use someone else’s population to watch the whole of theirs. He was confident that after phase one they’d expand it, and very soon they’d have the country covered.
He smiled, and said, “Mr Rao, this seems excellent, however there is the little matter of my personal files?”
“I’m sure we can edit them appropriately.”
“In that case, I have the authority and if you can provide the contracts I’ll be happy to sign them.”