Sunday, April 5, 2009

Of identities, names and lotus notes

I hate lotus notes. It will make you wonder, what the heck! Of all the things on earth, why would I choose a nondescript email software as something to loathe? Well, there’s a long story behind this, which started from the day I was born. In pursuit of my parents’ desire to have an “attractive and unique” name, they tried out a variety of permutations and combinations on me. They kept stumbling upon new names only to find out a few months later that they were not as “attractive and unique” as they thought! This meant that by the time I was five, I had already lived as Siddharth, Saurav and Gaurav before finally being christened as Vivek, the name that sticks on till today. It took my parents a couple of years to figure out that even Vivek was not as unique as they thought, but apparently they had run out of options by then.
Throughout this transition of changing identities, there was something that always stuck with my name-my last name, Sharma. Until I joined McKinsey!
The day I joined the firm, I was given a strange sounding email ID vivek_sharma-xfr@mckinsey.com. I wondered why this strange suffix was attached to my name, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I had two more namesakes in the Chicago office. Things started getting bad when I and one of my namesakes started getting each other’s emails almost everyday, with some confidential and not-so-confidential information spilling over into each others’ mailboxes. Finally, within a week, I was requested by the IT guys to suggest an alternative name for myself, as lotus notes is too na├»ve to differentiate between vivek_sharma@mckinsey.com and vivek_sharma-xfr@mckinsey.com ! To keep things simple, I went for a truncated last name and agreed to an email ID of vivek_s@mckinsey.com. I had never imagined in the wildest of my dreams on what would follow in the future. Read on:
To give a background to those unaware of how lotus notes works, unlike other email clients, lotus notes assumes your name to be the same as your email ID. This means, it stores my name in its databases as “Vivek S” and not as “Vivek Sharma” (which, since I was five, for all practical/impractical and official/unofficial purposes, is the name I have been using). Things are all the more annoying since lotus notes does not even differentiate between names with the same letters. For example, if you type “Vivek S” in the address bar while sending an email, the stupid software will pick up vivek_s@mckinsey.com from the address book, not bothering that there is a “Vivek Sikaria”, a “Vivek Shankaran”, or a “Vivek Sharma” (my namesake) in the same address book, all having the same letters in their names!! This is unlike other mail clients where typing initial letters of a name will let you choose from the contacts that have the same letters in either name or email ID.
Now, since in all my email communication, my name appears as Vivek S, most people assume it to be my name. Thanks to this, for all practical purposes in the firm. I have been rechristened as “Vivek S”. Even all the official transactions including my salary slip, flight tickets etc. have my “new name” engraved on them (though I have been able to change some of them after repeated reminders). Not that the attempts to remind people that I am “Vivek Sharma” and not “Vivek S” have been successful. In fact, they have been real disasters as people ended up sending emails to my namesake in the Chicago office. Some of them include flight bookings, hotel bills etc. which are followed by frenzied responses from my namesake, asking the travel desk not to charge his credit card! One of my assistants has even recently emailed a scanned copy of my credit card, with CVV number to my namesake, I am just hoping that I don’t end up getting massive bills from Chicago in my next credit card statement!
A few months back I landed up at the ITC Kakatya hotel in Hyderabad and they won’t let me check-in since I did not have my passport with me. I was amazed why on earth would I need a passport to check-in into a hotel in India, especially when rest of my team did that without any hassles! I finally found out that the booking was done in my namesake’s name, who holds a US passport. Nevertheless, I finally managed to sort things out and gave them my business card. They signed me up for their rewards program and now I get monthly newsletters from them at my office address, with my name addressed as “Vivek Sharma, Associate Principal, McKinsey & Company”! Every time someone else from my team sees the newsletter and if I am around, I can be assured a full day of leg-pulling (which thankfully doesn’t happen too often, as I am out of office on most days).
I have been putting up at Ritz Carlton in Jakarta for most of my time in the past six months and every time I check-in, I find myself listed as a Singapore citizen, born in 1965 and Director of Development, Asia! That was another of my namesakes who doesn’t exist in the firm anymore. In spite of my repeatedly telling the hotel staff that this guy doesn’t exist in the firm anymore, they still end up messing it 8 out of 10 times. It is so annoying to find myself listed as 43 years old in their database!
But having namesakes can also have its advantages, one of which I got during my trip to Hong Kong last year in July. I landed up at the JW Marriot and was quite surprised with the exceptional courtesy these guys offered me, the goodies including free room upgrade, complimentary breakfast & drinks and access to their business lounge. I first of all assumed the special courtesy was thanks to a platinum credit card from a prominent bank that I flashed, but I soon realized something fishy, as none of my team members, including an EM, were getting any of those privileges. But I chose to keep quiet and enjoy the goodies. My doubts that it was a case of mistaken identities were confirmed at my checkout, when they handed over a box of chocolates and a birthday card to me. My birthday was a good seven months away! If this wasn’t enough, the hotel even sent me a “Platinum Plus” card a few days later, which apparently you get when you spend more than 75 nights a year in JWM properties. I don’t remember having spent more than 7 in my entire life!
A couple of years ago I would have never imagined a minor glitch in an email client would make so much of different to my life, but it has, and in the most unbelievable manner. It is quite annoying but at the same time quite funny at times as well. Here’s what IT can do to your lives!!