Archive for December, 2010

Season’s Greetings!

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Talk of Many Things wishes its readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2010.

GTM360 Marketing Solutions and Talk of Many Things wish its customers, partners, associates and readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2011.

widgets01_150wWe acknowledge with thanks the following tools introduced in 2010 that have helped enrich Talk of Many Things.

  • Ever since reCAPTCHAs started becoming more and more complex to crack, we replaced the standard WordPress commenting system which made use of reCAPTCHAs with the Disqus comments platform this year. Disqus supports full integration with Facebook, Twitter, and more, and lets readers login, comment and share using social networks they already use.
  • The Lijjit Search Widget you see on the right panel of the homepage of this blog aggregates our content from all over the world wide web into a single location.
  • We’ve used PollDaddy to deepen reader engagement with our blog by letting them vote on our views.
  • Finally, for readers who wish to automatically receive new posts on their email inbox, there’s the FeedBurner Subscription Widget.

Thank you for your continued interest in Talk of Many Things and look forward to staying in touch through 2011.

Before signing off, let’s leave you with the list of the ten most viewed posts published on Talk of Many Things in 2010:

  1. The New Rupee Symbol & Hammer-and-Sickle

  2. Debt Consolidation Comes To India

  3. Changes In Tirumala-Tirupati

  4. FiServ ZashPay Should Gain Rapid Consumer Acceptance

  5. FIs Can Bolster Equity Participation Only By Mitigating Risk

  6. How Humanlike Are Virtual Agents?

  7. Have Your Overdraft And Eat It Too!

  8. Suggestions For The Indian Software Product Industry

  9. Google Versus LinkedIN Advertising Rekindles The Quantity Versus Quality
    Debate

  10. Save Money By Using Credit Cards!

Positioning Technology As A Risk-Free Way Of Cutting Costs

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Every downturn sees several technology vendors urging customers to look beyond headcount reduction in order to cut costs. In a recent example, a cash management vendor promotes improvement of straight-through processing as a way to improve efficiency, and hence cut costs.

If you get the feeling that most of these pitches fall on deaf ears, that makes it two of us.

Is this because technology involves an investment whereas headcount reduction appears to be a zero-cost option? Not really. In most developed nations, letting employees go involves severance pay, benefits, legal fees,  and other upfront costs, which are not insignificant.

Companies probably prefer to slash headcount because it’s a virtually zero-risk – though not zero-cost – route to cost reduction. They pay out the upfront costs, the employee costs automatically come down from the following month.

On the other hand, when it comes to technology, before they can realize the promised cost reduction, customers have to navigate a plethora of risks around choice of vendor, appropriateness of the technology for their circumstance as well as a host of uncertainties around project success and extent of end user adoption of the new technology.

It is perhaps to mitigate the risks arising from these uncertainties and thereby boost the effectiveness of their pitches that a few technology vendors are recently trying out a new and novel approach. Under this approach, Infosys and a couple of other vendors build the technology at no upfront cost and recover their investments by charging ongoing transaction fees to their customers. By doing so, the vendors take on most of the risks and effectively let customers enjoy cost reduction “on a tap”.

On the face of it, this approach might seem akin to the subscription model offered by SaaS and cloud-computing vendors. But, that’s not so: With SaaS, the vendor owns the application cloud and provisions it for use by multiple customers without too much customer-specific functionality for any given customer.  Whereas, in the new approach, the vendor builds a new, highly-customized application for each customer that is not only owned by the customer but is also difficult to extend to another customer for contractual, if not functional, reasons.

ET Blames “Technical Glitch” For Its Bloomer

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

After writing to the editor of The Economic Times two days ago pointing out its bloomer of repeating a full page of editorials and articles across two days’ editions, I simultaneously posted this letter here.

ET acknowledged its bloomer in yesterday’s paper and attributed it to a “technical glitch”.

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Courtesy: Rajesh Balasubramanian

Use High-Tech With Caution In Ads

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Of late, there has been a spate of print media ads that encourage readers to learn more about the advertised product by immediately serving up an online experience – so called “augmented reality” – on their mobile phones. Nokia N8 mobile phone and Godrej Interio “green” office furniture are two recent ads of this nature.

qr02_250wThe convergence between the print and online media is enabled through QR (Quick Response) Code or another similar type of 2D barcode printed on the ad. The reader of the ad first sends an SMS to a prescribed shortcode number (ex: 56263), then visits the mobile website mentioned in the response via GPRS, and finally downloads a barcode reader application to their mobile phone. After installing the application, the reader clicks the QR Code using their mobile phone camera, and automatically lands on a website that provides the augmented reality experience.

This is a great example of blending high-tech with conventional print media advertising and has the potential to improve stickiness and foster deeper consumer engagement with the advertised brand / product.

At the same time, marketers and advertising agencies need to be mindful of whether the technology they’re using really boosts the brand image and expands the market for the advertised product, or has the exactly opposite effect.

With the Nokia N8 ad, my SMS to the given shortcode never elicited a response even after several days. As a result, I wasn’t able to view the online content. With my background in technology, I guess the failure must have been the result of heavy traffic or some other technical glitch. However, my takeaway as a potential buyer was, the Nokia N8 ad didn’t work, maybe the product won’t either.

qr01_400w

In the Godrej Interio example, I did get a response to my SMS. When I visited the resulting website to download the QR Code Reader, I was  informed that my model of Nokia mobile phone didn’t support the reader software. My first reaction? This is an ad for furniture, which is hardly a high-tech product. Why then does an ad for such an item preclude deeper engagement – and forsake a potential sale – by relying on an exclusionist technology that calls for an unnecessarily advanced model of mobile phone?

In the final analysis, I might buy a Nokia N8 or Godrej Interio furniture despite these ads, which begs the basic question: Why bother with such ads at all?

ET’s Bloomer Of Today Takes The Cake!

Friday, December 17th, 2010

LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE ECONOMIC TIMES

From: S Ketharaman

Sent: Friday, December 17, 2010

To: The Editor, The Economic Times

Subject: Slow News Days for ET?

Dear Editor:

I have been reading The Economic Times for over a decade now. For the past seven years that I have been reading your Pune edition, I have sometimes spotted one day’s story getting being repeated in another day’s edition. In one instance, the same item was printed twice on the same page, as I had pointed out in a blog (http://sketharaman.com/blog/2009/11/01/slow-news-days-for-economic-times/) posted at the time.

But, all that pales in comparison with your today’s bloomer: Page 10 of today’s edition is totally identical to Page 12 of yesterday’s! Not just that, a few items from other pages have also been repeated across the two editions. For example, “TOP 5 PICKS OF THE DAY” appears on page 15 yesterday and again on page 14 today.

Like all publications, ET is surely allowed to have its own share of slow news days. However, repeated gaffes of this nature will raise questions about ET’s respect for its readers’ intelligence, not to mention sully its reputation as a leading newspaper.

Thanks and Regards.

Ketharaman Swaminathan

PS: In my past blog posts, I’ve included scanned images of the guilty news items / features. However, since I don’t have access to a device that can scan something as large as a full newspaper page, I’ve to  ask you to simply take my word for it in today’s case.

Credit Cards Come A Full Circle

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Legend has it that the credit card was invented in the ‘fifties when one Mr. Frank McNamara had forgotten his wallet at home and had no cash to pay for a party he’d thrown for his important customers at a restaurant. Being a senator, he had enough clout to survive the incident but decided to do something so that neither he nor anyone else should have to go through such an experience again. Enter, Diner’s Card, the world’s first credit card.

Fast forward to today.

In describing a new service from MasterCard called inControl, this article in the New York Times uses restaurant as an example – in fact, the article’s very first – to illustrate how cardholders can set limits on different categories of expenses and inControl will ensure that their credit cards will be declined when those limits are breached. Point to  note is the transaction will be declined even if the cardholder is well within his or her credit limit.

cc01_400w

From its invention as a tool to bail out someone without cash at a restaurant, to blocking a food bill even if they have the money, it looks like credit cards have come a full circle!

Commercial cards have had such a feature for long. However, this is the first time it’s entering the domain of retail consumer cards. Unlike commercial cards which are used by corporations for ordering goods or services for their businesses or by their employees for incurring business-related travel and entertainment expenses, consumer credit cards are almost always used after the purchase has been made. In certain cases, as a matter of fact, the product or service is even consumed before the credit card is presented to the merchant. In such scenarios, I can’t help visualize what would happen when the buyer reaches the checkout counter, presents his or her credit card, and, lo and behold, MasterCard does its duty to protect its cardholder by declining the transaction.

Let’s take restaurants first. Does MasterCard expect the restauranter to laud diners for their exemplary financial self-control and waive their bills when inControl kicks in and declines the diner’s transaction? Or, does MasterCard concede that diners wouldn’t have a choice but to pay by cash or another card? If the latter, the basic purpose of the service, namely to exercise budgetary control, would be defeated.

In the not so distant past, when diners couldn’t pay their bill, restaurant owners in India would make them compensate by grinding rice to make batter for idli and dosa – two South Indian snacks – in a heavy, hand-operated stone-made equipment guaranteed to break their backs so that they never repeat their misdeed.  With electric grinders having replaced the old relics, what recourse will the restauranter have when faced with a diner whose transaction is declined by MasterCard’s inControl? Given that electric dishwashers and vegetable cutters haven’t made much headway in India, will the restauranter tell the miscreant customer to wash a hundred dishes or peel a quintal of potatoes?

Consider gas stations next. Barring the most state-of-the-art gas stations having ‘pay at pump’ infrastructure where the estimated charge to the credit card is preset at the dispenser before the fuel is dispensed, motorists or attendants tank  up first, then the motorist presents the credit card to the cashier located inside the store or at a central location on the forecourt. What if MasterCard inControl again serves its customer by declining the transaction, with a friendly message, “Hey Joe, we’ve helped you stay within your fuel budget for the month”? Will the fuel dispenser work in reverse and use a vacuum pump to suck out the freshly-dispensed fuel from the vehicle?

inControl is a service that would surely be found useful by people needing help with exercising self-control over their finances. However, some of its usage scenarios do appear quite hilarious!

Use QR Codes To Create Augmented Reality & Bolster Conversion Of Leads To Deals

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

The other day, during a visit to the local temple, I came across a poster advertising a concert for Carnatic music, which is a South Indian classical music form. I was very keen on attending it. However, since there was a lot of crowd in the temple and I wasn’t anyway carrying any writing material at the time, I couldn’t note down the singer’s name, concert venue and date, or the telephone number of the box office.

By the time I reached home a couple of hours later, I couldn’t remember any specific piece of information with which to search for the concert using Google. As a result, I wasn’t able to place this concert on my calendar, nor figure out from where to buy tickets for it and the concert organizer lost the opportunity to convert a lead to a deal.

This experience got me thinking if there was any technology by which the concert organizer could’ve transformed my momentary physical encounter with the poster into an elongated online experience – a sort of augmented reality, if you will – so that he’d be able to stay connected with me and other prospective buyers long enough to have a good shot at selling tickets to us.

Turns out that there is.

qr02_250wCalled QR Code, this is  a 2-dimensional barcode that could be printed on the poster. By photographing the QR code from a mobile phone, the prospective buyer could be automatically directed to a website, where they could obtain more information and book tickets for the concert. Assuming that they wouldn’t be able to do all this in a single session, they could at least bookmark the site on their mobile phone browser and visit it later.

I got a chance to use this technology a few days later.

2010 happens to be the year that my batch from IIT Bombay completes 25 years after it graduated in 1985. To commemorate the occasion, the IIT Bombay Alumnus Association is printing a souvenir and recently solicited ads from its members. Like all souvenirs are, this one will also be printed on paper and distributed to over 1,000 attendees of the forthcoming Class of ’85 Silver Jubilee Reunion event. Since most souvenirs have a fairly short shelf-life, I decided to add QR codes to my company’s ad in the souvenir so that people who are interested in my company can find out more about it even after they chuck the souvenir.

GTM360_Ad

As the above picture shows, the ad contains one QR-code on each corner, which will take a mobile phone user to the GTM360 website homepage, an inner page on Marketable Items, Share on Twitter page and Follow us on LinkedIN page. All the mobile user has to do is to photograph each QR-code with his or her phone camera – the rest happens automatically.

QR-codes can be printed on newspaper ads, T-shirts, product packaging, and a wide range of physical media. However, the full experience calls for fairly advanced models of mobile phones that support a QR-code reader and GPRS connection, so marketers and advertisers might want to use this technology only for products and services that are targeted at relatively high-end, tech-savvy consumers. Otherwise, their efforts at deepening the engagement might backfire on them. More on that in a future blog post.

Banks Can Boost Revenues By Freeing Up Debit Card Limits

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

The other day, when one of my credit cards was about to expire, I was thinking of not renewing it and putting my debit cards to use instead. I was assuming that I’d be able to use my debit card to the full extent of my bank balances.

However, this was not to be.

When I inquired with my bank – a leading private sector bank in India – I was surprised to learn that my debit card usage was capped at INR 20K per day regardless of whether I use it to withdraw cash from an ATM or for making payment at a point-of-sale (POS). Since this is a ridiculously low figure – and at least an order of magnitude lower than the credit line available on any credit card – I decided to proceed with renewing my credit card.

ATM and POS happen to be payment channels with very different characteristics, cost and revenue structures. An ATM has a finite number of cassettes for storing currency notes. This poses a physical limit on the amount of cash it can hold at any given time, so an ATM cash withdrawal limit of INR 20K per day seems reasonable. However, such a low limit doesn’t make any sense for a POS transaction which doesn’t involve any physical storage or exchange of money and, as long as I have enough money in my account, does not pose any credit risk to the bank.

Security concerns can’t be the reason for imposing a POS limit on debit cards since banks permit much higher amounts on credit cards which, unlike debit card transactions, don’t require a PIN.

Unlike an ATM transaction on which banks in India can’t earn any fees – according to recent legislation, both on-us and alien bank ATM cash withdrawals are free-of-cost to account holders – every POS transaction returns 0.5-1% of the transaction value to banks by way of merchant fees.

By suppressing the POS limit to the levels of ATM cash withdrawals, Indian banks seem to be losing out on an important source of revenues.

As far as I remember from my personal experience, banks in the UK, Germany and the USA don’t have the same usage limits for ATM and POS. In the UK and Germany, ATM withdrawal limits are typically GBP / EUR 200 per day, whereas you can charge your entire bank balance to your debit card in supermarkets and other points-of-sale. In the USA, you can actually put through transactions that bust your bank balance: Many banks would permit you to do this – albeit for a hefty fee that ranges from US$ 25 to US$ 35 per transaction – if you enroll for their so-called overdraft protection programs (more on that here and here).

By freeing up POS usage limits for debit cards, banks in India have the opportunity to earn additional revenues, just as their counterparts in other countries do.