Archive for March, 2014

FAASO’s Wins “QR360 Code Of The Week” Award

Friday, March 28th, 2014

FAASO’s is the winner of “QR360 Code Of The Week”, the award series we kicked off with Precious Platinum last month. 

The winning QR code appears on the upper right hand corner of the quick service restaurant chain’s menu. Scanning it takes users to the app store page of MOBILE wrAPP, the company’s smartphone ordering-cum-loyalty app.


Here’s what we like and dislike about this QR code:

What’s Hot:

  1. The code scans easily on a wide range of smartphone cameras
  2. There’s a natural transition from the print to the mobile world
  3. Apart from online card payment, which is cumbersome and a bit flaky, all other steps – including the alternative Cash on Delivery payment mode – can be executed on a smartphone with minimal friction.

What’s Not:

  1. The use of three different QR codes when latest advances in QR code technology allow a single QR code to redirect users to the corresponding app store by auto sensing their smartphone operating environment
  2. Driving direction does not piggyback on turn-by-turn navigation.

Congrats, FAASO’s, for winning this award and best wishes for using QR codes in many more useful ways in your ads and other promotional materials going forward. In a separate post, I’ll do a deep dive of the app and the underlying loyalty model. 

Three More Ways How Tech Vendors Can Accelerate Legacy Transformation

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

In How The Tech Industry Can Help Banks Accelerate Legacy Transformation, I’d described three issues with open systems that held banks back from transforming all their legacy applications to open systems.

Here are three more:

Sudden Loss of Functionality

In this brilliant article titled When Product Features Disappear – Amazon, Apple and Tesla and the Troubled Future for 21st Century Consumers, Steve Blank, the famous Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and the father of the Lean Startup movement, gives several examples of how vendors “unilaterally remove features from their products without asking their customers permission” even when users have paid for those features. Such arbitrary downgrades are painful enough for consumers but they can wreck havoc in banks.

Frequent UI Changes

We’ve all been through perplexing moments when familiar software suddenly looks strange, with screens, links and buttons vanishing into thin air. This happened with Windows Vista a few years ago. I’m seeing this happen with Google Analytics now. To continue with the example I used in Part 1, the said social media archiving software recently changed the default option for search to “today’s updates”. I hardly need a search feature to track down my today’s updates.  What I really want from search is to get hold of all past updates on a given topic. This was the default option before. Whereas, to run this search now, I need to go to another screen and select the “Lifetime” option, which is not only counterintuitive but takes up additional mouse clicks for no good reason. The new UI is an unwelcome change to me and, I suspect, for most users. It’s easy to trot out philosophical statements like “change is the only constant” and all that, but vendors need to keep in mind that the cost of retraining thousands of bank staff on a new UI could wipe out any benefits of moving to an open system.

legacy03Wrong Messaging

A quick glance at their marketing collateral would show that most vendors of open systems use cost reduction and innovation as the key go to market themes to push for legacy transformation. This messaging ignores two realities: (a) Despite incurring the high costs of maintaining legacy systems, financial services is the most profitable sector in FORTUNE 500. (b) With whatever systems they have, banks have proved their innovativeness by launching ARM, CDO, CDO2, CDS, MBS and a slew of highly innovative structured financial products that have made a lot of money for them (even if they haven’t proved as lucrative for their buyers or the rest of the economy, but that’s another story). Besides, and I’ve heard C-level bank executives say this, retail and commercial banking are fairly simple businesses that don’t need to be overcomplicated by innovation for its own sake. Therefore, neither cost reduction nor innovation is powerful enough a message at the C-Suite of large banks for driving legacy transformation.

As a result of the above factors, legacy transformation is fraught with a lot of risks that seem unsurmountable as of now.

Meanwhile, mainframe sales keep growing.

To achieve greater success in persuading top management of banks to ditch their legacy applications and embrace open systems, technology vendors need to address the above issues.

Without spilling too much candy in the lobby – a phrase for which I must thank Ron Shevlin’s blog Snarketing 2.0 – let me recommend Steve Blank’s “21st Century Bill of Consumer Product Rights” as a good starting point.

Eight First Impressions Of Starbucks India

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Starbucks marked its entry into India by opening a few stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune over the last few months.

Here are my first impressions of Starbucks India based on my visit to one of these stores:

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  1. This store is a lot more roomy than the many Starbucks outlets I’ve visited abroad e.g. Central London.
  2. freewifi-sThe “Free WiFi” sign outside the store is misleading since there’s neither free nor paid WiFi inside the store.
  3. The menu displays three sizes viz. Short, Tall and Grande. The attendant told me that “Short” – the smallest size – is a new variant created for India. However, there’s no mention of this size on the placard placed on the counter, which only lists Tall, Grande and Venti, the standard sizes across the coffee retailer’s stores worldwide. When I pointed this out, the attendant told me that it was a “technical error”. To me, it seemed more like a “marketing blunder”. On second thoughts, I couldn’t help wondering if underplaying Short is a subtle way of testing whether the Indian market really calls for a lower-price smaller size or it’d be okay with paying more for the standard Tall size. Likewise, there’s no mention of Venti in the menu.
  4. The store uses the “open outcry” method to call out patrons when their orders are ready for pickup. This is strange since, at all Starbucks outlet I’ve visited (outside India), customers place their order, make their payments and collect their drinks in one single pass through the counter. Besides, all the shouting that hapens as a result of this practice causes a lot of disturbance and undermines the barista’s basic positioning as the “third place” between home and office for getting work done.
  5. The ordering and payment processes are quite time-consuming. As a result, the queue moves more slowly compared to Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Costa Coffee  and other coffee chains in India. I wonder if the slow checkout – rather than overwhelming popularity – is the real reason for the long queues seen outside many Starbucks shops in India.
  6. placard-sIt’s possible to pay with an American credit card at this outlet – something that’s increasingly becoming difficult at many merchants in India.
  7. None of the staff at this store has heard about Starbucks Card App, the company’s loyalty-cum-payment mobile app that accounts for over 90% of all mobile wallet spend in the USA and is widely considered the world’s most successful mobile wallet. While the company’s website does feature the Starbucks Card, it’s of the plastic variety and I couldn’t find any mention in it of the mobile wallet app. I think Starbucks has lost a golden opportunity to go “mobile first” in India, considering that virtually every customer ahead of me in queue had a smartphone and paid by a debit or credit card.
  8. Last but not the least, I found the bill to be very long. Trimming it will save a few trees and serve as a “low hanging fruit” for Starbucks India to reinforce the parent company’s “sustainability” message.

If this blog post is absolutely silent on the subject of coffee itself, who goes to Starbucks for just the coffee?

How The Tech Industry Can Help Banks Accelerate Legacy Transformation

Friday, March 7th, 2014

During a meeting with the CIO of a Top 5 bank in Germany, I was introduced to a lady who was retiring that same weekend. The CIO averred that she was the last employee in the bank’s IT department who knew the nitty-gritty of a certain mainframe application. I quickly seized the opportunity to pitch for a project to transform the legacy application to open system and added that we’d use a framework to significantly automate the migration. Apparently my message resonated with the CIO because he promised to internally discuss the risks of moving from legacy to open systems and get back to me soon. This was in 2002 or so.

Fast forward to 2014: The bank still uses the same old mainframe application.

It’s easy for me to conclude from this incident that banks are stuck in the old world of legacy technology and join the digerati in making doomsday predictions about the future of the traditional banking industry.

However, that would be turning a blind eye to the other side: the technology industry.

There are at least six issues with open systems that hamper legacy transformation. I’ll cover the following three in this post:


  1. Impractical open standards. The sheer heterogeneity of banking landscapes – at least in the developed nations – precludes compliance with BIAN and other open system standards. For example, the payments landscape at a Top 5 European bank I know of comprises 84 disparate systems, out of which not more than five can step up to open system compliance.
  2. Buggy code due to shorter release cycles. To quote a personal example, the social media archiving software I use keeps releasing new updates every 15 days. Most updates fail to install on the first time. This causes loss of productivity and, were it to happen with banking software, tremendous reputational risks and statutory penalties. The leading retail industry analyst RSR Research puts it nicely in its article RSR Software Quality: What the Heck Has Happened?: “…as we move into the Cloud, I really hope we keep our feet on the ground and our heads OUT of the clouds.”
  3. failwhaleLow uptime. Not to single out Twitter, but its “fail whale” epitomizes frequent outages of cloud software. A C-level executive at a leading payments processor told me that, with the best of intentions, they were unable to deliver more than 80% uptime for its card management software. As one who is wont to whipping out his calculator and doing quick-and-dirty calculations, I was dumbfounded when I heard this figure. At 98% uptime, one in 12 payments would fail, as I’d highlighted in my blog post Skating Away With Online Payments. Now, if one of these systems were to have an uptime of as low as 80%, the uptime falls precipitiously to 74% (0.98*0.98*0.98*0.98*0.80) and the failure rate quadruples to four in 12 payments. In other words, one in three payments would fail, which is an unacceptably high failure rate for a mission-critical business process.

By improving on the status quo with respect to the above mentioned factors, technology vendors can help banks accelerate the transformation of their legacy applications.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll cover the remaining three factors. Watch this space and, meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.