Archive for March, 2017

Finding And Monetizing Innovation And IP In IT Services

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Mr. N Chandrasekharan, former CEO of India’s largest IT company Tata Consultancy Services and currently the Chairman of Tata Group from January this year, lashed out at detractors of the IT Services industry recently.

I totally agree that:

  • Indians should be celebrating an industry that has grown from nothing to US$ 150 billion in revenues in 30 years
  • India should be doing more in an industry that is clearly aligned with its strengths
  • There’s huge headroom for growth in IT Services.

That said, India’s IT Services industry faces growing competition from Brazil, Central Europe, China and other wannabe-offshore destinations. Therefore, it’s necessary for the industry to think of new ways to maintain its lead aka innovate and create Intellectual Property.

Normally, innovation and IP are associated with software product companies.

People assume that IT Services comprises of mundane work and offers little scope for innovation and IP.

The notion is further perpetuated by the following practices that are fairly common in the industry:

  • Programmers and Project Leads working on a project get excited about some new facet of technology or programming language they’ve used in their project. Automatically, they tout that as innovation. But, when viewed against the prism of market, most their claims fall flat
  • Project Managers / Delivery Managers responsible for the project are not very enthusiastic about uncovering innovation in their projects. Their apathy stems from the belief that, since source code developed in a services project belongs to the customer, they can’t do much with IP, even if they find it.

I totally disagree.

In my experience of over two decades in the IT Services industry:

  • I’ve found nuggets of true innovation in many projects. Just that they remained hidden because they didn’t float the project team’s technical boat
  • I’ve come across industry players who regularly packaged services innovations in ways that fully safeguarded their customers’ IP rights
  • I’ve seen the use of innovative business models like “co-visioning” to take service innovations to market in collaboration with customers.

But, because of the aforementioned industry practices, it’s hard to spot services innovation from the inside. Unlocking it often requires an “outside-in” perspective. We use the following structured methodology to help IT Services companies identify and monetize innovation and IP:

  • Discover capabilities by deep-diving into projects
  • Create marketable offerings that are centered around resolution of business pain areas related to revenues, costs, risks, and so on
  • Use our proprietary STRADOF framework to identify differentiators like domain expertise, dedicated practice groups, engagement models, optimum size, hosting infrastructure, etc.
  • Develop case studies and offering detail notes
  • Spec proof-of-concepts

You can find more details and success stories at GTM360 for Software Services Companies.

If you need help with identifying and monetizing your services innovation, we’re there!

Reliance Jio – All Good Things Don’t Come To An End, They Just Stop Being Free

Friday, March 17th, 2017

In Reliance JioFi First Impressions, I’d shared my experience of buying the Portable 4G Pocket WiFi Router and onboarding the 4G Internet connection from Reliance Jio in September 2016. I’d followed this up with another post a month later in which I’d recounted my first two months’ experience with Reliance Jio. At the time, the Internet service was free.

Reliance Jio recently announced the end of its free trial period by 31 March 2017 and launched a membership program called Jio Prime and a series of paid topup plans that will become effective from 1 April 2017. Fashioned after Amazon Prime, Jio Prime has a membership fee of INR 99 (US$ 1.5) for the first year. While Jio Prime members have a wide choice of topup plans, the most heavily promoted one offers 1GB data per day for 28 days at a price of INR 303 (US$ 4.7).

Just as Jio is transitioning from free to paid service, my other Internet connection started sucking big time. Apparently, the provider of this connection has a generic network issue in my neighborhood and no clue as to when it’d be able to resolve it. Therefore, I decided to cancel its connection and opted to continue with Jio.

In this third and final installment of my 3-post series, I describe my experience with Reliance Jio over the last three months and the process of signing up for Jio Prime recently.

#1. SPEED HAS TANKED BUT EXPERIENCE IS BETTER

Gone are the speeds in the 20-30Mbps range I got during the first two months of using JioFi. Of late, I’m lucky to get even 10Mbps. For the record, the fastest speed I got in the last three months was 11.59Mbps and the slowest, 3.09Mbps.

However, I’m more happy with my experience with JioFi now.

That’s because its uptime has improved considerably and ping times have dropped a bit.

In my update dated 10-Oct-2016, I’d reported that my JioFi connection suffered from >50% outage. These days, I get upwards of 90% uptime. Average ping time has dropped from 75ms then to 65ms now. Knock on wood!

Although downloads take longer, bulk of my Internet use is for surfing and content marketing. High uptime and low ping time play a much bigger role in delivering a superior user experience in my usage scenarios.

Image credit: Radhika Iyer*

I also take this opportunity to give props to Reliance Jio for providing reasonably good quality of service during my recent trip to Tirupati and back via Bangalore. For the uninitiated, these routes pass through many small towns and villages. My experience with quality of Internet connection from other Internet Service Providers at these remote places is not great.

#2. ONE EXTRA PAYMENT PER YEAR

As against the industry standard of 30 days, I noticed that Jio’s INR 303 topup plan had a validity period of 28 days. When I signed up for it, I didn’t think much of this. It was only after I came home and did a little math that I realized what Reliance Jio has done here: By trimming the validity period slightly – so slightly that most customers probably won’t notice it – Reliance Jio has created 13 payment periods per year (365 / 28 = 13.03) unlike other ISPs who get only 12 payments a year with their 30 day plans.

Well played Reliance Jio! Wonder if the company picked up this hack from Western Europe, where employees typically receive a 13th month salary as bonus each year.

#3. ONBOARDING IS STILL FORMLESS…

In my previous post, I’d felt that Reliance Jio was able to roll out a formless, paperless and signatureless onboarding process because it was giving out free connections. At the time, I’d wondered what’d happen when Jio eventually started charging for its service.

Well, Jio just launched a paid plan. I signed up for it and paid up for three months. There’s still no form, document to submit or wet ink signature. I was pleasantly surprised to learn from the salesperson at the store that the Aadhaar e-KYC done when I enrolled for the service in September 2016 continues to be valid now.

Kudos once again to Reliance Jio for reiterating its commitment to formless onboarding. Hope other service providers follow suit.

#4. …BUT SCRAPPY

That said, there’s still a lot of scope for improvement as regards confirmations and notifications. After signing up for a plan and paying up for three months in advance with my credit card, I was expecting to get details of my entitlement under the selected plan and a receipt for my purchase. But all I got is this piece of paper:

The image on the left is the credit card chargeslip. On the reverse of it, the salesperson scrawled the order numbers for my four orders (one order each for membership plus topups for three months). I doubt if I’d have gotten even this much if I’d paid by cash.

I asked for a more formal confirmation of my plan and payment. The sales guy kept saying “it’s all in the system”. Normally, I don’t accept such vague assurances but, on this occasion, I let it pass because I did have the credit card chargeslip to prove my payment.

I left the store, quite sure that the sales guy couldn’t do anything more and hoping that everything would work out fine.

#5. HOPE THERE ARE NO BILLING ISSUES

That was not to be.

A few hours later, I got an SMS from Reliance Jio. I thought it was the plan and payment confirmation that I’d sought at the store. But it turned out to be a pitch for Jio Prime and a missive for me to join the membership program at the earliest! Either this was the result of a channel disconnect or, worse, a sign that Jio’s system had no record of my instore transaction.

I no longer sat tight hoping for the best and decided to initiate action. I tweeted @RelianceJio with a subtle reference to the notorious billing problems faced by millions of Reliance mobile phone subscribers a decade ago:

I got a prompt reply asking me to submit my Jio # and alternate mobile phone number.

I’ll spare you the details but my request for proof of purchase – and registration on jio.com website – face a challenge: Unlike the vast majority of Jio’s 100 million customers who bought its SIM card for their mobile handsets on which they can receive notifications, I bought a router that can’t receive SMSs.

When I began this post, Reliance Jio’s social media support agent and I were going around in circles. However, by the time I finished it, I got a written confirmation of my purchase on Twitter.

All’s well now.


On that upbeat note, I conclude my third and final post on my impressions of Reliance Jio’s free trial period, but not before observing that:

All good things don’t come to an end. They just stop being free!

*: Radhika Iyer is my niece and a final year student at MIT Institute of Design. She runs her blog called Design for X.

LED There Be More Light

Friday, March 10th, 2017

At the outset, this post is not about how to recite Genesis 1:3 in a thick Malayalam accent:) It’s about ways to stimulate the use of LED lights.

But, first, some background:

I was very excited to read about UJALA Dashboard in an Economic Times article titled “LED There Be Light” (now you know the real inspiration for this post’s title!). Standing for Unnat Jyoti By Affordable LED’s for All, UJALA is the name of Government of India’s scheme to “promote efficient use of energy at the residential level; enhance the awareness of consumers about the efficacy of using energy efficient appliances … thus facilitating higher uptake of LED lights by residential users” (Source: UJALA FAQ).

Developed by the Ministry of Power of the Government of India, UJALA Dashboard monitors the progress of the government’s LED distribution program.

The dashboard displays the total number of LED bulbs distributed, energy and cost savings, CO2 reduction, among other metrics – all in realtime. As I write this post, I see the following numbers on UJALA Dashboard:

The scope of the dashboard is truly stunning when you consider that it aggregates information from across 30+ states of India and, that too, in realtime. UJALA is the only realtime dashboard I’ve seen anywhere in the world of any nationwide program, whether run by government or private enterprise.

Soon after reading the ET article, I stumbled upon a few factoids about LED.

As a result of all this, the techie in me was deeply impressed by LED technology and the consumer in me decided to support UJALA by migrating all lights in his house to LED bulbs.

I immediately headed to the neighborhood hardware store and found out that an LED lamp of my desired wattage cost around INR 450 (~US$ 7). I then called my electrician and asked him for his time and cost estimate for replacing all my existing incandescent lamps and tubelights with new LED bulbs.

My LED migration journey began soon afterwards. It has still not ended. I’d say I’m somewhere at the halfway mark as of now.

Based on my experience to date, I’ve thought of three ways by which the government can drive greater “uptake of LED lights by residential users”, a core mission of UJALA.

#1. SPREAD AWARENESS OF LED SUBSIDY

Pointing to an ad in my latest electricity bill, my electrician told me I needn’t buy LED bulbs from the open market at INR 450 apiece. According to the ad, the government was offering a bulb at a highly subsidized price of INR 100 (US$ 1.5). All I had to do was show my latest electricity bill to my utility company and collect a maximum of ten LED bulbs against a payment of INR 1000 (US$ 15). IMO, the government is justified in rationing out the subsidized LED bulbs – otherwise, the huge difference between their subsidized and open market prices will create a big black market for the bulbs. But I digress.

I must have seen this ad several times in my electricity bills but it had never registered. Probably because it’s in the local language. I have nothing against the use of local languages but the ad breaks the cardinal principle of marketing by failing to talk in the consumer’s language, which, in this case, is English. I remember an old warning issued by Helmut Kohl, ex-Chancellor of Germany, to foreign companies setting up shop in Germany in the ’80s and ’90s: “I’ll sell in any language but I’ll buy only in German”. Credit where credit’s due, the UJALA dashboard defaults to English, with an option to click on a button to view the dashboard in Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India.

By printing this ad in the customer’s preferred language – if not bilingually – the government can raise the awareness of its LED promotion scheme and entice more people to buy LED bulbs at the deeply discounted price for which it’s offering them.

#2. FACILITATE EASY MIGRATION TO LED

The electrician inspected the existing lamps in my house and noticed the type of sockets used by most of them.

Unfortunately, these holders can’t accommodate LED bulbs, which require a different type of holder.

While it doesn’t cost much to replace the holders, it’s not so easy to get hold of an electrician willing to do such small jobs – at least in my neighborhood. I wrote about this problem in Changing Face of DIY Markets. Sadly, eight years later, the problem hasn’t gone away – despite the fact that over 50 “Uber for Handymen” startups have mushroomed in the interim period. Instead of alleviating the pain, these startups are shutting down at an alarming rate.

Saying that he didn’t have the time on that visit to replace twenty-odd holders, my electrician scooted with the promise to come back on another day when he had more time. That has still not happened.

As a result, I’ve been able to replace only around 40% of the existing lamps, which happened to have standard 2-pin holders.

I don’t know what can be done by the government to solve this problem but facilitating easy migration from existing lamps to new LED bulbs is a critical success factor for UJALA.

#3. RECORD EVERY SALE

The guy at the utility company who sold the LED bulbs didn’t record my name or consumer number from the electricity bill I’d carried along. He didn’t give me a receipt for my purchase, either. Nor did he record the transaction anywhere that I could see. This may not affect the actual proliferation of new LED bulbs but it does compromise the integrity of UJALA Dashboard.

The government should ensure that operational level shortcuts like this don’t create scope for pilferage and blackmarketing nor lead to delayed-/under-/mis-reporting of UJALA’s progress.

 


I’ve been having a few LED lights in my house for three months or so. I continue to have many incandescent lamps and tubelights. Let me make a quick-and-dirty comparison between the old and new type of lights:

  • LED bulbs are as bright as the existing lights
  • Even after hours of operation, LED bulbs are cool to the touch unlike incandescent lamps that singe even after being on for only a minute or two
  • Compared to incandescent lamps that come on instantly, LED bulbs take around two seconds to start glowing. Before you ask, that’s long enough for the human brain to wonder if the bulb has blown. In the early days, the delay caused quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. Then I stumbled upon the story of a light bulb in California that has been on almost continuously since 1901 in THE L.E.D. QUANDARY: WHY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “BUILT TO LAST”. After reading THE NEW YORKER article about this bulb, I’m convinced that my new LED bulbs installed in 2016 couldn’t have blown so soon and that they’ll start glowing before I leave the room.

I haven’t analyzed the BEFORE / AFTER figures in my electricity bills to verify if my partial migration to LED has resulted in any savings on my power bills. But, as testimony of my enthusiasm for LED, I’ll gladly pay full market price – I’ve already exhausted my entitlement of 10 subsidized LED bulbs – to replace the remaining lights in my house with LED bulbs. Provided someone makes sure that my electrician turns up at my doorstep at the appointed date and time committed by him.

Moral Policing At Tirumala – Good Or Bad Thing?

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
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Tirumala Main Road

Here are the latest updates from my March first week visit to Lord Balaji and Goddess Padmavati Temples in Tirumala and Tirupati respectively. For the uninitiated, these are two towns in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India.

#1. DARSHAN TIMINGS

Here’s how long my two darshans took on Sunday, 5 March 2017:

Darshan 1:

Darshan 2:

According to the instructions printed on the INR 300 Special Darshan ticket, pilgrims can’t enter the queue before the darshan time stated on the ticket. However, I noticed several people joining the queue a good three hours before the alloted time. I know this because, when the person at the counter scans the barcode on the ticket, the alloted darshan time is visible to everyone on the overhead monitors.

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Photo Op Near Bus Stand

#2. NEW SPECIAL DARSHAN BUILDING

The INR 300 Special Darshan ticket mentioned a new entry point viz. “ATC CAR PARK”. This happens to be a new building located behind the Vaikuntam Q Complex. Dedicated for Special Darshan ticket holders, the building has facilities for handing over footwear and electronic items (e.g. mobile phones), which, as always, can’t be carried inside the temple premises. (Pro Tip: Carry a couple of carry bags with you. The guy who collected my footwear suddenly insisted that I place them in a bag. The previous day, the guy who collected my mobile phone at Padmavati Temple also did the same). It also has a counter for supply of of tea, coffee and butter milk. After taking a cup of coffee, I asked the volunteer how much I owed him. He looked up and said, “Govinda”, implying that it was free!

#3. MORAL POLICING

As I mentioned in my last year’s post-Darshan post titled TTD Has A Sales Department. And That’s A Good Thing, it’s now mandatory to be attired in “traditional Indian dress” for all special darshans. While there’s no change in this rule, a team of lady volunteers at the entrance to the new Special Darshan building was stopping almost every lady devotee and adjusting their dupattas. My teenage daughter surely didn’t appreciate this “special attention”. I thought this was a form of moral policing. I leave it to readers to decide whether it’s a good or bad thing.

#4. CROWD MANAGEMENT GETTING WORSE

There’s always been a lot of pushing and shoving inside the sanctum sanctorum. However, this time, I found the same happening in many other areas e.g. entry into the Special Darshan queue, in front of Sri Varahiri Hundi after darshan, and so forth. In fact, there was a lot of jostling even at the Padmavati Temple in Tirupati – I’ve never seen this happen in my 20+ years of visiting this temple.

This surely causes a lot of discomfort for pilgrims.

At first blush, this might suggest that footfalls have increased in both temples. But that flies against the face of newspaper reports, which quote TTD officials saying that crowds have come down post #CurrencySwitch. Besides, there are a lot of holding areas where pilgrims can be confined so as to avoid overcrowding in the other areas. My take: TTD is not confining crowds in the holding areas. In other words, it’s releasing more pilgrims directly into the queue. I noticed this on my queue: The holding areas were unlocked, unlike in the past when each holding area would stay locked for at least a half hour. As for why TTD is doing this, I can only guess that it’s the same reason why it doesn’t regulate crowds in the sanctum sanctorum. I could be entirely wrong but I can’t think of any reason for the worsening situation regarding crowd management.

#5. CASH IS STILL KING

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Solitary PayTM Sign

I couldn’t find a single store on the main Tirumala road that accepted credit cards. In the entire shopping complex, I could spot just one PayTM sign.

Andhra Bank has a counter for sales of gold and silver coins. It’s located near the bookstore in front of the temple. The person at the counter informed that they charge a 2% surcharge for card payments. In keeping with my normal practice, I refused to pay this surcharge. When I complained about it, he connected me with his branch manager on the telephone. Named Narasimha Rao, this gentleman told me that TTD refuses to pay merchant fees, so Andhra Bank has no choice but to slap a surcharge on customers. He brazenly told me that I could complain to whoever I wanted to about this practice. I walked out, mumbling to myself that this is yet another example of banks and government organizations defying government diktat against charging additional fees for digital payments.

Looks like #CashlessIndia hasn’t reached Tirumala yet.

Quantifying The Risk Of Online Payment Failure

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

I had to pay college fees of INR 300,000. College supported an array of digital and paper-based payment options viz.

Digital: Log in to college website, use college’s ePayment Gateway and pay by Credit Card.

Paper: Demand Draft.

I evaluated the pros and cons of both options.

DIGITAL PAYMENT

Pros:

  1. Credit card reward points: 3000 (@ 1 point per INR 100 spend). Generally, reward points can be redeemed for gifts worth INR 0.25 per reward point
  2. Deferred payment of 45 days, so no need to break FD immediately
  3. Automatic linkage of remittance info to student’s account
  4. Convenience of making the payment from home

Cons:

  1. Risk of failed payment due to two factor authentication and patchy Internet connection. I’ve written about this here.

PAPER-BASED PAYMENT

Pros:

  1. Zero risk of payment failure

Cons:

  1. Visit bank to buy the Demand Draft (3 hours)
  2. Demand Draft commission (INR 1000)
  3. Loss of interest due to need to break FD immediately
  4. Visit college to submit the Demand Draft (1/2 hour)
  5. Manual updation of payment on college website (1/2 hour)

*****

Let me compute the cost difference of the two options below:

BASIS: INR 300,000 Payment

INR


DIGITAL


PAPER

Gift value of 3000 reward points @ INR 0.25 per point

:

+750

Interest on INR 3.00 Lakhs FD for 45 days @ 8.50% p.a.

:

-3188

Demand Draft commission

:

-1000


TOTAL

:


+750


-4188

The incremental cost of the Paper option is INR 4938 (being INR 750 + INR 4188).

I still opted for it.

Why?

Because of the risk of failure of online payment. And the consequent trouble I’d have to go through to get my money back. I’ve written about this here. This is worth nearly INR 5000 in my mind (excluding cost of extra time taken up by the  paper option).

This is the perceived cost of the risk of online payment failure.