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Srinivasan G

Srinivasan G

Attended TechSparks 2014

I have been at  TechSparks 2014 from the first edition ( or second edition?).  Today I was at the fifth edition of the event at Leela Palace.  From a small event for less than 8 hours in a day, the event duration has grown to 2 days and multiple cities. There were large number of  participants and the Leela palace capacity to support events with  best service was being challenged by TechSparks.  There were large number of sessions and with fast succession of session, I was losing attention span for good sessions also and then have to bring the focus back.

Nandan Nilekani shared the below  5 points and  I can connect with my experience. Being Indian citizen first, I do not agree with the need of  Aadhaar card for larger population and do not agree comparison of internet platform and Aadhaar platform. The internet platform does not require identity by default. People can be anonymous and business can choose to identify users and internet offers freedom of choice. Aadhaar  wants to provide  identity for every Indian.  It  might be helpful to IT business. Will Aadhaar  offer freedom of choice? Will it really help Indian citizens?  I am sure time will answer.

  1. Think Big and Look forward
  2. Subordinate their ego for large purpose. Build a company is long term assignment.
  3. When a company grows big, the boundaries created for effectiveness might not support innovation and it is more easier in small setup.
  4. Build global brand – company that was talked about
  5. Delayed gratification – Think of institution building, patience and hard-work, sustainable way of doing things, have compelling vision to attract talent, mentor people to develop skills.

Shailendra Singh of Sequoia Capital talked about two different style of start-up business. He talked of  mu-sigma and pine labs from the perspective that they are new ideas and their journey was long misunderstood.

 Global Themes New or Contrary Ideas
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to raise capital
  • Hyper Competitive
  • Gaining Market share is very important
  • Easy to recruit
  • The ecosystem is already there
  • You are one more in category
  • Often misunderstood
  • Difficult to raise capital
  • There might be no competition as there is no category.
  • Requires patience and Long term thinking
  • Under radar until it scales.
  • Do not expect appreciation and start thinking how to create ecosystem
  • Finally success creates a category. 

Category creation requires patience and the burden of defining your market is the responsibility of the start-up. You need to have ability to persist and go forward, when you are misunderstood by everyone.  If you are in this area, there is need to have a great user experience in the product, create better product, reconnects dots differently and tweak business model, think first principles and find opportunities to develop software. He talked of mu-sigma and Pine Labs as examples of what he described above. I have not heard of pine labs earlier and they looked interesting.

Ramesh Srivats talked about brand and how brands are flooding the social media networks. Some quotes are “Money cannot buy my love.”, “People are the media” and “Your product is your message” and also emphasized the need to move away from the old style of “Buy audience and push the message”.

Ravi Venkatesan  shared publish of his book “Conquering the Chaos” and also shared 5 pointers useful for  life and for start-up experience. Good.

  • Purpose : who would care if you do not exist?
  • Team : mutually exclusive and inclusive.
  • Mentor : Show what you are cable of and kick you when wrong, show way forward
  • Tenacity : Resilience/We simply do not give up
  • Gratitude : relates to optimism

There were 30 start-ups that showcased in Techsparks and you find more information of the same in article. There were 5 awards awarded by yourstory.(one award for 2 lakhs, 2 awards of one lakh and 2 awards of Rs 50000 for hackathon) and a new model of recognition of start-up in product ecosystem.Some of the startups that remined in my memory are

  • GoSales training
  • LoveCycles mobile Smartest menstrual tracker from Plackal
  • Illustrate the Video dictionary from mocept
  • LogiNext, Taking logistics to the next level.
  • AirLoyal  Ensure guaranteed engagement for every mobile ad campaign
  • df3d - a design factory for 3d printing.
  • ChloroEarth – trying to scale solution that would replace wood that can be developed from waste. Curious to watch.

Good job, Shradha Sharma and yourstory team. would look forward for TechSparks 2015.

When human and analytics mix; how Big Data can help with Big Decisions

[ This article got published in http://yourstory.com/2014/10/big-data-big-decisions ]

We have been hearing a lot about the use of Big data and how it can make it easier to take informed Big decisions. But, the connect between the two is far more complex than that.  Let us illustrate with an example.

Let’s assume you are a person with a passion to cook good food and have opened a restaurant. People liked your food and also your interactive approach and your restaurant becomes popular. Without realising it, you are mentally mapping the age and food preference of every customer and make sure everyone is delighted when they leave your place. When they get what they wanted, all of them are happy. Some of them who come to consume food travelling miles ask you for a new branch. You start the second branch, hire more staff and your business is growing to a large scale.

10 years pass on. You now have 50 branches and open 3 or 4 new branches every year.  As your business is doing well, you started a training academy to recruits trainees and train them as chefs in your branches. You personally teach some courses to ensure customer delight, quality and taste.  In short, you are now a Big company.

Thanks to computerization across branches, you have up-to-date data on daily sales every morning. One of your first customers, now a personal friend, advises you on strategy. He is a multi-disciplined personality who worked in multiple business area around food. You still go to him for help to take decisions. You trust him more and talk to him in the path towards decisions.  He is your strategist.

Now, your business executives help you identify location and rent a place and also suggest the investment required for each location and the ROI expected. They provide you with multiple options and ask you to select a location.

You need to make a decision “Where should you open the next branch? Which city? Which location?” These are big decisions and you are wary as the risk is now higher.

You turn to your two key executives, your Sales head and your Operations head. Both of them joined in the early stages and are good at their functions. They have set up processes to collect data that they perceive to help in decision making. You can also get other data from your IT manager.

Now here’s your problem.

  • Your sales and operations heads are good in their own areas but have little understanding of each other’s’ functions.
  • Both of them have come up by doing their job well. But they aren’t experienced enough to help with overall decisions and the implications of big decision making.
  • The IT manager understands the systems and databases but doesn’t know enough about the business to mine the systems.
  • Your strategist friend is a computer novice and has little understanding of databases and systems that can help the business.

The question now is how do you go about making the Big Decision of where to start your next restaurant? Let us see how Big Data can play a role.

First, Big Data does not necessarily mean appropriate data or the right analytics approach for a specific scenario. Second, one cannot always rely just on data analytics alone and ignore the human element. Thus, in reality, experience and intuition, data and analysis are not mutually exclusive.  Can Companies we find right people with expertise in each of the above areas and ability to marry all the four together. Hence the real question is how do you marry the two and reach a decision?

In this case, you would probably get the strategist to ask questions that he as a food industry expert would know to ask, while the operations and sales heads will provide their inputs to this along with the business owner.

While this is a practical solution, it is not really the best use of Big Data. For example, no one is qualified to seek data that spans across departments, the IT manager, who thinks in terms of SQL queries and department based data may not present it in a format that makes big decisions easier.

Time is critical as the decision is big and the stakeholders are big. Decisions cannot wait for the Big Data to come. Also remember that when the strategist views the report, they might want to drill more or they might even throw the data seeing its insignificance to the business or identifying the fallacy in their hypothesis.

So, at the end, some data, some human experience and a lot of intuition will go into this big decision. Our objective is not to minimise any of them, but to arrive at the best possible combination of the three.

One big problem in making big decisions is the focus on specialization. Today, everyone is working towards getting their department to perform well, and the willingness to experiment is going down. That, in my view, no interconnect between departments is the biggest hurdle to making informed decisions using Big Data.

As companies get larger, problems get more complex and stakes get bigger and even this approach may be considered too simplistic. Problems are muddy. Problems are interconnected. We do not know what problem to solve. Lots of times, the solution may not be available internal and might available as part of industry market research data.

This calls for a change in company culture. What should organization to do motivate engineering managers about value proposition of the product rather than product or technical features to make smart decisions with related to buy or build a feature?  How should organizations enable product managers to understand customer support issues to come with higher priority for customer needs? Do you have a policy to rotate potential employee across different functions to enable them to learn from each other?  Executives should be enabled to learn from each other, experiment to make big decisions frequently, apply decision and learn whether decision works or not for business. It not, they need to equip with learning to take new decisions. In addition they need the learning instinct on a continuous basis.

Hence in addition to Big Data, we need people with skills to bring diverse data together to make decisions better, collaborate and share stories with other department experts to help them relate to find superior solutions, propose experiment hypothesis that can be rejected by different department based on the nature of risk and mitigation measures needed and continue to ask stupid questions that helps them to keep learning and validate the past experiences based on current learning.

With this type of challenge to Big decisions, we see that Mu Sigma is positioned ahead of curve with focus on creating ‘decision scientists’ rather than ‘data scientists.’

To start with is the core belief of their approach: “All business is about understanding how their customers and others are taking decisions. And if I can understand that about people, I can influence their decision-making process,”   They have proposed 3 axioms of Mu Sigma to guide fresh engineers.

  • Learning was becoming much more important that knowing. This needs a  structured test and learn approach
  • How people learn was becoming more inter-disciplinary
  • Extreme experimentation – throwing darts randomly and hoping to hit bull’s eye. This has potential to create large impact on company’s future.

Where do we find these decision scientists? They need to be developed and that needs a learning pedagogy to be followed. We see Mu Sigma has aptly chosen the Montessori mode of education in HBR article “Develop Leaders the Montessori Way,” to bring these axioms to reality in corporate culture.  Lot of parents and teachers   know that Montessori model emphasizes on independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural psychological development.

  • It encourages children to be curious to create their own game experiment and allows them to choose some of the existing    game experiments and allows them to refuse to perform some game experiments without stating any reason.  In a company setup, this means employees are motivated to move beyond how of the scenario and learn what and why of the scenario. They are not driven to work hard alone (perceiving promotions as carrot).
  • There is no impact in teacher behaviour whether you win or lose the game. In company experiment, success and failure needs to be treated the same and both needs to be provided with right guidance and encouragement.  In the corporate setup, employees are enabled to have a long term vison for their position with the company, which serves also as a genesis for their career, rather than just an entry level job.
  • The Montessori model appreciates diversity of skills.  Teachers do not consider that knowing alphabets and numbers is needed more than being neat and hygienic and want the child to grow holistically. Corporate also need to have heterogeneous teams as they are more creative than homogenous ones. When this happens in the company, Diversity yields divergent thinking. There is a good possibility that pooling of a broader knowledge results result in learning that leads to better strategic choices.

Do other companies other than Mu Sigma take the approach of Montessori method of education? Yes. Some  of the top companies are already following these principles. Hindustan Unilever or Tata Administrative services train their management staff and rotate people across different functions and brings versatile spice to their already enriched profile . Can this be scaled? Some  start-ups are trying to follow this, giving ownership and responsibility / quality and time sense comes as a by-product.

That is the question Mu Sigma is trying to answer. Mu Sigma is training the engineers to think with freedom and interested in “Why of things” and are encouraged to continue this new form of thinking from his new box or new culture. Over years, some of these engineers would grow as decision scientists who are capable to work with other departments to create influence in organizations leading to collaboration and experiments.

Some of these trained people shall be able to connect the dots of diverse data using new technologies, processes and skills for other business and help the business not to   risk drowning in Big Data.  Some of these trained people might join other companies bring the learnt culture that would help larger industry to look at big decisions differently.

The industry needs to be changed and not just one company. 

More than just developing the machine ecosystem where data of other department moves using computers and the data gets collated in to Big Data, the companies also need to encourage culture where employees interact with each other and also understand why things are done in specific manner.  That means the employee needs to not just focus on what needs to be delivered, but also understand how an individual output enables other individuals or other departments to deliver their results better.

When a company trains employees at entry level with this style of education, the culture  is one where employees start to question status quo, irrespective of whether doer is person or machine and also  get right answers, it make them realize that there is a larger sense of purpose they start to realize and get satisfactory answers

Only then will Big Data be truly effective in a larger way.

Will we build trust for online payments?

In last month, I have been read this non-customer oriented article “RBI notice on online credit card transactions hits the Uber taxi app“. I run a my service and we have online payment incorporated for Indian students and also take payment via cheque and cash . When you work with customers evangelize and make him happy and not able to get payment, it is frustrating for everyone.  Should that means find a way to hold him tight in unfair way?  Can we not do business in win-win relationship with customers?

I do not think that Indian customers are matured for payment in the form of recurring charges .  I keep hearing and reading the dark side of credit card recurring payment woes  form American students and American people and my own experience being in USA. I would like people cribbing on RBI move to learn of the dark side of credit card industry and educational loans.

As I am not against online payment as such personally, I want to start with positive things. I want payments mechanism in India similar to my bank. My bank offers me 3 type of payment mechanism to pay my utility bills, credit card bills and also insurance.

  • One-time payment
  • Confirm & Pay. I sign up for this.
  • Auto-Pay . I do not sign up for this.

As customer, I prefer to make use of Confirm & Pay after saving the first time. This option gives me comfort feeling that money is not going to be taken by someone with out my consent.  If there are are issues in bills, I have an option to talk to them and get them resolved and then make payments. If the issue is not resolved, I pay what I consider valid and hold the disputed amount. It gives me mental peace as customer.  Positive experience

I use My Bank’s Payment option for Credit Card. The minimal amount gets transferred from my savings account to credit card. To make full payment, it is under my control. Here too I have the power as customer to dispute. With the power given to me, I trust my bank and have not faced major challenges.  Positive experience

Let us start with LinkedIn? I always get this annoying email from LinkedIn that  talks why I should try their trial version.  As I liked trying new products, I  genuinely try to activate the same, the process asks  me for a credit card and they will charge at end of trial period and I can discontinue before 30 days. Why did LinkedIn invitation email not share the information that they need credit card to activate the trial? if They have done so, I would not wasted time to going to the payment page. There was a recent survey and I marked my reason is I do not want to provide credit card and I got invite again 2 weeks back. The payment page has no connection to FAQ. It says “Did you know?You can cancel your Premium account anytime.” and observe there is no link. Googled and found this page Canceling or Downgrading Your Premium Account and observe the redirection without information as ” You can cancel or change your Premium account from your Privacy & Settings page.” I have not purchased and do not know. People who have purchased can visit “Accounts & Settingsobserve the difference in page name from Privacy & Settings.  I find it difficult to trust LinkedIn with my credit card details. Am I being scamed?

 Let me start with online credit card service. At the same time,  this is my bad experience going the physical way. I placed a different bank cheque for my credit card payments through ATM drop-box. After a week, it was not encashed. I called the bank and the bank did not acknowledge the receipt of the cheque. I cleared the Credit card amount from my savings account. Two weeks after the cheque was deposited, the different back cheque was placed without my knowledge and different bank charged me for no bank balance cheque presentation charges. My own bank charged me for cheque bounces charges even after reporting loss of cheque and making payment. In addition my bank  failed to honor my credit card payment and the credit card was blocked without my knowledge. The customer service representative on a call is not able to see old payment and is pushing me why I have not made the payment. It took my 2 hours across 6 calls spanned over 2 hours to get my credit card activated.  No responsibility of the bank and pathetic customer service

Two weeks back, I charged my 74 year old fathers’s SIM card and when I gave him the phone, he checked for the balance in the received message and found it increased. There was one more message and  there was unnecessary charge of 4Rs on pre-paid SIM card and he was worried.  He shared with me that this has happened earlier in last 2  months. He is concerned. Let me mention my father was senior professional who used mobile when there was charges both for incoming and outgoing calls while working. No customer service and Customer Exploitation by service provider related to payment and no easy refute process. I know that he will be charged for calling to complaint also.

Now comes my wife experience. She goes to deposit money in the bank in the regular hours and the bank refuses to take money and directs her to different branch that is not nearby for people who walk and cycle at that time. She takes extra effort and deposits there. I come back and visit the bank an raise concern. The bank justifies that they helped her. When I pointed that bank would not be able to refuse deposit in savings account and whether they can give that they refused in writing. I also shared that I would fax to RBI and then RBI would take action not on branch alone and the whole bank.  The manager acknowledge the extent of the mistake and justified that the computer system was down that day and the staff  did not know  how to perform their banking work without the computer system. Skill of the staff is a problem with banks and payments and no fallback mechanism in place. People know “what?” and “How?” only using computer. They do not know “what?” and “How?” of their process and neither the “Why?”  My wife is high value customer for the branch and why is the bank implementing  CRM. This skill gap problem is also observed when one goes to demat your shares in physical format today.

As customer,

  • I want to be in control of  conversion from  Freemium to automatic billing after the trial period ends. The service is bad in trial version and then why should I take extra efforts to stop the  automatic conversion. Most providers make it hard to stop auto conversions.
  • I want to be safe-guarded from exploitation from build in auto-renewals and continuity plans for subscriptions. There are no easy way to stop auto-renewals
  • Periodic notifications and consent are an absolute must, before invoicing and billing the customers in a recurring manner. People increase the billing amount without even communicating the same with us and this is not acceptable. Need sufficient time to leave your service. Invoices and bills are required for income tax filing purposes.
  • People need to  follow RBI safe-guards for customer. Welcome people working with RBI and making it win-win for both customer and businesses.  We should not use back door entries to overcome the regulations brought by a larger society?

I find that Flipkart.com, amazon.in and snapdeal.com have done better things and we learn from them more. Let us come with some mechanism where people have control to trust online payments.

Are Bangalore Tech Parks visitor friendly? Part 2

This is continuation of the article Are Bangalore Tech Parks visitor friendly? .

I started thinking what is the state of employees and contract employees coming there. Lot of companies place their staff in their client locations. These staff placed in client location have two ID cards one of their own company and one for their client. The client ID card will allow them access to their workplace office building

  • What would happen if the contractors forget the client ID card?
  • How much time will they lose standing in queue to enter TechPark?
  • Why double security? There is time spend at office reception security.
  • What is the time spend to walk from BMTC stop to actual building?
  • How much IT Tech Parks are disabled friendly?
  • How much “world class infrastructure” is closer to the experience in our buildings?

I am not saying no to security and I am asking IT companies to take more interest on their visitors and work to make things better for IT Tech Parks.

  • When a person comes with pre-scheduled appointment, company staff enters the information in system that would  send SMS message to the visitor. when the mobile is shown to visitor, the number in the message can be put to a cloud service that would validate the visitor and the visitor is allowed inside.
  • When a contractor comes on regular basis, there should be a cloud based solution that would enable single ID card  to be used to allow access to both company campuses. It might involve collaboration across vendors and if IT companies cannot integrate who else would do the job of integration?
  • Even more better thinking, can we eliminate physical ID card for employees and  provide digital ID card to be saved in mobile and can enable access.

Still there may be chances of person not carrying a mobile or new chances. Should IT companies start innovation right at their front offices? I hear media companies talking about the video surveillance in schools and other places. I would also look forward for the media to look in to whether practices of IT companies are visitor friendly and pedestrian friendly?  disabled friendly?

Are Bangalore Tech Parks visitor friendly?

In start-up for last 8 years, we have limited security procedures and were mostly present in small buildings of less than 100 people. In previous start-up, when we started having access card system,I started with felling that it was cumbersome with security, I later realized with some theft, the importance to have security based on access control mandatory.  In current start-up for last 3 years, we neither have door access control nor have Air- Conditioner; we have ceiling fans.  It is interesting to note that I have not worked in IT Tech Park  in last 8 years and none of my previous offices were prevalent in my first 8 years.

I hear from media that Bangalore has state of art facility. I hear from youngsters on bus sharing that the Outer Ring Road with offices on both sides is similar to some Highway in Silicon Valley( I have been stuck on 101 in business visit). How are visitors treated in Tech Parks? How pedestrian friendly are the Tech Parks?

In last 3 visits to IT Tech parks, these are my learning’s. Please be aware that I am pedestrian. I have not thought from the perspective whether IT parks are disabled friendly at their entrances.

  • I visited Manyata Tech Park for a business meeting. Crossing the outer ring road is a nightmare and could not identify  foot paths(Did I fail to notice). Then the visitor procedure at Tech Park gate was smooth and could get inside. There was a long walk to the office building near Food court. Once I reached and shared the reception about long walk, he shared that there is a shuttle from entrance to building. When my work was completed, I took shuttle(no charge) and the shuttle was filled with employees and lot were standing and bus was jam-packed. Once I reached entrance, I found a good number of people waiting to board the shuttle to go inside the campus. There was a shuttle empty with no driver. I waited for another 5 minutes till I boarded my BMTC  VOLVO and there was no shuttle.  May be driver was having siesta and the employees were taught patience to wait for the driver or may be cost cutting.
  • I visited a RMZ EcoZone for a business meeting. Crossing the outer ring road is a nightmare and and could not identify  foot paths(Did I fail to notice). Here the visitor procedure at Tech Park gate was to display government ID card and I displayed my Driving license. I saw a long queue. Fortunately, I asked in next counter and  I was asked to write particulars in book and allowed inside. When I refused give my mobile number, there was concern from the security that I have mobile and why I do not want to provide the same. I explained that I can provide him and not the visitor register as it might get misused. Then I was able to sneak-in. I am not sure what would have happened to me if I have forgotten to carry a government ID with me.
  • I have visited Embassy Golf Links Tech Parks to visit Microsoft, Fidelity and Yahoo offices on weekends to attend start-up community events or my ex manager. I find the access  access more simpler and appreciate them for their access. Here there is no shuttle and if you happen to get down from auto on the wrong entrance, the walk is really long. I like that there is foot path on the main road for pedestrians to walk.
  • I have visited Bagmane Tech Park 3 years back for Samsung to do some testing our mobile applications to board app store and the visitor experience was comfortable. 

Last week I experienced the heights of my experience in ITPL Whitefield where I had gone for a business meeting. There is a long queue to go inside and there is visitor entry form that needs to be filled and you are supposed to submit the visitor entry form and present a government ID at counter. I was upset of myself why I did not plan sufficient time for this. I gave the entry slip and she took my photo and took my Driving Licenses ID Card. She gives me back a visitor pass and not my Driving License. When I ask back for Driving License, I am informed that it will be in their custody and I can pick up on leaving after giving visitor pass.

 When i insisted that they cannot hold my government ID as they have no right, a security staff gets visitor card and gives me my Driving License. Stating that this is a cheap tactics and the procedure board does not mention that ID card can be withhold for issuing visitor pass and he was rude, I started walking inside saying that my visitor card has been printed and security is playing mischief. The security guy calls local supervisor on the road and then the other senior supervisor.

The senior supervisor says that this is procedure and asks me to cooperate and support. He also seems to understand that it is a government ID card ( what happens If I only had my passport) and he has never thought whether he had rights to withhold the same.  I took him to the board and showed that the procedure expects visitor to display ID card and there is nothing to effect that permanent card has to be handed over and I am worried of the safety of the ID card  and who is responsible if they lose the same.

He called his supervisor or director, who assured that he would provide personal guarantee for the safety of the card. when pointed out it becomes personal guarantee for his official work, he said that my question was genuine and do not want to delay further and promised that he would do best to have things in right shape. As nearly 30 minutes was spend at entrance and I believe in humans, I gave my Driving License and went in( collected on return). The foot paths were vehicle friendly and not pedestrian friendly.

Telecom,Mobility,Customer.

When I left college 16 years earlier, some large technology shops were  telecom companies, Alcatel, Ericcson and Lucent Technologies. They have contributed significantly towards the introduction of internet  across population in those years, along with mobile operators. Today all these companies continue to be involved in basic communication infrastructure, but their influence has reduced significantly and are no more driving force in their industry.  The  focus has changed towards customer.

Why these companies not change their focus towards consumer? The internet consumers were their customers or existing subscribers and they hold gateway to internet. Having experienced dissatisfaction calling operator agent over the provided response, I want to find the reason on what makes the agent to respond in particular fashion not aiming at customer delight.

In a simple scenario, where person  travelling abroad and wants to plan deactivation of the service and call operator. the person is asked to call on the day when he wants to disconnect the service. No customer agent accepts that they do not have mechanism to schedule this task  and that is why they are not helping customer in his planning.  The customer agents  are accustomed to the software provided that not does not allow them to schedule deactivation. The software is not helping to focus on  customer.

Traditionally, mobile and broadband operators and telecom providers provided limited freedom of choice  to their customers.  The telecom provider created console clients and provided to the mobile operator. The agents of the mobile operator were trained  on console clients and mobile operator offered services related to plans and capabilities to customers. The customer can either reach the call centre or file a physical application to  activate and deactivate specific plans. Some of these plan activations  were associated with joining fee  charged to consumer to experience the service for first time.

Arrive mobile devices, the mobile operator started to allow the  user to toll free number to en-roll and change a service plan and the  payment is based  on consumption. The pragmatists and conservatives feared that they might not use service post enrolling or changing plan and were doubtful where there was a hidden agenda to charge them for non-usage, similar to Value Added Providers earlier.  Absence of the feature to start and  stop data plans and voice plans from mobile phones  did not help customer to adopt and move to mobile data services and other new capabilities.

Here came Apple with a smart phone and  a application ecosystem.  To win the trust of people to use data services, their mobile phones have a internet soft switch and WI-Fi soft switch.  All the applications running can connect to data services only if the internet soft switch is enabled and the same with WI-Fi too. By providing this to customer, they empowered customer to start and stop internet usage on mobile devices. The customer started to trust that they have control over the mobile data services and they  started using maps and listening to audio and viewing videos, increasing mobile data service usage.

To make customer use more data services, you need to make them perceive that they have complete control over usage and earn their trust. The mobile operators failed to earn the trust of their customers and were only focused on profits.  Additional companies like Google and Microsoft started entering this space and the mobile operator  gave a free ride for new companies to own customer and lead lead the mobile data space.  Why mobile operator  failed to innovate towards customer ?

Today mobile has enable more collaboration for customer. More the collaboration has resulted in more applications developed.

  • Most of us get SMS on our phone based on debit in your bank account or credit card billing.
  • Individuals get PIN to complete on-line payment transaction(debit or credit)  with more sense of trust and faith than before.
  • Enterprises are enabled to collaborate with stakeholders present in multiple locations based on SMS and internet available with stakeholders to authorize company bank account payments using mobile PIN.
  • There can be new scenarios like, when customer talks to user agent, the agent can initiate a real time chat  with customer at the same time and they have the ability to use both of  the communication medium of voice and chat adhering to a seamless experience.

You see WhatsApp  has  taken away SMS revenue of mobile operator, by enabling  mobile operator to effectively use the existing  USSD infrastructure.  Why mobile operators did not create a service like WhatsApp ? How mobile operator gains insights on the customer needs after they have outsourced  customer service to third parties?

“Analytics as service” for SMBs – Part 2

Some SMBs utilize services of analyst today. The analyst helps SMB owner to make decisions today to decide businesses approaches to help business to generate more revenue.    Though there are analytical approaches to reduce cost and manage inventory and arrive at right prices, my idea of the blog  is around customer acquisition which is critical for the business.

Most of the the business owner would answer “Yes” to both the below questions. They would also be ready to pay if they see a logical route to achieve the below two goals.

  • Do you want more customers?
  • Do you want more money from existing customers?

Increase in number of customers and increase the money generated from every customer means growth in revenue, business. Let us consider a scenario that happens today where analyst is engaged to help small business today.

The marketing/sales manager of SMB proposes to the SMB owner with a proposal to run a specific marketing campaign or open a new store in a particular area.   Where the campaign proposal is similar to previous times, SMB owner finds it easier and simpler to approve the proposal with awareness that the last year campaign provided a comfortable result and he assumes the same would happen this year also.

The marketing and sales managers provide cost estimates for approval to be spend to reach the projected milestone. If there is new innovative business proposal where SMB owner has less awareness, SMB owner is aware of the decision on which both future business revenue and the cost to be spend to earn revenue depends. To mitigate the risk to take decision, SMB owner engages with a trusted analyst, known for a long time to help with the  decision.

The trusted analyst neither works for SMB and neither has access to customer data of the SMBs.  The analyst needs to bet on his experience and intuition and market relationship to recommend to go forward with  the business actions for the SMB owner. To be true to his profession, the analyst asks SMB owner for the data about customer and requests for reports. SMB owner connects with IT person in organization to check whether he can pull and present the data.

IT person requests for sufficient  time to provide necessary reports. Let us accept that IT person might have no understanding of the database structure and there is process to connect with IT expert to get the required data in desired format. IT person asks analyst  to specify what is the data needed. When the analyst asks what is the data available, the IT person has limited knowledge about data beyond standard reports.

SMB owner observes that business analyst requested for data and his organization is not able to provide data.  He also observes that business analyst had recommended a decision based on his experience and insights from his business network.

The suggestion of the business analyst seems to match with the intuition in SMB owner’s mind. SMB owner is not clear whether he had casually shared the intuition to the analyst  and analyst is projecting the same as insights.  As there is trust and long term association, the recommendation of the analyst are approved based on faith and personal touch.

Today when there is no analytics,  there are no elaborate mechanism to capture the recommendation of the analyst and also the outcome of the campaign or decision based on the proposal. Effectively there is no measure captured for future reference. The analyst is handicapped at the end of the time period to verify whether the recommendation resulted in to favourable  results for the business.

Analytics’s in place helps to implement  “Propose- Measure -Learn” feedback cycle . Here the recommendations are captured and the approach to measure the actual result is planned  before implementing the recommendation.  At the end of the analytics cycle, the  analyst can understand the gap between projection and captured actual result.

This enables the analyst to identify the reason behind the gap and also validate the extent of the actual measured results against the recommendations. The  insight from measurement against projection helps the analyst to modify or tinker recommendation for the next  business time interval.

With analytics in place, “Analytics as service” provider can evaluate how to capture the following value add customer  information  to get better insights.

  • How to integrate customer social networking data to get better insights?
  • How to make use of external available industry insights about customer from the same domain space?

“Analytics as service” for SMBs?

I like experience of visiting book shop and browse for books and read book synopsis and select a book. My daughter is also trained to search for book, read synopsis of the book  and pick books needed for purchase.  Today book-shop sizes are coming  down. The e-commerce companies have grabbed chunk of  major customers by providing the purchaser with recommendations and tips and purchase pattern among various categories.

In the current times, the book shops have started to display “Top 10 best selling books”. While this is a positive move, the regular clerks in bookshops  who gave good recommendations have left their jobs and the new clerks have limited information and I doubt whether they have reading habit. I felt loss of the personal touch of the staff who understood my taste and provide recommendation.

Today e-commerce companies including Amazon and flip-kart use analytics to provide better recommendation to their customers. Amazon provides customer delight to their customers across all customer interactions. This is in addition to reduced price offered. I also migrated to purchase books on e-commerce platforms.  The analytics platform of e-commerce companies provides them the advantage to record customer moments and come with purchase patterns approaches required to create customer delight.

When e-commerce business have developed their own analytics’s, the physical stores and chain stores are yet to take help of  analytics in their business. While e-commerce business cater to  only few categories, there are still a major set of categories that are serviced by retailers, physical stores and SMBs, that  are not disrupted by e-commerce players. Can the  physical stores develop analytics capability to compete with the e-commerce companies?

Every business wants to get more customers and also get more money from existing customers.  

What is the state of  physical stores and SMBs today?  In developing countries like India, SMBs and physical stores started to use internet to comply with new guidelines from government to pay income tax and service tax on-line. In addition, the cloud offers them a new approach where they need not purchase hardware and can host applications on the cloud.

They have no analytics even today for various reasons.  They are aware that there are enterprise software like SAP that could help in analytics and the software is quite costly and also needs them to purchase hardware. They also need to take service of costly experts to operate software. Effectively SMB owner is not confident to trust  ROI that comes from their investment. Still, a lot of cloud based ERP software’s are yet to provide full support of analytics module.

Is there an opportunity to offer “Analytic as service” to SMBs and physical store ? It would be too greedy to assume that SMBs can start with analytics on “Do it yourself” approach. SMBs require the help of business analyst to understand their business objectives and start adoption of analytics in business and the business analyst needs support of  technical experts to set-up  the  analytics at SMB and to start with standard reports suitable for business .

How to reach a place fast? Car? Walk ?

If you provide the answer “motor vehicle”, your answer is wrong in the context of the traffic signal at Kundanhalli Gate or Silk Board in Bangalore. By walking, you can be faster and can also reach ahead of the bus or car. During peak morning hours, by walking you gain a 15 minute advantage over motor vehicle at Kundanahalli Gate. Let us understand how walk can be faster than bus and car. Read  The 40-min crawl to travel 3.2 km

 ITPL area is location where IT companies are situated and more than a lakh people have their work place in this area. Company employees come in the morning by buses to ITPL from different places in Bangalore and go bak in the evening. The route to ITPL is famous for traffic jams. People spend more than an hour to come in the morning to work and spend evening to reach home, irrespective of their mode of travel, public bus, company vehicle or their own car. Most of the cars have single passenger who also acts as driver or passenger and his driver.

My home is located on the en-route to ITPL and we are close distance from ITPL. Very few people in apartments go to their offices in ITPL by their bicycle and hence they mostly use car.  Fortunately or unfortunately , my work place has never been at ITPL. I relocated to house on the way(main road) towards ITPL 7 years ago.  When the bulk of employees comes to their office in specific direction, I travel in the opposite direction.  When I relocated to my new place 7 years back, the transport going in the opposite direction was quite smooth and we could go quite early. Once I relocated here, I started using public transport and I continue to be a IT person using  public transport for last 7 years.  Those days were lucky days as they was less traffic in the morning on the opposite direction and  the same was the case in the evening.

Alas! My luck has gone today. It takes me also an hour of commute every day from home to work and reverse direction.  Here is a brief of what happens.

  1. More corporate buses are coming to ITPL in morning customized only for IT employees working in specific IT companies. These buses need to go back and most of them go empty handed on the return trip.  Hence there are a lot of buses with very less passengers on the road increasing the traffic.
  2. Keep in mind the conductors of the buses want to increase collection and drivers run in bus race every day. Due to race for money collection, the bus does not stop at the bus stops to pick up passengers as they speed up and travel on extreme right to make sure passengers are kept waiting.. Then they would also stop at some bus stops and wait for passengers to come. For me both these extreme behaviour are frustrating and would make passengers move to self transport from public transport.
  3. 2. You read earlier what happens with the customer service to bus passenger. BMTC has felt the pinch of more increased expense to run multiple bus routes with little or no passenger. Hence BMTC has increased the bus ticket price. Once upon a time what costed Rs 30 now costs Rs 70. I have monthly VOLVO bus pass and my bus pass has increased from Rs 1300 to Rs 2300.
  4. For normal people, there are no normal buses with normal charges. when there are lot of VOLVO buses going empty, there are few buses going for the normal people and persons who need real transport are not getting the affordable transport.
  5. Outer Ring road has lot of under pass and flyovers. Within a 4 km stretch there are 4 of them and the traffic moves fast in that area. The vehicles that speed across this area either comes and get stuck at Silk Board or at Kundanahalli Gate today. Without acknowledging that better road connectivity increases more vehicles to play on road, there is a proposal to also construct a flyover at Kundanahalli Gate.
  6. As the congestion has been moved by underpass and flyovers from Outer ring road to kundanahalli gate, the transport authorities have decided to give preference for people coming towards ITPL than for the traffic going in opposite direction to ITPL. Else there is going to be traffic jam on Outer Ring Road. This approach has affected my transport means and the time to reach my office has increased.
Analysis of the Challenge: The major time is spend at kundanahalli gate and Silk Board.
  •  I use approach to shorten wait time by taking a  walk from where bus stops in traffic jam and reach kundanahalli gate to board the first bus waiting at the signal. I have to follow the same approach at  Silk Board. Kundanahalli gate walk is easier and simpler compared to Silk board as there is atleast foot path for pedestrian to walk( do not ask about motorists driving on them) at Kundanahalli gate.  Closer to Silk Board, there is no footpath and there is no clear bus stop de-marked here when passenger travels on silk board terminates buses.
  • The drivers of the buses going beyond Silk Board exercise their choice to open doors not based on traffic and their position, but based on their mood that day. When they do not allow the passenger to board at the signal,  the passenger needs to walk another 100 meters crossing the signal to reach bus stop and there is high propability working against the passenger that bus would cross the next step before he reaches the next bus stop and he is forced to wait for the next bus.
 One can observe that by arriving at approach that helps us to do things fast, faster and fastest without a good preparation, we actually end up going slow in our day to day travel. What to do about this?  Will driver-less cars change the status quo? Will arrival of Uber in Bangalore solve problem of traffic jams for people using public transport and  ones who cannot afford cars ? Does a flyover at Kundanahalli really solve the problem?

Today, employer’s primary interest is to find the best person for the job.  They have time constraints to put right effort to hire talent and the educational institutions are not providing them with precise metrics to explore. They lack the advantage of data and depend on the intuition of the decision makers.

The corporate recruitment team asks the decision maker to help them in recruitment and the quality bar of completed student output. The decision maker has time constraints and  observes that best accountants and engineers came from a specific institution (brand) and flock to that institution. They know this might not be the best approach. The decision maker recommends the recruitment team  to follow minimal risk approach, fire from branded institutions and institutions where they studied.

Following the same approach over years, the power of the alumni increases and the institutions visited by corporates become branded ones.  Students wants to get jobs paying higher salaries and  do not care for institution’s learning methods and join the institution that has placement. The historical perception of branded institutions has made whole thing a mess. There is clear lack of transparency and that is problem.

An educational institution offers a primary outcome and secondary outcome. The primary outcome is to facilitate learning for student and enable students to understand requirements of career post the learning period and also make them matured for life. The secondary outcome is to research, networking, extracurricular activities, and job placement. Today there are a lot of initiatives to bring a change in the secondary outcome including social networking channels, self-learning on-line programs, MOOC, online career assistance and remote learning.

A good start indeed. The initiatives  also needs to focus on the primary outcome of employ-ability and  cover both fresh jobs at graduation of a student and help  student to increase their ability to chart their careers with evolving industry needs.  To solve the problem, learning approaches need to measures learning parameters and provide transparency in measurement  to remove the bias and create comfort for  the stake holders. Start developing metrics and mature methods to capture metrics is one strategy to solve the problem.

  • Focus on what can be measured. Do you want to focus on  the skill that can be measured or  just soft skills that is not easy to measure?
  • Start the process where it is easier to measure and where even minor differences matters to employers. Computers can be enabler in this process.
  • Focus on areas where learning outcomes are measurable. Already computer science learning is measured.  Identify other entry level jobs that are performed on computers. Here comes  finance, accounting, banking and insurance.
  • To make the data collection  strong, the data set needs to be correlated with the data sets of the corresponding skills required for most entry level jobs in the minds of employers. The stronger the correlation, the importance of students trained in this approach increase.

While alumni brand matters to people, recruitment teams will consider another candidate on being convinced that another candidate is stronger. The another candidate needs an alternative credentials to demonstrate that   he could perform the necessary work exceptionally well.  When the data driven educational institution comes, the biases will break down. Employers should be able to view the metrics and also trust the metrics and the metrics need to lead the recruiter to think of hiring the applicant from the non-elite brand.

If educational institution is newly started one and lack strong placements, go on-line, take control of the data and get control of your situation.

  • Create accurate, real-time data sets around learning outcomes. Make sure the outcomes are inevitable.
  • Be transparent with the approach to measure the learning outcome
  • Start measuring learning outcomes and record them.
  •  Make the learning outcome available on-line  and create transparency by providing access to corporates.

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