Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public property, Private use

I depend on Company provided transport for reaching office and back home. I must say the service is excellent in terms of its operations and I believe is quite profitable at the same time.

The company transport service sometimes uses the public MTC buses (for public use) for streamlining pick and drop at different timings. Well its nothing off the shelf. I have seen Infosys leasing the BTC buses for transport of their employees in Bangalore.

What is irking me is that the public buses are meant for public use and should not be leased for private use. In strict economic terms if we consider MTC as a money making entity there is nothing wrong with this. I suppose it is much easier and profitable for them to lease the bus to private people who need it, but sitting in the same bus when you look out and see so many people stranded on roads trying desperately to somehow get hold of any component of the bus of the passengers loaded mercilessly into it, it does not seem RIGHT. I know many free market experts must be already flinching about where this post is going. But my point is simple - The tax payers gave this money to the government so that an asset can be created and utilized by the public. The MTC is not a profit making organization.

I cannot comprehend that in peak hours a bus which is meant for public use is not deployed on public service. The purpose of MTC is not to make money but to provide a reasonable mode of transport to millions of people who figuratively have paid for the asset. And even if its making money by all means you charge a reasonable extra amount for the service during peak times but don't deprive general public of an asset which was meant to be used for them and not for a selected few.

Ya I know this will mean that the price of using the bus service for me will go up but I am willing to pay it if helps in providing a seat for elderly and transport for many in need.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Like Entry, Like Exit

Have you ever faced a problem in starting a service or subscribing to it. I suppose not. The procedure is so simple right. You just call up. or send across a mail, or just SMS or just visit a site that knowingly or unknowingly express slightest interest and there they are, the messiahs of consumerism and feigning their utmost care and love, showering you with options and you have never seen before and showing you dreams of a perfect world.

Given the dismal service focus of service providers, most likely will be that you end up disappointed and want to discontinue the service. But can you?

When it comes to do away with a service, somehow all those people who promised you that their ear pieces will be kept in your house only, never seem to respond. Its a trouble getting out of a service. The reason is simple - the companies dont care about service. All they care is to flaunt about the number of customers they have and YoY growth in customer acquisition.

Instead of having numbers of how many customers left you, there should be numbers of how many customers want to leave you because frankly there are so many customers who want to leave but are simply stuck. Its an ordeal getting the service discontinued.

Won't it be better if the same swiftness is employed in disconnecting the service as well (of course after making sure why the customer is leaving you). In a way, this underlines the fact that you are happy to give your customer an exit option if he is not satisfied. You are not trying to entngle him in some intricacies of your service agreement. You are being more transparent.

If only, if only this was true!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A lousy blogger

Off late I was out of touch with the world. You can understand this happens when people are not working. I had sparse access to net and my Gmail inbox was overflowing with unread mails.

Now as I am in the process of getting to my surfing habits, a long forgotten hobby popped up its head. My blog- has had a bad bad run till now. In the times when IT majors are coming up with better than expected results, here are some stats about my blog's dismal performance till now.

In almost two years of its existence, my blog has managed just 16 posts. That's like I dont know typing. It comes down to 0.66 post in one month. I have managed 20 subscribers and 996 page views. The stats are presented in a much pleasant form below. A queer observation was that quite a number of came from Brazil where none of my friends went.

When compared to last year average time per isit has decreased by 4% (-) and bounce rates have decreased by 8% (+). Number of visits have increased ny 58%. Other stats of this year as given below.

The feed stats are much more recent as I started it quite late. Here they are.

As they say - You cant improve what you cant measure. This blog post is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Solution should not hamper the GOAL

OK fine.... you are facing certain problems in achieving your goal. And then you come up with a quick fix solution and everybody eulogizes you as if you are the next 'Micheal Porter' .But please check if the solution to that problem is taking you farther from the goal. If it is, please acknowledge the solution is imperfect. Be cognizant of the fact that your process is flawed and now you are not achieving the goal you set out to achieve.

A case in point is Group Discussion. Sure, they might be a necessary component of certain kind of recruitment but why they have become a way of life for all the recruiters now days is because it helps them to manage scale. I refuse to believe that every kind of job these days requires GD. It is a filter with probably the wrong kind of holes in it. It does not matter what kind of job you are getting into. You will definitely go through a GD because there are many applicants and interviewer does not want to interview everybody. Sure, this is a problem but is GD the right solution ? Before you know, you have started justifying the need of a GD and correspondingly changing the job description. And above all owing to your immense faffing skills you have everyone on the board convinced about it.

You add an activity to solve a problem and now to justify its side affects you start tinkering with the end objective. Everything is a mess now.

The answer to the question - "Why do we need a GD?" should be testing certain skills one cannot test in an interview. The answer should not be that there are too many applications. If this is the reason, you will most likely NOT get the best person from the lot which obviously was the goal. If after the process you think you have got the best - You are fooling yourself. In this case, the GD is not only a waste, it is your adversary. And the inherent nature of such adversaries is that they continue to be a part of the process hiding clandestinely - unnoticed and unknown. You will do better to track them down and eliminate them.

The goal of the modified process is not to get the best person anymore. It is to manage large numbers. But give it a thought is that what you actually wanted !!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"The year gone by" : 08- 09

I have chosen deliberately not to write posts about "ME" if they do not signify and help proving a point because I know none of you will be quite interested in that. But this one time, I would like to make an exception for my yearly report. I know that it is four days too late for the report to be published, but better late than never :)

So here goes some major developments over the last year.

Major events professionally:
  • Organized the Supply Chain case study event at SIBM Transcend 08. It took awfully long time to design the case study and organize other related things but in the end just few praiseworthy comments from the participants made all the effort worth it.
  • Did my summers at Max New York Life Insurance. Got a Pre placement offer from the company. Overall a decent learning experience though could have been much better.
  • Got Second prize in M&M War Room Business Strategy Competition. Most of the work was rip off from the work done on another case study on related sector
  • Knowledge Management case study for HCL. The solution given was directly deploy-able as commented by the Director of Knowledge Management, HCL. The understanding of KMS at MindTree helped a lot in this respect.
  • Finally wrote an article on "Innovative Marketing" for Forthright - the Research Magazine at SIBM. This was a long due task being rescheduled a million times.
  • Completed a course on Innovation and a consulting project for KayaLife through Marico Innovation foundation
  • Got placed in Cognizant Business Consulting on 11th December 2008 at 1605 hrs. This was the second interview, after a failed telephonic interview and noisy Group discussion. Though not a great achievement per se but given the situation of the job market, it was close to satisfactory. Since a lot of effort went into the preparation for the same, the results were not proportionately adequate. But then its human Psyche not be be happy ever with what you get.
Major developments personally:
  • Living in a residential campus has its own advantages. Got to know many more people and created a life long bonding with some of them.
  • Got a totally new perspective of life because of the prior point. The sense of pragmatism which I was lacking before will probably dawn upon me looking at people around. Personally I don't think I have become any wiser in worldly matters over the last year.
  • For few months towards the end of the year, I was on cloud number nine but I have come down owing to the bitter reality. It was nice to be there. But I guess everything that goes up comes down. :)
  • Definitely improved my informal debating skills as most of the time went in fighting over insignificant and irrelevant issues just for fun. Long discussions which stopped only when both sides would "Agree to disagree".
  • Started blogging much more regularly as there is plenty of time to kill. Consequently, I have started thinking about things differently. There is a definite intent to take keep blogging even when there is less time at hand.
  • Physically, I have become much more active because of all the outdoors - badminton, cricket, football etc. Again thanks to a residential campus, you tend to pander to such desires given the facilities. To beat all records, some days I have even gone for a morning jog :)
  • The coke intake has risen significantly. Though many have shown their own concerns in this regard, I do not feel its taking any toll on my health. Don't know about the future though.
  • There was a deliberate attempt to reduce the non-veg intake towards the later half of the year but there is only so much you can do when the tempting dishes are right in front of you. Though definitely the intake has gone down.
  • Visited Dehradun, Haridwar, Akansha school, Shirdi, Singhgarh fort, Kashid beach, Nagaon beach, Kihim beach, Murud Zanzeera fort. It was a much needed break from the routine. The highlight was para sailing at Nagaon beach and spending time with children at Akansha school.
  • My belief that MBA has no value except from the glamor quotient was further strengthened owing to various experience in and out of the college and corporate world.
  • I hate my college even more now having spent close to 1.5 years in this college and knowing how ineffective the management of this management college is. (This calls for another post)

Though there were many other things over the last year, these seem to be the major developments this year as far as I can recollect. This will be a regular feature every year on my Web log. And by the way if you did not like this post, don't worry too much, it is a head fake (i.e it is meant as a record for me and not for you). The subsequent posts will not be so much about ME.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"We do not Mis-sell"

Unfortunately the state of affairs are so bad in India that one can actually brand oneself as "We do not mis-sell". Mis-selling generally happens in apparently complex products where there are too many ifs and buts, too many clauses. But in India we have breached all boundaries in terms of mis-selling even simple products. Just because all others are doing it is no excuse for you doing it. As long as sense does not prevail in these companies, an opportunity presents itself of just doing business cleanly and using it for branding.

Financial products come to the fore when you think of mis-selling. Its very easy to conceal information and dupe the investor of the real risks when all they are interested in is saving tax and get infeasible returns. To some extent the consumers themselves are also responsible for their plight. But then consumers have limited time and limited knowledge to see through the products deliberately worded to promote mis-selling.

It is a known fact that there is little room for differentiation in such financial products with most of the companies selling the same thing with different names. What you can sell to them is that "peace of mind". Remember the Pure for Sure branding by BP. Of course everyone is expected to sell pure petrol (not adulterated) but since no one is doing it (and which is a shame), it gives you the opportunity to just do the right thing. People who really care about not being cheated and do not have the zeal and time to understand complex clauses of your products will come to you. For this you do not need to do anything out of the box, just play fair. Isn't it simple. Ya I understand that you might not get that all important high market share to start with, but what you are trading it off with, is Customer's trust which is of immense value in the long run. The sale of such products is highly dependent on recommendations and not on outlandish names because frankly no one understands their meaning. As a informed investor you are expected to do due diligence for all the things you are investing in including insurance, markets, bonds etc. but won't it be great if some one sells us the satisfaction that we will not be cheated if we deal here. Its like the Pre-paid taxi counter.

Of course what drives companies to do it is the sheer number of India's population. Right now there are so many of us that they do not bother about repeat business. If we mis-sell to one person, we will get another two. But the simple fact is retaining a customer is 4 times cheaper than acquiring a new one. Are there basics in place?

By branding like this you are also sending out a subtle message to your target market that your competitors might be mis-selling to you. So if you want not to be made a fool of come to us. No one wants to be duped and you might just become the easy choice.

Some times I wonder why is it so difficult to remain honest and earn money in this country. I just hope this kind of branding is not sustainable in the future. But right now I see no reason why this should not work.

P.S: I tried collating some data on mis-selling in India but could not get any reliable and consolidated information. If anyone has please share the same.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Make it less annoying"

Say whatever you want but when you go with that survey to any of your responders, its deeply annoying for them to fill it up. Though you might feel all happy that you have got another guinea pig through your persuasive skills, he/she is not receptive and does not care a damn for your research. They just want to get done with it irrespective of the quality of their answers.

I wrote a post on Customer Insights and Marketing Research here. In the post I argued that the MR process through Surveys is very time consuming and waste of time and effort because of the type of questions asked and their sheer number. I also mentioned that there is a need to make the process "less annoying" if not some thing which your responders will love.

Seth Godin today, writes a post in which he gives 5 tips as to make the surveys less annoying for the responder and much more effective.

Are all you Marketing guys are listening?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Amazon's experiment with business model

An article in McKinsey Quarterly mentions De-bundling of Production from Delivery. It has been proclaimed as one of the main technology trends going forward. Here is the link. The logic is simple - it helps companies to utilize their fixed assets better by segregating and distributing its capacity better. Amazon has had a great reputation as far as innovation is concerned. Jeff Bezos (amidst all the cynicism from industry pundits and investors) showed a great example of De-bundling by opening up its computing power and storage capacity to be used by other small businesses who cannot afford astronomical cost of monolithic assets. This is not the first time that Amazon faces flak about doing some thing different. Earlier when Amazon opened its 20 distribution centers and logistics services to other companies, investors were worried that the focus is shifting from the core business and then it was Kindle - the ebook reader from Amazon. In this post Seth Godin captures the cynicism about Kindle beautifully.

Like most computer networks, Amazon's uses as little as 10% of its capacity at any one time just to leave room for occasional spikes. Rest of the time this capacity is idle. It only makes sense that some thing should be done with these capacities. Look at it in a way that these excess capacities built in are just like waste until unless utilized. They are like the excess capacities built in the car. If some data is gathered about capacity utilization of personal cars, it would show almost the same numbers i.e around 10%. The rest of the time that capacity is going waste.

And why there will be customers for such service? Simply because the marginal cost of using such resources is less for them using this model. The customers will be able to get their websites online at much lesser cost and much more quickly. This service will in fact will fructify many more start-ups which can do which was not possible economically earlier. There are many examples, one of them being SmugMug Inc which plans to save $500,000 annually by using Amazon servers for storage.

Though to start with the revenues from this operation are small, this service is surely going to pay in the long run. Ya, I get this whole logic that computing and storage will become cheaper, but the trend might not continue as we move to quantum levels of miniaturization.

I like the statement by Jeff Bezos - "We are willing to go down a bunch of dark passageways and occasionally we will find some thing that really works". And as the recent results amidst all the recessions fear show, it does work out for Amazon. It has come out with impressive results crushing street expectations. Here is the link. Well these results might not be related to this particular practice by Amazon, surely it does reflect previous innovations which are paying off right now..

I hope Amazon keeps innovating and surprising all of us and changing paradigms time and again.It has done it with online retail, with Kindle and now with De-bundling. Amazon has faced lots of controversies and have proved all cynics wrong in the past and recently so with Kindle. Which brings us to another important point :-

Some times the market may not see the value of the change you want to bring in the system. I had a dialogue with Seth Godin himself
(over email of course) and this is what he said:

yes, that's exactly it
great marketers persist or work with their story and their market and get through to them eventually.
Take a look at "Crossing the Chasm" a great book on the topic..."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Republic Day

Happy Republic Day!

Merriam Websters dictionary describes Republic as :- A government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.

The officers and representatives are responsible and accountable to us. Often its the accountability which is lacking because they think these representatives are invincible and answerable to none.

A step is the right direction is increasing the efficiency of the Grievance Redress system. By bringing it online Government of India has made it easier for all citizens to file our grievances (Portal for Public Grievance - It does not become easier than this.
Also you can track the action status on your grievance and escalate in case the action taken is not satisfactory.

I am sure though, that the utilization of such portals will be very dismal. Well I guess apart from spreading the news about portal government has done its job. Now, we need to reciprocate.
So, lets help make this endeavor work. Please use the portal whenever you have any grievance against any government authority rather than shying away from hassles because now they are none. It believe we owe this much to our country.

I have updated the link in my bookmarks. Have you?

Friday, January 23, 2009

The show must go on

Apple reported strong quarter results that were driven by strong Mac sales and better-than-expected iPod sales. Apple beat analyst estimates and its guidance of last quarter but its outlook was short of analysts’ estimates. It has shown amazing resilience in an economy reeling badly under recession where consumer spending has taken a hit considering Apple's main customers are not corporates but end consumers.

Apple posted record revenue of $10.17 billion, a 5.8% growth, and net income grew 2% to $1.61 billion. Analysts were expecting earnings of $1.39 on sales of $9.76 billion. Apple had forecast revenue between $9 and 10 billion and EPS between $1.06 and $1.35. Gross margin was 34.7%, same as last quarter. Cash flow from operations was over $3.9 billion, and Apple ended the quarter with $28.1 billion in cash reserves.

But there is a certain incertitude looming around Apple's leadership that is a big concern right now. Though nobody knows the real picture, the five month long leave taken by Steve Jobs has shaken many in the industry and many fans. Well someday, Steve Jobs is bound to retire and when he comes back (which we all hope he does), he should be seriously thinking about whom the make responsible. He started this company and I am sure his final dream would be that Apple keeps surprising the world and changing it with or without him. That's what he stands for and I guess wants to be remembered for long after he is gone.

Though Apple will surely miss his crazy leadership style and make-a-dent-in-the-universe attitude, I am sure the very culture that makes Apples stand apart has sunk in deep into the senior management. The last thing we need is Apple choosing another John Sculley. We all know that Steve Jobs has softened a bit and has become much more diplomatic and shed the flippant image he had before he was fired from Apple but at the core he still remains a guy irreverent to the status quo, with an urge to change the world. Though most of the credit he got for turning around the company when he took over reins of Apple in 1997 goes to Gil Amelio (Apple's CEO before him), he was still instrumental in getting the act of Apple together and creating some revolutionary products and moving Apple from a me-too company to a follow-me company. Apple needs a leadership who understands this culture and takes it to another level.

So Steve - "Get Well Soon" and get back soon and find a worthy successor who can "Think Different" the way you and your team did. Because with or without you - The show must go on.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Taare Zameen Par

Most of us have seen “Taare Zameen Par” this post was supposed to come out then but better late than never. The meaning the movie is trying to bring to the fore cannot be over emphasized. It has been my observation since the beginning, that we are really good at praising things but really bad at learning from them. Be it a great lecture by APJ Abul Kalam, an appeal from Dr. Manmohan Singh, an act of resilience by Medha Patkar, a movie of Shahrukh Khan or by Amir Khan. There is so much left to be desired with regards to this issue but I am afraid that all the reviews I get from my peers and others restrict themselves to the acting part and the emotional outburst they had. I fear the crux is getting lost somewhere amidst the laurels.

The movie shows how a child suffering from dyslexia is a genius in his own right. It deals with the problems the boy faces and how a school teacher helps him emerge. The movie emphasizes on how without the help of the teacher, the talent of the protagonist would have waned away into oblivion.
I think the scope of this problem is not confined to children who suffer from disorders like dyslexia but rather extends to all the children who are living their lives unnoticed and bogged down by the one track education system.

Give a thought to one of the most sought after trait in today’s world and the word comes screeching out – CREATIVITY a major part of which entails thinking differently.The problem is that there are not enough people who can think differently because our educational system does not churn out such people owing to its old-fashioned ways of teaching. If nothing changes, Nothing changes. The system teaches best how to maintain the status -quo, follow orders, how to do things conventional way.

Economically speaking, even children are a kind of resources and we will get the competitive advantage by utilizing the best of what we have. Just imagine if instead of the small group responsible for innovation, we facilitate more and more people to innovate, think differently and do what they love.

Instead what essentially we are doing is converting these amazing resources into a machine which can do things the way they are already happening. But moving forward we don’t need machines, we have enough of them and probably with high levels of automation these resources will become redundant. We need people who can be radical, can think unconventional. We need people whose mind has not been corrupted by things they don't want to learn but are learning anyways out of compulsion.

Each child has its own liking and his but still we shove up to them the same stuff thinking it is best for them. How can “one size fits all” strategy work in education. Sir Ken Robinson gave a
TED talk in which he has explained why today’s educational system will not work for what we will face in future. It is an amazing talk and highly recommended for everyone.

"Every child is special" and every child has some thing or the other to contribute towards the development of the country and mankind. Effectiveness of the educational system should be measured by the extent to which it facilitates this contribution and not by the number of graduates it churns out every year.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Customer Insights and Marketing Research

Seth Godin has published an amazing business insight his today's post. Its about how to make your product or service click with the customer. He argues that customers come to you either because they are in love with your product or its less annoying for them to use your product or service. Though counter intuitive these two are the two ends of the same spectrum. As you delve deeper you realise how simple the concept is and how true the application. And as illustrated in the post, the insight can help a lot in forming strategies for the future. He has explained the concept beautifully with some very good examples including that of FireFox, FedEx, post office etc.

The underlying idea of this post is to understand the approach and perspective of thinking and apply it to Market Research (used as MR subsequently). Whats interesting to know is that how Mr Godin must have reached this insight. He did not do any survey to find this out. He never asked any person to tell him what kind of services he is looking for and nor did he smother some random people and goad them into filling questionnaires of which nothing can be derived. He just went above the daily transactional data, saw the patterns, read between the lines and made meaning out of it. Its like peeling the onion layer by layer and getting to the core. Why can't this kind of in sighting become a part of MR and if it can why do they still teach you to make questionnaires and shove them upon people who are in the least receptive mind and who don't give a damn for your research.

Of course there will be some areas where you cant do away with lengthy questionnaires, but is this MR all about. I believe in this whole ballyhoo of MR its the key insights that get lost in the heaps of data which is of no value if you are just making a pie charts and histograms and running some complex statistical tests to state the obvious and keep the management happy. Then I don't need MR. If you are able to get beneath the issue and let me know how the customer will behave and how is he likely to act in the future, what is he thinking, what he needs in the future, then I am interested.

Here's the thing about MR –
1) The questions are not satisfying to the customer - instead they annoy him/her to the core because of the sheer length and stupidity of the questions.
2) The questions are not satisfying to the assessor either because
a) Authenticity of data is in question (given the annoying state of mind of the customer)
b) Assessors don't go till the core instead they just flirt with the initial layers and present the results with cooked up data just to prove something which management wants to hear.

I fail to understand why every time you have to start with a questionnaire to kick start your MR and even if you have to, why are the questions so annoying. Why cant the questions be totally done away with for a longer conversation instead. Why cant the whole process be made less annoying.

Well I am no expert in MR but my argument is anything which was working 10 years or even 5 years back need not work now. Look at the effectiveness of the whole exercise. Is the process giving you what you actually want to achieve and to what extent. If you are willing to pay enormous amounts of money to MR agencies just to hear what you want to hear, its sheer waste - you might as well burn that money. Instead question the process and its effectiveness.

Well in fact you can take a tip from Seth's article himself. If not something which people love, one can make the whole process much less annoying. :)

Back Again

Well, the last post was on December 5, 2007 and that too an old one which was written in July 2007. After that I pretty much lost touch with blogging which never got the right momentum from my side. No excuses....
But now since have much more time from the non value adding chores of an MBA college, I am back with more stuff - not just about me but also with other topics related to business, technology and life in general. In fact more of the latter part.
I hope you all like it.