Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Functional automation

Bangalore Electricity (BESCOM) has launched its any time payment (see picture on this page) machines in many parts of Bangalore over the last year or so. (Bescom is not the only one, there are others too.) For those who cannot use the online option, these machines free you from having to stand in a winding queue (11 am to 5 pm types) to pay the bill. (More on crowd management some other time)

The machine is a 24X7 machine like an ATM, but it is not as high tech as an ATM. It has a touch screen, a bar code reader that reads your electricity bill and a MICR scanner that reads your cheque. After following the instructions on the touch screen, one has to first scan the bill, enter cheque details and then finally slide the cheque in (the last part is difficult and one needs some high level skills to get the cheque in such a way that the reader reads your cheque number information - an attendant is usually available to help you out).

The point is that this machine does not do anything spectacular. It takes the cheque and dumps it into a drop box. It is way better than a manual drop box because, with the above information it gives you a provisional receipt. Somebody collects these cheques and takes them a bank and it all gets done the usual way. Only, the collection mode is automated and customer friendly.

The customer is freed from the hassles of the electricity departments working hours, the hassle of standing in a queue - there is a machine to receive the payments. The added convenience of 24X7 helps bringing down the number of defaulters who turn up to pay the bill at the last minute and also brings down the number of those who stand in a queue to pay up at the counter.

This is what I call functional automation (let me know if there is a real term for it)- automation that is just enough. Ideally, this machine could be the equivalent of a battle tank. Collect the payment, debit the customer account, credit BESCOM account and what not. But automating a single step in the entire payment process does wonders.


Prasanth said...


There are similar machines in Chennai too. Another type that i can think of are the plat form ticket vending machines installed in Chennai Central. Only issue with these machines are that they are broken most of the time and one ends up standing in the queue anyway.

Hiren said...

Very interesting. The word functional automation is apt. It reduces admin hassles so one can focus on one's core competence. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and in India that too is welcome. I had heard of some fraud because of an ATM machine. I hope nothing like that will happen here.

Neelakantan said...

Prasanth, to be honest, the possibility these machines will fall into disuse is very high. But to the credit of Bescom and other Bangalore companies, these places are very well maintained.

Hiren, the beauty of low cost automation is that almost no fraud is possible, because the machine does very little.

Anonymous said...

in the same machine cash also can be deposited. i felt it quite convenient though i always pay them online.