Saturday, September 30, 2006

Infosys blogs?

So, Infosys has its own blog at infosysblogs.com. I chanced upon this while trawling through a few links. And I found a blog named Think Flat. Are there other blogs too in the domain? Theres another related site by the name, Think Flat. The site has some good reads. Is this the first Indian corporate blog?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Success based pricing - TCS moves

This piece from ET is on how TCS is moving to success based pricing of its services. These type of structures are typically used by the Accentures and other consulting companies.

Most of the Indian software industry operates on the basis of a fixed hourly rate, referred to in industry parlance as time and material pricing (or a single fixed price contract). In contrast, in a typical outsourcing contract, consulting firms like Accenture tend to promise clients a specific quantum of process improvement, cost reduction and revenue enhancement. If these outcomes are reached, the software firm gets to share a part of the upside.

Success based pricing is not without its risks and it is quite a bold step to take. Until now, most companies follow a milestone based pricing for large projects which means that on every milestone (like builders), customers have to pay. But there is no guarantee that the work will be completed (exactly like builders) or that bugs will be fixed beyond a point. With success based pricing, there is a greater committment on the part of the service provider.

TCS, I have always believed is the leader of Indian IT. They were the leaders who started it all, they explored new markets first, got into new businesses and now they are changing the game with their pricing too.

ET interview with Mukesh Ambani

Quite an insight into the mans mind. Some nuggets, but read the full piece for a peek into Reliance:

My ultimate aim is that the management team should become venture capitalists. Today, we train people. The idea is to bring guys out from school and bet Rs 5 crore on each of them, challenge them to make a 20% return on capital. That can produce returns from day one.

For us, size is not our focus; our main focus is, where is the value generation: where can we go ahead and generate value, how can we scale that up to the peak, and what kind of competencies do we require. Our view is that if you chase some aim — like I want to be x billion by such time, it is unlikely that you will get there. (Thats food for thought for the IT companies)

When people talked about the media, it does not matter if Rupert Murdoch comes in; he is creating employment for young boys and girls. These kids would have not been employed if we had only Doordarshan and there would not have been a satellite TV industry.

We had conversations doubting whether we can we hit 600m; can we really go to all 6 lakh villages. But in ’06, nobody has any doubt — were it not for the Reliance initiative, the acceleration in telecom initiatives would not have come. We build competencies — within Reliance, we had to develop radio engineers or consumer marketing guys.

In terms of global benchmarks, Exxon-Mobil is worth $300bn, while Wal-Mart is a $250-bn company; our own size in comparison is $20bn. We are pygmies in comparison.

Carbon paper

As I stood in a queue watching a document required in "triplicate" being filled out, a few thoughts came to my mind during the time taken between two customers - the carbon paper was removed and inserted in between the pink and green coloured sheets and then again between the green and yellow coloured sheets. The green, pink and yellow sheets were to be given to different people.

Is the Carbon paper industry surviving only thanks to government departments? Much like Ambassador cars? And typewriters - have you seen the rows of typists sitting in front of courts?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Aerospace museum

I had a chance to visit HALs Heritage center and aerospace museum. This is a great initiative since I am not sure many such museums exist anywhere in India, which is sad. I have visited the Intrepid air and space museum which is a mindblowing museum, for those interested/fascinated by air and space technology. Personally I am not a great fan of museums which stuff animals and birds and exhibit them. Therefore, museums like these which showcase technology are my choice of museums.

While the HAL museum is just about good with its HF Maruts, MIG 21, LCA mockup and Canberras, the Intrepid museum is just something else. There you have naval cadets walk you through exhibits (like the Intrepids control tower or anti aircraft guns), conduct sessions all of which makes it a little more interactive. Here in HAL, there is a lot of green space, the exhibits are nice to look at and touch, especially the PSLV shield and the radar. But staff is spartan and that too only to shoo away visitors from gardens. Perhaps the Vikrant will be as good as Intrepid. The souvenir shop at the HAL museum, which imho has immense potential (not only here, but elsewhere) was a complete let down ("No stocks"). The flight simulator is just a computer screen and the simulator part of it does not work. Other than that the HAL gallery was good, only that perhaps there is so much potential out there in the museum which is perhaps untapped.

We need museums that showcase Indias achievements in the technology/military field. More than patriotism, it is these which build a love for technology in the minds of the young. I hope that the HAL museum in its final avatar will be as inspiring as I found the Intrepid.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Retail: Two ends

We had been to our usual wholeseller last week to stock up on our weekly provisions. This shop is a discovery for us. Our purchases used to be from nearby "supermarkets" until Subhiksha opened a store nearby. We figured that none of these supermarkets gave a discount on the MRP - Maximum retail price. But both Subhiksha and the wholeseller did.

Subhiksha is limited by its range, though it is pretty much a supermarket format with walkthrough aisles and so on. The wholeseller is a bare bones retailer - no self service shopping, no walk through aisles. But they serve our purpose.

Nearby the wholeseller is a new (relatively) store - Namdharis. Namdharis is a premium grocery store with organic food, exotic vegetables, salads, health foods and regular stuff as well. It is a pretty interesting store and has range, exotic stuff, good ambience. Compared to a vegetable vendor these guys are slightly expensive, but then again they service different markets - almost. And those who shop here find immense value.

What is interesting is how these will co-exist in the future. True, they service different markets, but really, there is a considerable amount of overlap. So, who is the loser in the current churn? I believe that the "supermarkets" which offer no benefit other than walkthrough aisles will be the first casuality. At one end will be low margin retailers like Subhiksha, the wholeseller and the kiaran while at the other end will be stores like Namdharis. Perhaps the new retailers will sit in the middle of the bell curve.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cooking gas dealer

The cooking gas dealer, in the 80s was the worst kind of shop to go to. First there was a perennial shortage of cylinders and that meant one had to wait for weeks before one got a replacement. That meant consumers calculated "the number of days the cylinder would last" and booked it in advance leading to some hilarious situations. The dealers were non cooperative at best as were the delivery men and there too with some "speed money" cylinders were delivered when you wanted. The dealer was usually an office with a few tables and consumer cards lined out in stacks and the most unfriendly employees. All in all it was a pain.

Today with competition, cooking gas dealers offer tele booking, delivery at your convenience (including Sundays) and of course everybody has two cylinders, so even if there is a shortage it is not as pronounced. Many of the fuddy duddy dealers are revamping themselves.

I saw, yesterday, a government gas agency dealer who has a Faber showroom within his dealership. Pretty smart positioning if you ask me - only that not too many visit the dealer unless it is for a new connection...in which case it still is a smart move.

Monday, September 25, 2006

When there are too many

I happened to visit an ICICI bank counter after a long time. I had touched upon this the last time, but now it appears as if something drastic would need to be put in place for ICICI to manage its customers. The bank counter was as crowded as any railway ticket booking counter. The housing loan department was also packed. "Sir, Saturdays are like this", said a helpful staffer.

ICICI has a large user base in the cities - esp Bangalore. It also has the largest ATM network in India, but apparently they are not enough. (Again, no data - just that there are a few ATMs in and around and all of them are crowded at almost all times of the day - nights are not the best time to take money out of an ATM) So the banks are crowded, ATMs have a perennial queue outside and customers think that ICICI does not bother about its customers. ICICI got around crowds by using ATMs (Citi is a good example), their executives and their web channel, but even that is not enough; still far too many have to come down to branches.

Designing with crowds in mind is very difficult. The moment there are crowds, you lose the swank look. Coupled with the fact that real estate prices are not exactly down, banks lose the flexibility to have big spacious branches that lets crowds appear sparse. This has given rise to services like private banking which are for elite (with big deposits) customers. What could also happen is that other banks with branches near offices, homes could capture some market since "they are not crowded" and "convenient". Also, banks offer executives who can come home and get work done - these virtual "branches" of execs are far cheaper to maintain than a full fledged branch.

Perhaps the solution lies in simplicity. Simplifying bank procedures? Making bank visits as less required as possible? A simpler and more effective call center? As Big Bazaar, Indian railways, Air Deccan, McDonalds, temples like Tirupati have discovered in physical as well as virtual lives, managing crowds (especially on high volume days) can be quite a challenge.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Super "Sop"pers

The moment an industry worries about sops and argues that its market will dwindle unless the government (or whoever) reduces taxes/duties/interest rates - you know that the industry is doomed - they deserve to . These poor little rich characters will not progress unless they think beyond sops and lobbying. Heres one example. Jitters over proposal to end US sops for Indian jewellery. Have they not heard of moving up the value chain? Do read the arguments in the piece around how Indian jewellery has "democratised diamonds in the US" and how the beneficiaries of these sops are "3.25 lakh skilled workforce, mostly from the rural areas of India" workers in jewellery units are poor rural craftsmen (did they forget to mention that the owners are rich?)

But give sops we will. Not to individuals or hard working salaried employees- make no mistake. I was reading the annual report of a textile company and chanced upon TUF, a Textile upgradation fund, that allows 5% interest rate with a repayment of 10 years. (Note that the current home loan rate is upwards of 8 percent.) So, all those industries who toiled (and perhaps failed) with old equipment can go for brand new (or second hand) ones at a subsidy, which comes from, well, the honest taxpayers money.

Special offer

Recently I ran into a pack of Quaker Oats with a special offer. The packet says, MRP which is the Maximum retail price in India of 58 rupees and then says, Special price, 48 rupees. The accompanying blurb on the front pack says that this is the price inclusive of all taxes.

So, is it a price with no margin? Or is it the price that is the lowest possible? No. There is a low margin store nearby that gives customers more than a rupee off of the special offer price. Which means that there is a margin even at a rupee lesser than the special price. This means that the MRP which is rupees 58 has a fat margin built into it. The prices of comparable products are same as the special price and not the MRP.

Which brings me to the question, what is the MRP and how is it decided?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Number portability could be delayed

reports the Hindu Businessline.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India may push back the implementation of mobile number portability (MNP) by 1-2 years due to technical and commercial issues raised by the operators.

TRAI had earlier set a deadline of April 1, 2007 for all operators to introduce the system, which would enable mobile users to retain their phone numbers even as they change the operator.

Obviously the road is not smooth with the operators all up in arms against it.

The move to introduce the MNP has, however, been opposed by the cellular operators on account of the huge investment required (pegged at Rs 1,000 crore) to implement the system. Operators have also raised technical issues such as interoperability and creating a central database of phone numbers, which may hinder proper implementation of the system.

Cellular operators have said that instead of spending the resources in implementing the MNP, it would be better to focus on rolling out mobile infrastructure in rural areas.

One the one hand TRAI does have a point, but then who expected the operators to colloborate wholeheartedly on this one. Then again, if someone wants to get your number badly, they always will figure out how, number portability or not!

Palaces on wheels

The railways is all set to run more palace on wheels trains. The original Palace on Wheels was quite a hit and very clearly positioned to woo the well heeled. Sure there are enough tracks out there for the railway to run/market more than one (I think there is more than one already) Palace of Wheels, but care must be taken not to tamper with its high end image. That doesn't mean it cant be made more affordable - it can be and perhaps attractive enough for Indian tourists too. It must also be tailored to each of the proposed circuits rather than have a "royalty" theme all around.

Otherwise Palace on wheels will end up like our Superfast trains, which are anything but super(b) or fast.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

America-Europe cellphone markets

A great post from Mobile Opportunity on the differences between Americas cell market and Europes mobile market. A summary of it is:

In the US, a cellphone is a tool. In Europe, a mobile phone is a lifestyle.

The rest is a smart analysis. Go read the piece.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

From Janata to Jet

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days back and during the course of the conversation, we realized that the 70s and 80s were the age of the Janata (public). There were "Janata" expresses, "Janata" stores, "Janata" parties and almost everything was either prefixed or suffixed with Janata. Today Janata is as much a symbol of public as it is a symbol of the old India. Today people no longer want Janata - which essentially is bare bones service - no frills. So Janata express trains were trains with reservation with those without reservation could travel as well. Janata buses were no frills bus services with no chance of comfort - they transported people (a little better than animals) from point A to point B. If there was a Jet airways or an Air Deccan in the 80s, I suspect they would have named themselves Janata Airways.

Today, there is little chance that a Janata airways would survive in India. Even Air Deccan, which, really is Janata has a sporty name. From the 70s, which was the age of scarcity this is the age of the entitled generation which is almost the same size (if not more) as the "middle class" of the 70s. This entitled generation though calls itself middle class is more upper middle class and prefers Janata to Jet. For the real middle class which in reality is the lower middle class, Jet is an aspiration. Over the next few decades, the shift from Janata to Jet will be complete. Comfort, value for money, good service will be valued as much as functionality.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Porok

Confused? Porok is the Xbox promo on MTV. It is quite a funny clip, very well picturized and you dont realise it has any connection to Xbox until "Game on" appears.

As Content sutra
says, MTV has also created a funny, localized promo called Porok , but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Xbox, apart from projecting games in general as an obsession among communities.

I personally think we see more "games" in real life like grabbing window seats/footboard space on a bus/train, jumping queues and so on. Porok, though funny has no "connect".

Friday, September 08, 2006

Cars, fuel and roads

I mean automobiles and not just cars. In todays newspaper itself, the total value of the investments lined up is over 4000 crore INR. Maruti is expected to invest INR 3000 cr, Tata Motors about 10, 000 cr and Honda SIEL about INR 900 cr. Meanwhile, Toyota plans a small car for India in 2-3 years. The auto sector is expected to set a scorching growth rate.

All of which is fair enough - there is demand for cars, India can be a manufacturing/export hub of cars- but if they are all trying to sell in India, where are the roads? And more importantly, what is being done about it?

The other thing, is around oil prices. Unless we see a move toward alternative fuels, I think all these estimates will peter out in the next few years. Some of the new launches have been smart - the WagonR Duo is an LPG/petrol combo, so the companies will adjust. But India is not readying itself for alternative fuels in a big way yet. There are lines outside CNG filling stations in Bombay and outside LPG filling stations in Bangalore. We need more pumps that dispense alternate fuel - perhaps more companies to get into it. Perhaps we need to look at ethanol like Brazil (75% odd by 2006) - though for alternate fuel, it has be a mix of all these options initially (hybrid cars, battery operated like the Reva, CNG, LPG, ethanol) since there is nothing that can take the place of oil in the short run. Apart from automobiles, moving away from oil also has great geopolitical advantage.

Update: Ethanol blended petrol in all states from Nov 1.

Google news archive

I read about Google news archive a few hours ago at Venture Beat. Heres what it is about:

The new service will allow people to search archives of magazine, newspaper and other publications, dating in some cases back more than 200 years. Part of its Archive Search offering, the service will include The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Guardian Unlimited, Factiva, Lexis-Nexis, HighBeam Research and Thomson Gale.I visited the site.

As I wondered what to search about, I keyed in "India" and heres what I got.

It may not be exhaustive, but it surely is eye opening. Even in its current form (some of the archived pieces are not free), which I suspect is the tip of the iceberg, it is like having a library/archive on your desktop. Theres so much more to the power of the net.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Time on Ayurveda

A good article in Time magazine on Ayurveda reporting from Kottakal.

To rescue India's Ayurvedic plants from their own popularity, Balachandran, with the backing of Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal (AVSK), one of India's foremost Ayurveda facilities, has established the Centre for Medicinal Plants Research in the lushly forested hills of Kerala in southern India. Part garden and part institute, the center buzzes with the activity of dozens of scientists, chemists and botanists, all intent on preserving India's herbal heritage before it is harvested out of existence.

It happens...

As you might have guessed it, the title of this post was supposed to be "It happens only in India". No, not the usual thing about Indias traditions which is the one thing that is always lampooned, these are some "ideas" I see around me.

The Toyota Innova is a good car. Only it does not have a rear bumper. And in Indias chaotic traffic, the pretty rear is pretty vulnerable. So, they add tacky aluminium bumpers that look right out of the latest bullock cart. Functional, but tacky.

The Volvos in India are segment creators - the segment of comfortable road travel. Also, they are known for cavernous luggage space under the passenger seats. What better place for a siesta when the bus is not running?

As if trucks on Indian roads werent bad enough, they now have a iron bumper at their rear ends. So, if you happen to kiss one of those trucks, finito...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday: Road to a convention

Today was the day of the Congress parties show of strength at Bangalore. It showed its strength by capturing pavements, getting buses from far flung villages to the centre of the city and it did show that it had the strength to create traffic jams. Buses were sent in from different parts of Karnataka for the convention. From my area for instance I saw 3 buses pick up construction workers. The cab driver told me that further inward, there were many more such buses. The standard tactic for shows of strengths!

I had the opportunity to travel on the path from the outskirts of Bangalore to near Palace grounds, the venue for any "show of strength" event. Littered or should I say, decorating the road were lots of posters, banners, placards, flags welcoming one person, a certain Sonia Gandhi. Incidentally, photos of Indira Gandhi, Nehru, Rajeev Gandhi where conspicious by their presence, while those of a certain Lal Bahadur Shastri or even a PV Narasimha Rao were so absent that you would want to believe they were from either a different party or a different planet.

Oh, by the way, if you were wondering or if you were a newbie to India and wondered what was a certain Manmohan Singhs standing in the party vis a vis Sonia Gandhi, then, the answer for you was very clear from the posters. On an average, Mr. Singhs photograph showed up in 1 out of 10 (or 50 posters) and his photo was usually stamp size, while Sonia Gandhis picture was always life size, cut out like or of similar size.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Maruti driving school

A few days back, I saw a Maruti driving school vehicle in action. It was a nice white Esteem with clear markings that it is a training vehicle (like yellow markings all over). In a country where driving is a folklore as seen from this famous email forward, the Maruti driving school is a great initiative. Perhaps it is goodbye to bad driver trainers, broken down cars, driving schools where the primary aim is to "facilitate a driving skills" all of which in reality contribute to the poor road sense in India.

In India many aspire to buy a car and drive it. But the roads, road (non)sense, chaos put many off. MDS is an initiative that aims to brings people closer to their cars. If in the process Maruti sells a few more vehicles, so be it. I think that the MDS would classify as a pathbreaking idea for a car company - and pretty high on the innovation scale too.