Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Electronic MBA

Can management education be delivered in an electronic form? NIIT Imperia, as I saw in a recent ad seems to have this plan in mind. They plan to make waves in the management education as they did in computer education. They have tied up some of the right names in management in India - the IIMs among them.

Like their previous experience in computer training, they offer short packed courses in various management themes chaired by some impressive facult, delivered through broadband pipes- perhaps which will ultimately roll up to a GNIIT kind of a long term program.

While I wish them success with this, I just hope that NIIT does not end up giving false hope to many who will graduate out of its portals. Too many people have jumped onto the MBA bandwagon. There are two year courses, one year courses (good ones too), part time courses, correspondence courses (!) and many other false hopes out there among the really good ones. There are many, far too many sub standard MBA colleges in India (as there are for other streams) all of which means that we have "MBAs" (who are nothing but graduates or worse) working as phone salesmen or shop assistants. In many of these colleges the MBA is treated like an Advanced BCom degree where the focus is just on marks (copy/paste -mug/puke) and a paper degree.

The MBA is a fundamentally different course - way different than computer education or BCom. In an MBA the focus is on the group that you get to study with as much as the course and college and profs. If the idea is to make management education accessible, then NIIT Imperia is a great idea, because there are many in India who would like such education to be more accessible, exactly what they did with computer education. If it is to compete with a true blue MBA, then it is as wishful thinking as thinking that an NIIT computer course will be equal to a computer engineering degree.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Digital picture frames

Perhaps the last bastion of paper photographs - the picture frame - is being taken over by their digital cousins. How?

I saw a few weeks, at various places, digital picture frames. These thingamajigs are battery powered, come with their own memory, so you can upload a few of your digital pictures and your own multiple picture slide frame is ready! Now if you are one of those who had a hundred picture frames and wanted to add ten more, this frame should come in handy. Prices are on the higher side these days, but I think in the coming year (no plural), prices of these should drop really low. After all, they are just a commodity. Those fancy rosewood digital frames might cost a good amount, but you can get a sundar, sasta, tikaau (beautiful, cheap, durable - Indian customers axiom) frame for a lot of cheaper.

I think its a neat concept, but I admit I did not see it coming.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Of dropboxes...

The dropbox or cheque dropbox as they are known is a fairly well known phenomenon now. But, the acceptance of the dropbox, both by banks and customers was a fairly long haul. This is entirely my perspective, so, correct me if I am wrong.

In an era before dropboxes, everything (remember those pay-in slips?) had a counterfoil and a rubber stamped acknowledgement. When the dropboxes first came, it was pioneered by the private sector which did not have as many branches as the public sector banks. It took people a lot of time to develop the trust to drop a cheque in a dropbox and hope that it will reach the desired account. It was a thousand times better than having to stand in a queue at the wrong side of a scowling/bored (usually) teller at a bank, but rubber stamps were absent as were acknowledgements. The initial days were tough. Even very recently, I saw a Bank of Baroda dropbox placed inside their branch, which, works, 9 to 5 plus or minus a few - which defeated the whole purpose.

The other bigger thing in India is that what is not face to face lacks trust. Online shopping took a long time to get accepted. Why, a few years back, a friend had ordered a gadget (a massager or something) through rediff and what he got was a pathetic broken thing. Trust doesnt come very soon in the Indian market place. Unless clothes are folded, touched, perhaps scratched or until vegetables are smelt, tips broken, squished - nothing can be purchased. When it came to financial transactions, anything that did not have a counterfoil or a rubberstamp was deemed untrustworthy.

And then there were hiccups. You placed a cheque in a dropbox and it never reached them. I did so in a Bangalore electricity dropbox and duly had my connection cut 15 days after the due date. All my pleas were of no avail. It does not reflect in our accounts they said. I had to pay the sum again standing at the end of a long queue - but nobody has picked up the cheque till date - six months on. It will perhaps be discovered during some future excavation.

But over time, dropboxes have gained traction in India and its pretty common so much so that many transactions today do not need an acknowledgement - like bill payments, cheque deposits. Indeed some banks have started a trend of charging you if you visit their branches! I wish some banks paid me everytime they forced me to visit their branches because of some lapse on their part - I would be rich.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A letter to Dr.Singh

From Jerry Rao, ghostwriting for Milton Friedman.


Customer service

This is an elaboration of what I had previously written about - that from a customer standpoint, 9 to 5 is the worst timing for any company in the business of customer service. This was the lesson the Public sector banks have learnt from the HDFC and ICICI - when they started out - now HDFC and ICICI are resembling their old counterparts - especially as the number of customers increase. The management of a large number of customers, especially on high volume days is something these banks need to work on. Likewise the line outside any ICICI ATM on any weekend will tell you that something is wrong - it resembles the lines outside PSU bank tellers - except that here it is a machine! (Note to myself: Need to write on banking sometime). If you want to service customers, reach out to them - perhaps on weekends, perhaps using different techniques like small mobile offices, mobile ATMs

Coming to my experience, I had to submit the copy of a document to ICICI bank a few months back, which I did. As far as I am concerned, I have done my job. But not ICICI - somebody misplaced the documents (they dont even acknowledge receiving it - because I dont know the name of the person who took my documents etc. - wow! what am I supposed to do - take a picture?). Ultimately I had to go back to their branch and give it. Hopefully this time around it will not be misplaced. But the point is that customer service has to be 24/7, not for just 8 hours a day.

Fancy slogans, internet sites, swanky branches do not make for customer service. Customer service has to be intrinsic, internalised - it can happen out of ramshackle offices - all it needs a big heart. Customer service cannot be from 9 to 5, it has to lived and breathed by the company, day in and day out.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

When abundance is a disadvantage...

A set of people to trying to move a concrete mixer

Yes, its caused the IT revolution in India, but it does lead to situations like above, when people are used for tasks that really should be machine driven...

Self check out

Another chapter of future retail - the self check out counter, as mentioned here...this one at a Walmart.

Friday, November 17, 2006

IT, India and availability

Heres post on Businessweek on design that ponders on the question of Indian IT. Indias IT companies already have branches in China. There is no saying that they will take advantage of Chinas workforce pool, presumably low talent (also presumably involving high training costs).

In the post TCS CEO Ramadorai says that there is a lot of talent still untapped in India. I agree. But if you see all over there is a constant buzz on how the talent pool in India is drying up. I have written on the same topic a while before, but let me delve into it once again here.

At last count the Indian IT was forecast to employ about 13 lakh (thats 1.3 million) associates. This was from a Nasscom report on the same topic.

For the next year, we are estimated to produce about 3.82 lakh engineers and another 1.9 lakh IT related engineers (electronics, comp sci. etc.). Infosys (60,000+) , Wipro, TCS and Satyam perhaps employ about 3-4 lakhs combined (the actual number is slightly lesser). The majority of them are engineers - easily about 60%.

The pool for graduates is almost thirty times larger. This is an anecdotal estimate and in all probability the pool of graduates should be larger than this. (One estimate puts it at 47 million, thats 470 lakhs - which is almost 100 times the pool.)These companies are looking for opportunities to hire non engineers and all of them have started doing so; TCS for a long time now, Infosys relatively recently.

Of course, this pool is not "plug and play". They have to be trained. And this is where our biggies score. The talent pool shortage exists - for specialized positions and people with specialized experience. If you are talking freshers and your company is willing to hire, train them, there is no shortage. Not till the industry grows a 100 fold, atleast.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The future of shopping?

In Hannaford, theres a three star nutrition guidance information provided for most items. The higher the star rating, the more nutritious the food. From 1 upto 3 stars, it indicates foods that are low in fat, high on whole grain, fibre etc., relatively. Its a pretty neat system and quite a good indicator of the stuff we usually buy and ideally should be buying.

Then there are self check outs where you can scan your own items and pay on your own without using a cashier at the end.

Reliance better take note of these emerging trends :)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Incredible India in WSJ Europe

Nice ad and nice placement! Incredible India is being spotted all over. This one was in WSJ Europe.

Quote on the ad "And to think these days men get away with gifting flowers and chocolates to their wives"

Update: Also spotted on the arrival card provided to foreigners on entry into India. Neat. Though, I would have liked it to be more colourful...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More three wheelers

Heres a set of traffic problems three wheelers awaiting delivery.

Bombay-Delhi in top 10

aviation routes that is. From a report in The Indian Express.

That shows how many people are flying. From a measly number of flights many years ago to the current high of 600 flights a week, each enjoying a load factor of 75-80 %, we have a come way.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At the end of every truck...

is this metal contraption that ensures that anything thats at the wrong end of the truck will be smashed - loading docks included - hence the tyres.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wheres the viewfinder?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have acquired a cellphone with a camera. As I used it today, I realized (!) that unlike cameras no cellphone ever comes with a viewfinder - all of them use just the LCD display.

Cameras of this day still have viewfinders (I did discover some which don't) and I am not talking SLRs, I am talking about basic point and shoot digicams. True that the viewfinder allows to make precision adjustments - but in a point and shoot digi - how much precision can you get? Likewise, if the argument is about battery life, then that has to apply in cellphones too. There is no great reason to have a viewfinder in a camera of these days - the lcd is simply far too convenient (and some camera makers have figured that out).

The camera without a viewfinder is, really a radical step and it came, not from camera makers, but from cellphone makers. As it says in the Innovators Dilemma.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Retail wars - let the games begin

Even as Reliance retail opens its doors to its first launch in Hyderabad, Subhiksha launches its newspaper in Bangalore. Yes, you heard that right.

As they say in an old saying, "Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed" the retail wars will span all three. The newsletter is just one of the many missiles that will be used.

The newsletter explains very well why Subhiksha stores are always away from high streets (rentals), are not airconditioned (who pays for it), is sparsely staffed (who pays for those people?). It also talks about how Subhiksha offers consistent discounts and not bundled products and nor are their discounts promotional - it promises to offer a 10% off on all MRPs.

All of these are intended at Big Bazaar (and perhaps Reliance) among others and big stores that are airconditioned, have a lot of "smiling staff doing nothing" and are located on prime property. The Subhiksha model is a low operating cost model which passes on the benefits to customers model and by locating themselves closer to their clients, they are pretty much top of mind recall for any grocery. We have seen that happen in our area where Subhiksha is doing pretty well and offers consistent discounts and overall it is a decent experience.

Aside, so who pays for this newsletter?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pause to reflect

Chanced upon this today. The man in the picture is selling violins - the single stringed ones often seen in villages which are perhaps as old as music itself. True, we are enjoying the fruits of globalization: Chinese toys are all over the place. But we also need to market crafts like these - the simple violin, perhaps our wooden toys and many many others traditional items and ensure that the benefits of globalization passes on these craftsmen too.

Dont miss this post

An open letter to the Prime Minister of India by Atanu Dey. I havent seen anything written more powerfully than this for a long time.

Abhorrent Discrimination.

If there is one thing that makes me see red, it is senseless discrimination in general and unfair treatment of people. But when it comes to discrimination based on a person’s religion, I abhor it with every fiber of my being. It disgusts me and I feel nothing but contempt for people who discriminate based on religion (or lack of religion, in some cases.) One of the distinguishing features of a civilized society is that it does not treat people differently based on their belief systems. Those societies that do discriminate based on belief systems are retrograde, regressive, backward, ignorant, bigoted, intellectually bankrupt, and generally deserve the derogatory label “third world country.”

He starts off with a bang and builds on it. Great read.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Aashirvad versus Annapurna

For those who know the Indian wheat flour (atta) market, these are the brands of the two big players in this space apart from the neighbourhood chakki and the small sector. The former belongs to ITC and the latter belongs to HLL.

This is a purely personal experience. When we had purchased Annapurna atta, my mom after making a set of rotis put the brand in her personal reject list. "The chappati becomes rubbery, it has maida" was her judgement.

With Ashirvaad, she said "This is good atta".

Needless to say, we always preferred Ashirvaad atta after that. Perhaps this was the market buzz too since Annapurna recently introduced a label on its packet "No maida added". Ashirvaad always had this on their packs. So, is it an admission of past guilt on the part of HLL?

BTW, the new pack of Annapurna (we happened to use it only because our grocer delivered it to us by mistake and we needed atta urgently) was good - no maida (as per mom) - but I guess Annapurna has lost some brand equity lost there.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Slow train

Just back from a 24 hours journey from Bombay to Bangalore. For a distance of just about 1200 kms, the train takes a royal 24 hours. Thats an average speed of about 50 kmph. That btw, is Indian railways speed for express trains. There are a few trains faster than that, notably the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis, but the bulk of the trains run in a different era. We dont even need diesel locos for this speed, steam locos can do a pretty job for 50 kmph. Imagine super long routes like Trivandrum - Guwahati (this train apparently runs a day late at times) and the painfully slow journey and then you know that the writing is on the wall for the railways.

Not surprisingly bus operators make hay while the sun shines on the short routes or the overnight routes. With the arrival of Volvos and the GQ (in whatever shape or form), bus operators are giving trains a run for their money. Bombay Hyderabad bus journeys take 12 hours or less while the train takes 15 or more. The Bombay Bangalore bus journey takes about 4 hours less on an average. I have heard that the distance has been covered in 16-18 hours more than once.

If the railways have any doubts that they can take on low cost airlines on the one hand and improved bus services on the other, they have to speed up. Distances upto 1200 kms have to be covered in one night - that opens up space for high speed inter city trains that can cover a longish journey in the equivalent of one night. One night journeys are the train journeys of the future - get in, sleep and get off at your destination. The railways have to capture this segment. They will survive like this for a long time given our population, but if they have to thrive, then this is the segment to tap.