Monday, August 18, 2008

Online process, offline process

Not sure how many people today will remember what a nightmare it was to book train tickets for long distance travel. The reservation counters opened about 60 to 90 days before the date of travel and if you wanted a ticket, you had to go overnight, sleep over outside the counter and when the counter opened you had to rush in with all your might. Inevitably you would be never be more than 5th in any line, even if you had the athletic prowess of Usain Bolt. Why that was so, we will come to in a minute. After all this the clerk at the counter was a little more angrier than any dragon that you might encounter in a cave in a concocted fantasy which meant that he could snarl and deny any chance of you getting a ticket. This lasted well into the computerization era - until the railways hit upon the idea of making it available online.

It did two things - one, it reduced the crowds at the reservation centers (and by then the railways opened reservation centers in areas that were not railway stations) and second, you could get ahead better than 5th in line. Because, this system eliminated the agents - completely.

Who were the agents? They were the chaps who made money off the railways. How? Simply by standing between you and the railways. For a price, they could get you a ticket to any destination, any class on any date. Many operated in collusion with officials and you could see familiar faces standing in the queue on any given day. They blank booked tickes with names like Shah, Patil, Nair and then simply "transferred" it to a client. They charged a premium for their services and basically had a good time until someone cleaned it up.

Recently we visited a hospital. The hospital, one of the biggest entities in India has an online registration system. But the room allotment is not online - the person notes it on a piece of paper. So, if he forgot, like he did for us, you are completely at their mercy. For all the superb processes put in place, something like this can entirely mess up a customer experience as it did for us. Fortunately, another attendant there was kind enough to understand our situation and gave us a room on priority. But this is liable for misuse - anybody can walk in and claim, pretty much, that their name was missed or likewise, this gives room for the person who sits there to misuse the system of room allocation. There is no reason for the room allotment to not be online in this case.

The point being, any process that is not completely online will be broken. If you want to clean up a process, do it like the railways and do it completely online.


Kavi said...

Oh yes. The railways have changed big time. the very thought that you could book tickets from your study, is alluring !

But the fake ticket booking continues unabated. Many a ticketing agent has just changed modes by booking it in the name of a 'x' or 'y' on the net and trasferring it. Am travelling next week and facing it big time.

Anonymous said...

Just try this site..

this is the official site to book tickets in KSRTC. And the rule is you will be able to use the online booking only from 9pm to 9am. And rest all time the site is down, so that all customers are forced to get into some KSRTC ticket booking center to book tickets.

Some times govt. actually forgets who the service is really for.