Aakash: The Sky is the Limit

•November 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

The sensational Aakash tablet has all the makings of contributing an important role in the exchange of information. This is not cutting edge technology with the bells and whistles that is available on the market. But if one were to use telephone communication as an analogy, it is the leap from an analogue land-line dial phone to a GSM digital mobile phone. With a subsidized price of $35 it is undoubtedly a sensation that can go a long way in revolutionizing the teaching landscape. This more so in areas where traditional brick and mortar schools do not function.

With a retail price of $60, Android 2.2, Froyo OS, 2 GB of in-built storage extendible to 32 GB, 2 USB ports, GPRS and Wi-Fi connectivity, a 3 hour battery life  and albeit outdated resistive touch screen, it has all that is required to bring information to every nook and cranny where either GPRS or Wi-Fi connections are available. Weighing a scanty 350 grams this tablet is joining a host of Indian manufacturers in making quick access affordable.

With enquiries coming in from around the world, this product driven by the Indian Human Resources and Development Ministry was a joint development between DataWind and the Indian Institute of Technology Rajasthan.

With the announcement of a new version with a capacitive touch screen, among many other improvements, this product has the makings of being a success.

Read a review from Mobile Beat

Tata’s Logistic Nightmare Mastered

•November 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The early Reliance refinery was a former BP refinery Sphinx in Germany that had to be marked, documented, dismantled,  packed and transported to Gujarat. Upon arrival the entire process was reversed and the refinery fired for operation. There has been no case of a similar operation that has been carried out so successfully on such a massive scale.

Tata Motors appears to have carried out a logistical masterpiece that moved an entire factory over 2’000 km cross-country from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat. In a well choreographed symphony that lasted 13 months, 495 containers were transshipped using 3’340 trucks in a logistical chain that accounted for every screw, tool and die.

After having lost the battle to short-sighted political forces in West Bengal, Tata Motors managed to orchestrate a move and revival in a little over a month, closing and uprooting the entire manufacturing chain at one end and setting up one at the other. This meant shifting manufacturing to two widely spread out plants, in the quest to maintain production schedules, whilst setting up an entirely new plant in Sanand.

A engineering feat that deserves Kudos. Read about it in the Business Standard.

Dixon Technologies $15 LED Lamp

•October 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

LSG LED Light BulbSatellite Beach based Lighting Science Group Corp. (LSGC) and Noida based Dixon Technologies (India) Pvt. Ltd. (Dixon Technologies) have come up with a 60 Watt LED lamp that lasts 8 years consuming 1/3rd less power than normal compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Selling prices are a shade higher than standard CFLs, but the additional energy saving will be a good compensation, giving the owner a net profit. The biggest environmental saving will be in cutting down Mercury levels, a substance that is present in CFLs. Not that the electronics in LED lamps do not have their fair share of hazardous materials, albeit in smaller quantities.

The lamp will not appeal to aesthetic aficionados, who still mourn the loss of the incandescent bulb and abhor the cold light from unseemly CFLs. LEDs produce minimal heat, but the entire electronics driving the LEDs require heat sinks that make the lamps look more like they have been screwed onto radiators.

See also Mother Nature Network

Crossing Railway Tracks: Or the Customer Knows Best?

•August 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Supermarkets practice it to lure customers, humans preen themselves in an act that has today a rather remote resemblance to the procreative foreplay of yore and now the chronically overfilled sardine cans of Mumbai’s suburban railway seem to have hit upon a mitigating solution. Stepping back a bit, we have the classic case of ‘wooing’ or rather ‘manipulating’ that we have all learned as children. From the usual crying to throwing tantrums, we slowly learn to use psychological tricks that subtly influence the  subconscious of our targets, without so much as batting an eyelid let alone shedding a tear. Survival techniques that are still imbibed in our DNA play a vital role in our survival. When the nuclear plants at Fukushima suffered a melt-down, we were still being given bits of information that suggested a serious state, but still well short of the INES Level 7 that would have been cause for a major panic, till a couple of months later, when the initial fear had subsided. When the world heard about the Level 7 catastrophe, it had been inoculated already; The shock had little effect.

Behavioural science is of use not just when catastrophe strikes, but also in preventing or mitigating accidents. In the case of Mumbai’s harbour line (see article in Boston Globe), marking sleepers with fluorescent yellow paint and putting up graphic posters appears to have reduced the number of deaths. It is a job well done, as it has served the immediate purpose. The irrational behaviour of humans is just part of our DNA, we need to understand this phenomenon and use it to serve our purposes. We have heard about the inefficacy of text warnings and graphics on cigarette packs. It may well be that the initial effect will wear out, but the larger question is whether a more long-lasting solution is available.

The ingenious solution at Mumbai’s harbour line falls short with respect to  its long-lasting effect. A case in point is the situation in other countries where all that a warning sign says is “Do not cross the tracks” or “Crossing the tracks is prohibited”. These signs serve a more legal purpose – if it is not explicitly stated, then crossing tracks is not an offence – than in actually attempting to prevent people from crossing tracks. Not that people cross tracks as a rule, as there is a sense of responsibility and discipline imbibed both through education and society. This does not mean that accidents of this sort do not occur- The irrational act that passeth all understanding! The American Forces Network (AFN) had an ad that warned about crossing railway tracks in Europe. The primary reasoning was not that armed forces personnel were unaware of the risks of crossing tracks. The difference was that trains in Europe were primarily electrical – quite and deadly, whereas those in the US were primarily diesel driven and loud, but still deadly.

A long-lasting solution in the case of Mumbai can only be multi-fold: More pedestrian crossings and education that imbibes a deep sense of discipline and responsibility that factors in the greater good and respect for fellow citizens. This social barrier is what is going to be a critical and decisive differentiator in our perceptions and behaviour. There are other restrictive possibilities that have been implemented elsewhere, such as barriers along pavements and centreline road barriers. These are the equivalent of cattle prods, they deface the landscape and are expensive to maintain! One cannot reason with cattle, but one can reason with people who are our customers.

Coming back to the supermarkets that I mentioned at the beginning. Many a harassed parent knows the immense effort that is required in weaning away children from those sweet goodies strategically placed at the check-out counters. The counter-measures that parents have developed may well be instruction material for the next generation of behavioural market specialists.

Innovative Marketing in Different Markets

•July 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

John Pemberton is reputed to have come up with that sweet carbonated drink called Coca Cola over 125 years ago in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Once said to be the biggest consumer of Coca worldwide – that’s right the infamous leaves that form the basis for much an “uplifting” concoction is said to be an ingredient of that secret Cola mixture, Coca Cola has been able to penetrate markets, in spite of all political and social opposition.

Its been 75 years since Coca Cola entered the Swiss market, where today it literally replaces plain water as a source of liquid, it is hard to imagine that the beginnings were anything but easy. The post-war scenario and Switzerland’s travails accepted no foreign “invader”. That is right, no foreign product was welcome at that time. Coca Cola’s strategy? The Atlanta, Georgia product is “Swiss Made” be they bottles, bottle caps and the trucks that transported them. Which is true to the extent that apart from the concentrate, which was imported, the entire production was local. And besides, over 94% of the income was retained in Switzerland, so the claim of Coca Cola at that time.  This is in sharp contrast to how corporates with no national allegiance function today, siphoning off profits to tax havens spread around the world. See also Corporate Social Responsibility in this blog and my take here Xanbridge.

The local soft drinks industry association was apparently formed to take all steps necessary to stop Coke’s “invasion”. With claims that the phosphoric acid in Cola was harmful to the human body. What was obviously left unsaid was that the phosphoric acid concentration in Cola was far too minimal to cause harm – Their are other issues of the effects of excessive consumption that I shall leave out here. Coca Cola used a more direct approach, in their marketing efforts, in that they arranged for a competition where participants were to select the reason, out of a choice of possible answers; why Apple juice sales were falling? The correct one was Coca Cola! Apple juice was practically the national drink, at that time. So the sales drop had an impact both on the economy and on societal perception of foreign “invasion”, in the form of Coca Cola.

Today Coca Cola makes no pretences on “Swiss Made”, though there is a bottling factory in Switzerland. The social and political perception in the country is not averse to the company and/or its products. Though there may be reservations on the adverse effects of Coca Cola on the health and the USA’s political and business practices are not necessarily considered friendly. For example the Gulf wars initiated by George W. Bush or the recent forays of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in exposing and penalizing Swiss banks and their employees for their covert tax evasion practices. Coca Cola is a way of life that is now accepted and admired by many. This is in sharp contrast to the juvenile reaction in the USA where French wine and cheese were demonstratively destroyed, because of the French criticism of the Iraq war.

It is this ability to adapt and change that marks a company’s success in international markets. Not that there will be no setbacks, but it requires diligence, patience and the ability to learn and adapt that differentiates between market leaders and those that also ran. The key lies in the ability to reinvent and go “where only eagles dare”.

Brave New Data Privacy

•June 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Privacy laws in any democratic set-up face the dilemma of recognizing and respecting the fundamental rights of citizens and at the same time providing for an open and secure society. The past ten years have seen an upheaval in privacy laws, which have seen a paradigm shift that make them intrusive and pervasive. Taking fingerprints were long considered to be reserved to a few who had brushes with the law. Today fingerprints are a recognized identification aid, among many such as iris scans, that fall under the term biometrics.

The new NATGRID facility that is being implemented will make every person a transparent individual of data that will include everything from bank accounts, telephone numbers to shoe sizes. Nothing extraordinary in today’s world one would think, but it appears that there is another story too. The new Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 (“Privacy Rules”) has apparently brought in a stringent set of laws that regulate collection, use and disposal of customer data in the Republic of India. The requirements of adherence to ISO/IEC 27001 or similar best practices is a clear sign of the wish for international compliance. In the face of a whole string of cases where data has been misused and sold to entities, it was high-time that a  halt was made to the laissez-faire attitude to data privacy. That these restrictions will disrupt business processes is to be accepted, but the initial signs point to a bit of heart-burn among clients worldwide, as can be see in Morrison Foerster’s analysis, which appears to point to a negative impact on clients worldwide. A comparison with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in the US or EU Directive in privacy regulations is being quoted as examples of the highly restrictive Indian regulation.

This is indeed a bold step of the Indian Government. The problem will eventually be in proper implementation, adherence and controlling. A long way to go, but a very promising start.

Umbrellas for VSD?

•May 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Ventral Septal Defect

Surgical intervention in paediatric cardiology takes a new turn with an umbrella like device made of bio-compatible material for retrograde closures of ventricular septal defects (VSD). The procedure, where the device is inserted via an artery, can be done on children weighing just 5 kilograms. The procedure is in the process of being patented and introduced in hospitals in Europe. Read more here