The IndiaStack Framework

Typically, when we think of government-run initiatives in India, a certain image comes to mind – one that leaves a lot to be desired. But, India is changing. And, changing fast. Yes, most of us know about initiatives like Aadhaar. But, that’s not all there is to it.

A few months ago, I wrote about India’s Digital Divide in a post that covered my visit to some Community Information Resource Centers (CIRCs) that were empanelled with the National Digital Literacy Mission. In it, I captured my experience of interacting with the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEFIndia.org), and with the fine folks that work at the grassroot level, ensuring that underprivileged communities in semi-urban and rural India get access to Information Technology and to the essentials skills needed to make it work.

As it turns out, there is lot more where that came from. While leading dailies are busy covering Karan Johar’s adoption on their front pages, the government – yes, the government! – has been quietly working on a digital framework over the past several years, to enable a variety of “digital services” for its citizens.

The “IndiaStack“, as it is now known, is a collection of APIs that “allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise a unique digital Infrastructure to solve problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery”. The seeds were sown way back in 2009 with the creation of UIDAI (Aadhaar), but the form it takes today is a robust, interoperable framework that works across devices and service providers. The IndiaStack APIs include Aadhaar, eSign, eKYC, Digital Locker, Unified Payment Interface and a host of other services ranging from Electronic Toll Collection to Bharat Bill Payment System – all designed to make it easier for the common man to go about their business. It even includes a specification for Electronic Consent that puts the user at the center of the data flow as well as content flow. Imagine, a government initiative doing all this!

The benefits of adopting such a framework are immense for the urban as well as rural masses. To take an example, a large bank can use a combination of Aadhaar + eKYC + eSign + Digital Locker to reduce Customer Onboarding time from days to hours, thereby reducing drop-offs, minimizing branch operation costs and practically eliminating the need for a backoffice. Reliance Jio used such a setup recently to onboard 100 Mn+ customers in less than 3 months, with less than 10 minutes per customer (vs 1 day or more for other telcos), and at a cost of less than Rs. 3 per new customer (vs Rs. 40 or more for other telcos). “Walk Out Working” is the new benchmark for the user journey, and it’s great news for all customers.

The technology is not just for the mass affluent customers in Top 10 metros, though. As more and more service providers build services around these APIs, the unbanked and underserved communities of India will be able to use elements of the IndiaStack to push & pull payments (UPI), share their own data (e.g. prepaid recharge history) with relevant entities, and access lending credit (e.g. a one-day or one-month loan) that was unavailable to them until now.

Aadhaar is not just another identity card – it offers a platform that can verify more than 100 Mn transactions a day, in real-time. UPI is not just a fun way to build a virtual payment address – it can enable push/pull transactions from any stored value account to any other store value account. And, Digital Locker is not just another storage service – it is a full-fledged data exchange platform to offer secure access to users in a multi-provider ecosystem. Finally, many of these tools work across devices, not just on smartphones- making them available to the audiences they were designed for.

If understood correctly, and used efficiently, this digital framework has the power to transform lives at the grassroot level, bringing hundreds of millions of people within the ecosystem, and offering them the tools they need to improve their socio-economic reality. And, the technology is available today, in the form of interoperable, scalable APIs, ready to plug-and-play.

After all, India is more than a tony suburb in Mumbai or a startup hotspot in Koramangala. India does not always speak English or get 24×7 electricity. But, India is eager to learn… hungry to grow. And thankfully, these new tools are a step in the right direction, in making India data-rich and well-connected.

Is Digital a Mindset or a Skillset?

I recently attended the AWS re:Invent 2016 event online, which offered some fascinating insights into the world of Technology by folks who manage business (in the cloud) on an enviable scale. One such insight was: “Software is a mindset, not a skillset.” That got me thinking about how the same truth applies to Digital as well.

ThinkShop works with clients that need help in translating their business vision into reality, through the design and delivery of Technology-based initiatives. However, the challenges we most often encounter are rarely “technical” in nature. More often than not, an organisation struggles to bridge the gap between the “old way” of doing things and the “new way” it wants to so keenly embrace.

Its constituents – its people – who are often said to be its biggest asset, are the ones who are at the frontline of various functions, be it Sales, Operations or Customer Service. And, it is human nature that we humans find it difficult to accept change. That’s what the struggle is really about. That’s why we end up with a less-than-optimal Customer Experience. That’s why customers take to social media to warn their friends and family about their unpleasant experiences, so that they may not suffer the same fate. That’s why we have returns, and refunds and complaints, and all the costs that come with it.

Yes, modern Technology has made it all easier than it has ever been. We are no longer confined to our city, region or country – the world is our playground. We no longer have limited choices – the options are infinite. We no longer need to silently suffer a bad product/service – we can shout out our message to millions in the online world through the megaphone of our social networks. And this has significant implications for Business, regardless of the industry in which you operate – make no mistake about it.

Imagine you are shopping online for a gift. Your budget is about five thousand bucks, so you don’t mind signing up on a new website that specializes in that category (say, jewellery), if it means a better product range to choose from. You register on the site after finding one that seems well-designed, and has the funky designs you were looking for. Then, you zone in on a specific product, and are delighted to find that it even offers some options to choose from. Finally, you select the variant options you really want, hit the Buy Now button and proceed to the payment page… Transaction error!

What?! You entered your credit card details correctly. It was a valid card. Must be a website issue. Hey, there’s a chat window? A few minutes and chat messages later, the Support team says they will look into it and call you back in a few minutes, since there is no apparent error at the site’s end. 30 minutes later, you get a call from the Support team that informs you that the product you had chosen is out of stock, but can be sourced and sent in 10 days. They have no clue that you’re awaiting a call-back on the failed payment, nor do they seem to know anything about the variant choices you had made. You try for a few minutes to explain the problem, but they respond by saying they can email you a link for payment if you’d so like. To which product? What about the variants? Never mind…

What’s going on, here? Does this e-commerce enabled business inspire confidence in you? Does it seem like they have processes that actually work? Is there a probability you will land up with no product or the wrong product or one that comes in too late? Would you do business with such an enterprise again? I’ll tell you what I did – I cancelled my order and asked them to delete my account. Turns out that needed Tech Support intervention too, since there was no easy way for a customer to delete their own account. I’m still awaiting a call back on that. Sigh.

Today’s business enterprise needs to operate on the assumption that its customers know what global standards mean, when it comes to Design and Quality. Today’s business enterprise needs to acknowledge that its customers have the means to easily compare its product with that of its competitors, and therefore can cut through all the Marketing propaganda it puts out. Today’s business enterprise needs to understand that the always-on tribe it calls its customer is now part of a community that talks to each other – through reviews and ratings, by voting a thumbs up or down, by sharing relevant insights with others on your product/service. Finally, today’s business enterprise needs to embrace this world as the new world order, instead of resisting its tools and devices, pretending that they won’t talk about you if you don’t have an official Twitter channel.

Digital is a mindset, not a skillset. And this mindset needs to permeate down from the very top – the leadership of the organisation – all the way down to its foot soldiers. And I do mean, the foot soldier in every function. Yes, Legal & Compliance included! Only then will the enterprise truly be able to serve its customers in a world-class way, and compete with a sustainable advantage.

Let me end with another AWS insight for perspective – “You no longer get points for using servers, you only get points for serving users.”

Why Most Projects Fail

Do most projects really fail?

I know, I’m starting with a bold assertion that is probably not in sync with the positive write-ups you see all around you, as you resolve to adopt a few healthy resolutions at the beginning of the New Year. But, the fact is that most new projects either fail to meet the original objectives laid out for them, or at best, see only a partial degree of success, especially in the Services context. These “projects” may take a variety of shape and form – re-designing your online presence, creating an automated sales-tool for your field force, or designing a communication plan to engage with your customers through their lifecycle – though, they share common challenges.

So, let’s try and understand why most projects fail…

 

New and Strange

When an organisation first heads down the path of a new initiative – a project – it has little experience to bank on. Yes, it knows its own business, understands the industry in which it operates, and often has the advantage of trained resources which it can deploy. But, the project itself is a “new” initiative. And, as such, the team has to contend with the discovery and management of a plethora of issues and obstacles which it will encounter along the way, fixing them one by one as it proceeds towards the finish line. This includes known unknowns, as well as unknown unknowns.

 

Reinventing the Wheel

An obvious but surprising fact to contend with is that new projects may be new to the team working on it, but are not “new” to the world at large. Of course, “moonshot” projects like the ones undertaken by SpaceX are the exception that proves the rule. In most organisations, the Project Team will often try and “figure out” a lot of the stuff along the way, including basics of Project Management, User Experience, Customer Engagement and Communication Design. Each of these sub-specialities is an art and a science, and its mastery requires experience and training. Naturally, the Project Team’s first brush with these disciplines will not always include the best way to go about it. In essence, many new projects have a dimension of “reinventing the wheel” that is completely avoidable and provides a significant obstacle to success.

 

Limits of Specialisation

The world is probably divided into those who value specialisation (the majority) and those who value the merits of taking an integrative, holistic approach that transcends domains (the minority). Even if we don’t agree on which side we align with, in most organisations, projects are (rightfully) undertaken by a cross-functional team that includes representation from various functions like Sales, Operations, Marketing and Business Strategy. This necessarily means that the project should benefit tremendously by an integrative, multi-disciplinary approach. But, most organisations hire specialists for specific roles, and then map them to respective departments that work in silos for the most part of the year. Therefore, structurally, most organisations are ill-equipped to address the unique requirements of a cross-functional project, and the project suffers as a result.

 

Is there a way out?

There is no substitute for experience and training, when it comes to addressing complex challenges. However, there are a few things organisations can do to accelerate the Learning Curve, avoid foreseeable problems and improve the chances of success of the projects it undertakes:

  1. Identify the Gaps – Map out the needs of your project and map out your resources to assess where the gaps are
  2. Foundation of Training – Train your resources in the disciplines they are weak in before the project begins
  3. External Support – Supplement your internal teams with consultants and vendors that have the experience you need, either in specific domains or to integrate the effort
  4. Internalise the Solution – Create a plan to strengthen your organisation with the skill sets needed to manage future endeavours
  5. Learning from Mistakes – Despite all this, mistakes will happen. Don’t forget to review the process at the end, and learn from the mistakes made

It goes without saying that much of the above can only be done if the organisation provides the right culture and context in which its employees can grow and thrive. If you don’t have such a culture, start building it today. After all, your success will depend on it!

India – Three Countries

A few days ago, Founding Fuel posted a cogent piece by Haresh Chawla on How India’s digital economy can rediscover its mojo. In it, Chawla speaks about the current crisis of confidence surrounding the digital economy and the so-called unicorns. It’s a great piece on the realities of the startup mania, and has a lot to offer to many of us – regardless of the role we play in the ecosystem. What was most intriguing for me, however, was Chawla’s thoughts on how India is not just a huge mass of consumers as many in the western world mistakenly assume. Here’s how he articulates it…

 

India One: Club the top 2-tiers above and you find that the top 15% of Indians, i.e. about 150-180 million, earning an average of Rs 30,000 per month, are the ones who have money left over after buying necessities. These 15% of Indians control over half the spending power of the economy and almost its entire discretionary spending.

India Two: This is the middle 30% or 400-odd million Indians, earning an average of Rs 7,000 a month… They are the ones who “service” the $1 trillion market (yes, read that again) that India One represents… Of course, we report them as internet consumers in our slick presentations on Startup India.

India Three: These are the forgotten 650 million who subsist and don’t have the money to buy two square meals. Their incomes rival that of sub-Saharan Africa… However, they are the ones who form our vote banks and determine the political future of our nation.

 

Think about that for a minute. Yes, as Indians, we all know that there are huge disparities in the wealth that surrounds us. And that is unlikely to change in the short term. But to think of India in terms of “three countries” puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were thinking of “building an app” as a path to striking it rich…

Of course, it is a silly notion to think that one app – any app – makes for a healthy and sustainable business model. And I’m sure the marketplace will address such misplaced notions appropriately, for the most of us who venture into this ‘glamorous’ territory completely uninformed about what lies ahead. But there is a larger issue at play, here.

Even if you don’t intend to start an app project on the side, if you’re reading this, you are most likely a part of the ‘India One’ that Chawla writes about, and therefore, in a position of some influence in Society. You are more likely to be involved in making decisions on behalf of your employers related to the products or services you manage. You are more likely to spend your waking hours in the pursuit of making your product or service available to consumers across categories – India Two and Three included.

Do we really understand the customer we seek to satisfy? Do we know what their world looks like? Do we identify with their trials and tribulations? Or do we assume that their lives more or less resemble our own, except for the fact that they don’t watch Star World or converse in the Queen’s English?

Think about India in terms of three different worlds, and you may just have a greater chance of success when it comes to translating your lofty ideas into success on the ground. After all, understanding your customer’s needs and addressing those needs profitably is the very foundation on which any business is built. Is it not?

Digital RoadMap: Making IT Work

This post first appeared in the Digital Marketing Consultants Special edition of Aug 2016 in Consultants Review, and is based on previous blog posts written on the Think! Blog. It aims to provide a snapshot of the essentials involved in creating a digital footprint for your product or service.

 

We have all come across staggering statistics of the Digital world… Every 60 seconds, we send or post more than 168 million emails, 11 million instant messages, 98,000 tweets and 695,000 Facebook updates. As a society, we share more content, from more sources, with more people, more often and more quickly. However, as organizations, we will need to understand the dynamics at play and harness these forces, before we can put it to work effectively.

Take the example of Retailing… While brick-and-mortar stores could always keep track of their inventory and know what was selling (and what was not), an online storefront enables the business to not only track what customers are buying, but also what else was considered during the buying process (cookies and server logs), what promotions influenced the outcome (ad impressions and banner optimization) and how other customers’ opinions helped or hurt the purchase (social media and comment analytics). A traditional business simply could not access such a vast repertoire of information, let alone act on it in a timely manner.

So, how can you go about making the most of this new, world order? What constitutes success in the Digital arena? Is there a roadmap you can follow?

 

What’s The Business Objective?

As Technology-savvy as they may be, your customers do not spend all their lives online. That is why every online initiative must be rooted in business fundamentals, and focused on improving Customer Engagement – not merely chasing the latest fad or ‘killer app’.

So, take the time to discuss your internals goals with the Leadership team, and define a Primary Business Need for your digital initiative. Are you trying to acquire new customers or address existing customers better? Are you focusing on improving profitability or reduce attrition? Is the goal an improved Channel Partner engagement or recall for the Brand?

At ThinkShop, we believe that a clear understanding of your Business Goal helps set the tone for your digital initiatives in a way that aligns them with internal processes and employee needs. And, that makes for sustainability and success.


Customer Centricity

Put your “customer” hat on, and think back to all the times you struggled with any product or service. More often than not, it wasn’t because the organization didn’t work out the chinks in a highly complex offering, but because the fundamentals were lacking. Customer Centricity, Customer Engagement, Customer Delight – call it what you may; It doesn’t do much if your organizational culture is focused on internal workings and challenges, and loses sight of who they are working for.

When we roll out bad design in a product or service, we disregard the customer. When we up-sell or cross-sell irrelevant offers to our customers, we disregard their wants. When we include a plethora of unnecessary terms and conditions hidden away in fine print, we disregard their needs.

Design matters. User Experience (UX) matters. So does listening to customer needs and trying your best to deliver on those needs. And, to do this, you need to be clear about your Primary Customer Target, so that you can align your efforts to that segment.

 

Digital Marketing = Digital + Marketing

Marketing is, essentially, about addressing customer needs in a relevant manner. And, Digital Marketing is no exception.

You need to go where your customers are, and offer your product or service to them in a manner that they can identify with. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers look like you and behave like you do. The key is to understand their needs and wants, and try to offer a solution that best matches those needs – whether it is an NFC-based or contactless payment option, or simply reduced response times for an online help ticket.

A word of caution: It helps to have a sense of how your suppliers’ business model works. e.g. If your agency or platform of choice makes money based on the throughput of emails on your behalf, it has a monetary incentive to push for more emails and campaigns, at the cost of privacy or relevance. Remember, it is your reputation on the line, not their’s. So, choose wisely.

 

How Much Is Too Much?

It’s no surprise that we are inundated with data and marketing messages from all sides. Experts estimate that over 90% of all data was generated just in the last two years, and the rate of data creation is exploding each year.

In this crazy world, some social media and digital experts will have you believe that, if you want to “engage” with your customers, you will need to embrace almost every social network out there, and churn out updates every hour, or publish new blog posts multiple times a month. But, where do we draw the line? And, who is reading all that content?

My advice: Don’t try to be everywhere at once. Instead, choose one or two modes of engagement that you think you can manage well, and start with that, to establish a two-way dialogue with your primary target audience.

 

Defining Success

Even before you begin the project, I recommend that you have clarity of what success (or failure) will look like for your Technology initiative. Don’t forget to define a timeframe to achieve this goal and communicate it to key stakeholders.

What are the metrics that matter? Is it overall/unique visitors to your website? Or perhaps, number of online purchases? Or even, repeat visits vs dropouts? Think of the metrics you want to focus on, so you can capture relevant data from day one. Rinse and repeat for every new initiative or promotion.

Finally, if all this is too overwhelming, or you don’t have the resources to manage it internally, it pays to hire a consultant who understands this space well, and the objectives your business is trying to achieve.