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!

Just The Beginning

ThinkShop completed 3 eventful years, last month. In that time, we have been fortunate to work with a number of clients on a variety of interesting projects, through solutions that spanned Technology, Business and Marketing.

We helped design the User Experience of a multi-device Trading Platform, and developed a Career Portal for a Life Insurance major that integrates with their Recruitment Engine and call-centres. We performed a Need Gap analysis for a Sales Mobility tool in Health Insurance, and helped define the Project Scope for an Online Securities platform. We conducted a Boot Camp on Understanding Social Media for the senior executives of a leading pharmaceutical firm, and helped develop Marketing Strategy for a startup in Education services.

If there was a common theme running through them, it was that every solution was focused on improving Customer Engagement, with Technology serving the role of an enabler.

These past three years, we have also seen many of you face some common challenges while trying to make sense of an ever-changing world. The Think! blog was meant, in part, to help you gain relevant insights into the Digital world, understand key trends, and figure out viable ways to meet your business needs.

Yes, Mobile has gained significant ground, and Machine Learning is all the rage, but RoI on Digital initiatives continues to elude many, while Business tries to figure out what is the best way to engage in a multi-screen, multi-format, always-on world.

So, what can you do? How can you make sense of an ever changing dynamic and engage with customers despite their ever-decreasing attention span?

If you are new to the Online world, and are looking for the essentials involved in creating a digital footprint for your product or service, the Digital RoadMap offers a quick guide to get you off the ground. In it, you will learn about what constitutes success in the Digital arena, how you can be more customer-centric, and how much is too much. While you’re at it, if you would also like to improve your chances of success when working with external vendors and service providers, here are some good insights on How To Be A Great Client!

All the Technology in world can only help you do a few key things well: Amplify the reach of your message, reduce the Response times involved, improve the Relevance of a product/service fitment or achieve exponential Scale. What’s important to keep in mind is that business is, and has always been, about defining a target Customer, understanding their specific need, and meeting it in a profitable way. If you are able to provide exceptional value to your customer, at a sustainable cost, you will succeed in your objectives. No two ways about it.

As you go about your own journey of leveraging the Power of Digital  to engage with your Customer, don’t be afraid to seek help from those who have walked the path before you. If there is anything we can do to help, it will be our pleasure…

Customer Service – Getting The Basics Right

Many organisations – and organisational leaders – like to talk about how they are focused on Customer Service, while merely paying lip-service to the customer’s real needs. The sad fact is that, as customers, we increasingly come across organisations and service levels that are simply deficient in their delivery. And, in today’s age of Social Media, we waste no time in airing our opinions to any one who will listen – taking to our Twitter or Facebook accounts to warn friends and strangers of the particular brand/product/service.

Here are some recent examples I grappled with, as a customer. Mind you, this is just a random sample of one month of my own experiences…

 

Example 1: I ordered some poster prints from a printing service I’ve used on many occasions – PrintVenue.com. The prints came a few days later, but I was disappointed to see that each one was printed with errors, with their margins cut off despite being intact in the files that were uploaded. Multiple emails and tweets happened in the 8 days that followed, asking me to send snapshots and wait upto 48 hours for a response after each email, including escalating the matter to a specific id in the organisation (thanks to my tweets!). I was clear in my communications with them from the start that this was a time-critical activity for me and, since I now have to choose another printing service, I would like a refund. But, at the end of more than 8 days of to and fro, I received an email response stating that at most they will be able to re print any one of the posters. No refund was possible. I had no choice but to reply to them saying they just lost a customer for life.

If PrintVenue had chosen to retain a happy customer, instead, it would do so with damages to the tune of Rs. 534/-

 

Example 2: I wanted to order some chicken biryanis from a new app/outlet in my area called Charcoal Biryani. At that particular time, their app wasn’t loading up, so I headed on to Swiggy (the food delivery app) to see if the same outlet was available there. It was, so I ordered two biryanis for the kids at home. The delivery was prompt, but we found that each pack had only one small piece of chicken in it, which was not acceptable given the price and the description. Since I always believe in feedback, I called the outlet to inform them of the incident, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that someone would get in touch with me soon to resolve the matter. Someone did call in an hour and offered to send replacements, thanking me for the feedback. I said that we were done with dinner, and would probably use their services at another time, but it would be good to get a refund for this deficiency of product. Again, to my surprise, they agreed to process the same. OK, it took some days and some messages to figure out that Charcoal will only be able to refund my Swiggy account (since my order was placed via Swiggy), after which the Swiggy team will credit it to my Swiggy wallet. If I had known what the process would entail, I would have happily taken up the offer of Charcoal sending me replacements. However, as a customer, I was happy to see that the food outlet valued my experience as a customer, instead of choosing to make numerous excuses or hide behind unfriendly processes.

In this case, Charcoal did prioritize Customer Experience and learn from constructive feedback, at a cost of approx. Rs. 512/-

 

In both cases, the amounts are not going to make a dent to these organisations. Nor would they add significantly to my monthly income or spends. But, it’s the principle of the matter.

Let’s see it from a different lens. I was speaking with a freelance professional who works in Shipping Logistics, and he was complaining about how his industry is cut-throat in pricing, and the service he offers is practically a commodity. How, then, can he improve his revenues without adding manpower and growing the amount of volume he currently handles?

I spoke with him about understanding his customers’ pain points and addressing them in any way he could. When shipping large volumes that cross the world’s oceans, what is lacking is information at every milestone for the customer in question. Can he not introduce a simple SMS system to inform his customers of the shipment’s progress at each key milestone? He replied that in his industry that would in fact constitute a “superior” service standard, as compared to his peers who don’t even do that much. If he did that consistently, continuing to add value to his customers in numerous ways, there is no doubt in my mind that he would become the preferred service provider one day.

When it comes to Customer Service, getting the basics right should not be considered optional by any organisation / brand / product / service. If you are wondering how to get started, here are five pointers to keep in mind…

  1. Know your customer and understand their needs
  2. Stay open to genuine feedback from your customer
  3. Be receptive to customer inputs, and do what you can to make every interaction a positive one
  4. Be aware of all the touchpoints that your customer interacts with, and ensure a consistent experience
  5. Especially in the Service context, keep your customer informed about progress (or delays!) at every relevant stage

The solution is not always complex, nor one that would require significant resources. All that is needed is the right mindset.

Do we really care about the customer? Are we – at each level – empowered to take decisions that affect our customers positively or negatively? And if we are, do we keep the larger context in mind or choose the penny-wise-pound-foolish option? As Jan Carlzon wrote in ‘Moments of Truth’, a brand (or product or service) is experienced by your customer across millions of “moments of truth” – each can make or break the organisation. Isn’t it time we paid heed and did the right thing?

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.

Freedom!

This post is not about how to recover from a crashed disk. It’s about how not to let a disk crash affect you in the first place…

A few weeks ago, the hard disk of my home computer crashed. Just like that. It wouldn’t turn back on. I ran some diagnostics using a recovery drive to check if there was any chance of salvaging it (the hardware, not the data), but there wasn’t. So I unplugged it, ordered another one, and went about my business on another device.

When the new drive arrived a few days later, it took me less than 30 minutes to have it up and running with every thing I needed. No data files to transfer. No settings to copy down or migrate. No nothing.

This was the goal when I began moving to a device-independent setup a few years ago. Piece by piece, I had successfully moved every thing I ever do on a computer to the cloud, so that if the day came when my hard disk crashed, I would not be affected.

And, it was satisfying to see that it worked! Today, all the mobile and computing devices I use (at home or at work) are irrelevant when it comes to the data they work with. It’s all online. Synced in real time. No fuss. No muss.

Here’s what works for me…

Laptops/PCs:

  • Google Calendar – To manage multiple calendars online; Synced across devices
  • GMail – For my work/personal emails; Synced across devices
  • Google Drive – For all my personal work documents; Synced across home PCs/laptops I frequently use
  • Box.com – For all home/common documents; Synced across PCs
  • Evernote – For long notes; Synced across devices
  • SimpleNote – For short notes; Synced across devices
  • Google Photos – To backup any photos I shoot (on the phone/cameras) to my Google account
  • Pocket (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any bookmarks from my phone or PC that I need to read/retrieve later
  • ToDoist (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any To Do items (with/without reminders) from my phone or PC

Mobile Devices:

  • An Android device serves as my primary mobile phone
  • All my Contacts are saved on a Google account – nothing is saved/stored on the phone
  • SMS Backup & Restore – To periodically save SMS messages & threads (when migrating from one phone to another)
  • Google Photos – To auto backup any photos shot on my mobile device
  • Apps for SimpleNote, Evernote, ToDoist, Pocket and Drive, as above

Second Level Backups:

  • All documents & pictures from any computers I use are also backed up – once a year – to two external (portable) hard disks… This goes in a folder with the name YYYY
  • I also keep one of the two external disks in a remote location as an offsite backup, just in case

That’s it, really! This simple setup now enables me to work from anywhere, with instant access to all my data, as long as I have an Internet connection. Plus, if one device fails, I can literally switch over to another in minutes, without any loss of data.

 

Digital Impact: A Closer Look

 

This post first appeared on YourStory in July 2016…

 

Around 40% of the world population has an internet connection today; In 1995, it was less than 1%. KPCB’s 2016 Internet Trends report pegged India as the second largest Internet user-base in the world, with China at the lead and the US now in number 3 position. Indians already feature among the largest users of What’sApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, globally. But, is this making a difference across all sections of our society, or is the access restricted to a privileged few?

 

In other words, do we still have a Digital Divide to contend with?
And, if so, what is being done about it?

 

A few weeks ago, I drove down the Mumbai-Pune Expressway to visit some slum areas in Pune. The idea was to visit the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM.in) centers being run by the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEFIndia.org) to see, first-hand, the kind of work being done at the grassroots level to impact Digital Literacy in India.

Prior to the visit, I had been in touch with Osama Manzar – the Founder & Head of DEF India – who had helped me connect with Rahul Tirpude – their Regional Coordinator for Maharashtra. Rahul oversees operations in DEF’s centers across the state, and was excited to hear that I intended to make a visit to the Pune centers in the days to come. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. A little context, before we begin…

 

Community Resources

If, like me, you are not already aware of NDLM, it will help to know that the Govt. of India has an ongoing mission – National Digital Literacy Mission – aimed at “making one person in every family digitally literate”, as an integral component of the Digital India vision.

To that end, the NDLM partners with NASSCOM, various corporate sponsors, training partners and implementation partners to operate NDLM centers across the country, ensuring that folks in rural and economically-backward areas have access to basic digital education via a month-long computer literacy program.

And, that’s where DEF India comes in. DEF India runs 150+ Community Information Resource Centers (CIRCs) across India, delivering computer literacy programs for folks in rural areas. Having done this for many years, DEF India was the candidate of choice to join hands with NDLM as its implementation partner, and help deploy centers on their behalf.

 

Grass Roots

Thanks to the hospitality of Rahul, during my two days in Pune, I was able to visit the NDLM centers at the slums of Rahul Nagar and Yamuna Nagar, meet with the team that helps run them, interact with the students, and also visit one of the homes in the community.

It was a thoroughly informative experience, and I was very pleased to see the efforts being put in place by the team to spread Digital Literacy at the grassroots level, despite the obvious challenges. And, challenges are aplenty…

The space in which such centers are run is often arranged for by local corporators “donating” a local gym that is no longer in use, or a small room built on a temple ground, or some such communal facility. While rural locations are relatively clean, slum areas tend to harbour unhygienic surroundings with access paths that may be difficult to traverse. In one such location, there was also an ongoing dispute between two sub-communities that lived in the same zone but refused to “share” any common facility – since the centre was technically located in one sub-community’s area, the other wanted an independent centre to be built in their area so that they could patronize it!

It’s not just about the space. Such economically-backward areas face a number of other difficulties. Anti-social elements are a common sight in these neighbourhoods, families sometimes discourage their youth and women-folk from attending such programs, and finally, there is the matter of how to make time for this when you are busy holding down a job as a domestic maid or the housekeeping staff in a nearby mall.

However, despite these challenges, the program offers tremendous hope… Once the students enrol, qualified trainers deliver the month-long program in sessions of one hour each day, in a variety of local languages if needed. The students at these centers showed an eagerness to learn and seemed to have a genuine interest in showing up and doing their bit. On interacting with them, I found that the number one need voiced by them was: “How can I keep my education going, once the month is up?”

Imagine that! Here are folks that struggle to make ends meet, and live in conditions that most of us would consider challenging. Yet, after taking the first steps towards digital literacy, all they want is to learn more.

 

How Can We Help?

Every drop makes the ocean. While I was visiting these centers, I took the opportunity to donate some of my technology devices, books and accessories under the MeraByte program that DEF India runs (inviting folks to “donate all kinds of old and used (but functional) devices or accessories to make them available to the underserved”). Based on my interactions with the staff and students, I also drafted a few suggestions for DEF India which they have promised to take to next steps.

The fact is, some of these ideas are not limited to any one institution, and can be implemented over a much wider canvas. I’m sharing just two of them with you in the hope that they may spur new thoughts, or inspire you to take a small (or big?) role in any way you can…

 

  1. Community Libraries

Some locations can be used to setup a small Library for the community members. Access to large corporates, and initiatives like MeraByte, can be used to mobilize books on Technology, Internet, Communication, etc. Organizations can also donate their monthly subscription issues of Technology magazines, once the current month is through. All these can make for a robust resource for the community to be use as a reference or lending centre, enabling their ongoing education.

 

  1. Community Learnings

A website or discussion forum can help assimilate learnings on such community initiatives, to assess what works and what doesn’t, and invite suggestions. This will help shape thoughts and actions of those who want to contribute to the cause, making them more relevant. Folks that run community centers will also be able to tap into this shared resource to run local experiments or implement additional initiatives that may be applicable to their centers.

 

Some of you may already be in influential positions at large corporates that have CSR initiatives underway, while others may want to help in an individual capacity. Naturally, the “digital community” at large, can also be a part of the entire process, contributing via ideas, inputs, connections and more.

And, the issues are not limited to basic digital literacy. When we think of mobile apps and start-ups mushrooming all over cool areas like Powai & Koramangala in metros like Mumbai & Bengaluru, we are essentially talking about urban solutions designed by urban folks to address urban needs. But India, like Mahatma Gandhi once said, “lives in her villages”. And, those folks represent thousands of millions of users with real needs and real problems that need real solutions.

Not all of them speak English – they need solutions that work in local languages. Not all of them behave as a homogenous group – they need folks to understand their specific context and design solutions for them. Not all of them have access to computers – they need the Internet to be mobile.

There are already a few bright sparks among us who understand this predicament, and are working on solutions based on Technology focused on the underserved. But, much more needs to be done in this arena before we can rest easy. I may have barely scratched the surface with regard to understanding the various dynamics at play. But, I believe the efforts already underway will make a real difference at the grassroots level, as long as we keep the momentum going.

2016 Internet Trends

Mary Meeker at KPCB recently released the 2016 edition of the Internet Trends Report. At over 200 slides, it is indeed a treasure trove of information on the growing popularity of the Internet, and on the macro-economic trends that will shape our lives in the days to come.

Here are just a few elements that struck me as noteworthy…

 

Global Internet Users @ 3 Bn and 42% penetration

India Internet User Growth accelerating at +40% year on year

India Internet Users @ 277 Mn passed US to become #2 global market after China

Internet Retail on the rise bolstered by Always-On Connectivity + Hyper Targeted Marketing

Internet is now 10% of Retail Sales vs <2% in 2000

Video Usage, Sophistication and Relevance continues to grow rapidly

Voice as Computing Interface gains prominence with accuracy reaching >90%

Global Smartphone Users slowing at +21% year on year (vs +31% last year)

Global GDP Growth slowing = Growth in 6 of last 8 years below 20-year average

Interest Rates have fallen to historically low levels; Total Global Debt are high and rising faster than GDP

Demographic Trends = Slowing population growth, Slowing birth rates, Increasing life spans

Economic Growth slowing + Margins for Error declining = Easy Growth is behind us

 

Here is the entire report. Bookmark it and read it.