Saturday, December 22, 2012

Good experience at Bangalore Book Festival 2012

As a Mumbaikar who loves books, the nearest I'd come to book exhibitions/festivals was the annual strand sale, but even that was a single retailer. Hence, when I noticed the ad of the Bangalore book festival at Palace Grounds, Mekhri Circle; I jumped at the chance to attend one, especially given its timing at the fag end of my stay here in Bangalore.  The fair's description as reported in the Hindu stated that This year, over a million books and 50 renowned writers will converge at the festival, which will boast 307 stalls, lakhs of book titles and books in all languages, promised the organisers, at a press conference held here on Thursday. This list includes about 90 Kannada publishers, 150 English publishers, other regional language publishers, developers of book apps and e-books, book portals and online book sellers. By the time I'd come, all the writers had come and gone, and the number of stalls had drastically fallen, but still it was a good experience.
  1. Entry fee @ Rs 20(as I'm not a student or teacher) was reasonable
  2. F&B arrangements were decent inside(only veg though) and conveniently located
  3. The prime spaces were taken by online portals/children's books-a lead indicator of the things to come? I've felt before that the most profitable portions of the publishing industry would be online book retailers(due to lesser real estate/stocking costs) and children's books(as otherwise rational parents want only the 'best' for their kids, and are unlikely to use pirated/ebook versions). 
  4. Several Indian publishers like Jaico, Pustak Mahal, Orient-Longman, National Book Trust were present, but surprisingly, Rupa was not there. Very few foreign publishers present though
  5. Several niche publishers were there like those focussing on tantra, Hindu literature, Ramkrishnan Mission, Islamic books, leftist literature, which gave a good overview on stuff not usually found in book stores. Even browsing them stimulates the mind.
  6. Some magazine publishers like OPEN, Week, Network18 were present. I picked up a 1 year subscription to OPEN magazine for Rs 649, versus the market price of Rs 1045. Given the stellar content of the magazine(and a cover price of Rs 35, versus the effective per copy price of Rs 13 for being couriered to my office), its worth it.
  7. Many stalls were of retailers, who played the price/bargain game like 1 book Rs 50/99, Rs 100 for 3books and so on. So much so, that the organizers were repeatedly playing announcements requesting the stalls to remove the prominently displayed price tags!! Given that we Indians are suckers for bargains, its not surprising that this strategy worked!I picked up a Shobha De book for Rs 100(Super Star India), and an old Readers Digest adbridged classics set for Rs 49(this was my best bargain from the entire thing). I also picked up some books from the National Book Trust.
  8. Some stalls however, were not related to books at all, for example a stall of educational software for MS Office, Coding etc, devotional music and so on.
  9. An interesting feature was the number of stalls focussing on book lending libraries, as well as sites like homeship18. They were prominently there.
Overall, the book fair did meet the criteria of serendipity( while the deep discounting did help convert some selections into buys. Would certainly attend another one if held next year.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I window-shop in physical bookstores but buy online

As Gary Becker and Richard Posner put it Amazon’s book-recommendation program is primitive, and is no substitute for browsing in a well-stocked bookstore.  And even if the book recomendation alogorithm is refined(like the famous Netflix one) taking into account previous purchasing/browsing history, social media, recommendations etc, it removes the element of serendipity. If I want to check out books and look for new ideas/mental models, then a bookstore is the best place to start. Also, I may see titles that may just be right for a friend/relative.

Also, browsing through the pages of a book is rarely possible online, even Amazon gives hardly 10% of the book. On the other hand, Amazon etc have excellent reviews, which often give away the gist of the book itself and state both positive negative points. Hence, on the quality assessment/preview front, online probably wins.

One also cannot compare the prices-paying list price online, often import parity prices despite the increasing Indian editions these days, versus locating the lowest cost book often at discounts upto 40% through sites like or From the cost angle therefore, online is not comparable.

Evidence also states that people hardly read most books they purchase. Hence, to prevent information overload/buying books you are not likely to read, a cooling off period and searching for online reviews/alternatives is a good thing before making a decision to buy something you saw offline.

Still, having stated why I do it, it would be fair to give examples where physical book stores may actually work and prosper.
  1.  This gives the example of an independent bookstore which installed the Expresso 'print on demand' book printer, and pays fanatical attention to customer service with an unrivaled staff of passionate and educated booksellers. 
  2.  This book gives information about the rare book market, for which online buying may be more expensive, and the book may not be there next time you return. This is a good business model for those who can tie up supplies.
  3. Impulse purchases books like those in airport/railway/bus stations, for which no alternative is available
  4. Stores supported with coffee/food cafes, music/related merchandise etc. The Landmark chain of bookstores owned by the Trend Group(part of Indian conglomerate Tata Group) is a prime example. This is because it creates an entire experience complete with sofas/bean bags etc, for which customers feel the urge to pay

Friday, October 12, 2012

The shoddy experiences with Goibibo and Redbus

I had earlier praised Redbus on this blog(, and that is why I write this post, to give the other perspective. Earlier last month, when I needed to book tickets to Hyderabad, I sought to use the ICICI 10% discount code for the tickets. For some weird reason, it was not working. When I called up customer care, they sought to put the blame on my browser/cache, advised me to refresh and try etc. When even that did not work, they claimed that I was no longer eligible for that offer. When I still went ahead and booked the tickets w/o the coupon code, they even refused a goodwill waiver, stating that I had already used another lesser value discount code. When I challenged them about another ticket, then they stated the real reason that they would not apply discount codes to tickets once booked. Fair enough, but why give a misleading response and try deflecting blame? From the fact that they took down the ICICI offer code the next day, it seems that they had realized the technical issue or else had let it expire without renewal(likelier reason). While I have no issue with their technology, this experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

But their competitor GoIbibo was no better. Even their coupon code worked with great difficulty and repeated efforts. Their customer care was little knowledgeable about the website, and did not call back about failed payments/unconfirmed bookings status. This was for both bus and flight tickets. And to top it all, their search platform is quite cumbersome. So without discounts to compensate for that, who in their right mind would use it over a Redbus or a cleartrip?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is it fair to treat prepaid customers badly?

A customer who is acquired at zero costs, costs you nearly nothing to service, pays you money in advance and yet who receives minimal customer service. Most businesses would salivate at such a customer. But why do telecom companies focus on their postpaid customers(who take min 1-2months to recover their channel partner commission, who pay late/have credit period, who need expensive payments/collections mechanism etc)? One reason is that postpaid customers, as the conventional wisdom goes, have higher ARPUs than their prepaid peers, and are likely to stay longer on the network.  However, they also cost the telco more for bill delivery, credit costs and customer service. In an era where these costs are almost fully variable, one can tangibly accurately estimate the relative profitability of prepaid and postpaid customers. Just imagine, a prepaid customers costs you nothing to acquire(in direct cost terms), pays his own channel commission(that Rs 1-3 channel fee) and gives you valuable float. He IS rewarded with better tariffs(usually) but that’s owning to competition and not from any benevolence of the telecom operators.
Customer Service Quality
Credit Risk to Airtel
Customer Acquisition Cost
Tariff flexibility
L(few plans)
Customer payment costs
L(they pay it)
H(Airtel bears it)
Risk of outgoing calls barred due to zero balance
Bill shock risk
L(balance post every txn)
H(unless daily alerts opted)
MNP Risk
L(may just change SIM)
H(are likely to be pursued by other operators)
Loyalty likely due to
Personal choice
Corporate relationships
Bill Delivery Costs
Free Itemized Bill on Email ID
No(same Rs 50 charge)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You can be a data scientist for big data just using Excel and Access

Just google 'Big Data' and watch the explosion of results. Some herald it as the next big thing, others peddle their consulting services/software/systems as the magic recipe for companies to mine gold from their (till now) ignored legacy data sets. However, as I've realized from a customer service project during the past few weeks, spreadsheets can do the trick equally well, provided you follow a few basic ground rules

  1. Understand the underlying data, its fields/formats and the limitations. This may need visiting the field/POS/scanners/call centres to get a feel for the source data, but can do wonders in understanding what can be relied upon and what can't. After all, all the number crunching in the world even using 500 columns is useless if the underlying data is not reliable
  2. Frame hypotheses(even though they may seem 'obvious') and look for data to validate and disprove them. For example, if you think that customers recently added on the network will face more issues with their bill delivery, then choose data fields that can help you validate that hypothesis. A few fields well chosen can really reduce the time used for import/export of data. 
  3. Use subject matter experts to review the findings and offer their views. often, if a finding challenges their conventional wisdom, they can offer alternate reasons for the same. 
  4. Creatively think of dimensions like time, space, temperature to analyze data sets. Often, these physical variables are ignored but are available in the system. Using the existing data is far cheaper than trying to get it from scratch. 
  5. Data mining for social networks, stock trading data and other massive data volumes would obviously need some automation via neural networks, crawlers, AI etc. But for everything else, one can use spreadsheets to squeeze out that last drop of insight from existing data sets
  6. Understand the import/export features of spreadsheet/database software like Excel/MS Access etc. If  your data set with some tweaking can fall in that range(like below 1million odd rows etc), then using those standardized tools may be faster and efficient. Also, no need to call expensive data conversion experts, you can do the job yourself(for example importing .txt files to Excel)
  7. Don't be afraid to google any trouble areas. Often, excellent solutions available online(for instance, how to export more than 65,436 rows from MS Access to Excel-the online solutions include exporting w/o formatting, or using OCDBC)
Bottomline:- Don't be awed by big data sets. Use pivot tables etc to summarize the data and get a feel for it, then slice and dice it the way you can using Excel/Access. Often, those quick wins may win you a justification for a bigger data mining project

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to(and should you) purchase a 3G data card/dongle in India

Having shopped for prepaid dongles in Mumbai and Bangalore, besides having spoken to dealers, distributors and company executives(not just Airtel), I think this post can give some insight and save people money while purchasing data cards.
  1. As telecom operators do not have a pan India 3G license, they resorted to reciprocal roaming arrangements where the big3(Airtel, Idea, Vodafone) offer free roaming in data to their subscribers across India. So an operator offering 'free pan India roaming' may not be an USP. But benefit from this if the tariffs in your home state is different from that in the destination state. The arbitrage opportunity could exist nevertheless
  2. Negotiate the maximum free usage(and its validity) from your operator. For example, if MTS offers 10GB free for 1mth with data card costing just Rs 999, then others may be prevailed to do so. How it works is that the distributor gets a good commission, and may spend some of that giving you that extra top-up, which may not cost him that much. 
  3. Be aware of the lapsation norms of the prepaid data card. You may need to recharge it within a defined period. Longer it is, the better for you in terms of flexibility.
  4. Though not strictly legal/ethical, some stores charge Rs 100-200 to 'unlock' the dongle' to use SIMs of other operators, thus allowing subscribers to go with the cheapest plan across operators while still using the same dongle. That increases the churn quotient of the subscriber
  5. Remember that promised speeds are indicative and depend hugely on your location. So speeds upto 7.2Mbps may amount to just 2-3Mbps if you are lucky.  So do not spend too much on an operator's plan/prepaid data card before testing the speed in your location. Remember, quality of service/speed are not grounds for a refund under TRAI regulations. 
  6. For usage>6GB/9GB,a wifi hub may be cheaper, or even a broadband connection. Explore those options if you are a heavy user. 
Hope this was useful! 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Update your registered mobile number at ICICI ATM

When my Airtel coworkers went to the nearest ICICI branch to update their registered mobile number, the branch informed them that they could do so at the nearest ATM also. Hearing this, I was a bit sceptical as you cannot do so via netbanking, so why the ATM channel is open for that. Still, they were able to do so, and so was I. It was a great experience to do so without filling a single form or taking copies of your identity proof. This is what ICICI meant I suppose by advertising that their ATM is almost a branch.

If I have a grouse against ICICI, it is the low savings interest rate and the lack of other benefits for me.  Some other banks actively advice customers what is best for them. Sample this advice from Kotak Bank on their website Now THAT was what I call customer friendly analytics. 
Helpful advice: Kotak Bank has discovered that a majority of the people choosing a Kotak Edge Account actually end up maintaining the Average Quarterly Balance required to maintain a Kotak Pro Account. It may be in your interest to choose the Kotak Pro Savings Account and not miss out on the extra advantages & free services!'

But then, I suppose that is what you get when you sign up with ICICI. Awesome technology, rapid fast and efficient customer service, but you need to count your fingers everytime you shake hands/transact with them :P

Travails of searching paying guest/short term flat in bangalore for men-II

Earlier, while I was searching for a paying guest accomodation in Bangalore, I blogged about the experience here. Thankfully, the episode had a happy ending for the time being with me finding a working men hostel about 10min walk from office(even at slow pace!). Given the notorious Bangalore traffic, imminent monsoon(though no sign of it yet!) and my other PG arrangement near Sony Signal falling through(I waived a Rs 1000 deposit because I had buyer's remorse after seeing the place, and the place did not have the warmth/comfort I was looking for!), this arrangement was the best for now, despite the slightly expensive(given the amenities-no washing machine/TV/AC) rate of Rs 9000 for a single sharing room of around 100sq feet with attached bathroom. The room is almost spartan but quite functional, given that I'll be staying here just a month before I shift for greener pastures in North Karnataka and then Gurgaon for training for around 2months, before returning here. Some lessons I learnt from the whole experience was
  1. The Rs 500 deduction from the security deposit is quite standard. Live with it. 
  2. Check the bathroom flush, close the doors and check out the room. You may find leaky bathrooms, jammed doors, non functional lights etc. Make sure you get them repaired before you move in. 
  3. Be clear about the notice period needed before you vacate. Usually it is 15days and if you vacate at shorter notice, you may forfeit the small deposit of Rs 2000
  4. Hot water and is no big deal really if you have a water heater(actually in this climate you don't even need hot water).
  5. A washing machine is really useful as you don't have to risk a dhobi washing your nice clothes with a stone! But many places wash your clothes at a per kilo basis on their washing machines, so do not worry about that. 
  6. Wifi is good to have, but check the speed especially at night time(the more people using it the slower it is). You may find it cheaper to have a data card and no wifi, especially if you are a light user. For heavy users of course, wifi is better :)
  7. While phoning to enquire about the place, make sure your non negotiables are specified so that you do not waste time in viewing places that you will never stay in. 
  8. You can rent a fridge, TV, microwave for around 400/month each(I've never tried it but thee facilities are there), so you can use that if the PG allows.
  9. Bangalore usually has good electricity/water supply but still enquire about that 24*7 status and the backup facility if any, so that you can impose penalties if needed later. 
  10. Food is likely to be like hostel food(bare basics), so you will anyways need to supplement it. Don't expect too much in terms of food even in 'good' PGs.  And then, tiffen services are always possible-online ones cost around Rs 60-120 per tiffen.
Of course, do exercise due diligence, but enjoy the experience on the way!

Which is better-prepaid or postpaid voice plan? Analysis for India

The benefits of working for a telecom company is that you get some insight into how the market works. While I do not claim that a month's experience has made me a guru on this(despite what my friends may think!), some useful insights are below. As always, I take resort to the classic MBA answer 'it depends', to point that for each person depending on their circumstances, the conclusion would differ. For data, there is a separate blogpost.
  1. Tariffs:-Since prepaid customers(other things remaining equal) are seen as more likely to churn, telecom companies offer them good tariffs, and newcomers try to lure them with great tariff plans. While companies DO reward their loyal postpaid customers, the latter are likely to take postpaid for reasons like company reimbursements, address proof, loyalty and not tariffs, so prepaid seems the winner in this. Prepaid 1-Postpaid 0
  2. Customer Service/Billing :-Companies need to retain data for their prepaid customers for a much lesser period than for postpaid customers(due to TRAI billing norms). Hence, CRM analytics, customer segmentation etc becomes easier for postpaid than prepaid. This is not to say that high prepaid spenders don't get differentiated customer service, it is just that companies might not go out of the way to resolve issues for their prepaid base whom they see likely to churn out. And given that getting an itemized bill will cost around Rs 50(ceiling imposed by TRAI), disputing charges or getting waivers becomes much more difficult for prepaid. Also the small fact that in prepaid, your money is at their disposal but in postpaid, your not paying is their bad debt. So once money changes hands, it is more difficult to get it waived or so. Prepaid 0 Postpaid 1
  3. Flexibility:-This is really where prepaid scores over postpaid. For example, if you suddenly need to send bulk SMS or make ISD calls in the middle of your billing period, you need to wait for sometime before switching to a better plan, if you are a postpaid customer. But if you are a prepaid customer, just take a top-up/Recharge voucher and you can immediately change your usage pattern. For example, I've made calls to Singapore and USA for hours this month, at a rate of Rs 7.4/minute, but for a Rs 14ISD prepaid voucher, the same calls would have cost me Rs 2.99 only. Ditto for sudden data usage needs etc. Prepaid 1 Postpaid 0
  4. Usage based recomendation of best plan:-Though Airtel launched a portal earlier this year giving such recomendations for prepaid users as well, that is not yet an industry practice. As the telecom companies have data usage of their postpaid customers, they can more easily crunch numbers and offer them better plans. Ideal for those customers not savvy enough to hunt better plans from the same telco. Prepaid 0 Postpaid 1
  5. Address proofs:-Here, there is no doubt that postpaid is easier. Though one would have utility bills etc, a telecom bill is the easiest address proof to generate in 3months,especially for migrants. Prepaid 0 Postpaid 1
These were the points which I felt crucial to decide between the two. Would welcome your comments. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BMTC monthly pass system-some tips and tricks

Having purchased a monthly Volvo bus pass for Rs 1500(it was Rs 50 extra because I did not take the Rs 100 ID card issued by BMTC), I learned quite a few interesting things which I deemed worthy of sharing

  1. Decentralized sale of passes:-Unlike Mumbai and elsewhere where passes are sold only at depots, the monthly passes here are sold on the buses too(in fact the Rs 1500 pass w/o BMTC ID is sold ONLY on the buses!). So that ensures that people can get access to these passes early in the day without having to go to the depots to get them
  2. Just a paper coupon-easy to lose! Unlike the laminated passes prevalent elsewhere, the BMTC monthly pass is just a paper clipping which can be easily lost/mutilated. So the passenger must take extra care with this.
  3. Easy to forge...I'm no expert on paper but the hologram did seem easy to forge, given that they do not scan/barcode it for machine readability as done in Mumbai. But then, i suppose BMTC must have done a cost benefit analysis on this issue before allowing it. In fact, the reason I did not purchase the pass from the conductor outside the bus was that I feared forgery. 
  4. Only calendar month passes:-The drawback of this is that if you do not purchase the pass and use it from the 1st, you incur some losses! Of course, the relative inexpensiveness of the pass compensates for it I suppose. 
Overall, given that I paid Rs 1500 for using the pass on 9weekends, and many more weekdays, I break even by using it on just 17days in-toto, achievable considering my present living conditions. To best use the system, consider whether you will be using the bus daily(if so, the monthly volvo pass is just Rs 50/day on average, comparable to the cost of an ordinary daily pass @ Rs 45)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

BMTC bus services in Bangalore-a review

While googling Bangalore's public transport system before coming here(that sounds weird but I like to stay prepared and informed before arriving in any city), I noticed that they have two bus passes(Rs 45 valid on non-AC routes, and Rs 90 valid on all AC/non AC buses except the BIAL operated airport buses). The pricing is quite generous given the otherwise high price levels in this city. So having used these bus services extensively in the two weeks I'm here, my observations are below-hopefully they may help somebody else new to the city who wants to save money, carbon emissions(at the cost of time however!)

  1. Use Google Transit to find the best bus routes(AC only) between places in Bangalore. The transit times indicated in these are usually quite accurate(god knows how!)
  2. Be careful of the bus numbers/routes, as some routes have different numbers/routes while going and returning. For instance, 201R does not pass via Jeevan Bhima Nagar while its counterpart 201RC passes through that same bus stop
  3. As the driver/conductor are remunerated partly basis their collections, they try every trick in the book and then some to fill the bus. While that results in the bus sometimes departing late from its starting point, it ensures that the buses do make unscheduled stops to pick up the lone passenger on the desolate road who could really use the bus service then!
  4. Hindi is spoken almost universally by the bus conductors/drivers, and many speak English as well. In any case, if you state the place, they will atleast tell you the roads or so. 
  5. A slight drawback is the music played in the bus-local Kannada songs-which may turn off those not able to sleep/concentrate on other work in midst of noise. Not applicable for those with headphones.
  6. The digital indicator on the bus nameplate also states the route in brief in English AND Kannada. Very helpful to slowly master the routes. 
  7. The Volvo AC buses are worth every rupee you spend on them, and quite economical-much more than auto and WAY more comfortable. Only thing, frequency is poor when it gets late, so do call the toll free BMTC helpline to find out details of first and last bus at the odd hours. 
  8. Even from the airport, there are the special BIAL buses which take you to many corners of the city. For the individual travellor, that makes tremendous sense than paying 800odd bucks to ferry you to the city centre and so on. 
In short, quite good bus services I must say, both 'bus' and 'service'

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Travails of searching paying guest/short term flat in bangalore for men

Bangalore is a city with the best weather, but with the worst peak hour traffic! That pretty much sums up the city from a migrant perspective. Being posted here for 6months to do my functional training, I(and other friends) needed to look for accomodation for 6months only(till we return to Gurgaon/are sent elsewhere). And that is where the issues began. We essentially wanted a service apartment type facility without the hassle of 11months rental agreement. Most PGs(paying guest) are small rooms, with 2-4 people cramped inside with just a cot and basic cupboards('semi furnished) with a common bathroom for a floor! While that does seem repugnant to us, I recognize that such an arrangement serves the need of the 99%(just kidding, but not everyone in Bangalore is in the IT industry to afford better accomodation) and helps the landlord make more money as well. While searching for PGs itself, following problems arise
  1. Not as advertised:-Many PG owners just seem to copy paste the description of one PG on to their own listing. So I've seen ads for 'fully furnished', 'attached bathroom' PGs which did not have that facility at all! So I've now learnt to cross check before going about facilities. 
  2. Brokers too busy to call back/show place!! Unlike other cities where brokers virtually chase you for seeing places, brokers here are quite busy(or atleast seem so) when it comes to showing PGs. Hence, dealing directly with the owner seems inevitable. 
  3. So many higher end PGs meant for girls!! I've lost count of the number of ads I've seen offering deluxe PGs for girls/working women, but very few meant for men! It seems that owners believe only women will pay their rates! 
  4. Rs 500 standard deduction from deposit while refunding:-PGs usually ask a token deposit of anywhere from 0.5months-2months of rent, and deduct 'maintenance charge' of Rs 500 while refunding the deposit! This seems an unfair trade practice but can't do anything about it except of course walking away.
  5. Domlur/Indira Nagar quite far away from Bannerghatta Road:-My office being on Bannerghatta Road, I wanted an accomodation nearby to avoid 1.5hrs commute each way. But the best residential areas(in terms of solitude, amenities etc) being located so far away, the quality of PGs/flats here not upto the mark except say places like Mantri Elite and so on.
There is hopefully an happy ending, with me having seen atleast 2 backup places I liked, and our aiming to see another such place today afternoon when the owner returns to Bangalore. But the system is not easy for an outsider, especially for one who does not speak Hindi, Telugu or Kannada(Hindi is spoken widely here, Telugu as well especially among PG owners, and Kannada being state language). Luckily, my Hindi knowledge gets me thru but things would not be easy anyone just speaking English.

A friend Umang Rathi(based in Trivandrum, working for ISRO), suggested that there is tremondous scope for a C2C website or a network of migrants who would help newcomers find their place in the city. While these exist on a small scale(say college level mail chains/social media), they are of little use presently.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A few great e-commerce sites

I blogged earlier about how I love Redbus( but there are other sites out there, which are superb in execution, customer service yet value for money(managing all 3 is unusual and hard)
  1. Funded by Accel Partners among others, they are quickly becoming the gold standard in apparel, with their very fast shipping, easy returns policy(they even send a returns-bag and feedback form!) with a no-fault policy(even if you return it for non quality defects, they either collect it free or give you a Rs 100 credit towards shipping) that I'm yet to see elsewhere. By far the best customer service I've seen(I had to return a product once so I speak from firsthand experience). They give a Rs 500coupon on purchases above Rs 1250 for new users, so make hay while the sun shines and buy something from there
  2. a Accel funded venture. Great choice of books, quick delivery, impeccable and polite customer service. They do not do much price discounting, but you know that what you see is what you get.
  3. Dropbox:-A very good way to share files easily without the risk of putting them on filesharing sites. Best for sharing with a limited group.
  4. Whassup:-The new craze, excellent to send messages, files and MMS to friends. For smartphone users looking to save on data charges, seems a great way to go ahead
  5. and ifileit:-Very clean interface, free, and fast. In the era of fast vanishing file sharing sites(that are converting into file storage sites), very good
  6. They are focusing ONLY on 'affordable' hotel booking, and focussed like Redbus on one segment. Should be interesting to see what happens next(I've not used them yet though, this is only from their site and googling for reviews)
  7. Ixigo and Price comparison sites for travel, and books respectively. Both have saved me tons of money, and seem quite neutral and accurate. 
  8. As the name indicates, focussed on movie tickets but more recently branched off into cultural, sports and other events as well. Their convenience fee is a slight turnoff but then the ease of booking and comparison is unparalled. 
  9. Google Transit: Like the site, this gives multiple paths(bus,train, car) for reaching from point A to point B. Great for metros(especially Bangalore) but still evolving in cities. Not exactly e-commerce, but facilitates public transport in a great way..
 These are all great sites I've used(except stayzilla and Whassup of which I've no personal experience), and are making things really easier. Will add to this list when I see more, as we really need more of such

The power of counterfactual thinking in business

'What if'. This powerful question forms the base of counterfactual thinking, where you try to imagine what might have happened under a different scenario/circumstance. It is not intellectual heroism to do so, but rather those who want to illustrate improvements, compare things under changed circumstances etc would find this sort of thinking very useful. The below business situations illustrate the importance of
  1. Stress analysis/scenario analysis:-'What if' analysis tries to model the effect of stress testing and analysis. That is counterfactual analysis
  2. Proforma financial statements in prospectus for past data:- As IFAC puts it,  Pro forma financial information included in an issuer’s prospectus illustrates the impact of a proposed acquisition, equity or debt issuance, or other transactions on the issuer’s historical financial information as if such event or transaction had occurred at an earlier selected date.  This is nothing but counterfactual thinking.
  3. 'Improvements' after consulting assignments:-When consultants claim to have implemented projects resulting in savings of XXX, these amounts are often counter factual.
  4. Opportunity Costs/Benefits:- For example, Delhi International Airport(DIAL) had taken interest free Refundable Security Deposit (RSD) from the lessees/shop owners. For purpose of setting tariffs under cost-plus rate of return regulation by AERA, they stated that the RDSs have an opportunity cost and hence the Authority should provide a reasonable return on the same because if  DIAL  had  not used these deposits for the project, then  additional  funds would have been raised through equity or debt, on which the Authority would have provided a return. This is nothing but counterfactual thinking. 
  5. Avoidable costs:- Suppose an activity had not have been carried out(if deemed wasteful/unnecessary/imprudent), then what would have been the costs saved? Regulators do not generally permit such inefficient/non regulated activity related costs. For example, the  primary  activity  of the  airport  is to  provide  aeronautical  services and the users  should bear  the  cost of these.  Where,  however,  the  presence  of  non-aeronautical  activities  has  generated  an additional  requirement   for  space  or  facilities,  which  would  otherwise  not have been  needed,  the  resulting  otherwise avoidable  costs  should  be regarded in full as non-aeronautical.

Why accountants should master information systems

When I refer to accountants in this context, it does not refer just to 'financial accountants' but also to 'management accountants' and corporate financial analysts, who handle internal corporate data. Of course, external auditors etc are anyways dutybound to evaluate client information systems to decide the extent of reliance on records/nature of assurance they can give, so I do not include them in this. Before understanding the ISACA study material of the ICAI, I felt that information systems was a geeky subject best left to engineers, but then I realized its real importance later. After all, accounting is an information system by itself, and therefore the IT approach to IS is just one aspect(but very helpful too, though it focusses more on automation and lesser on controls which accountants are expected to design).
  1. System framework is quite useful for analyzing organization phenomenon. Skills using data flow diagrams etc are quite helpful while designing, auditing and improving systems.
  2. To preserve their identity, autonomy and core competence, organizations are a closed system in many aspects. So are accounting systems-closed when it comes to basic principles, but quite open in the adaptation/interpretation of them.
  3. IPOS cycle(Input process storage output) misses out in fact that feedback loops lead to output affecting input/virtuous cycles etc. This is true for accounting as well(which has evolved as per the way various users accounted their transactions).
  4. Once we define the system boundary, we are much closer to defining the problem and our focus.
  5. Example of buffer is cache memory, inventory, queues etc. This concept helps while scheduling work during peak seasons.
  6. Way to decouple databases(lessen need for communication) is having common database standards, which is exactly what is done by many organizations(auto generated invoices between partners sharing same standards).
  7. ERP is a more subtle form of putting in best practices, which can improve controls and performance substantially.
  8. Post Implementation reviews like in PDCA cycle must to see how to get better next time, especially in the project management scene of IT. Those lessons useful for audit/control.
  9. Outsourcing needs among other things, source code escrow, risk/controls and metrics for SLA. These should involve the finance function as well.
  10. User signoffs not just CYA(cover your a**), also way to ensure buy in/proper needs built in etc
There can be tomes but this is all for now. 

Management lessons from Madagascar 3

Yesterday, I watched the third part of the animated film franchise Madagascar, and it was clean wholesome 3D entertainment totally worth the price of admission. Just having finished 2yrs in bschool at IIM Ahmedabad, my mind was still on MBA mode in the background, trying to dissect and glean management lessons from all and sundry! I did not watch the first two parts of the movie but that did not detract from my understanding. A brief review of the film as on the blog states Our famous quartet(of circus animals who have escaped from the New York Zoo)-, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) are in Africa. The penguins have left them and taken off in a plane to engage in some gambling. The heroes swim their way to Europe to get to the penguins and fly back home. Plans fail and events start unfolding at a frenetic pace. Animal control chief Chantel DuBois wants Alex’s head on her wall. The New Yorkers somehow manage to convince – Circus Zaragoza who is touring Europe in a train. We meet a few new characters - Vitaly the Tiger, Gia the Jaguar, Stefano the Sea-lion and others.  The story moves forward with the train moving to Rome and then to London. The action at London is a treat to watch in 3D with excellent pyrotechnics and some breathtaking acts. Finally, the New Yorkers get back home. But are they happy? For a more complete review, read

The background now set, the lessons in brief are
  1. Fake it till you make it! The escaped quartet had taken refuge with the circus under the pretense of being circus animals. Leveraging that credibility, they persuade the other (real) circus animals to try the often risky acts that they conjured up.
  2. The power of passion:-As Alex talks about later in the film, the famous Canadian circus Cirque do Soleil that uses humans instead of animals in their performances, cannot compete with the real animals when it comes to passion. Hence, he inspires the animals to give their 101%.
  3. Getting buy in for change:-Vitaly the tiger represents the old guard-trusty, competent yet resistent to change the way things have been done! However, Stefano and Gia the Jaguar reassure him of his importance in the scheme of things, stating that they will not move ahead without him. This makes him agree to try out his old act(jumping through loops again!)
  4. Business process reengineering! This is quite evident in the new way the circus acts were reengineered. After all, if one keeps on doing what does not work, that is insanity. Having Vitaly use non flamable hair conditioner instead of the inflamable hair oil to jump through flaming loops, is another example of the same. 
  5. The importance of integrity:-Though the penguins are able to foil DuBois' plan to capture Alex, the latter is forced to confess that the four of them are just zoo animals trying to get home, disappointing the others who feel used and lied to, as they had blindly trusted the four and done risky and new acts. While the film ends on a good note, in real life often, one lapse of integrity proves expensive in the zero tolerance envt of organizations. So 'fake it till you make it' is fine for internal use, but not necessarily for external use, as the Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson found out to his expense after being fired for inventing a non existent credential.
I am sure that academics with much more time for research/thinking than I do, will come out with a case study/session on this, but this is all I could do! Adios! 

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    Indian Broadcasters Federation rips apart TRAI in its consultation paper response

    Handling regulators is a fine art-be it appealing adverse orders, indulging in regulatory capture or responding to draft policies. Judging by its response to the Indian telecom regulator TRAIs proposal to cap advertisement time per clock hour on pay TV channels, the Indian broadcasters federation(IBF) pulls no punches and has gone for the jugular using some very cuastic language. Read the full response here( but some sample paras indicate the frustration of the writer and leave the reader in no doubt about the angist felt by the association. Whoever the person is, great job done! Just sample some paras
    1. not only an attempt of regulatory overeach but also of regulatory oversight
    2. ..reflects a basic lack of understanding of the business model of the broadcasting industry
    3. We will not attempt to catalogue all the errors in the description...instead..
    4. No rationale has been given for the same except the traditional TRAI mechanism of drawing a golden mean between two unrelated figures
    the rest of the response is a bit more temperate but on the same lines. If any brave soul wants to respond to regulatory proposals adversely affecting them, the extent of research done here and the caustic remarks here are a role model for use, but not advisable to be repeated given the potential to piss off the regulators, which can affect business in any market, let alone a highly regulated one like India.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Data protection laws in India relating to sensitive personal data under IT Act 2000

    To ensure data privacy and security, the Government of India inserted Section 43A in the Information Technology Act 2000, to ensure that corporates handling sensitive personal data(as defined in the rules) take adequate precautions, and are subject to certain minimum obligations and liabilities even when not specified in the contract. For this, they framed the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011(read it at the link ) which gives some comprehensive guidance on the subject. Rule 3 defines sensitive data, with a focus on financial/health records, with a safeguard clause that information accessible in public domain is not considered sensitive.

    3. Sensitive personal data or information.— Sensitive personal data or information of
    a person means such personal information which consists of information relating to;—
    (i) password; (ii) financial information such as Bank account or credit card or debit card or
    other payment instrument details ; (iii) physical, physiological and mental health condition;
    (iv) sexual orientation; (v) medical records and history;
    (vi) Biometric information;
    (vii) any detail relating to the above clauses as provided to body corporate for
    providing service; and (viii) any of the information received under above clauses by body corporate for processing, stored or processed under lawful contract or otherwise:

    provided that, any information that is freely available or accessible in public domain or furnished under the Right to Information Act, 2005 or any other law for the time being in force shall not be regarded as sensitive personal data or information for the purposes of these rules.

    Besides the requirement for explicit opt-in consent from individual(that can be withdrawn at any time), privacy policy, restrictions on sending data abroad etc, Rule 8(3) gives a safe harbour of what does reasonable safety practices mean for the purpose of these Rules.
    The body corporate or a person on its behalf who have implemented either IS/ISO/IEC 27001 standard or the codes of best practices for data protection as approved and notified under sub-rule (3) shall be deemed to have complied with reasonable security practices and procedures provided that such standard or the codes of best practices have been certified or audited on a regular basis(atleast annually or when significant upgradation takes place!) by entities through independent auditor, duly approved by the Central Government.

    As this law applies to all companies, they better be careful else for those not getting audited, proving good faith/due diligence will be difficult

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Eagle Travels-exemplary 'customer service' or great disaster management?

    Eagle Travels(trade name of 'Falcon Travels Pvt Ltd'-the owner seems having a fetish for birds) was the operator by which I'd booked a 7:45pm bus from Mumbai to Ahmedabad(boarding Sion). I got a call from them apologizing for their having to delay the departure by 2hrs(guess they cancelled that bus due to poor occupancy and booked me to the next bus). Since my arrival at Ahmedabad was not that time sensitive, I decided to carry on and boarded the bus at 9:45pm, but it turned out it was a Surat bound bus which would drop me to Borivali for a 11pm bus from there. At 10pm, the bus broke down at a signal on the Western Express highway near VileParle, and nearly 1hr was lost in pushing the bus/trying to repair etc. Mechanics and a manager came quite quickly and tried to solve the problem.

    I was fretting about my connecting bus, but was assured that it would be managed. Suddenly at 11:10pm, I was taken to a sumo where the owner dropped me to the boarding point(while stopping at one of his shops to collect the cash and accounts!), making some small chat etc and apologizing for the delay. After a 15min journey in AC comfort, I reached Borivali where the bus was waiting for me. When I entered it(was allocated the same window seat), the passengers were somewhat irked saying that the bus had waited 30min for me!(dunno what the bus driver told them). Anyways, the bus was quite comfortable(no jerks/great seats) and small things like water etc was provided, and it reached Ahmedabad without incident and just in 9hrs.

    I was quite impressed by their holding up the bus for one person(it was their fault but perhaps they could have used some other operator..) and also by the fact that a person from their end was calling me up around 15min/30min before the scheduled boarding to confirm I'd reached. Not sure whether this is standard practice or not, but I did feel I was in competent hands and they had  a great tracking system. Taking me in the AC sumo did do the trick and eased my mood considerably, else I'd all but decided to sue them for deficiency in service! In all, an eventful 2hrs, I lost that much of sleep, but was impressed by how they managed the whole thing. 

    10 reasons why I book bus tickets through Redbus

    I admit it! The title was my feeble attempt at SEO optimization, but I do really love Redbus. Their customer service and sleek web interface rivals my other favorite e-commerce portal(Flipkart). 
    1. Easy refund-the acid test of any merchant is the ease with which they process your refund/chargeback requests. I had cancelled tickets thrice by Redbus, twice through email and once through phone, and the service was efficient, polite and prompt on all occasions.
    2. 100% effort to get passenger ratings:-I get an emailed survey around 1hr after the scheduled arrival of the bus, requesting for feedback on the operator and Redbus itself. This also leads to ratings you can trust, that will be uncensored, genuine and somewhat exhaustive.
    3. M-tickets:-This is a new innovation, which they did not have to do, but very convenient. It also had the boarding point contact numbers, which can be directly dialled from the message itself.
    4. SMS before bus timing:-I was quite wowed to get a SMS at 3:45pm before my 4:15pm bus, reminding me of the bus, 'from your friends at Redbus' with a smiley! Though probably not needed, it is a good way to reach out!
    5. Sleek website interface:-Loads quite fast, and very user friendly. One can finish a booking in as less as 3min! No unnecessary junk/logins needed.
    6. Periodic offers:-Mostly small amounts(Rs 50/100) but amounts to about 10% of the fare at times on using HDFC/ICICI debit/credit cards.
    7. Bridge to the unorganized bus sector-Do not wish to critique agents, but there is a world of difference between educated young people and the bus agents, and Redbus helps bridge the gap.
    8. Handle refund of differential fare if bus type changes:-Doing this on the bus/even from the boarding point would be inconvenient physically, but Redbus can credit the amount online
    9. Focused and loyal promoters-A venture capitalist who had funded them early on, gave a talk at IIM-A recently, and mentioned that they(Redbus promoters) resisted the temptation to get into ancillary streams like travel packages, hotel bookings etc, and instead are building the bus bookings business. Also, though they now account for a significant share of revenue for many operators especially on 'non popular' routes, they have not hiked the commission upwards.
    10. Prompt and Friendly Customer Service:-I have spoken with their customer service at both Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and have got through quite fast on both occassions in evening peak time. Whether this means lack of complaints/phone service or just awesome Operations Management(remember these guys are from IIM Indore..) is something I do not know.
     Keep up the good work, guys(and gals!)

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Should retail investors stick to value equity investing to safeguard careers?

    When I refer to 'retail investor', I do not imply any maximum level of knowledge/skill/expertise/experience, but only refer to a person who does not intend to make investing his full time profession. Hence, even a MBA Finance from a top notch college who aced his investing courses/simulation games, would be a retail investor if the main job is anything other than full time investing. Now, there are many investing styles for the lay investor, and in comparison to derivatives, exotic asset classes like art/commodities etc, the slow compounding effect based conservative value investing style may not appeal to many people, atleast not in the short run. But the perils in any other investing style is(especially the last point)
    1. Disadvantaged in terms of information recency/execution speed and costs:-Without multiple terminals, access to recent data feeds and cheap trading costs, a retail investor is disadvantaged compared to his institutional counterpart. 
    2. Information asymmetry widening:- In equities, the level of analysis is much lesser(DCF etc) as compared to options/FICC wherein pricing models accuracy matters as well. The improvements/refinement in those areas are much more prevalent and frequent, hence someone not having access to those would be at a disadvantageous position.
    3. Limited structures/market access/positions:-Institutions by virtue of their market access, lower margin needs and liquidity can access more markets than retail investors, who are therefore better off investing along with them via structured notes/fund of funds etc.
    4. Distraction from 'core'/'ongoing' business/career:-My father's friend who has a ball bearings business and who dabbles in stocks, once confessed that if he had focused on his bearings business, he would have been much wealthier than he is today. This is much more true in professions, with an entry of young often better trained blood. If you are not on your toes/upto speed, there is risk of permanently being left behind. And that is an intangible damage which no amount of investing success can compensate for. For day trading, F&O etc, that needs a lot of time commitment/intra day distraction and BP/pulse rate tracking the market. That does take a toll on one's performance at work. 
    5. Value investing inherent advantages:- By contrast, value investing needs a one time major time investment, and then not so much effort at monitoring. Also, it is not very time sensitive job, so does not affect your work performance. Plus, the playing field is much more level(in fact retail investors even have an advantage as they do not need to report to someone/less herding risk etc). 
    Of course, to 'get rich fast', it either needs a great career with bonuses, or else great trading gains/informed investing. While selecting the path, one would be advised to consider the above points.

    My experience at Delhi Airport-well worth the passenger service fee!

    Earlier in Jan-12, I had the occasion to wait for a few hours at Delhi Airport-the domestic departure terminal IB. Having done the same at Singapore and Mumbai airports, I was curious to compare the experiences. And surprisingly, once I was inside the airport, things were quite good. For instance
    1. Affordable beverages/food inside the airport(like a Haldiram's stall) and even nearby, as opposed to the exorbitantly priced F&B which are a standard fixtures of airports
    2. Wifi connectivity free of cost and although for max 1.5hrs or so at a time, that can be renewed free for any duration after that.
    3. Laptop charging stations and tables are readily available beyond the security clearance area, and allow passengers to work/be entertained while waiting for departure. 
    4. Interestingly, DIAL had a prayer room as well(location could have been better since it was near the toilet!) but that is a very good gesture
    5. A shoe polishing roller which allowed the passenger to just rest the shoe on the roller and it would be polished then. A great idea
    6. Other standard fixtures like clean loos, metro connectivity(metro station reachable by escalators/nominal priced AC bus service), water jets etc.
    Of course, there is a controversy on the proposed hike in the passenger service fee which I'll address on my financeandcapitalmarkets blog, but the experience was quite good.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    Immoral/Illegal/Against public policy-yet taxable or tax deductible in India

    During my study of both direct tax and indirect tax law, I saw quite a few instances where although the activity in question was illegal or prohibited, that fact was not considered for the purpose of tax law. That does seem a bit strange that tax law does not recognize the constraints imposed by other civil/criminal law, but on closer reflection it does make sense because both laws operate in different spheres, and also because tax does not concern itself with moralities/strict legal form, and therefore even illegal income can be taxed.
    1. Physician samples of patent/proprietary medicine is statutorily prohibited from being sold under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act 1940, and therefore a pharma company contended that since those samples were not 'marketable', excise duty could not be charged. But in Medley Pharmaceuticals vs CCE(Daman) 2011SC, the Supreme Court held that despite the statutory prohibition, the samples were capable of being sold, and that restrictions under one law could not result in revenue loss. Therefore, excise duty was held to be chargeable.
    2. Under wealth tax however, if a plot of urban land is vacant due to land planning prohibitions, then its value is not considered for purpose of charging wealth tax.
    3. Smuggled goods(if detected!) cannot be given benefit of exemption notification:- In CCus(Preventive) v M Ambalal & Co, the Supreme Court held that since the Customs Act had one of the primary objectives as curbing smuggling, it would be contrary to the purpose of exemption notification to accord the benefits of 'imported goods'(entering through legal channels) to those smuggled goods as well. 
    4. Under the Indian income tax transfer pricing laws, any revision in transfer price(it will be always upwards IF made) cannot entitle the other party to the transaction to reduce its taxable income. Also, the party affected by transfer price that increases its taxable turnover, cannot claim export benefits/other benefits under law. This provision recognizes the commercial reality that despite the transfer pricing adjustment, the funds have left India(in case of international transactions). In case of domestic transactions under Section 43/80IA-ID, I guess the rationale is not to reward those who cook the books..
    5. Under wealth tax law(again!), cash, to the extent recorded in books, is not subject to wealth tax. This means that questionable accounting practice/sloppy accounting of having unrecorded tax, would lead to its being taxed for wealth tax purposes. 
    6. Charitable trusts ordinarily enjoy income tax exemption, but in case the tax authorities recompute the business profits and find concealed income, or make other additions to the income due to related party transactions, those additions are not eligible for that favorable tax treatment
    7. The tax avoidance provisions under 69A-D subject unexplained expenditure to tax under the presumption that that would have been from undisclosed income(i,e black money). To avoid the claim of net zero income(gross income minus that expenditure), the law expressly debars any tax deduction of those expenses even under business income
    8. Payments seemingly contrary to law still deductible-heroin drugs stock-in-trade of an doctor assessee and ransom payments. The loss of heroin drugs was held as tax deductible by the Supreme Court, which reversed the verdicts of the lower courts, stating that moral considerations did not belong to jurisprudence. Hence in 2006, the case Dr. T.A. Quereshi v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Bhopal stated that although the law had barred business expenditure incurred contrary to law, it did not state anything about business losses. In the K.M Jain case, the MP High Court held that where a company had paid a ransom money of Rs 5.5 lakh to the dacoits and secured the release of their director(who had spent 20days in captivity), the payment was deductible because the law did not expressly prohibit payment of ransom. Hence, this is seemingly contrary to the intent of the explanation to Section 37(1) that no allowance shall be made in respect of expenditure incurred by an assessee for any purpose which is an offence or which is prohibited by law. But technicalities and deep legal interpretation allowed tax deduction in the above cases. 
    The point of the above examples is that sometimes tax law works in interesting ways.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    The Abilene paradox proves Silence is not golden-and its implications

    The Abilene Paradox was first described by Professor Jerry Harvey, from the George Washington University. He described a leisure trip which he and his wife and parents made in Texas in July, in his parents’ un-airconditioned old Buick to a town called Abilene. It was a trip they had all agreed to – or at least not disagreed with – but, as it later turned out, none of them had wanted to go on. “Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who, of our own volition, had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature through a cloud-like dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go”.

    Hence, the Abilene Paradox describes the situation where everyone goes along with something, mistakenly assuming that others’ people’s silence implies that they agree. And the (erroneous) feeling to be the only one who disagrees makes a person shut up as well, all the way to Abilene. In short, silence is not golden, and does not always imply assent. Some practical implications of this
    1. Teachers often stress that no question is a dumb question. This is partly to avoid the Abilene paradox where students often have a common doubt but the silence of other students stops them from asking, as they mistakenly think that they are the odd man out. 
    2. In a contract(unless by tacit actions), silence does not imply acceptance. That is an old maxim of English contract law(and I think in other juridictions also), subject to certain carveouts to cover assenting to deception etc. 
    3. Many decisions often need a certain affirmative vote-for example in the World Trade Organization(WTO), rejecting an expert panel discussion needs a majority General body vote. And corporate law(often needing charter etc) often imposes a quorum for making certain important decisions, be it at the Board level or the shareholder meeting level, to ensure that those who are silent are also made to attend(atleast in part)
    4. Great investors and managers often make their team speakup, to ensure that contrary opinions are not sidelined due to groupthink/awe.
    5. Good communicators often restate for understanding, to ensure that understanding gaps are ironed out and not hidden behind the wall of silence. In fact, lack of response/questioning often indicates communication gap/disinterest. 
    I could go on and on, but I think that principle needs more attention and application.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    ICICI and Uninor-the tale of 2 contrasting customer service organizations

    Below is the email I sent to my mobile service operator Uninor last Sunday on why I would be shifting from them after Mar-12.

    1. Customer calls getting transferred repeatedly to Hindi speaking operators although I select the right option 'English'
    2. VAS being wrongly charged to my account in May, and reversed after lots of hassle
    3. Website among the worst in the industry-details of add on/top ups not available online
    4. IVRS very unfriendly, almost impossible to get thorough to customer care executive
    5. And to top it all, tariffs among the highest-local/SMS now 60paise for me without any intimation-even Vodafone(best quality network) is much cheaper and user friendly.
    Even after a week, I did not get any response(not that I was expecting one after the hassle I had in getting a Rs 30 VAS charge reverse). Contrast that to ICICI's customer service. They are impeccable in the call centre wait times/service, have a great site, awesome technology and polite personnel. And when I blogged day before yesterday( about their incredible analytics, imagine my surprise when the Blogger Dashboard showed 4 visits from ICICI Social media console, within a period of 24hrs. Obviously, someone is tracking the mention of ICICI on a third party social media forum like this blog!

    In the era of customer choice, the person who is most attuned to customers wins. While ICICI is no saint(sometimes accused of sharp practices/not having the benevolent image of PSU banks), it is living its motto 'khayal aapka' by keeping its ear to the ground and being responsive to customer issues/feedback not only that given directly but also elsewhere. It is such organizations which would win in the long run.

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Learning about the real facts of life online

    A side effect of surfing online is that you stumble across plenty of interesting stuff. But thanks to the surfeit of PR material masquerading as content, it is sometimes difficult to get the true picture. Below are some useful resources I found in that regard.
    1. IIM tips/NIT tips/ CA tips-a new fad has sprung up on Facebook where groups are made ending with 'tips' that give tongue in cheek one liners about anything under the sun, right from IIMs to Gujjus. This community is growing by the day, and chances are you will get information on any profession/aspect of life on that soon
    2. Memes:- Many sites have memes which are again one liners, mostly on communities but often on other things as well. Sites like tumblr are a classic example of this.
    3. Jokes: They say there is no smoke without fire. Hence, even the 'racy' jokes have a factum of truth, and can be very illuminating on the profession
    4. Glassdoor:-This is often more reliable than Vault Guides in my view, because people can safely state even negative aspects online, which is not possible always in standard publications.
    5. Quotable Quotes:-Sites like brainyquotes have a very rich collection of quotes online, and most are quite insightful
    6. Classics:- Thanks to Project Gutenburg and other sites, one can read classics online for free(even the Kindle Store has free classics for Kindle). They say that the past repeats itself, so reading classic novels can give deja-vu when those situations are unfolding around you.
    7. Anonymous blogs:-For example, a famous finance blog-the Eipcurean Dealmaker has an anonymous writer who frankly writes about the industry, unafraid of the consequences on his day-job. This is a luxury which only anonymity confers.  (
    8. Comment section on certain sites:-Often, the comments section is entire spam as in Rediff and TOI, but on more reputed forums like Economist/HBR/FT, the quality is comments is great and often surpasses the result of the post itself. And many commentors supplement their views with real life examples.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    The end of 'free' digital content looms nearer than thought

    The one day Wikipedia blackout made the otherwise obscure SOPA and PIPA bills of the USA Congress get global limelight. Those bills aimed at ensuring that sites which hosted pirated content, would have to comply with content owner's take down notices, and risk being stripped of their payment gateways/advertising networks if found to be 'persistent defaulters'. This lead to a Silicon Valley vs Hollywood media battle, which Silicon Valley seemed to have won due to the deferral of the bills. But that win was a Pyrrhic victory as the post below would show. In my Apr11 post(, I had predicted that downloading pirated content would be more difficult. But recent events have accelerated the rate of change
    1. After the megaupload owner was arrested without bail in New Zealand, websites like filesonic panicked and have restricted the download facility to only the person who posted the links! In essence, they changed the business model from filesharing to file storage. While sites like mediafire etc are bravely going on, it is tougher to access pirated content, especially the legacy ones.
    2. Content owners are shifting towards the idea of a central content repository, against which filehosting/sharing sites can ensure that uploaded content can be screened to check for piracy. If that materializes,most advertising dependent sites will find it difficult to avoid compliance with that. 
    3. Youtube now screens uploaded content for digital footprint of copyrighted content, and then gives the rights owner the choice of profiting from that(by showing ads before/during viewing those videos) and explictly tags who owns the content. That makes the content piracy more difficult. 
    4. Thanks to the telecom scam in India, hard landing fears in China and other emerging economies, capex on telecom/broadband is reducing and therefore the ease of piracy(always on high speed broadbands DO make it faster to access that content) falls.
     As I'd suggested in that post, free content seems the only way out, and to ensure Wikipedia like commons grow, we should prime the well by giving back to those commons.

    ICICI's incredible customer analytics even on single non ICICI ATM usage!

    Yesterday evening, I used a non ICICI ATM near IIM Ahmedabad. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from ICICI(mass mailer) with the attention grabbing header 'We have missed you'! I thought this related to my demat account but on probing further, realized that related to my use of the ATM card! Below is an extract from that mailer.I must say that this is remarkable customer analytics and does show why ICICI is still the technology leader among Indian banks. I have routinely used non ICICI ATMs and never received such emails till yesterday, so maybe this is a new feature on their part.Whatever the reason, such prompt response deserves credit. If it was toll free SMS,  then maybe I would use it but otherwise given that I do not exhaust the 5 free transactions/month, this is perhaps a failed effort on me.
    Dear Customer,

    We’ve missed you! We understand that you felt the need to use a Non-ICICI Bank ATM recently.

    We would like to inform you that transacting at your ICICI Bank ATM is not only safe and fast, but it also comes along with various benefits...To locate your nearest ICICI Bank ATM, simply SMS ATM to 5676766.

    Why is your ICICI Bank ATM safe and fast?
     Dip Card facility: Most ICICI Bank ATMs are equipped with a Dip Card Reader - a feature that enables you to transact safely while the card stays in your hand.
     Ultra Fast Cash facility: This feature, available at all ICICI Bank ATMs helps you complete the transaction in less than half-a-minute.
     Feel at home : Any disputes for queries will be taken care of by ICICI Bank. No need to deal with other banks to resolve your disputes.

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    Getting the most out of conferences-without actually attending them!

    Today, I was scheduled to attend a conference at Ahmedabad Management Association(just down the road from IIM-A), but some pressing commitments came in the way. However, I still wanted to learn about the topics in question. So I merely Googled the titles of the speaker sessions, and to my surprise, hundreds of search results(some very relevant) popped out from the wordwork. Now, I'm sure that reading on my own would take more time than attending the session. But for a birds eye view of the content, one just needs to know the search strings, and the program agenda provides this. For new areas(new to you), this method of learning could be especially useful, as it helps one focus on the relevant and somewhat controversial areas(if NOT controversial then usually no conference would feature that!).

    Other ways to learn from conferences without attending them are
    1. Request/Purchase/Download the presentation material/handouts:-This is often sold at a nominal price on CD/bound value(as done for AMA sessions) or uploaded freely on the website as done for WIRC-ICAI. 
    2. Ask a friend/attendee to take notes and share them:-This is another mutually beneficial way. The person taking notes retains them in memory for a longer time, while the person with whom it is shared(in this case YOU!) gets the flavour of the session.