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!