Friday, 27 February 2015

Modi's Hotspot for Indian Railways: Modi's Technology Cure for All Ills?

Times of India reports that Indian Railways' plans to introduce Wi-Fi facility in 400 category B stations across the country, and SMS alerts as part of the 2015-16 Railway Budget announced on Thursday could provide huge business opportunities to private players, industry and analysts said. Ozone Networks, the largest public Wi-Fi provider in India, said that the size of such an opportunity was immense. "We have already started discussions with the ministry for installing wi-fi in the stations," Sanjeev Sarin, founder of Ozone Networks, told ET. Ozone has over 1500 hot spots across India including the Mumbai airport and McDonald's outlets. Sarin did not share details of investment or a blueprint of the way forward but added that the ministry has also asked the company to install Wi-Fi in two trains, without disclosing details. Companies in the telecom sector including Tata Tele, Vodafone India and MTS that have become active in the Wi-Fi hotspot space over the last few quarters would be equally interested in implementing the government's plan, industry watchers said. 

It's high time Indian Railways was modernised. The current railway network system, based on the what the British started in India, is highly politicised and needs proper efficient management. These proposals in the latest railway budget will help but a lot more needs to be done. Narendra Modi will be judged on how he manages to improve infrastructure and transport in India and only a little bit of tinkering here and there will not please the voter at the next general election. These budget proposals will benefit tech companies. The same with India Post which is seeing new opportunities in India's growing e-commerce and m-commerce markets. 

Modi likes headlines where some investment in new technology is announced. But unless Modi deals with the underlying management and politics in these public sector businesses little will change. Upgrading technology is not the sole cure for these organisations.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Digital Trust Deficit: In God We Trust But Not Your Technology

Times of India reports that China has dropped some of the world's leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance. Others put the shift down to a protectionist impulse to shield China's domestic technology industry from competition. Chief casualty is US network equipment maker Cisco Systems, which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center's (CGPC) list, but by late 2014 had none, a Reuters analysis of official data shows. Smartphone and PC maker Apple has also been dropped over the period, along with Intel's security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix Systems. The number of products on the list, which covers regular spending by central ministries, jumped by more than 2,000 in two years to just under 5,000, but the increase is almost entirely due to local makers. The number of approved foreign tech brands fell by a third, while less than half of those with security-related products survived the cull. 

A huge trust deficit has grown in the last couple of years over digital technology due to whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations. This digital trust deficit will force countries to pursue their own indigenous tech companies. In the long run this will impact the global tech companies.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Insurers Mixing Business with Your Social Media

Times of India reports that Facebook and Twitter have spread happiness among people by transforming the way they exchange information about their holidays, birthday parties, and college reunions with the rest of the world. But the same medium have also landed many in trouble for innocuous comments that have ruffled feathers and in some cases even led to loss of jobs, thanks to the ease of communicating. That combination of pleasant and painful experience of the medium could soon extend to the insurance industry. But in this case, the winners will be the companies, and individuals will be the losers. How is that? If you are an active Facebook, or Twitter user posting most of your daily life, you wouldn't be able to hide your drinking, or driving habits. Insurance companies will follow your Facebook postings to learn how many days in a year you party. How rashly you drive your vehicle or how much you eat outside, especially junk food in restaurants such as McDonald's, would determine the premium you pay and so on. Welcome the big data for Indian insurance. "Companies are investing in big data as they face pressure to perform," says Anurag Shah, founder of Aureus Analytics, an insurance-focused data analytics company funded by Rajan Anandan of Google India, and Arun Venkatachalam of the Murugappa family. "Insurance companies are leveraging data." Many of the Indian insurance companies have been poor on profitability as they have struggled to improve revenues. Some of them have been waiting for the government to raise the FDI limit in insurance to tap capital. Now, with many companies such as Prudential ICICI and HDFC Life planning to tap the stock market, profitability has become the focus. The more data they use to study an individual behaviour, the better they could do on the claims-settlement. When it comes to data on individuals not much is available with most of the country away from the mainstream financial services market. 

Your social media postings could determine your health, car and home insurance premiums that you pay. Insurers have business with your social media. Mixing business with social media - Digital dilemmas.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Digital Domination: East or West

Times of India reports that it appears that Apple is poaching talent from Samsung including technicians and engineers in signal- and visual-processing management, as per a new report. South Korean publication The Korea Times, cites unnamed Samsung officials as saying that Apple is poaching Samsung's experienced technicians and engineers in fields like signal- and visual-processing management. The experts are lured by 'highly-competitive benefits and large annual paychecks' besides greater independence, as per the officials. Apple is also hiring Samsung employees from the field of battery technology as the company is reportedly working on an electric car, as per the report. "As the electric vehicle business is a new one, Apple needs patents and experts in battery technology. Top human resources firms have been approaching Samsung's battery experts, individually, and I think such human exchange moves are a win-win for both," said the Samsung official. Although Apple and Samsung are rivals, the Cupertino giant relies on Samsung for displays, processors and DRAM chips.

Apple and Samsung have been fighting each other in patent litigation for some time now. It seems Apple is hell bent on taking down the South Korean company's tech market share. Not many other companies from Asia are competing with the American tech giants globally. Patent litigation and now poaching talent, Apple's huge cash reserves will keep the fight going.

Kenya's Judiciary Showing a Way Forward?

BBC News reports that Kenya's High Court has thrown out key aspects of a tough new anti-terrorism law after a legal challenge by the opposition. Eight clauses were annulled, including those which curbed media freedom and capped the number of refugees and asylum-seekers to 150,000. The government said the law was needed to counter the growing threat posed by militant Islamists. The opposition warned that it violated civil liberties. The BBC's Maryam Abdalla in the capital, Nairobi, says that the opposition Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) party applauded the ruling, saying it had saved Kenya from becoming a police state. The government said it would consider lodging an appeal. The reporter says the court had ruled in the government's favour on some controversial clauses. These included giving Kenya's intelligence agencies the power to carry out covert operations to prevent attacks and allowing police to detain terror suspects beyond 24 hours, provided they were first brought to court.

Despite suffering badly from terrorism in recent times, Kenya's High Court seems prepared to stand up against the Kenyan government. Kenya's judiciary showing a way forward.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Mobile Payments: The Digital Devil to Pay

Times of India reports that Samsung made one of its most clever and strategic acquisitions on Wednesday when it bought LoopPay, a mobile payments company developing a rival platform to Apple Pay and lesser-known systems like CurrentC. LoopPay has one key advantage over Apple Pay: It can work with just about any standard credit card reader. LoopPay's technology uses a metal coil to emit a magnetic field that can talk to most credit card terminals and securely transfer your card's information. Apple Pay, on the other hand, requires the merchant to have a special payment pad with near field communication (NFC) technology that's not available at most retailers. As Jason Del Rey of Re/code first reported, Samsung is expected to integrate LoopPay in one of its new phones this year, likely the Galaxy S6, which the company will unveil at an event in Barcelona on March 1. But as the largest Android phone maker in the world, Samsung's decision to go with LoopPay over Google's own system, Google Wallet, threatens any hope for Google creating a unified mobile payments system for Android. Now, Google is losing control of yet another piece of the Android platform by ceding control of mobile payments space to the two biggest companies in mobile: Apple and Samsung. It failed to turn Google Wallet into a viable option, essentially forcing its biggest partner Samsung to take matters into its own hands.

These mobile digital payment systems cross borders and are paving the way for these tech companies to get into businesses such as digital currencies and, therefore, finance and banking which will push globalisation even faster. These global tech companies are the real drivers to globalisation and changing business models. Is this perhaps doing a deal with the digital devil?

It looks like Samsung is taking on the big boys at their own game. Samsung may become the Google/Apple/Amazon of the East possibly. Next we'll probably see Samsung getting into the business of driverless cars. (What is the fascination with driverless cars for tech companies?) It sometimes seems like these tech companies are in the business of everything. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Digital Distribution Dominates: Online Aggregators Deliver the Goods

Times of India reports that on February 15, a leading Indian luxury chain received a complaint about its internal booking system on its Facebook page. "Your websites don't seem to be built for mobile. I am having a hard time trying to look at reservations. I ran into an issue with online reservations with Bangalore property as well and used to do that instead," wrote the complainant, one RJ Ranjith from Texas, USA. The incident brings to the fore the Indian hospitality industry's latest bugbear: hoteliers are having to shell out high commissions to internet booking sites as an ever-increasing number of travellers now book their hotel rooms through online aggregators such as Yatra, MakeMyTrip and Expedia, for the choice, price comparison, and convenience that they offer at a single destination. Hotel companies have been coughing up anywhere between 10%-25% of their entire room revenues in commission to online aggregators as sales through their own websites are negligibly, say consultants. This has come as a double whammy for the industry already struggling with average room occupancy of less than 60% in most Indian cities due to a glut of supply of hotel rooms, which forced them to reduce rates to stay competitive. "Hotel chains have to give up to 25% of their average costs to online operators and in today's time it isn't a luxury to be listed with an operator, but a necessity," said Achin Khanna, managing director of consulting and valuation practice HVS South Asia.

Publishers are facing the same problem. Companies like Amazon and Apple are calling the shots in the book and music publishing business. It is now the case that it is the digital delivery platform that dictates the terms to the intellectual property owners in the case of publishing and to the real estate owners in the case of hotels. It will be hard to see what, if any, businesses remain unaffected by this digital game-changer. Digital distribution dominates.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

E-Biz for E-India: Portal to a More Business-Friendly Universe?

Times of India reports that the Indian government has launched a single-window portal, 'e-biz', integrating 11 central government services, to facilitate faster clearances for businesses. Launching the portal, finance minister Arun Jaitley said discretionary powers to officers would end with the portal. "India was committed to steps to foster business environment. E-Biz was important as it will bring transparency, improve efficiency, integrate services and promote electronic delivery of services," the finance minister said. The Narendra Modi government aims at improving India's ranking of 142 in the World Bank's ease of doing business index that rated 180 countries. The single-window portal by the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) will provide all business- and investment-related clearances 24x7 with an integrated payment gateway. 

Modi's Government is very big on slogans but people have yet to see concrete benefits from his stated policies. Digital India, Make in India, E-Biz etc have created a buzz so far but people now need to see the benefits. A buzz without the eventual benefits will leave voters disillusioned.

Natural State of Affairs: Democracy Only for Some

News that the West is very concerned over Russia's expansionist plans and that a new cold war is starting, has the downfall of the old USSR actually achieved anything? Changing the old USSR regime to the new regime with Yeltsin and then Putin probably hasn't achieved much. Russia seems to be going back to its old ways. Even the attempts to change Iraq and Libya and other countries has not achieved much and may even have made matters worse. Countries seem to go back to their natural state of affairs eventually even after decades. Trying to impose 'Western style democracy' on other countries hasn't really succeeded - you only need to see Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and others. Regime change does not seem to work in the long run.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Magic of Indian Politics - India Photo Library - IdeaIndia.Com

Auction India: Doing Modi's Bidding

India is in the midst of auction fever. Bidding for coal blocks surpassing expectations, bidding for telecom spectrum by mobile operators due soon and, of course Narendra Modi's pinstripe suit fetching crazy levels, India's government will have a huge windfall. Along with current low oil prices Modi's government is getting good economic conditions for its promises. Bidding for coal, spectrum and pinstripes may sound good but now people are getting anxious and want all the slogans and hype turned into action.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Digital Destination: India's GenX Going Mobile and Digital

Times of India reports that young Indian consumers are preferring mobile devices over traditional media like television and radio for information, current affairs as well as source of entertainment and this trend is poised to surge in the coming years, a private telecom operator said here Wednesday. According to mobile service provider Tata Docomo, which recently conducted a research on mobility trends, the internet represented the preferred mode for both news and entertainment accounting for 40% and 45% of the space. This is dominated by mobile access, however, with 33% of millennials (new generation consumers) consulting mobile in the first instance for news (compared to just 7% through a fixed connection), and 36% using the same platform to source entertainment and leisure information (just 9% for fixed connections). "This study reveals the declining relevance of traditional information platforms as primary information sources, particularly with respect to entertainment and leisure subjects where nearly a third of respondents turn directly to social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) in the first instance," said the company's head of digital business Praveen Gupta. The study further said the shift towards mobile digital content is already underway in India.

Traditional information platforms are giving way to digital and mobile destinations. The Digital Desi is slowly abandoning the traditional with the help of their smartphone. India is becoming the digital desi-nation!

America as Defender of the Faith

BBC News reports that US President Barack Obama says the US is "not at war with Islam - we are at war with the people who have perverted Islam". He was speaking to representatives from 60 nations attending a three-day event on extremism that follows attacks in Denmark and France. Mr Obama said the world had to confront the ideologies that radicalise people. He said those heading groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda were not religious leaders but terrorists. Mr Obama said associating Islamic State or al-Qaeda with Islam would be buying into the propaganda of those groups, challenging critics who have questioned him for not describing recent attacks as the work of "Islamic radicals".

Is the War on Terror spinning out of control like some chain reaction? The Spin Doctors are now fully conscripted - "not at war with Islam - we are at war with the people who have perverted Islam" - the US has now made itself the protector and defender of Islam. Whether this line of argument will succeed remains to be seen.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Hard Drives: Driving a Hard Bargain

Times of India reports that the US National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world's computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives. That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programmes discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations. Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said. 

It seems as though software back doors are built into most digital equipment these days with countries making allegations against each other, particularly China and USA. Countries need to have their own original equipment manufacturers for digital equipment.

Reporting News or Reporting an Agenda: Manufacturing Consent in Britain

The Guardian reports that The Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator has resigned and launched a blistering attack on the paper’s management and owners over its lack of coverage of the HSBC tax story, which he described as a “fraud on its readers”. Peter Oborne, associate editor of the Spectator and a familiar face on Channel 4 Dispatches documentaries, claimed the paper deliberately suppressed stories about the banking giant, including last week’s revelations that its Swiss subsidiary helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars in assets, in order to keep its valuable advertising account. He said it was a “most sinister development” at the broadsheet title, which he described as “the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain”, but where he alleged the traditional distinction between the advertising and editorial departments had collapsed. Oborne claimed it was a pattern that could be seen elsewhere in the paper’s reporting, including its coverage of last year’s protests in Hong Kong. Oborne said the Telegraph’s coverage of HSBC, by putting the interests of a major international bank above its duty to report the news, was a “form of fraud on its readers”.

This is a courageous decision by Peter Oborne.  The Daily Telegraph is a major newspaper in Britain. Questions will now be raised about whether the press in Britain are reporting the news or simply reporting an agenda. Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent comes to mind.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Political Evasion and Avoidance: HSBC Taxgate Scandal

News in the British media over the HSBC Tax scandal continues in full force. Downing Street is evading questions on tax and avoiding the main issues which concern the voters. Evasion and Avoidance is probably what politicians do better than HSBC.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Energising Ease of Doing business in India

Times of India reports that keen to tap renewable sources to bridge energy deficit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today called for innovation and research to make solar and wind power affordable, even as companies like NTPC, Suzlon and Reliance Power pledged mega investments in such areas. He also said India is working on building a consortium of 50 countries with abundant solar radiation, to pool research and technological advancements to improve its accessibility to the poor and in the remote areas. Inaugurating the first Renewable Energy Global Investors Meet (RE-Invest), Modi also talked about "seven horses of energy" and said the country has so far focused on thermal, gas, hydro and nuclear power and efforts should now shift to solar, wind and biogas. Way back in 2007, Modi as the then Gujarat Chief Minister had said that the state would "ride the chariot of energy which will be pulled by seven horses". 

While India may be benefiting from low oil prices, it needs to invest heavily in renewable energy sources. This will basically mean making it easy and worthwhile for the private sector to undertake research in renewables. Again this comes back to the issue of ease of doing business in India.

Digital Disputes: Online Dispute Resolution in India

The Guardian reports that the UK justice system should receive a radical overhaul for the digital age with the creation of an online court to expand access to justice and resolve claims of up to £25,000, the official body that oversees civil courts has recommended. In a transformative proposal for largely lawyer-free, virtual courtrooms, the civil justice council is calling for an internet-based dispute resolution system to be available within two years. Backed by Lord Dyson, the master of the rolls, who is head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales, the report says existing services - such as eBay’s disagreement negotiation procedure and Cybersettle’s blind-bidding operations - provide prototypes worth studying. The current system is too costly, too complex and too slow, especially for litigants in person. The online dispute resolution (ODR) model proposed in the report envisages a three-tier process: evaluation through interactive services and information, negotiation with online “facilitators” and finally, if agreement has not been reached, resolution by a trained judge relying on electronic submissions. Only the judge need be legally qualified. If necessary, telephone hearings could be built into the last stage. Rulings by the online judge would be as enforceable as any courtroom judgment.

India should also consider such online dispute resolution systems as the current systems in place in India are ridiculous. Modi should be in favour of such a system for India as he wants to bring India into the digital age.