Friday, March 31, 2006

Information Technology Aided Malpractice

Cheating in Exams is not something new for Indian exam invigilators. What is new, though is the onslaught they are facing from the products of Information Technology innovation which are abetting this social crime. To what extent these information dispersion devices could be used in aiding copying in examinations, was amply demonstrated during the All India Post Graduate Medical Entrance Examinations conducted by AIIMS ( All India Institute of Medical Sciences ) recently.

The doctors from Delhi, who took the tech-savvy route to pass the exams in flying colors would put to shame any IT gadget geek. They made use of Docu-Pens and Bluetooth & Multimedia messaging enabled mobile phones in their dubious attempt. Docu-Pens are small sized hand-held scanners that can scan entire A4 sized pages in less than 5-6 seconds. They scanned question papers this way and transferred the scanned contents to their Mobile phones via Bluetooth technology, that enables two devices to talk to each other wirelessly within short distances. The mobile phones then beamed these questions via Multimedia messaging to their accomplices sitting in Pondicherry and Madurai ( half way across the country ). These people immediately sent back the answers via SMS (Short Messaging Service ). What do you say to this now !!! Even as I condemn their vile act, I am stumped at the genius in them that was at work. If only they had used this genius to work hard for their exams.

Now cooling their heels in police custody are a total of 28 such doctors and the police suspect that there might have been more. Information Technology is surely having its impact on the country in more than few ways.

News
Times Of India

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bar Camping Phenomenon in India

Bar Camping is a phenomenon that has taken the geek world by storm outside India and has made its entry just last year in India when Delhi hosted the first Bar Camp in the country.

For the novice, a bar camp is a spin off on the original tech conferences that are routinely held in the tech-world. Tech-conferences generally are loathed by a majority of geekdom ( that includes me ) as they charge a hefty fee ranging between Rs. 3500 to Rs 10000 for attending the conference. Moreover participation is limited to the invitees only. Not everybody interested or has something to contribute can participate. Lastly, there is always a 90% chance that the speakers invited at these conferences will bore you to death with their monologue speeches that stretch unto the end of time.

So out of Poison comes Ambrosia....as narrate our epics. Bar camps were born as a result of the repulsion generated by these tech-conferences.

Bar Camp is an ad-hoc "un-conference" born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. The chief unwritten rule of bar camps require that you come prepared to share something with the other attendees. Attendance is open to anyone with something to contribute or with the desire to learn. Everybody is a participant and an active one at that. Everybody is expected to give a presentation or at least help give one. What's more ....The presentations are also placed on the web for the benefit of those who could not attend. All Bar Camps have dedicated ‘Wikis’ - websites that allow users to add or modify content, giving information about the event, with blogs being used to woo techies.

Delhi hosted the first ‘desi Bar Camp’, with 75 participants at the Adobe office. Staying true to the US concept, it was open to all and free of cost. “There were no big-ticket speakers, so anyone could sign up and make presentations,” said organiser Amit Ranjan. The success of the Delhi Bar Camp made news in the blogosphere, and soon, city-specific groups started their own camps. Now Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore have joined the fray.

The next immediate Bar Camp is on April 8th & 9th 2006 at Chennai, India at Ramanujam Computing Centre, Anna University, Chennai.

There is a simulataneous one being held on April 8th at Hyderabad too at IIIT, Hyderabad.

That one will be followed by one in Bangalore on the 22nd of April at Yahoo! Software Development India Pvt. Ltd.,4th floor, "Esquire Center",#9, M.G. Road, Bangalore - 560 001.

For all you guys who want to savour the occasion, get registered at http://barcamp.org/BarCampChennai
http://barcamp.org/BarCampHyderabad
http://barcamp.org/BarCampBangalore

All Bar Camp venues and dates are let known at http://barcamp.org/

News sites
DNA India
Economic Times

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

India Centric Innovations - Part II

Lets talk about 3 more indigenous innovations that have gone a long way in bringing the IT benefits to the masses in India

Script Mail - Enabling Non-English Text Entry

This is one innovation that has its birth in HP( Hewlett Packard ) Labs, India. Shekar Borgaonkar and his team have come up with Script Mail, a invention that enables text entry for non-English languages by the use of a small pad connected to a monitor. an electronic pen allows one to scribble on the pad, allowing text entry in a unique fashion. It also comes with a built in modem that enables whatever is scribbled to be e-mailed too. Absolutely no keyboard is required. Corrections are possible once the initial text entry is completed.

Script Mail is a great boon for a country like India that comprises of 18 languages spoken by more than 1 million people and numerous other dialects.

SIMputer - Simple Inexpensive Multilingual Hand held

A SIMputer was the realization of low cost computer that could be reachable to people irrespective of the language they speak and which had an intuitive interface that could easily gather a large fan following. Launched in 2001, SIMputer than made headlines. However, it still has a long way to go realize its dream of turning into a ubiquitous hand held and realizing universal access.

There are certain businesses though that have incorporated the SIMputer.

Dempo Mining Corporation, Goa use these hand-helds to ensure that the iron ore reaches the right location. Miners on loading the Ore Truck punch in data to the truck driver's SIMputer and into a smart card attached to it. The truck on reaching their location, cross checks the data with another SIMputer to ensure that the ore has reached the right location.

Another place where the SIMputer has found takers is the Bangalore Traffic Police Department, Karnataka. SIMputers used by traffic cops have the entire city's traffic violation database fed into their memories. When a person is caught breaking a traffic rule, his name or vehicle's license plate number is fed into the SIMputer. The SIMputer immediately coughs up a whole page of past violations recorded against the vehicle or person and he is accordingly fined.

Useful Links
India's Simple computer for the Poor


WiFi Last Mile Connectivity

In a vast country like India, achieving last mile connectivity is one of the toughest jobs. G. V. Ramaraju, has used WiFi technology to come up with an interesting innovation to overcome this problem. Aiding him is Media Labs Asia. Together, they have installed on an experimental basis, WiFi enabled kiosks in the Indian state of UttarPradesh. Remotely dispersed people have been given a doorway to the world. VOIP phones have been installed and the string of WiFi kiosks act as relay centers that transmit the signals back to civilization.

Do let me know in case you come across any more of such Indian innovations and I would be glad to enlist them in my Blog

Monday, March 27, 2006

Jaipur Cows Go Hi-Tech

Its official. Jaipur ( Rajasthan ) cows are going to be electronically tagged. Tired of stray cows left by their owners to roam about the city streets, the municipal councilors have sought the aid of technology.

"Most owners after milking their cows leave them on the streets to forage for food. Such cows not only interrupt the traffic flow but also die after consuming plastic bags and poisonous substances," one official said. The idea is to allot a unique number to each cow in the city and electronically tag them with that number. This, the municipality aims to achieve by, placing a small chip behind each cow's ear. The tag will also have details of the bovine's owner.

A cow caught wandering aimlessly on the streets would be detained and handed back to the owner after he coughs up a hefty fine. If the same owner defaults four times, the cows caught on the streets would not be returned to him/her. Quite a nice idea !!!

The officials are hoping not only to procure a computerized list of the city's cows, but also decongest the city roads a fair bit by implementing this step. Hope the cows have enough to MOO about in the coming days.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mumbai's Dabbawallah Goes Online

Who does not know of the famous Mumbai Dabbawallah ? The famed social enterprise group that collects and delivers a record 1,75,000 lunch boxes to office gores in Mumbai, all within a span of 2-3 hours. The group that comprises of around 4,500 semi literate individuals who know which lunch box needs to go to what corner of Mumbai merely by looking at 3-4 painted characters on the lunch box. The group that has earned a Six Sigma that places it in the elite group comprising of MNCs like GE (General Electric) and Motorola. Just one mistake for every 80,00,000 ( 8 million) lunch boxes delivered requires Six Sigma to be redefined.

The Dabbawallahs or officially the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association ( MTBSA ), a 120 year old institution has now placed a foot in E-space. They have opened a new website where new customers can subscribe to their service online at http://mydabbawala.com. Though the website lacks the professional touch, it still would be a big step, if it serves its intended purpose.

It also has a gallery where you could buy certain merchandise. The photo gallery is one sure stop you need to visit as it contains some rare photos of dabbawallah's encounters with world famous personalities. Quite a few interesting articles on the dabbawallahs make the visit worthwhile.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Now Laptops for Indian Kids

Kids in the developing world including India can look forward to a whole new computing experience. The non-profit organization 'One Laptop Per Child' (OLPC) hand in hand with MIT Media Labs, USA has come up with a revolutionary concept of a $ 100 crankable laptop to be distributed among children in the developing world. Sounds crazy !!! Don't jump the wire just yet.
  1. The laptop has a sturdy plastic casing and is powered by a hand cranked lever.
  2. The screen is a low cost LCD display that can switch between color and black & white modes to conserve power.
  3. The insides of the laptop hold a 500 MHz processor linked to a 128 MB DRAM ( Dynamic RAM ) and opens up to the outside world through 4 USB ports.
  4. Storage is through a 500 MB Flash memory.
  5. A one minute winding on the attached crank powers up the device for up to 10/40 minutes in color / B&W modes.
  6. Built in wireless cards ensure that all kids with these laptops in the local environs will automatically form a peer-to-peer sharing group the moment they switch on their laptops.
  7. In addition to all these the laptop can be conveniently folded and the power adapter doubles up as the handle for the case.
Absolutely no moving parts in the kids' hands. Cheap, Innovative and Creative in cutting down on cost and making it kids-prank proof !!!

Envisioned by Nicholas Negroponte at the MIT Media Labs, OLPC has the backing of Information Technology giants like Google , AMD ( Advanced Micro Devices ), News Corporation, Nortel, Red Hat and Brightstar who also are the project's founding members.

Mr Negroponte points out on his website , "Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think. They are a wonderful way for all children to learn learning through independent interaction and exploration." He also reveals that 100 million laptop is what OLPC is aiming at manufacturing. The distribution is set to begin late 2006.

Kids with these laptops - will sure a fine pair make where learning is concerned.

Added on 1st Feb 2009 - Read "India annouces $10 Laptop"

Thursday, March 23, 2006

India Centric Innovations - Part I

Technology Innovation is not something that you easily associate with India. However oases of innovation in a parched land for want of technology innovation have sprung up at various corners in the country. And innovating as they are, they are also ensuring that the concepts emerging are India-centric and aimed at pulling together all sections of the Indian society to forge ahead into a future where information is power.

I list below a collection of such innovations that are stirring up a silent revolution in their own right across the land.

Translating English to Indian languages

Today, Internet is a storehouse of information that people from various walks yearn for. However the majority of information is in English, a language that a mere 1 billion people among the globe's 6 billion speak. Here arises the importance of a translator that re-moulds the information in a language native to the information seeker.

It is in this direction that projects and tools like Shakti, AnglaBharti, AnuSaaraka, MaTra, Mantra and Anuvaadak are progressing. Brain childs of eminent educational bodies in India like IIT(Indian Institute of Technology), C-DAC(Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), University of Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University in collaboration with software companies like IBM and Super Infosoft, these projects are touted as the best Machine Translation Projects anywhere in the world.

The basic foundation underlying the projects is the same. Anglabharti, for example, analyses English only once and creates an intermediate structure that is almost non-ambiguous. The intermediate structure is then converted to an Indian language through a process of text-generation.

The effort in analyzing the English sentences is about 70% and the text-generation accounts for the rest of the 30%. Thus only with an additional 30% effort, a new English to Indian language translator can be built.

Showcasing of these technologies has started in various selected villages across the country where villagers are encouraged to start using these translators.


Integrated Digital Center for Schools - K-yan Tutor

Catch 'em Young is our President Abdul Kalam's mantra when it comes to nurturing the kids of the country who will be tomorrow's future. This innovation is one such that is sure to receive his accolades in its attempt to reach out to the millions of school going kids in India. Kirti Trivedi, a professor from IIT, Mumbai who was part of the team that conceptualized this computer based tutor calls it a "Compact Media Center", for schools without enough computer equipment.

Packing together a 120 GB Hard Disk, a Pentium 4 processor, a modem, a hard disk, a DVD drive, four USB ports to connect external devices and a television tuner, it is a television and a personal computer rolled into one, but it does not have a monitor. Instead, the black box contains a projector with SVGA resolution that can beam a 300-inch-high image sharply on a wall. This is its USP ( Unique Selling Proposition) too.



The immense projection capability of the K-yan can help introduce the power of computing to a large group of kids at one go. Kids can take turns to use the mouse and learn interactivity with the computer while other kids are not deprived of the chance to keep observing.

K-yan can also be used for community learning

1. Adult and Primary Literacy
2. Vocational Education and Training
3. Enterprise Skill Development
4. Computer and Internet literacy
5. Communication medium
6. Entertainment – Television and Movies
7. Technology aided school education
8. Spread awareness about health issues like AIDS, Birth control, etc.
9. Women's empowerment programs
10. e-Governance

Indeed a boon to rural India and a unique effort to bridge the digital divide between Rural and Urban India. Evident enough when other developing countries like Malaysia and Kazhakstan have evinced interest in the product.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Missed Calls - Communication Unlimited in India

My friend never used to accept a call from home on his mobile without allowing it to ring at least 3 times. He invariably used to lift it only after the fourth ring, in case the call persisted that long. Curious to get to the bottom of this, I once enquired about this odd habit of his, after having caught him in the act. He replied, "There is an unwritten code between me and my family members. If they give me one ring and cut the line, then it means that they I need to call them back immediately. If they hang up after two rings, it is to remind me of something that I was asked to fetch while returning home. In case, my phone rings exactly thrice, then I am expected to call up home at my leisure."

I stood gaping at his elaborate arrangement of convenience. He not only used to avoid call charges on his part, but also had a reminder service set up for himself. He was another of those millions of Indians for whom Missed Calls are a routine and integral part of their reason to go mobile.

Cellular providers who bear the brunt of these missed calls hesitantly admit to about 25-35% of their traffic comprising of missed calls. For every such missed call, which transcends across networks, the call originating operator needs to pay up to his fellow operators. The same holds true for the call terminating operator, in case he provides Caller Line Identification service. He would have to then trace back to find out who called. He ends up paying all the other networks along the route.

But who cares for etiquette as long as Missed Calls are free ?

Indians use missed calls for a variety of reasons.
  1. It could be to just convey the person back home that one has reached his/her destination safely.
  2. It could also be to indicate to the user to give a call back from the office land line so that neither of them incur any charges. The office turns out to be the loser.
  3. The third chief reason is a by-product of the imbalance in call rates imposed by TRAI(Telecom Regulation Authority of India) on cellular and fixed line rates and the inter connectivity rates. For example if a Spice cellular customer needs to call up his friend on the BSNL(Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) fixed line, he would prefer giving a missed call and let his friend call him instead. This way instead of him shelling out 2 rupees per minute, he induces his friend to shell out 1 rupee. Quite mind boggling, right ? Not for Indians though. These are routine uses for missed calls.
Shameless one may say, technological scourge...have to live with it-another might add, All I can say is that it is Communication Unlimited this way in India.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Adventure Workers - IT Companies and BPOs hiring foreigners

No search on Google goes a waste. I happened to search for the terms 'India+Outsourcing+Foreigners' on Google News in connection with some information that one of my friends had requested. Not happy with the results, I was about to punch in a re-phrased query when one particular result drew my attention. It read 'Westerners Follow Outsourcing to India to Work at Call Centers'.

Though it did not fetch anything for my friend, I got an interesting issue to post at this blog.

It spoke NOT of the people who having lost their jobs in their countries and are making a beeline to India to regain their lost jobs. Rather, the article was about people dubbed by New America Media as 'Adventure Workers'. A fancy name you might say. Wait till you know how they got that name.

These 20 something aged individuals come to India from various Western countries of Europe and North America and South America. They come to the subcontinent to earn quick bucks and enjoy the subcontinent while they are here. They work for 5-6 months at a stretch and make a quick buck. They then use the same money to tour the subcontinent and chill out before heading back to their countries. This is how an 'Adventure Worker' works. Aptly named, did you say.

The outsourcing industry where these workers chiefly pursue work options also receive them with outstretched arms. These people who hail from different countries make up for the lack of Indians who have gained the exact accent and knowledge of local languages in the countries from where these foreigners come from and which also incidentally happen to be the same countries to which Indian BPO(Business Process Outsourcing) companies offer outsourcing advantages. These foreign workers address the most common complaint by customers abroad that native English (or French, German, Spanish or Dutch) spoken by Indians has a very different flavor/accent that makes it difficult to understand. Then there are the requirements of cultural and geographical knowledge to be able to address specific queries. During their tenure in India, they may also end up imparting skills to their Indian colleagues.

NASSCOM estimates these adventure workers to be around 30,000 in India and growing. And not to underestimate the enormous tourism potential they constitute for the India.

I think talent flow has come a full circle in India due to the Information Technology and BPO companies. Earlier it was Brain Drain of Indian talent, followed by Reverse Brain Drain of Indians back to their homeland and now it is Brain Gain.

Useful Links

Firangs discover India for BPO jobs


Passage to India

Friday, March 17, 2006

After BPO...KPO...what ? Funnier side of Outsourcing

What is the next big wave after BPO(Business Process Outsourcing)? Ummm...must be KPO(Knowledge Process Outsourcing), right ? After KPO....what is the next big wave? Ummm...not sure.

Just like you and me, people have applied thought and come to the conclusion of what could be the next big wave of jobs that could help change India, transform the nation, empower the people. Well, atleast on a humourous note, one person is sure of what that will be. It will be SPO (Strong Protest Outsourcing).

Guessing what it might be......Well let me just give a hint...

The author bases his argument on the implicit nature of Indians. He feels the very fact that nothing pleases us can become our strong point. Our day starts with protests. Why did the paper not come today ? Why milk is creamish in color ? Who the hell does Laloo think he is that he is celebrating Holi in such a grand way? We don't even bother whether we are part of the affected group before we start protesting. We don't even need to know what the issue at hand is... Such is our nature.

Now if we convince the developed countries that their income is too valuable to be invested in protests, they will be better off outsourcing it to India. Be it a protest against the Bush government or the protest against cartoon of Prophet Mohammed by the Danish cartoonists, we excel in it. It does not bother us who Bush is or whether we have seen the cartoons ourselves. We still protest. Well here is the complete excerpt from the guy himself.....Madman's New Outsourcing Opportunity


Enjoy !!!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Customer Friendliness turning to Customer Annoyance

I had talked about how Businesses must help customers embrace new technologies.

Last week, I chanced upon the other end of the spectrum. My cousin was going out to pay his Electricity bill in Bangalore. He let me accompany him. It was 8:30 in the evening. I asked him what office would be open at this odd hour. He replied that the payment would be accepted by an automated machine. The intrigue demon in me started pouring out a thousand questions. I decided that the best course of action would be to accompany him.

Fixed to the wall was the humongous machine. It was a usual machine with a touch screen, a scanner bar to read the bill and a slot to accept cheques or monetary bills. What surprised me though was the extent to which BESCOM had gone to make the machine customer friendly. On the left side of the machine were bulleted instructions that stretched from the top of the wall right till the bottom with an impressive 25 steps to be followed to ensure the bill is paid correctly. The instructions were both in English and Kannada.

No wonder than that by the time I finished reading the entire panel, my cousin had paid not only his bill, but our neighbour's too. The fun part is yet to come. We finished and were about to start back when the next customer started having problems. His notes were all oiled and were repeatedly being spewed out of the machine. We exchanged his notes with a few crisp ones I had in my wallet. Again while starting back, there came the next customer who was an illiterate who could neither read English nor Kannada. My cousin's heart melted. he showed him how the machine works. By the time we were done, we had paid a total of 6 bills including two of ours.

All in the name of technology friendliness. I sometimes wonder if BESCOM ( Bangalore Electric Supply Company ) should provide us some discount for having educated their precious customers of the way the bills need to be paid :-)

Howz my simple pictorial instruction to the customers ? I have achieved in 5 pictures what they have done in 25 textual steps.
Hope this lights some bulb in babudom !!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Indian Women on the Net - Blank Noise Blog-a-thon

"I will consider India truly free only when every woman can walk the streets alone at midnight without any fear". Thus spake Gandhi nearly fifty years ago on the eve of India Independence. We are nowhere close today to achieving the free India that he dreamt of.

Sexual Harassment and eve teasing are an ever growing menace in India. A society that has been a traditionally male dominated one, is yet to come to terms with the freedom that the woman has been granted in the constitution and one which women have been powerfully voicing and exercising in the past few decades.

The Internet however has emerged as a powerful medium to be the voice for the voiceless millions across the globe. And Indian women are leaving no stone unturned in reigning in the power of the Net to make public their ghastly experiences and set rolling a new wave of awareness among the general public of the need to give today's woman the respect she has been deprived of all along.

Three Indians under the assumed names of Mangs, Jasmeen and Chinmayee have initiated a Blog-a-thon ( Blog Marathon ). Nick named the Blank Noise Project, longtime bloggers in India, more so women, have been invited to post a special item in their blogs that speak of the kind of harassment that women close to them or around them or they themselves have faced and their ideas, opinions on how women could join hands to secure their rightful freedom. Polls were conducted, blogs were written and voices were aired. The idea here is to bring to the notice of media and the political authorities of the need to take steps to right the wrongs being committed against women.

Notice has definitely been taken. Non-Indian Websites and bloggers have highlighted this laudatory effort by the Indian women and are contributing in their own ways to lend support to the cause. One such site is by Mark Pritchard.

The media in Indian and the world too are taking notice. Prominent among them are India Together, The Times of India, The Hindu, The Telegraph, Deccan Herald, Global Voices in Boston and DNA MUMBAI


Do visit the official blog site which is the least you could do to ensure that the female members of your family are not subject to loathsome and horrifying experiences that some of the participants in the blogathon have described. Let us all join hands to at least educate the people around us. That would go a long way in ensuring that the efforts of hundreds of these women bloggers does not go a waste.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sabeer Bhatia Everywhere

Sabeer Bhatia is at it again.

The Indian techie who made it big with his brain child Hotmail.com which Microsoft purchased from him, has now come up with a BlogEveryWhere.com. After a career that zoomed to its peak when he was just 28 and Bill Gates offered $400 million for his hotmail.com, it appeared to head nowhere after his next venture Arzoo.com floundered along with the DotCom crash.

Born in Chandigarh, he went on to finish his education with a 2 year stint at BITS, Pilani and had his bachelor's and master's from the California University of Technology and Stanford University respectively. In 1995 was born his Hotmail.com.

He is now back with a bang with his next venture Blogeverywhere.com. A offer that allows registered users to download a toolbar which enables them to post their blogs to multiple sites without actually visiting the site, post comments to others' blogs and much more. The surprise feature is also the Hotmail enhancer that allows email downloading for better performance and an Outlook-like preview function that allows an entire mail message to be viewed directly in the Inbox. I do not know if Microsoft will be pleased with this as it directly confronts with a similar offering from Microsoft which is still in the pipeline and expected to be showcased along with Internet Explorer 7.

In addition to this Sabeer is also working on five other ventures, all of which sound exciting prospects for the future.
  1. Navin.com, India's largest provider of Voice Mail services
  2. InstaColl.com, a contextual collaboration solution.
  3. Hotseasons.com, a travel website that will focus on hotel ratings.
  4. VoiFi.com, a project using VOIP
  5. telixo.com A project that turns your mobile phone into a personal organiser
Well, it seems like TIME rightly named him as one of the "People to Watch" in International Business in 2002. God Speed Ahead Mr. Bhatia.



Monday, March 06, 2006

Businesses embracing technology must help customers embrace them too

When I am in Bangalore, I rarely go to banks. The reason being everything can be done either online or throughout one of the hundreds of ATMs scattered across the cityscape. Be it a Demand Draft, you could order it for free online. Be it cash withdrawal or deposit, you can make use of the ATMs.

However circumstances forced me to visit a ICICI bank branch last Saturday. I was in for a pleasant surprise. The same branch that I had visited almost two and a half years back had changed its look so drastically that it made me wonder for a minute if I had missed the bank and landed at a different one. As against the 2 counters in the past, it housed 20 counters. No old aged accountants manning these counters. All smart 20 something youth who were awash with the enthusiasm that comes over you when heaped with customer facing responsibilities.

The center of the room carried a vending machine ( devoid of all helpful instructions )that had an array of shiny silver knobs, each having a particular service offered by the branch. The first one said, 'Cash Withdrawal below 50000 rupees', the second one said, 'Cash deposit below 50000 rupees',the third one, 'Cash Withdrawal above 50000 rupees' and so it went on. At the bottom were three more silver buttons the first of which said, 'Customer', and the other two buttons mentioned something else that I did care much about as I had no use for them.

Now the way it worked was, you pick a service from the top 20 and then press the appropriate button out of the bottom three. I pressed Button 2 followed by the Customer Button. It issued me a ticket that was numbered CD184. I had to wait till one of the counters called my number. Now remember, that all this was guess work by me. I sat down at the center of the hall which had seats for customers.

An elderly guy with a sharp rustic look sat down to my right. To my left was young woman in her thirties, I guess. After about ten minutes, I realised that the guy to my right had no vending ticket with him. Every time a number was announced, he used to throw a confused glance in all possible directions. I asked him, "Sir, you need to take a ticket at the vending machine". He feigned outright ignorance. I took him to the machine and we came back with an ticket for him that served the service he was anticipating from the bank.

Five minutes later, the woman to my left launched a tirade on how clumsy the whole system had become. She groaned, "Can't they make it a bit simpler?". It took me a lot of energy, explaining her the benefits of the system (the fervent-techie that I am). She was all hammer and tongs at the system. She mentioned the lack of any instructions at the vending machine. Even the elderly guy pitched in insisting one the need for instruction in the local language for the likes of him. I had to cut short my conversation when my number was announced. However, I left the bank only after I had dropped a slip with the following into their suggestion box.

a. Instructions at the ticket vending machine will stop driving out customers
b. Instructions in the local language will benefit the non-English speaking customers.

Hope that stirs them into action.

Introducing new technology is always fraught with risks. Unless the technology is highly intuitive to human cognizance, you need to provide them simple straight forward instructions that assist them. A lesson, I suppose for all technology freak managers and managements that pursue automating without a thought for the hapless customers.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bangalore One - IT heralding new e-Governance age

Last April 2nd, 2005 marked a unique red-letter day in the information technology era in India. It was the day that Karnataka announced the first e-governance project. The project nick named 'Bangalore One' (B1) was launched at a quiet ceremony and has maintained a low profile in the public view.

The project has on its agenda projects that provide all Karnataka citizens G2B ( Government to Business ) and G2C ( Government to Customers ) services like
  • payment of bills
  • registration of birth and death
  • receipt of applications for new telephone connections
  • collection of income tax and filing of returns
  • sale of stamp papers
  • providing of exam results
  • access to political leaders, websites, etc
It also had plans to make use of a host of channels to bring these services to the common man. Use of mobiles by tying up with cellular providers, internet cafes by roping in the Internet cafe owners and opening government owned and operated kiosks at key points across the state were all part of the grandiose plans.

10 months since its launch, the e-governance project has realised a lot of its ambitious plans though its foot print is still limited to Bangalore, the capital of the state. Presently B1 has 14 centers across Bangalore city with locations at Jayanagar, Yeshwantpur, R T Nagar, Rajajinagar, Vijayanagar, HBR Layout, Air Port Road, etc. All 14 centers provide services from 8am to 8pm on all working days, and from 9am to 3pm on Sundays and holidays. Portal services are offered round-the-clock throughout the year. Important arms of the government in Bangalore like the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM), Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BMP), Bangalore Police Service (BPS), Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Regional Transport Office (RTO), Regional Passport Office (RPO), CellOne and the Department of Labour have all been instrumental in breathing life to the project.

Techtree carried a news excerpt that had their news agents catching up with the director of this key program, Vipin Singh. When questioned on why the project has distanced itself from the media and public glare, he had this to say, "Well, this requires process engineering. We have been very busy getting the implementation effective in every way possible, to make the functioning of all the services flawless. The intention was to get as many services up and running before we talk about it to the public. We are proud of our achievements so far, and we are sure to be able to answer the questions raised by citizens about the activities and services offered by B1."

Now with the annual budget 2006-07 out and the union finance minister, P Chidambaram announcing 25 new e-governance projects across the country, Karnataka's B1 might get fillip and will surely have a head start over other states. Karnataka might soon roll out similar initiatives that will aim at reaching out everyone in the heartland of Karnataka. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

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