Deep Discounts or Deep Distress?

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I am as usual caught in a conundrum when I read some stories. On the 15th of August National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) launched a logout campaign against the deep discount coupons that are offered by these five aggregators Zomato, EazyDinerNearbuyMagicPin and DineoutSince then, more than 2300 restaurants across the country de-listed themselves from these food apps claiming that “discount structure, terms and conditions, by the food tech companies are unjust and unsustainable.” The president of NRAI said that to stay competitive in the market, some aggregators give discount of buy one and get one free. Others have done the same thing differently; they have straight away offered a 50% discount, which means the same.  

The story does not end here. On particular Gold Card membership, such discounts are allowed on one itemBut our desi brain works interestingly. The people go to restaurant A and take starters- 50% discount. They go to another restaurant to take drinks- buy two get two free! Finally, they go to the third restaurant and order the main course- buy one get one free! Using this method, they get the whole meal at 50% discount which kills the business.   

The worst part of the whole thing is that the discounts are being borne by the restaurants and not the aggregators. The association wants these discounts to be removed so that customers get used to not getting high discounts. It is a sort of detox action that is essential, according to the association. It appears that both the sides have understood the problems created by deep discounts and they also know that it will take some time to reach normalcy and come out of the deep discount issue.  

You and I are naturally going to be unhappy with these changes. We have to now look for happy hours or special days to get good discounts. Now, these changes are going to take my outflow back to normal, which I do not like. But we should not forget that such gimmicks never work in the long term.  

I always felt as if I am an uneducated person, though I have run a small business for more than 35 years. Giant organisations like Amazon and Flipkart have been in the deep discount game for quite some time. The difference is that they give deep discounts from their pocket. For years, they offer deep discounts, give Prime memberships and so on. They keep on investing billions of dollars for years. Amazon has never made profits in the last twenty years. But they continue to invest in the business to get more and more customers all the time. Uber CEO has recently made a statement that Uber may never make profits. What is the business model of such companies? Jeff Bozos has become “poor” when he settled his divorce, and his wealth is at lowly US $ 65/ billions. He bought some time back Washington post for an all-cash deal of US $ 250/ million.  

Uneducated me does not understand the principles used in these businesses. Uber charges higher rates when demand is up. But I have seen that as a routine, they charge about 10 to 15 % more than an Auto Riksha in Pune. The price difference between an Auto Riksha and a car can be three lacs of rupees. Many Rikshas give mileage about 1.5 times more than the cars. 

On top of that, Uber takes 30% of the amount we pay to the driver. To me, the driver may break even, Uber’s figures show that they make losses. Other than making vehicles available quickly to us, are they running a charity organisation? Is it not similar to deep discounts offered by Zomato or Amazon?  Or for that matter, Oyo?

Venture capitalists, angel investors, put in their money in such companies. Venture capital is defined as capital invested in a project in which there is a substantial element of risk, typically a new or expanding business. I am sure that those who invest in such companies expect reasonable returns on their capital. By what I have described above, there are no returns, then why are the investments continued? Where is the source for such unlimited funds?  

There is no doubt that Amazon, Uber, Zomato are market disruptors. They have shown the world a new way of doing business, which even 25 years back did not exist. New methods, new ways of doing things make a lot of difference in day to day life. Consider AirbnbThe concept is so good that it is helping people all over the worldIt reduces the cost of travel and uses people’s assets which have been remaining idle.  

Amazon, WalmartJio are gamechanging companies which have made a big difference in our lives. But they are making these changes with their own money or at the cost of competitors. They are disrupting the market and making their competitors think; I am sure the competitors will come up with even newer ideas.  

But this deep discount business with own money or someone else’s money is not sustainable business model. I am not surprised that NRAI has revolted against it. I was talking to someone about these aggregators. It was felt that the aggregators probably sell the data of their customers to make money! When companies like Facebook have done it, what will stop the aggregators from selling data!  

Ultimately, market disruptors come with ideas and business models which were never seen before. But one thing will never changeSuch organisations have to make profits at some stage. Unless, of course, you are an Amazon or an Uber. But don’t forget that Amazon is the market leader in Cloud Computing business; so as a group, they make profitsBecoming Unicorn company (market value exceeding One Billion US $) is fine for publicity; it will help companies get more VC fundingBut if they don’t start making profits, such companies fall in the group of 95 % plus companies, which close down sometimes even without a whimper.  

 

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India Shining Silently!

Among the political upheavals, hyperbole things are changing in India, slowly but surely. There was a political slogan, India Shining,” sometime back. But India is silently shining. The surprising part is that the change is happening on the Engineering side of life. The engineering feats are not sexy like IT, where smart men and ladies market their achievements.  

I read a couple of news items today. I found them very interesting for a different reason. One of the articles was about railways, and the other was about DRDO. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/indian-railways-piyush-goyal-premium-trains-rajdhani-shtabadi-5796304/ 

I will talk about the railways one first. When we speak of railways, we visualise historical systems, dirty platforms, and bogeys. In general, we get to remember inefficiency everywhere. But this article shares details about how a 20-year-old problem was resolved by Railway Engineering arm. The problem was about LHB coaches which were put into service; these were imported from Germany. There was a problem of coaches shaking, giving jolts while braking or at a higher speed. Railway team found a solution locally. There were about five thousand coaches involved. They replaced the Center Buffer Couplers with new design couplers. They also found that the usual braking method also caused these jolts. Hence they asked the drivers to use regenerative/dynamic braking system when speeds were above 30 Km/hr. With a combination of these two, jumping teacups and jolts have become history. There were 5000 such coaches, but with proper project management, the work on all of them was completed in two years. These stories don’t come out with fancy celebrations; these projects were done as part of routine practice. Great story to make everyone proud. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-israel-spike-anti-tank-missiles-drdo-5796306/ 

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The news above is another silent development of a highly complex military requirement of anti-tank missiles. Initially, the order was placed with Israel, who had a fierce competition with the US. This order was placed in 2014 for 351 launching systems and 8000 plus missiles worth US $ 500/ millions. Indian organisation DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation) was also in the process of developing the missiles locally. After successful second stage testing at Ahmednagar, the government decided to cancel the contract with Israel and go ahead with DRDO under Make In India initiative. These weapons are highly sophisticated and use infrared technology which has been proven during testing in hightemperature regions of Rajasthan deserts. No fanfare, the sheer hard work is the key to such success stories. Again this is the story of excellent project management where DRDO will deliver all the systems by 2021 as per requirements of the army! Kudos to DRDO. 

At the end of the second world war, Japan and Germany had lost, and many of their factories and cities were destroyed. All the treaties that were signed ensured that they would not resurrect rapidly. But somehow these nations rose literally from ashes like the Phoenix bird! All this was achieved due to the dedication, will power to excel and love for the nation.  

India, as we know today, became one nation for the first time at the time of independence. With the diversity of people, religions, languages, cultures, it was like Europe or much more complicated. Getting people together itself has been the greatest achievement of the last century, though we do not realise this. India has another significant problem. Our diverse culture has been very mature and has an old history of thousands of years. So, specific thoughts and beliefs are ingrained very firmly in our minds. We take time to change. Added to this was the large population. That India has survived and prospered is a miracle by itself.  

Slowly, we have started to learn to keep the diversity at home and now work together with professional pride as a single proud nation. Reading the above stories gives great hope to me about our great nation and people.  

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The viaduct of Pune Metro!

There are many such stories which are known to us, and we have started taking things for granted. Metro railway is an institution built singlehandedly by the doyen of this technology E Sridharan. He was also instrumental in developing the Konkan railway system. The system was one of the most stringent projects to build because of the tricky mountainous terrain. What Sridharan did was a technological marvel, management marvel. All the projects handled by him were always completed on time.

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Konkan Railway Bridge on the river Panval

My classmate Shashikant Limaye was the chief engineer for bridges on the Konkan Railway project. Shown above is the bridge designed by him on the river Panval (Yes it is supposedly near my native place Panval, where I have never been!). This bridge is 80 meters high from the ground level. It is considered a significant technical achievement in the project. How do people like Sridharan achieve such things? Looking into the smallest of the details has ensured everything works like clockwork on these projects. There is an exciting story about Sridharan. As the Metro lines started becoming operational in Delhi, he would visit different sectors every day to begin his work. Where he would go was not known to anyone. As he entered the station, he would bend and check if there was dust on staircases and escalators by wiping with his hand. What was the result of this dedication? Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Lucknow are all having Metro lines or are in the process of installation. All projects have always been completed on time.  

These projects have proven that in India, we can do worldclass technical work and have excellent project management abilities. In the example of bogeys, do not forget that these bogeys were not in one place but spread all over India. The work was completed without hampering the regular services.  

We have been doing great things in Technology. ISRO has already proven that it is India’s showcase worldclass organisation. It competes and beats others from the world in quality, performance and equally importantly, costs! 

On the business side Reliance has done a fantastic job of creating world-class large business; they have proven the same again in their Jio venture too!

But somehow we are not able to go up the value chain in other areas where we can do it. I am talking about the IT industry. They started doing well in ’90 s of the last century with Y2K! They started making big money and started getting large service contracts. Such contracts led to making even more money. In 20 years, these companies became very large, and have so much money that they did not know what to do with that money. Recently they started buying back their own shares from the market. The buyback indicated that they had no plans for developing new skills and gaining expertise in more modern areas. They have still not shown the willingness to go up the value chain. They have the people, the money but lack the will! I sincerely hope that these companies invest some money, human resources, and efforts in creating world-class products! Don’t just become Billionaires; become proud owners of great products!  

 

 

 

I am the best!

Our Tera Firma is full of smart people. In last 50 to 70 years the innovations, evolution of technology has gathered momentum which is far swifter than what happened in previous 2000 years. This has happened because of the people who besides being smart, innovative were humble too or may be some of them were not! They knew that any idea that becomes popular may easily get pushed aside by a better idea or a product. Maybe some of them hardly had any choice as one can’t stop advent of new things especially in technology area. 

Digital cameras is a classic case of the  inventor  being  flat  footed.   Digital  cameras  were  invented  by  Kodak ,  the  pioneer  in  cameras  and  films.  They  invented  the  digital  camera  but  apparently  forgot  about  it. Later Cannons and   Konicas  of  this  world  just  blasted  Kodak  out  of  business  by  bringing quality, reasonably priced digital cameras in the world in large volumes. By the time Kodak woke up it was too late! They went into bankruptcy. Now these same digital cameras are being included in cell phones. These cameras in cell phones, are becoming better and better. So, what is the future of digital cameras as we know them? Honestly, it is difficult to judge but is it possible that digital cameras will come with a SIM card in future or we may have cell phones with better and better cameras. I am not talking fantasy. Recently I read that Jio, Mukesh Ambani’s company is bringing out Laptops with SIM cards with the idea of always being connected. Then do you need WiFi? I don’t know what this will do to the current market conditions. However, there are already cheaper hotspot devices, with 4G, available in the market. For a fee of Rs.400/ per month this hotspot can be connected to 10 devices. Then will we need SIM card for an individual Laptop? This is how the technology is changing swiftly. All the current and new players in the market will have to come up with their own variations to ween away customers towards their technology!  

Electric Vehicles, especially cars, were considered as niche products in the market and maybe people thought that they were competition, at US $ 100,000/ price, to high end cars like Mercedes, BMW and Audi. This was only a couple of years back. Besides Tesla, other car makers are also showing nimbleness. They have already come with their own EV’s and going strongly in bringing EV’s in mass production.  The other car makers already know how to manufacturers millions of cars, so once they master Electrical drive train technology at a competitive price, things will change drastically. What will happen to today’s drive train industry? We don’t know. But there is a good chance that this industry will become sunset industry. Maybe 20 years? I have had a discussion with couple of friends who are running allied industries in auto field. They are worried and are already thinking in terms of change over. Their nimbleness will help them. But a few others are still saying that EV’s is a passing fad! For their sake, I hope they are right but my mind tells me otherwise. They are “I am the best” types.

We see similar case in Indian IT industry. Our IT business was started by doyens of IT industry. They have done a fantastic job of bringing India on world IT map. Indian IT business grew by leaps and bounds and has created technology culture in India. They also created large number Indian millionaires and now billionaires. Their contribution has helped India in other sectors! They have made India confident too. But during last few years there have been signals, that this model of service providers is not going work for a long time. Indian companies need to go up the value chain. These companies on Nasdaq are officially described as “Providing technology consulting, application, system integration and engineering services” that means these are service industries. In India, they call themselves as software  companies.  It is with this false nomenclature they have started thinking that are software product companies.  They started the culture of people sitting on bench, as per demands of their customers. For those who don’t know the meaning of “sitting on bench” this is what happens. The customers ask the service providers to ensure that additional 20% people are assigned to the project but they have no work. If the project is of 2 years duration,  then   these 20% folks have no work for two years.  What culture have we developed? Should we not be going away from this method? 20 is a substantial % to be forced to remain idle. This according to me is poor management, in crude language run by bean counters. Is profit the only motive? What about the career of 25/30 year old young people? Once they get used to this life, they would be happy to remain idle, if possible, all their life!

Once there was a meeting between a doyen of IT industry with CEO of an American company.   The American company is a world’s top end product company employing 5 thousand people   where as the Indian company employs  1.5 lacs people.  Out of 45 minutes meeting the doyen talked for 40 minute and the CEO for five minutes. Both their turnovers are same. Doyen never felt it necessary to find out how the same turnover is achieved with so few people. He must have got same opportunities to talk with many such people world over but probably, “I am the best attitude” has kept the thought process where it was ten years back. I hardly read any news about this company trying to go up the value chain. Attempts made by a new CEO were brought to null by the doyen with his “Expert” knowledge! In such fast changing world, even a year or two of sluggishness, can put a company under severe strain; but maybe these “Limited” companies are “personal limited” companies even though share holdings of the doyens are low. Going up the value chain, what is that? I know how to run this company. “I am the best.”

All the best to Indian IT industry and hope better sense will prevail at some stage. I have seen enough small companies which have made software products and are up the value chain. Typical case is “Tally”. They have made an ERP suitable for India and millions of copies have been sold. Quick Heal is another company that comes to mind. Their security products have become well known. For both these companies their Profit/Turnover per employee is pretty good. If these smaller companies can do it why all the service giants  cannot do it? They have mountains of cash reserves. They don’t know what to with it. Is it the proverbial  Ostrich’s head in the sand?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

 

 

Data, the New Oil!

In one of my blogs, I had used a statement by Mukesh Ambani, “Data is New Oil” My friend Ajit suggested that I elaborate on the statement. So here we go!

We have been using oil and Petroleum products, extensively during last century! Initially, the approach taken by westerners was flamboyant! They went to the desert land of Arabs and extracted oil at a decent profit. In early 70’s in the last century, Arabs realized that they were sitting on a goldmine and rest as they say is history! From desert kingdoms, where the countries were mainly run by expats, these countries have become rich countries and are sitting on a mountain of money! This was all due to correct commercial exploitation of Oil as a resource and later squeezing non-oil producing countries!

Current century is the century of data as we have already started observing. A lot many things happen digitally and there is tremendous amount of data that is getting generated and obviously being stored somewhere! The country, the businesses which will harness the power of data, already available, will become leaders in their own field. How to exploit this data? For doing any digital transaction, authentication is mandatory. We started with passwords, spoken word and so on for authentication. Indian government had a foresight to start creating a database of people in India and issuing digital identity to people called Aadhar. Aadhar has Unique identification which is biometric. This is THE ultimate method of authentication. Aadhar UID is the largest such data of population with authenticated identities in the world.

Due to this authentication method, many things can be done digitally. First and foremost, what Aadhar has achieved is to bring large number of poor people in India into formal system; this allowed these people to open zero balance bank accounts, to start with. Large number of populace has been outside the formal system all along, because of non-inclusion! Non-inclusion was because these people did not have any formal identity! The inclusion will increase GDP as transactions made by these people will get added in the formal system. The same poor people, get subsidies from the government. There has been extremely high leakage of subsidy as this money did not reach the right people. In the system when black money gets generated, it goes out of circulation and formal economy gets affected. With Aadhar, subsidies go directly to people’s bank accounts.

These are some of the effects of large amount of authenticated data being available. There are more advantages of authenticated data. During GST returns filing, it is mandatory to share that month’s sales figures with authorities. Now government will link this data from GST returns to Income Tax returns filed. Naturally, the values must match. If they don’t, the tax evaders can be easily trapped. This change will happen because of linked data. According to some estimates India’s GDP is much higher than what is seen on paper; this is because cash or black money transactions remain outside the formal system. Black money is the money on which income tax is not paid. When all transactions happening in India become above board, real GDP figures will be known. Data is the way for that! GST data will be huge data but putting it to proper use is going to be the key to success. Initially people required PAN cards for some financial transactions but there was no real authentication done while issuing them. With the result that people had several PAN cards making it easy to cheat. With Aadhar linking of PAN cards, each person can have only one PAN card. Power of authenticated data!

What is being linked to Aadhar? Bank accounts & FD’s, LIC and other policies, Mutual fund investments, Cell phones and many more things. These instruments are used by all people irrespective of their status whether they have black money or tax paid money. Authorities can link all this data from huge data bank and link it with Income Tax data base. I need not elaborate what will happen as the result of this linking.

Ambani’s cell phone company Jio has sizable data of their subscribers. Subscribers are registered using Aadhar card. Jio has plans to compete with Amazons of the world with a different business model. It is said that not even 10% of population buy their stuff on the net! Jio will provide discount coupons to the subscribers for local shops, within their cities and preferably in the vicinity. These subscribers will go to the shops using their cell phones & linked coupons will buy things they want and pay the vendor. These vendors will be local grocers, fruit wallas and will compete with Amazons through Jio. The vendors phones and customers phones are linked via Aadhar to handle the payment part.

Another business process that is being tested in China which can be adopted with or without modification in India. Someone wants to buy stuff from a vending machine. After items are selected, the person gives iris scan. This scan is linked to Aadhar card to Credit Cards (if they survive technology onslaught) or bank account. Payment is done using iris scan. Can it get easier? Just imagine that your Iris scan is going to be your credit/debit card, online banking and wallet all rolled in one!

Already there are apps like True Caller! If you have True Caller installed on you cell, any unidentified call received is checked by the app on huge data, thereby displaying you the name of the person calling you!

Another large data that is captured these days is the data from cars. Cars these days have a lot of censors to track and send the data to servers. Such sensors are now functional on normal cars like VW Golf also! High end cars are even more data hogging. What do we do with this data? I will give a couple of examples. Vehicles performance like engine performance, oil levels are captured. In case of some issues in the car, diagnostics is done quickly as data is always available. In VW Golf, if you get flat tyre, and someone else is using your car; your registered cell phone will receive a text message “Your front right side tyre shows reduced air pressure”! There are lot of such messages received when something goes wrong with the car. Driverless cars and EV’s are next in line. They will all capture very large data from all cars. How this data will help? Diagnostics, design improvement, performance fine tuning. Important thing is nobody must go and capture data!

I feel that, in India, data is going to help reduce corruption and black money due to Aadhar linkage. Data has already brought large number poor people in the formal financial system. Data will give true picture to the planners of the nations. All this will allow the nation and thereby people to prosper. The correctly authenticating data is the way to go forward. Looks like iris scan is the proverbial golden wand to do it!  On the technical side data will allow new business processes to evolve; some of which don’t even exist today. Speed of doing research and analysis will become fast. New products, new methods, new medicines will get evolved much faster. All the speed and accuracy due to authentic data will be a real boon to human race!

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Digital Numero Uno!

                                                                  InternetGenie

Pramod somehow caught hold of Genie, managed to make Genie run at the high speed that was expected of him. Genie as usual started narrating a story. He started with a question, “Pramod, you always claim that you know a few things in digital world. Tell me who is going to be the Numero Uno (the best or most important country) in day to day digital transactions? US of A, China (中国), Japan (日本) or Good old India?” Pramod knew that if he uttered a word, Genie would slip out of his control and system will hang! So Pramod did not give any reply to the question asked.

As usual, Genie kept on talking. Genie said, Pramod now that we have had a decade and half of digital revolution (a la Industrial Revolution) who do you think will be the leader by 2030 in day to day transactions! Even as early as in next five/ six years the clear winner maybe seen; do you want to say something about it, Pramod? Genie was hoping to trap Pramod into talking but Pramod just smiled. Genie as usual kept on blabbering.

Pramod, I feel it is going to be India! Come on, don’t believe in me. Let me share some information with you. Last year along with demonetization, Indian Government started digitalization drive. This gave impetus to digital way of doing transactions and payments. Even some small time vegetable vendors, fruit merchants started accepting money in new format. You obviously don’t go to market with your laptop, so the obvious solution was using cell phones. Suddenly, many apps started coming into picture. I am giving you information based data available today.

There are two methods of transferring money from A to B. Bank to bank transfer (the best method for this is created by Government is known as UPI, (Unified Payment Interface) and Wallets by private parties and banks. Basic difference is that in UPI your money remains with you in your bank account till you transfer it. Whereas in Wallets, you have to transfer the money in Wallets from you bank account for further use.

Let me start with UPI; Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is an instant real-time payment system developed by National Payments Corporation of India facilitating inter-bank transactions. The interface is regulated by the Reserve Bank of India and works by instantly transferring funds between two bank accounts on a mobile platform.

“UPI is built over Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) for transferring funds. Being a digital payment system, it is available 24*7 and across public holidays. It uses Virtual Payment Address (a unique ID provided by the bank), Account Number with IFS Code, Mobile Number with MMID (Mobile Money Identifier), Aadhaar Number, or a one-time use Virtual ID. An MPIN (Mobile banking Personal Identification number) is required to confirm each payment.”

Pramod, many banks are now using UPI but again the Government is also equally serious and has come up with an App called BHIM. BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) is a mobile app developed by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), based on the Unified Payment Interface (UPI). The app supports all Indian banks which use that platform.

All banks have their own apps but Pramod you will realize that it is a seriously big business and Google has jumped into fray  with an App called TEZ (fast and furious!) based on UPI. It cannot get any more serious than Google making app only for India.

Pramod, Wallet is another option which transfers money in two ways. One is Wallet to Wallet and second is Wallet to bank. Wallet to Wallet transactions have the limitation that both parties should have same Wallet. Wallet to bank is a normal transaction. But how does money come in the Wallet in the first place? It come through credit cards and through Bank transfers! Wallets have started using UPI too! Wallets are apps by private companies like PayTm which is currently the most famous amongst the wallets.

Pramod, which one will you prefer? Many banks have their own apps. BHIM UPI has ease of use as your account can be from any bank, your UPI id can be 1234567890@upi where digits are your cell number! Easy, isn’t it? Current authentications are MPIN number, but this authentication can be easily replaced by biometric authentication? Aadhar anyone? Of course!  In Wallets I will currently prefer PayTm. It is backed by Alibaba in a big way, so theoretically should be around for a long time. It has facility for UPI too! Another interesting feature they have started is Chat! While chatting with someone you can get or transfer some money from the Partner. Another reason it is my favourite is that Uber account is linked to it and for extensive user like me, money gets automatically debited to PayTm!

Pramod, don’t you think that entry of Jio in cell phone service providers is a game changer? Their low-cost cell phones are offering most facilities provided by expensive cell phones; this  will also play a major role in proliferation of digital transactions. Credit cards are looked at by many as elite tool; so for users who do not spend large amount in month, credit period offered by card companies is of no use. So, cell phone is going to be Swiss Army Knife for us. Capable of doing everything and anything. Making calls, taking photos, chatting, video calls, financial transactions, sharing photos, chats, GPS the list is unending! Pramod, do you think that after say about ten years credit & debit cards will be relevant? Debit/Credit  card needs investment from vendors but UPI and Wallets don’t need to have swiping machines!

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Pramod, I want your reply on this as I know you have strong views! Pramod tried his best not to talk but Genie hustled him again with the same question! Pramod just could not keep quiet. He said, “Genie, with one billion cell phones and one billion biometrics data in the from Aadhar (which is the best authentication method), it is no brainer to say that India will be Numero Uno in day to day digital transactions over next ten yeas”

With this statement Pramod broke the golden rule of silence that Genie had locked him in.  At that instant Genie slipped out of Pramod’s grasp, Genie’s speed became equivalent of 2 G and system hung!  Genie could not help but make a passing remark before escaping. “Pramod my gut feeling tells me that it will be five years and not TEN!”

 

Freedom at Midnight from Aadhar!

Supreme Court gave a decision that “Right to Privacy is a Fundamental right of an individual”. This is a landmark decision and it is said that it will change many things in India. I am no political pundit nor am I a constitutional experts, I am a common man like most. This has directly affected LGBT community, who  are enthralled that their rights to choose sexual orientation can now be converted into a law! In another case, where there is a ban on beef business in various formats, a Supreme Court justice has said that what one should eat and if someone should drink alcohol are covered under fundamental rights. These cases will now get a different treatment. But in many discussions I have read that Right to Privacy can never be absolute and needs to be checked under proper legal infrastructure.

My take in this blog is going to be about Aadhar card! (Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data.) When Aadhar came into being under Nilekani, ex Infosys honcho, there were the usual Nay Sayers. In a conversation with Journalist Manu Joseph, Nilekeni divided the Aadhar Nay Sayers in four groups.

  • The Privacy gang
  • The rights of the poor gang
  • Oh My God 1984 has arrived gang
  • Luddites (meaning a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology- this has old reference to British workers in textile industry having fear of losing their jobs due to technology in 19th century)

Privacy gang is those like you and I who are required to give their biometric details to the government and in return get nothing back. They don’t get any dole or any subsidy from Government. They are the most “affected” by what, god knows! This gang does not mind giving their biometrics for passport because it is an essential document for this group. Then when they go to cooler climes of Switzerland, “Oh! What do to do! For Schengen Visa you have to share biometrics!” For US visa, people will even shed all their clothes if forced! After all going to US of A is  life’s necessity! These countries are foreign governments so no harm in sharing the data with them but Indian Govt and Modi! Nah, I can’t share at the cost of loss of Privacy!” These foreign Governments have such fantastic data security, probably software written by Wipro’s and TCS’s of this world, that except Edward Snowden nobody has been able to steal the data from them! Trumpets & bugles please! Data security is definitely a concern but we have been giving data to banks, passport office, and various websites for sometime. What has Aadhar done that it makes people suddenly insecure about! Friends, I will share one example with you which might help you with the beauty of Aadhar number.  55 dealers from MP, Andhra and UP states returned their license to sell fertilizers which Government used to supply to them. Reason? They were supplied fertilizers at two rates, one with subsidy for those below poverty line and one normal rate. They would buy at low rates and sale at normal rates with huge profits. Government now made a rule that they should link the sale to Aadhar card and based on that the rate will be decided. How can Government come in our way of making huge profits? Return the license. I am sure Govt officials were also hand in glove in this chain!

Rights of the Poor gang was worried that if subsidy is linked to Aadhar, some may not get benefit as they may be too illiterate to enroll for Aadhar card. Ok, great! Courts gave a decision that if they don’t have Aadhar they should still get subsidy. So, as the Aadhar system improves more and more of these people will get Aadhar and still get subsidy. What is the problem with this gang? What this gang is worried if systems fall in place, their importance will reduce. Some of them had a gumption to tell Nilekeni that you have never lived in a village, what you know about villagers needs! (Gumption means shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness)

 “Oh My God 1984 has arrived gang” is the trickiest ones. (Wikipedia describes, Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell.[2][3] The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the Super state Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation.) This group of people probably thinks Government will use Aadhar data to spy on people. Government does it anyway but Privacy judgment will make Government more law abiding! How Aadhar was making this easy I have never understood! These proponents of Orwell theory, I am sure, give their latest status on Facebook, every time they travel. “Sitting in Jet Airways Gold Lounge, travelling to Egypt” or some such thing! This is  my cell number please call after two hours!  Privacy what is that!

Anyway once the human race decided to come out of jungle and live as a society, basic definition of privacy changed forever! I am always wondering what is privacy in days of internet! When filling some form can we say,  I should be allowed not to mention if I am a male or a female or transvestite! What happens to reserved compartments on trains for women? What happens to reservation for women in education? I am a private person I will not give my address, I will not tell my birthdate? Where will this lead to? So there is bound to be limit to privacy. During filling up of any form some information has to be shared, similarly more information may be needed for Income Tax purpose. Don’t forget that there is black money and terrorist angle too! To overcome lacunae in PAN card, (which people are having more than one) Aadhar is a better alternative. More controls, are most welcome but do we need Goebbels! Social media like FB and WhatsApp has already created them!

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Luddites is the group which is very uncomfortable with new technology. As they are uncomfortable, they don’t believe in new technology. If you don’t believe in something how can you trust it! For such groups honestly there is no solutions.

No technology or a system is 100% perfect. These improve over a period. After using the systems for some time, may be some better additional viewpoints will come up. Systems are bound to improve but again data hacking is always a possibility. So called hacking incident that has been in discussion currently was an event, an illegal act by a bank officer. It was not hacking. Aadhar already has big base and I am sure once people understand the importance of the same, more will come forward and enroll. There is a big trust deficit with large organizations. Jio is selling their SIM cards against Aadhar card. Many Nay Sayers must be wondering, will their privacy be breached? Similarly many social organizations have axe to grind against Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. This foundation has achieved things in a few years that social organizations could not achieve in decades!

Aadhar system is a modern technology, take advantage of the same instead of thrashing it, embrace it! Bina Aadhar mat raho! Aadhar means support, “Don’t live without support”!