Blog Past: A Tale of Two Summers

I wrote this in August 2004 looking back to 1994: ” Ten years apart, I had spent two summers trying to imagine a very different future from the one we saw around us.”

In India, there is what I call, a “rainbow of revolutions” – seven of them happening simultaneously: computing, as PCs become cheaper and proliferate; mobile communications, as cellphones materialise everywhere around us creating a ubiquitous envelope of connectivity; software, as open-source weaves its magic and helps construct the real-time world; broadband, as high-speed networks lurk around the corner; the Internet, as access to it becomes faster, better and cheaper; content, with everything that we need to know becoming available in a few clicks; and commerce, with the way we buy and sell coming in for an upheaval.

The developed world saw these revolutions happen sequentially. Emerging markets like India will see all of these happen in parallel, creating a marvellous amplifier of rapid change and development. The challenge is for us to catalyse and capitalise on all that we see happening around us.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Your Phone: by Scott Adams. “I was thinking about how different our lives will be as cell phone technology continues to improve. Someday your phone will be your only computer, and your home will have a screen in every room that senses the proximity of any phone that approaches.”
  • Muhammad Yunus: Lifting People Worldwide out of Poverty: From Knowledge@Wharton.
  • A Local Revolution: by Paul Graham. “The first [idea] is that startups may represent a new economic phase, on the scale of the Industrial Revolution…The second idea is that startups are a type of business that flourishes in certain places that specialize in it—that Silicon Valley specializes in startups in the same way Los Angeles specializes in movies, or New York in finance.”
  • Default Behavior and the Internet Operating System: by Fred Wilson. “Don’t make a frontal assault on a default service. Build or finance a service that can become a new default function in the Internet operating system. And if you have a shot at becoming one of these default functions, invest all of your time and energy attaining and solidifying that default position before working on monetizing it.”
  • Harnessing India’s Technological Potential: by Rajeev Mantri on Wall Street Journal’s India site. “India missed the information technology and electronics manufacturing wave. If India is to transform itself from an economy driven by agriculture and services to one with high-technology industry and manufacturing as its bedrock, it should put in place effective policies to ride the new Schumpeterian wave of creative destruction driven by physical sciences-based technology.”

London Vacation

We (Bhavana, Abhishek and I) will be going to London for a vacation in the second week of June. (This is my third visit to London — had gone there once as part of an SOTC package tour in 1981, and then a few years ago with Bhavana.)

I wanted to get inputs on the following:

  • place to stay:  we need a service apartment (with a kitchen) in central London. One reco that has come is Citadines (South Kensington or Trafalgar properties). Budget: 100-150 pounds per night. Should be close to the Tube.
  • restaurants: good Indian restaurants, which will serve Jain food
  • things to see and do: Abhishek is 4 years. So, things will revolve around him. Some recos: Legoland, London Zoo, Hamley’s toy shop, Thomas Land (the train engines place).
  • bookshops – for me!

Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

Meeting a Friend after 21 Years

Last week, I was on my way to Chennai by the early morning Jet flight. I reach the airport and find this incredibly long queue at 5:45 am to get inside. It took 15 minutes to just go in – past the security check of the ticket and ID. I gave the lady at the Jet check-in counter a piece of my mind — this just be a daily occurrence, and there is no reason why it cannot be solved by adding more people at the entrance. The gentleman who was behind me did the same.

Then, after going through security, we got into the bus to take us to the aircraft. It turned out that the aircraft was parked at the international bay, which meant a 20-minute bus ride. I couldn’t help commenting that it is hard to imagine they did not have a slot near the domestic terminal for a 6:45 am flight. The same gentleman also felt quite strongly about this issue. Others in the bus didn’t seem to mind.

And then I started staring at the gentleman. He reminded me of someone from my past life, someone from the time spent in IIT. I am not normally the kind of person to walk up to a person and ask their name, but something made me do it. I asked him, “Ravi?” And almost instantly came the reply, “Rajesh?” And then we hugged each other right there in the bus!

We had known each other quite well in IIT since both of us were active on the cultural scene. And then life took us our own ways. And here we were, meeting after 21 years! We had so much to catch up on!

And we also couldn’t help but comment that there is something about the IIT system which made us the only two “cribbus”about the way things are!

Reading Columnists

It has been a fascinating exercise reading the diversity of op-eds over the past few months in the context of the elections and the unfolding political landscape. I have also developed a liking for some of the regular columnists:

  • Swapan Dasgupta (Sunday Times of India, Pioneer)
  • R Jagannathan (DNA)
  • Shekhar Gupta (Indian Express)
  • MJ Akbar (Sunday Times of India, Pioneer)
  • Tavleen Singh (Indian Express)

Each one has their own perspective which they weave into a compelling argument. I like to read different opinions on the same topics so one gets a wider set of inputs to make a call on the issues involved where one stands. Among the international writers, my two favourites are both from the New York Times: David Brooks and Thomas Friedman.

Mirror World

During the elections, I was struck by the lack of databases and real-world linkages. Such tools could be great assets for both campaigning and direct marketing. I think of this as a “mirror world”– a virtual replica of the real world along multiple dimensions:

  • start with maps
  • add a layer of establishments (buildings, schools, retail outlets, roads, etc.)
  • overlay this with the voter database that one can get from the Election Commissio. The voter database has names of people, their addresses, gender and age.
  • add the actual voting numbers based on the data published from the EC post-election (can also incorporate historical data to get trends; need to take into account the delimitation)
  • integrate the socio-demographic and development data that is available from census, various government sites (and collated by independent companies)
  • finally, buy contacts lists of people with information of their digital identity (email IDs, mobile numbers)
  • this database can then be continuously updated based on user interactions, thus enhancing people profiles

The work to be done needs to be done at 3 levels:

  • data acquisition
  • software development for ingesting the data
  • creating analytics tools on the data for decision-making

Such a database would be a very powerful marketing tool. For example, a new multiplex can now reach out to people within a 5 kilometre radius via email or SMS (provided people are not registered on the Do Not Call registry). There are many such applications that I can think of.

Anyone done/doing this, or interested in putting this together?

PS: Credit needs to be given to David Gelernter for his book of the same name (Mirror Worlds). 

Book Reco: The Ultimate Alphabet

Atanu Dey gifted Abhishek (on his fourth birthday) the most amazing book I have ever come across —  “The Ultimate Alphabet” by Mike Wilks (WikipediaAmazon). It is a collection of 26 paintings, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each painting comprises many objects starting with the specific letter – the A painting has 361 objects beginning with that letter, while S has 1,234. You have to see it to believe it! A book worth having for kids of any age.

Blog Past: India.com 2.0

I wrote this in Jan 2004 about the state of Indian portals then:

It is time for us to rethink the Indian content space. As telecom competition makes connectivity cheaper and available at higher speeds, as the cost of access devices goes down, there will be a need for innovative content and community services which can bring the fizz back. Ready for version 2.0 (or is it 3.0) of the Indian dotcoms – or have we already gone to sleep?

…An always-on, broadband access infrastructure and affordable access devices are two of the three legs that the Indian Internet infrastructure needs to be built on. The third is the availability of content, software and services which can attract users and make the Internet a key part of their lives. This is where visible innovation has stagnated, with the current art being the web browser, websites that we visit and search engines that we scour to get to the websites. What is needed is a New Information Platform.

I was reminded of this when a journalist called me up recently to talk about IndiaWorld and the state of Internet portals in India. The Great Indian Portal that becomes a utility in our daily lives is yet to be created.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The Rise of Social Distribution Networks: by John Borthwick on Silicon Alley Insider.  “Today there seems to be a new distribution model that is emerging.   One that is based on people’s ability to publically syndicate and distribute messages — aka content — in an open manner.    This has been a part of the internet since day one — yet now its emerging in a different form — it’s not pages, it’s streams, its social and so its syndication.    The tools serve to produce, consume, amplify and filter the stream.”
  • Steve Ballmer Interview: in The New York Times. “I want the culture of your company to be more efficient…That’s the direction that every business leader is steering their company culture toward right now. Given the current economic climate and the uncertainty about how long the recession will last, this is a time when organizations need to do more with less.”
  • The Lost Art of Reading Aloud: in The New York Times. “Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.”
  • Conducting the Indian Election: Sheela Bhatt of Rediff talks to Election Commissioner S Y Quarishi. “India’s election is not just an electoral exercise, but an event of such a magnitude that will never be seen in the world.”
  • How David Beats Goliath: by Malcolm Gladwell. “David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life.”

Elections 2009: What Next for the BJP

Every crisis presents an opportunity, and that is what needs to be thought of now. BJP at 116 is on a road downwards even though the decline this time was only 21 seats. The time to rethink and reinvent is now. There needs to be a sense of urgency.

The BJP now faces a clear fork in the road. Either it has to become more Hindu-oriented and thus aim to win the majority Hindu vote, or it needs to discard its religious overtones and become a clear right of centre party. The former is not going to be easy since that is where the roots of the party lie, and the latter will end up making it look almost like a clone of the Congress without any cadre support.

The BJP needs to take the moderate approach with a tinge of inclusive cultural nationalism. It needs to come out with a strong statement that India belongs to all, and not just the Hindus. It needs to take on the “secular” word everytime it is mentioned in the context of the Congress. It needs to remove the aura of untouchability that has been created – for some voters and potential allies. This is perhaps the most important challenge facing the leadership. BJP needs to combine its good governance message with a strong message about an inclusive India to start re-connecting to the growing Middle India, because that has historically been the BJP’s strength.

There are other things that the BJP needs to start working on:

  1. The BJP must forget about allies in most states and build on its own. It has to start thinking of itself as a real, national party with a presence of its own in every constituency of India. Allies are ephemeral. Even if they fight elections together, there is no guarantee that they will stay on after the elections. Also, with allies, the party is hobbled in building its own base.  Orissa was a classic case and Bihar could head the same way next year when assembly elections take place.
  2. Establish a presence in the four key states where it doesn’t exist – West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. In the two Left states of WB and Kerala, it has a 7-10% vote share which can be grown. Mamta is not really the exciting alternative that the people of WB are looking for.
  3. Focus on Uttar Pradesh to build the base. This is going to be hard, and needs a leader and lot of work on the ground. A lot of time has been lost. But the good news is that the politics of UP is shifting from caste and identity to aspirations (as Shekhar Gupta also wrote in his recent Indian Express article).
  4. BJP needs to bring out its next-gen leadership – and develop leaders at various levels (local, state, national). The old guard needs to hand the torch and to the next level, and mentor it. This includes building leaders from minority communities and establishing a dialogue with them with the central message being around governance and development.
  5. Effort needs to be also made to ensure nurturing of good candidates who do work at the grassroots, engage and connect with the voters constantly, and are seen as honest and genuine. The MPs who have won must keep the dialogue going on a formal basis with the voters.
  6. The BJP needs to play the role of a constructive opposition. It should appoint a “shadow cabinet” so it can start training and showcasing its leaders, and also keeping the real spirit of Parliamentary democracy and debate alive.
  7. It has to build an Institutional memory. The data, learning and contacts from this election must be leveraged.
  8. The BJP needs to start a membership and funds drive to collect small amounts of money from a lot of people, rather than just relying on the big donors (many of whom are going to be disappointed and frustrated with the result). With a small contribution will come the offer of help from the people, and that is why this is so important.

Most important, the BJP needs a strong leader who is given a freehand for the next five years. This is no time for consensus thinking which will put the party in a state of analysis paralysis, or create factions. The greater goal for the country must override individual ambitions.

Elections 2009: What the Congress did Right

  1. It used the troika very effectively to send out its message: MMS as the honest face who can do the economic good, Sonia with her larger than life presence with her 2004 renunciation, and Rahul with his youth connect. The party based its campaign on its pro-poor work (NREGA and farm loan waiver), its economic credentials of the top person, and the aspirations via its youth face. (The BJP could have countered all three aggressively – but in the midst of those 10 Varun Gandhi days much of the positive messaging got lost.)  In short, the Congress promised both Continuity and Change – and that worked for them.
  1. The decision to go it alone was without a strong pre-poll alliance with the parties in the Third and Fourth Fronts, in hindsight, a master-stroke. This emanated not as much from the focus on 2009, but from a long view. It paid them dividends immediately and that is what came as big surprise.
  1. Rahul Gandhi’s work in UP is paying dividends. He has become a face that people in the state are now looking up to. Mayawati is the past which has disappointed, while Rahul is seen as the future which can deliver a better tomorrow. On these aspirations, UP can only improve for the Congress.
  1. Also, and we do not know the full impact of this, the efforts by Rahul Gandhi to bring in inner-party democracy and revitalise the youth wing, perhaps yielded some dividends – via perception and fresh candidates.

So, what worked for the Congress was that in urban India, Rahul Gandhi and the “secular” message (as compared to the Hindutva branding of the BJP) helped, while in the rural areas, the NREGA and farm loan waivers definitely created the right image for the party.

In a sense, the Congress built a rainbow coalition comprising Muslims (and other minorities), the Poor, the Youth (with Rahul as the mascot), and the growing base of Disenchanted Hindus (who don’t like the BJP’s linkages – however loose and distant – with religious elements).

Perhaps, the Congress was willing to think out-of-the-box and long-term this election. It gambled – and their bets paid off (much faster than they expected). In some ways, it was prepared to lose in 2009 to build a stronger foundation for the party. After five years out of power, the BJP was much more desperate to win in 2009 and may have been over-cautious.

Elections 2009: What the BJP Did Wrong

As we look back at the past six months, here are two key things which stand out:

  1. 26/11 and the assembly election results of Delhi and Rajasthan completely turned the momentum away from the BJP. Till then, its twin planks were terrorism and the economy. Both got neutralised in the past six months – or perhaps, the BJP was not able to convince voters how it would handle the two areas differently and better. Even as food prices have increased and jobs are being lost, the message that the BJP is the better alternative did not get through. The negative campaign around terrorism in the Delhi assembly elections was seen by the electorate an attempt by the BJP to exploit a vulnerable situation.
  1. The campaign itself had the right ideas (good governance, development, security with the need for strong leadership), but the message went off-track for multiple reasons.
    1. LK Advani (LKA) was not seen as strong and decisive in the two opportunities that he had to make a mark: the Jaitley-Rajnath argument, and the Varun Gandhi moment. This in some ways undermined the main plank of the campaign.
    2. The “weak PM” argument backfired when Manmohan Singh (MMS), along with Sonia, Rahul) hit back with a vengeance, and Ayodhya and Kandahar were brought up. MMS played the role of the “bechara” perfectly. The BJP did not have a counter to that – and it could not possibly have been that the party would have expected the Congress to not respond.
    3. Most importantly, the BJP let the old fears re-surface with its decision to not drop Varun Gandhi even after the advice from CEC (Gopalswami). In contrast, the Congress decision to drop Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar was seen as positive (and gained in Punjab.) Basically, the Varun Gandhi incident coming on the back of what happened in Mangalore (and the ensuing media coverage) turned away moderate Hindus and youth (approx 40mn new voters) in urban areas for whom harmony matters more. For many, between the slippery road of religion and the slippery road of dynasty, the former is a definite No-No. LKA should have used the Varun moment to make a decisive statement on the inclusiveness of Hinduism, and taken the discussion completely away from the “secular-communal” issue – just like what Obama did with his race speech in Philadelphia at the height of his campaign.

There are many other factors which can also be thought of:

  • Disconnect with the voters: What explains the huge gap between expectations (160+ seats) and reality (120 seats). The party – and its cadre – are seen to have lost touch with on-ground realities in many parts of the country, and the disconnect with Urban Middle India is especially deep. (Of course, it could be argued that the Congress too did not expect its result. But that is not the answer.)
  • Selection of Candidates: This issue is more important than it is given credit for. If the party thinks it can thrust someone a month before voting day and they can win, there is something wrong. In many cities and states, the BJP lacks leadership and suitable candidates. It didn’t even experiment this election – and it was the Congress that fielded different, younger candidates.
  • Media management: This has always been a challenge for the BJP. An important segment does tend to watch the English channels more and get influenced. The BJP gave them the Varun Moment.

In some ways, the out-of-the-box, disruptive thinking that the BJP needed to do this election did not happen. It started off as an underdog and ended as one. In some ways, nothing changed between the start and finish, except that the UPA cleaned up some of the states the BJP was not present in. (That was predictable in the sense that even if the Left or AIADMK had done well, the Congress would still have managed to get them. So, in some ways, 100+ seats for the UPA from these states were always in the bag for the UPA.)

Elections 2009: Interpreting the Results

This is the first in a series of four posts which will try and address four questions: what happened in the elections, what did the BJP do wrong, what did the Congress do right, and what should the BJP do next? I wrote out this series on Sunday morning, before reading the newspapers. So, some of this thinking may be quite raw. Nevertheless, I think I should share it here – and see if you agree with it or not. Expect a BJP angle in the analysis. I am not privy to any internal thinking. These are my own views. 

One way to look at the Election Results is that the BJP did well in 7 states, not so well in some others, disastrously in one, and was not present in four others where the Congress and its allies cleaned up.

  • States in which the BJP did well: Karnataka the big winner, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, Gujarat and MP (with setbacks in both compared to expectations), Bihar riding the coattails of Nitish Kumar and HP. In all states, the BJP is in power, and the vote can be seen as pro-incumbency.
  • States in which the BJP did not do well: UP (fourth in state; Rahul Gandhi magic at work, Muslim vote moving from SP to Congress), Maharashtra (MNS factor in Mumbai), the northern states of Delhi (reinforcement of the December message), Punjab, Haryana and Uttaranchal, Orissa and Assam. In some cases, the alliance did not work effectively for the BJP.
  • State in which BJP did disastrously: Rajasthan (leadership issues, infighting; the message sent by voters last December was not heard)
  • States in which the BJP did not exist which delivered 100+ seats to the UPA (the difference in the final tally): West Bengal and Kerala (the anti-Left, anti-incumbency vote went to the Congress/UPA since there was no other alternative), Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (where to a certain extent newcomers like Vijayakanth and Chiranjeevi absorbed some of the anti-incumbency; the BJP did not have alliance in these states and wasn’t a credible option on its own).

It is probably fair to assume that a significant portion of the younger first-time voters voted for the Congress. BJP’s overall vote base has not really increased.

BJP did very badly – again – in most urban places. It won nothing in Delhi and Mumbai.

One interesting facet of this election is that the BJP and Congress together won 320 seats. Perhaps, the tide is swinging back to the national parties – wherever they are present. UP was a good example.

As Vinod Mehta put it on TV, the country voted for the Centre, with the extremes of the Right and the Left hurt badly. Again, the point is not do generalisation (since the BJP did do well in many states), but to take the key point that people in India prefer a middle-of-the-road approach. Even in the States the BJP did well, the focus was on a centre right development agenda.

India Needs to Think Big

I wrote an article for the India section of The Wall Street Journal website. Here it is.

The verdict is in. A new United Progressive Alliance government is expected to take charge of India next month. With it comes the promise of a change for the better. The new government has the opportunity – and the challenge – to outline a bold vision for India, a vision that fires up the imagination of its people and the vitality of its entrepreneurs.

The new government has to credibly signal its commitment to addressing the major challenges facing India and enlist the support of the private sector in creating innovations for achieving goals that are big, visionary and bold. In the past, whenever allowed the freedom to do so, the Indian corporate sector has risen to the occasion and helped India’s development. It is time once again for the Indian government to present corporate India with a set of truly transformational challenges.

Here is a small set of inter-related broad areas where change is urgently needed and which, with proper government support, Indian entrepreneurs and corporations will eagerly participate in.

  • Education: India needs a radically different education system as the current one is dysfunctional and largely irrelevant in the modern context. In a world of rapid and accelerating change, the foundational skill is to learn how to learn. The education system has to produce life-long learners, which the current setup does not permit. Fortunately, a radical re-engineering is possible through the use of powerful tools presented by the revolution in information and communications technologies. To achieve this, institutional reform of the type that encourages private sector participation in education is necessary.
  • Energy: Any economic activity, like all processes in the universe, depends on energy. Today’s developed nations achieved their level of prosperity on cheap fossil fuels, an opportunity not available to India’s 1.2 billion people. Fortunately, India is large enough to be able to leapfrog the fossil fuel stage by investing in the development and use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The required investment cannot be raised without leadership which convincingly articulates the vision.
  • Urbanization: India’s economic future depends on India’s success at urbanizing its immense rural population. No economy has achieved even middle-income status without being mostly urban. What India needs is to make its agriculture more productive. The labor released from agriculture has to be provided training and opportunities in manufacturing and services sectors. It is important to distinguish between the development of rural areas and that of rural populations. The former is neither necessary nor sufficient for development; the latter is indispensable and can be achieved most effectively by urbanizing them. This challenge is the creation of new, livable cities that would lead the urbanization of the population needed for India’s transition to an industrialized economy.
  • Transportation: India is a large country with a large population. For the economy to prosper, people and goods have to be efficiently moved over large distances. India is approximately ten times as densely populated as the US. It therefore cannot afford the solution that works for the US for transporting people, namely, air travel. What India needs is a land-based system and more specifically a rail-based transportation system, both for goods and people. The technology exists for super-efficient, super-fast rail systems. India has to seriously invest in that and replace the century-old current railway system. Furthermore, within cities, India needs to have an efficient public transit system and not take the unsustainable, car-centered approach.
  • Digital Infrastructure: Although India has one of the world’s cheapest and extensive mobile networks for voice communications, its data networks are quite inadequate. India needs to make serious and large investments to upgrade its digital wireline and wireless networks to create a high-speed, ubiquitous envelope of data connectivity across the nation. This is what will spur the creation of the next-generation of entrepreneurial outfits creating world-leading applications and services for the domestic market.
  • Governance: India has to make judicious use of its financial capital. The problem is that the current leaky system does not allow the most effective and efficient use of those resources. What is needed is to leverage technology in better governance though citizen participation. Technology can enable citizen oversight of public spending and enforce accountability. Innovations such as smart national ID cards and eVoting can increase participation in democratic processes.

India has a limited window of opportunity for getting its policies right so it can participate successfully in a globally very competitive world. It missed many previous opportunities but cannot afford to miss this one. The time has come for government and corporate India to come together to Think Big and drive the disruptive innovations that India so urgently needs to move rapidly up the development ladder.

Blog Past: SMEs and Technology

I wrote this in October 2003:

…Among SMEs, there are two clear segments. The SMEs in the developed markets have a greater capability to spend on technology than do the ones in the emerging markets. In fact, if one were to look at the IT maturity levels of companies, even some of the larger companies in the emerging markets would be considered as “IT babies”. So, the potential for improved use of technology is substantial – in fact, one could argue that what we have so seen so far with technology adoption across the value chain has been restricted to the larger companies. The SMEs have been impacted only to a small extent – with usage being primarily driven by email, Internet access, accounting and promotional use of an infrequently-updated website.

At the same time, we are seeing new technological innovations. This raises the question: how can SMEs partake in this revolution? Do SMEs have the ability to leapfrog with these new technologies? How can they make their businesses more productive by leveraging some of the newest ideas?

Our focus in this series will be on the SMEs in the emerging markets – think of them as SMEEMS (Small- and Medium-Enterprises in Emerging MarketS). There is an opportunity to define a new IT reference architecture for this category and create a computing platform out of many “cold technologies” which can dramatically reduce cost of ownership and management. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs in targeting these SMEEMs. Think of this category as the teenagers of the consumer market – growing, aspirational, a greater ability to spend and needing unique solutions.”

Elections 2009: A Decisive Mandate for the Congress-led UPA

As a Friend of BJP, I am obviously disappointed by the results. But the bright side of it is that the country will have a stable Congress-led UPA government for the next five years. I just hope that there is a positive development and good governance agenda that is pursued quickly because there are many unfinished things that we need to get done in India across various sectors.

This was one election I watched closely and was involved in at the periphery.  Since morning, I watched the election results coming out at home with a group of friends. Most of us were BJP supporters so the extent of the defeat was quite stunning and unexpected for us.

Here are some immediate thoughts on what the BJP now will have to rebuild itself if it has to offer a credible national alternative to the Congress across all states. It will need to create a presence in the four key states of West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — and this will require a multi-year plan. It will need to work hard in Uttar Pradesh to regain its pre-eminence. It may have to think of going it alone in many states so as to build a deeper presence. It will have to build a deeper and bring to the forefront the next-generation of leadership. More importantly, the party will have a make a choice (as Shekhar Gupta wrote in the Indian Express recently) — does it go go the way of the Hindu Right or the Centre Right? Or is there a middle path that is more inclusive?

Every crisis presents an opportunity – and that is how the BJP must look at the national vote. Even though it may have only have lost a small number of seats and not lost much voteshare on a national basis, the results are way below what the expectations were. And as such, it requires a rethink at multiple levels to rebuild the party and regain the confidence of the nation.

For me, personally, these four months have been a wonderful experience, even as I would have liked a different ending. I, along with others, do plan to continue the Friends of BJP movement that we have started – and hope we can help in a constructive way with our inputs to the party as it seeks to change. Our engagement with the political process has just started – and is long-term.

Weekend Reading

This week’s reading:

  • Mobile 2.0:Design for the iPhone and Beyond: A presentation by Brian Fling (via Vinu).
  • The Secrets of Great Teamwork: An interview with Tim O’Reilly in Forbes. “When people feel like somebody else is telling them what to do, there’s going to be resistance. If they think it’s what they themselves want, then they sign right up.”
  • Megacities threaten to choke India: from Wall Street Journal. “Of growing concern are the country’s teeming new megacities, which are swelling rapidly even as jobs dry up and funding for infrastructure disappears.”
  • Cellphones in India: from New York Times. “Sometimes a technology comes along and crystallizes a cultural moment. Not since Americans and their automobiles in the 1950s, perhaps, have a people and a technology wedded as happily as Indians and their cellphones — small and big, vibrating and tringing, BlackBerry and plain vanilla.”
  • Remaking State Bank of India: A fascinating interview on SBI’s transformation with SBI chairman OP Bhatt in Mckinsey Quarterly. “If you look at any transformational effort at any institution across the world, most of the things people have done are common sense. There is no magic to it. The secret is how you do it, how you build a team, and how you build consensus around what you’re doing. Only then are you able to execute your plan. I had a vision for the bank, but I needed to communicate it.”

Digital Real-Time Communications for Customer Relationships

One of the big changes in recent times has been that we as consumers have a digital identity in the form of an mobile number and an email ID. This identity allows companies to reach us in (near) real-time with their communications. For this communication to be effective, I think it has to be based on the 3 Ps of Push, Permission and Profile. Push and Permission ensure that once I opt-in (or decide not to opt-out), I can receive a stream of information without having to do anything else. Profile can help make that info more useful to me – in fact, I am willing to share data about myself if the company can use it constructively to tailor what it sends me.

This is the context in which I believe that digital communications in the form of Push SMS and Push Mail will grow tremendously in the years to come. SMS has an immediacy to it but is restricted to 160 chars. Email can provide the richer and longer form of communication. The two can work powerfully as a combo. The challenge for businesses is to be able to connect three things: my “customer code/account number” that they have internally with my mobile number and email ID. If they do this, they can now build a deeper relationship with me (something that I also want as a consumer of their brand)more cost-effectively than anything that has been possible in the past.

In fact, this communication with customers will cost companies about Re 1 per customer per month. Assume a company sends about 10 messages to me in a month (a couple a week, by SMS/email). At about 10 paise per message, for just a rupee a month, a company can effectively build a “hotline” to me — one that I will be delighted by because it is being done with me permission. (In fact, I know that I can opt-0ut from if I so desire at any time.)

Building relationships based on push and permission can help companies dramatically reduce the cost of incremental contact with the customer. The first – and every – touchpoint should be used to get the customer to opt-in to an information channel from the company. This is what will be a game-changer in customer relationships management.

This is the big opportunity that is there in transforming the way companies connect with existing and prospective customers in a mobile-centric world. Just look at a country like India. The top 10 crore – 100 million – consumers (about 20% of the population) each have about 10 relationships that they would like to have with brands – and where brands would be more than happy to spend a rupee a month to keep the hotline open to them. This is a Rs 1200 crore ($250 million) a year market opportunity for businesses waiting to be tapped. That figure is about 2X the size of the current Internet advertising market in India.

Elections 2009: Beyond The Vote

Phase 5 of the Indian elections ended yesterday, and we are now ready for Phase 6 once the results are declared on May 16. This phase will involve plenty of action as the various parties jostle to form or be part of the government. I am not going to hazard any prediction — I think there are too many variables involved, and few have a clue of the action that has taken place.I am going to be watching the results on Saturday at home with a few friends, so we can analyse the results and dig deeper with a varying set of views on what India voted for.

It has been a wonderful personal experience me — being involved in the Friends of BJP movement that some of us helped get started. I got to see the election up close — interacting with various people, reading and watching it, and discussing it with many others. If there is one feeling that I am left with it, it is that India needs more like us to become engaged at different levels in the political process. It requires a tremendous commitment from us to help bring change in India. We cannot remain disengaged. And we have to engage with one of the national parties to help bring about this change. India deserves better. And we have a duty to make that future happen.

A week of the Nokia E71

I (up/down)graded to the Nokia E71 after my iPhone screen sensors started giving problems. Some thoughts on the two phones:

  • One line summary: E71 is a much better phone than the iPhone, but a much worse browing device than than iPhone.
  • The familiar Nokia interface for making calls and sending SMSes is much quicker – and I like that.
  • The QWERTY keyboard of the E71 is also quite nice. Typing out longish messages is quite easy. (I never really had much of an issue with the onscreen keyboard on the iPhone, either.)
  • The one thing I am starting to love is the GPS-powered Maps. We used it a lot when we went to Tikuji-ni-wadi on Sunday.Worked out very well.
  • The browser is a disappointment after using the iPhone for nearly 2 years! It almost feels like nothing much has progressed on that front since I used the N80.
  • Looking forward to the Ovi App store when it launches this month. Have downloaded a few apps based on recos from friends.

Like I said, its a better phone, but not as good an Internet browsing device. Looking forward to trying out more things with it in the coming days.