CSI Panel on Affordable Computing – Part 2

Affordable computing has long been an interest area of mine. I have written on the topic extensively over the past 7-8 years. I first  experimented with a thin client-thick server in NetCore. Later, those learnings morphed into Novatium, an independent company set up with Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala from IIT-Madras and Ray Stata in Chennai. Novatium was featured in a Newsweek cover story three years ago. After many ups and downs, Novatium, led by Alok Singh, is now on a firm foundation to grow rapidly, following investments by NEA and most recently, by Ericsson.

I focused primarily on the rural computing infrastructure during my talk on the panel, and made three key points.

1.        We need to set up computing infrastructure at key data collection and dissemination points.

Schools, Hospitals, Agricultural extension counters and Panchayats are the places where computing infrastructure needs to be set up. In schools, thin clients or network computers with content delivered from a local server can assist the teacher in ensuring the children get better education by making up for the lack of quality teaching staff across the country. In health and agriculture, connected computers can provide information access at the point where it is ended. Computers at panchayats can play a key role in ensuring availability of eGovernance services for citizens, as well as financial transparency on how money is being spent.

(In this context, I also said that we need to ensure that such situations don’t happen! )

Continued tomorrow.

CSI Panel on Affordable Computing – Part 1

The Computer Society of India’s 45th Annual Convention in Mumbai held last week had a panel on Affordable Computing. I was amongst the nine panelists.

The focus of the panel was on seeing how government and industry can work together to forge a new path forward for affordable computing in India.  This was the panel brief:

India is on the threshold of emerging as a global super power. The biggest fallacy is that the infrastructure, technology bandwidth reach and coverage do not include the large multitude of our population. This population is primarily on the other side of digital divide but also facing barriers of language, technology and resources.

Is it not the responsibility of the Government and/or Industry to address the same? It is not only a corporate social responsibility but also a great business opportunity. The conclave brings together IT Secretaries, CEO and CIOs on one panel/ platform to look into the issues opportunities and challenges that are possible.

Over the next few days, I will outline the points I made, and summarise the key points the other panelists mentioned.

Continued tomorrow.

Blog Past: Mumbai 26/11

This is what I wrote two years ago just after the events of 26/11:

Today, we will go back to work.  But this time around, we just cannot forget and move on.Ensuring safety for its citizens (and not just for themselves) is the government’s top priority. National security is now India’s #1 challenge. Over the past 4 years, India has lost more citizens to terrorism than any other country except Iraq. Even as we can blame “forces across the border”, we need to do a lot of introspection — what can each of us do to ensure a safe and secure future. We cannot live in a permanent state of fear and uncertainty. Suddenly, one gets a sense of what it must be to have lived in Beirut a couple decades ago or Baghdad until recently. This is not the Mumbai I grew up in and spent most of the first four decades of my life.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

Mohan: The Strong Man (A Play in 5 Parts) – Part 5

5Note: A friend of mine sent me this. He doesn’t have a blog, and doesn’t want to be identified. It was too good not to publish. Of course, I have to add a few disclaimers. One, I support the BJP (“lighter shades of grey”) and am not a fan of the Congress. Second, all references to people you think you can identify are coincidental.

Mohan and Madam are sitting in the bathroom of the Mohan’s house. Rahu is playing with the Chair nearby.

Madam: Mohan, why are we meeting here?

Mohan: This is the only place in the country that is not being recorded.

Madam: Oh. You mean…? Even my…?

Mohan: Yes, MadamGG. Mere Pass Tapes Hai.

Madam: So, what is this I hear? You don’t want to leave the House?

Mohan: MadamGG, I need to Clean the House first. How can I give it just like that?

Madam: You told me the other day your Conscience was Clean. So, where did this need to Clean anything come up?

Mohan: MadamGG, that was Raja who said it. If you remember, I don’t have a Conscience. You took it from me in May 2004.

Madam: Ok, Ok. So how long will it take? And why didn’t you call the Cleaning Buckets of India?

Mohan: There is Evil in the House.

Madam: Mohan, you know what I have always told you. I see No Evil. I hear No Evil. I do No Evil.

Mohan: Yes, Gandhiji….Sorry, MadamGG.  (changes to a firm tone) But I will not leave till I Clean the House.

Rahu: Mom, Mom. What is this? He is back-answering you? How has be become so Strong? Has be been taking Complan? What will happen to my House? I will never be able to get married now.

Mohan: I am not going to leave till I Clean the House. And I am going to start with you. Out. Out.

Rahu (crying): My House, My Kingdom. Mom, you promised me? Hum lut gaye, hum barbaad ho gaye.

(Mohan pushes a stunned Madam and a bawling Rahu to the door.)


Mohan (facing the audience): I am not weak. I am strong. I am Strong. I am STRONG. I am a Strong MAN.

Mohan removes his jacket to reveal his T-shirt. Written on it are the letters: D-A-B-A-N-G-G

A song echoes in the background:
Barkha badnam hui Soni tere liye
Vir badnam hua Rahu tere liye
Sab badman hue Lakshmi tere liye.

And then another song reverberates in the background:
Hum honge kaamyaab ek din
Mohan main hai vishwas
poora hai vishwas
hum honge kaamyaab ek din.

(The curtain falls.)

Mohan: The Strong Man (A Play in 5 Parts) – Part 4

Note: A friend of mine sent me this. He doesn’t have a blog, and doesn’t want to be identified. It was too good not to publish. Of course, I have to add a few disclaimers. One, I support the BJP (“lighter shades of grey”) and am not a fan of the Congress. Second, all references to people you think you can identify are purely coincidental.

Mohan’s Secy comes running with the phone to Mohan.

Mohan Secy: Sir, it is Barkha calling.

Mohan: Stupid, haven’t I told you that it is BarkhaG? Madam will be so angry if she finds out what you call her.

Mohan (taking the phone): Yes, BarkhaG, what news do you have for me today?

Barkha: Mohan, The Time Has Come. He is Coming. He is Coming to claim his rightful place in the Sun.

Mohan: But they already have their Sun TV set and also some aeroplanes. Not to mention all that 2G money.

Barkha: Mohan, try and understand. The Messiah has Spoken.

Mohan: You mean, PranabDa?

Barkha: Mohan, listen to me carefully. The Saviour of the Masses is Here.

Mohan: But Antony was in the bathroom when I last checked on him on my new 3G Air-tell phone given to me by your friends at Radia-tion International.

Barkha: Enough, Mohan. Don’t play games with me. Here it is in simple language. Rahu is moving in.

Mohan: But…we are not renting the House.

Barkha: Mohan, you are moving out.

Mohan (a little shell-shocked): What? This cannot be happening to me. After all these years, The End comes just like that? Through an intermediary?

Mohan (regaining his calm): I am not weak. I am strong. I am Strong. I am STRONG. I am a Strong MAN.

Barkha: What are you parroting? Rahu ke pass Maa Hai.

Mohan (in a strong manly voice): Mere pass Tapes Hai.

Mohan hangs up.

Continued tomorrow.

Mohan: The Strong Man (A Play in 5 Parts) – Part 3

Note: A friend of mine sent me this. He doesn’t have a blog, and doesn’t want to be identified. It was too good not to publish. Of course, I have to add a few disclaimers. One, I support the BJP (“lighter shades of grey”) and am not a fan of the Congress. Second, all references to people you think you can identify are purely coincidental.

Madam and Rahu are walking in the garden of the People’s Palace.

Rahu: I have been meaning to tell you something for quite some time, Mom.

Madam: Go ahead, Son. And please, I don’t want you starting on the Two India’s thing again. The 2G, 2 India thing is becoming too much for me. I have already told KapiUncle to teach you something new.

Rahu: No, Mom. It is something you have been waiting to hear for a long, long time.

Madam: You bought me an Island? Beta, tell me it is true?

Rahu: Yes, Mom. That, and much more. You have worked many long, hard years. So much sacrifice. So much of reading Hindi speeches written in English and Italian. You need to get some rest now. I am now Big Enough to take over. You can retire on the Island.

Madam: Wonderful, Beta. But you know how it is….you are still so alone.

Rahu: That is what I was coming to, Mom. I am going to get married. So, you can retire. And then I will need us to move into a Big House?

Madam: Rahu, but if I go away, who will cook for you? There needs to be a woman in the House.

Rahu (ignoring the last comment): Mom, I want the Big House Mohan is occupying. He needs to vacate it. I want a Big House, Mom. Please. Please.

Madam (giving Rahu a hug): Ok, Beta. Don’t cry. All this land, this country…it is all yours. You know, they called me the New Empress of India. And they also liked my New Clothes.

Rahu: Thanks, Mom. So, can you have a word with Mohan? Can I move in next week?

Madam: Of course, my son. This is a dream come true. What is it these Indians say, Sapna Saakar Hua.

(This transcript is available because the Income-Tax department recorded it.)

Continued tomorrow.

Mohan: The Strong Man (A Play in 5 Parts) – Part 2

Note: A friend of mine sent me this. He doesn’t have a blog, and doesn’t want to be identified. It was too good not to publish. Of course, I have to add a few disclaimers. One, I support the BJP (“lighter shades of grey”) and am not a fan of the Congress. Second, all references to people you think you can identify are purely coincidental.

Mohan is pacing up and down his room, looking quite upset. He is talking to himself.

Mohan: I am not weak. I am strong. I am Strong. I am STRONG. I am a Strong MAN.

Mohan’s Secy enters.

Mohan Secy: Sir, there is a call from the Second G.

Mohan takes the phone immediately.

Mohan: RahuGG, Good morning.

Rahu: I wanted to buy Ireland.

Mohan: Sure, RahuGG. In which Ocean should I look for the island?

Rahu: Idiot, I said Ireland, not island. Aiy-er-Land.

Mohan: Oh…Sorry, RahuGG. I will get my ears examined.

Rahu: So, I was saying, Ireland needs $100 billion to save itself. I was reading it on ScamBuysOnline.com.

Mohan: Is that it? Even after paying for it, you and MadamGG will have $362 billion left over.

Rahu: Exactly. Your maths has improved since we spoke last. You been taking count-and-point lessons from Vir?

Mohan (shyly): Hmmm….

Rahu: Ok, Ok. Can you arrange for the Buy? I don’t want Sharad or Kani beating me to it.

Mohan: Yes, RahuGG. I will arrange for it. Ireland will be yours tomorrow. Is there anything else?

Rahu: Yes. One more thing. I am looking for a New House. I will tell you after I speak to Mom.

Continued tomorrow.

Mohan: The Strong Man (A Play in 5 Parts) – Part 1

Note: A friend of mine sent me this. He doesn’t have a blog, and doesn’t want to be identified. It was too good not to publish. Of course, I have to add a few disclaimers. One, I support the BJP (“lighter shades of grey”) and am not a fan of the Congress. Second, all references to people you think you can identify are purely coincidental.

A November morning in Delhi. Mohan is sleeping. His secretary enters.

Mohan Secy: Sir, there is a phone call coming on the 2G network.

Mohan: Go away, let me sleep.

Mohan Secy: Sir, it is Madam.

Mohan: Oh. Why didn’t you wake me up earlier? Madam gets upset if I don’t answer the phone in one ring.

Mohan takes the phone quickly.

Mohan: Yes, MadamGG.

Madam: Mohan, I am reading this SMS that just came in. “The Prime Minister finally breaks his silence: The only 2G I know is SoniaG and RahulG.” How can you say such a thing?

Mohan: But, MadamGG….

Madam: You know, we only talk on 4G Networks. How could you forget PriyaG and RobG?

Mohan: Sorry, MadamGG.

Madam: So, what do you propose to do about it?

Mohan: MadamGG, I can ban all SMS like we did during Ayodha time. That worked very well.

Madam (angrily): Mohan, I am not talking about the SMS. I am talking of the 2G Scam.

Mohan: MadamGG, no one will ever find you and RahuGG got the money. I have erased all the entries in my…

Madam has put the phone down.

Mohan: MadamGG? MadamGGG?? MadamGGGG? What did I say wrong?

Continued tomorrow.

Blog Past: Web 2.0 Talk from 2008

Two years ago, I spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. Here is the presentation and talk.

My concluding comments:

…Whether it is Novatium’s NetPC or NetCore’s MyToday or some of the others I just mentioned, there is an opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to do good and well in addressing the needs of hundreds millions of underserved consumers with the latest ideas in technology.

Think of them as technological Black Swans which can drive the creation of the next Microsoft or Cisco or Google. They will emerge not from the US or other developed markets, but from emerging markets like India. Emergic Innovations are a harbinger of things to come –  Made in India, Made for the World.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

Business Monitoring Idea – 5

Another key aspect of the business that needs close monitoring is cashflow. Revenues may be increasing, but if cash is not coming in on time, one can face a problem in paying vendors and employee salaries. For this, it is important to have rolling weekly estimates that look a month ahead on both expected payments and collections.

For collections, it is important to also monitor aging. Anything beyond 90 days past payment due date is likely to face a challenge in being collected. As such, even though there is revenue on the books, one may face the prospect of write-offs at a later date and cashflow concerns in the short-term.

I shared some of these ideas over the past few days because these are tips I have found useful and, in some cases, have learnt them  the hard way. I hope you also found them useful.

Business Monitoring Idea – 4

What I have done is create a set of spreadsheets wherein I track numbers every week and every month. In addition, it has data for many of the key items for 12 months, allowing historical comparison, especially for margins.

As a business grows, the hope has to be that the margins improve. For that, it is important to track which key costs are within one’s control, and how they change with growing revenue. Some costs are fixed – like salary, rent, electricity. These should be reasonably flat month-on-month (or at least very predictable). Based on these numbers and an estimate of the gross margin, one can also arrive at a figure which reflects the breakeven revenue for a business.

Based on topline (revenue) growth, it now becomes possible to estimate when a business is likely to become profitable, and therefore how much cash will be needed till then.

Business Monitoring Idea – 3

For every business, it is important to define key parameters on revenues and costs and these need to be monitored monthly.

Besides looking at profitability for the month, it is also important to look at trends – especially in terms of percentages over the past few months. For example, look at both the gross margin and net margin percentages, and not just the absolute numbers. The goal needs to be to ensure that these percentages also increase, along with the absolute numbers. If in a month, there has been a dip in the percentage, it needs to be investigated closely – because it may lead to a deeper problem with some aspect of the business.

Business Monitoring Idea – 2

Any business where the gross margin is 50% or less needs to be monitored daily. Let me explain.

Gross margin is the revenue minus the cost of goods sold. If it costs Rs 3 to buy a widget, and the selling price is Rs 5, then the gross margin is  Rs 2, or 40% (2/5). Such businesses need to be monitored daily for variations in either the input costs or selling prices. Errors in purchase or sale can have a disproportionate impact on profitability.

Business Monitoring Idea – 1

An idea I have implemented recently in NetCore for some of the business lines is the concept of Projected Score and Required Run Rate. It borrows from the cricket ODI and T-20 matches. An example will help explain.

Let’s say in the first 10 days of the month, we have generated Rs 15L in revenue. Then, the Projected Score for the month is Rs 45L. Now, if the target for the month was 60L, then the Required Run Rate to achieve that is (60-15)/20 days left = Rs 2.25L, vs a Current Run Rate of 15L/10 = 1.5L.

These numbers monitored daily give more predictability to what one can achieve in the month, and also shows the gap between target and current run rate. Based on that, one also can get an idea of the push required to achieve the target.

Blog Past: Crucible Moments

From a post written two years ago:

A crucible experience is something which transforms us, and shakes and shapes our lives.

[Many companies go through] through their own crucible moments. They face challenges of various kinds — revenue generation, business model validation, competition, need for additional capital. In fact, some face multiple of these challenges simultaneously. For some, there is a clock ticking away as cash runs out and there is a race to prevent closure. That is always the risk in being an entrepreneur (or investor) and doing things which are different and haven’t been done before. The probability of success is a magnitude lower than what most entrepreneurs believe. For these fledgling companies, this is a moment of truth — a crucible moment. It is a make-or-break period — and one which is easier to describe than to live through.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The Data Analytics Boom: from Forbes. “As interesting as the range of its application are the many converging reasons for the rise of interest in analytics.”
  • Economist special report on Smart Systems: “The real and the digital worlds are converging, bringing much greater efficiency and lots of new opportunities.”
  • India Rising: from Foreign Policy. “From the economy to Afghanistan to grand strategy, six looks at an emerging superpower.”
  • Rise of Tomorrow’s Middle Class: by Sanjeev Sanyal, about the new Middle India. “We need to change the way we think of slums and small towns – this is where the new middle class is being created.”
  • The Crossroads Nation: by David Brooks, about the USA in the future. “[The US].. is well situated to be the center of global networks and to nurture the right kinds of networks.”

The Deadly Arms Game – Part 5

Votebanks are exactly the reason why people in Urban India need to come together in an association like the United Voters of India. Unless we self-organise and force each of the political parties to realise that  the swing vote (and hence their victory or defeat) lies in our hands, Urban Middle India is going to suffer. Some of us may strike it lucky and build a cocoon of wealth to isolate ourselves. But for the majority, things are not going to improve.

When real estate prices become so high that it becomes well near impossible to buy a flat at reasonable prices, when water and electricity are not available 24×7, when the air we breathe is not clear and pure, when the roads we drive are potholed or constantly under repair, when the trains are packed beyond limits, when airport runways are shutdown during the day, when money earned by us is lavished on keeping people poor across the country – when all of this does not motivate us to act, then either we have really an incredible ability to withstand self-inflicted pain, or we are incredibly stupid.

It is time, and it is up to us now. There will be no second chances. If we don’t care about making our own lives better, at least we can do this for our own children. They have done nothing to deserve the future we are thrusting on them.

The Deadly Arms Game – Part 4

India needs massive investments in its infrastructure. We need billions of dollars for high-speed rail networks, for solar power research and development, for quality universal primary education, for dozens of new cities, for building our urban metros (without needing to wait for CWG-like events), high-speed ubiquitous broadband networks, and more. We need this to happen in a transparent manner that is free of corruption so we get the most for what we spend.

But there isn’t even a debate going on about this in the country. One Coal India issue galvanizes the stock market and everyone is on Cloud Nine. But that does not reflect the reality that we have dysfunctional governments with corrupt ministers and flawed policies that waste public money.

Until we have a leader with vision, we will continue to be distracted by “There are two Hindustans” and how urgently they need to be united. The truth is that dividing India into two factions with conflicting interests suits those in power quite well. They want to keep it that way so they get to play vote-bank politics and retain the power to rob the public.

Continued tomorrow.