Wednesday, September 15

The Death of the Voice Call?

Now this is something interesting. A popular technology magazine from the US reports a steady decline in the average number of phone calls in the country over the last three years. As per a Nielsen report, the number of phone calls per user hit a peak in 2007. Since then, subscribers seem to have given a thumbs down the voice medium. And what is more worrying is the fact that average minutes of usage per call too has shown a noticeable decline. From three minutes in 2005, it has dropped to 1.5 mins in 2010.

What lies behind this cultural transition? The availability of alternate, more light weight mediums of communication, which include text messaging, chatting and social networking!! Everyone is in constant touch with each other in one way or the other.

Ironically, as these services are being made available by the telecom operators on the mobile, users are getting to prefer texting over the voice call while away from their PCs !

But why this shift? The voice call is seen as more intrusive – an encroachment on the personal space of an individual. Unlike a call, IMs and other texting mediums depict a user’s status, whether one is busy or available for interaction. Users get more time to think about what they want to say in the text mode. So where does the voice call go from here? The study predicts that while the users will make fewer phone calls, the duration of calls is bound to increase as users will reserve the medium exclusively for the deep discussion that it does best.

Tuesday, August 10

Of Manpreet Badal and His Brand of Politics

Manpreet Badal soars above others around him - not only on account of his official status (as the Punjab Finance Minister) but literally as well (he is around 6' 4" tall) . As we walked out from his residence office one fine Monday morning, I almost ended up asking, "Howz the weather up there sir?". But then I checked myself, because the Hon'ble minister was on his way to meet up with a gathering of people, almost three scores strong, and drawn from different parts of Punjab. I sensed, the minister was pre-occupied with their problems and in no mood for humor. What we did discuss was his style of functioning, which is open, transparent, and has a mark of humility about it. Badal has a strong physical presence and a kind face beset with a pair of eyes that seem to reach out to you.

It was a unique experience, to see upclose for myself, the manner in which the third senior most minister in the Punjab Government connects with the citizens. As I sat behind a table next to the minister (couldnt have found a better place to get a hang of things), I found Badal is a natural when it comes to reaching out to people.The visitors were drawn from different segments and geographies - government employees, teachers, a departmental group looking out for a photo op, and most of all farmers coming straight from the Punjab hinterlands. Each one was cordially invited - haanji hun tusin aa jao - and was given a patient hearing. Badal appeared earnest in trying to find a solution to every issue, often consulting his personal assistant for a quick background. Despite his elite educational background (he attended the Doon school and completed his higher education from the US) he was very much in his element switching between hardcore Punjabi and flawless English, wherever required. One could make out, he wanted people to feel at ease, and was trying his best to talk to them at their level. He engaged everyone, counselled a few, advised others, and guided those whose issues did not fall within his perview. I heard him admonishing a doctor over the phone - you must work diligently for the government. In another instance he told a youngster who wanted him to pitch in for a government job - I cant do much in this. The selection has to be based on merit. You work hard and give your best.I am sure you will get it.
Overall, I could see people were satisfied and generally pleased after their interaction.

Now I am not much of an admirer of the way political parties function in our democracy. And politics do not interest me much. My closest brush with politics was during my University days when I contested a minor election, just for a lark, and somehow got elected unopposed. But I am very much interested in individuals in the political set up. Because it is these few well-meaning people, individuals with a vision and the conviction to back it up, who make a difference irrespective of the party he or she comes from. I had read about Manpreet Badal in the media. And I was curious to meet the person who did not flinch from stating the truth, irrespective of the political fallout. Let me tell you, the young minister left me impressed. It is said, the fortunes of a state, or for that matter an organization are directly linked to its quality of leadership. Manpreet Badal is one such leader to watch out for in the Punjab context.

As the proceedings drew to a close in the lawns of the Badal residence, he turned to me whether I wanted to talk about something specifc. I wanted to apprise him of the tremendous scope that existed for public - private partnership to overcome the information gap that is a bane of the weaker sections of the society and the way technology can be harnessed to empower the weakest among the weak. But I decided to leave it for some other time and other setting.

In the end, Manpreet Badal just got up from his chair without a fuss, simply said his good byes, and went off in an old Toyota Qualis . I was left searching for the all too familiar 'security' paraphernalia - vehicles full of security personnel with sirens blaring - warning the lesser mortals to stay away. But to my surprise, there was none of it be seen. The old Qualis simply went by - with Badal behind the wheel and his personal assistant by his side. A true "Jatt Soorma", I would say!!

Wednesday, July 21

VAS ASIA: A Ringside View - 2

That Mobile VAS as a business space is headed for vibrant times, was also indicated by the presence of a number of overseas companies at the event. I happened to talk to Walter Toffle, the owner of a mid-level VAS outfit in Slovakia (the same country that drubbed the Germans at the World Cup). Walter has a distinct appearance - a square face with a mop of long greyish hair done up in the sixties style. I mean you just couldn’t miss him. And he mistook me for a foreigner as well! 
Walter runs a highly profitable lottery service on the mobile network back home at Bratislava, and he was keen to understand the dynamics of the Indian VAS market. He was genuinely surprised on hearing about the revenue sharing model in India. In Europe it is totally skewed in favor of the VAS providers to the extent of 90:10. He expressed interest in partnering an Indian VAS player to kick start his company operations in India. "But I would like to be in total control of my offering, it has to be distinctly branded, I would like to promote it my way." Well, Good luck Walter! We would like to see your story unfold.
 I was pretty surprised to find a BBC business correspondent covering the event. To find the ‘big beeb’ interested in Mobile VAS (BBC is generally very-2 choosy about the business stories it covers) I guess, is a direct indicator of the kind of excitement that is being generated by this technology-intensive sector. The correspondent was well versed with VAS and was looking for a sound bite. We went around trying to locate senior people from my organization, but it was not to be. Well Shyamoli, there’s always a next time!
Later in the evening, I happened to catch up with a bright and earnest VAS executive, employed with a prominent telecom operator based out of the NCR. Abhishek is in charge of Entertainment VAS in his company and he sounded quite passionate about the growth potential presented by the Entertainment vertical. Keeping P2P sms aside (it’s more of a commodity anyways), entertainment VAS, comprising services such as CRBT, music, games, contests, songs and graphic download has been the traditional money spinner in MVAS. Today it accounts for as much as 60 per cent of the total VAS revenue (Information/ utility VAS accounts for roughly around 35 pc and mCommerce takes the rest of it). We had a good humored talk on the potential partnership areas (I was impressed when he said that he believed in partnerships, rather than a vendor – client relationship. Here is an individual who is true to his objective, I thought). From the operator perspective, Abhishek underlined two important aspects of a service: the service construct needs to be intelligent and simple, if complexity is to be involved - it ought to be at the back-end to render the service intuitive and easy for the end user. Secondly, the service should have the intrinsic value to gain traction quickly. He showed tremendous respect for new ideas and innovation (I think that was the common ground that made us comfortable discussing this and that)."An established operator can have anything between 1000 to 5000 services on its network and a plethora of VAS providers. So if you want someone to pay attention to your offering, it has to be special or at least, it should meet the basic parameters of a good service." We exchanged a few thoughts, agreed on a few issues, and agreed to disagree on others. 
Abhishek left me with a poser: “The operators have limited promotional bandwidth available, and it is literally impossible to promote 5000 services. So next time we sit down to discuss a service concept, you need to justify why should I divert the bandwidth to promote the service you have in view?” Well, that indeed is a very-2 pertinent question and Abhishek hits the core by putting it upfront. Well, buddy, thank you very much for your insight. I will just emphasize one thing: more than the technology and the mobile platform, we are in the business of ideas and innovation. And we work hard at it. So, the next time we get to touch base, the answer to creating a win-2 for all: the operator, the end user, and us, will be more than ready. Everyone's got to be a winner….:)…!! 

PS: Special thanks to my old friend, Balwinder Sawhney, Director, Trade Fairs, FICCI. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have got the opportunity to be a part of VAS ASIA. Thanks Balli, you rock…! 

(The names of individuals have been approximated to protect privacy. The views expressed here are my own and in no way represent any organization - business or non-business) 
(c) rajmachhan2010

Friday, July 16

VAS ASIA: A Ringside View

A few days back I happened to visit VAS Asia, a one-day exposition on Mobile VAS, organised at a prominent hotel located in the heart of the capital. It was an interesting event and it was my first time at a prominent VAS show (of course, during my stint with the Confederation of Indian Industry, I had been involved in organizing exhibitions much - 2 bigger, the Auto Expo for example. And I must say, putting up a good show is an exacting job and a logistical nightmare at times). Except for a few minor things here and there, VAS ASIA was a well organized event. 
I was at the event more as an observer, with no particular intent but to feel the pulse of the industry. And I came back with the impression that Mobile VAS is now moving at top speed. The competition is getting intense by the hour, businesses have big plans up their sleeve, the entry barriers both in terms of technology and capital is getting lower and lower, new players are rushing in, and those operating in niche areas are scaling up their businesses to offer the entire range of services across bearers and markets. 

MVAS is increasingly turning into an ideas game, and the writing is on the wall for all to see - organisations need, more than ever before, to adopt concepts like lateral thinking as their credo, perhaps take a leaf out of the work culture at companies such as Google (ranked as the world's best place to work, the company is a shining example of how best to empower your team to generate ideas). Businesses need to adopt and increase their spending on processes that are required to turn a company into an idea machine. And, above all, companies need to attract and empower people who have the ability to think out of the box (again the entrance texam administered by Google is a good example to test the ideation quotient of an individual). In short, VAS Asia was a direct reminder of the interesting times that lie ahead for each one of us who form a part of this very happening domain. 

I was particularly impressed by the kind of talent the the industry is now attracting. As I gallivanted around the exhibition, having a dekko at the stalls put up by different companies, trying to seek information about things that interested me, I noticed this smallish stall put up by a relatively obscure (I remembered having seen its website though) VAS company. Two things that made it stand out: despite its small size, it was very well done up - it smelled quality, and it had a bevy of company executives, all smartly turned out in a distinct uniform, and eager in their approach. The telecom correspeondent (I had been a Business and Telecom correspondent with The Financial Express and The Times of India before my decision to be a part of the domain that I had been writing about) in me got curious to know more about the company. But before I could utter a single sentence, I was accosted by this young lady, looking very pretty in her company dress, and with intelligence written all over face. And the way she went about telling me about the company was nothing short of remarkable. All my questions were answered instantly, and it was not just pretty talk - the replies had that depth of knowledge that comes from spending long hours doing your home work (though I had to tell her more than once to reduce the speed at which she was rolling off words) .

As it turned out, Ikshita Sahu, had recently passed out, summa cum laude, from IIM (K) and this was her first job. Ipsita says that MVAS is an in-thing on the IIM campuses, 'coz the graduates view it as the next big thing after the Web ( I can vouch for this, because I personally have answered queries from at least five IIM students doing research work in this field). Her mind was buzzing with ideas and she knew what was happening where (for example, I just had to tell her my name and to my surprise she told me what I was doing in my organization!). And she had one idea too many. I came back impressed from this meeting. And I was happy to note is the fact that MVAS is attracting such talent. Great going Ikshita, the industry is richer with people like you...and more of your kind...

(The names of people have been approximated to protect privacy. We will continue with the topic in my next post).

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