Author Archive for Shashank

Why Not A Political Startup

Given the mess that our political system is in, I wonder why professionals have not seriously looked at creating a political startup. Present service providers have been providing low quality services for decades in what really should be a buyers’ market given that we are a democratic country. People have been crying for a better deal but those who can make a difference seem to be indifferent.

The present political parties are beset with the following problems which in turn have resulted in a loss making entity called India.

1. Corruption at the highest levels of governement and the bureaucracy
2. Short sighted decisions based on electoral concerns
3. Putting self (i.e. power) before national interest
4. Nexus with criminals and businessmen
5. Low level of education

These are all surmountable if the political party consists of highly motivated professionals who run the show (and the country) like any well managed company which treats the shareholders (citizens in this case) with respect.

The founders will require a transformational mindset.

The opportunity is huge and so is the required investment. Are there any VCs/Angels willing to invest in a political party startup which will function like any professionally managed company and provide a clean and effective government?

I would love to be part of such a startup. We owe to ourselves if not to the country. If anyone in this community of entrepreneurs is interested do let me know.

Is Manufacturing the future of Banking?

The Banking world is undergoing and major shift in the way banks have to function and compete in an evironment where the regulators keep coming up with new demands on making the system more transparent not just for the supervisors but also for the customers of the banks.

This is a big challenge for an industry which is still using systems which are on mainframes with cobol based applications. The situation is further aggravated by issues related to years of unplanned application development and customer data duplication across platforms like unix, mainframe, web based apps etc.

So, does the bank really know its customer when the customer’s information is spread across 30 places and one end does not know the existence of the other. Provisions of the Patriot Act, SOX, GLBA, Basel II demand that banks are able to trace their transactions and protect customers’ privacy.

Given the above scenario, banks have started scrutinizing their existing systems and processes and the role of IT as a business enabler. Many are questioning whether IT should be a strategic investment or just a commoditized service. Why should a bank spend millions on keeping a huge set of applications, people and infrastructure which is inflexible and cannot respond to changing regulatory and competitive pressures? Several banks (esp. in Europe) are coming to the conclusion that it is best to use Software as a Service (SaaS) or a customized of the shelf (COTS) product which is owned and maintained by the service provider; the bank just uses and pays for it as a service. The infrastructure will be provided by an infrastructure provider again as a service.

This is a scenario for which most small and midsize IT service companies are neither prepared nor capable of handling. Typically, the customer will expect an IP driven vendor who will then collaborate with other vendors to provide a solution quickly and without years of customization effort. The service provider should be able to scale up or down the service or capacity on demand. The service provider should also be able to take over people of the bank on their rolls; the customer wants the vendor to have a skin in the game.

The results are visible. Banks are increasing coming out with very large (billion $) deals which they want to outsource to a select group of vendors. Smaller players like Patni, NTL are getting elbowed out by large players like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, Accenture and IBM because the annual deal size itself is sometimes more than the revenue of the smaller company!

Companies who invested in building products and IP have an edge. Even if they are small, they can become suppliers of ‘process components’ which will be then used to provide the complete service. The companies in real danger are those who are pure service providers. I foresee a scenario in which there will be three tiers in ths Banking supply chain.

Tier 1: The Banks (customer)
Tier 2: Manufactures – Large service, solutions providers providing end-to-end solutions to customers
Tier 3: Ancilliaries – Services companies that provide components/services to the manufactures

One analogy that comes to my mind is the automobile industry where companies like Ford and Suzuki make complete cars for the customers but outsource a number of components to suppliers who make components as per their specifications. Then there are those suppliers who make generic components for a range of automobiles (e.g. tyres). For example the customer knows that the tyres in his car are not made by Ford but he does not care as along as the product is good. These generic suppliers are in themselves very large and profitable, but they cannot survive on their own because their products depend on the final product i.e. the car.

I believe that this is a likely scenario in the Banking industry as well. So, the key to survival for the smaller companies and even start ups in this industry would be to build IP or become specialized in certain services which they can offer to the bigger IT companies (“the manufacturers”) instead of directly offering to the end customers (the Banks).

eLearning for all

Create an eLearning system where ANYONE can learn the way they want to learn. For example, if I am comfortable learning with the help of a person, I click on a subject and poof! appears a window with a live person web-camming with you. It is an interactive session on-demand, when you need it, in the language of your choice.

Or, imagine that I am reading a book and need some clarification on a concept. I go to the website and either chat or have an audio or video call with the person who can help. I will be able to search for the availability of such a person on the site. When I search, I can specify the topic, language etc. so that the search will throw up the available persons. I could even look for people who have read the book or professors and teachers who teach using that book.

I can of course learn about these topics on the self learning module and at any time of the learning ask a live person for clarifications, as if I am one-on-one with a private tutor who is available 24×7.

While reading an article on the system, I might get tired and just want to hear the rest of the stuff. Can I do it? Yes of course. I just click the point till which I have read and an audio starts from that point.

The system is a also a wiki; so whenever people learn about new concepts in their own way, they can add to the learning system. So, you have a wiki-banking, wiki-maths, wiki-physics and so on. Naturally, I believe in the goodness of people and that they will not post useless or malicious content. In case they do, then there will be bots who will identify the garbage and throw it out.

I can also broadcast my query to all the members of the learning system and people would respond at their convenience. I would then find the best answer and add to the wiki so that others can benefit. People could also respond by posting audio/videos.

Is this idea possible to execute or just too impractical? Is there a real need for such a system? How can we create a huge community of subject matter experts on just about any subject from nuclear engineering to philosophy. It will obviously require a lot of storage and capability to deliver large amount of data in an efficient manner.

Any thoughts….?