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Smartphones / Apps : How Far Is Far Enough?

Published October 7, 2017 by vishalvkale

A stunning news on a news daily, relating to an App Interface of a very popular service brand, caught my attention : Uber may have been secretly recording your iPhone screen, even when the app is closed. Will Strafach, a New York-based security researcher, discovered that the taxi hailing app had received a special permission from Apple to access the screen-recording feature. The company, however, rejected the security breach fears, stating the code was installed to improve the experience on Apple Watch version of the app.
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Now this is frankly stupidity on a colossal scale; accessing a user’s screen even when the app is closed … where are we going as an industry? By what stretch of imagination, strategy, morality or intelligence is this an advance? How far are we going to allow apps, internet and computers into our lives? This has now lead me to question the entire Smartphone aspect : I think there is a need for users to take their personal lives off the Smartphone. This has happened on Apple; how long before someone does it for Android? And it is already being done? We have no way of knowing! We, the Telecom, Smartphone, App industry have gone half a dozen steps too far. Calling for introspection!
THE EXTENT OF INTRUSION
It isn’t a question of the specific platform as much as it is a question of the extent of intrusion technology has on our lives, and the potential of possible misuse. Now Apple iOS is a very different thing to Android; hence – I am not making any insinuation, or comparison, for one cannot be made. The point is the potential capability of an app to intrude into the most basic aspect of your lives – a smartphone is nowadays an extension of your personal space; intruding into it in such less-obvious ways is not acceptable, and fraught with risks associated with data hacking and privacy loss.
A QUESTION OF PRIVACY
Neither is it a question solely of this particular instance – as a simple google search will reveal, or a few days playing around in the app store for that matter. Even Credit Card information has been hacked more than a few times; thus, data security is one aspect of this. On the Desktop / Laptop versions, viruses have proven their intrusive capability; with their myriad types capable of cracking into the remotest part of your system, and accessing the most protected systems. We have our whole lives, right upto the Banking details, stored on our smartphones – which increases the risk profile of applications on smartphones manifold.


THIS IS A BUSINESS RISK
The key issue is “secretly” as the article reveals… meaning, as far as I can interpret, the users had no knowledge of this. And this is from a top and famous brand; which is deeply questionable on more parameters than I care to count. Further, keylogging – recording each keystroke – is eminently feasible; a smartphone is, after all, a software; and an app that can stay resident in memory and record everything secretly is old hat; such apps have been around for longer than I learnt to program! The vital issue is doing something on my device – note that, please – dear app developers and programmers, MY device, without my permission – how stupid, how amoral, how magnificently idiotic and how short-term is that?
The amorality is clear – you are giving yourself the ability to access the personal aspects of someone without his or her knowledge; the rest – stupidity, idiocy and short-termism is less apparent. In the modern world, how long before someone discovers what your app does? Evidence above! And what will the discovery of this do to your brand perception? How many users do you stand to lose? How can a responsible company dream of doing something on privacy without informing the customers? Doing anything along privacy issues is fraught with immense risk; and is not to be taken lightly. Sadly, this is a lesson we in the Smartphone trade have yet to fully absorb, it would seem.
HOW FAR IS FAR ENOUGH?

How far is far enough? How far do we go before we, the trade, start to question ourselves, start to ask ourselves where do we draw the line? We don’t need to go too far – just think on long term perspectives and analyse. If my trade is thinking people wont find out – that is not feasible in the long or mid run; people are bound to find out sooner or later. There are people outside companies who are equally good or better than your people, and will reveal, sooner or later. And then – you stand to lose. Remember that. And neither is this limited to just the app permission, or privacy, as my future articles will go into deeper – there is a dire need to improve the user experience, but more of that later. For now – let me close with one question – for how far is far enough?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

HT Article – Uber app can secretly record your iPhone screen, security researcher reveals

IMAGE CREDIT – Google Search

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Analysing The Telecom Tangle 1 – Systemic Risks

Published June 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

INTRODUCTION
The telecom sector has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons – rising stress, high debt, loss making or low profitability, mergers, job losses and lot… this sector is one of the high-points of the India Growth story. For this to happen in this showcase industry seems strange from the outside… the reality is, in my opinion, the exact reverse. The seeds of the stress were sown right at the beginning; all hints to this reality were ignored, and by everyone. I do not recall anyone pointing these, self included; though I did come close, to be honest. Yet, when I now look back with my experience garnered since then – there can be no doubt : the seeds of the problems were inherent in the model itself…
SYSTEMS & PROCESSES
It wasn’t, for the most part, deliberate; the decisions that were reached were all rational decisions made by rational people. They may not have been the right ones, as we know from hindsight, but they were decisions reached with a strategy in mind, as we shall see. Also bear in mind that this was a new trade, with no established learnings, norms, procedures, case studies. In essence we were creating them as we went along. And this was the first, most critical point – we went wrong, as we focused on the end-results – new customer acquisitions – in isolation; there should have been equal focus on establishing industry firsts, processes, learnings, sharing of good practices, deep analyses etc. None of this was done for the levels that mattered. The result is there for all to see!
SYSTEMIC ISSUES – TRAINING
The next error that happened was frankly, stupid in the extreme – I make no bones about it. It was simply inexcusable – and it was simply this : there was never any training imparted to new employees as they came into the company, beyond the perfunctory induction training & some technical training. This is fine for old established trades, with established learnings and processes, and in-built mechanisms at team level. This was a disastrous decision for a new trade with none of these. These first two factors taken together sowed the seeds for disaster, as we shall see how they connected years down the line to create hell.  As a matter of fact, in a brutal indictment of the Telecom & Handset Trades, these two trades stand as the only trades where I have not received extensive training on joining the company. s
WHY IDENTIFY SYSTEMIC ISSUES FIRST?
Yes- there were other problems, as we shall see. You could make the case that the major issue was the investments are not justified by the market or its size. There may be some truth to this; an analysis of this is, however, not on the menu for this article. That too will be attended to, in the fullness of time. Please bear with me, as the aspect of the quantum of investments into the industry is deep, has many parameters, and ramifications in addition to a massive scandal associated with it from our past. So, let us leave that aside for the moment. My point is to first of all identify the systemic risks in the model of business as it was practiced on the field. This is because systemic issues create insolvable long terms, and become critical only over a long period of time.
So what do you do, once you have invested in the business? For starters – you are stuck with that decision, and then it is upto you to make the best you can out of it. And this is where the second phase of problems started, and right at the beginning. Mobile Telephony was a new concept to India; and the implied assumption might have been that customers don’t need education. This was especially so in the period prior to internet on mobile. You were in a new market, in a new industry, selling a new product. And when Data happened – this fledgling problem became a full-scale crisis…
AT THE FIELD LEVEL
The focus should have been on developing the market, deepening it; opening new customer lines; new markets; investing in finding new usages and the market sizes of these new usages {think data here}; studying how it can be a game-changer. If any of this happened-  it certainly didn’t percolate to the field levels, and most certainly did not show up in the customer communications. There was little effort to educate the customer, to create the market. The emphasis was always on acquiring new customers. That is by itself a laudable objective; the problem was that this  was the only present objective. By the time the realization sunk in that merely acquiring new customers is useless if they don’t contribute to the bottom and top lines of your company, the rot had set in.  
By this time, unfortunately, the teams were accustomed to getting customers by any means at their disposal – leading to a Brain Drain from the trade as well, as Channel Partners as well as elite employees realized early on that this was wrong, and quit back to their original trades. This was to hurt, and hurt the trade very badly indeed in the time to come. The complete absence of checks and balances to check misuse, {including out-and-out unethical tactics & short sighted approaches to sales} and short term tactics, or profitability over the long term, meant these practices became systemic- giving rise to a fourth systemic risk in the practiced Business Model.
PROFITABLE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
There was never any genuine focus on profitable customer acquisition; this is something I did point out, and in my first few months in the trade, as I could not see the point of having a customer who purchased nothing! That said – I readily admit I did not foresee this getting to be an endemic serious and crippling issue in the trade. When the trade did wake up, the solution proffered was wrong; they started tracking calls, in the sense that sales targets were accepted basis first and second calls and so on. Will 2 or 3 or even 25 calls give you a profitable customer? Obviously not! The only answer should have been to move to revenue targets and per customer revenue, and all along down the line. This was never done, at least not till very late.
The core challenge in this trade is  the nature of the cash flow from Telecom service products, which is a service, and a recurrent revenue source. The employees had no idea of the accounting involved in such a different trade; being from product sales, wherein profitability calculations are far simpler. In this trade, a customer registers a profit only after regular usage of the service over a period of time. This should have been clear right from the start  till the last level of the organization – it wasn’t. I had to educate myself regarding the concept of profitability in such a scenario. The companies did not invest in training employees. It is only after studying the theory myself, including case studies {something laughed at by most salesguys} that I came to the realization of the risk of taking a strategy that did not cater to the risk imposed by the nature of the cash flows that emanated from the Business.
The result of this was a front, second and third line totally disconnected with profitability from operations. In a product sales scenario, so long as the pricing decisions have been & and are properly made, inventories planned out, and an intrinsic demand generated, profit is almost a certainly so long as demand continues to arise, and the scalability of the business attended to. However, this is not the case in Telecom Services, which is a recurrent revenue model, involving very different profit concepts. Unless the profitability is built into the strategies, the processes and the systems at field level – disaster is a foregone conclusion, at least at an industry-wide level.
The inability to ensure sufficient revenue per customer is a problem that has roots in this simple issue; it has, of course, since then grown into gigantic proportions, and with many other, more serious parameters now involved. We shall look at them in later parts of this Telecom Series. The key issue here is, had this been built into the DNA of the organization and the industry at the beginning itself, this would have been hard-coded into the entire company. Working with only  profitable customers would, could and should have been the buzzword for the trade. That it wasn’t the case is a Manifest Truth.
CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST PART
Yes, there are issues of marketing strategies involved – wherein you spread the net wide and then draw it in; was this strategy the best one feasible? Yes, in a fast-growth market, you need to grow in tandem with the Market- But that does not mean you incubate a series of deep systemic risks in your business model for too long, which is what happened! We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it clearly wasn’t the best way to go about it. The industry numbers tell the tale. A check was badly needed; had this check – that of profitable customers only – been there at the start, with a proper process and strategy behind it – in all likelihood, the situation would not have been as bad. For Business is always a matter of choices – and in this case, the choice apparently was between scale or profit. No one thought that it was feasible to develop a strategy of Building-Scale-With-Profit. And that was the biggest industry failure.

In the next parts – I shall go deeper into these systemic risks, and identify the way forward now for the trade, basis hard-core case studies from other industries I have since worked in, as well as my extensive reading of Business Literature from across the world. Stay connected! Furthermore, at no point do I deny the external factors that were to buffet this fledgling trade. My point is simply that the internal systemic risks made the entire system more susceptible to external environmental shocks…. 

JIO – An Analysis of Prospects and Challenges

Published January 15, 2017 by vishalvkale



JIO – An Analysis of Prospects and Challenges
A common refrain, question, discussion point among at least us Telecom Professionals {those outside Jio at least} centers around what it is doing, what it plans to do, what disruptive impact it will have on services as well as devices and whether it will achieve whatever objectives it has set out for itself. My humble submission here is one simple statement: the key question is not among the points being pondered above; the real question is whether it, or indeed we as a nation, can afford it to fail? Indeed, does Jio have a choice in the matter except do what it is doing?
Before we move into details, just look at the numbers involved: as per Telecomtalk & Economic Times articles dated January the 14th 2017, it has infused 1,71,000 Crore into this venture; another 30,000 Crore is being planned. That brings the investments to 2,01,000 Crore. Its current subscriber base is between 67-73 Million Customers as on date, and is expected to touch 100 Million subscribers as per the news articles above. That means Jio will have to rake in 600 Rupees per month per customer just to recoup this {what I think is} Capex assuming a payback period of 10 years for the same. This does not account for Opex and other expenditure, system ugdrades that will be needed in future…
But, increase this subscriber base to 100 Million, and the required ARPU rough estimate falls drastically to Rs. 434. At 150 Million, this falls even further to a much more realizable and realistic 289 Rupees, which is far nearer to what the current ARPUs are today. Thus, it doesn’t have a choice… and neither do we.
WELCOME COMPETITION
Rather than worry about the disruption – and there has been, & will continue to be, disruption – let us welcome it. It is a harbinger of better services to the customers. Yes – for the industry and the employees, it does mean a very challenging and yet rewarding time; yes – it does involve, pain in the short term, perhaps medium term for the employees into this industry as well as for some companies. But for the customer, the future is exceedingly bright, as this disruption and ensuing competition will not just depress prices {sadly}, but also, hopefully, unlock innovation and development of
DISRUPTION
Disruption is not always bad, though it is always and nearly without exception, painful. It forces industries to introspect, set things in order, cut the wastage and the incorrect steps, and move forward. Added to this is the impetus it gives on giving a better end-customer experience. Let us take the Jio example. I have not used Jio services, but have used others, and on 3 handsets. The experience is very revealing, if you consider from a customer usage experience
I have tested the 4G as well as 3G speeds for the past 2 odd years nearly half-a-dozen cities in Western India as well as on journeys. The average 4G speed I register is around 5mbps, and highest I have ever experienced is 14mbps {once only} and the lowest 4mbps. Now these speeds are 3G speeds or 3.75G speeds; 4G experience should be at least 7-8mbps, ideally or optimally above 10mbps for a superb 4G experience, perhaps higher. Let us not get too specific or technical here.
IMPACT
Now the entry of Jio will cause, or rather force the competitors to invest in upgrading their networks in order that the customer gets a superior experience; they need to do this – as indeed they already are beginning to do. This is the first positive impact of competition induced disruption. Second, it will expose customers to a superior service along with all its advantages, unlock greater uses and scope of usage, open up new usage avenues that the greater speeds will bring,. It will also further develop other nascent markets – like the online video and content space, as an excellent example. As market size increases – as seen above – prices crash, further creating new market space…
ONWARD HO!
This brings us to the core ground reality+: currently, 4G phones are available starting around 4K; how many customers can afford that range, given our per capita income? How do you pull in new customers? You have to give a value offering; thus – the focus on a 4G experience at cheaper rates of devices. This will open new markets, as well as improve viability for Jio.
THE COMPETITION
In one word – it has no choice either. Both in services and in devices, there is a felt need for new innovative thinking in terms of a variety of areas. Companies, though currently hamstrung due to earnings issues, will need to find the space and the capital to innovate and improve their offerings. Fact of the matter is neither wing of this industry is making bushels of money – services or devices. And I order to maximize stakeholder values, they need to solve this conundrum – Jio or no Jio… namely, how to get more customers into the 4G fold….

    


Understanding The Smartphone, And The Market

Published September 26, 2016 by vishalvkale

UNDERSTANDING THE SMARTPHONE MARKET
The market for Smartphones in India is one of the most talked-about in pink papers as well as white sheets alike, with regular articles on top and budget smartphones making headlines all too often; yet, paradoxically, it is the least understood outside the trade, i.e. those of us who are actually in the handset trade. For the pink sheets and white sheets, it is the Apples and the premium phones that matter, or the budget smartphones with a range of online as well as offline offerings being highlighted.
This is a very simplistic look at one of the most complex markets in my experience, which spans telecom services, data, insurance, FMCG/D  – for a number of reasons, some known and some unlisted insofar as my reading goes. The pace of technology development is one of the well-understood reasons; as is the pricing factor. These are just of the factors that make this market such  a fascinating yet complex study. The speed of change means products change every few months; the attendant pricing pressure changes the market dynamics every so often – all this is well understood. Here I attempt to look at some of the nuances not covered in the most articles on this subject.
WHAT IS A SMARTPHONE?
The smartphone is not just a touchscreen, or a multimedia device; it isn’t a music player with hi-fi; it isn’t a vivid display; and it isn’t an internet access device; it is all  that and much more; this understanding is absolutely critical. And yet, paradoxically, in the Indian context, it is also true that the smartphone in some segments is just that : a touchscreen device, with an attractive interface. India is a market in which feature phones still sell, where smartphone adoption is still on the upswing; this creates two clear markets, which are as alike as Refrigerators and Chwayanprash; we are talking of two completely different markets in just about every marketing parameter you can care to define.
A proper understanding of the smartphone requires viewing as the sum of its parts, and as a solution; a service, not as a product. By itself, it is almost useless.It requires a sim card and an operator connection with Data for its power to be unlocked. And that is why it is absolutely critical to approach this market as a service rather than a product in order to realize its full potential both for consumers as well as for handset manufacturers. The screen you see is a window into a land of infinite options and opportunities, of facilities and methods and of solutions; understanding firstly the need of consumers in various segments, and secondly the capabilities and their combinations is the need of the hour!
Before we move into India-specific analyses, let us try and understand what I mean when I say solution. The smartphone device is a complete package, a combination of the hardware and the software.Amoled displays or Octa-Core processing power by itself is valueless, unless it has the software present to utilize these facilities. And that will be the future of the market; the ultimate winners will be the ones who will place a product solution that meets the consumer’s requirements along these parameters.
The first point of contact for the consumer is the UI – the User Interface; the second is the App Store. The entire layman user experience is around these two only. This being a nascent market, currently there is a lot of fuzziness and experimentation at both company and consumer level; this is par for the course. But, over time, the consumer is bound to settle into a defined choice range in what he or she likes or prefers; at that point, solutions with a better integration and seamless performance of the desired functions are going to be the winners in this race; which is partly why you see companies now beginning to develop their own UIs in their solutions.
These functions can be a vivid display at the software levels – colourful themes & wallpapers, or on-board office capabilities, good music output in terms of clarity and loudness both; the internet experience; overall device performance in terms of heating, durability; integrated apps within the UI like office or Amazon; Guides like maps etc – these uses will increase with increasing requirements and further inroads of the internet. Note that I don’t highlight battery – with increasing computing power, battery is always going to be a tremendous challenge for everyone in this market
I highlight App integration because a well-integrated on-board app will perform better and give a much smoother consumer experience than one that is not native to the device or the solution – think Apple here. This is going to be the battlefield of the future – and once demand further develops and crystallizes into clearly defined segments, this is going to be the be-all and end-all of this market, just as any in any other computing device. An internet resource from more developed markets highlights that 84% of users pitch for a better mobile App performance. { http://www.ymedialabs.com/hybrid-vs-native-mobile-apps-the-answer-is-clear/}
For the Android Ecosystem, it means developing a UI, or indeed an entire OS that is Android based, gives the look and feel of an Android, as well as its features, but is developed internally – this leads to a much superior user experience, which even has the capability of changing demand parameters. The longer term winners will be the companies that can craft an integrated experience based around Apps well integrated with the underlying hardware. But that is bound to take time in the Indian market, which is a different ballgame altogether, being comprised of the two segments I refer to above. In simplified choice, it means integrated the most popular Apps on-board the device, developing a unique selling proposition based not on hardware, but on a solution… while not hindering consumer choice in terms of downloading Apps from the net or the Play Store…
THE CONSUMER IN INDIA
India is a land of wide disparities and low income; this needs to be underscored – for from this arises the learning that there is scope for both segments I refer to above in the Indian Market, but more of that later. With reference to a smartphone, the market in India is nascent, with the fascination for a vivid colourful window into technology in the form of the screen, the experience of internet and its power as another factor, and niche groups like music aficionados. Another factor that needs consideration is that not all consumers give importance to all capabilities, leading to vast unutilized features as well as a fuzzy positioning scenario, which I shall look at a little later. The learning from this is that this is a developing market, with generic demand as of now, which has yet to crystallize further
These two markets, in my terminology, are a need-cum-pricing-based segmentation, basis long experience of watching retailers sell to consumers across various geographies in West India.  These segments are the Computing Power segment / Power-User Segment; and the Basic Usage Segment. I have deliberately avoided replacement market, or any other parameters for a reason : and that reason is the product itself. The Smartphone is essentially a solution, as observed  above, or a service; not a product unto itself. It requires another product : Data Connection to become a usable item for the most part. Hence, we need to segment along usage at the primary level, as shall become apparent in my article.
While the Power Users are beginning to become more discerning, the Economy segment is still way behind in the learning curve due to low income as well as undeveloped demand. I say undeveloped as the requirement for the more esoteric as well as advanced apps has yet to gain a defining momentum due to demographic factors, a full study of which is beyond the scope of a blog article. For the Economy segment, the defining pleasure is still at a nascent and beginners level – although some sub-segments within the Economy Segment are beginning to show the demand nature of the Power segment, but are hampered by income  challenges.

Within each primary segment, you can have a series of segments as per your purposes – replacement market, processing power, sound/audio, battery, pricing and so on and so forth. But at the core level, the profile of the consumers in these two segments are completely different. Sure, there will be some overlapping, as in consumers having one handset from both segments, but even that underscores the segmentation – power usage device for power and data intensive usage, and basic device for basic usage, though that is frankly a rarity. But, in the Indian context – the Economy Market is still paramount in terms of volumes as well as potential, as more and more people upgrade… but that poses challenges on a different scale to the companies-  something we shall look at in the second part…  

Book Review : The Indian Media Business {3rd Ed.}

Published May 9, 2015 by vishalvkale


BOOK REVIEW : THE INDIAN MEDIA BUSINESS

BY : VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR






Image result for the indian media business vanita kohli 3rd edition


ABOUT THE AUTHOR : 
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and writer. She has been tracking the Indian media and entertainment business for over a decade. Currently she is a columnist and writer for Business Standard and Mid-Day. Her earlier stints include one at Businessworld and Ernst & Young. A Cambridge University fellow (2000), Vanita teaches at some of the top communication schools in India.
THE BOOK
The book is, in simple terms, a reference book on the entire Media Landscape of India; at the same time, it is also a book that teaches you the basics of the game, and then proceeds to take you into the inner working and nut&bolts of this industry and all its constituent sectors. It traces the development of each sector right from its beginnings, right from the start, and develops right upto the present time. It furthermore  also covers regulatory and legal aspects of the business, making it a one-step guide to this industry, and a must read for anyone even remotely connected with Indian Business in any function; more so for Sales and Marketing Professionals, for whom this should be required reading. 
It devotes one chapter on each sector of the Media Business – Print, Television, Film, Music, Radio, Telecommunications, Internet, Out-of-Home, and Events. Within these chapters, the book uses a standard layout for all chapters: introducing the industry, a brief but powerfully hitting strategic summary, then tracing the entire industry from its origins to the modern day {till 2009, when the book was penned}; as well as its operational realities & how the business works, topping it off with a reasonably thorough look at the regulatory history as well as current landscape of each sector. After this data supported {extensively data supported, may I add} portion, we are treated to Case Studies from India and the World, which are very relevant and pertinent. All in all, a complete reference guide for the Indian Media Business!
THE REVIEW
First of all, the content is a bit dated – there is an updated version now available, which is recommended for purchase.  {I shall be reviewing that as well on my website}. But that apart, there is almost nothing that is bad, or even debatable, or even far-fetched. This is a superb book that is factual, data supported and full of  pertinent information for the interested reader.
1.  Print Media : “The Indian Print Business Is In The Best Years Of Its Evolution” The book starts with the Print Media, and packs a surprise right on the first page for the uninitiated – India is one of the fastest growing newspaper markets in the world. I liked 2 things in this chapter : one, content quality and corruption / issues and challenges – which she has taken head-on in no uncertain terms; and the other the short and succinct analysis of why Print is not likely to fade in India
2.   Television : “The Market Will Remain About Broadcasting For Very Long” This is a rather detailed chapter, which could have been better, in my opinion – but the author was constrained by having to cover all points as per the chapter layout planned for each sector. My main take-away – the rise of the Regional Channels in the industry, as well as the advertising section. The rise of regional channels leaves you wanting to know more, which is only a tantalizing glimpse in the book!
3.  Films : “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be In The Movie Business” Most of us know zilch about this sector and how it operates. Well, you’ve got the right book for understanding this segment; the piece de resistance of the book for me – along with the Out-Of-Home segment. Here again we run into the rise of the regional cinema, in a short tantalizing look; confirming that there is a case for the Author to devote more space to the regional language media, whose rise does feature, but gets drowned in the other stuff. That apart, this chapter offers a complete understanding of the business of Movies from content to distribution, attendant risks, challenges and issues – which will not be found anywhere else as far as I am aware.
4.  Music : “The Music Industry Is Finally Enjoying The Growth Possibilities Created By New Media” This is the one single chapter I look forward to reading in the new edition… that should sum it up. No further comments here!
5.  Radio :  “The Radio Business Needs To Move On To The Next Stage” The second take-away from the book; the unsung Medium in the Indian Media story, which is normally dominated by Television and Print in the Media. This chapter has the Author in her element, as she goes about tracing the challenges and pluses, which are reasonably well covered. Again, in the opening strategy section, we get a glimpse of deep insight as the author notes with pain the absence of true localization in the content – leaving the reader with a sigh of dissatisfaction, at the prospect of having a more analytical look into this Medium… let us see if the next edition is upto the mark in this
6.  Telecommunications : “Telecom’s Ability To Master The Media Business Will Depend On Its Flexibility” So much has changed, that it would be futile to go into this here. Suffice it to say that the chapter gives you a hold on this industry {unfortunately my industry L }, its basics and its history. And yes, its regulatory mess.
7.  The Internet : “The Coming Years Will Be Tough For The Internet As A Medium” Written in 2009, current 2015, look above in point no 6. Repeat most part here. Enough said; will look in the review of the current edition!
8.  Out Of Home : “The Similarities Between Out Of Home and Cable TV Are Startling” This is the chapter, this is the sole reason you should read the book… the least understood and most brutal area of Media. And one of the most ubiquitous in terms of customer interaction points. The chapter takes you deep into this business, into its growth, its unregulated and fragmented mess, its potential as well as engaging case studies of how a growing economy of the 90s onwards created both a mess as well as space and opportunities.  
9.  Events : “Everything is an Event” – again, an updated edition is sure to have more masala as events have now grown quite a bit into various streams and industries, so passing up any comment here. Repeat points 5 and 6 here, in short – understand the basics of the business!
SUMMARY
In short, I can say truthfully that this is a primer book; one that gives the reader a thorough and painstaking look at the constituent factors and operational realities, challenges, regulations and history of each Media segment. The sad part is that it could have done all that, and gone into greater detail on some strategic aspects, which I shall cover after reading the updated edition – perhaps they will find justice in the new edition! All in all, a vital and important contribution to the literature on Indian Media!

The Screen As A Strategy : Understanding The Internet

Published April 29, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed the previous article {found here : Understanding The Internet : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems} with a statement that few organizations truly understand how to use the 5-21” space of the screen;  this article looks at this aspect in a little more detail. A great many companies use the customer-facing aspects of the internet as merely another tool to communicate and connect, completely ignoring the full power of the internet ecosystem.
The Screen, first of all, is mistakenly defined as just a mere device that displays, or acts as a window, disseminating information to your prospects and customers, and the general audience. The screen is more of a doorway, a portal that transports – or has the ability to – transport your customer into a world of constantly interacting stakeholders in your product, your company and your addressable market segment. If that doesn’t scare you as a Brand Manager, as a Marketer, and as a Sales Professional, high time it did.
Before the internet ecosystem evolved, the touchpoints a customer had for interfacing with your products were limited – The Shop, Company Offices, Other Customers who were limited to those who were met personally, Media, Competitors and a few more. But cut to today and that has undergone a sea-change, with the potential ability of the customer connect having increased to almost infinity, with the feasibility of getting exposed to and influenced by a much larger array of touchpoints, viewpoints, opinions – as well as both positive and negative customer feedback and experiences
It stands to reason that in the changed environment of freer flow of information & increased touchpoints, the customer communication has to change from a one-sided monologue to more of an engagement with the customer. The reason is straightforward – a greater number of touchpoints mean larger information volume and interactions, contrarian opinions, noise and greater scope for replaceable products to engage with prospective customers, as well as greater potential of the medium to enhance audience experiences.
Thus far, we are on established management jargon, which is spouted by a good number of companies. Only a select few organizations manage to actually convert the monologue with an active engagement; very very few, in fact. For, a large majority of the sites I visit, at least in India, still adhere to the old style of communication; little effort is made to enhance the customer experience, and make it more rewarding and meaningful. In some cases, the customer experience is actually negative in many ways. The reason this is not showing in sales is either due to the price differential; products are cheaper on the Ecommerce sites, or due to other attendant disadvantages.
Let me illustrate with 2 examples : one B2C and one B2B. The internet is so vast, that it is not feasible for me to cover more in a blog post; neither is it advisable. In B2C, let us take books. Why does a customer buy a book online? There are two reasons : Price, and Convenience, which has lead to galloping sales at online book stores. But halt a moment, and analyse in depth. And, instead of asking what does the internet give you, ask what does a book stall give you? Reverse your viewpoint for a minute!
In a book store, you can get a feel of the book, you can flip its pages – which is pretty damned important if you are reading a new author, or a serious topic; you can easily compare similar books or two options on the same subject. Furthermore, you can far more easily spot new books; the interface is much bigger than a small screen; in a store, you are exposed to 4 walls crammed with books, which  make for easy discovery.
To compete with this, you have the price-offs and the convenience factor of the small screen; till date there has been on attempt at going beyond this. Reviews do not count in the age of the convergence of technology; it is simple enough a task to look a book’s reviews on your smartphone and purchase offline! The offline stores are also now becoming more nimble, willingly offering discounts to regular customers, and other small facilities, like getting selected books for them. They are now allowing customers to sit on sofas in comfort, and browse books to their heart’s content – in other words, they have added several value-additions to the customer interface, making for a much more rewarding experience
And that is where the digital players are not doing anything : trying to make the customer interface more rewarding. Sure, this will be expensive, time-consuming and demanding; but it will have to be done sooner or later. Currently, you are not facing the pain as the market is untapped, and there is a scorching growth pace, that is hiding the underbelly. All are advised to study Telecom, and how its ARPU fell, and draw parallels and extrapolate to the future, with penetration at higher levels. That is a reality every industry has to face.
In our example, a moments’ thought and you can spot any number of ways that the customer experience can be made more rewarding. You can facilitate browsing titles – and the usage of technology can ensure that the browsing experience in online stores will be leagues ahead of the offline experience, as you can offer targeted searches in the book’s content. Author-searches, cross-selling opportunities, specific searches of interest – all of which can make the customer experience exceptionally powerful.
You cannot match the dexterity and ease of new book discovery in offline stores; but you can work around this issue by offering other advantages. You can offer first 1o pages downloads free, as an example. You can look at facilitating direct interactions with the author, fan pages, discussion forums; you can facilitate book searches and book discovery in a much wider database, and can give options for time of delivery if book not in stock {beyond the current We Will Get In Touch When In Stock} and so on and so forth.
All this can be achieved at the touch of a button for the customer, which cannot be matched by the offline store. The current model of price-driven sales online is already driving a deep schism into offline models, leading to a massive backlash by offline models, who are competing with extraordinary tenacity and dexterity, and are in the process not only maintaining relevance, but actually winning back lost ground.
And all because the online people aren’t using the full power of the medium; and that is because the pain isn’t showing in the numbers, as the high growth rate is ensuring the new customers are greater than Churn. As I said, learn from Telecom : there will come a time when Churn will exceed new customers. And no one can say how far away that time is, given the stunningly scorching growth rates in this industry.
In the next article, I shall take a look at the B2B marketplace, as well as some interesting entirely avoidable mistakes made by the best of them in this trade in both the B2B and B2C Space. 

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems

Published April 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems



At first glance, the title – understanding the internet – seems an anachronism, something out of place in the modern world, where the internet is ubiquitous, at least among the educated classes; and is rising fast in the rest of the people. You only have to look around to see people using the internet, gaining from it, and being completely comfortable with this medium.

And yet, that is precisely what my contention is : that this medium is actually the least understood, and in just about everything. The potential of this medium is being felt in just about every human endeavour, and as I have observed before, its raw power to reach into the gut of existing models is only just being felt across industries. What is this raw power I am referring to? And why is it the least understood medium?

The average person comes across individual levels or layers of the internet at various times; this interaction is in two distinct areas in terms of purpose of usage : Personal, & Business / Professional. On a personal level, we come across Facebook and Twitter, News Apps, Online Shopping portals, and many more sites targeted at the individual; traditional classification extends to such terms as Social Media, News Portals, and so on and so forth. But, on a professional level, depending upon our profession, we similarly interact with many sites and types of portals like dedicated B2B or B2E portals and other sites – which include the above listed personal sites!

If the above sounds confused or disorienting, let me clarify : my point, simply put, is that we need to reverse our outlook; when we think of the internet, all of us think of it from the lens our personal interaction on the internet, even when looking at the professional aspects. We always think of how the internet has reduced distances, made price discovery easier, information dissemination faster and borderless, made customer contact easier and so on – in other words, looking at it Point-To-Point, individually or lacking a systems perspective

The internet is all that, and much much more. We need to turn it around 180 degrees, and look at it from a business perspective, from a strategic perspective and a systems perspective to understand the raw power, as well as appreciate how little we understand this medium, or just how wrong we have been. This has profound implications for all businesses, as we shall see.

Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems
Let us start at a very basic level – the simple point-to-point interaction. Consider pricing – in any market, it is now common for a customer to compare prices with the internet; it is equally common for a customer to compare prices across geographies. This applies to retailers and distributors as well; meaning, quite simply, that price differentials within the same market will go the way of the typewriter. What all team managers, especially senior managers, tend to forget is that this also applies to your teams, which is now stunningly well connected internally.
It has always been a simple sales tactic, that of differential pricing, which in an earlier era, was nearly undetectable, given the low interconnectivity between the constituent customer profiles and the channel partners / retail / Your own team members. This at times unhealthy practice gave results while harming the system and leading to a leak of corporate money, and harm to many a top performer and talent, as needless discounts are given;  in the current era of Facebook + LinkedIn + Whatsapp + Email + Mobile Telephones, this is just not tenable, as people are way too interconnected at each level of the business ecosystem – making for easy discovery of the stated underhanded tactics.
The combination of just these 5 – Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Email and Mobile is hard to beat. You can share information over the mobile – back it up with proof of pricing by the simple expedient of a mail or a Whatsapp photograph, or look and compare online and offline prices with ease, given the penetration of the Mobile Internet. Convergence of technologies at its very, very best.
From a systems perspective, this means that the old tactic of having differential prices for varied distributors and geographies is now a much more challenging task, given the convergence of technologies and gadgets, and ease of connection. It has meant unhindered flow of information across and within markets, ensuring that the price differential gets easily exposed. This is driven by the entire interconnected ecosystem, as employees and the channel connect with each other with ease over various media; customer openly voice opinion on the internet etc.  
What most companies further do not understand is this : there is an increasing push-back from the retail end of the business as well as from teams, who are now converging into interest groups and power fora, and getting together to force companies and managers to alter their short-term tactics of differential pricing within the same channel as well as across channels. This is a direct result of the free flow of information wrought by the internet, the mobile and the entire information ecosystem.
And that is what I meant by stating reversing from an outward looking perspective of how the internet is changing the business environment and making life easier for businesses. That way is a strictly personal look – you are essentially analyzing the advantage you have as a professional. What needs to be done is analyse the entire impact from a systems perspective, from the perspective of not the Manager, but the entire business. In other words – get into the shoes of the Business, not the shoes of the person managing the business.
And that is the most critical learning, and the real power – we aren’t talking about just the internet, we shouldn’t be thinking about just the internet, but rather the entire ecosystem – The Internet, The Computer System, The Mobile, The Falling Cost of Access, The Fast Rising Usage. We should further be looking at it holistically, and from a dispassionate analytical perspective, and changing the operating style as the market changes all around you.
In simple terms, the entire basis of business, the entire basis of doing business on the ground is changing fast, driven by a vastly changed ecosystem. And managements just aren’t in sync with this simple reality. What has happened is, quite simply, the entire bedrock on which internal systems are based has vanished almost overnight, contributing to an exponential rise in pressure on employees, managers, systems and organizations alike, as they failed to change with the times…
There are many other parameters – like the impact on the simple things  – like telling the truth, or stretching the truth; and how the internet ecosystem is setting about revealing the truth and making lying impossible for organizations; or the simple fact that even some of the most tech-savvy organizations don’t understand the 14-21” screen, and how it is to be used for maximum impact, or indeed how to strategically use it… which is the subject of the next article in the Digital Series, of which this is the third…