Brick & mortar won’t be dead by 2023

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Extreme comments or views are often a huge hit or miss.

And Niti Aayog’s Mr. Kant’s futuristic sounding comment about how brick and mortar businesses in India will be dead by 2023 was a huge miss, in fact to the point of sounding immature.

Coming from a school or college student in a metro, that would have been ok, given our views are often influenced or limited by what we do and see in our immediate surroundings. And the recent explosion in the number of apps and online services would certainly give a lot of people the impression that that’s how the future will be. But not so fast.

The US has been several years, if not decades ahead of us in terms of some industries and technologies as well as innovative business models and businesses themselves.

As of December 2015 in the US, ecommerce retail formed a tiny 8.6% of total retail. The rest of it happens offline! So ~100% of businesses or only retail ones moving online by 2023 seems like a fantasy.

There are some significant differences between the Americans and us. To start with, they’re one-fourth of our population, living on a land that’s three times the size of India!! Years ago, one could have argued that that itself should’ve led to a majority of businesses serving customers online, to cut the long distances customers need to travel to buy even the basics for home. But that’s exactly the opposite of how things are happening there, as we speak. Though no doubt, technology has played a critical role in simplifying business for them, given the relatively lower manpower levels as compared to us.

Now let’s look at it from a physical store or service point of view.

In the states, a college girl working part-time can single-handedly manage a standard sized clothes store without breaking a sweat. Running between the cash counter, answering customer queries in the clothes section, to checking if the customer trying something in the trial room needs anything. Technology, be it tablets to order faster, or pager-type devices alerting you at your table that your meal is ready to be picked up at the counter, all make it for a more logical way to operate, given the light manpower models and limited manpower. Indians on the other hand, while in many ways far more capable, but perhaps given our sheer numbers, affordable manpower, efforts to reduce unemployment, etc., often find ourselves hiring more people than we need.

Driving across some of those bridges to New York, you either use an E-Z Pass device, or through coins into an automated basket at an unmanned toll crossing. Every time I drive by the Bandra-Worli sea-link in Bombay, there are around three people at every toll lane, one taking the money you hand them, the other inside the booth printing out your pass/receipt, and the third handing it to you.

A few years ago, heading a regional arm of a robotic solutions company, I remember speaking to an industry colleague of mine who worked for a mid-sized auto ancillary company. I was exploring the possibility of having a part of his company plant automated. He stopped me mid-sentence, and in no uncertain terms told me that they don’t need robots. He said, “we’ve had about 2 crores worth of robots gathering dust for over 2 years now, because our plant workers won’t allow it on the production line.” And for a progressive, carefully-run, mid-sized company to have ignored a sizable investment like that; doesn’t the idea of most companies being completely online in seven years sound like a pipe dream.

One of the youngest from the online era, Amazon, wouldn’t be opening physical stores now, if they already were one of the first people to sell online.

We in India are nearly the largest, and almost the youngest population in the world, and our country has never looked more promising from a technology, innovation and progress point of view. But I don’t see anything of the sort Mr. Kant mentioned in his comments happening ever. And it perhaps doesn’t have anything to do with technology either.

It’s probably our inherent need for human interactions, that will never make brick and mortar businesses go out of demand.

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Websites: www.ateamstrategy.in & www.thinkateam.in

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A Rural Electric Ride

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Hemalatha-Annamalai- Ampere Vehicles

While a lot of us are busy in our world of self-indulgence, it’s reassuring to know there are Indians like Ratan Tata, who’d go the distance with regard to businesses that positively impact to one or more segments of the population.

I’m speaking about the Nano in particular here, the world’s cheapest car that was inspired by the concern Mr. Tata had for a number of Indian families that traveled with their spouse and children on two-wheelers, and the risk that posed to their safety.

Now I’ve written a few posts mentioning the Nano, though I don’t think I’ve written enough about that business and engineering marvel.

Anyway, here’s a relatively unheard of company in the field of ‘affordable’ AND ‘electric’ cycles, scooters & load carriers from India.

Hemalatha Annamalai of Coimbatore, the founder of Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd., has been making affordable electric vehicles since 2008, and she even has a focus on rural transportation. She is backed by Kris Gopalakrishnan, one of the co-founders of Infosys, and the original king of low-cost vehicles in India, Mr. Ratan Tata himself.

May there be more entrepreneurs like her.

Read more about her and her vehicles here: link

Stay in touch with Shrutin:

Connect with me on Twitter: @ShrutinShetty LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shrutinshetty

Websites: www.ateamstrategy.in & www.thinkateam.in

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A Love Song for India

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I tried thinking of a love song for India, and couldn’t find one more appropriate than this. ABBA‘s ‘Lay all your love on me’. These four lines seem to be a perfect message from our country, to us citizens.

“Don’t go wasting your emotion
Lay all your love on me
Don’t go sharing your devotion
Lay all your love on me”

India | Independence Day | 15th August.

 

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Ghost Rider

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India has seen a meteoric rise in the number of vehicles on its roads, and with it, driving sense and etiquette have disappeared into oblivion. And while I’m not too great a driver myself, few things anger me more than bikers riding on the wrong side of the road.

And it’s still ok if a rider only risks his own life, but many of them even dare with their family sitting pretty, pillion. And then there are those that ride on footpaths (sidewalks), risking lives of unsuspecting pedestrians too.

I’m not sure how you deal with them, but if it’s just a bloke riding alone on the wrong side, I normally go straight at them, with lights on high beam. I might swing out at the last moment, or just slow down but continue, making them stop and pull to the side as I drive past. I’m quite sure that makes no difference though. The cops don’t seem to be in any hurry to even start addressing these riders who risk lives to save insignificant minutes or fuel.

Ok, now imagine this. A holographic projector fitted on a car that creates a very real-looking holographic image of a bike or car next to it. The purpose being to deter bikers from riding on the wrong side of the road.

Obviously the image would be unbelievably real enough and appearing to leave no space for the bikers to squeeze through. The image obviously wouldn’t stop or slow down, just keep coming. I wonder if that could be enough to frighten the hell out of the rider? And while the rider would eventually pass through the image, it would hopefully frighten them out of their skin, leaving them puzzled and horrified enough never to ride on the wrong side again.

Sure it is a slightly more expensive alternative to good old effective traffic enforcement, but I’m sure it would be fun to experiment with while the enforcers get their act together.

And this below, isn’t a ghost car, just an insanely cool see-through 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six.

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Image [source]

ghost carImage [source]

Holy How?!

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Does god exist?

I personally do believe in faith, and in a higher power, but one without a name or face. Culture and upbringing however, do tend to influence that faith with names and appearances. 

Unlike popular belief, India does not have 330 million gods. But of the few we do, festivals are celebrated in the grandest ways imaginable. The next few months marks some major religious festivals, including Janmasthami (just went by), Ganesh Chaturthi and Dussehra. The days on which these festivals are celebrated each year are determined by the Hindu calendar, and not the Gregorian calendar which is followed for all other purposes. And each year, in reference to the dates on the Gregorian calendar, festival dates can vary from a few days to a few weeks (Dussehra, for instance, fell on Oct. 24th last year as per the Gregorian calendar, and it is on Oct 14 this year).

Now we have all come across sensational news stories, of deities drinking water and milk, of others crying blood, and of some appearing in the sky. And yet, more often than not, Science has had a fairly sorted out explanation for most, if not all these ‘miracles’. So, apart from Science, do other gods exist too? 😉

Believe it or not, but when it comes some festivals here in India, every single year, it always rains around midnight on Janmashtami (barring a few exceptions like this year) and during Ganesh Chaturthi. And it’s not just light random drizzles. It often pours on those days. And till a day before, you could have sworn the monsoons had passed. Holy chow, aye?

Interesting? So, the question of whether god exists or not, wasn’t to spark a debate, but to see if you have a logical explanation for this one?

The Future Indian PM

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Technology played a crucial role in winning Barack Obama his first, and securing his second term as US President. With that, I think it was evident that a capable leader and change maker must have the power of new age technology and media on his or her side, to connect with the constantly changing and eternally curious new-age citizen.

Back home, while most political parties and politicians have funds enough to bail out small European countries, few have new age tech on their side. Most, if not all parties, have been channeling their energies and efforts towards luring the masses with quick fix incentives, little carrots, so to speak. It makes it easier for them to secure the adequate numbers, instead of having to showcase their capabilities before well-educated and probing audiences.

But with the internet and smart phones finding their way through the obscure terrain quicker than electricity, clean water and government schemes ever could, it is just a matter of time before focus shifts from using public or personal funds to bribe voters with television sets or cars to win votes. The need for politicians then, would be to prove their track record and showcase their abilities to an aware and well-informed voter base via a medium of technology that the voter prefers.

Currently, Narendra Modi of the BJP seems to be the only strong contender for the PM seat who has the ability to pull off a campaign that is riding on technology. Be it his awareness of trending topics globally, the presence of a tech team backing his election campaign, or his Guinness World Record creating 3D interaction across 53 locations, he definitely is doing it right on the tech front. His plan to analyze an estimated 140 mn Indian mobile internet users by 2014, or his strategy to target a very small but distinct base of key influencers instead of going after the herd, shows a well-thought out tactical approach to election management,

Modi has managed to impress a lot of us with his awareness, future-looking and progressive India oriented thinking, his ability to walk the talk, and the innumerable developments across several fronts in the state of Gujarat; thus making him a compelling contender for the big post. But the occasional allegations against him show that he too has his share of skeletons in the closet. And unlike the United States, where two of the best candidates distill to the top of its two political parties, the Indian scenario is relatively much more complex. And while I am fairly clueless about the political scene in the country, the in-fighting within the numerous political parties, multiple potential candidates, each with their own agenda; the mess is all too evident to miss, even by the uninterested.

What the 2014 elections will bring to our battered economy and scam-riddled reputation, only 2014 will tell. But the way I see it, it is clear that technology brings with it, forward-looking supporters and change-makers. So, while it might be easy for primitive-minded politicians and parties to hire tech teams at any cost to bring them up to speed with the likes of Modi, only a good leader who doesn’t look at technology with hostility, will be able to take the country forward.

And sooner or later, such an ideal and capable leader will emerge, wisely using technology as an enabler, to shine through the herd, and to gain the trust of disillusioned citizens by constantly staying connected with them. And as long as India produces such leaders, we still have hope.

Attention! Is this the Police?

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Last evening I went to pick up some things for home from the department store. Visits to that store isn’t exactly something I look forward to. Considering the place is a little dusty, the staff is slow and clueless, and for some reason, they keep moving some sections around every other time.

Anyway, while parking outside, I noticed two police constables standing beside a car nearby. I assumed they must be waiting on a senior officer who might be in one of the neighboring buildings.

I picked up the things on the list, and had just gotten into my car, when I saw a woman and perhaps her 6-7 year-old son get out of the store with a few shopping bags on them. They headed straight for the car where the two cops were still waiting.

And then, the hard-to-believe happened. The woman and the boy handed the bags to the two cops, who then loaded them into the trunk of the car. It took me a few moments to process what I’d just seen.

India, literally as I’m typing, is being taken to the dumps, and deeper, by corrupt politicians, obsolete laws from another era, and more corruption. The dismal safety conditions that citizens have to put up with, speaks poorly of a weak system, and over-worked enforcement bodies, where a large section of our police force is diverted for security of politicians and their family members. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to see the pits of it, with officers of the law being made to load vegetables and other grocery into someone’s car.

Whether the car belonged to a politician or a senior police officer, I really don’t know. But either way, let’s look at it from the point of either of the two officers, who were perhaps in their late 30s/ early 40s. Young and driven, they obviously would have joined the force to protect and serve India, not to serve the public servants [politicians]. Then why was the job description of these officers changed, and by whom?

Look at it from the point of view of such officers. They obviously didn’t sign up for such a role. And how many weeks or months, do you think will pass, before all the dreams, aspirations and enthusiasm they joined the force with, leaves them?

Let’s look at it from the point of view of the woman with the kid. If appearances are anything to go by, she came across as well-educated. Why then, did she not see the terrible crime in playing along with something like this, if it wasn’t her idea of course. Whether the reason was a driver on leave, urgent need for home supplies, or whatever, was not reason enough to divert an officer of the law for such absurd and petty tasks. It’s a crime.!

Imagine the little boy now. What impression, and how much respect for the police will he grow up with, when there he was, handing over bags of grocery to two of the departments officers.

There are departmental pressures, hierarchy, work pressures, and all that. And above that, there’s the conscience of the officers and the police department. Then, above that, there’s also right, and wrong. While unscrupulous

Heads up Mr. Satyapal Singh [Commissioner], the average Indian has little respect for politicians. It’s up to you to help us retain our respect and faith in our police force.

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