December 13, 2010

Ushahidi - A platform for crowdsourcing of public opinion

Crowd sourcing opinions is a fad these days. Twitter and facebook analysis engines, and startups based on the above business models are mushrooming in every corner of the world. But what if the people who matter are NOT actually using either of these?? You dont agree?? Think of villages in India who still visit a central school or citizen center to awe the PC, and internet once a week. Closer to home, think of the slums and many other not so well to do masses in the cities, who have twitter and facebook  for the sake of social networking as the last thing on their mind, as they go off to sleep worried about the roof on their heads, or the food for tomorrow.

Not that these segments of the society don't have an opinion on things that matter to them. They do, and perhaps they have very strong opinions. The point is, how to incentivize and technically facilitate recording of these opinions as media that can be analysed. We believe it might be one of the biggest challenges when we try to apply our work in the Cockpit Project to emerging markets. 

However, hungry for various ideas, I landed almost by chance on the news about this "Humanitarian of the year" from MIT's Technology review. Kobia built a solution few years back to help crowdsourcing information about the flash riots which happened in Kenya. He worked hard to make it a nice usable interface which can be explored visually through maps. Commendable was the fact that he went ahead and made a platform out of his solution, so that it could be used not only for tracking kenyan riots, but just about any "crowdsourcable" information which has a geographical dimension to it. Thus I can gather data about societal health, civic conditions, political views, etc. etc. just by ensuring I have the right categories for people to express their opinion into. The core innovation was to make this platform for aggregation of information and visualization. However, I dont think the part of getting the opinions is still solved. I have seen few implementations of this platform which have failed to kick off. This is where the next logical innovation should be in. It is no news that the solution will be based on mobile devices, and I personally bet on the imminent ubiquity of touch interface mobile devices thanks to Android :).(There is already an android mobile application for upload this crowd-sourced information). But I am not yet sure how the real masses react to this, specially in the emerging world. May be the voice based mobile solutions are a better interface. But of course the fidelity of speech recognition is something we all still crave a lot for.

That said, if you can create the right buzz around your implementation of the platform, and your user base is urban and not mobile shy, this platform has a huge potential of becoming successful. The greatest part is ..YOU can download it today from their open source organization and in a matter of few days have it deployed in production mode. All the best for your effort with this. I will perhaps try to get some students excited and work with me on a social application of this platform. Will surely share the updates here. 

November 5, 2010

Kiva - Community loans with a noble cause - social microfinance

This is a first in a series of  articles on this blog on interesting service innovations which can fuel some other interesting thoughts. 
Kiva - is a movement to enable connecting the poor to the not so poor by creating a "lending" relationship which is more than just a financial transaction. In the words of the founder, they want to use the power of the stories.
The process is simple. With the online platform from Kiva, people can see the stories of poor people across the globe who are in need for small loans to setup some self sustaining businesses. These stories are collected by field agents (who are professional microfinance institutes) associated with Kiva, and the loans given on the internet are also disbursed by these agents. The idea is that eventually the laon applicants start repaying the loans and at the rates which are higher than the normal financing rates. 

Interestingly, while I could see loans being raised for Pakistan as well, there is no field agents who have partnered with the organization so far in India..!! ?? Why ?? 

October 23, 2010

Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen - A very inspiring book

Continuing to tread the path well known, with assured returns...path with incremental success, talking about "why things won't work".. before "why things will work"...sounds familiar :)..? This book by Porus Munshi repeatedly explains how these the things that come in the way of "Orbit Shifting" innovations. A great read which deservers to be in your collection. If nothing else you take away a feel good factor about some commendable stuff happening in India right under our noses :) For whatever little my recommendation is worth... I have already purchased 5 copies of this book to just give them away, and I plan to buy few more :) And no I am not related at all to the author/publishers :)

Another good part is its a hardcover book, fantastic for your collection and is available at most online bookstores (like flipkart, indiaplaza). From my memory here is a one liner on each of the well described 11 case studies:

1. Dainik Bhaskars amazing never done before strategy of launching as number 2 daily in new cities
2. Titan producing the slimmest watch by doing what all swiss watchmakers had dubbed impossible..
3. Trichy Police's amazing turnaround of the city from the heavily crime prone to the one of the safest cities
4. Aravinda eye institute.. A mans pure social cause of eliminating blindness which led him to create the most innovative assembly line, and supply chain medicine, copied by the world
5. Surat City's amazing turnaround after the plague to become one of the cleanest and most organized cities in a matter of few months
6. Su-Kam inverters engineering feats to create and in fact surpass world class inverters
7. Chic shampoo (Cavincare) and its marketing strategies (the pouch) to bring about a retail revolution.
8. Shantha Biotech, low-cost Hepatitis-B vaccine. One mans answer to an insult to his nation.
9. Bosch engineering - an example of an Indian arm of an widely innovative MNC graduating from being a second fiddle to a world renowed lab
10. ITC's e-choupal revolution
11. Chola vehicle finance and the breakthrough business models it came up with.

Do read the book and share your comments, insights, and your own experiences related to such innovations on this blog.

ICSEM Service Innovation Challenge Winners

The results of the icsem service innovation challenge were declared last month in the ICSEM 2010 conference held at ISB (

Having mentored and gone through many of the innovation reviews, I was extremely proud on the day of the presentations particularly because we saw the fruits of our efforts and got some encouraging indicators that the mentoring (although for a very short period of time, and more in form of asking the right questions) did help the students improve the innovations.

The winners were chosen from about 30+ submissions, and what stood out between the winners and the others was the way the winners had embedded themselves in the real problems in order to bring about the solutions. Irrespective of the technical content of the final output, the process innovation is hugely important for a service innovation, and this was what was reflected by the winning projects. We will try to organize more details of the same in the coming weeks. And hopefully some of us in the industry will take these projects forward beyond pilots and prototypes.

May 9, 2010

Service Innovation Challenge

I have always been a proponent of fueling innovation in academics. Its perhaps based on what I did not do in college...what I wished I had done in college.. and now I hope can create opportunities for some motivated students to do.. To not get carried away in the herd.. of campus..placements..grades..etc. but do something unique..cos there is never a better time to do it. I keep trying to do a lot of stuff at IIITB.. but of course the biggest hurdle is that the students wont know until theyve got their hands me by actually passing that phase..and realizing it perhaps a little late. Not that I am complaining.

Here is my latest attempt..thanks to my association with the ICSEM2010. I am driving the Service Innovation Challenge. A Challenge which gives the student a motive to innovate in a very broad area, does not curtail the freedom of thinking and freedom of exploring any technology or area. Cos as long as you can show that the technology innovation is related to services it qualifies.

Now the bigger part of the challenge is how to make sure that people submit into this challenge. While I figure that out.if u happen to have landed on this page by any chance.. please make sure any motivated student innovator you know..gets this link.. Will keep you posted as this challenge takes shape

March 3, 2010

Who's a service scientist.. not me..yet!!

When I started writing this article, i was kind of an extremely frustrated person ...professionally. Ofcourse it was not very long lasting...but some part of it continues to reside at the back of my mind. I am trying to come to terms with a major thought revolving in my mind. Am I really a service scientist.. or am I kidding myself?? I mean for a moment, if we were to agree without argument that "service science" is real...(refer my main page on service science)... the immediate question I have is what calls for a basic qualification for being a service scientist. By any given measure, there are two roads to getting by theoretical understanding and learning of the discipline, and other is by practical experience. Now my theoretical subjects have long been in the area of electronics and computer science since forever the first approach is out of question. As for practice, I have finished 2.5 yrs at IBM research, of which lets say one year went in doing core computer science work...So in effect really 1.5 years spent so far understanding practically, how IT(only IT yes..) service delivery happens, and the nitty grittys. This surely doesn't qualify me for being called a service scientist...yet. Talk about all the technical service managers, the account managers, who have been delivering services for last 10-15 years, I feel completely humbled in front of them when it comes to understanding this art..which we are trying to translate to science.

However an argument in favor of the assertion is that we've all been dealing with services since right we can remember. Be it the friendly neighbourhood shop, or the ice-cream vendor, or more recently our frequent flights, and dozens of facilities we enjoy ( I agree that I started appreciating and thinking about most services critically more when I start paying for those services myself) but the point being that from an overall perspective, it doesn't need a sherlock holmes to figure out how the good services work vis-a-vis bad services. Its just that with the other powerful tool of computer science and computers themselves at our disposal, how can we apply, and implement these good services in a repeatable, and efficient and customer friendly manner again and again and again, and accurately as we can. Without computers, I believe Service Science would have been the exclusive domain of B-Schools.. But, not in this context. It is a circle.. or a spiral. Services Needed Automation..Automation Led to electronic devices.....computers.. computers led to more and more information capturing..and allowing more and more complex things...resulting in more information, higher need of computers, and better computers..and now behind the vast eco-system of delivering services, is a huge stack of knowledge or information call it whatever, which needs collection, storage, dissemination, interpretation, transformation, translation, preservation, analysis, visualization etc. etc. which is unthinkable without applying the most advanced computer science approaches. In fact many a times, the problems and challenges faced, need computer scientists to push the envelop further and create new approaches. ( I all of a sudden seem to be making so much sense to myself.. realizing that "Information Technology" was really not just another major created in colleges in addition to computer science, but it was the natural evolution from the academics of how computers work..and designing computers, to the academics of how we can use them.) The same evolution continues...from the academics of how we can manage information better in general..we can say broadly we are thinking about how we can manage information related to delivering services better. And thus the loop completes to Service Science.. ( and this my friends.. right now.. just as I wrote this, has become my 'Aha' moment in this dilemma I had..)

As I conclude I would have to say that we indeed seem to be better placed to become service scientist's than any other professionals. However ofcourse there is still a lot of things to learn, lot of fundamental stuff to understand, which will not happen until we get into the thick of the things. Being an outsider to the ecosystem of delivery of services, and trying to solve the problems from a third party view can be dangerous and tardy, since there is a good chance, we dont even appreciate the true problems until we are in the actual delivery, and end up wasting time solving what our outsider notions/interpretations are of the main problems in delivery. Should I be thinking seriously about a stint.. may be a few months working in the thick of delivery..?? Not sure whether soon...but one needs to definitely focus on this in the medium term as a high priority if they want to really be true service scientist.. long..!!

Service Quality

Service quality (or for a matter of fact..quality in general..) has eluded sellers, manufacturers, and service providers for ages. Point being you cannot tame service quality with a series of control loops, or computer programs or audit processes. Quality is a lot of aspects related to your product and service. My recent journey in this area led me to internalizing 4 principle notions of quality...the sum of which can be perhaps seen as all encompassing..! I do not intend to profess on this topic.. and there are many schools of thoughts which say quality needs to be preceded by good ideas, business models, innovations etc. I agree, and all i am saying is once you have that thing going for you, you should try to make sure you have internalized few of the concepts below.. (not as theory..but as principles..) So that when u are providing a service .you make sure you are addressing all the below aspects. After all .. whats stated below is what the service is about.
  • Quality is excellence.. (the philosophical definition..)
  • Quality is conformance to specification.. (the product and manufacturing definition)
  • Quality is making the user happy.. (the user based definition..)
  • Quality is value.. (the value...or rather price based definition..)
Anyways. Here is a recent talk I gave to a SSME class at S.P.Jain Institute of Mgmt. and Research on the evolution of service quality concept in industry and academia. Please feel free to use it to articulate the information presented. (Would appreciate if you could drop me a note..and keep me in loop if you do)