The biggest challenge enterprises face today is dealing with fast-paced change in all spheres of business. There needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking and dealing with disruptive changes in the business environment.

Enterprise Agility – Being Agile In A Changing World by Sunil Mundra presents a core belief that enterprises are open and living systems. And, these living systems, also known as Complex Adaptive Systems [CAS] are ideally suited to deal with change very effectively.

Given that, ‘agility is to enterprises what health is to humans,’ there are some foundational principles of good health that can be broadly applied. But, the specific definition of ‘being healthy’ for a specific individual can and will vary. Enterprise Agility puts forward a similar approach where foundational practices can improve the overall health of the ‘body’ – read, culture, mindset and leadership, and the health of its various ‘organs’ – read, people, process, governance, structure, technology, and customers.

Image Source – Enterprise Agility

Enterprise Agility discusses how to avoid the mechanistic construction of existing enterprises, that focus on predictability and certainty. It also delivers practical advice on responding and adapting to scale, and disruption. The book goes on to suggest a practical framework with which leaders can create a plan to enhance agility. Today, we have a chat with Sunil about his book and his work with ThoughtWorks. So let’s get started with the Q&A…

Please talk about yourself, your association with ThoughtWorks [which is considered a leader when it comes to paired programming and other agile methodologies] and the learnings from that association ?

I have been with ThoughtWorks for eight years now. I have 28 years of experience, with 18 years in the IT industry and 10 years spent working with traditional businesses and startups.

My passion has been solving client problems. I am happy when I am working with leaders, understanding their problems and working at solving them. At ThoughtWorks, as a consultant, I have the room to do what I love. And, what’s interesting is the company does not expect me to accept a business issue as stated – I have the freedom to question and really dig deep and discover the true problem vs. symptoms of a business issue. Which lets me be extremely effective in my role!

I would say, ThoughtWorks’ niche is solving clients’ mission critical problems. And, my role in this process allowed me to learn about ‘Being Agile’ and ‘Business Agility’.

There are obvious learnings when one is working in an environment that believes in the power of its people; the knowledge workers and their knowledge work. Here, people pursue their passions [like myself] and are empowered. Also, ThoughtWorkers are true client partners and not people sitting on one side of the table. There is openness and transparency when working with clients, and all these progressive ‘habits’ are focussed on ensuring value to the client relationship.

Kindly give a small glimpse about your newly released book ‘Enterprise Agility’ and how can enterprises [SME’s, startups and huge corporations] incorporate the learnings into their development culture ?

The book, Enterprise Agility talks about how an organization needs to build capabilities that sense the fast changing environment and adapt, and respond to it.  And, that means the organization needs to function like a living entity – a Complex Adaptive System.

Today, most organizations have converted into or have become machines and are rooted in Frederick Taylor’s philosophy of separating the thinker and the doer –  focusing on efficiency and specialization. And, while that may have worked in an era when the market was stable, when the organization’s primary constraint was capacity, when everything that was produced was consumed. Clearly a seller’s market. But today it is very different. An organization has to adapt to change, when one cannot always and accurately anticipate the emergent future.

Sunil Mundra

For SMEs, startups and large corporations, the principle to ensuring agility stays the same – be focused on the customer and have an overarching purpose. By purpose, I mean the organization should enable a win-win with every stakeholder in the ecosystem – employees, customers, vendors, society etc. Once this purpose is defined, then we identify capabilities and draw out the strategy.

Businesses are changing at a breath-neck speed and in order to adapt, they need to be more agile [and same is applicable for their teams]. How can ‘Agile Methodologies’ be adopted in companies with large-scale teams [business, development, testing, etc.] since they are more resistant to openness and change ?

Agile has its origins in software development, and the underlying methodologies are designed to improve effectiveness and efficiency of software delivery. What is often forgotten is that agile is not just about ‘doing’ the practices, but about ‘being’ agile, i.e. about a mindset and culture which is focused on achieving the desired outcomes. And, practices which lead to collaboration, timely and effective communication, ensuring visibility and transparency support this culture.

Let’s look at an example of distributed development which has its pain points depending on where the teams are sitting – different floors, geographies, time zones, across different cultures or even across organizations. The complexity increases alongside the increasing variables. Here, agile practices, processes and techniques can help alleviate pain points by enabling the needed mindset or culture change.

The wrong way to go about things is ‘doing’ agile without understanding why or its value. That leads to no sustainable benefit, not unlike the waterfall methodology which requires following a preset process. Agile, in comparison has more to do with ‘knowledge work’, and places prime importance on the people on the ground – the most powerful in the hierarchy. This means, while the traditional model has a worker and a manager to manage the worker, and a senior manager to manage the manager, and a vice president to manage the senior manager – it’s actually the information the worker is sending up that defines business strategy. Now, this requires that the manager should stop [traditionally managing or] directing and be a facilitator and enabler.

Whether a business is large or small, it must create cross functional and autonomous teams that are organized around outcomes and supported by the right mindset and culture across the entire enterprise.

How can companies already following ‘Agile approach’ take the next leap and move to ‘Enterprise Agility’ for better productivity and employee management [and engagement] ? Also, how can an enterprise agility mindset help get the most out of distributed teams [that are spread across different countries with time-zone difference] ?

Agility is a set of capabilities that help an organization deliver value. Agility can exist at enterprise level or even within smaller units of the enterprise, where people work on input to create something of value. [In comparison, agile is more focussed on the software development process].

Expanding on agility, there are three basic capabilities [in no particular order] it is defined by.  One is the ability to sense the environment, second is the ability to adapt and third is the ability to respond. However, enterprises may need additional capabilities which enable their agility. For example, Apple, also considered a master of innovation would call ‘being innovative’ a desired capability. For an organization that produces something in mass numbers, efficiency could be a capability.

This is also a key takeaway from my book where I talk about how every organization has to come up with a set of capabilities [specific to their context] that improves agility.

Please walk us through Complex Adaptive Systems [CAS] model and how the model can be used to enhance enterprise agility ?

Let me begin with an example. Nokia was a leader in the mobile handset space.  But, Apple’s iPhone, a smartphone with apps came to market and changed the status quo. Evidently, Nokia had become complacent and had failed to sense the change in the environment, in customer mindset/expectations and failed to respond to it. A similar story is of Kodak’s and the digital revolution – when they were the ones that invented the digital camera.  But, the technology was raw and they had failed to sense the potential opportunity.

In comparison, natural and socio-economic systems have been adapting and evolving. For example, transportation was predominantly animal-bound, then came vehicles that run on fuel and now, we are moving into an age of electric vehicles and soon it will be self-driven cars. Another example is human beings. We began as apes and today, we are a jumble of several races. We had a tail that we gave up as part of our physical evolution. And, like all Complex Adaptive Systems, we are still evolving and geared to improve the chances of survival.

Some characteristics of these systems include having agents that are autonomous in nature – mostly free but bound by some basic rules. For example, the traffic system is bound by some basic rules like red means stop, drive on one side of the road, use an indicator when making a turn and more. And, the ‘free agents’ are the make of the car, the route you take, the speed you drive at etc. The objective is to get from one place to the other with a fair amount of freedom.

When such freedom exists, there is value created from the interacting between agents. This calls for flexibility because detailed plans can quickly become obsolete in such environments. Meaning, something new emerges and the CAS has to figure out what to do next – evolve and adapt.

How can your book ‘Enterprise Agility’ be of help to an entrepreneur leading an early-stage or a growth stage startup ?

Startups by definition have greater agility, are usually based on a purpose that the founders passionately believe in, and are smaller during their initial stages. I would advise startups is to avoid scaling the based-on-enterprise principles of Taylorism, and ensure their purpose creates the ‘win-win’ for all stakeholders. Another key advice would be to build teams that are outcome driven.

Many companies have stringent policies, mindset, culture and once they adapt to change [by embracing agile], there would be a tendency to measure the ROI [either in terms of bug inflow, man hours reduction, etc.], how can ROI be measured for adoption of ‘Agile’ or ‘Enterprise Agile’ approach ?

Let’s explain this with an analogy – how would one measure the ROI of being healthy?  One can’t.  The investment could be calculated on gym membership fees, organic food etc. But, how would one calculate the returns of feeling healthy and having avoided disease?

That is how it is with agility.  Agility is the health of the company and it’s hard to calculate the returns. How would one calculate the cost of something that has not happened or the benefit of something bad that has been avoided.

Enterprises continue to practice such anti-patterns. For example, if the company is doing financially well, the assumption is that they are successful. But, the fact could be that the enterprise is slowing drowning because they are not ready for change. And, eventually, it’s only when organizations are in crisis are they ready to embrace change.

Can agile approach be applied to Product companies/Startups [Products which are in the Hardware space e.g. mobiles, e-scooters, etc.] where dependencies are on hardware, software, OEM’s, board manufacturers and what are some approaches that leaders can follow in order to bring-in agile mindset in product organizations [not pure software/SAAS based products] ?

Being agile ensures an environment in which people are given the most importance, because they are the thinking, living and breathing free agents who do the knowledge work. And, this is applicable to all types of organizations.

Toyota is a great example of applying agile principles to a manufacturing activity. Every worker is free to validate a problem that they see in the production line, with their manager, but they are equally empowered to pull the cord that stops the entire production line when they see an obvious problem on the line. This is an example of having a process but empower the people to break that process, if needed, in pursuit of the right outcome.

And, this is connected to one of the agile principles that talks motivated individuals, and that’s especially important when living in the knowledge world. This is because, a lot of jobs that we used to do can be done by machines. Software has so many tools that has automated several parts of software development. And, this has freed up the human brain for bolder creativity and expression.

In effect, I believe that agile principles can be applied beyond the scope of software development. The processes, techniques, standup meetings, MVP etc. are all about delivering an outcome that pleases the customer and harnesses the potential of motivated employees to the fullest, within the framework of appropriate governance, and intelligently planned innovation and experimentation.

Before we sign-off, please let us know the intended audience of the book ‘Enterprise Aglity’ i.e. whether it could be engineers, team leaders, team managers, CXO’s, etc. ?

Enterprise Agility is intended to be more thought provoking for leaders, rather than a step-by-step prescriptive playbook. My goal is to make a leader or influencer say, “Oh, I didn’t think of it like that! And, I see it’s relevance for my enterprise.”

We thank Sunil Mundra for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for him about agile programming, his new book, application of agile for distributed teams, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

How many of us have faced a situation where we visited a doctor based on some symptoms and later on realized that the visit was not at all necessary. Also, there is a huge amount of difference in the healthcare services available in metros [tier-1 cities] vis-a-vis non-metros [tier-2, tier-3] cities vis-a-vis rural areas. However affordability of smartphones, increased mobile penetration, improved data speeds [with 4G]; are playing a critical role in improving the overall healthcare industry. Along with the advancements in the healthcare industry, Indian healthcare sector does face a plethora of challenges.

Image Source – HealthCare

For entrepreneurs, with huge challenges comes ample opportunities to create business that could solve the problem at a ‘larger scale’. With technology, there has been an emergence of ‘frugal innovation’ in the healthcare sector where entrepreneurs have come up with business models that has made accessibility to ‘quality healthcare services’ available to all [irrespective of your city/town of residence]. This is where serial entrepreneur Ashutosh Lawania [Myntra Co-founder] and Prasad Kompalli [former business head at Myntra] came across an opportunity and came up with the idea of mfine – an end-to-end doctor consultation app which would make it convenient for patients to access high-quality healthcare services at the click of a button.

mfine brings in instant and continuous connectivity with top doctors of the best hospitals. The startup has partnered with leading hospitals and senior consultants are made available for online consultations always and anytime. mfine‘s app for doctors boosts the efficiency and effectiveness using standard medical protocols and AI. mfine‘s AI driven platform helps improve the quality of diagnosis and promotes better outcomes with better engagement.

The company helps people make informed choices about their health with patient needs as a top priority. mfine is effectively creating a ‘cloud clinic’  and follows an unique model of partnering with leading and trusted hospitals instead of aggregating individual doctors on the platform. It acts as a virtual centre for the hospitals, rather it is a new OPD center on the cloud bringing in more patients and offering premium services, long-term care programs, super specialties without any upfront investments. Today we have a chat with Prasad Kompalli, Co-founder & CEO – mfine about the app, healthcare in India, why cloud clinic, etc. So, lets get started with the Q&A…

[Note – ‘I’ in the Q&A refers to Prasad Kompalli]

Please walk us through the core team behind mfine ?

mfine was founded in February 2017 by myself and Ashutosh Lawania [Myntra co-founder]. We were later joined by Ajit Narayanan, ex-Myntra CTO, Arjun Choudhary, ex-Myntra head of growth marketing and Dr. Jagadish Prasad, an interventional neuroradiologist, and founder of Femiint Health, a hospital in Bengaluru.

Every idea is born out of a problem, what is the problem being solved by mfine and how did you come up with this solution ?

mfine comes from the idea to make access to quality healthcare easy and simple. We strongly believed that technology, in particular mobile internet and AI can transform healthcare delivery in India leading to better quality and experience for the consumers. When you look at Indian healthcare industry, it is characterized by very low doctor-patient ratio [1:1700] and more than 70% percent of medical bills are paid out-of-pocket by patients. Not much is being done at the primary and secondary care level to prevent further expensive and life threatening complications.

Tech is an inevitable solution to this problem. mfine leverages on the massive adoption of smartphones and mobile Internet to dramatically change the access and reach of specialists doctors. We envisioned and are building a one of its kind virtual hospital that brings the best care providers and state of the art tech together. We have built an AI powered diagnosis engine that can be infinitely scalable assistant to those top specialist doctors. The combination of mobile tech and AI solves for access and quality.

Looking deeper at the Healthcare sector, we understood the complexities with the overall space being vast with many different players, different economic models, incentive structures and varied consumer behaviors. We zeroed in on high quality and on-demand access to be at the foundation of what we would build. To bring in the much needed trust and quality, we partnered with hospitals as providers and these hospitals are trusted and premium institutions such as CloudNine, Femiint Health and Aster CMI Hospitals. With technology we are able to take the high quality care beyond the walls of the hospitals.

The entire healthcare ecosystem is still broken [with some parts being organized and some being unorganized], how does a startup like mfine solve this problem and make the sector more organized ?

The healthcare sector is actually getting organized pretty fast. Several reputed institutions are setting up pretty high standard hospitals and existing ones are expanding. Mfine indirectly contributes to the acceleration of markets movement towards organized sector – as we work with branded, accredited hospitals and increase their reach beyond the physical boundaries of their hospitals. This will lead to more and more consumer spending towards organized sector that has senior high quality specialist doctors

Startups [as well as hospitals] are exploring newer avenues to engage with patients [even after they are done meeting the doctor at the hospital] e.g. Apollo Hospital has Ask Apollo app, Aegis has a similar app, etc. and other startups like Portea are looking into Home health care services, Practo acts more like an aggregator, how does an app like mfine solve lingering problems in the healthcare sector in India ?

We have a very unique take on the problem statement and solution approach as far as healthcare delivery in India are concerned. We are building the most sophisticated healthcare delivery channel for primary and secondary care – a category we call ‘cloud clinic’. The Cloud Clinic is designed to deliver high quality care from the biggest and the best in healthcare via an always-on, on-demand service. Our differentiation also comes from the fact that we are creating a digital assistant for the doctor and at the same time building a robust mobile health companion for the patient.

Firstly, we are focussed on bringing trusted, reputable and high-quality hospitals with top specialists into digital space and are not a marketplace of individual doctors. Secondly, our AI powered tech system can scale quality care and make it reach millions of people. Thirdly, hospitals look at mfine as a new centre they are opening without any upfront capital and marketing investment. They see mfine expanding their services to cloud so that they can serve more new customers and also retain existing customers better. These three aspects make us very unique in the way we build mfine as a tech-led and consumer experience focussed business.

Can you please list down the treatment areas currently being covered on mfine ?

mfine currently covers nine specialties: pediatrics, general medicine, fertility, gynecology, dietetics, orthopaedics, gastroenterology, and cardiology.

How many hospitals are there on-board on mfine and is there a provision where a patient can select a particular doctor on mfine ?

The patients can choose top doctors from more than 45 leading and reputed hospitals such as CloudNine, Aster, Rainbow and Ovum.

When it comes to medical treatment, most of us plan to visit the doctor first [irrespective of the symptom and the density of the problem], how is mfine building that trust in it’s customers [that they might not need/may never need to visit the doctor unless and until required] and how has been the overall response from the early adopters ?

We have done more than 30,000 consultations and aim to reach 100,000 consultations by the end of the year. We have partnered with 35 hospital brands in Bangalore and are expanding our network continuously.

There are some patients who have written to us about their experience with mfine. For example, We once had a user from Trichy, whose infant needed to consult with a pediatric endocrinologist. It was difficult to find one in such a small town and he used mfine to find a pediatric endocrinologist in Bengaluru, who treated the baby through the app.

There was another incident where a 70 year old woman was diagnosed with Dengue by mfine care team. From then on, the son used mfine exclusively for his mother’s treatment and with constant monitoring and help from our doctors, she was cured while being at home throughout.

Use cases are plenty and there are many more such examples. We believe that mobile can be a game change in the delivery of primary health care. From access, to diagnosis, to preventive healthcare, technology can disrupt the future of ‘visiting a doctor’..

mFine team with Prasad Kompalli [Center, Front Row – Blue T-shirt] & Ashutosh Lawania [Center,Front Row – Yellow T-Shirt]

How seamless is the overall process of registration, payment, consultation and doctor visit [if required] via mfine and can you comment on the O2O [Online-to-Offline] or vice-versa experience [i.e. Patient visits the doctor, reports gets uploaded and than again moves to mfine after the offline consultation] ?

With mfine app, one can easily reach the doctor that they select instantly, on demand. The process to get diagnosis and prescription online from a top doctor doesn’t take more than 30~40 mins. If the doctor decides that you need to a physical visit, mfine organizes the visit with the same doctor at the same hospital without charging extra and the appointment is pre-booked in the hospital system as well. When the patient is going for this physical visit, the experience is smooth no registration, no payment is needed to be done.

Similarly, when a patient chooses to follow up with the Doctor (s)he met at the hospital, (s)he can login to mfine and give the code of the Doctor/Hospital (s)he got along with the visit file and start follow up consultation with the doctor. (s)he can upload any information [test reports, etc.] and get the complete consultation done and get advised on the further treatment plan/actions.

How big is the overall healthcare market that mfine is trying to address ?

Healthcare sector in India is $280B dollar market. We are catering to a massive $50B market of primary healthcare and secondary healthcare in India. We see a huge opportunity to bring the much needed, tech-driven transformation in the $50B primary healthcare delivery. Coupled with the spread of mobile and smartphones in particular, along with dropping bandwidth costs, we expect services like mfine to take-off across the breadth of the country; starting with early adopters in metros and tier 1 cities. We see that solving for access is the most important first step in this journey.

Access to high quality care, access to super specialties and access 24*7 are going to be key levers of growth at this point. In parallel, we are also building the tech that can standardize and in turn scale the quality of healthcare delivery. This will help us reach millions of families and deliver better healthcare to all. We would like to be the trusted place for managing one’s own health be it preventive or curative. We believe we can scale this across the country and beyond and help people gain much more control over their health.

Many doctors might not be tech-savvy, what is overall learning curve involved in getting well-versed with the mfine Doctor app ? Also, please let us know if you have an in-house team of experienced doctors [for at least first level of consultation] ?

Doctors are very keen to adopt digital medium and they are excited to partner with mfine. The app is very simple to use and very structured for doctor to be very efficient. A new doctor gets comfortable with the app, typically in 1~2 days of using it. We have in-house team of experienced doctors that serve two purposes – a. They prepare the case sheet in detail for the Sr consultant and also follow up with the patients proactively and b. They define the triage protocols and implement medical standards in capturing data of the illnesses, suggesting treatment plan and also ensuring quality of communication.

Which are some of the best experiences [case studies] that customers have gained via mfine and how mfine has bridged the gap of bringing best level of healthcare for Indian citizens located outside metro cities?

Most people might have this notion that acute conditions always require a hospital visit. This isn’t the case for all medical conditions. Non-emergency health concerns can be addressed through digital space. One such medical condition that we treated on mfine was ‘Dengue’. The patient was 64 years old, female with a known history of hypothyroidism and arthritis. She had high fever, chills, loss of appetite, and complained about frequent, dark urine. Our team of doctors advised her to get a blood test done.

The results showed that she was dengue positive. Through mfine, doctors were able to monitor and manage her condition closely while she rested and recuperated at home. This was one example. There was another example where the patient [from a 2nd tier town in South India] needed Pediatric Endocrinologist and we could deliver the right care for the child with one of the doctors on our panel.

Which are some of the technologies being used in the development of mfine and how does your team leverage emerging technologies like AI, ML, Data Mining, etc. in enhancing customer experience and bridging the gap in the Healthcare market ?

We leverage AI/ML systems in combination with standard medical protocols, to make high quality care reach consumers across the country. We designed the system that can assist doctors in their diagnosis and treatment, not just business workflow automation. We are able to create a standard reference system for doctors in each specialty, that’s powered by a combination of well-established medical protocols and our AI system’s algorithms.

In a unique way, the same expert system is used to power the experience on the consumer app also, be it structured and effortless data collection, reminders for follow up based on signs/symptoms and execution of care protocols for chronic conditions.

So far mfine has tied-up with how many hospitals in India and it is currently operational [in terms of doctor engagement] in how many cities in India ? What are the future expansion plans, either in terms of offerings and cities in which it currently has doctor tie-ups ?

We are currently operational in Bengaluru with 35 hospitals. We will be expanding rapidly across India and will be having hospital network in 5 major cities by end of 2018. We will continually expand the specialties that we will offer and make mfine a comprehensive care platform for families and individuals. We will also be introducing long term care programs for consumers to be able get the required help in managing and recovering from chronic conditions

Can you comment on the overall funding of mfine and how has entrepreneurial experience of Ashutosh Lawania [w.r.t Myntra], your stint at Myntra and the experience of PrimeVp team helped in building & scaling mfine ?

Our seed round was closed in 2017 where we raised $1.5 million from Stellaris Venture Partners, healthcare entrepreneurs Mayur Abhaya and Rohit M.A. We recently closed our Series A, with $4.2 million led by Prime Venture Partners, and participation from our existing investors; Stellaris, and Mayur.

Overall we understand and feel deep passionate about ensuring high quality consumer experience. We also learnt how to set up operational processes, people processes to ensure we can scale the company and the product without breaking. Coming from successfully building a consumer internet firm earlier, we understand the importance of being data driven, developing deep domain expertise, creating systems and processes that can scale massively from the very beginning.

How has technologies like AR, VR, data generated from sensors in wearables, etc. helping in building a better healthcare experience, reducing stress & pain, remote surgery, etc.

Within our company’s focus most immediate relevance would be of wearables. Sometime during the next year we will be integrating with state of the art devices that can collect vital parameters of the patient and pass it on to the doctor he/she is consulting with. Heart rate monitors, pulse oximeters, glucose monitors are all relevant for us to integrate with.

If you can some insights into the DAU/MAU/other relevant details about mfine and how it plans to keep the customers more engaged [either with good content on healthcare/home remedies/etc.] on the platform ?

We will be focussed on providing personalized, clinically accurate information to the user. We will be building digital health tracking tools that consumers can use to track their various health parameters.

[mFine for Android can be downloaded from here & mfine for iOS can be downloaded from here]

We thank Prasad Kompalli for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for him about mfine, healthcare, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

Internet of Things [IoT] has become one of the most popular terminologies, especially when the discussion is about creating an overall connected eco-system. As per a report by Gartner on IoT, there might be around 20 billion connected things by 2020 and it is already having a profound impact on every business segment, be it automotive, energy, transportation, etc.

Image Source – IoT

IoT has been instrumental in the creation of new business models, transformation of businesses to the digital front and helped enterprises improve the overall operational efficiency. Though there has been a lot of discussion about the growing usage of IoT in the consumer devices, it is playing a very important role in the transformation of the Manufacturing industry, also called as Industrial IoT [IIoT].

Indian enterprise Sasken has deep-rooted expertise in industrial analytics, building scalable solutions in the wearable, AR/VR space, automotive solutions, etc. Today, we have a chat with Mihir Kumar, Global Head of the Industrials Segment , Sasken Technologies Limited about Industry 4.0, IIOT, trends & challenges in IIOT, future of IoT & IIoT, etc.

Can you comment on the ‘Industrial’s BU’ that you are heading, and what are some of the ways in which Sasken is helping its customers in this segment?

With the advent of Industry 4.0, the industrial’s space is transforming, with machines becoming intelligent and digitally managed, plants becoming dynamic and data-driven, and operations getting augmented by Analytics, AI and AR. We are leveraging our Chip to Cognition expertise to deploy Product Engineering and Digital Transformation solutions for customers in the Industrials, Heavy Machinery and Rugged Devices space. We are enabling their Connected Product strategy and helping them design next-gen products that are connected and intelligent.

We are also helping our marquee customers with IoT enablement of their legacy installed base through sensor engineering, edge engineering, and industrial connectivity solutions. In addition, we are partnering with Industrial companies to build intelligence across machines, devices, and plants by leveraging data analytics and machine learning. We are also addressing the complex needs around deploying IIoT platform, cloud enablement and enterprise mobility to enable Smart Manufacturing, Remote Asset Monitoring, Condition-based Maintenance, and Connected Field Service.

Can you throw light on the future of industry wearable technologies like smart helmets, body cameras etc. that are worn by factory employees, and more on what Sasken is doing in this field?

Technologies for smart wearables, AR/VR are fast becoming the next computing platform by fundamentally shifting the way information is relayed to the user and offering immediate access to critical data. Industrial sector, with the high labor cost or high cost of mistakes, has the great potential to achieve a significant return on investment with the adoption these technologies in use cases such as quality inspection, diagnostics, remote asset monitoring, equipment installations, field service and maintenance, work instructions, workforce training, and worker safety.

Sasken is enabling customers to build smart wearable products with varying form factors equipped with cloud-based analytics and industry-best low power technologies such as sensors, connectivity, and tracking solutions. In addition, we are focusing on deploying the solutions using AR/VR and wearables to enable a multitude of use cases such as

  • Expediting the product design using AR/VR solutions
  • Use of AR and wearables to improve quality and first-time fix ratio
  • AR-based Field Force Productivity Solutions that are used for service equipment/installations and for diagnostics by delivering real-time information at the point of use resulting in greater end-user satisfaction and lower cost of service

Why do you feel traditional Industrial companies are moving into the software & services business? How does Sasken as a ‘solutions provider’ keep up with the rapid changes in technology?

The recent emergence and confluence of disruptive software and technologies in the Industrial Internet space is blurring the lines between physical and digital in the Industrials sector. It is creating profound opportunities for traditional industrial companies with the disinter-mediation of value chains, opening up entirely new horizons for efficiency and productivity gains, transforming products into services, and bringing consumers closer to the manufacturers. This transformation is enabling incrementally transformative value for Industrial companies by optimizing their operations for greater performance, increasing asset utilization, predicting failures before they occur to avoid unplanned downtime, and enabling them to offer new business models [e.g. Product As A Service]. 

Our differentiated Chip to Cognition solutions position us uniquely to help our customers with their digital industrial transformation. We are working proactively with our partner ecosystem of leading semiconductor companies as well as leading technology and Industrial IoT platform firms such as PTC, Microsoft, AWS, Google and GE Digital. This enables us to get early access to emerging technologies and platforms from leading software OEMs and chip makers. Also, we leverage our world class hardware and software R&D labs in Finland and India, as well as our IPs and solutions for rapid prototyping and experimentation in emerging solutions.

What are some of the sectors where you feel IIoT is observing a sharp increase? Also, can you throw light on the overall market size, growth and relevant use-cases?

The adoption of Industrial IoT is currently led by large product manufacturers and asset heavy companies in industries such as industrial products, automotive, transportation, utilities, and oil & gas. This is because they have complex manufacturing processes and operations along with high-capital equipment that can benefit greatly from IIoT solutions and data-driven insights that drive more predictable, sustainable, resilient, and efficient processes.

Based on the collective insight gathered from the analysis of estimates from various market reports, our own research and the insights gathered from our customers and partners, I believe, the estimated size of current IoT market is around $120-$150 billion [inclusive of hardware, connectivity, applications, analytics, and services revenue]. I also expect a sustained growth over the next several years and the market could reach over $250-$300 billion by 2021, with an estimated CAGR of around 25%.

As far as usage of Industrial IoT is concerned, they are split between use cases for improving efficiency in internal operations and creating differentiating products and services. The majority of early adopters are pursuing use cases aimed at improving manufacturing operations, field service and predictive maintenance, and product design innovation. As industries move toward service-oriented business models, industrial companies are looking to leverage the same capabilities to monitor and optimize connected devices with their customers the same way they do internally. Companies are recognizing that reducing downtime [with predictive maintenance, remote service, etc.] continues to be a top priority for their customers. As a result, they are looking to capitalize on the opportunity to extend their footprint within the customer’s operations and monetize this highly strategic outcome.

Mihir Kumar, Global Head – Industrials Segment – Sasken

Apart from US, which are some of the emerging markets where you feel IoT/IIoT is seeing a huge growth and what is your analysis on the core reasons for growth in those markets?

Currently, there are several regional initiatives that are underway, which are accelerating the adoption of Industrial IoT. For instance, in Germany, there is Industrie 4.0 which is focused around hardware and smart machines required to enable digital manufacturing. In the United States, there is the Manufacturing USA initiative, which employs a more balanced approach of creating public-private partnerships aimed at overcoming technical IoT challenges. Regardless of their different approaches, these initiatives represent a worldwide push for standards and a continued adoption of industrial IoT.

Outside of US, currently Asia Pacific is rapidly adopting IIoT, owing to the rapid digitization and automation. Emerging economies such as China are investing massively in the R&D of industrial operations automation and has implemented IIoT in various industries. Japan is also a key contributor to the Asia Pacific market, led by the digital transformation in the manufacturing and automotive sectors.

How important is the role of security, power consumption, sensors, being hardware agnostic, etc. while developing IIoT solutions?

The architecture of an IIoT solution involves a large number of end-nodes [e.g., sensors] connected to aggregating devices [gateways], which in turn are connected to remote cloud platforms, applications and services. The functions of sensor nodes, their form factors, and target applications vary considerably and hence create the need for specific characteristics and requirements for the IIoT systems, such as

  • Energy Efficiency – Sensors nodes are characterized by low power draws and are often battery powered. Also, it is often difficult and costly to replace batteries. Hence IIoT solution needs to be highly energy efficient.
  • Hardware Agnostic solution – Owing to the diversity of hardware platforms available for various IIoT applications, it is important that the IIoT solutions support a variety of platforms to simplify inter-connectivity, drive standardization, and lower costs of ownership.
  • Network Connectivity & Protocol Support – Continuous connectivity to the network and to devices in immediate proximity is critical to IoT device operation. This requirement is achievable by providing support for a variety of connectivity protocols like Wi-Fi, Cellular, Bluetooth, etc.
  • Security – One of the biggest concerns in an IIoT solution is the cyber security and having everything linked to IoT is going to monumentally increase the vulnerabilities. It is imperative that the IIoT solution adhere to strict security expectations and meet stringent requirements imposed by deployments in sensitive and critical settings.
  • Small Memory Footprint – Sensor nodes are typically small and have limited memory available
  • Real-time Capabilities – Most of the IIoT applications are time critical and hence IIoT solutions need to perform similar to real-time operating systems that are deployed in industrial settings.

Where do you see the Industrial IoT sector heading in the future [in the next 3-5 years]?

The Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] is set to become a multi-billion industry in the next three to five years. We are at an inflection point in terms of affordability and availability of IIoT, enabling the movement of IIoT from experimentation to business scale and making IIoT adoption and innovation more pervasive. With rapid advances in technologies, we are expected to see a few disruptive trends in the coming years such as:

  • Momentum for edge analytics and edge intelligence in the Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] will accelerate. Edge computing will reduce security vulnerabilities for IIoT assets.
  • With the industrials space rapidly transforming and machines becoming more intelligent, operations will get augmented by AI, analytics and AR/VR.
  • Adoption of Advanced Analytics, Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence will fuel IIoT growth
  • Lower cost of technologies and IIoT will enable the acceleration in the adoption and growth of Digital Twin
  • Cloud adoption by factories and industrial facilities is expected to become imperative

With the increased deployment of IoT technologies, concerns around security, compliance, and privacy will become critical. As the IIoT environment explodes to create all of its anticipated benefits and competitive advantages, organizations will also need to adopt strategic approaches and innovative architectures that foster reliable, safe, secure work environments.

We thank Mihir Kumar for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for Mihir about Industry 4.0, IIoT, how your startup/enterprise can leverage capabilities of IIoT, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

There is a famous quote – ‘Risk & Rewards are two sides of the same coin’ and the same is applicable for monetary investments. However, the investment portfolio would differ from person to person since it is dependent on many factors like risk appetite, assets, liabilities, dependencies, etc. and hence, it becomes virtually impossible for any investment firm to cater to varied investment requirements of such a large audience.

Image Source – Fintech

There is a wrong notion that investing in Mutual Funds or SIP’s is similar & equally risky as investing in the stock market. Due to this, less than 1.5% of the Indian population invested in equity markets and only 2% of India’s household savings were exposed to equity [as per a report from Bloomberg]. However, times are changing and more & more people are willing to invest in SIP’s for long-term benefits, given that they get proper guidance.

This is the problem that many new-age Fintech companies are trying to solve using Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, etc. by giving investors more personalized tailor-made portfolio suggestions based on their persona, long-term & short-term goals, etc. As it is said, you learn from your own mistakes and the 2008 market crash resulted in an Aha moment for entrepreneur Arjun Sarkar. Though he lost a significant amount of money in the crash due to misguidance, he soon realized that it was a ‘larger’ problem that required to be solved. Arjun Sarkar, along with Anup Abhonkar co-founded Everguard Life Ventures Pvt. Ltd. and came up with their first product named SIPtm with the aim to make equity investing simpler by taking investor’s persona and various other data points into consideration. In this episode, we have a chat with Arjun Sarkar, Founder & CEO of the Pune-based startup. The Q&A revolves around the core product SIPtm, fintech, persona-based investing & more. Let’s get started with the Q&A…

Note – ‘I’ in the interview refers to Arjun Sarkar.

Can you walk us through the idea of SIPtm and the team behind the same ?

Idea of SIPtm came to solve the problem of investing for retail investors i.e. answering the questions – Where to invest?, When to invest?, and How much to invest? Because the investor does not know what to do, they invariably go for the default option i.e. trust their friendly neighbourhood bank which is the worst decision they can make. Personally I lost a significant portion of my net-worth in the 2008 crash because I was misled by my relationship manager and invested in the wrong product, that’s when I started taking this subject seriously.

The team comprises of myself – Arjun Sarkar, CEO & Founder of Everguard Life Ventures Pvt. Ltd., the parent company behind the development of SIPtm. I have an MBA from University of Toronto. I have personally managed money for CXO’s and NRI’s in tens of crores for close to a decade and 80% of my personal wealth is invested in mutual funds.

Anup Abhonkar, CTO & Co-Founder has over 18 years of IT experience across domains like Banking, Insurance and Securities. He has worked for leaders in the industry like, Accenture, Barclays and Wipro delivering business critical solutions for Fortune 500 organizations like Aviva and Charles Schwab.

Both of us are passionate about our field. Ask our wives and you will find that we spend most of our time talking about the subject.

What does ‘tm’ stand for in SIPtm ?

TM stands for Through Mobile.

What are some of the data points that you take while recommending a particular SIP or Investment to a particular customer ?

We follow a thorough process backed by research, where we consider multiple quantitative and qualitative factors across domains like Economics [Macros and Micros] and Market and also take customer specific inputs like time-horizon and quantum of investment before suggesting a fund. Research further shows that some categories of funds are better suited for SIP mode of investments so we take that in to consideration as well.

In other words, it is not a cookie cutter approach of following ratings of funds or just looking at the past performance of funds. We are talking investments here, not buying e-commerce products where customer can buy just based on reviews and ratings, they may do well in the short term but will not able to sustain it for a meaningful period of time.

Please talk about ‘Persona Based Investing’ and how can millennials use a platform like SIPtm to plan their investments and maximize their savings ?

‘Persona based investing’ is a concept which maps life stage of investors to priority goals which then helps to filter the optimal investment mix for them. SIPtm is a great product for millennials as it is prescriptive in nature i.e. it is like a doctor listing out the medicine and the dosage which makes decision making very simple. More importantly, the dosage or SIP amounts are in the range of typical monthly savings which can be channelized in a disciplined manner thereby earning much higher returns than other traditional saving products like recurring deposits or insurance products.

Which is the target market segment of SIPtm and can you share some details about the customer demographics of SIPtm ?

Target market segment of SIPtm is people with regular income as SIP mode of investing is a good fit for them.

There are lot of Fintech companies like Scripbox, Sqrrl, etc. that are into goal-based investments, what are the USP’s of SIPtm over their competitors ?

SIPtm is a vehicle to achieve goals but takes a different route than its competitors to reach the goal faster, more predictably and with less volatility. The USP is in the name itself, the app is built ground up for SIP investments only i.e. no lump sum investments which makes the journey less bumpy and more predictable.

The other differentiator is that SIPtm offers a complete solution, right from prescribing the monthly SIP amount, to selection of funds, to distribution of monthly amount between the funds. More importantly, it re-balances the portfolio at appropriate times during the journey i.e. It does not take the fill it, shut and forget it approach.

We are a fintech company i.e. a financial services company that leverages technology to make life easier for our customers. Not the other way round i.e. a technology company that has built a financial app? The nuance is very important as you are suggesting an investment solution not a consumer commodity like laptops and mobile phones where ratings work.

As per a report, there is very small percentage of investors/would be investors who plan to invest in the Equity market [or MF], how does SIPtm plan to change this ‘resistant’ behavior from investors ?

Resistant behaviour is because of fear of loss – The answer is SIP mode of investing as SIPs manage volatility better and as a result, give higher returns at lower risks. Also, SIP amounts are small, so you are not putting a lot of money at risk at any point in time. In case of SIPtm there is another level of assurance, as the suggestions are coming from experts based on 5000+ hours of research. There is also a visible change in the behaviour in the recent times, as per latest figures, India is raking in over a billion dollars in SIPs per month now.

What is the Total Addressable Market [TAM] that you are trying to address with SIPtm?

20 Million SIPs with average investment of Rs 5000 per month

How is the response from the early adopters of SIPtm and what are some the best features that are liked by the community ?

The response from early adopters is great with SIP values ranging from Rs. 5000 right up to Rs. 20,000 per month. The best feature liked by the community is the prescriptive investment suggestion and the overall simplicity of the investment experience.

Currently how many AMC’s are syndicated on the SIPtm platform and how frequently the data is updated on the app ?

This is one more differentiator for us, we have shortlisted only the top 5 AMCs of the country based on some key criterion’s, one of them being the staying power and that is a conscious decision. We may add a couple more in the near future if they pass the criterion’s that we have laid out.

SIPtm Core Team – Anup Abhonkar, Co-founder & CTO [L], Arjun Sarkar, Founder & CEO [R]

Once the user has created an account on SIPtm [and all his investments from various AMCs are under one window], what other services does your team provide to the investors so that they can get more returns from their investments ?

The most relevant and important service provided is the rebalancing of the portfolio and timely interventions to ensure that the customer goal is achieved in time.

Can you give a small glimpse about the tech behind SIPtm ?

SIPtm App has a very simple process flow and UI only because, underneath lies a network of multiple systems, including the App back-end, payment gateway, our back-office tech and RTAs and these systems talking to each in a secure and efficient manner through APIs.

What is the on-boarding process for customers on SIPtm and how has initiatives like IndiaStack, Aadhaar, etc. helped Fintech companies like SIPtm in on-boarding & other services ?

The Customer on-boarding process is very simple and totally paperless. We take minimalistic information from the customer as a one time setup. We know paper work is boring, however this basic information is a part of the Regulatory requirements. After verifying the Customer information, we activate the customer. The customer then goes for the eMandate process. Here is where we use the Aadhaar based e-Sign process that is very simple and reduces the manual 15 days process to just 3 days. So yes, Aadhaar helping immensely in reducing the cycle time as well as going paperless.

SIPtm is currently limited to MF’s/SIP’s, are there any plans/timeline on whether it would be expanded to cover other financial instruments ?

Not in the immediate future as we want to focus all our energy in one area that we are really good at and an area that is under penetrated.

With growing investor and entrepreneur interest in Fintech, many wallet companies like Paytm via PaytmMoney, FreeCharge, MobiKwik, etc. have launched a boutique of finance products on their platform, does this growing competition have an impact on a startup like SIPtm and how it could result in expansion of the fintech ecosystem ?

We do not consider wallet companies as competitors as they do not have the expertise or experience in mutual fund investments. It is like going to a pharmacist who just stocks different products and asking them for a recommendation on medicines to treat a serious disease. But  the fintech ecosystem can benefit if the wallet companies tie up with players like SIPtm as, as they can generate an incremental revenue stream and actually add real value to their users by helping them generate wealth vs earning cashbacks.

Does SIPtm charge any commission from the investment that is being done on the platform ?

Not directly from the customer but through the AMCs we have partnered with. That being said, we do not push mutual funds suggested by the asset management companies as a typical distributor does, just position funds shortlisted by our algorithm.

What is the revenue model of SIPtm and does it follow the Freemium model & do you plan to be a preferred investment partner for enterprise customers ?

As of today our revenue model is commissions. Yes, we plan to partner with enterprise customers in the future but the value proposition for them has to be worked upon.

There is a growing demand of products like SIPtm in Tier-2, Tier-3 cities [and beyond], what are some of the marketing initiatives that your team has taken in order to penetrate into that particular market ?

Yes, we are in talks with potential partners who have a strong existing network in the Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.

SIPtm is backed by a very experienced founding team and there are very experienced domain-expert mentors behind SIPtm, how has the mentorship helped your team in building the ‘right set’ of features on SIPtm ?

The mentorship has helped us focus on the essentials and cut out the noise. Some of our key decisions on the product road-map have come through the regular calls we have with our advisors. The right set of features has come through a market research project we conducted for our target segment before developing SIPtm and we continue to collect feedback from our live customers.

Can you touch upon the funding of EverguardLife Ventures & are looking for institutional funding in the near future ?

Everguard is internally funded as of now, but we are looking for institutional funding this year for product development and marketing.

The app is currently present on Google Play Store, is there any timeline for the app to be released on the iOS platform ?

We are currently focussing on building traction and incorporating valuable feedback into the Android version. Work on the iOS version is underway and we shall release it shortly.

Do you plan to follow an app-only strategy or there is a plan to open-up a desktop version of the SIPtm platform [since it would definitely be useful for users who log-on the platform from their work location] ?

SIPtm is an app as mobile phones are the preferred mode for our target segment based on our customer research. That being said the algorithm that runs SIPtm is based on our earlier desktop platform called Finanswer which we plan to develop further for other target segments.

After demonetization, there has been a huge demand for payment apps [including UPI], wallet providers providing investment options like Digital Gold, etc. do you see that trend working in favor of apps like SIPtm [that makes an investor’s life smoother] ?

Absolutely, as users get more comfortable using and moving money through Apps it will help apps like SIPtm. We however, do not see payment apps as serious competitors because of the differentiators we touched upon earlier.

2017 was a tough year for startups [especially from funding point of view], how according to you should entrepreneurs deal with such adverse situations ?

Entrepreneurs should always be prepared and focus on their customers to earn revenue. Also, look out for investors who understand your domain well and who can help raise money when it is required, so that the team can focus on the product and business development.

SIPtm team is currently working out from a co-working space in Pune, what are some of the advantages for a startup/growth company while working out from a co-working space ?

You grow your network and get a chance to test your ideas quickly since the target segment is around you and more accessible.

There is lot of talk about implementation of Blockchain, AI, etc. in Finance & Fintech, what are your comments on the same and where do you see the tech moving ahead in the next 3~5 years ?

The ‘Blockchain’ and ‘AI’ landscape looks promising in delivering value to businesses and thereby increasing customer service levels which is very important in Finance. Organizations currently are trying to get a hang of it in multiple use cases and it will be a mainstay in the near future.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs and some closing comments for our readers ?

The books I would recommend are E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, Founder of Michael E Gerber Companies and Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Founder of PayPal

We work really hard all our lives to earn money but do make our money work hard for us, by the time we realize this, half our working life is over. I would advise your readers to start investing early as time in the market is the most important factor and it is totally under our control. Investing is a process, boring maybe, but definitely life changing if taken up seriously.

SIPtm for Android can be downloaded from here. We thank Arjun Sarkar for sharing his insights with our readers and walking us through his journey. If you have any questions for him, please share them via a comment to this article or email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com

Technology is the single greatest reason for man to believe in a better future. But technology is complex and messy and every time it makes progress, it seems to leave many behind. At this precise juncture, lies the role of design. It has the ability to make technology as palatable to human beings as is possible. The role of design is to humanize technology so that the complexity and the mess is hidden from the users. The users then just have to keep in mind what they want to achieve and not worry about the complex ways in which that objective will be achieved.

Image Source – UX Design

The objective of the field of design is to help a business achieve its goals. Therefore, if it doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, it cannot be considered successful. This is where Redd, a specialized design studio can come to the rescue of startups as well as large organizations. Redd specializes in developing version 1.0 products which is the holy grail when it comes to UX design. Redd develops wire-frames, perform user studies, produce visual, web and graphic designs, icons, content and illustrations and perform analysis on already implemented designs for brands. Ancillary services like branding and copy-writing are also included in the process. At the core, Redd excels at developing version 1.0 applications – a huge challenge in the UX field. Today we have a chat with Sharan Grandigae, Founder & CEO – Redd about essentials of design, aspects of design development, work being done by Redd, funding, etc. So, lets get started with the Q&A…

Can you please walk us through Redd and its core team composition ?

Redd was founded by me, Sharan Grandigae, and I am the CEO of the company. We have two Senior Partners, Abhilash K V who heads the design function and Priti Srinivasan, who heads marketing. Apart from this, there are two Lead Designers, Akshitha Praveen and Ashwita Palekar who head the different teams that are formed for executing the projects that we undertake. Interestingly, 73% of our employees are women and one of the leads is only 24!

Redd is a specialized UX Design Agency. How can Redd help early-stage as well as growth-stage start-ups by partnering in their product design and development ?

Early stage start-ups have the challenge of answering two vital questions: first, whether the product or service they are offering is useful, and second, how much are people willing to pay for the product or service. While these are straightforward questions, they are incredibly hard to answer, and many entrepreneurs have a tough time figuring out what it is they can offer or who is their customer. By taking a user-centric approach in designing their product or service offering, we can help answer these questions first before packaging them correctly for higher conversion or beginning to address ancillary revenue streams.

For example, a client came to us to help design a system aimed at the construction industry. While they came in asking us to design an application aimed at making it easier for the customer, the trouble was that there were so many services that the platform could put a potential customer in touch with, right from architects, plumbers and electricians to earth movers and scaffolders. This would undoubtedly overwhelm any user and they would simply drop off. Thus, we helped them create packages of services under the headings ‘For new home buyers’, ‘For re-modelling an existing home’, etc., which easily explained which package a customer can choose.

But more than that, the client wasn’t thinking of the business from the perspective of a digital platform and this didn’t allow them to see the ancillary revenue streams available on the platform through the ads, building pages to showcase work that vendors had done, etc. We were able to identify these because we had done it for several other clients before.

Clients that come to us in the growth stage have typically been through the first round of figuring out what the customer wants. They are looking at optimising their presentation and processes so as to increase conversion and scale their businesses. They may have one or several goals to achieve, such as increasing their user base, the total billing per customer, time spent on the site, and referrals or frequency of purchase; generating sales leads or any other such key performance indicators.

Once they define the goal of the design process, we examine their existing system, analyze their traffic data, customer profiles and conversion patterns and begin finding the right solutions to the problems we identify within the system. We help design simple and efficient systems that help the user achieve their goals while simultaneously achieving those of the company.

In how many different business verticals does Redd have expertise in? Can you now list down successful case studies in those verticals ?

At Redd, we have stayed away from specializing in just a few industry verticals as that’s a recipe for disaster for a creative agency. Instead, we take on projects from as wide a range of industry verticals as possible. Our team is currently working on the pregnancy experience of a mother-to-be while figuring out the best ways to sell steel even while finishing up a project related to core banking! We learn something new every day.

And this isn’t just us staying generalists because it is interesting for us, there are clear business reasons for doing so. Many companies can hire design teams in-house, but the problem is that these become entrenched in the systems that they are developing. This entrenchment can cause them to only be able to see the next stage of evolution of the product or the stage after that. But how does a client’s business achieve evolutionary jumps that can induce spikes in the company’s growth? That jump can only come from lateral thinking and that’s the one reason clients who have design teams in-house still come to us.

For example, we learnt something while standing in jewellery stores observing customer interactions when we were engaged by BlueStone to redesign their e-commerce site. That learning stayed with us and sparked a new idea that found application when we were later engaged by Lenskart for their mobile site redesign. Who would have thought that jewellery and glasses were related? And if you think about it from Lenskart’s perspective, many cycles of design-development-research-analysis were saved because of this!

Since you have worked with a range of clients, can you tell us what are some of the misconceptions that a few start-ups [or companies] have about UX Design and how Redd hand-holds such start-ups in their design journey ?

Misconception #1 First and foremost, people think UX design is about beautification. It isn’t. It is essential to the core functioning and profitability of a business. You would have noticed so far that I have not mentioned aesthetics even once. The reason is that we no longer live in a world that tolerates bad-looking products, so beautification and aesthetics are a base-level requirement. Design goes beyond and examines the efficiency of an entire business system and helps tune that to achieve the best that it can.

Misconception #2 Second, the right time to engage a UX agency is after the product is built and functioning. People seem to think that this is the cheaper approach but that’s a matter of perspective. If you are an early stage start-up, you want to know whether you have a product that people will spend their money on. What if your offering is good but the way it is presented is below average, or it’s not easy to use the product, or if the payments for the same were difficult to make? If these points resulted in poor conversion, would you write off your offering as bad? There are many reasons why a business fails but the reason you work with a UX designer is to provide the business the best chance it has to succeed.

Misconception #3 Third, it’s cheaper to hire a designer in-house rather than an agency. While different agencies charge differently, hiring the right design talent is hard and retaining them in the long run is harder when you take into consideration the fact that most designers revel in working on a variety of things rather than on one thing for a long time. It’s better to own the technical development team in-house and outsource the design function to specialized agencies.

Please share your engagement policy with companies and how does Redd act as a co-enabler rather than just being a design partner [for them] ?

We work in two ways: on fixed-bid projects and on retainers. For most first-time engagements with clients, we work on a project basis for a fixed scope of work. This keeps expectations clear for the client. We work on the retainer model when clients want to work with us like an internal design team, providing us tasks every week. We set aside a specific number of hours that the client can use, and they can assign us any task related to any of the services offered by Redd for a simple flat monthly fee.

Whichever way we engage with clients, we make sure that we do all the work necessary to create the right experience from market and user research, to creating the communications materials that are going to be required post the UX design stage.

Mr Sharan Grandigae, Founder and CEO, Redd

There are many design agencies catering to web, mobile design; what are some of the core USPs that Redd brings to the table for its clients ?

Most UX design agencies’ DNA is in graphic design but Redd’s background was in the development of custom software that run various business operations. Through this, we have developed a keen sense of not only development methodologies but also of how businesses function at a core level. Redd can move fluidly between discussions on front-end frameworks and version management systems to EBIDTA and the four P’s of marketing!

With User Experience and Seamless design across devices becoming increasingly important, what can you share about some of the best practices in design and how start-ups can leverage the same to design well-crafted products ?

A pattern we are seeing across the board is that a customercs experience is not only delivered on one medium, such as mobile websites, but occurs across the desktop website, mobile apps and also with walk-ins at stores. For example, one common pattern we’ve seen across clients is that their browsing is high on mobile web and apps, but purchases tend to be made on desktop websites or at stores. So we’ve adopted a ‘universal commerce’ approach which allows us to design experiences that begin on one medium and end on another.

This is the paradigm shift that we see happening and one that we would prompt other entrepreneurs to take into consideration when thinking about their user experiences.

Can you share some details about the funding status of Redd and are you open to institutional funding ?

We have been bootstrapped all along and have been building based on our own revenues. We are looking for funding only to launch some products being developed in-house.

Which according to you are some of the beautifully designed Indian as well as global products ?

Bangalore’s own Ather Energy’s electric scooter is a fantastic innovation in the field of product and service design. Not only have they succeeded in designing a very well-thought-out scooter, but they have also considered the ownership experience and designed the right sales packages. On the global front, unsurprisingly, I see what Tesla is doing as the new benchmark for how products and services need to be thought of, planned and executed.

There has been a significant rise in the number of product [read hardware] start-ups in India, are you looking to venture into product and UX development for such start-ups ?

Every field of design has the same underlying principles and thinking methodologies for producing the outcomes in their respective fields. We see the design of products as a natural extension of our current capabilities, so yes, this is something we intend to do.

You have been in the business for a couple of years. What has been your overall learning experience running a bootstrapped enterprise like Redd ?

I think we have learnt a lot already. But the funny thing is that while one would expect to have learnt something new and unique, the number of things that fall within that category are very few and rarely impact your business in a meaningful way. The single most impactful lesson I’ve learnt is that everything, even the most complex of ideas, can be understood by breaking it down to its principles.

So, along those lines, I would phrase the fundamentals of business with the following five principles:

  1. You have nothing if you don’t have a customer who is willing to pay you for what you have to offer.
  2. Put together a great team who can share in your passion.
  3. Pay attention to finances, especially cash-flows.
  4. Build processes that can scale when your business does.
  5. You need a think-tank that has people with whom you can discuss business ideas on an ongoing basis.

Though it is late to ask, what is the overall target market of Redd and do you service global companies as well ?

Our target market is technology or technology-enabled companies that are looking to build something innovative. We typically deal with start-ups wanting to scale and enterprises that want to be more agile. Some examples of global companies that we’ve worked with are Infosys, L&T Infotech, FIS Payment Solutions and TopUniversities.com.

There has been lot of buzz about chatbots, at least their usage is exponentially increasing in the fintech, healthcare, edtech sector. What are your thoughts on the same and how exactly should start-ups [as well as growth stage companies] make use of chatbots effectively ?

There are many stages of interactions between customers and a company. The early stage interactions are more general, repeated and substantially vast in number compared to later stage interactions. These early stage interactions are best handled by bots and there needs to be a smooth hand-off to a live person when the discussion gets more specific.

We have developed our own chatbot called Cruz and use it on our website. It manages many of our conversations with prospective clients, candidates searching for jobs and students looking for internships and has handled a lot of these smoothly. It has, in fact, become better over time.

Redd has a string of clients [ranging from start-ups to huge companies like L&T]. What are some of the learnings while dealing with such a wide range of clients and how agile [and open] are big companies to suggestions and change ?

Our job, in a way, is to understand the vision of the promoter and express that in terms of an app. With start-ups, we are typically working directly with the founders and this process is relatively easy. With large enterprises, a special team may be assigned to work with us, but the decision maker is rarely in the room. So, it is like us making proposals and then waiting for them to run the ideas up the decision chain and get back to us.

While these are indicative of the behaviors of majority players within each group, we have seen start-ups with many decision-making layers and we have worked with enterprises that make decisions and move faster than start-ups! So, it’s not like these stereotypes are always played out.

Does Redd also deal with clients in emerging economies since the entrepreneurial talent is blooming in places like Vietnam, Chile, etc. ?

We are open to it, but haven’t worked with clients outside of India, the UK, the US and the UAE yet.

Effective UX does help in user engagement and conversion rates [at least for e-commerce kind of sites]. Please share some learnings from Redd on how it helped clients in these two areas [or any areas in retention] ?

For us to design better experiences, we need to really understand the concerns and constraints users go through during the purchase of or engagement with a product or service. This helps us frame our client’s offerings in such a way that their customers consume them. This usually helps in engagement first and consequently in conversion.

For instance, when we were engaged by BlueStone.com who sold jewellery online, we stood in jewellery stores and observed how customers purchased jewellery. The first thing we observed was that when customers came into the store and asked to see, say bangles, the salespeople would bring not one, but several trays of jewellery at a time. This seemed like such a waste to us because so much effort was being spent in bringing out the trays and then restacking them after the customer had left, so we asked the salespeople about this. What they said changed the way we thought about selling jewellery forever.

They said that customers rarely walk into a jewellery store with the intention of buying one particular piece of jewellery because this purchase is driven not by utility, but by emotion. So, there’s no way to ascertain through questioning what the customer has in mind specifically because they rarely do and even when they do, it’s not like they won’t change their minds if they see something better. The only thing that the salespeople could do to increase conversion was to bring out trays and trays of jewellery, thus increasing the chances of the customer seeing something they like and purchasing them.

This was the core learning around which we designed BlueStone’s e-commerce store – to increase the number of items seen by clients in each session. The way we went about doing it was complex and intricate, but it’s based on such a simple learning!

There has been a surge in the number of conferences on Design [DesignConf], Technology, IoT, etc. How do such conferences result in the blooming of the eco-system and is Redd a part of any such consortium ?

These conferences show how big the field of design is becoming. These kinds of conferences are usually great forums to share and exchange ideas from each field of design. But interestingly, the number of sessions being conducted on ‘design thinking‘ has specifically increased over time and is being subscribed to by non-designers more and more. This is a great indicator to me that design is gaining acceptance outside of the design world and is here to stay.

For start-ups, the core team is very important. How did you as a founder deal with hiring for Redd and please share some effective tips from hiring in start-ups ?

Redd is composed not only of people who are trained in design as a part of their education, but also those that came to it from outside [like me]. We’ve been extremely lucky in having been able to hire great people right from the beginning. I have met and hired everyone myself and don’t anticipate that I will ever hand this function off to anyone else in future. But to make my process a little easier, I have an automated system that sends back a set of four questions to anyone applying to Redd. The answers to these questions tell me a lot about the people even before we meet them.

We are able to weed out a huge number of applicants right at this stage and the ones that make it past this point are typically only met with to assess skill and culture fit within our company.

Some ideas on UX and Design that can be used as an effective tool for growth marketing ?

Improving the UX of an offering makes it 16% more likely to be recommended to others [Forrester] – that’s probably the only fact that I can quote about the effectiveness of UX. We don’t have more data other than the fact that all our clients are continuing to grow in size after our engagement with them.

Books or resources you highly recommend for Design Aspirants as well as entrepreneurs?

Guns, Germs and Steel, Sapiens, The Consolations of Philosophy, and Good to Great. The first four seasons of the TV show The West Wing are a must-watch.

We thank Sharan Grandigae for sharing his insights with our readers and walking us through his journey. If you have any questions for him, please share them via a comment to this article or email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com

IoT is gaining popularity with each passing day and one of the primary reason to it is that it is instrumental in creating a connected eco-system. With the lethal combination of cloud, IoT, mobility & other technologies, a consumer can now control temperature in his living room while sitting in the comfort of his office or (s)he can issue voice commands to ‘perform actions’ to a smart connected speaker [Google Home Mini/Amazon Echo Dot/etc.] without even touching the primary device [mobile/tablet].

Image Source – IoT

As per a report by Gartner on IoT, there would be close to 21 billion connected devices by the year 2020 and the usage would not be limited to only smartphones, tablets, speakers, etc. but it would have a profound impact on sectors likes healthcare, finance and others as well. Though popularity is on the rise, there is still a problem with ‘Product Discovery in IoT’ e.g. How does a consumer select the best set of connected devices for home/office so that they can truly experience ‘smart connectivity’. This is the problem being solved by Smarthome NX, the only aggregator in the home IoT space in Asia that is making it easy for consumers to adopt a Smart home by spreading awareness and hand-holding the customer.

Smarthome NX is an aggregator for Smart home solutions with a unique consulting process that inspires consumers with practical ideas and helps them in the process of implementation. They currently deal in home automation, smart door locks, smart lighting, AV, security systems, security cameras by brands such as Yale, Bose, Legrand, GM, Control4, Crestron, Cue, Fibaro, Philips Hue, Eureka Forbes to name a few.

Today we have an interaction with serial entrepreneur Dhaval Doshi, Founder & CEO of Smarthome NX. The discussion revolves around IoT market landscape, Smarthome NX, how it is helping consumers to adopt to Smart Homes, etc. So let’s get started with the Q&A…

How did you come up with the idea of SmartHome NX ?

Smarthome NX was conceived when I was sick of the way home automation and Smart home solutions were being sold in India. As a homeowner, I found it challenging to make sense of what are the solutions available and moreover get the right advice to set up the apt devices suitable to my lifestyle. Therefore, I felt the need to fill this gap between the consumer and the solution providers by way of a portal that could educate and help consumers simplify the process of adopting this complex and rather unfamiliar technology.

It is important to note that unlike other smart devices like your smartphone, a Smart home solution is not a standalone product but a bundle of products that together form a solution. To most consumers, this is an arbitrary solution and is not important unless it solves a specific problem in their life. No one says that I want a Smart home solution that has 4 GB RAM and an OLED display. In fact, most of them say that I want a solution that can help me monitor my pet or alert me if I left my stove on. Therefore, a Smart home solution needs to be personalized and generally relates to a specific lifestyle nuance. That’s what we do at Smarthome NX – educate, engage and ensure adoption is easy.

Can you walk us through the team behind SmartHome NX ?

I am the founder of Smarthome NX. My background is in digital marketing and advertising. I have worked on large and small brands alike having been associated with brands like Axis Bank, Bajaj Auto, Amazon Prime Video to name a few. This is my third venture after having built and sold a digital agency and having run a modest co-working space in the suburbs of Mumbai.

My wife Namrata is an architect and a green building consultant. She acts as a Subject Matter Expert [SME] and helps us translate customer requirements into technical solutions. In addition, as an architect she helps us build our partner network as well. Rest of the team comprises of a digital marketing lead, a marketing and partnerships manager, relationship managers and content writers

Though there is lot of buzz about IoT or connected devices, it is still at a very nascent stage [at least in India], what is the Total Addressable Market [TAM] of the IoT online market that SmartHome NX is trying to address ?

First of all, as an entrepreneur, TAM and such terms are just buzzwords. To me, fundamentals of a business matter far more. I believe most entrepreneurs get caught up with all this jargon when they do investor presentations. I, for one am bootstrapped and second I am building something to solve a real problem – which to me is big.

In order to break the myths of how ‘big’ the IoT market is, we conducted a survey with about 500 odd households across India to understand what they think about ‘smart homes’ or ‘home automation’. We realized that there are more severe problems to solve here before the market goes mainstream

  • Lack of awareness
  • Finding the right consultant
  • interoperability issues within the home automation ecosystem

There is a research paper by Red Seer Consulting which says that the market size is pegged at Rs. 8,800 crore. However, I take these numbers with a pinch of salt. Because this does not take into consideration the larger services play which are being built on top of Smart home solutions – be it managed security solutions or even entertainment.

Over a period of time, we have pivoted and learnt several things about the market we are in. Interestingly, we are not in the Smart homes market. The service we are providing [free consulting to our clients] is mostly to new homeowners. And they don’t want just ‘Smart home solutions’, they want more. They are evolved and involved purchasers who want more from their home – which goes beyond aesthetics. Therefore, we are now going to venturing into residential solar energy solutions as well and other low-hanging services for which they don’t have enough information – soundproof windows, modular furniture, modular kitchens, etc.

SmartHome NX team

Can you list down some of the partners of SmartHome NX and the cities that it is currently operational in ?

We can not name our partners but the larger proportion of our partners are present in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Installing even a surveillance system in home requires lot of wiring, please walk us through the entire flow of events right from the time a potential customer submits a request to the time his/her home is converted into a ‘Smart Home’ ?

There are several steps involved. However, not every surveillance system requires wiring. There are many wireless solutions available as well. A typical smart home security solution [requiring wiring] requires answering the following questions and planning accordingly:

  • What do you want to monitor?
  • Do you need to record it? If so, for how long do you need the data? Typically a higher capacity Hard Drive gives you access to footage for a longer period [1 month, 2 months and so on]
  • How many cameras would you eventually need for the same
  • Concealed wiring is preferred so it’s important to determine whether the homeowner is open to breaking of the walls or ceilings and then getting them redone [new homeowners should ideally call us before their wiring work starts]
  • DVR and the features of the DVR and its usability is important. Generally a DVR – a digital video recorder hosts the hard drive. So it’s important to be able to use it easily and be acquainted with the interface otherwise it becomes challenging to access the security footage.

Typically, after a customer submits the request this is what happens

  • Smarthome NX consultant speaks to you and understands your lifestyle and requirements
  • This is translated into a broad requirements sheet and shared with our entire network of Smart security solutions
  • He or she will contact you and do a recce of your house
  • Send you a quote and start the work.

Since connected devices also require Maintenance, please delve deep into the post installation and AMC process [and for how long is SmartHome NX involved with a customer after his/her SmartHome is ready] ?

We are an aggregator of service providers and are not involved in the project. However, a customer can speak with us at anytime even if they have not gotten a Smart home solution installed through our network. We are happy to connect him to relevant brands and dealers so that they get the service that they need. However, if you have gotten a solution through one of our system integrators, you generally get an AMC contract for a fee based on the products you have bought.

Apart from in house IoT experts, does your startup also have architects on-board who can check the feasibility of a home [before giving a go-ahead] ?

Yes, we do have consulting architects who work along with Namrata and the consulting team to help the customer and system integrator as well in many cases.

Does SmartHomeNx serve the B2C space only or you also have customers in the B2B space ?

We do have customers in the B2B space. However, our focus is and always will be on the end customer. We feel there is far more value to be added there in terms of educating and helping them find the right solution provider.

Can you please some insights into the customer demographics [space, locality, city, etc.] and a rough estimate of the number of customers served till date ?

Practical homemakers, Interior Designers, Builders, Expats, Green living enthusiasts, Millennial’s are generally the type of personas who read our content and speak with us. We have generated inquiries worth about 15 crore and helped connect our partners to 500 homeowners. [Since January 2018].

Please walk us through the funding of SmartHome NX and are you open to institutional funding ?

Bootstrapped. Currently, we are looking to raise funds from angel investors.

The growth in the IoT market is plagued by interoperability issues, what according to you, can the IoT companies do to further expand the IoT ecosystem ?

This is a very scattered and fragmented market. I think that the popularity of Amazon Echo and other such devices by the big tech companies [Google, Amazon, Apple and others] are a boon to the industry. They are ensuring there are more universal interfaces that are available to control a Smart home.

The peripherals industry of Smart homes is set to explode thanks to these interfaces. Interoperability challenges are the industry’s problem. That does not mean that the customer won’t win. Most successful products available in the market work on multiple ecosystems.

To me, this problem will fix itself when customers start adopting something massively – like the Amazon Echo. Generally two or three such events and complementary products and services will make a solution mainstream. Then every other player will follow.

Does SmartHome NX also develop custom build apps for it’s customer since they need to manage different devices on the go and how much do you charge for the update of the App or for FOTA upgrades of your in house developed connected hub ?

Nope. We are a discovery platform for existing solutions already available in the market.

In case, a real-estate company plans to tie-up with SmartHome NX, how does the entire process work ?

We understand their requirements and connect them to system integrators who can work on large scale projects and have the wear withal to execute the same in terms of competency, team and product portfolio. In fact, we have already done this for many villa scheme builders in Southern India and some builders in Mumbai too.

There are number of HNIs who are tech-savvy but don’t know about the security implications for a connected home, how do you educate such category of customers about security, maintenance, upgrades, etc. ?

Content, Content, Content. We have a great newsletter #SmarthomesWeekly and we also right great content on our site about interesting use-cases of products. We do not focus on features but focus on lifestyle problems that these products solve. That’s how we differentiate.

Does SmartHome NX work on the marketplace model [both in terms of devices and contractors] or do you have your own warehouse ?

We are building a marketplace around this but we will steer away from having our own warehouse and our vendors would be drop-shipping individual orders we generate for them. But we are still to get to this so it may go either way.

In IT capital Bengaluru, Sobha Builders, came up with the Smart Building ‘Sobha Habitech’ and Amazon Echo also went mainstream with Builders recently, how according to you would such big tie-ups help in strengthening the eco-system ?

Awesome. This is just great. To me, these efforts are great ways to sell your dormant inventory when you are a builder. However, this does not build a case for Smart homes. These are just sales promotion techniques.

Can you some of the competitors of SmartHome NX ?

No one really. However, with our new positioning [going beyond Smart homes], we would be competing with folks like Houzz.com. We are far from it but we are getting there soon.

2017 was a tough year for startups [especially from funding point of view], how according to you should entrepreneurs deal with such adverse situations ?

Every year seems to be a tough year. I don’t know who comes up with these. Outside of all Tiger Global and Softbank funding news, there is another world of startups that still raise some money and make money too. But unfortunately, the media terms something bad just because they didn’t have too many headliners about billion dollar fundings.

Overall, in tough times, survival counts most. Always keeping your eye on the end goal is important. Monetizing too early is bad too.

Can you share some tips for building an effective team for startups [especially the initial core team].

Hire the people who have the right mindset and not necessarily who are most talented. To me mindset and attitude are two things that tell you whether the person has the grit that is needed to work for a startup. Dozens of pivots, uncertain revenue models and lack of scale – is the person you are hiring ready for it? If not, he is not in it for the game. It is tough but you need people to work for the vision you have.

When you are starting up no one can see what your vision is – therefore they bet their careers on you. It’s important to ensure that they realize that. If they don’t, they are probably just working for you because they think ‘it’s cool to work for a startup’. They won’t realize what they are getting into and will soon quit. So be blunt when you hire, tell them what you are up to and why you are doing it. Honesty goes a long way in weeding out the wrong candidates and finding the right ones.

How important is it for early stage startups to pivot their business model [in case things are not working out as per their plan] or when is the right time to pivot ?

Very. The single most important thing is this. You can not pivot when you are growing. When you are small, it’s easy, it’s less expensive. I think we are still young and we continue to do pivots. I like to call them experiments. I like to do multiple experiments depending on how much cash I have in my bank account. Some pivots even make you money [when we are trying different revenue models] but at the end of the day – learning is most important byproduct. This learning according to me is the most important thing for an entrepreneur

As per your entrepreneurial experience, when should an entrepreneur look out for external funding ?

This never stops I think – external or not. You need money to scale your venture.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs

Lee Iacocca’s autobiography

Some closing thoughts for our readers!

I will leave the readers with my favorite quote by Lee Iacocca – ‘The trick is to make sure you don’t die waiting for prosperity to come‘.

We thank Dhaval Doshi for sharing his insights with our readers and walking us through his journey. If you have any questions for him, please share them via a comment to this article or email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com

Fin-tech is having a huge impact on the financial services in India. It has been largely dominated by the lending and payments companies in India. Initiatives like the India Stack [UPI, e-KYC, Aadhar] by National Payments Corporation Of India [NPCI] have been instrumental in leading the Fin-tech revolution. As of 2018, it has been estimated that India has around 19 crore adults without a bank account despite efforts from the government. Digital payments is a rapidly growing sector in India today with multiple players capturing various pockets of the market.

Image Source – Fintech

In this dynamic space, MoneyOnMobile brings to the table a unique and revolutionary concept of Digital payments for the unbanked and under-banked through means of financial inclusion and self-dependence.

MoneyOnMobile helps these consumers to successfully adopt digital payment practices through use of just a basic feature phone to make life simpler and easier. Users can simply convert physical cash to digital cash by visiting any MoneyOnMobile retailer base store or by activating services through a SMS or by downloading the MoneyOnMobile app.

MoneyOnMobile has been designed to work across all mobile phone handsets, from the most basic to the most advanced. By using the innovative m-Wallet from MoneyOnMobile, one can recharge a mobile; pay utility bills; top-up a DTH account; shop for any goods or services; buy travel related services such as – rail/air/bus/movie tickets and even handle banking transactions – all from the comfort of a mobile phone. MoneyOnMoney’s success to reach the remotest parts of India makes them the standalone prepaid instrument in the market today. Today we have a chat with Mr. Harold Montgomery, CEO – MoneyOnMobile about the MoneyOnMobile retailer eco-system, Fintech enablement, Digital India, etc. so let’s get started with the Q&A…

Can you walk us through the MoneyOnMobile – company, services, etc.

MoneyOnMobile is one of India’s largest mobile phone-based payment provider in India catering to the unbanked and under-banked population. We primarily operate through a well-connected network of distributors and retailers who are enabled with semi-closed payment instruments or pre-paid wallets to offer various financial services.

MoneyOnMobile offers a vast range of services including money transfer, bill payment, MOM Cart, MOM Capital, DTH payment, mobile recharge, travel tickets, two-wheeler insurance, etc. MOM ATM is another innovative solution that is worth a mention – it is a mobile point of sale device that enables brick and mortar stores or any existing MoneyOnMobile channel partner to facilitate cash withdrawals to customers by swiping their debit/ATM cards.

These services are offered on real time basis irrespective of geography, time and mobile operator within the country. The dynamic services of MoneyOnMobile can be activated through a simple SMS, APP or web portal.

MoneyOnMobile is headquartered in Mumbai in India and Dallas in the US.  I am based in the US along with Scott Arey – CFO and Will Dawson – COO. You can more details about it here.

There is a lot of push for Digital India and there is a major competition with different PSP’s like PayTm, PhonePe, including BHIMP from NPCI, what are some of the core differentiators of MoneyOnMobile vis-a-vis other PSP’s since most of them provide plethora of services like Mobile/DTH recharge, Money Transfer, Bus Booking, etc.

Today the top Payment Service Providers [PSP] present in the Indian market deal with cashless transactions. Their target audience primarily have active bank accounts and other necessary means like a network enabled smartphone. MoneyOnMobile however caters to the under-banked and unbanked population who deal with physical cash on daily basis.

Through us, customers can access online services by just walking up to a MoneyOnMobile enabled retailer store requesting for payment of bills, DTH services, travel booking, etc. and pay for products and services through physical cash. The retailer collects cash from the customer to complete the process by pushing notification to the customer’s mobile phone by means of a SMS – thereby also earning a small commission in the process.

Moreover, MoneyOnMobile has the capacity to handle low value transactions which opens up to a wider range of transaction opportunities for under-banked customers whose monthly income can be anywhere between 400-500 dollars or less. This is a huge disrupting factor vis-a-vis other players. MoneyOnMobile has also involved a low-cost processing approach that bypasses direct integration with banks or card networks; APIs is used to connect digitally with third parties. This reduces the cost and saves time which is essential for most customers. Check links 1 & 2 for reference.

Mr. Harold Montgomery, CEO – MoneyOnMobile

As MoneyOnMobile is mainly targeting the unbanked/BOP population, please comment on the market share of MoneyOnMobile in the digital payments [and services sector] and where does MoneyOnMobile team see the next level of growth in a diversified country like India ?

Since inception, MoneyOnMobile has signed up more than 350,000 retailers across 900 cities all over India. More than 2-billion-dollar worth of transaction has   taken place on behalf of 200 million Indian consumers with unique Indian phone numbers till date.

MoneyOnMobile caters to 600-800 million unbanked and under-banked population in comparison with other PSP players who cater to the remaining 200 million with active bank accounts. MoneyOnMobile plans to offer loans to shop owners via third parties and focus more on financial remittances sent within and outside India. Our more ambitious goal going forward is establishing 30,000 biometric-based MOM ATM systems by end of 2019 to support fee-based cash withdrawals throughout India. Refer this for more information.

There is a major push by the GOI for bringing more people under the banking umbrella, how does this shift affect MoneyOnMobile’s game play/growth plan and how does MoneyOnMobile plan to offer services if major population becomes banked ?

A recent World Bank report stated that around 19 crore adults do not have a bank account in India despite efforts from the Indian Government. Almost 50 percent of bank accounts under various schemes remained inactive in the past year, owing to different factors including poor accessibility to banks, inadequate financial literacy and non-existent of a robust network infrastructure in the country. Moreover, currency circulation had returned to near pre- demonetization levels as indicated from an analysis of credit and debit card usage in the previous financial year.

All this indicates that concept of physical cash transaction is not going anywhere despite bringing more people under the banking umbrella. India’s cash problem must be addressed at a much deeper level, this is an area MoneyOnMobile focuses to thrive and grow. MoneyOnMobile continues its effort to bring more retailers from the remotest parts of the country under its umbrella. In parallel, we also plan to diversify our service offerings, improve efficiency of transactions and add more MOM ATMs. More here, here and here.

Apart from customer experience, what are some of the advantages for a MoneyOnMobile AGENT in terms of commission, services, etc. so that he can recommend MoneyOnMobile over other PSP’s

MoneyOnMobile’s retailer assisted mobile payments model is structured to reward every member in the ecosystem –  distributors, merchants and retailers in this case.

Distributor agents typically scout and sign up retailers to enable MoneyOnMobile services. Every agent earns an incentive based on total payments volume each store/retailer under him/her generates. This acts as a great motivator for more distributors to register retailers who can bring in strong traffic in the area. Distributors are also encouraged to provide training and support to retailers who instill strong support system to grow.

Retailers earn through transaction based commission, once the retailer accepts cash from a consumer and directs the funds to the respective payee, the merchant gets a percentage of the profit gained from the transaction. MoneyOnMobile’s business model ensures all stakeholders involved in the network are benefitted from each transaction and this has helped in registering more than 350,000 retailers throughout India. More details can be found here.

Though Demonetization happened in 2016, it had a major impact on all the sectors, but it resulted in a huge push in Digital Payments, how much growth in volumes did MoneyOnMobile observe during that phase and how did you keep the users hooked after that exponential growth phase ?

Demonetization had a different impact on MoneyOnMobile. While it had given adequate boost to the growth of digital payment apps and wallets, MoneyOnMobile witnessed a slight decline due to shortage of cash, which is core to our business. But on longer, demonetization succeeded in boosting growth of digital transaction and adoption of digital payment methods in semi urban and rural areas. Eventually with cash returning back to the system coupled with consumer trust and understanding of the importance in digital remittances, we have witnessed considerable growth post demonetization.

The key attraction for retailers and consumers to continue using MoneyOnMobile is the combination of bringing different services to a single location that will help people save tremendous amount of time & money. Another is the cost of investment to use MoneyOnMobile; the fact that consumers need only a simple mobile phone to use these services is a huge plus factor. More here and here.

We thank Mr. Harold Montgomery, CEO – MoneyOnMobile for sharing his insights with our readers. If you are retailer and planning to join the ever expanding MoneyOnMobile network, please download the MoneyOnMobile Retailer Prima from here. MoneyOnMobile Wallet for consumers can be downloaded from here. If you have any questions for Mr. Harold or his team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

The impact that technology has on our lives today has been growing with each passing day. A domain which is seeing tremendous amount of advancement is the field of Communication and Devices. Tracing back to several decades earlier, who would have known that mobile phones would become so popular, and that the means of communication would change so drastically over a period of time. Not only have consumers benefited positively from these advancements, but even traditional businesses have had to embrace this change in order to stay relevant and be ahead of the curve. IoT, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Chat Bots, etc. are some of the technologies that are fueling this growth. Enterprises, irrespective of the size & scale have to embrace the change and evolve alongside it. This is where a company like Sasken that has a product development DNA can help global leaders drive product development, commercialization, customization and maintenance.

Image Source – Communication

Sasken specializes in verticals such as Semiconductors, Automotive, Enterprise Grade Devices, Smart Devices and Wearables, Public Safety, Satcom, Telecom, Industrial and Retail. They partner with their customers to provide full life-cycle product engineering capability including sustenance of existing product lines. Sasken enables its customers to build innovative products and solutions that transform human life.

Ajit Singh, Global Head of Communications & Devices business unit, Sasken Technologies Limited is focused on channelizing Sasken’s Chip to Cognitive experience towards the success of its customers. His rich experience in managing 360-degree alliance partnerships and innovative business models have enabled mutual success with customers. More details about him can be found here. Today, we have a chat with Ajit Singh, about communication trends, security, 5G, impact of Machine Learning & AI on technology, etc.

Please give a brief insight into the work that has been done at Sasken ?

I am responsible for the Communication and Device business unit at Sasken and I took over this role a little less than a year ago. This business unit contributes approximately to one-third of the organization’s overall revenue.

As far as Sasken is concerned, we continue to be focused on product engineering, the areas that we are working on, and are currently seeing market growth particularly in the Industrials and Auto segment. We are leveraging our chip to cognition experience and our competency in newer solutions and taking them into new segments. So, while we are strengthening the expertise we have in the communications space, we are also leveraging it in newer market segments.

Our investors are elated with the quarter-on-quarter growth, and we continue to be debt free and profitable.

Can you comment on the business unit that you are heading, and what are some of the ways in which Sasken is helping its customers in that particular segment ?

Our Communication and Devices BU is divided into devices and wireless sections. While the devices section includes all kinds of devices – be it smartphone or any other IoT device – wireless includes our key satellite communication customers and some network infrastructure work that we have done for our wireless customers.

On the devices side, we are helping our customers differentiate their products in the market. While it is becoming easy for OEMs [device manufacturers] to adopt the latest platform from Google and bring best features to the market instead of getting standardized, it is increasingly becoming a challenge for them to still differentiate and come out with the premium features that they want from the customers and consumers. We are helping our customers adopt the new Google OS as well as maintain their legacy products in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. There are a lot of new things we are working on in the areas of Machine Learning and AI which are now slowing getting integrated into new products.

We are using our embedded engineering knowledge to help our customers incorporate the benefits of newer technologies into their products as well. This is happening across different business segments and is not solely confined to the smartphone market. We are seeing clear adoption of new technologies in the Automotive and Industrial IoT [IIoT] segment as well.

In the wireless segment, Sasken has been unique in India through its global satellite communication customers. In my 20+ years of experience, I haven’t seen any company come close to the competency and offerings that Sasken has in this segment. We have customers who have been associated with us for the last 15+ years and we have helped them bring about new products that enhance the speed, ruggedness, and stability, along with the new Use cases & Applications.

We are working with a leading North American system integrator to develop a next generation LTE based satellite communication device; a first of its kind in the industry when it is commercially launched. We are also working with a customer in the networking side where we are helping the customer migrate from existing GSN-based [Gigabyte System Network] BTS [Base Transceiver Station] to a faster 5G/LTE-based networking product.

From a digital standpoint, we are bringing in expertise from helping them on the revenue side of the business to gain a better insight for customers and consumers. This thereby sharpens their products and service strategy.

You mentioned about Android, and how exactly it is streamlining with the latest trends. Can you comment on how exactly IoT, AI, machine learning, and Cognitive Computing is changing the way it is affecting the industry and the devices that are existing in the market ?

It is an evolving field. There are multiple leading players in the market, whether it is Google, Amazon or Facebook. Multiple players are shaping the way the industry moves for their own competitive advantage.

A lot of research is happening right from the institute to the corporate level. If you look at any technology leading corporate group, you will see a lot of R&D investment going towards AI or Machine Learning. We are seeing early adopters and products entering the market, while the technologies involved are getting stabilized.

At Sasken, our CTO office is led by an industry veteran. We are doing our own bit in terms of investing in Machine Learning and AI. We are also grooming a competency center within the company which is working on different aspects and use cases. We successfully demonstrated some of these use cases at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona which was well-received by customers and prospects. In summary, things are evolving and there are contributions being made by different players in the market; some of them are existing partners or customers that we are associated with. Using this, we are helping customers adopt and adjust their devices or their overall product strategy.

In terms of how it is impacting the market, time will only tell, but the one thing that comes out clearly is that devices no longer have a standard interface with humans and are constantly evolving. Some of them are becoming physical and some non-physical. From an engineering standpoint, a lot of interesting work is happening, but I foresee that most of the devices will have multiple interfaces to interact with humans as well as themselves. Different interfaces will come through whether visual, audio, multimedia, or in terms of impact of pressure, temperature, etc. It is quite exciting for a company like Sasken, which is so strong embedded in its engineering knowledge, to work with some of the leading semiconductor and OEM customers in today’s evolving environment.

You spoke about how security & battery life holds a very important aspect in the lifespan of any device. Off late, a lot of people are more concerned about security, especially about their own data [after data leak by major social networking giant]. What are some of the steps that are taken by the silicon manufacturers to ensure that there is good enough security on the device, and the data is kept secure ?

Let me first talk about security and then I will come to power management or optimizing the battery. So, from a security aspect let me divide it into two parts. One is creating a machine that behaves the way it has been designed where the security is not at all compromised. Once you give an instruction to the machine, it should deliver an expected output and also be resilient enough to push back any other command not written on it. From an engineering standpoint this means that you create a product that is not hackable to the maximum extent possible.

Today consumers are aware, educated, and much more intelligent to know about what they are using or getting into. At the same time corporates should also own the responsibility of making sure of what they are committing and promising, in order to maintain the integrity and discipline, and that has got nothing to do with product engineering. From Sasken’s standpoint and a product engineering perspective, we are making joint R&D development programs with customers, which is an integral part of making sure that the products that we create are secure and behave the way they are designed to.

Coming to the power management aspect that you touched upon, obviously when you try and insert a multiple application for multiple things that a device has to do, it needs power to run. Multiple challenges are also involved with regard to the way the device functions, and temperature of the device, especially in the Satcom domain. I think we understand it better than many other players because of our expertise in creating a 100% rugged device that is able to withstand non-friendly environments and higher limits of shock.

On one hand you have to create such a device, and on the other hand it has to be very easy to use, hold and be comfortable for the consumer. At the same, the teams need to enhance and improve the performance, speed, and bandwidth to such a large extent that some of these things start playing a role. We have been able to so far figure out the best balance through our competency in terms of maintaining good battery life, without compromising on the performance of the device or the aesthetics or weight etc. We completely appreciate this aspect, and are constantly ensuring that this is all taken care of when we do our development programs.

Ajit Singh, Global Head of Communications & Devices Business Unit, Sasken Technologies Limited

Although lots of things are being spoken and written about IoT, it is still highly under penetrated. Can you comment on some of the reasons or some of the aspects on why exactly it is like that, and what should be done so that there is more and more penetration of IoT and have more devices connected together ?

From my perspective, the key issue is monetizing all the investments. R&D is currently going into this phase, and I feel that the returns will start coming not from the consumer side but from the industrial side, or state or the government agencies. This comes from the fact that they will use these technologies to enhance public safety or deliver better citizen services. That is where I feel the starting point will be, on the industrial side where corporates will see merit in improving their safety, efficiency, of employing things that were earlier difficult to do from a manual standpoint. That is where I think there will be major adoption of IoT.

Here are a couple of examples where I see it actively getting incorporated. One is in the mining area, where devices are evolving and reaching areas that aid humans in a safe environment, thereby helping the corporates who are investing to improve the revenues and reduce their cost or health hazards. The other sector is in the area of the utility, where things like smart meters are getting adopted to reduce power losses. From a consumer perspective, I feel it will take a while before we put our money onto such enhancements. Consumer and commercial models will be very different, and I am hoping some great innovations evolve in in the commercial model department. It might not be straightforward like paying little extra to use IoT applications and then get that additional cost on the cellular bill.

How important is the services aspect of IoT since right now even though we have devices, services are the one that contribute a major part of the revenue. So how exactly should the company go about monetizing the services aspect of an IoT device ?

I recently attended the demo of a company at the Mobile World Congress, and they had an IoT product focused on the agricultural segment. That device essentially was almost free; it was close to a dollar or even less than that. The device basically helps the farmer optimize the water supply that it has to give to his crops, and also gives a bunch of analytics because this device runs on a narrow band IoT, that eventually goes back to the cellular network and connects to the cloud.

The application enters analytical data and feeds it back to the consumer or end user using these IoT devices. So, the device as such almost comes free, but the person who is using it pays for the subscription. They were test marketing the solution in a couple of countries in Europe, and their intention was to broad base it to more countries across the continent. This would be more towards addressing the B2B rather than the B2C market.

How important is data analytics when we talk about all these connected devices, and how exactly is Sasken helping its customers in that area ?

The number of apps and devices are increasing on the planet. You will agree that the data generated is exponentially increasing. In a second, billions of data packets are getting generated. Today, the way data is getting collected and moving to the data center, cloud or private premise, majority of the data capture and consolidation is happening in a very crude form.

There is a lot of work happening in data analytics and in terms of building intelligence on the edge. Anything that goes on the Wide Area Network [WAN] is expensive. It is being charged against cost and planned for its network capacity. Our embedded engineering expertise brings intelligence into the edge whether it is the device, edge router or switch.

The other is our knowledge on the cognition part of the digital segment, which we are able to marry through and help prospective clients by building equipments that are intelligent at the edge. In terms of the data being generated through this, it becomes useful for multiple stakeholders.

On one hand, the consumers or customers who are generating the data from this device can give feedback on consumption models with parameters like time, day, temperature, weather, or season. This helps create a benchmark on what the average consumption is, compared to what the consumption levels he or she is at. This helps give relevance to the consumers generating this data, and in modifying his or her user behavior to his advantage.

Secondly, the data is also important in giving insights on all the equipments being used in the value chain, right from the device to the network, cloud, data center etc. This in turn provides insights on how well the performance levels of the device is, its consumption, the network resources that are draining the battery, and if so, the reasons of failure as well. This data can be used for predictive fault management and planning the customer support or customer service strategy based on this insights derived. So that is the second stakeholder.

The third stakeholder is the network itself. The network provider operates itself in order to make their billing plans more intelligent to the people who are behind their network. For one of our clients which is a Virtual Network Operator buys bulk bandwidth from a large operator in Europe and then sells retail packages to people who want a temporary mobile connection.

We are currently engaging with a customer, wherein we are helping them find out what is the best volume of bandwidth that we should buy, and which best combination of packages should be created and sold to the retail market. For example, if they are buying 100, they can they sell at 120 or more, so that they can completely utilize or even over utilize to maximize the profits. Coming back to the IoT environment, the operator can also use the insights from the data that is being generated to change its billing plan to people who are buying. We have multiple stakeholders and everybody has some use of this data which comes for different purposes.

Please touch upon how you are building Sasken into a Center Of Excellence [CoE] in emerging technologies ?

Within Sasken, we have largely two areas where we are investing in. One is on the engineering side with newer technologies like Machine Learning, AI, as well as 5G, from a communication standpoint. The other areas are on the digital front, which is largely around data and analytics. We are ensuring that it aligns with our engineering strategy.

We are not a typical, large IT services company. We are niche, focused, and are trying to excel in areas around engineering and digital that helps us transform the engineering cycle for our customers. We are doing things that are more pertaining to the technology center.

Please share your thoughts on the road ahead for Sasken, and where exactly you see the industry evolving in couple of years down the line, and what are some of things that you want to see a change in with respect to technology, and Sasken could be an enabler in that area ?

I do not see the fundamentals changing for the road ahead. The fundamentals are in terms of stability, performance, security, etc. which have become more like organizational values in an engineering development cycle that we have imbibed. So, these bits are not going to change.

What will change is the way that the devices will interact with machine or with humans. We have all the building blocks and are enhancing them with the latest technologies for our existing customers or numerous prospective clients. In my personal belief, we are in the right spot and we should be able to leverage the way the market is moving to our advantage. By bringing the digital story in, it widens our ability to be sharp, and help customers predict revenues as well as cost models, and generate different commercial models to gain insights that goes right back into product.

I think that is social responsibility is something that the corporate leaders will have to be more conscious of. From a consumer standpoint, I think consumers cannot externalize it. They are equally learned, educated, responsible, and know what they are taking and not taking on.

Recently there were a couple of mishaps that happened in the connected car segment. Can AI take over completely, or should it be a combination of human and AI for a more ideal approach ?

It is an iterative journey, and is not binary that today we can say that if there are ‘x’ number of mishaps per million vehicles on the road, then the next would become ‘0’. I don’t think it will happen that way. I recently read an article that said that even now AI based connected cars are struggling to reach the efficiency level or the average accidents on the road level for which they are modeled.

So, it is iterative and will get evolved. We will get there, and the technology will improve. Today all the solutions are not there and many are getting worked up, but eventually we will get there.

We thank Ajit Singh for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for him about communication technologies, technology trends, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.