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.

Even though IoT is growing at an exceptional speed, developers and makers around the world are unable to match up with their development speed. This is because of the many separate elements required to build a project. You need to aggregate, learn how to integrate from a clutter of resources on the net. Bolt brings you just the right tools to help you build your projects at lightning speed [Source]

Image Source – IoT

BOLT is an Internet of Things platform [Hardware + Cloud] that enables user to build IoT products and projects. Using BOLT, users can control and monitor devices from any part of the world. It provides the ability to embed Wi-Fi/GSM capabilities within other systems, or to function as a standalone application.

The manufacturers can embed the BOLT hardware in their product, develop a custom UI and then their users can control their products using the BOLT IoT app. BOLT works on pay as you go basis, which means the manufacturers have no capital investments to get their products IoT enabled. This lets even small scale players to build IoT enabled products and services. [Source]. Today we have a chat with Pranav Pai Vernekar, Founder & CEO of Inventrom-Bolt IoT about the startup, its products, IoT market landscape, developer ecosystem, etc. So lets get started with the Q&A…

Image Source – Bolt IoT

Can you please share how did you come up with the idea of Bolt IoT and some insights into the team behind it ?

Before we got working with Bolt, our team has been strategic IoT consultants for various organizations and MNCs. We have trained more than 5,000 students in the field of IoT. During this time, we felt there was a need for building a truly seamless IoT platform that offers all the basic components in one go. This lead us to build the Bolt IoT Platform. We have been working on Bolt since January 2016 and managed to raise a funding of Rs. 3 crore in the same year.

Please walk us through the idea of Bolt IoT and the various products helpful for the developers ?

Bolt was conceptualized as an integrated IoT platform to immensely accelerate any IoT project or product, helping developers shape their idea into reality in the quickest and most efficient way. Bolt IoT solution currently consists of a Bolt WiFi module and our very own Bolt Cloud platform.

Our Bolt IoT cloud platform seamlessly lets you store data, run analytics or visualize the data for
presentation. It’s also very flexible in a way that, you may directly use the cloud platform or through your own or other compatible APIs. I would say the important feature of our Bolt platform is its capability of auto-sending alerts through Emails or SMS whenever a specified threshold has been reached.

Other noteworthy functions include, a powerful dashboard for device management, an online configuration and a code editor. Developers can use this to quickly prototype IoT use cases, allowing users to connect hardware and visualize their data almost instantly. We are already in the final stages of incorporating advanced data analytics protocols and Machine Learning features natively into our platform. This will help users to run key algorithms for predicting and visualizing trends in the data as well as detect any anomalies proactively.

Can you talk to us about the Kickstarter campaign, the response to it and some of the queries from the backers of the project ?

We successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign in the month of November~December 2017. The response we had far exceeded our expectations as we raised 484% of our targeted goal of USD 10,000 from more than thousand backers. The maximum number of backers came from USA followed by India, Japan, Germany, and UK. Most of the queries were regarding our scalability and the tech behind our product, I can confidently say that all of them eager to get their hands on the platform which we are shipping to the backers from the month of February.

We have now launched the platform for sale on Indiegogo InDemand. Here is the link to the campaign.

What are some of the ideal use-cases where the solution from Bolt IoT would be useful [or the ideal sectors where it could be used by devs/SMEs] ?

Bolt is ideal for anything that requires active data monitoring in real-time. Lot of makers use it to build some cool home automation projects such as Trash Can that send alerts when it is full, Voice activated lighting using Bolt with Alexa, Plant Monitoring system for Smart Garden etc.

Here is a link to the list of projects that have been built using Bolt. You may find some interesting use-cases for home automation in this YouTube link

There are lot of other exciting projects that have been built using Bolt such as a Crypto Alert System and Internet Controlled Robot. A couple of developers even built The Weasleys’ Clock from Harry Potter using Bolt IoT. This clock tells you the location of the family members instead
of the time.

When it comes to enterprise projects, a common Industrial use case of Bolt is for Temperature & Humidity monitoring purposes. One of our early use cases was when Bolt was used by a Tobacco MNC to monitor their curing process. Many Pharmaceutical Industries now use Bolt extensively to monitor the temperature in their storage and manufacturing areas.

There are loT of hobbyist/novice programmers that are interested to work on IoT and they already have hardwares like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc. Can you explain how seamless is it to interface modules from Bolt IoT to these open hardware(s) ?

We designed Bolt to be as universally compatible as possible, and so, certainly it can seamlessly integrate with all these open source hardwares over UART protocol. Arduino especially has been the most popularly used hardware amongst Bolt users, as it instantly enables cloud and IoT functions when it is interfaced with Bolt. We created a library to make interfacing very easy, enabling the boards to have active internet and cloud connectivity in just under a few minutes.

Can you please explain us about Bolt Cloud, its Pricing Plan and whether it can be used in co-ordinance with other existing Cloud Services [AWS, Azure, etc.] ?

Bolt was envisioned for the masses, to bring IoT tech accessible to everyone. In accordance with that vision, we made Bolt Cloud our main USP. Our cloud solution does more than just store data, it can actually analyse it through various Machine Learning Algorithms, and Visualization programs.

Our Bolt Cloud can be used a standalone cloud service solution or be seamlessly integrated with other existing Cloud service providers like AWS, Azure, Google, IBM etc. through Bolt APIs.

Currently, we are providing Blot Cloud access ‘free for life’ to all our crowdfunding supporters. Means, all the developers and users of Bolt who contributed to our Kickstarter campaign or the currently active Indiegogo campaign will have unlimited access for life to our cloud platform. It is our way of showing our gratitude and rewarding the trust they have on our IoT solution. There will be a nominal usage charge for all others post the crowd sourcing campaign and a reasonable usage fee enterprise clients using our solution for commercial application.

Bolt IOT Team

What are the different pricing plans of Bolt IoT for Developers, SME’s or big businesses ?

We have various options available for developers and SMEs, as we want our users to have control over their purchase. They have a wide range of options to choose according to their budget and opt for the most ideal plan to meet their requirements. You can browse through our strategically priced plans here.

Can solutions from Bolt IoT be used for use-cases related to IIoT, if so can you please list down some examples where it is already deployed in a large scale setup [Farm, manufacturing unit, etc.] ?

Yes, of course. Currently, Bolt’s primary IIOT clients are from the Pharma Manufacturing sector. This year, we have launched the Bolt Temperature and Humidity Monitor [BTHM], a compact smart device which auto-logs temperature and humidity.

This data can be monitored over cloud and it can even send alerts via SMS or Email should the readings cross over a preset threshold. Needless to say, the Pharma and Medical industry as a whole is need of these smart solutions to drastically minimize losses due to quality issues of their products such as vaccines, blood, medicines, dry rooms etc.

How can developers of Bolt IoT platform leverage the use of ML, AI in their applications ?

Building something from scratch or bringing an idea to reality is a challenging process, not to mention time consuming and capital intensive. Bolt however, helps this process by intelligently collate data for developers over cloud and analyze it. It offers unparalleled flexibility by allowing users to run their own custom ML algorithms from their own cloud platform or use others like Amazon Machine Learning/Microsoft Cortana ML and IBM BlueMix.

Additionally, for use cases such as trend prediction using polynomial regression, there is native support coming soon to the Bolt cloud as a feature. You can read about how to use a third party setup for anomaly detection here and a detailed account of the polynomial regression feature here

There are many other/more or less similar IoT platforms targeting similar market segment, what are some of the core USP’s of your platform ?

I would say the core USP of Bolt IoT platform lies in its ease of use, whether they are beginners or professionals. Another key point of our platform is that its highly scalable and has been fine tuned multiple times since its inception through user feedbacks.

The core foundation of the Bolt IoT platform is its ease of use for developers and makers, whether beginners or professionals. The biggest advantage of using our platform is the Bolt Cloud which has been designed with scalability in mind and fine-tuned after multiple iterations and feedback from makers and developers.

The top five reasons our users have expressed their commendations are:

  • Its fast interfacing speed, as it only takes 20 minutes from hardware connection to visualizing data on the cloud platform.
  • Its compatibility and ability to collect, store, visualize and analyze IoT sensory data as well as alerting any deviations instantly through SMS or Email.
  • Its future ready, as its already has an native Machine Learning features to analyze data and even allowing users to connect their own ML algorithms on third party cloud servers should they wish.
  • Its highly customizable as users have full control on the configuration of their device as to how they want to connect, on data visualization, etc.
  • Its very scalable, as Bolt is capable of deploying the code to thousands of Bolt powered IoT devices and applications with a single click.

Power is an integral part of any Embedded System, can you share some details on the power  figures of your platform and how does it compete vis-a-vis other platforms [offering similar functionalities] ?

Sure, the Bolt WiFi module can be powered using a 5v 300mA supply which typically available via a USB port. Hardware wise, the Bolt WiFi module is an ESP8266 along with some additional components. As such it’s power requirements are similar to a typical ESP8266 device.

What kind of coding skills are required in order to build solutions using the Bolt IoT platform and can it be used by someone who does not have coding experience ?

There are no prerequisite knowledge required for using Bolt. It’s quite easy to use as you can already launch systems to monitor data with just a GUI based dashboard. And, if you have knowledge of software programming such as Python, you can build a more advanced system
and develop complex solutions with Bolt.

We have tutorials to show how someone can use a graphical flow-based model using IBM NodeRED for projects with the Bolt.

Can you talk about the Security aspects of the modules in Bolt IoT since security in IoT security is very critical as it involves lot of data ?

Security is indeed a very critical aspect of IoT and at Bolt, we have implemented several measures in both hardware and software to ensure our users and data are protected at all times. Our Bolt Cloud already uses state-of-the-art encryption while communicating with the Bolt Wi-Fi module to prevent data from being snooped on by malicious external agents.

In specific, the Bolt Wi-Fi module’s firmware includes various verification mechanisms to authenticate the user and to ensure the module cannot be re-linked to another user unless explicitly shared via the Bolt Cloud. Our Bolt Software and Hardware stacks are also audited by third-party security audit firms for vulnerability assessment. In addition, we possess patching capabilities to securely update the Bolt device over-the-air even if something unthinkable happens.

How can executives at industrial companies exploit the revenue-generating opportunities of the IoT/ IIoT ?

IoT is rapidly changing the business models by letting the organizations charge the end users for the service rather than the product. A few days back I came across a company that offers water purifiers by charging the users Rs.1 per liter of water rather than the one time charge of Rs. 15,000/- per unit. They take care of the regular servicing of the product at no additional cost.

This means that they have moved from the business of selling purifiers to the business of selling water. This is possible due to IoT as the sensors embedded in the water purifiers send the data about the water consumption over the cloud for the company to bill the customer. Its an ingenious way to generate revenue as consumption rate will only grow while production rate may decline in future. It certainly makes sense to switch to service rather than product in the future.

How important is a requirement for Open architecture, shared platforms, etc. for the growth of the entire IoT/IIoT eco-system ?

The most important factor which facilitates growth in the IoT and even IIoT ecosystem is the community which adopts the relevant platform/communication protocol/framework or standard.

Locking developers in is no longer an option as it stifles creativity and robustness of solutions. In keeping with that philosophy, we have opened up APIs for people to interact with the Bolt Cloud and develop their custom solutions for controlling the Bolt Wi-Fi module as well as using the data gathered. This allows developers to use popular third-party frameworks from IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft to process their data and even write custom applications in any language which supports RESTful APIs including Python, C++, Java, JavaScript. However, we also do believe in ease of development and hence do provide several features like device management, extensive visualization with graphs, and device configuration natively in the Bolt Cloud dashboard.

Additionally, the schematic and layout of the Bolt Wi-Fi module will also soon be made open to allow developers to easily work on custom solutions incorporating the Bolt.

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

There is a famous quote for startup hiring,’Hire the best no matter what.’ While this may seem obvious, practicing it is quite tough. We at Bolt IoT have struggled in the past with good hiring, and have learnt from our mistake.

For a good initial team, I suggest you hire via reference, as its a practice that’s been successful at Bolt. Also, in case the hire turns out to be bad, don’t to hesitate to ask the person to resign. It is a tough task, but by letting a non performer be in the company, you are being unfair to the other team members. In addition to some of the point advice on startup hiring, I suggest you read Cut the Crap and Jargon by Shradha Sharma & T.N. Hari. It lists some excellent tips for building a great team.

Hardware [be it IoT, Biometrics, etc.] is a very difficult nut to crack [especially from funding and hiring per-se], what are your perspectives on the same ?

Building a Hardware startup is indeed tougher than building a software startup as it involves aspects of inventory, logistics etc. This means that raising funds too is difficult. I believe that the investors are right in this regard as the possibility of success of hardware startups is less.

Yes, if you are solving a real big enough problem and have a right team in place then you can surely achieve success.

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

I believe that once you have the MVP ready and a bit of initial traction, it is a good time to look for funding. As this will be a crucial time for your product and external funding will help you focus on the product rather than administration.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs ?

Some of my top choices would be ‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel, ‘Pour your heart into it’ by Howard Schultz and ‘Cut the Crap and Jargon’ by Shradha Sharma & T.N. Hari

Some closing thoughts for our readers!

I believe success comes only through perseverance and persistence. Everyone can achieve what they set out to do if they soldier on while constantly improving their knowledge and skills. A new age of internet [IoT] is blooming and is open for all. Let’s be the forerunners and reap the rewards!

We thank Pranav for sharing her 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.

The automotive industry has moved towards digitalization and connected mobility, resulting in a significant rise in the use of electronics and technology in vehicles. Vehicle-to-Everything [V2X] is one such technology which is still a nascent market that has managed to offer a wide range of everyday convenience benefits. Today, it has grown to be a critical component in providing vehicles with the ability to communicate with each other and beyond. In fact, the automotive V2X communication market is expected to reach a staggering $26.72 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research.

Image Source – V2V V2I

Interestingly, some of the key reasons why OEMs today are forced to incorporate V2X communication systems into vehicles are due to the several benefits that the systems provide in terms of advanced route guidance systems, roadway efficiency, driver convenience and traffic optimization. Allowing vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other, V2X systems are geared towards safety and are essential for hundreds of thousands of self-driving cars to operate safely.

Sasken understands the importance of disruption to address the need for autonomous driving. They have achieved a breakthrough in this area and are engaged with a Tier-1 OEM and provide services for the V2X platform to enable actionable insights in the connected automobile. Today, we have a Q&A session with Ashwin Ramachandra, VP and Head – Product Engineering Services, Sasken Technologies, on how players in the automotive industry are re-defining the electronics segment through the advent of advanced communication technologies like Vehicle-to-Everything [V2X]. So, let’s get started with the Q&A…

Can you please talk about yourself, your experience so far with Sasken Technologies ?

I have more than 20 years of experience and am currently the head of the Embedded Practice at Sasken Technologies Pvt. Limited. The Embedded Practice group consists of the following divisions:

  • Semiconductors and Platform devices
  • Industrials
  • Automotive
  • Digital [Cloud and Analytics]

When it comes to the automotive domain, the amount of software & intelligence in the car is increasing day by day and that intelligence executes on the chips that are manufactured by the semiconductor companies. In order to appreciate what Sasken is doing in the automotive segment, it is very important to deep dive into what Sasken does in the semiconductors segment. The amount of software and intelligence in the car has increased in three different areas:

  • Software on the cockpit [In-cockpit entertainment]
  • Autonomous Driving
  • Telematics

The rise has been majorly seen in the last five years. Silicon vendors are bringing out chipsets that are much more powerful so that customers can enjoy a richer audio experience and exceptional performance for these offerings. Sasken starts working with the semiconductor vendors through the Development and Testing phase. Companies like Qualcomm have chipsets like MSM820 that are meant for richer infotainment experience. On a similar line, there are silicon vendors that are working on powerful chipsets for the autonomous driving sector and in future, we would see many more companies bringing out much richer solutions for that segment.

Telematics would be typically seen in the form of communication modems. In the western world, you would have an LTE Modem connected to the car for a whole bunch of communication. These are the three major areas where semiconductor companies and Sasken are co-working together to revolutionize the overall automotive industry.

Please comment on the rise of the infotainment options in car and where do you see Android in the automotive segment ?

Many years back, we only had the option of FM Radio, which gradually moved to CD Player, and now you have a plethora of playback options on the touchscreen located on the dashboard of your car which provides a whole new world of entertainment. Previously, these systems were based on Vanilla Linux, but now Android is playing a vital role even in the automotive sector. As we all know, Android already has a huge market share in the mobile space and now its share in the auto segment is gradually increasing.

By the year 2020, we expect that Android would be present on more than forty percent of mid-range and high-end cars, which means that Android is at a huge inflection point in the auto segment. Sasken has extensive experience in Android and our team of engineers has been working on Android since the first public release of Android. This experience gives us a huge edge over our competitors since when companies need expertise on Android for the car segment; they need someone like us who have gone through the complete development cycle. The mobile expertise and experience in bringing products to the market would definitely help us in achieving an edge in the auto segment!

Based on the queries and projects that Sasken has been approached for in the auto segment, we believe that Android is very much in line to be the default operating system for cars. This would bring in a major change in the infotainment space for automobiles.

Image Source – Ashwin Ramachandra

Can you walk us through some of the technical challenges for porting Android on the automotive platform ?

The use-cases that you see on the phone are quite different from the use-cases that you see in the car. For example, you would never plug a music player like an iPod to your phone, but that is a very natural use-case when it comes to a car. You expect that the device and its type is recognized when it is plugged into the dashboard and it should also start the playback. This means that there are a lot of changes that are required to the Android stack in order to accompany such use-cases. From the UI and UX point of view, a lot more changes are required. Also, unlike India, users in the western countries use a lot more voice commands, and those commands vary when used on car vis-a-vis mobile.

You need to have a good amount of Android expertise in order to realize such use-cases and though Androidauto would evolve over a period of time. Expertise does come in very handy since time-to-market is very critical for any product. Also, the time-to-market for an automobile is typically 18~24 months, which in itself speaks for the complexity.

What are some of the cost implications for the car manufacturers in order to realize V2V/V2X/V2I use-cases ?

As far as Android for auto is concerned, it would take a fair amount of time to make its way into the entry-level automobile segment. Just take a case where you do not use Android, even in such a scenario, you need to have the silicon, an in-house R&D team, an operating system like Linux, middleware, etc. i.e. You need a significant number of engineers, hence a good amount of R&D cost is involved. Also, as mentioned earlier the number of features in the car always keeps on increasing. Hence, if you need to have your own in-house infotainment system [in absence of Android], the R&D cost itself would look similar or even lesser with a platform like Android.

Whether it is V2V, V2X, V2I, there is a lot of data that would be used to ensure that the objective is met. How secure are these protocols and how do two vehicles from different manufacturers talk to each other ensuring that there is no breach of important data ?

In case of V2V and V2I scenarios, the information is almost anonymous. For example, if a car is driving ahead of another vehicle [on a freeway], either of the vehicles can transmit information that is generic in nature and is useful for both the parties. It could transmit road-related data, climatic data, etc. There is no personal or confidential information exchanged between the two of them.

The information is completely momentary and the moment you get off the freeway, the information is gone. This data is non-threating in nature and hence, we need not worry when such data is sent over V2V/V2I channels. Also, in order to ensure that the necessary security protocols have adhered, the exchanged data goes through an approved/certified channel and it is almost impossible to fake the information. There has been a significant amount of effort that is spent to ensure that the information [irrespective of its nature] is tamper-proof and all the necessary security measures are taken.

The second part is about ‘Telematics’ i.e. the information that is shared between your car and the cloud infrastructure. This exchange has nothing to do with the co-operative network, but it is more about the route that it takes for transmission of the data. You can poll a lot of peripherals on the car to get data about the health of the car, battery, fuel, etc. This data is completely owned by the car owner but sometimes by accident, you agree to share this information in which case, this data can be used by third-party companies for targeted advertising. For example, in the current scenario, there are many cases where a particular company does not charge the consumer to use their services but instead use their data to push some relevant advertisements, coupons, etc. As a matter of fact, the millennial generation is willing to share such information in lieu of product discounts [only after providing consent].

Can you comment on some of the B2B as well as B2C use cases for the V2V/V2I/V2X technologies ?

Ride-hailing companies are already leveraging these technologies, especially the V2V and V2I to ensure that their vehicle’s health is in-tact so that the riders can enjoy a smooth ride.. They are using onboard telematics to get the necessary information. This also includes details about the driver’s characteristics, which are provided after consent by the car driver e.g. average speed at which the driver drives the car, how many times he over-speeds, angle at which he takes turns, how many times he jumps signals, etc.

This information can be used by all the necessary parties involved in the journey i.e. the car driver to improve his driving skills and average customer ratings. It can be used by the ride-hailing company to ensure that they have the best drivers on-board thereby providing a superior customer experience and it gives an additional parameter to the customer on basis on which they can rate their journey. This is currently under testing by a couple of ride-hailing companies for their premium car segment.

How wireless communications and WLAN technology have evolved over the years to be well-suited for V2X communication, due to its low latency and the ability to communicate instantly. Can you also touch upon DSRC [Dedicated Short Range Communication] ?

This is one of the points that we have discussed earlier about the co-operative network. There are a couple of emerging technologies like DSRC and Cellular V2X [CV2X] and each of them has its pros & cons. As per our understanding, the CV2X is much better-designed technology and has better technology roadmap. DSRC is loosely based on the WLAN/WiFi technology and the base standards remain the same. On the other hand, CV2X is based on the Cellular LTE technology. The US government is gearing towards usage of DSRC for V2V/V2X use cases and with wider adoption, the governments across the world would mandate what technology should be used further down the line.

As expected, both these technologies have very low latency due to nature of the use cases associated with the vehicle. This is the overall landscape of the Intelligent Transport System [ITS], both from the technical and non-technical perspective. As an organization, we are working on both these technologies and are gearing up for testing with some of our automobile clients.

Please walk us through the opportunities in the autonomous driving segment and what are some of the tech and regulatory hurdles being faced by this sector ?

The single most important requirement of this sector is that the information should be kept safe & secure. In the future, governments would also mandate a certain amount of certification and testing to ensure that there is no compromise on quality. Apart from these, standards would evolve as it autonomous driving becomes mainstream.

Technology is evolving at a very rapid pace, where do see the automobile technology 5~10 years down the line and the role that technology would play to make that dream a reality ?

As far as the automobile sector is concerned, the internal combustion engines occupy 99% of the market share, whereas electric engines have a fairly minuscule market share. However, things would take a drastic turn as we move forward. The trend is likely to change as electric engines would play a much larger role in the overall automobile ecosystem.

Sasken, as an embedded company,is looking at this area very closely but our main focus areas are in the ares of In-car infotainment, Autonomous driving and Telematics. These three pillars would change the entire automobile landscape. Some of the use cases in autonomous and assisted driving might not be directly applicable to a country like India due to the nature of traffic, road conditions, etc. but over a period of time, the entire ecosystem in India would also evolve and we would observe wider adoption.

We thank Mr. Ashwin Ramachandra for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for Ashwin about autonomous driving, opportunities in V2X/V2V/V2I, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

A very famous quote on investing says – ‘Risk & Rewards are two sides of the same coin’. This means that in most of the cases, higher the amount of risk involved chances of maximizing the returns are also very high! The investment portfolio of every person would differ since it is dependent on various 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

This is where emerging technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence can play a vital role in creating a tailor-made investment plan based on your long-term and short financial requirements. Machine Learning has already the paved way into the Fintech market, be it approving loans, documentation, managing assets, etc. Many Fintech startups are leveraging machine learning, AI, Chatbots and helping banking institutions to either enhance the existing banking experience or creating kick-ass products in the areas of wealth management, personal finance, customer service, etc.

According to a report by Bloomberg, less than 1.5% of the Indian population invested in equity markets and only 2% of India’s household savings were exposed to equity. However, there is a rising interest to invest in financial instruments like Mutual Funds if they are given proper guidance.

This is the problem being solved by Sqrrl, a Fintech startup that was incubated at Reliance GenNext Hub and seeks to help young people save & invest in Mutual Funds in a hassle-free manner. Sqrrl also recommends great tax saving investments for its customers, keeping in mind a seamless experience. All this with the aim to help young Indians financially prosper! Today we have a chat with Mr. Samant Sikka, Founder of Sqrrl about the app, Fintech, Personal Finance, etc. so let’s get started with the Q&A…

How did your team come up with the idea of Sqrrl ?

Having spent almost two decades in financial services domain one was constantly exposed to challenges of building distribution in a country as diverse as India. I was always intrigued by the fact that in spite of six decades since independence financial services ecosystem was still struggling to provide access of financial services to its citizens. To my mind the single most important reason that came in the way of expanding financial services footprint was ‘Unit Economics’. Unit economics basically dictated who got access to financial products & services and also which type of products got sold.

Sometime in 2015 I started to absorb the impact that culmination of technology & internet was starting to have on democratizing ‘access’. E-commerce was starting to grain traction and people started getting access to goods and services hitherto restricted to larger cities and towns. 2 things stood out, given the economic prosperity over the 2 decades people had both aspirations and means to consume and were demanding better experiences. Internet had started to travel deeper in the country and social and digital were starting to have an impact on consumers behavior and consumption patterns.

Meanwhile, silently but surely there the impact of #RegTech and benefits of India Stack which were started to make tremendous traction on the two biggest friction areas in financial services, on-boarding & payments. The timing seemed to be just right neither too late neither too early.

Can you take us through the founding team of Sqrrl ?

Putting the challenges & opportunity together gave birth to the idea of Sqrrl. The vision being to build a digital platform aimed at millennials with an Initial offering is around savings & investment products powered by Mutual Funds and will expand to Loans, Insurance, Payments ultimately aspiring to morph into a digital bank. The idea aligned the founding team which brought wealth if experience & complementary skills sets .

Sqrrl is an interesting name for a ‘Fintech startup, how did you zero in on the name and how does the brand ‘Sqrrl’ get along with the moto of ‘building financial literacy among Indians’ ?

Sqrrl name was chosen with care. The animal embodies certain character that we stand for

  • Doer and Prudent,
  • Natural Intelligence,
  • Hi-Energy-Active-Nimble,
  • Saver and plans for future. hoards for winters in summers,
  • Good at balancing work & play,
  • Social

What is the TAM of the Fintech market that Sqrrl is trying to address ?

  • India’s Asset management Industry has grown at a CAGR of 21% over the last 17 years [ 2000-2017] is expected to grow to USD 700 billion by 2022.
  • Sqrrl aspires to be amongst the Top 10 players by 2022 with an Asset Under Management [AUM] of approx USD 14 billion and 12 million customers

There are number of Fintech platforms that are targeting a similar problem [as well as market], what according to you are some of the core USPs of Sqrrl when compared to its competitors ?

Sqrrl is different from existing players in many ways. Important ones are highlighted below:

  • Sqrrl has a customer persona which is in the age group of 25-35 years, salaried class, upwardly mobile and digitally savvy.
  • Sqrrl is a not a marketplace unlike many others. We personalize investments needs of individuals and match them with funds available in the industry.

Can you please walk us through the funding of Sqrrl ?

We have been bootstrapped from beginning of our journey. We are currently in funding raise discussion of about 1M USD with some VCs.

Once user has created an account on Sqrrl [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 ?

Sqrrl keeps monitoring all of the funds recommended by its team. We stay with our customers in their investment journey and keep guiding him with right decisions from time to time.

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

We are app only offering on iOS and Android

  • Our API layer is powered by Python [Falcon framework]
  • Our database is AWS RDS on PostgreSQL
  • Other than this we use many third party APIs

Sqrrl is currently limited to Mutual Funds, are there any plans/timeline on whether it would be expanded to cover other financial instruments ?

Yes, we have plans to launch loans and insurance products in future.

What are some of the methodologies that your team use in order to keep the investors hooked on to the platform ?

We have a way to connect with customers in 360 degree way. Our customer success team keeps talking them on Email, Phone, SMS, Whatsapp in addition to in-app communications.

L-R : Sanjeev Sharma, Co-Founder; Samant Sikka, Founder and Dhananjay Kumar Singh, Co-Founder

Sqrrl was incubated in Reliance GenNext Hub, how was the experience in the accelerator program and how did the program help your team to validate & scale the startup ?

The program was really of great help in helping us with product market fit study and beyond. They really helped in methodical product market fit. In addition to product market fit, customer traction strategy and its execution planning was done with them.

Are there any setup charges or any other charges that customers have to pay to use the Platform ? Do you charge any withdrawal or closure charges for the Sqrrl’s recommended funds ?

There are no setup charges to use Sqrrl. However there may be early withdrawal charges for some funds before initial lock-in period.

Which are some of the AMC’s that are currently on-boarded on the Sqrrl platform ?

There are 17 AMC that are there with Sqrrl. It covers 91% of the industry AUM

As you have mentioned earlier, Sqrrl aims to encourage Indians to save more. There are various investor initiatives like #MFDayon7th by Reliance MF and CNBC TV18, does Sqrrl have plans of starting an investor education initiative [or something else] in order to widen the horizon of passive investors [that could be an integral part of the investors eco-system, but don’t know where to get started] ?

The ecosystem is doing a great job in educating investors. AMFI is doing great job in communication like ‘Mutual Funds Sahi Hai’. AMCs themselves have different plans. Sqrrl plans to use these and some of its own to launch education awareness. We are working on them.

Many fintech companies, namely PayTm [or PaytmMoney], FreeCharge, PhonePe, etc. are planning to have boutique of finance products on their platform, does this growing competition have an impact on a startup like Sqrrl and how it would the competition result in expansion of the fintech ecosystem ?

It is good that this space is getting its validation by entry of bigger players. There will always be space for early movers like Sqrrl based on its customer service differentiation.

Can you comment on the ‘Customer/Investor’ demographics that are currently using the Sqrrl Platform ?

  • 90% of the users are under age 40 years.
  • 61% of the users are from B15 [beyond top 15] cities.
  • We have coverage from over 700 cities of India.

What is the revenue model of Sqrrl and does it follow the Freemium model ?

We get distribution fee from the underlying Mutual Funds.

Along with the integrated AMC approach, building investor portfolio as per his requirements, etc. does your team also provide advisory services ? If not, what are some of the services that you plan to offer in future [especially with the Mutual Fund Products] ?

We are not providing advisory services now but we are open to embrace this in future.

How Fintech is shaping up the Financial Eco-system in India and how technologies like Blockchain will bring the next wave of Fintech revolution ?

Blockchain and its acceptance is in very early stage. Most of the work is happening in Crypto exchanges. We are open to exploring something on blockchain which is widely accepted.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs

  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • The Lean Statup by Eric Ries
  • Traction : How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg

Some closing thoughts for our readers!

As Bill Gates says, ‘If you are born poor its not your mistake, But if you die poor its your mistake.‘ Sqrrl is a platform available for every Indian to manage their money.

We thank Mr. Samant Sikka for sharing his insights with our readers. If you are planning to put your money to work via smart investments, then you should download Sqrrl. If you have any questions for Samant or the Sqrrl Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

There is a saying by the well-known investor Warren Buffet – ‘Never become dependent on a single source of income’. This saying is also applicable to someone who has a stable job but has to invest his money in order to get better returns. Everyone has some hobby e.g. photography, music, writing, etc. but few of them might be aware that there is a manner in which they can convert their ‘hidden talent and passion’ into a tangible business. Many times it is about identifying a lingering problem and finding an effective solution to solve that problem.

There are close to 3 million Indians living in the United States but there was not a single reliable portal where they could buy stuff like Puja Items, Sarees, Mandirs, etc. online. There are India based websites that ship abroad but shipping, tracking, and returns is always a huge hassle. This is the problem that entrepreneur couple Deepak Agarwal & Sadhana Bothra, who are settled in the US since last 19 years wanted to solve and also make that a secondary source of income. With this intention, they founded DesiClik.com [earlier called theindiabazaar.com] in 2014, a vertical e-commerce marketplace that addresses the above mentioned problem and also provides Indian homepreneurs in the US an opportunity to sell online through their platform.

Today, we have a chat with Deepak Agarwal, Co-founder of US-based DesiClik.com. The discussion revolves around their e-commerce foray, overall market, competition, etc. So, let’s get started with the Q&A….

Can you please give a small background about the company and its founders ?

DesiClik.com was started by us, an Indian couple named Deepak Agarwal and Sadhana Bothra in 2014.

I [Deepak Agarwal] am from Udaipur and grew up in Kolkata. Apart from a degree in commerce, I hold a diploma in computer science from NCC Education, UK. I completed my Masters Certification in Business Management from Tulane University as well because I wanted to have some formal knowledge of growing a business. I have been in the US for 19 years.

Sadhana also grew up in Kolkata. A commerce graduate from Calcutta University, she too holds an honours Diploma in Computer Science from NCC Education, UK. She is a Java Certified Programmer from Sun Microsystems who quit her top-notch position in the IT industry as an Assistant Vice-President with Whitehall Bank on Wall Street when our first child was born.

After Sadhana gave up her career to be with our first born, we realised it was not easy to survive in the US on a single paycheque. So we were looking at creating some extra income while letting Sadhana also enjoy motherhood. After a lot of research, we found out that there was a huge demand for Indian apparel for kids. That’s how we started Desi Vastra. We didn’t have any competition at that point and the business did well till 2008.

While the recession brought bad tidings to Desi Vastra after four years, we decided to use the competition in the market to our advantage by bringing together our competitors through a marketplace. In 2010 we started theindiabazaar.com, which we re-branded as DesiClik.com in 2014. Today DesiClik.com is the largest US-based vertical e-commerce marketplace specialising in Indian products that span apparel, jewellery, handicraft, gifts, furniture, grocery, restaurant equipment, religious and puja items, festive goods and household items.

What is the problem you are trying to solve and how has the overall response been from the Indian diaspora ?

The response from the Indian diaspora has been quite positive and encouraging. There are many towns in the US where people have to drive for not less than an hour to find an Indian grocery store. With more than 3 million Indians living in America, and the expanding space and possibilities of online shopping, there was no single shopping portal where people could find everything Indian and talk to someone in their language while shopping for them. Added to this was the fact that when they bought from sites in India, delivery took longer, there was no easy way to return goods and service was not reliable. It is this yawning market gap that we have tapped into.

DesiClik is a very interesting name, what are some of the other potential names that you explored before you zeroed in on this name ?

Our team went through a significant list before zeroing in on DesiClik.com. We wanted a name that wouldn’t exceed eight characters, is easy to remember and connects people instantly with what the site is about.

We evaluated Mangoes, Mirchi, Jhalak, Spicykart to name a few. Prior to DesiClik, our site was call theindiabazaar.com which was lost among others, was too long, hard to spell and was very generic.

What are some of the items being sold on DesiClik and if you can highlight details about the top-5 bestselling items on the website ?

We have broadly classified the products into nine main categories – Clothing, Accessories, Jewellery, Home & Garden, Indian Grocery, Music & Movies, Books & Magazines, Puja & Festivals, Toys & Games. As for categories, Puja & Festival, Home & Garden are our top sellers. Apart from seasonal items, mandirs, gifts, kids’ clothes, utensils and puja items are the top 5 bestselling items on the site.

How does your venture promote homepreneurs and what is some of the hand-holding that your team does in order to get the sellers started [and accelerated] on the platform ?

We have managed to bring together more than 50 Indian women home entrepreneurs in the US to sell their products online on our site. These are women who want to build their business without sacrificing their family goals.

For immigrant women, it is quite a challenge to set up a business from scratch, beginning with networking and figuring out everything about running a business. As Sadhana was faced with several hurdles when we started off, she felt there were many women like her who could do with help to build their businesses. As Desiclik is a vertical marketplace, we used the platform to help these women to sell their products online. We offer guidance in terms of product optimization, competitive pricing, service and internals of doing business online.

Logistics is a very important aspect of the e-commerce experience, how do your sellers manage logistics to provide an enhanced shopping experience ?

At this time, sellers use their own preferred method of shipping. DesiClik does help them in finding better options for shipping the products faster and reliably.

Deepak and Sadhana, Founders of DesiClik

e-commerce sector is clogged with Fake Products Problem [especially if it follows a marketplace model], how does your team ensure the authenticity of the items being sold on the platform ?

We work very closely with vendors so that the DesiClik brand and customer satisfaction are maintained. We have implemented a good feedback mechanism. Since orders are fulfilled directly by the vendor, our main source of feedback is from the customer. Once an order is received by the customer, we reach out to the customer to get feedback about the quality and the service to help us rate the vendor.

Can you please comment on the Return Policy and what is the Rate Of Return for the items being sold on DesiClik since Reverse Logistics plays a very important role in optimizing of the e-commerce supply-chain ?

We have guidelines on return policy for each seller and they all set their own return policy. In case of material defect, products can be returned for no cost to the customer and in most other cases – customer pays for the shipping. Our rate of return is less than 2 per cent.

Is DesiClik serving only the B2C segment or you have also cater to the B2B segment ?

At present we are only catering to the B2C segment. We have plans to expand with a B2B offering sometime this year which will help connect manufacturers in India with vendors in the USA.

What is the metric your team uses to calculate the overall growth [GMV, etc.] and can you comment on the Daily Active Users [DAU] & total number of active sellers on the platform ?

We have more than 10,000 products listed on the site from 100 plus vendors. Daily page views at DesiClik is 12,000 plus and over 25 per cent returning visitors.

Since DesiClik follows a marketplace model, can you let us know if your sellers also sell on other marketplaces like Amazon, etc. ?

Many of the sellers exclusively sell at Desiclik. Some of them do sell at other marketplaces such as Amazon, Rokutan and others.

Repeat Customer Rate and Customer Retention are two important parameters for growth in any venture, what are some of the measures taken by your team to ensure that there is customer delight ?

As mentioned before, we do have a feedback mechanism and are actively looking to improve based on customer feedback. Our testimonials and reviews do speak for themselves.

Can you walk us through the funding of DesiClik & are you looking out for institutional funding ?

DesiClik has been completely bootstrapped, with no external funding till date. We had started with an investment of $15,000 initially and have so far invested around $150,000 over the past few years. We are looking for investments to take the business to the next level – both in terms of the B2B platform as well as for our worldwide expansion

Right now there is no mobile app for DesiClik, is there any definitive plan for releasing the same ?

By mid 2018, we will evaluate the potential of having an app and based on the analysis, we will release it at the end of 2018.

How exactly is the Startup Eco-system in US different as compared to that in a country like India ?

The recent boost in the startup eco-system is not too different from the US. Many of the venture capitalists who invest in India have their headquarters in the US. Good validated ideas with good execution team make the difference.

AI, ML, AR/VR, etc. are some of the emerging trends, what according to you would be technological highlights of 2018 ?

I feel that AR/VR related technology will become more prominent in areas that have not been seen earlier.

DesiClik is a bootstrapped company, when according to you should an entrepreneur approach for external funding and if you can highlight some pros/cons of being a bootstrapper ?

I feel that the idea must be validated by the entrepreneur with their own initial investment. Once the company becomes a real business with a path to the future, it should approach the VC. Many of the start-ups have failed due to a lack of vision and as they wanted to grow too big, too fast without an idea on how to get there. This is true both in India and in the US. Lack of funds in a bootstrapped company may slow the growth and is built on solid foundation.

Any closing thoughts for aspiring entrepreneurs and what keeps you motivated in your entrepreneurial journey ?

To all the young entrepreneurs – If you have a good idea, sit on it like sitting on a needle. It should make you jump and do something about it. Validate your idea, assemble a good team and go for it. Do not be scared of failure.

We thank Deepak for sharing her 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.

India currently has around 3 million developers and has the second largest Android developer community in the world after the US. As per a study from Deloitte, India will have the largest base of developers by 2019. Developers will be drivers of customers’ adoption of cloud and cognitive solutions. About 60% of the developers in India have been experimenting with AI [Artificial Intelligence] and machine learning, compared to 39% in the rest of the world. This shows developers in India are receptive towards AI, Cognitive and data science technologies.

Image Source – Cognitive Computing

AI, Machine Learning, Cognitive computing, Data analytics, etc. are some of the emerging technology trends and they are now  observing widespread adoption. Today, IBM stands at the forefront of a worldwide industry to lead the next phase of change revolutionizing the way in which businesses work and grow. With rapid changes in the technology landscape and open source movement, top-down approach is no longer being followed in organizations and developers are now playing role in the entire technology eco-system. Cloud related technologies are a boon for the developers and the barrier to entry has become limited.

IBM, as a part of the ‘Developer Relations Group‘ works with clients, students, developers, startups amd support them in understanding technology, helping them and get their job done effectively. Seema Kumar leads the IBM Developer Relations group which is a part of the IBM Digital Business group. We had a chat with Seems Kumar about IBM’s eco-system efforts, its involvement with startups, role of Watson in shaping up AI industry, etc. So, let’s get started with the Q&A…

Every organization is involved with top tier institutes, what are some of the steps that IBM Evangelism team is taking in order to connect with the student community in lesser known institutes ?

Every student is important to us, irrespective of whether the student is from IIT/IIM or from colleges that are located in tier-2/tier-3 cities. This is mainly because lot of innovation is happening from universities that do not carry the IIT/IIM tag. Students from these colleges are continually learning and the credit goes to the low barrier to entry. IBM has a developer platform called OnTheHub where any university can enroll, students get IBM Credits and they can also use IBM tools for software development.

In some colleges, we also have some development courses as a part of the curriculum where we train faculty members on Watson, Chatbots, AI, etc. and most of the association is with tier-2 institutes.

What are some of the initiatives that IBM is taking to connect with the startup and the entreprenurial community in India [be it TiE, NASSCOM, etc.] ?

Startup eco-system in India is very vibrant. IBM works directly with startups as well as with other partners. IBM has partnered with TiE, NASSCOM 10000, etc. where in some cases, IBM participates in community events.

In case of NASSCOM 10K, IBM works with startups where we monitor and mentor them. Our programme is called as Global Entrepreneur Programme [GEG], there are different plans namely Standard, Basic and Premium Plan. IBM has been actively involved in mentoring startups across different sectors like EdTech, HealthCare, etc. from technology, business expansion, market readiness, etc. point of view.

More than 200 startups are working with IBM  in the technology space. In fact, lot of startups are using Watson API’s for building meaningful apps around Chatbots. For example, a startup that we are mentoring built a chatbot named ValleyBot to identify fake news and they are getting good amount of traction.

There are lot of cloud solutions available in the market, what are some of the major advantages for moving to the IBM cloud [both from the developer as well as enterprise perspective] ?

IBM has various solutions for different audiences. IBM’s cloud offering is a combination of Public, Private and Hybrid cloud. As a matter of fact, lot of apps available in the existing data centers are not cloud ready i.e. Even if they are migrated to the cloud, they cannot capitalize on the benefits of virtualization, effective resource utilization, etc. Cloud solutions from IBM helps you build cloud native applications. Developers are always on the look-out for their own choice of technologies.

IBM Cloud is a Platform As a Service [PAAS] offering that has various API’s for different programming languages. Choice, flexibility to use what developers want and the way they want are some of the key differentiators. Most of the apps of the future would have some sort of cognitive capabilities built into it and Natural Language Processing [NLP], visual recognition features to build conversation interfaces would be some of the basic building blocks to build a cognitive application. These features are available in the Watson APIs and using these APIs, apps are enterprise ready from day one of development!

To summarize, choice of catalogue, breadth of services, flexibility to choose between Public/Private/Hybrid cloud and ability to build secure, cognitive, enterprise ready software on the cloud are some of the inherent advantages.

Image Source – Seema Kumar

Can you comment on Chatbots and what are some of the core ingredients of a Chatbot kind of application ?

Context of conversation and Intent are very important ingredients in building a Chatbot and hence, training & design of the oervall interface are very important factors when building a Chatbot. Watson APIs are very powerful and are specifically designed by keeping these important factors in mind. With every interaction, learning happens and it gets better with more data.

There is buzz about Blockchain, what according to you are some of the ideal use-cases where Blockchain might be useful for a ‘Digitally Growing’ like India ?

Blockchain as a technology is constantly evolving and it is definitely here to stay. Blockchain offers powerful Usecases for any usecase that involves multiple parties and multiple transactions. In a nutshell, it is nothing but a distributed ledger. Initial usecases have obvisouly evolved in the Finance sector but Blockchain would be relevant in other sectors as well.

Blockchain when used in conjunction with IoT, lot of powerful usecases would eveolve. For example, IBM recently worked with the Mahindra Group to build a Blockchain solution for supply chain finance across India. This solution improved the transparency of overall operations. IBM also announced a Trade Finance platform using the IBM Blockchain platform that can be used by banks. Blockchain can also be extended across other sectors like Healthcare, Insurance, etc.

Your comments on Digital India and how IBM’s involvement in the overall journey ?

There is definitely a robust infrastructure in place with Aadhar API’s, eKYC, India Stack, UPI, etc. have led to a huge thrust in digital payments in India. As far as IBM is concerned, we work closely with iSpirt where we also participate as an eco-system partner.

India is a country with rich amount of data and this is where the aspect of Data Science becomes very critical as we need to draw valuable insights from the data. IBM has also tied-up with NASSCOM and Government Of Karnataka to build Center Of Excellence [COE] in Data Science where IBM will be the core technology partner. IBM will not only groom talent in data science but will also work on Proof Of Concept [POC] and support startups in that category.

What are some of the certifications that a student/professional can opt for, in order to gain expertise/know-how in Cognitive Computing, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, IBM BlueMix, etc. ?

IBM has partnered with an EdTech partner where we launched Cognitive Class previously called as Big Data University. IBM has also tied-up with JigSaw Academy where they use IBM’s Big data expertise for all their courses. In the area of certification, IBM has partnered with Global Knowledge that offers on Cloud computing, DevOps, AI, etc.

There has been lot of scepticism that AI, Robotics & other ‘Automation/Machine related technologies’ would wipe off many jobs in future, what are your thoughts on the same and how can AI [and other technologies] go hand-in-hand with human jobs ?

Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO believes in three principles that are applicable in the cognitive era – Purpose, Transparency and Skills. The purpose of a cognitive app is to augment human intelligence and not to replace humans. Products and Services from IBM are built with this principle in mind and human intelligence is a key aspect.

IBM is helping human beings being more productive, realize their potential and focus on more important jobs rather than working on mundane & repetitive jobs. You must be clear as you build AI platforms how they are trained, and what data was used in training. When we talk about transparency, IBM has always been cognizant of data. AI platforms must be built with people in the industry and companies must prepare to train human workers on how to use these tools to their advantage.

We thank Seema Kumar for sharing her insights with our readers and walking us through the awesome work done by IBM for shaping up the developer ecosystem. If you have any questions for Seema about Watson, Chatbots, how solutions from IBM can accelerate your development, etc. please share them via a comment to this article.

There is a very interesting thread on Quora about the ‘Percentage of Salaried Class’ in India and though the thread has very interesting answers, one thing that is common across any salaried person [be it employee in  the organized or unorganized sector] is that each one of them wants to maximize their take-home salary. Salaried professionals who are paying tax are always on the look-out to save extra so that can pay less taxes. If you consider the Blue-collar workers, many workers might not fit in the ‘Tax Slab’ and some of them might still not even have a salaried account.

There was a definitive requirement for a product – ‘Digital Banking system‘, that could cater to both the White-collar and the Blue-collar segment. There has been very little innovation made in the banking requirements for the SME and MSME segment. This is where two entrepreneurs Vinay Bagri and Virender Bisht sensed an opportunity and they co-founded NiYO, a fintech company based out of Bengaluru. NiYO helps you maximize your take home salary by enabling you to track, manage and claim various tax benefits like food, gift, medical, fuel, travel, phone etc. NiYO consists of three important components, namely NiYO app that makes mobile banking easy, NiYO corporate portal that is accessible by its corporate clients and NiYO all-in-one card that has role-based entity.

The core-objective of NiYO is ‘Put salary where it truly belongs – in the employee’s hands.’ We had a discussion with Vinay Bagri, Co-founder and CEO, NiYO Solutions about the NiYO app, the overall market being addressed, how NiYO can help employees increase their take home salary, their fintech platform, future road-map, etc. So, let’s get started with the Q&A…

Can you walk us through the NiYO platform that can be used by white-collar employees ?

NiYO is a digital platform for salaried employees. When we talk about salaried employees, they are broadly classified into two categories – White collar employees and Blue collar employees.

NiYO started with a product for white collar employees that is primarily into taxation. There are total 22 items where tax can be saved by the employees. Employees can avail tax benefits across 10~11 items like LIC Premium, Savings under 80C/80G, HRA, etc. Employees have control over other 10~11 items namely LTA, medical allowance, gift vouchers, meal vouchers, etc. Employee and Employer have to work in tandem in order to avail these tax benefits.

How does NiYO helps in maximizing an employee’s take-home salary ?

What NiYO does is that it optimizes these taxation items for employee as well as employer. For employer perspective, NiYO makes these items paperless, easy to maintain and ensure that they are audit and tax compliant.

From employee perspective, employees can avail more benefits since the employer is now able to pass more benefits to the employee. In that process, emoployees are now able to significantly increase their take-home salary. NiYO also offers a virtual bank account.

What are some of the core components of the NiYO platform and what are some of the USP’s of the product ?

The core product of NiYO consists of three main components:

NiYO offers a virtual as well as physical card. Unlike other cards that are offered by other companies, the card offered by NiYO is a combination of debit, credit and prepaid card and it plays an appropriate role based on the outlet/location where the card is being used. For example, when a NiYO user tries to withdraw money, it acts as a ‘Debit Card‘. When user swipes the card at a food outlet, it automatically pulls money from the ‘Food Wallet‘. When an employee/user uses the card for a transaction when (s)he is on an official trip and swipes the card for a reimburseable item, it takes the shape of a ‘Credit Card‘.

In a nutshell, the card that is offered from NiYO is a combination of Debit card, Prepaid card and Credit card.

What are some of the main pain points that are solved by NiYO ?

NiYO solves two major pain points:

  1. Users now have the convinience, where they need not carry more number of cards since the card offering from NiYO is an all-in-one card.
  2. Since our system is intelligent enough to identify the ‘type’ of transaction, it helps employees in saving more from their salary.
Founders of NiYO [L to R] – Virender Bisht and Vinay Bagri [Source]

Please walk us through the NiYO mobile app and walk us through some of the interesting features of the app ?

The mobile app from NiYO has all the major mobile banking features. Employees can attach bills/other expense reports used for official purpose as a proof of expense to the mobile app. In order to ensure that there are no submission of fake bills by the employees, employer gets an intimation when the card is swiped for a transaction. This step acts as a ‘Proof of Payment‘. To take the security to the next level, employee has to also attach the copy of the bill at the location where the card is used. This mechanism is termed as a ‘Proof of Expenditure‘.

This lethal combination of Proof of Payment and Proof of Expenditure is an ideal way for our customers/organizations to make the reimbursement process tax & audit compliant and at the same time ensure that there is ‘zero fraud’ done during the time of submission of bills.

How do your ‘corporate’ clients ensure the authenticity of the transactions and facilities available at their front ?

HR department from NiYO’s client organizations would have access to the corporate portal where they can view the details of the transactions incurred by an employee ‘X’. The employer would have access to the details of the transactions where employees have applied for a reimbursement.

What are some of the advantages of the NiYO card over offerings by players like Sodexho ?

There are number of benefits of the card offered by NiYO when compared to offerings from Sodexho, some of them are listed below:

  1. Sodexho is a single wallet card that can only be used for food items. On the other hand, the card from NiYO can do much more as already discussed earlier and these facilities are availble on a single platform.
  2. With NiYO, you can use the card at any food outlet where they accept payment via VISA/Master/RuPay cards. Sodexho can only be used at around 40K food outlets where they have tie-ups. NiYO has more reach which is close to around one million outlets.
  3. NiYO also has a very interesting feature – split wallet. For example, if 3K is spent at a food outlet but NiYO’s customer [Employee] has only 2K in the food wallet, split wallet feature comes into action. In such a scenario, NiYO would automatically deduct 2K from the the Food card and remaining 1K would be deducted from the Credit card. In this process, a single transaction is automatically optimized for taxation benefits. NiYO acts as a technology provider and for the card, NiYO has tied-up with couple of banks.

Can you talk about the market size for a service like NiYO ?

There are close to 27 ~ 30 million salaried people in India who pay some kind of taxes. NiYO can be used as a salaried account/travel expense product/a fintech product where an employee can do ‘Financial Planning‘. Hence, NiYO would become a full fledged banking product for the employee.

Please share some insights into the Gift card aspects of the NiYO card ?

As far as corporate gifting is concerned, gifts worth INR 4900 are tax-free, beyond which the expense becomes taxable. There is a ‘segregation’ feature on the gift card wallet in order to ensure that an employee gets maximum tax benefits. Hence, there is no requirement for a seperate gift card and NiYO’s client [organization] can seamlessly load money in the gift wallet.

Morever, all the features on the card are customizable and they can be controlled via the ‘Employer portal’. Employers are free to keep it as an ‘open system‘ or a ‘closed system‘. To summarize, NiYO is currently the only player that has all these features with no competition as of now.

What are some of the features around financial planning on the NiYO platform

For tax and financial planning, NiYO has tied-up with H&R Block, which is one of the largest tax planning companies in India. From the NiYO app, an employee can do tax planning, plan savings, etc. There is an option for ‘Self tax planning & assisted filing‘, where someone from the H&R Block would call NiYO corporate customer and provide necessary support.

How has been the overall response to the NiYO App ?

Feedback has been very good, but there is an increasing demand for features like add-on card, etc. The core USP of the NiYO app is the best in-class ‘field process’. For example, you can attach a proof of insurance towards 80D on the NiYO app itself and the review would be either performed by the employee’s finance team or finance experts from the NiYO team. With such facilities at their persual, employees need not visit any other portal for financial planning.

As of today, NiYO has more than one Lakh customers/corporate employees using the NiYO platform. Out of one Lakh customers, around 60K customers use NiYO as a ‘salary account’. NiYO is also used by blue-collar workers that have salary of less than 15,000. None of the financial institutions want to open salary accounts for blue-collar segment and even if the bank does so, they charge fees and there is a minimum balance requirement.

With a nominal fee, NiYO can open a digital salary account. Everything is eKYC compliant and there is no paperwork involved. Messages sent to NiYO’s blue-collar customers are in vernacular language i.e. Hindi since NiYO for blue-collar workers is only rolled-out in North India. Card is charged for everyone, which is close to around 200 INR per year.

Can you share the product roadmap of NiYO?

In the future, NiYO will provide our customers with all the advice related to taxation and financial planning. Unlike other financial platforms, NiYO would consider taxation as a major factor for financial planning. For example, investing in a good Mutual Fund would yield 12~14% returns on a CAGR basis whereas investmets made via the NiYO platform would result in much more returns on the same investment.

Also, our customers can use the NiYO app to do a QR Code transaction since it would be leveraging the Bharat QR code mechanism. Our customers can opt for doing a payment via Unified Payment Interface [UPI]. The end goal of NiYO is to encourage employees go shift to ‘Spend and Forget mode’ since NiYO would be responsible for complete tax planning and savings.

We thank  Vinay Bagri for sharing his insights with our readers. If you are an SME and on the look-out for some good payroll solution, do give NiYO a spin. If have any questions for him or the NiYO Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

With business processes becoming more human centric in their ways to deal transactions, it has become crucial for entities to invest in corporate travel – a key operational business activity for Indian enterprises as they visit clients, suppliers and investors and pursue the ongoing aim of building their business both domestically and internationally. However, a recent study done by the CFO Innovations Asia reveals that as large as 74% organisations have more than 21 people that travel on business purpose on a regular basis leading to a need for greater visibility and control over the travel and expenses process.

Indian enterprises are at a tipping point of technology adoption in terms of managing their Travel and Expenses [T&E] expenditure. Organisations deploying automatic T&E processes, have an in-house platform and are not linked to any cloud-based architecture. The present system for Travel and Expense function cites difficulties in obtaining more granular information on individual employee patterns of usage and compliance, and a lack of flexibility in obtaining best pricing for hotels, car rental and airline costs.

Compliance and showcasing information ready for the audit process happens to be other relevant challenges that this industry needs to overcome at the earliest. With successful cloud adoption, systems and processes for the travel business in organisation will see a streamline of operations, resulting in a greater compliance, visibility and control to deliver better data management to senior managers, and also into improving the audit process. This is where Concur, a SaaS company providing travel and expense management services to businesses is creating a dent in the T&E space. We spoke with Neeraj Dotel, Managing Director, India and SAARC Concur around the current challenges that is faced by the Travel and Expense industry in the market and how cloud adoption can act as a transforming wave in the T&E sector. So let’s get started with the Q&A…

Note : ‘I’ in the interview refers to Neeraj Dotel.

Can you give a brief introduction about yourself and some insights into Concur India

Am currently working as the Managing Director for Concur Technologies for its India and SAARC operations. Prior to Concur, I have worked with Compuware as their MD for a period of 3 years and earlier before that, I was associated with Microsoft in different roles for almost 11 years.

With more than 21 years’ experience in sales and marketing overall, my expertise also lies in financial services and technological transformations in the banking sector.  In my current role, I have been helping Concur diversify its business in India.

Concur, n SAP company, is a global leader in travel and expense management and is in its fifth year of operations in India. Our founder is of Indian origin and along with Mike Eberhard our President, we are very passionate about our focus in the country. We are continuously increasing our presence in India with stronger investments and in roads.

We have setup the Bengaluru delivery centre with over a thousand employees working there. India is an evolving market for the travel and expense segment and one of the top 20 markets for business travel globally. The estimated expenditure last year on business travel alone was $33 bn and expected to grow at double digit rates [Source]. Eyeing this opportunity, we have been planning several investments around business travel through booking websites, with the recent one being an equity investment in Cleartrip.

Concur has helped companies to recover Input Tax Credit taking companies of all sizes and stages beyond automation to a completely connected spend management solution encompassing travel, expense, invoice, compliance and risk. In India, post GST implementation, Indian companies have become very sensitive towards their employees and clients. Customer experience and bottom of the pyramid is the most crucial element here. Indian enterprises are looking out for methods to reduce investments and operational costs, at the same time provide a superlative employee experience. We tend to leverage this, and provide them with tools that cater to the aspirational needs of their employees and ensure business growth in the process.

Even in large MNC’s in India, the Business Travel & Expense Management is not yet automated [i.e. still there is lot of paper work involved], how can Concur help such organizations so that they can take the Digital leap in the T&E process ?

Digital transformation is not just a process but a philosophy of business. It is a drive to make a complete paperless economy. It impacts a CFO’s job in terms of expense visibility, employee productivity and policy compliance. About 98% of business travellers in India feel that it is painful to not only deal with the stress of travel but also with the stress of claiming expenses.

We at Concur believe that digital transformation of an organization should be such that it is easy and intuitive to use and the people using it should be able to reap its benefits. We provide these CFOs with advanced solutions that automatically synchronise their financial data of the entire spend process. The automation of these processes enhances the experience of business travel, reduces time, and increases transparency and visibility. Our intention is to become the most preferred application for business travel and expense management. We abide by the philosophy that you cannot save what you cannot see, and try to deliver on the same lines.

Can you touch upon the current scenario of Travel & Expense industry, especially from an Indian perspective ?

The travel and expense industry is evolving in response to the growth of mobile technology. Travel professionals are realising that they need to modernize their tools and programs for improved efficiency. A study by GBTA foundation, explores that direct booking behaviour in employees is becoming increasingly popular, with nearly 40% of business travellers regularly contacting the suppliers directly. Employees are sometimes not satisfied with company-preferred tools and therefore they are adopting a self-service approach.

Companies realising this are now looking towards integrating mobile technology and corporate travel processes, realising the importance of implementation of streamlined solutions to cater to the needs and requirements of their employees, to ensure the safety and security of employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the company and minimise cost. When it comes to corporate travel, Duty of Care is an important business challenge. The Business Travel Show 2017 forecast reveals Duty of Care as one of the top concerns for organizations in managing business travel, along with curbing spends and enforcing compliance [Source]. Duty of Care is defined by organisational culture and the local context under which an organisation operates. In all of Asia, as also in India, relationships with co-workers are highly valued.

Another trend is that many business travellers are using ride sharing services – Uber, Ola and shared accommodation like Airbnb, while on a business trip. The sharing economy is a big push towards being business relevant. Through our robust travel and expense management solution, Concur is providing clients with greater control and application of travel policies, and enabling seamless processes through an integration of Concur’s online booking tool and travel request authorisation.

Concur now offers access to low cost carriers like IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir along with hotel options like Accor and Airbnb, all of which is absent in traditional channels. With disruption present in every sphere of business today, the relevance of a sharing economy is also growing considerably.

What are some of the major advantages of taking the T&E to the cloud [using solutions from Concur] and how would it benefit [in terms of savings] to the organization adopting your solution ?

The most basic advantage for companies to take travel and expense to the cloud is to reduce the cost of operations. The traditional methods of capex investments, building your own solutions, and customising is not just complicated,  but also consumes a lot of time and money. Concur’s idea is to make travel and expense management easier. Our innovative solutions improve customer experience for the modern business traveller. We integrate the T&E process to give managers visibility, compliance and control over expenses. It enables you to compare spend data, analyse cash flow and eliminate any errors. It’s not just about automation, we also care about the customer’s needs as well, understanding the relevancy of the approach to be taken.

One of the major issues that companies face while dealing with Travel Expenses is ‘Submission of Fake Bills’ from employees, how does moving to the cloud curb such malpractices by employees ?

A research conducted by Concur observed that 20% of expense reports submitted have some problem or other which might be a compliance default or a fraud or fake bill that caused it. In India the risk is higher because we are also operating with hand written bills, which are admissible most of the time. An employee can easily use this to get wrong bills into the system. So, the magnitude of the problem is huge and we believe that if a solution like ours is not adopted to manage those bills and eliminate errors for on the T&E process. Inflating bills or submitting forged bills which happen in every company, whether it’s unintentional or intentional which eventually exposes the company to litigation and fraud of things.

Concur captures expenses which prevents unintentional padding [inflating expenses] and there is no scope of inaccuracy. Additionally, certain things cannot be captured at source, especially fraud analytics, however, we have invested in a technology that analyses the patterns and numbers that people are putting in the expense reports with regards to the point of events.

There are various ways by which Concur curbs padding, such as manager and auditor approval, or keeping track of bills and tickets. Employees who do not have receipts will have to submit an affidavit which has to also go through the approval process. Lastly, we have app centre partners who provide sophisticated recording of journals and study and detect the patterns by tracking the actual number of miles travelled through synchronization with google maps. So, this is the sense of promise and vision we offer to our clients.

Neeraj Dotel, MD – Concur (India)

There are lot of fin-tech startups that are integrating payments, T&E, Insurance/Finance services, etc. into a single product, how does Concur plan to stay ahead of its competition in terms of innovation and adaptability ?

Mobile micro services is the next big thing with the ability to capture expenses at source and the ability to sync with your email and Outlook calendars. Gaining popularity amongst Indian enterprises, it will be the next big tool in business travel. Concur provides an integrated approach towards management, tracking and evaluating employee expenses. For example, hotels, airline ticketing and conveyance. We have partnered with 100 plus service providers globally and in India which includes financial integrators, payment companies, hotel and restaurants, travel management companies, cab aggregators and ground transportation companies to benefit our customers.

In the Indian context, we presume to have spreadsheets as our only competitor. Spreadsheets are typically adopted by companies who haven’t understood the concept of spend management and not figured out a way to optimize cost. Concur proposes an array of solutions to ease the management process: Invoice Capture using

SAP Leonardo

The tool helps to capture expense at its source, by letting the end user capture invoice data real time and provides a wide scale accuracy.

Expenselt Pro App

The tool has the ability to leverage several data points [card data along with OCR, user history, company history etc.] to analyse the type of expense when formulating expense reports.

Fraud Detection Analytics with Concur App centre partner Oversight

Oversight proprietary software applies multidimensional artificial intelligence techniques to monitor and report on the behaviour related to cardholders, merchants, spend categories and items purchased. The tool detects risk activity including unusual spend patterns, duplicate expenses, split transactions and suspicious out-of- pocket expenses.

Rocketrip: Real-time pricing algorithm technology

Rocketrip gives employees real time budgets and allows them to save from the estimated budget. The algorithm tracks actual prices for transportation and incorporates this information with the available budget. It provides the company with insights and analytics about travel spend, irrespective of which travel site used by the employee for booking.

Mileage Rate Service

With Concur Drive, employees will be able to automatically capture the routes travelled using GPS. The user can set days/times in order to capture their mileage. They are then provided a log of mileage that they can select the trips they wish to expense. This is seen as a huge time-saver for employees while granting approvers visibility into actual mileage and hence prevent misuse and padding.

Your views on Digital India and how that movement has paved the way for automation in Travel, Expense, Invoicing, etc.

India is in the throes of a digital transformation with digital adoption spanning all businesses across the corporate spectrum. IDC reports that work process automation in companies is leading to increased employee productivity, more cost savings and reduced time spent on expense management with a lesser propensity for errors. Automation is also resulting in better compliance practices in organizations through efficient management. A recent CFO Innovation Asia Study reveals that in India, about 39% organizations are fully automated, with online processes for employee travel and expense [Source]. Around 23% organizations use a mix of methods for travel and expense, indicating that automation is catching up in India.

Digital transformation is positively impacting the CFO’s job, in terms of value proposition, visibility, employee productivity and compliance. Concur is offering CFOs end-to-end solutions that automatically synchronize financial data across the entire employee spend process, from pre-spend approval to reconciliation. With Concur, companies can automate expenses and streamline business travel, save their employees’ time, and have more visibility into important line items, helping them focus on what matters most.

There are still lot of issues with GST [both implementation and understanding based], how does Concur support its customers to make their Bill Submission, Invoicing and other processes smoother and less time consuming ?

We have dealt with countries with similar tax reforms such as Canada, Australia, and UK and do understand the pain points associated with tax reforms. We have built experience of 38,500 customers across the globe in over 60 countries. We keep ourselves very well prepared and with the tax reforms.

With GST in India, we have been constantly responding to the need of our customers and guiding them on the impact of GST on T&E and the efficient use of budget. With end-to-end spend transparency, companies can uncover insights that lend to more effective spend management. As a result, business leaders can make smarter and more informed decisions.

We thank  Neeraj Dotel for sharing his insights with our readers. If your organization is planning to adopt the more tech-savvy route to T&E functions, please have a look at Concur. If you have any questions for Neeraj or the Concur Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.