Business, Finance, Politics, Public Issues

US and India Relations – A tale of two democracies

(One more guest article by Ankur Singh . You can read his previous article here. Ankur will soon start writing on as a regular author. Do you want to write on too? Read this for details )

US and India Relations – A tale of two democracies –

Democracy, as its meaning suggests, is all focused for the welfare of people. And its two most celebrated practitioners are India and the US. Both are the world’s largest democracies with plural societies tolerant of diversity. However, both of them are now bound on a journey that may twist the very fabric of this system.

The social and political conditions in both countries have never been amazingly similar as they are now. Both countries have witnessed a nation-wide public movement (Lokpal and Occupy Wall Street). Both the governments are struggling with economic and financial problems. Important elections are due next year in both countries. And finally, governments of both countries are entrapped in a mire of allegations and stalemates.

Let’s start with US. The government formed a super-committee that had representatives from both republican and democratic party who were expected to suggest a solution to the debt crisis of the country. It was also decided that the suggestions made would bypass the conventional rigmarole and would be implemented expeditiously. However, the committee tossed up its hands on 21st November and left millions of Americans disgusted.

Now let’s see the Indian scenario. A few days before, key industrialists like Mukesh Ambani & Ratan Tata emphasized on fast decision-making on the part of government. This statement was made in front of representatives from both Congress and BJP. However, our parliament seems unperturbed. The 1st two days of winter session of Parliament have been disrupted by opposition  with no significant output. Plethora of reforms (some good and some adequate) are lying in the pipeline. But neither our responsible government nor the constructive opposition have accomplished anything.

The reason for stalemate in both countries is the lack of social responsibility on the part of politicians. As the elections are close, the opposition parties could not let the government get their policies right. That could mean severe damage to the vote-banks. I am sure that similar thing will happen if the parties’ positions are swapped (ruling party becomes opposition and vice-versa). This vicious cycle may go on leading to delay in a number of welfare schemes over the decades. However, none of the parties are violating any rule of democracy. So, we can’t complain.

So did our constitution-framers made a mistake? Should we resort to system like that of China which is undemocratic and partially capitalist but has yielded much better growth results than both US and India? Perhaps not. Perhaps, the current events may just be once in a while scenarios. But the current situation definitely calls for some changes in the decision making. “What those changes could be” is an open question. Please express yourselves on this issue. Notes from the Editor: This is an article contributed by Ankur Singh – A guest strater. Ankur works as aStrategy and Operations Analyst with Deloitte Consulting and studied at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi earlier. The article serves as an eye opener about the value added by Engineering Entrance Exam coaching centers in the Indian Education Ecosystem. We look forward to more insights from Ankur in the coming months. Also, the views expressed are author’s own and neither supports or opposes them. is a forum for thought provoking discussions and will continue to remain so.

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Business, Entrepreneurship

Emerging business opportunities in rural Bihar

14bihar-pavilion-delhi-iitfHistory is proof of the fact that businessmen of all times have always been on the lookout for unsaturated markets. For past two decades Bihar was nearly untouched, be it by business or by development. In the present scenario, it takes no special effort to realize the fact that Bihar has become one such place where immense opportunities lie for business. With the 2nd highest GDP growth among Indian states this financial year, Bihar has already shown its mettle how it can utilize improved infrastructure and better governance.

Bihar has majorly been an agro-based economy with various small-scale industries supplementing it. Due to its highly fertile land and desired climatic conditions, there are varieties of agricultural produce which are cultivated here. Bihar has significant levels of production for the vegetables like Brinjal, Cauliflower and Ladyfinger and fruits like Mango, Guava and Pineapple. Litchi and Makhana (Foxnut) are two such products, 70 percent of whose national produce is supplied by the state. These facts indicate that there is a need to integrate the rural producers of these to the mainstream economy using food processing technology. Sudha dairy is already a shining example of how rural produce like milk can be marketed well with the aid of proper food processing technology.

Apart from its highly fertile soil, Bihar is also blessed to have sweet water ponds in its Mithila belt. Fishes of these ponds are considered to be of the best quality in the world. If cultured scientifically to increase the production level, it has the potential to be marketed in the international market at a premium price. Similarly, sugarcane also finds its commercial application in Sugar and Ethanol production. It is an immediate economic opportunity and also contributes to the government’s green agenda.

On commercial front telecom is one such domain which foresees a huge market in Bihar. With the falling ARPUs , telecom companies are looking towards rural market for next wave of growth. To pull the rural customer, the information VAS (value added services) can also be a major factor. Already IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd has created a platform to offer free daily voice updates on mandi prices, farming techniques, weather forecast, rural health initiatives and fertilizer availability etc.

With the lower strata getting economically active, micro-finance has emerged as an inclusive business enterprise to ensure easy access of the credit to them for their entrepreneurial and social empowerment. There are various Microfinance institutions(MFIs) coming up in the region ( e.g. Saija, Bandhan, SKS just to name a few)and they are expected to be the propeller of much important inclusive and sustainable growth of the region.

Bihar is the next frontier for businesses in India both as an Investment destination and untapped market. Its high time that business enterprises take a leaf out of CK Prahlad’s theory of ‘fortune at bottom of pyramid’ and invest in land of boundless opportunities.

(This post has been written by Neelanjan Sinha, a ‘guest-strater’ – (a guest author on Neelanjan is a 1st year management student at the Chandragupt Institute Of Management, Patna. thanks Neelanjan for sharing his insights with our reader and looks forward to more from Neelanjan in future)

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Strategy, Web

How open source is (already) changing the world

opensource_logoFirst they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win – Mahatma Gandhi

All the open-source enthusiasts must have instantly identified with this quote by Mahatma Gandhi on non-violent methods of freedom struggle. Open source has had a similar history. Ridiculed initially as something for the hobbyists, it has gradually morphed into a full blown software production methodology. This is not just being applied in the software industry. This article is about how open-source is already so well ingrained in our lives.
Just to keep things clearer, this article is not about proselytising people into using open-source. It does not justify open-source. It just lists a number of examples that prove how open source is indeed changing the world – including but not limited to the software industry.

Home Software – There are gazillion examples here. Firefox, VLC Media Player, Open Office and so on. Enough Said.

Business Software – The giants here are Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and what not. Most open source software is community driven and therefore can’t come close the marketing might of these behemoths. However, when you look under the hood, it will instantly become clear how open source is changing this place as well. All the major programming languages – Java, Python, Perl – are open source based. What is more, the entire Google OS – Android – that is being used in a number of phones is open-source based. The OS on servers that run the Oracle or SAP offerings use UNIX which is also open-source.

Productivity Offerings – For every Statistica for analytics, there is R. For every Microsoft Office, there is Google Apps or Open Office. For every resource heavy Adobe Acrobat, there is Foxit. For every Adobe Photoshop, there is GIMP. The recent Scooby-Doo movie used GIMP for its animations. For editing audio, Audacity is always available. For every Outlook, there is Thunderbird.

Open Source Information – This is the field where the novelty starts. Anyone who thought that open-source was only about software would be amazed. There are a number of information sources that, though not officially “open-source”, follow the same philosophy of keeping things open for the community. Wikipedia for basic information. Creative Commons licensing for content (currently, primarily being used for images and videos). MIT’s Open Course Ware for education. Project Gutenberg for out-of-copyright books. The list here is endless as well.

Biotechnology – This field is way too dense for the general public to get. But suffice it to say that the Human Genome Project was open-source based. Big pharma has failed us. They have discovered Viagra in a world where the Malaria virus has recently become drug-resistant. Governments across the world are waking up to the virtues of open source. The Indian Government has even established an “Open Source Drug Discovery “platform.

Manufacturing – Manufacturing has been the last (so as to say) frontier of open-source adoption. Open-Source here implies a totally different production paradigm – that involves users from the design phase of the production process. Nothing like this had been done, ever! But small steps are being taken. Loncin, in China, manufactures motorcycles using open-source methods. Fluevog designs shoes using open source. BurdaStyle has an open-source based design contribution process. RobMcEwon disclosed all the data (mind you all of his, normally company protected, mining data) of his gold mine to the world to let someone help him increase the output. And help came from Australia. The result was that his company became lowest cost million ounce gold producer!

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Business, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Planning, Public Issues

India’s opportunities: The Hotel Industry

Having traveled and stayed at some of the major Indian cities the one aspect which I find most disturbing (and with most opportunity) is the business of hotels. India as a country has a huge population, huge density in the major cities, and an unbelievable number of travelers. But the problem lies in providing these travelers with a decent, hygienic hotel to stay which is not extremely expensive (I don’t believe it is too much to ask).

taj_mahal_palace_hotel_at_nightTypically the most common routes taken to find accommodation are: Firstly to go and stay at a relative / friend / connections place. The informal network in India is very very strong and it is generally not difficult to find some relative at whose house you can spend a couple of days. Secondly is ofcourse going to a 3 Star – 5 Star Hotel and shelling out a lot of money. I really can’t believe the hotel rates for 5 Star hotels in Delhi and Mumbai. Thirdly is to look for a cheaper place to stay and this of course becomes very very difficult since almost no information is available online and you can find brokers everywhere who want to make their commissions.

I think I do not need to explain why this is really a problem. The lack of information and inconvenience to find a decent hotel to stay in budget is enough! But lets look at why this is also an opportunity. Indian middle class is growing and it is expected to become the biggest class in India over the coming years. Moreover the culture in India is changing where people now want to take vacations, travel around and see new places. Most people prefer pre-packaged foreign tours but when Indian Hotels and Travel become cheaper and better, this market will definitely explode.

Who is currently targeting these markets? Almost all the travel websites, MakeMyTrip, ClearTrip, Yatra and others. By providing information about various hotels on their website and allowing booking, they are making it much easier for people. The only problem is establishing trust. When I book with the website I do not know what will happen if I don’t like the room or its condition or locality, the trust has not been built into the system as yet. However it is a good attempt and I hope it becomes successful. Also the Tata initiative of Ginger Hotels is another great initiative aimed at the hotel industry keeping the middle class in mind.

The whole point is to provide a good place to stay for the masses and also make money from it. Moving from the 5 Star Busines of high margin – low volume to a good budgeted hotel with high volume – low margin. Such innovation is probably yet to be seen in India. Thus when I read about the initiative by ITC Ltd to invest Rs 8,000 crores in the hotel industry I felt excited! Maybe something is moving in this direction but it will probably take a lot of time to come out. I feel it is a great industry to target but somehow have not seen much movement in it. The only movement is in the 5 Star Hotel market. Come on PEs / VCs invest in India, invest for the middle class and I am sure they will make huge returns for you.

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Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Planning, Public Issues

Vodafone Zoozoos are the new Hutch Puppies

The latest commercials by Vodafone featuring Zoozoos have hit the Indian Market like a storm. They have caught attention, became popular and will now probably go into history as one of the most brilliant advertising idea for the industry. The question on every advertising manager’s mind will be “Why have they clicked?” Can there really be an answer to this!

If you look at the history of Vodafone in India, they have had a similarly succesful campaign when they were known as Hutch. The Hutch Puppy started as a small campaign, grew into a really popular one and got a lot of recognition. The Hutch Puppy probably had a decent enough brand value and now you can see a puppy being used in a lot of other ads trying to use that brand equity, which Vodafone did not care to take along.

You can never tell what will click with the masses. Sometimes the most perfectly surveyed and tested campaigns fail miserably (example the new coke campaign) and sometimes small campaigns become a rage! This campaign of Vodafone Zoozoos should get credit for all aspects! Vodafone launched the campaign during IPL, one of the most expensive times to launch a campaign on television. Vodafone made 15-30 advertisements for different services offered, which involved a decent commitment to the campaign! Plus they have taken all the right steps to make it popular both on television and online.

The advertisement also puts a question in front of other telecom companies, does having big movie stars and cricketers as their brand ambassadors really help? Can’t simple animated characters based on local theatre slim built women dressed in white costumes, called Zoozoos draw more attention? It has changed the way advertising can be done and seen! A new trend, a new wave!


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