Archive for the 'Technology' Category

IIT heads complain of plunge in quality

Today I read a news article in Times of India titled, “IIT heads echo NRN on plunge in quality”. The whole article goes on to talk about how the seats in IITs today are getting filled by students who are fatigued by years of coaching and in the larger scheme of things, don’t even want to be an engineer. It is sad state of affairs, indeed. But to hear the heads of the institutes complain, instead of do something about it, is sadder. This could have been easily seen coming and here are some thoughts of mine

1. If you set up an exam that is hard to achieve and pass through and prevent people with interest from joining unless they can showcase aptitude 2x the current level of education system. This kind of ‘fatigue’ is bound to happen. We, as Indians, are proud to pass through tests that are seemingly insurmountable and that give you a certain kind of ‘elitist’ status over others! Take the civil services, for example. Most people taking the exam don’t even know what they will be doing post the selection! It is the same with students who are getting coached to get into IITs (and to a large extent the CAT fever too! – they are being taught how to beat the system!!!) – while it will take you across the threshold, it will not get you inspired and motivated to become an excellent engineer or an excellent manager (or a good anything)

2. Next, what have the IITs themselves done to inspire the students joining to wake up out of fatigue and create interest? Is there an emphasis on innovation, creativity or even applying the skills being learnt beyond the basics? If so, where is it being showcased? It is a chicken and egg story and only if you focus on inspiring students will they get inspired and motivated – the other way round is an ideal dream, but can you make it a reality by just cribbing about it?

3. Now, lets look at the industry. These children who join the IITs are very smart and the smartness flows to where they money is. If money is in engineering, they will continue being engineers, if it is in pharma/FMCG/ITES companies, they will get trained to become sales people for Pharma/FMCG/consultants, as the requirement might be. Look at it from their point of view and the society’s point of view, if you are the best of brains and you are not earning the best of salaries, you are a loser! There is no premium on thinking, being different, being unique or standing up for what you are passionate about (let alone sometimes even figure out what is it that you are really passionate about!) and then what about the self-fulfilling prophecy of these large institutes that the most successful people come from there?

4. That brings us to the story of change. What should change to make this better? The mantra is – Innovation and Creativity to create a “thinking generation” of students! The institutes needs to innovate at a much faster rate and create a new form of entry criteria, a new way of working with the corporate world, a new wave of innovation from their labs and that will create enough inspiration and motivation even in the most fatigued or uninterested child to beat and excel the system (where the system is aligned and focused in the right direction)

The seeds of change lie in you, if you are unwilling to lay them in the ground, don’t fret over lousy results!!!

PS: On second thoughts, whatever has been written above is a law of averages and I’ve seen enough inspired, motivated and self-aware IITians over my work life to be impressed by their smartness, hard work, dedication and motivation. So, please don’t take this as a personal note on anyone. I’m just responding to the system’s response on its own intake quality!

Next service to move online?

I have spent two entire days trying to call up the cooking gas agency services as I’m running about my day to day activities. On one of my tries a fresh thought crossed my mind and left me smiling. I imagined a situation where it was possible to order gas online and what fun that would have been!

Imagine the efficiency possible for the gas agencies and the freedom that it would give the customers. The rest of it in terms of payments etc can still be managed the same way it had always been so all they need to do is an online order placement system and that is one of the simplest forms to add on a website.

So, my wishlist – can the next service to move onto the online bandwagon be – cooking gas booking? Who else thinks it is worthwhile? Help spread the word by tweeting this.  🙂

Update: Apparently, they have launched an IVR service for Indane and that’s why I could not get across any “real” human being on the phone. What if they had put a recorded message on at least one of their phones, would have saved us a lot of heartache! Grrr, Hmph….

Post Script: We placed an order via the IVR system and the gas came within two days, viola!

Consuming Information Digit-ally

RSS

Image via Wikipedia

Lately I’ve realized that I’m consuming almost all my information through my RSS feed reader – news, blogs, articles of any kind. I’ve not yet moved to e-books because, ahem – all e-book readers (when they are available) in India seem to be so bloody costly!

The fact is, I still travel with a book or two. But, reading the latest blog articles on my mobile from a set of people I follow and admire, always seems to win vs. the books from authors I barely have a connect with. This has serious consequences, in my mind, on what kind of information/news/articles are being read by people. Instead of passively consuming some randomly pushed plot as decided by a publisher and a writer, now I decide the twists in the plot.

Jokes aside, the middle man is being cut out by the power of the reader and it is not just the traditional content creators that are in trouble, as is touted by the “big banner demise stories of newspapers”.

The small and convenient size of the blog articles and the easy to read format also make them more appealing to me. Oh, not to mention, most of the people who blog are experts in their fields or are striving to be so and if you pick and choose right, you get loads of good and solid information in their respective fields of expertise that is current, handy and reliable. Also, many of them have managed to create brilliant communities around their blogs, so each and every blog post gets 100+ responses. Another way to get a feel of the various industry opinions and contradictory viewpoints. They, in a way, complete the posts and make the rugged and more comprehensive.

I’ve never been able to watch news without losing interest in the first 2 minutes, read a newspaper without falling asleep (except for some interesting articles, here and there) but leave me with my RSS feedreader and I’m glued forever.

What role does a marketeer play in this world where content producers directly communicate with the readers? What do you think?

Laptop with wings please

It’s been such a long time since the laptop got a game changing feature. Except for form factor and design (and to some extent the trackpad!), nothing seems to be changing in the laptop world.  >90% of laptops are manufactured in Taiwan and quite a large extent of the design and innovation (or the lack of it) also happens there.

I decided to ask for more.  How about if we had a laptop that could do the following?

1. Print – I’d love for my laptop to print out my flight/train tickets (yeah, I hate having to buy and maintain printers just for tickets. I’ve stopped printing much else now a days)

2. Scan – I’d love for my laptop to scan things I come across quickly and store, categorize them for later references (scanning is on the up move but all the same, I don’t want to buy a separate device to do this)

3. Project – I’d love to be able to project my presentations without having to connect it to any external device, just click and shoot!

And while we are at it, can it please also have wings? Talk about advanced mobility solutions! Acer, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Toshiba – are you listening?

Readers, what are your demands from your laptop?

Gmail Feature Request

Being able to add a “star” symbol to an email/bunch of them that I want to keep an eye on/check out later/think is interesting is great! But, the fact is I sometimes lose track of why I put the star there in the first place and it takes a few moments of raking my brain or looking through the email to understand what I was thinking.

It would be great if I could put a small note along with the star and attach it to the email, that can help explain why I “starred” it in the first place.

If someone from Gmail features team is listening, kindly help!

Triple Play – No Thanks.

My friend Sanchayan and I were having a discussion on how triple play kind of services were very far away from take off in India. What? Did I hear you say that IP Set Box people are still struggling? You are right.

For the uninitiated, let me put “triple play” in layman terms – it is being able to get your “TV, Phone and Internet” through a single line (and implicitly single service provider).

While, it is exciting to be able to link all these services up and be able to tap into benefits that the cross functionality gives me in terms of superior services and subsidized prices, I’d be living a pipe dream if I were to believe that it would unfold that way in my (read consumers’) favor. Why, you may ask?

Let me try to explain. Every time, I have to depend on a single source (or service provider in this case) in India to serve too many of my basic needs (and yes, TV, Internet and Phone are basic), I get worried. The chances of a single provider becoming complacent and hence not providing good customer service or trying to extract too much money from me for their services are high enough, notwithstanding the disruption to my day-to-day life that would be caused by them going under temporarily/permanently.

I’ve had an experience of this. This was on the day I was leaving Chennai, I needed to withdraw some cash to make certain payments. I had money only in one bank account and incidentally for the one hour that I ran around from one ATM to another (and not just the bank’s own ATMs, I must have tried 10 different ATMs in about 5Kms radius) I could not withdraw any money. I had to do some “jugaad” and manage the day. But, since then I learnt my lesson on that front.

Actually, I’m saying no thanks to triple play in the near future – the risks outweigh the benefits (if any were presented at all!). What do you think, would you like to adopt such a service/offer if Sun/Hathway/Airtel were to offer it to you?

Technology is not the panacea – Part 2

The next part of the puzzle has to do with the traditional “market ethos” of “why break something that ain’t broken?” If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, you can catch it here (you might want to take a quick look at it before reading this thread)

One might argue, “let’s make things better” or “this is for their good”. But, asking someone to put in any more effort than what requires to keep things going doesn’t ring a bell of happiness in most people’s heads, it rings a bell of despair/alarm. (Obviously, I’m not referring to the market of “techno-enthusiasts” here)

They either know that you right, but don’t want to be the first adopters and hence, a ring of despair or they are alarmed that you are out to get them.

Take the case of school teachers, they all agree that technology could potentially improve the learning capability in students, but why should they be the learning scapegoats? Why, for the peanuts they earn, should they put in any kind of extra effort without a social/economic benefit to show for it (no extra pay, no climbing the hierarchy, no awards – you know, the works)? The prevailing majority attitude then becomes, let it happen independently. That shows for the success of many online tutoring services and several other direct to student technologies. One might ask, what about the success of the likes of Educomp, Everonn etc. – that, for me, is a subject of another post. I’m referring to technology from the teacher’s point of view in this example.

Lets take another example, the nation’s favorite for technology advancement – farmers! All the incubation labs in the country are buzzing with activity around creating technology innovation for farmers. What is the story on the other side though? Alarm bells start ringing in their heads when you talk of any new technology introduction. They think that you might have a trick or so up your sleeve and hence want them to use the technology that you are talking about. Call it lack of knowledge, their hand-to-mouth existence that precludes trial-n-error or “been-there-been-tricked” experiences.

All this results in the best of the technology interventions not being met with the kind of excitement or implemented with the kind of enthusiasm that was intended. What with all the effort that was put into creating the “cool technology wonder”? Be it the lowest cost laptop, the simplest digitally controlled water pump – if the team doesn’t make an equally gallant effort (as for creating product) into delving and unifying the product experience with the market ethos – it is bound to just remain “a newsworthy cool technology”, nothing more.


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