Sunday, December 4, 2016

Long march towards Digitization and cashless society in India

It has been a little over three weeks since the Indian government took the dramatic step of demonetizing large denomination currency notes – of Rupees 500 and 1000. A lot has been written and debated about the short and long term impact of the Government’s bold move on the lives of a billion Indians.
As an Enterprise Architect of Indian origin, I have been watching the rollout with more than casual interest. There are lessons in the ongoing Indian digitization experiment that technologists around the world can learn from.
The digital payment market in India is at a nascent stage, but nevertheless has a number of domestic and global players, each with millions of users. The market is led by players like PayTM, MobiKwik , Ola Money, Citrus Pay, PayUMoney, ICICI Pockets, Citi Masterpass among others. These Digital payment providers have begun to prepare for wider adoption for the wave following digitization.
The media and technology analysts are also adding a sense of excitement, with articles that proclaim how “India’s Cash Ban Is the Best Thing to Happen to Digital Payments” In this article, the founder of PayTm Vijay Shekhar is quoted saying
“Those fishmongers, vegetable vendors and rickshaw drivers count among the thousands who’ve signed onto India’s largest digital payments service since Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggered a nationwide cash crunch when he scrapped the country’s two largest note denominations.” ( link)
Banks and financial institutions are also looking beyond the short term roadbumps to the long-term opportunities ahead. The front-office bankers gamely took on the challenge of dealing with teeming masses waiting in lines to convert their defunct currency notes. However, banking executives and technologists are already looking ahead. For instance, ICICI, a leading private bank sent a detailed email informing customers of the “state-of-the-art digital channels of internet, mobile banking, Pockets digital wallet and cards,” highlighting services that customers can access via internet and mobile platforms
The enthusiasm among the bankers and digital payment providers and startups is contagious indeed. It is very likely that some of the new, innovative payment modes will lead to evolution in day-to-day financial transactions. The opportunity hinges on leveraging ubiquitous mobile phones in a creative, intuitive and secure manner.
I wonder if it’s too early proclaim advent of the cashless-society in India?
Designing for trust in a culture with low trust of public institutions is a challenge to be addressed. Same goes for the ability to scale payment gateways across a diverse demographic. Many of those taking to eWallets and online bill payment are already in the formal banking system: they happen to be urbane, tech-savvy middle-class professionals who were sitting on the fence when it came to digital wallets. Service providers and small-businesses catering to this clientele are grudgingly following suit. Wider adoption, however, will depend on a transformation at the bottom of the pyramid. A few examples of the millions of people who habitually transact in cash in India:
  • The semiliterate, blue-collar workers in unorganized sectors working in small scale industries, factories and other jobs are generally unbanked
  • Workers in informal sectors in urban India – maids, household workers, drivers, security guards, building construction workers and others drawing minimum wage
  • Hawkers, vendors, small-shops, tea-stalls and roadside eateries in street corners across cities and villages
  • Rural India is largely agrarian, and agricultural income earned in India is exempt from tax. Cash is the king in this sector and farmers, growers and landlords have little incentive in going cashless (link: free incomes final.pdf )
Most of the folks in these sectors are habits of creature, and love nothing more than counting cold-hard cash after a day’s labor. Weaning them away from the culture of cash to a world where their earnings remain in virtual world in digital wallets they don’t comprehend may take some creative persuading and goading.
Another challenge that needs to be addressed is the issue of merchant-fees charged by Digital payment providers. Businesses and merchants, especially those serving customers at the bottom of the pyramid are going to be loath to shell out a fee, however small. This is not a trivial problem. Even credit card networks with American Express, Visa and Mastercard in mature markets like the US and Europe continue to struggle in courting small businesses that are hesitant to pay the 2-3% transaction fee for Point of Sale transactions. Even there, cash is sometimes the king.
Bottomline: We are talking about a cultural transformation that needs to accompany technology adoption. Those of us who have spent years in technology transformations realize that success of technology innovations hinges on user buy-in at the last mile.

Recent Q&A on Enterprise Architecture

Here are my recent responses to questions on Enterprise Architecture asked by fellow EA's on Quora. Do keep the questions coming. I will try and respond here or on Quora or Linkedin Pulse. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Recent NRI Q&A: Can NRIs write IAS? and other questions

Here are my recent responses to questions about  NRIs on Quora. Do keep the questions coming. I will try and respond on this blog or Quora  

Question: Can NRIs write IAS?

Check out eligibility listed for Civil Services Examination - Wikipedia “For the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service and the Indian Police Service, a candidate must be a citizen of India.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

Recent NRI Q&A: Will Indian parents have to pay NRI Fees for schooling in India, if their child is born in the US?

Here are my recent responses to questions about  NRIs on Quora. Do keep the questions coming. I will try and respond on this blog or Quora  

Question: Will Indian parents have to pay NRI Fees for schooling in India, if their child is born in the US?

The Fee for School and admissions really depends on parents and less on the immigration status of the child. Most schools have a complex fee structure that could include items like
  • Admission (donation and other fees)
  • Initial fees (books, annual fee etc)
  • Annual fee
  • Tuition (monthly/quarterly)
  • Special fee for sports and other activities
  • Transportation fee etc. etc.
Image source (link)
If the Indian parents flaunt their NRI status and seek admission in elite “International” schools, they will have to pay the going rate. Some of these elite-schools cater to international expatriates, Diplomats and others, and charge equivalent of the fee in Dollars. American School charges $24,200/Yr for Grades 1–5.
On the other hand, if they decide to seek admission in convents/English-medium or other schools where most middle/upper-middle class folks send their kids to, they may have to pay a high initial admission fee, after which other fees would be on par with locals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NRI Scam alert ₹ 500 and ₹ 1000

Received the following mail that clearly sounds like a Phishing mail

The mail goes:

Dear Mohan K,

Hello Friend, 

Hope you are doing well despite all the financial crises you are facing.
I’m working with United Nations and some other NGOs in India. I can help you to exchange your Rs. 1000 % Rs.500 to US dollars but I will take 20%. 

We can only Exchange minimum of 50 lakhs.
If you are interested, kindly reply back Via ( more details.

Dr. Collins White

The mail is clearly a scam! 

Why "Fake News" matters to corporate executives too

The media – traditional and social media - and digerati continue with their soul searching after accounts that “Fake News” circulated on social media swayed the hotly contested American Presidential elections. After initially denying accounts of fake news propagated by Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg publicly announced measures to take on the issue (Facebook’s fake news: We’re working on it)
Traditional media has been under tremendous pressure from digital media like blogs, wikis, online “media,” News Aggregators, RSS readers, and is using the fake-news issue to highlight the importance of “News.”  New York Times analyzes the issue, pointing to digerati and digital news aggregators
Most of the fake news stories are produced by scammers looking to make a quick buck. The vast majority of them take far-right positions. But a big part of the responsibility for this scourge rests with internet companies like Facebook and Google, which have made it possible for fake news to be shared nearly instantly with millions of users and have been slow to block it from their sites.
How this plays out is anyone’s guess; but digital experts and technologists are already proposing the way forward. In a popular post “,Four Ways to Deal with Fake News Online,” Jan Dawson highlights options like:
  • Do nothing — keep things more or less as they are. 
  • Leverage algorithms and artificial intelligence — put computers to work to detect and block false stories.
  • Use human curation by employees — put teams of people to work on detecting and squashing false stories.
  • Use human curation by users — leverage the user base to flag and block false content.
While all this plays out in the media, and behind the scenes solutions are rolled out by Facebook, Twitter, Google and others, corporate executives and technologists and digital strategists are taking note too. 

Why it matters to corporate executives?

Businesses depend on their reputation and closely watch media mentions about them and their brands. For instance, business school professors love the game where they challenge students to validate the multi-billion dollar valuations of soda makers like Coke or Pepsi, emphasizing branding, marketing and other reasons why consumers are willing to pay top dollar for mere “flavored fizzy water.” These companies gamely play along, highlighting how they guard their “secret recipes” in fort-Knox like secret vaults
A few examples why fake news matters to business leaders: 
  • Swaying consumer sentiment – Businesses continually monitor news that has potential to go viral and adversely impact the brand. For example, restaurant chain might monitor “waiter, there is a fly in my soup” or toy company will monitor “baby chokes on” and similar news, with the intent to react immediately. (It is probably easy to guess the keywords my employer, a multinational agri-business company would want to continually monitor)
  • Competitors and activists may try to unleash smear campaigns against new product launch or brand offerings; and such activities are continually monitored by corporate security and consultants. 
  • Misdirection. For example, planting “fake news” on a competitor, and watching how they react to it publicly can give clues to those planning Phishing, industrial espionage or other corporate activism. 
  • At times of major transformations, M&A, or announced layoffs corporate leaders closely monitor activities in Informal corporate networks (a.k.a rumor mills, watercoolers) to keep a pulse on employee sentiments. While forwarding links to “news” or articles may generally not be against corporate digital policies, those with malicious intent could conjure “fake news” to be forwarded to informal corporate networks. 
Even before the recent raucous over “fake news,” digital companies like, and other online reputation management services had been targeting corporate clients, SMEs and individuals extensively. They offer to monitor, manage, and improve the way companies and brands appear online, across search engines, online reviews, and social media.
While all eyes are on Facebook, Google, Twitter and others, innovative startups are bound to leverage advanced artificial intelligence techniques to bring some of these solutions to corporate clients too.  
End note: As the social media giants begin policing “fake news,” there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far. In a case of throwing the baby-with-bathwater, it would be a shame if two of my favorite “fake news” sites - The Faking News and The Onion - and other satirical sites like these are also censored out.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Recent Q&A on NRIs

Here are my recent responses to questions about  NRIs on Quora. Do keep the questions coming. I will try and respond on this blog or Quora