This morning’s HT Business piece “Can India become the Coca Cola of the BPO sector” by my friend N. Madhavan, (twitter: @madversity) shows how India is steadily cornering the ‘back-office’ business. His article got me thinking about whether this has happened by design or is the kind of happy accident that made India an IT superpower by the Y2K paranoia of the west. Here’s why.
The Indian service industry is fast mastering the art of Negative Innovation. When they try to add value they end up becoming a nuisance.
Negative Innovation Case #1: 0.75p for Voice SMS, Value Added Service (VAS) – Airtel.
I scroll down my list of contacts and call N. Madhavan. Maddy’s on another call so this ‘friendly’ VAS kicks in telling me I can leave a voice sms for him. Easy! So what does it ask me to do? Without hanging up, I have to dial his TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER followed by STAR or HASH (I don’t remember which) and VOILA!!! . . . I can leave a voice sms for him. #Fail. I was telling someone the other day that if Airtel could show me ONE . . . O N E person who had ever used the service, I’d eat my words now and forever more. VALUE for whom?
Negative Innovation Case #2: TM RBS N.V., SELL REL CAP…, etc., Unsolicited BULK SMS – Direct Marketing Cos.
For the past year or so there’s been this ‘NUISANCE’ of unknown and cryptic Direct Marketing SMS’s that sell property, insurance, stocks . . . unameit! And there’s no way you can block them. #Fail. There’s your killer idea you wannabe entrepreneurs … SPAM FILTER for SMS!! Go for it. I can’t imagine that clients are paying these goddamn marketeers (Don’t miss the extra ‘e’ as in racketeers, profiteers …) to successfully erode their Brand equity. VALUE for whom?
Negative Innovation Case #3: eShakti, Smart Card for NREGA – Smaartech.
We’ve all heard of the UPA’s flagship political program – guaranteed 100-days-per-household employment a year. Our IT wizkids sold the idea of using smart cards to progressive Bihar without as much as a thought beyond the technology parts. So now we have over 13 lac people who can barely afford a meal a day become proud owners of snazzy plastic that they can swipe for attendance. Never mind that they are employed for ‘EARTH WORK’, meaning that they go out into the fields in the sweltering summer heat in skimpy (no I’m not thinking what you’re thinking ;-)) attire who have to figure out where to keep their prized SMART CARDS. Smart! #Fail. Next we’ll have some nerd from MIT suggesting we implant a chip on their shoulder. (Pun wasn’t intented here!). VALUE for whom?
Sure, technology is great. We’ll keep thinking up new applications for fatter pipes, faster data transfer and efficient number crunching. Effectiveness be damned! India’s billion-strong population is not only growing in numbers but also in purchasing power. 3G, 4G, LTE . . . CONVERGENCE has come. But what about the customers . . . huh? WHAWASTHAT? Who cares. Numbers are far more attractive than people anyway. The more the zeros the more the adrenaline. India has so many people that you don’t bother about a customer once you’ve acquired one. Screw users.