Friday, August 29, 2008

Technology Adoption - The Indian way

If adoption of technology brings with it the blessing of greater productivity, it does not come without its share of teething problems. The distinction however when it comes to technology adoption is that the teething problems are beyond those visualized by an engineer with the wildest imagination. And what better place than a country like India to see such instances happen day in and day out, where every technology from the west has to be re-cranked and re-designed to suit the 'desi' lifestyle.

One such instance happened during the travel that inspired my previous post. A young lady of about 26-27 boarded the bus sometime after the bus left Bangalore. She passed 60 rupees to to the conductor knowing very well that the fare for her destination, which incidentally was also the last stop, was 56 rupees. The conductor collected the money and forgot to issue the ticket. The lady too got engrossed in a book.

As the bus left the penultimate stop, the lady voiced out the need for the ticket. The conductor exclaimed that he had already issued one for her. She claimed otherwise. After a heated argument the conductor finally agreed to issue a ticket. Now came the real twist. The electronic ticket vending machine he had, had already ticked off all places except the penultimate stop and the final destination. What that meant was the conductor could only issue tickets between the most recent stop and the next stops. The machine was programmed to behave that way. So the conductor came back, "Look here, I can only issue you a ticket worth a maximum of Rs 13 and not more. This is the fare between the last two stops for this bus."

"No, I need the full ticket for all the travel I have done. How can I pay you Rs 56 and get a ticket for Rs 13. You will enjoy the balance 43 which will never go to the government", cried the lady. After much squabbling, the conductor agreed to take only Rs 13 and issue a ticket of equivalent value. This too did not satisfy the lady. "I do not want to deprive the government of the money that was otherwise due to them for the travel I have done", said the determined lady. There was no way for the poor conductor to get the 'stupid ticket vending machine' to spit out a ticket of Rs 56. He was cursing aloud his lot, "This is not the first time I am getting into such problems. Which dumb guy designed this thing?". For a moment he forgot all the benefits the machine had brought him. He even issued a dire warning to all passengers, "Look here, everybody make sure you ask for ticket immediately the next time you are travelling, else not only will you suffer, you also end up making our lives miserable". I loved this part the most.

Finally the lady and the conductor had to approach the ticket collecting office at the final destination to get things sorted. So much for technology adoption.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Technology - The ticket to better lifestyle

Technology has helped ease lives of many in India. The fact is more evident in India where the masses have adopted to technology late and seen drastic improvements in their lifestyle. Be it the adoption of the mobile by Indians, the acceptance of online railway booking system or the flex board in lieu of the hand painted banners. The examples are numerous.

One of my favorite examples has been the digital ticket vending hand units that all bus conductors in Karnataka State owned transport unit (KSRTC - Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) use to dispense tickets. My generation has grown up seeing the conductors having a nightmarish time lugging the two sided tin box with tickets of various denominations, trying to disburse tickets to the passengers. A request for a ticket meant opening the tin box at least 2-3 times, tearing out the tickets of the right denominations from the wads so that they add up to the total fare and then punching a few holes through the whole lot at carefully chosen points. Each disbursement took close to 30 seconds on a average ( I speak of experienced conductors who knew the tin box ticket layout better than the back of their palm :-) ) If the buses were packed full with people hanging by the doors, the conductor's job would be totally a torture. The abuses from passengers who have had to bear the brunt of the job conscious conductor jostling his way through them, stamping a few feet, bruising a few elbows with his tin box and hurting a few egos. I remember many a time when the conductor had to request the driver to stop the bus mid way between the route so as to give him a chance to complete the ticketing process for all the passengers, some of whom would happen to be scheming on a ticketless travel.

Then came the new generation ticket dispenser hand held unit. The conductor presses two buttons indicating the passenger pickup and alighting points and Voila !!! A ticket mentioning the amount to be paid is printed in a jiffy on the machine. The passenger pays and the conductor moves on to the next passenger. Isn't that neat? No lugging around a 1-2 kg ticket box all around the bus. No mistakes in putting together tickets of different nominations together, no need of unwarranted stop requests by conductors.

Well, things have turned quite hunky dory for the KSRTC conductors. However as in any technology adoption, the wrinkles need to be ironed out. One such queer incident pointing this out happened the last time I took a bus from Bangalore to Davanagere. More on it in my next post...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

iPhone in India - Hefty Price sans Service

I had pre-resgistered at the Airtel website for an Apple iPhone due for launch in India through Airtel and Vodafone on Aug 22, 2008. At $199 which translates to approximately 8678 rupees, I was of the opinion initially that the iPhone price would not cross the 16K-20k range with all surcharges, duties, tariffs, etc thrown in.

However my expectation came a cropper with Vodafone spelling out that its iPhone pricing stands at 31000 rupees. This immediately puts the iPhone out of my reach, not just from the affordability issue, but from 'Huge price tag for features I won't be able to use' viewpoint.

Two things glare out.....

  1. 3G iPhone with no 3G service in India
  2. No gurantee of any bundled data plans with iPhone.

Which means I am shelling out 31K for a hyped up techno gadget with two of its much vaunted features unlikely to be of any use to me.

I have already put my iPhone purchase plans on hold. My investment will go into a Nokia or Samsung if I do not see any improvement in the next 6 months.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You may flaunt an IP phone soon

The top news item in ToI almost had me jump with joy today morning. With TRAI mulling leveling the playing fields for ISP telephone providers and traditional telephony players, the stage is set for the biggest percentage fall in prices of long distance calls. ISD calls that cost an average of 7 rupees per minute today could fall to 1-2 rupees a minute. STD calls within India could cost as cheap as 30 paise a minute.The difference this time around in terms of the TRAI trying to create a level field is that it is planning to allow the origin and termination of Internet based calls (that have streaming data packets rather than dedicated lines) legal. That frees people hooked onto IP phones from the clutches of cyber cafes , PCs and laptops. Now you can buy a IP phone and flaunt it too.

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