Monday, February 08, 2010

What an IDEA Sirji !!!

M-Commerce: Adding convenience to life (and saving the environment) ???

I've never used IDEA mobile, but their advertisements never fail to impress me. Hats off to their creative team who deliver a social message with every advertisement, be it Eradication of Caste Politics in Villages, Spreading the reach of Quality Education, Health messages with Walk the Talk, or the latest Use Mobile, Save Paper message.

The last one intrigues me the most, as it touches two subjects I keenly advocate, summarizing the first very well with a question and presenting the second as a answer to that - दुनिया नहीं बचेगी अगर पेड़ नहीं बचेंगे, और पेड़ नहीं बचेंगे जब तक पेपर नहीं बचेगा. अब पेपर कैसे बचाएँ ? (The world won't be saved if trees are not saved, and trees won't be saved unless paper is saved. Now, how to save paper? )

The question is pertinent to the grave need we have today to Save our Environment. Enough has been said about the need to save the environment by the who's who of the world, and though the Copenhagen summit was tagged a failure, I'm sure its coverage in the media helped raising awareness about the need to save the environment and leave a habitable world for our future generations. What surprises and appalls me though is that in spite of the seriousness of the situation being highlighted in the media through direct coverage and ads like PCRA, the so called educated class is still oblivious to the need of the hour (I won't even want to blame the uneducated yet!).

The world climate has been skewed a lot in the past couple of decades, and there is more to come, given the present progress we are making. The so called developed world with their disposable incomes is still not over its romance with fuel guzzling SUVs and upcoming economies like India and China are adding to the woes with more and more people now affording cars. Paper usage in offices is rampant, and I am pained to see gross wastage of paper in my own office. Again, the ever so educated around us make faces and laugh behind your back, if you so much as request them to recycle paper, or print back-to-back for rough usage (God only know how they'll react if I dare to ask them not to print at all and read digital copies directly on their computers).

All it takes is small efforts which collectively will take us a long way towards making our world a better place. Simple things that I call every individual to follow are

  1. Read documents on computer, and print only if you need a hard copy for records (many of us have not got used to reading on a screen, but believe me, you do it 5 days and then you'll take to it like a fish to water)
  2. If at all you print, print on both sides of the paper unless forced to print single sided
  3. Switch off your monitor in office when you take a break, and switch off the PC at the end of the day
  4. Switch off your vehicles at traffic signals and in traffic jams
The first 3 may not lure you, as it saves money for your office, not you... but remember, it saves a lot more than money that your future generations would thank you for!!!

And the answer to the problem given by IDEA, is Mobile Commerce. The advertisement shows the use of technology to save trees beautifully. I've read a few comments online that question the practicality of implementation of IDEA ideas. Some are simply due to lack of awareness and knowledge of m-commerce and these I choose to ignore. But one comment that got me thinking goes as follows - "similar hype that we see around m-commerce could be seen for e-commerce a decade ago, but e-commerce hardly affected the use of paper in our day to day lives". 

I tend to agree and disagree with this comment. For one, e-commerce sure has made some difference in the use of paper and can do more so, with a little effort from our side. For example, air tickets earlier were this big booklet which wasted a lot of paper, and caused inconvenience to the passenger carrying the booklet. Introduction of e-ticket sure helped save some paper there... I know we still print these tickets, and some would claim that only the cost of these papers have shifted from airlines to passengers. This is why I mentioned "with a little effort from our side". How many of you have cared to print what you really need of this ticket. You get a e-ticket on email, and you blindly hit PRINT, thus consuming 3 or sometimes 4 sheets (back to back printing, whatever the F*** is that???). This when you need just the first page for boarding the flight, and effort required from you is a mere 5 seconds extra - instruct the printer to print page 1 only. This is but one example and there would be zillion more I can share, should you be interested.

But the bigger factor here is penetration of computers and internet, viz-a-viz, penetration of mobiles. Computers didn't reach enough to people in 50 years, whereas, mobiles managed to reach the masses in both urban and rural areas in just a decade. E-commerce was very much effective but it could reach only those who had computers, which was primarily urban population, that too in offices or schools only until recently. M-commerce would again be able to reach those who have mobiles, and this is where it differentiates itself... "Who have Mobiles" today include our local vegetable vendor, the rickshaw-walla, the maid, almost everyone in the urban centres, and a sizable population in villages as well. These are the people who have not seen computers, don't have bank accounts, and form the market waiting eagerly to be tapped by m-commerce vendors.

 WHAT IS M-COMMERCE??? It is the ability to transact using your mobile devices, to put it simply. M-commerce has been in existence since 1997 technically, but is still in a nascent state right now. Biggest use of m-commerce today is Mobile Banking being offered by banks (where mobile phones are used as an additional and convenient channel for the existing products and services offered by the banks). But in the last 2 years, m-commerce is evolving further and many players have jumped into the market offering direct m-commerce platforms and services that may not rely on existing banking infrastructure.

Coming back to the IDEA advertisement, it shows this as simple as it gets, when the aunt down the street buys fish and pays for the same by transferring Rs. 100 from her mobile to the fish vendor's mobile. Some call it wishful and impractical, but you'd be surprised to know that this is not something we'll see in the future, but is very much available today in India and around the world.

Paymate is one vendor offering such services in India allowing you to not just pay merchants using mobile phones (they allow you to link your bank account or credit card with you phone, or fund a wallet in their system which works like a pre-paid account), but also to buy movie/air tickets, transfer money to others, pay your utility bills or top up your mobile phone account. Other vendors offering similar services are Oxigen, Obopay, Mchek to name  a few.

The beauty of this system and the reason why its bound to succeed is that it allows a user to transact using something they anyway carry around, and not burdening them with an additional item to carry (like credit/debit cards). More important, a mobile phone will feature in the pockets of people in the remotest of villages, even those, who don't understand the concept of a bank account or a credit card. Not to forget the ease for the merchant who need not install POS machines for accepting payments. All they need is again a mobile phone, which, lo-and-behold, they would find right their in their trouser pocket. This is where m-commerce would go beyond not just e-commerce, but plastic money transactions as well, as this technology allows smallest of merchants to acquire transactions unlike cards, where the bank would give a POS machine to the merchant who commits a minimum turnover.

Coming back yet again to the IDEA ad, the solution presented by them lies not just in using mobile phones for commerce, but also as a effective delivery channel. How then do they propose to use mobile phones and save trees (very much realistically if I may add)
  • Newspapers delivered or accessed on mobile phones and handheld devices (made much more easier with the launch of iPad) - many of us already do so by checking news on the web through our mobile phones, or subscribing to news alerts on SMS
  • Waiters taking orders on mobile devices - already prevalent in up market restaurants where waiters carry PDAs
  • Carrying e-tickets and boarding cards on the phone instead of printing it - now this is interesting, will save that 1 sheet of paper I mentioned earlier (very much possible, just needs support and acceptance from aviation and other transport industries)
  • Sharing documents with each other electronically - the most commonly used of them all (we send millions of emails every day), but what needs to be done now is to stop printing those emails and access them on the phone anywhere as and when needed
  • Delivering messages through mobile phones instead of printing pamphlets - here IDEA shows a politician sending a MMS message instead of putting pamphlets (again limited use of this seen in the last elections when political parties used SMS as a means of propaganda)
  • Payment through mobile (the example of buying fish I talked about earlier) - this doesn't translate directly to saving paper (unless we are talking removing print currency - this I'd say would be wishful at this stage) but this is the best use of mobile devices for me
The ad again shows some traits of wishful thinking when it shows an entirely paper-less world (the lady laughing at the raddi-waala when he asks for old papers, the star giving autograph to a smitten fan on his mobile and transferring the image). I am in no way suggesting a paper-less world is possible (for another 100 years at least) or should be desired (what would we do without the good old smell and feel of holding a book). But then, its hit the nail on the spot and if we implement half of what IDEA suggests or what I've talked about above, we are GOOD TO GO!!!

The advertisement closes beautifully when the tree cutter finally asks the tree (played by Abhishek Bachchan -  transformed from a dry and dead to a fully blossomed tree as the world saves paper) - IDEA सर जी, आप कोन से पेड़ हो, pre-पेड हो के post-पेड हो :)

(See the ad by clicking on the subject)

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