Last time I went to India was in May of this year. And I came back totally convinced that Mobility and Cloud have tremendous potential there. As I am flying back home to Phoenix now, after a whirlwind trip to India, I have a better perspective of opportunities and challenges.
I know BoneyM might not be popular with some of the readers – so check this video out. When I think of mobility in India , the lyrics of the song that goes “…6 beautiful roses, and no body to pluck them..” come to mind.
First, some observations from last week when I was in India.
Internet speed in India has increased by leaps and bounds, but hotels surely have ways to go in terms of bandwidth they provide their guests. I spoke to the staff at both Windsor and Leela Palace in Bangalore, both amazing hotels – and was told I will be pleasantly surprised if I visit a year from now. I will take them for their word since I know first hand over the years that they take customer service more seriously than almost any other hotel I have stayed in.
Mobile phone bandwidth on the other hand is a different story. I had poor up-time even with international roaming for data and voice. Voice surely was better than data by a long margin.
Device diversity is probably bigger in India than in US – and I found everything from iPhones, iPads, Androids of all form factors, Nokia phones and several blackberry PDAs. Email and Facebook are probably the most used apps from what I could see.
But almost every person I met is an expert in SMS messages. India runs on SMS (and missed calls – no voicemails, people just leave a “missed” call as an indication that they expect a call back).
Mobile banking continues to be a big hit with even the “tech averse” older generation taking an active interest now. I was pleasantly surprised to see many elderly folks take internet connections to just read news on internet, and do internet banking and save trips to the bank.
Mobile users in India seem to have lower expectations of functionality and performance than those in US and Western Europe. However, they do expect extreme simplicity. Given a choice, they would like to live in a world of SMS alone.
With these observations, I have to believe there is tremendous opportunity for someone to take that market by storm. Volume is not a problem in India – there are a billion people, and vast majority seem to have a mobile device of some sort. However – I think a mobile solution for India should have some common aspects to succeed.
1. It should be inexpensive
India needs a volume pricing – and buyers are price concious. And this would mean whatever solution is put in place needs a solid platform to go with it that gives economies of scale.
2. It should work in any device
There is no one favorite device. It is a gadget friendly nation
3. Wherever possible, use SMS
The country practically runs on SMS. It will take time to change to something else. But if SMS can solve an issue today, there will be lot of people who will buy. This is also good from a multilanguage support point of view. It will be an expensive undertaking to build apps for each Indian language.
4. Offline capabilities is a must
Given high availablity of bandwidth is a pipe dream in several parts of India, some offline capability is a must for any mobile app
5. Government, banks, construction and transportation are easy pickings
Forget your political leanings – India is all about big government, and people look at government for all kinds of things. Vendors should embrace this and not fight it. On bright side, there is plenty of interest from government to IT enable everything. Banks are already on forefront of mobility initiatives, but the opportunity is huge. Construction is probably where the biggest bang for the buck is – there is a high rise coming up anywhere you look. And I am yet to see engineers use a mobile device to do their work in those. Public and private transportation companies are used by everyone, yet hardly make use of mobility. These are the no-brainer type opportunities. I can think of another two dozen or so avenues for mobility initiatives
6. India needs local talent to develop and sell mobile solutions
This is applicable not for just mobile – but ANY solution really. It is a unique place, that many from outside India will find hard to figure out at a level needed to succeed in business. It is not a big deal for vendors since India has amazing talent locally, and a large expat community that can bridge any gaps. It will be a very strategic investment to utilize this talent pool and invest in it now.
7. Extensibility, multi language support can wait a bit
On first impression – it looks like several users in India can live for some time with out of the box functionality. From a good design perspective, of course it is better to build things with extensibility and multi-language support in mind. But it can wait for a bit – I think a profitable business model can be built for short to mid-term without needing a lot of enhancements and multi-language support. Of course I will gladly stand corrected if people who live in India point me in another direction. I am basing this on my short visits, and I am fully aware that I might not have picked up on the nuances.
The question in my mind is – who will seize the first mover advantage in India? Will it be SAP? IBM? Startups? By first mover – I mean the first to try to solve the problem in large scale. I am well aware that this is happening already in a low scale fragmented mode. I must admit I am quite tempted to give it a go myself.