Yo! What’s your problem?

That's not offending here because everyone is either working on a social or a business problem. All this as a part of our curriculum, we study design thinking, problem solving etc. This is a precis I had written on one of the problems I am working on. Posting it here for the good of the world!

Problem: Balancing the Bike Sharing System

We have bike sharing systems everywhere. These systems mainy allow people to rent/share/use bicycles in a defined space. These could be on campusses, work areas, SEZs or even certain areas of a city or a town. Usually there are stations from where the user can pick up a bike to travel to another station where he can drop it. Some of these bike sharing systems are free and some are paid. The major challenge in maintaining such bike sharing systems is to balance them or to make sure every user gets a bike when they need one. However, this challenge can be overcome upto some extent in bike sharing systems that require a payment or authorization from the user. Here, there is some data available on the no of bikes at different stations, who takes it and where they drop them. This data can help create a lot of patterns on bike usage based on weather, locality, person, events etc. Though this doesn’t solve the problem, there’s at least more data that can be used to create a solution.
But in case of Bike sharing systems which are free to use, there’s no data available and extracting this data using sensors can be expensive. In most of these systems basic data like the no of people using this system on a regular basis is also not available. This makes the problem more complicated. This exact problem is seen in the bike sharing system we have on our campus.
The bike sharing system on our campus is not completely balanced. At a point of time. nearly 100 bikes are in use through 5 bike stations. Out of these 5 stations, some always have insuffiecient or no bikes at all and some have too many at certain points of time in a day. The stations being linear makes the solution of finding a bike at a near by station also not feasible. If we can get more data on availability of bikes at stations, patterns can be analyzed based on weather, terrain, schedule etc giving more options to optimize the system may be by restricting the routes, or by setting up more stations or even physically transporting bikes from surplus stations to defecit stations.
What’s the most economical way to solve this problem? Can this problem be solved without collecting bike data?


A Superhero called The Ugly Indian

We’ve all seen superhero movies, especially the ones where hardly anyone knows who actually the superhero is. There’s Batman, Superman etc. Well, that’s just movies and fiction. But, How is it to be a Superhero in real life? Solving problems, helping people, being famous, keeping your identity secret, making a dent in the Universe. The most important part of being a superhero is to stay anonymous, not to reveal your identity, to keep  the world curious, to have people talking about you and your work and inspire millions. If you don’t stay anonymous, you’ll still be famous, you’ll be a celebrity. That could be good or bad. You could get into trouble, somebody would sue you for no reason, you might get into a controversies etc. Unlike in movies, making such a huge impact in the real world is not so easy. Keeping the identity secret is even harder. Only a few will be able to make it. Knowingly or unknowingly, they become a superhero for a city or a community or the entire world.

Bangalore, like most other Indian cities has a serious garbage issue. It is not clear if this is because of improper system in place or the mentality of people but the issue has been getting bigger and worse. A lot of people tried to intervene, Citizen organizations, RWAs, NGOs, Politicians, Social Enterprises, everyone. May be their work made an impact but not at the scale of this particular campaign. There was one person who started a movement. He brought a bunch of people together who called themselves ‘The Ugly Indians’. TGI was an anonymous group who started cleaning up the streets of Bangalore. Their philosophy – Kaam chalu mooh bandh. Stop Talking, Start Doing. They would choose a ‘blackspot’ or a garbage dump and fix a cleanup drive on a Saturday or Sunday morning. They would go with their tools, clean up the place and repaint it or re structure it, beautify the place and silently get out of there. Anyone could join this by sending them an email or connecting with them through their site or facebook page. The man behind this movement had a long term plan. He had a very creative, design based approach towards the entire garbage issue. He wanted to make sure that they had a larger impact on the issue.

TUI never wanted media attention unlike politicians or NGOs who would send a pre-event press release and a post event press release for a simple cleanup drive.All they wanted was to get noticed, to inspire, to show that you can make change happen. The solution is not just cleaning up this place. You go clean up a garbage dump, people will throw trash again and the dirty pile of garbage will be back by morning. In fact, most of these ‘blackspots’ are cleaned up by BBMP, the city corporation everyday but people still throw Garbage there. There is a lot of observation, psychology and behavioral study behind the solution. In his book, the Ugly Indian or the ‘Anamik Nagarik’ writes about how Osama’s location in Abottabad was confirmed. Yes, it was the trash that gave him away. The fact the absolutely no trash was coming out of that house made it look more suspicious. If you seriously look into all the small things in a trash can or a dump, you can say where it came from, what kind of a person generated this trash, was he/she in a good mood or not, their family relationships, their bank balances, their phone numbers and bills, what all and what not. Sometimes garbage can come to a dump from as far as 20 kms. It’s mostly not from the same neighborhood. Nobody wants to litter their own place. If they had a little more sense of ownership for their neighborhood or area or on the garbage dump, they would take care of it. If that place was useful for them, even more. Another thing about these blackspots is the location where they’re formed. It’s usually a corner or an empty plot. People throw their trash there because there’s no one or nothing objecting them.

The TUI approach to this problem was to beautify the place, try to provide an alternative arrangement for trashing or urination and make the people feel that they own the place. They started cleaning up or ‘spotfixing’ ‘blackspots’ in Bangalore. The Ugly Indian went on meeting people and giving talks, spreading awareness, inspiring people, explaining their technique. He always emphasized on nGoG – No Garbage on Ground. He started working with NGOs, Politicians and finally with corporate. Politicians worked with him for mileage. Companies worked with him to spend their CSR budget and to engage their employees in team building activities. People working in IT companies came and cleaned up some of the most dirtiest garbage dumps, they worked together, they enjoyed it. He made this entire Garbage Cleaning business look cool. He added the wow factor. People would feel good that they made change happen, they could see change happening in front of their eyes.

The next level was great. His website and facebook posts inspired a few people around the country. They got in touch with him. He traveled around the country and mobilized groups similar to the ones in Bangalore. With him he took the techniques, the same approach to the problem and the same design. That’s the best thing he ever did. He maintained his brand through the colors and shapes and structures used in the beautification or re-structuring work. And soon, his brand was in almost every neighborhood of every major city in India. All these pictures started coming on facebook. People from nooks and corners of the country started following the page. The viral sites picked up the story of an anonymous group of people cleaning the streets. It was just more feed for them but it was mileage for the entire movement.

Then, the BBMP, signed a memorandum with The Ugly Indian to clean up the streets of Bangalore under its ‘Namma Bengaluru, Nanna Koduge’ (NBNK or Our Bangalore, my contribution) drive.. This news was on newspapers, the mayor even tweeted about it but the identity of the person who signed this deal was kept secret. His statements were there on the newspapers but he was anonymous. May be he never wanted publicity, may be he wanted to keep the people curious or may be he just wanted to be a Superhero.



After a few more days, The Ugly Indian himself comes on one of the radio channels in Bangalore and talks about his work. He does not reveal his identity. The world is curious to know who this man is? What has he done before this? How has he inspired others? How did he become this?. But only a few, who have worked with him closely will know. May be some day we’ll have Mr. So and So Institute of Social Development in his name when his identity is revealed or may be it’s never revealed at all. But the way I see him is as a Superhero – A man who had the guts to find a solution for a problem, who worked for the society, who inspired overr a hundred thousand people, who chose to remain anonymous. Respect!

Huduku – The Lost Project

About two years back, when I was in the third year of college, Samsung had conducted a mobile app designing contest in our college. We were put into groups and were asked to come up with our own app idea, design it and build it. We were told that Engineers from Samsung would come and guide us and there would be chances of getting an internship. Samsung was doing this to attract more developers to their Bada platform. It was something new and a great opportunity to learn. We were all curious and excited at the same time. The teams, though a few members were in different classes and had different time tables, met frequently, discussed, planned and presented the Idea. We all submitted the ideas to Samsung. Then the Development Started and didn’t go that well and the entire program was cancelled. We were all sad that we couldn’t complete it but no one of us ever thought how much we learned from this project.

Just today, while searching some old documents, I found the presentation we had made. But now, looking back at things, connecting the dots, I feel it was of great help back then. In the process of just designing and presenting the app, we had learnt a lot of useful stuff. We understood the possibilities, complexities and the limitations of mobile apps on various platforms. We designed the UI, planned an entire app explored ways for development. There was also Business plan and Presentations were involved. It changed the way we looked at the mobile app world. We could understand things in a better way after the program. It was great altogether. May be someday when I want to join a design school, or a business school, these skills would help me.


Big Bazaar Direct

Famously known as the Retail Czar of India, Kishore Biyani has recently announced the launch of Big Bazaar Direct, A unique, direct to home business model. The Big Bazaar brand name is a huge success all over India for various reasons. Their deals, discounts and various marketing strategies are proven in the Indian market. Big Bazaar is one of the world’s fastest growing hypermarket chains with a lot of achievements, milestones and awards.

And now they’ve launched Big Bazaar Direct (BBD) where customers can dial and order what they want. According to future group, this “aided-ecommerce” idea is keen to concentrate on areas not serviced by organized retail. The idea that it won’t be easy to find retail spaces in the future to meet the needs of growing population led to the thought of the business model. This can meet a lot of demands in the retail industry in a cheaper and efficient manner. However, there are a lot of products consumers don’t want to buy unless they see, feel or try them. Conventional shopping could still be the preferred way and this can just be an alternative. But this type of business model can bring a revolution in the industry. It can cut down costs and increase profits for everyone.

So how does this work?

Anyone can pay a sum of 3 lakh rupees and become a direct franchisee of BBD. These franchisees are provided with tablets with complete data on products, deals and discounts. Customers directly interact with these franchisee/agents and place orders which in turn are placed by them to BBD. And BBD ships these order directly to the homes. This is like a win-win-win situation where the Business, the franchisee and the customers are all happy with the deal. The customer gets the deal, discounts on his shopping right at his doorstep. The franchisee/agent earns a commission on every order. BBD acquires new customers in areas it can’t serve otherwise and also saves a lot of money and resources compared to its conventional operations. Here, the company just maintains a godown or a distribution facility for a certain area. For example, According to BBD, their current distribution facility at Nagpur is enough to handle operations for the entire Vidarbha region. The operating cost of a retail business is reduced because maintenance, staff training, power, security, parking, rent/lease etc expenditures are much less compared to the conventional model. This makes it a very profitable business model at all levels.

Doing it Right means everything

The BBD model has a lot of advantages. Though this is something new, there is great planning, research and a most trusted brand name behind this idea. The backing of future supply chain, technology and building a strong franchisee network could make this a success. The most important thing is marketing, building up a franchisee network, letting people know that the service is good, setting up the brand.

Big Bazaar has done a lot of great marketing campaigns to woo customers. It has explored new markets and offered different deals. It has done everything from celebrity endorsements to offering free food at the hypermarkets. It is also planning to add Value added services like grinding, de-seeding, vegetable cutting etc services for free. This can mean a lot to customers. Extending such strategies and plans to BBD could help it grow. Imagine someday if this type of business model is success, one could buy cut vegetables while sitting at home with a tablet. Life could be made so easier.

The tagline says it all – “घर बैठे!” which translates to english as “While sitting at home”. The tagline stresses on the comfort of getting your shopping done with best deals while sitting at home.

The major target, the Indian middle class, thinks this kind of idea is cool. Most middle class people work on hectic full time jobs. They don’t have much time to go for grocery shopping. The traffic, parking problems, crowd, fuel expenses everything adds up to their woes. The concept of BBD can give a perfect solution to these problems. Actually people might not mid paying an extra few bucks for this kind of service.

The cool factor – The technology, pleasure of getting the work done and getting best deals while sitting at home adds up to the feel or experience a customer can have with BBD. People coming home with cool gadgets and taking orders makes the customer feel a lot more superior than waiting in long queues for billing in conventional outlets. As long as the customer enjoys the service and has a better experience compared to other models. this will be a hit.

Further, the delivery time can also be reduced with efficient planning and market research. Speeding up the delivery process can be an added advantage. Also, e-commerce sites and apps could be designed to take orders. And may be the franchisee/agent can take samples with them helping the entry of new products to the market. There surely is a lot more scope in the future.

Kishore Biyani has always been a great entrepreneur. Coming from a middle class family, he has great insights on the Indian middle class who are his major target. His famous lines like – “Garv se kaho, hum kanjoos hain” and campaigns on savings etc help in creating a bridge with the customers. According to his 3-C theory, Change and Confidence among the entire population is leading to rise in Consumption, through better employment and income which in turn is creating value to the agricultural products across the country. This new model implies the same. Being someone who has done this before and has a clear picture of the market can make something like BBD work effectively in the Indian market.

The brand name, the funding and the people behind this idea are all strong, educated and experienced and have the potential to make it a success. If at all it fails, it can’t spoil the brand reputation of Big Bazaar or Future group.

The Elevator Problem!!

An average human being wastes about 10 minutes everyday waiting for elevators at his workplace or residence. That is roughly 50 hours or more than 2 days in an year.

The major reasons could be,

  • Human error while pressing the up/down button.

    Both the up and down buttons are pressed due to confusion!

    Both the up and down buttons are pressed due to confusion!

  • Peak hours – Too many people waiting for the elevators(The elevator system usually services once for a request and a request has to be made again from the particular floor if the number of people waiting for the elevator is more than the capacity of the elevator).
  • Lack of proper maintenance effecting the speed and function of elevators.

Can’t we fix this? Well we can’t completely solve the problem but we can reduce the time wasted.


The Solution

The Choice Pad

The human error of pressing the up and down button can be avoided by placing theChoice Pad outside the elevator in the lobby.  This Choice Pad is usually kept inside the elevator and is used to choose the floor where you want to go. The Choice Pad being outside the elevator, people can directly select the floor they wish to go instead of up or down buttons. The Elevator system would automatically analyze the direction and schedule the elevators.

It should be made mandatory for everyone to choose the floor they wish to go to so that the system will have a count of the number of people willing to go to each floor. This count would help the scheduling of elevators.

Smart Elevator systems!!The Choice Pad

Access cards/Smart cards/Fingerprint readers can be programmed to convey the information regarding the floor to the elevator system. This would control access, enhance security and speed up the elevator scheduling also. A few facilities are already using these.

Going one more step further, we can bring mobile apps to the picture. Everyone has a smartphone these days. Be it your driver or the kid next door, they all have a smartphone. A mobile app can be designed to request the elevator.  The app can connect to the wireless/bluetooth network at the elevator lobby and send the information to the elevator system which would process the same and schedule the elevator. The app would automatically connect to the elevator network as soon as the user enters the lobby(or the network area) and prompt the user to select a floor. The users can be tracked in the building and even the access rights for each floor/users can be protected, thus making the elevators a secure access also.