Why the SC ruling on ‘Private Players’ use of Aadhaar doesn’t say what you think it does

On behalf of iSPIRT, Sanjay Jain recently published an opinion piece regarding the recent supreme court judgement on the validity of Aadhaar. In there, we stated that section 57 had been struck down, but that should still allow some usage of Aadhaar by the private sector. iSPIRT received feedback that this reading may have been incorrect and that private sector usage would not be allowed, even on a voluntary basis. So, we dug deeper, and analyzed the judgement once again, this time trying to disprove Sanjay’s earlier statement. So, here is an update:

Section 57 of the Aadhaar act has NOT been struck down!

Given the length of the judgement, our first reading – much like everyone else’s was driven by the judge’s statement and confirmed by quickly parsing the lengthy judgement. But in this careful reanalysis, we reread the majority judgement at leisure and drilled down into the language of the operative parts around Section 57. Where ambiguities still remain, we relied on the discussions leading up to the operative conclusions. Further, to recheck our conclusions, we look at some of the other operative clauses not related to Section 57. We tested our inference against everything else that has been said and we looked for inconsistencies in our reasoning.

Having done this, we are confident in our assertion that the judges did not mean to completely blockade the use of Aadhaar by private parties, but merely enforce better guardrails for the protection of user privacy. Let’s begin!

Revisiting Section 57

Here is the original text of section 57 of the Aadhaar Act

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual for any purpose a purpose backed by law, whether by the State or any body corporate or person, pursuant to any law, for the time being in force, or any contract to this effect:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

Now, let us simply read through the operating part of the order with reference to Section 57, ie. on page 560. This is a part of paragraph 447 (4) (h). The judges broke this into 3 sections, and mandated changes:

  1. ‘for any purpose’ to be read down to a purpose backed by law.
  2. ‘any contract’ is not permissible.
  3. ‘any body corporate or person’ – this part is struck down.

Applying these changes to the section, we get:

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual for any purpose a purpose backed by law, whether by the State or any body corporate or person, pursuant to any law, for the time being in force, or any contract to this effect:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

Cleaning this up, we get:

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual pursuant to any law, for the time being in force:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

It is our opinion that this judgement does not completely invalidate the use of Aadhaar by private players, but rather, specifically strikes down the use for “any purpose [..] by any body corporate or person [..] (under force of) any contract”. That is, it requires the use of Aadhaar be purpose-limited, legally-backed (to give user rights & protections over their data) and privacy-protecting.

As an exercise, we took the most conservative interpretation – “all private use is struck down in any form whatsoever” – and reread the entire judgement to look for clues that support this conservative view.

Instead, we found that such an extreme view is inconsistent with multiple other statements made by the judges. As an example, earlier discussions of Section 57 in the order (paragraphs 355 to 367). The conclusion there – paragraph 367 states:

The respondents may be right in their explanation that it is only an enabling provision which entitles Aadhaar number holder to take the help of Aadhaar for the purpose of establishing his/her identity. If such a person voluntary wants to offer Aadhaar card as a proof of his/her identity, there may not be a problem.

Some pointed out that this is simply a discussion and not an operative clause of the judgement. But even in the operative clauses where the linking of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts and telecom companies is discussed, no reference was made to Section 57 and the use of Aadhaar by private banks and telcos.

The court could have simply struck down the linking specifically because most banks and telcos are private companies. Instead, they applied their mind to the orders which directed the linking as mandatory. This further points to the idea that the court does not rule out the use of Aadhaar by private players, it simply provides stricter specifications on when and how to use it.

What private players should do today

In our previous post, we had advised private companies to relook at their use of Aadhaar, and ensure that they provide choice to all users, so that they can use an appropriate identity, and also build in better exception handling procedures for all kinds of failures (including biometric failures).

Now, in addition to our previous advice, we would like to expand the advice to ask that each company look at how their specific use case draws from the respective acts, rules, regulations and procedural guidelines to ensure that these meet the tests used by this judgement. That is, they contain adequate justification and sufficient protections for the privacy of their users.

For instance, banks have been using Aadhaar eKyc to open a bank account, Aadhaar authentication to allow operation of the bank accounts, and using the Aadhaar number as a payment address to receive DBT benefits. Each of these will have to be looked at how they derive from the RBI Act and the regulations that enable these use cases.

These reviews will benefit from the following paragraphs in the judgement.

The judgement confirmed that the data collected by Aadhaar is minimal and is required to establish one’s identity.

Paragraph 193 (and repeated in other paras):

Demographic information, both mandatory and optional, and photographs does not raise a reasonable expectation of privacy under Article 21 unless under special circumstances such as juveniles in conflict of law or a rape victim’s identity. Today, all global ID cards contain photographs for identification alongwith address, date of birth, gender etc. The demographic information is readily provided by individuals globally for disclosing identity while relating with others and while seeking benefits whether provided by government or by private entities, be it registration for citizenship, elections, passports, marriage or enrolment in educational institutions …

The judgement has a lot to say in terms of what the privacy tests should be, but we would like to highlight two of those paragraphs here.

Paragraph 260:

Before we proceed to analyse the respective submissions, it has also to be kept in mind that all matters pertaining to an individual do not qualify as being an inherent part of right to privacy. Only those matters over which there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy are protected by Article 21…

Paragraph 289:

‘Reasonable Expectation’ involves two aspects. First, the individual or individuals claiming a right to privacy must establish that their claim involves a concern about some harm likely to be inflicted upon them on account of the alleged act. This concern ‘should be real and not imaginary or speculative’. Secondly, ‘the concern should not be flimsy or trivial’. It should be a reasonable concern…

Hence, the privacy risk in these use cases must be evaluated in terms of the data in the use case itself, as well as in relation to biometrics, and the Aadhaar number in the context of the user’s expectations, and real risks. Businesses must evaluate their products, and services – particularly those which use Aadhaar for privacy risks. It is helpful that the UIDAI has provided multiple means of mitigating risks, in the form of Registered Devices, Virtual Ids, Tokenization, QR Codes on eAadhaar, etc. which must be used for this purpose.

What private players should do tomorrow

In the future, the data protection bill will require a data protection impact assessment before deploying large scale systems. It is useful for businesses to bring in privacy and data protection assessments early in their development processes since it will help them better protect their users, and reduce potential liability.

This is a useful model, and we would hope that, in light of the Supreme Court judgement, the Government will introduce a similar privacy impact review, and provide a mechanism to regulate the use of Aadhaar for those use cases, where there are adequate controls to protect the privacy of the users and to prevent privacy harms. Use cases, and an audit/enforcement mechanism matter more than whether the entity is the state, a public sector organization, or a private sector organization.

Note: This is in continuation of Sanjay Jain’s previous op-ed in the Economic Times which is available here and same version on the iSPIRT blog here.

The writer is currently Partner, Bharat Innovation Fund, and Chief Innovation Officer at the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, IIM Ahmedabad. As a volunteer at iSPIRT, he helped define many of the APIs of the India Stack.  He was the Chief Product Manager of UIDAI till 2012

(Disclaimer: This is not legal advice)

Build On IndiaStack – Venture Pitch Competition

Announcing ‘Venture Pitch Competition: #BuildOnIndiaStack’

Dalberg and iSPIRT invite applications from early-stage ventures that are tech-
based solutions leveraging the India Stack platform at the core of their business
model to bring financial or transactional services to the underserved in India.
Pitch to some of the leading investors and thinkers in the Indian start-up ecosystem,
including the Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and Unitus Seed Fund.
Winners will spend an hour of 'Think Time' – a mentorship session with
technology evangelist Nandan Nilekani.

Who are we looking for?

We are open to all innovations that use the India Stack to unlock new business
models or reach previously underserved new customer segments across sectors
such as financial services, education, healthcare and others. Some core focus areas
for the competition may include digital lending and supporting activities, such as
alternative credit scoring; sector specific affordable digital finance services such as
health insurance or education loans; sector specific digital services such as skilling
and certification, property registration agreements, patient-centric healthcare
management; and SaaS platforms “as a service” that support the development of
other India Stack based innovations such as Digi-locker or e-sign providers.

 

Who is eligible?
All applicants should:
1. Meet the 3-point criteria: tech enabled, leveraging India Stack Platform and
serving the underservedBe

2. Be a part of two (minimum) to four (maximum) members team including the
founder of the companyBe early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)

3. Be early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)
funding, if at all

 
What is in it for you?
The investor group, comprising of Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and
Unitus Seed Fund, is a network of investors and operators, entrepreneurs and
technologists, designers and engineers, academicians and policy makers, with the
singular mission to solve some of India’s toughest problems.

Through this event you have an opportunity to receive:

-Exclusive focus on tech innovations that leverage the India Stack platform
and have the potential to address the underservedFlexible

-Flexible, insight driven, funding of up to Rs. 8 lakhs for early stage, innovative
modelsStrategic

-Strategic business support, through their specialists to support investees in
their strategy and growthA chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,

-A chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,
pilots, workshops, conferences and network building exercises

Visit www.buildonindiastack.in and send your pitch now.

CanvasFlip – The fastest and most awesome way to design an interactive prototype for Mobile Apps

We got to hangout with Vipul Mishra, Co-Founder of CanvasFlip – the fastest and most awesome way to design an interactive prototype. If you are a business that needs to design an app, read on…

What prompted the idea for CanvasFlip and who is your main target audience?

As a start up in the user experience domain, we get many requests inquiring about the standard practice in mobile app UX. Most queries relate to challenges faced in visualizing application flow among product managers, app designers and app developers. To address this challenge, CanvasFlip, a SaaS based mobile apps prototyping platform that aids in the designing process and allows multiple stakeholders to collaborate, was conceived. Our TG is any business that needs to design an app that gives an awesome experience to their customers.

Tell us about the main team at CanvasFlip and what keeps you all motivated and inspired to improvise and innovate?

CanvasFlip is ​our most recent venture which I co-founded with Manish. Manish takes care of the product development and operation, while I take responsibilities of business development and marketing. ​Me and Manish started our professional career together at Mahindra Satyam ​​and launched Yougle.in, FbViralVideos, Slurrp and few mobile games as a hobby projec​​t​s.

In earlier days, our motivation was to challenge ourselves if (and how efficiently) we can solve a particular problem. If there was something that could be done better, we took at shot at it. But now, feeling of making life easier for our clients while building a sustainable and profitable business is what keeps us improving and innovating.

How does CanvasFlip’s subscription work? Is it a free app? What are the available subscription plans?

We offer a 30 day trial period at the end of which users are given the option to subscribe to a monthly or annual plan. As a practice we don’t charge subscribers for a normal overage usage, charges are levied when the overage is consistent.

Describe the features of the app? How does it work? What sets it apart from the competition?

The very reason we founded CanvasFlip was to enable Mobile UX Flow visualization for all the stakeholders (Product Managers, App Designers and Dev team) rather than focusing only on app designers.To realize our vision we introduced few unique and disruptive offerings:

Automatic UX Sitemap generation
(When you create the prototype of your mobile app, a UX site map is created enabling a top level view of your project)

Canvasflip1

 

Real time Collaboration with team
(You can communicate with your team in real time. Suggest changes and track them)

Canvasflip2 

How has the journey been so far? What have been the best rewards? What have been the major challenges? What is the biggest learning you got so far?

It’s been great and with CanvasFlip being judged as the winner of the first edition of Hot100 Technology Awards, 2014, I can say it has been rewarding as well. Shortage of skilled people is one of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs in this field face. Finding people with above par programming skills was a major hurdle. Everyday has been a learning experience for us. Some of the most important things that we’ve learnt in the process of setting up canvas Flip are – commitment is the main differentiator between dreamers and achievers; overcoming the fear of taking risks is important for success and achieving your vision; and most importantly your product must add value to the client, otherwise it is of no use.

What are the future plans for CanvasFlip? How do you envision the company taking shape in the coming years? Are there any new offerings that customers should be looking forward to?

We started to make life easier for all stakeholders in an app development process and I believe we have just scratched the surface. We interview 20-25 Product Managers, designers and app developers every week to identify the user behavior. Based on their feedback and usage pattern, we are constantly improving to offer the best in class experience of prototyping and collaboration.

We are soon coming up with ready-to-use App UX templates in various category to save hours of research time for ​budding entrepreneurs​.​ ​Also, very soon users will be able to change their flow directly from UX Site maps/flow-charts. Every Sunday, we make a minor release ​and ​new features ​are ​communicated over the email​. So, register at CanvasFlip.com and we’ll keep you posted about new updates.​​

After the interview with Vishal, we just wished we were hired and paid well by a company to create apps. We would be rocking the scene !! On a serious note, it is heartening to note that we are racing ahead, pace by pace, to be the ‘product nation’ of the world. And the ‘wind beneath our wings’ is disruption and innovation. And the team at CanvasFlip seemed to have aced that.

Wishing them luck…

With inputs from Ritika Singh

“Breeze”, a Mobile App which allows to connect easily with the Customer Care of 100+ companies

Are you tired of listening to long voice (IVR) menus and repeatedly entering the same options every time you call your customer care, Breeze might be the solution you are looking for. Breeze allows you to “browse” the IVR of 100+ companies across 20+ categories without even calling and upon choosing to call an IVR option, the app will dial all the intermediate IVR options for the user.

The app also allows users to ‘bookmark’ their most frequently used IVR options for any company. It also remembers the most recently called IVR option (just like the way a mobile phone remembers phone calls) and this facility can be used to call the same IVR option in a single step.

Earlier this month, I had a telephonic chat with Manjunath Hanasi, co-founder of Breeze on the story behind Breeze, their current customers and future roadmap.

Could you give our readers some background about Breeze and how you started the venture.

People say “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. So is the story about Breeze.

My washing machine, IFB Senorita Plus, that was working flawlessly for almost 6 years broke down suddenly as if it had a major heart attack. I wanted to call IFB service center immediately, however I didn’t have their number handy. I searched the Internet for their number and called them up. My call went to IVR as usual and I listened patiently and intently to the their options and chose the correct one. Finally after choosing 2 IVR options, I got connected to the operator. I spoke to the person who was very courteous and I thought my washing machine will be repaired quickly. However, due to some communication problem between IFB and local service center, I had to call IFB service center for almost 10 times within a span of 2 weeks. Every time, I called them up I was getting irritated by the IVR interaction.

At the same time, my Sony Bravia TV, started showing aging issues. Again I didn’t have their number handy, searched again and called them up. However, this time the IVR was even more horrible. I had to listen to IVR for eternity before I arrived at the right option i.e. Bravia TV related issues. I had to call Sony 3 to 4 times before my TV got repaired. I was hating IVR interaction by that time.

After the above incidents, I started thinking there must be a better way to connect with companies. I discussed this among my friends and colleagues. Out of these discussions, came out “Breeze”, a mobile App to easily connect to companies

Please tell us a bit about what your product does and the response that you have got from your users.

Our product “Breeze” presents the IVR in a visual, browsable fashion. People can traverse the IVR menu visually rather than listening to and dialing an option. In this way, you don’t have to listen intently to the IVR menus. This saves 60-70% of time and money while you connect to your desired option.

Breeze allows users to bookmark their frequently used IVR options and gives quick access to the recent IVR options they called (just like phone contacts). In this way, people can reach their desired options in “one touch”. This is a huge time and frustration saver.

Breeze also displays whether the number is toll-free or charged. Additionally, it also shows the working times of the IVR.

In addition to connecting to IVR, Breeze also supports SMS, web and API connectivity to the companies.

Few screenshots of the product. Breeze has companies across 20+ Categories

breeze6

User response has been tremendous to say the least. We have got some really wonderful users and they love the App. Here are some of the comments from the Google play store.

breeze7

Are you also partnering with these companies or do you intend to them in the future? Do you provide any analytics to the companies?

We intend to partner with companies in the future. With partnership and deep integration with the companies, we can take user experience to a grand new level.

By partnering with us, companies can greatly benefit in areas like customer experience, call costs per customer, customer feedback and revenue generation through offers.

Analytics is one of major offerings for the companies. Since we provide last-mile connectivity for the customer care experience, we are able to provide feedback that can’t be acquired by any other means.

We provide analytics about the user experience and feedback, location based analytics and anonymous competitive analytics.

Breeze also supports companies to show non-intrusive offers in their company menu. We provide analytics about the view and clicks.

Can you tell us your user acquisition strategy?

Initially, we were acquiring users in an organic manner with word-of-mouth. We used Facebook to spread the word among our friends. Later, we have used channels like public-relations, speaking and demonstrating in conferences, online startup websites, app bloggers and customer service forums.

Going ahead, we want to tap content marketing and social media channels even more.

What kind of business model you have in mind?

Breeze is “free for users and freemium for companies”.

We list companies on Breeze without any charges. We charge companies based on premium features like showing offers, notifications to users, analytics and customization/white labelling.

What kind of results are your customers able to see after using your product?

Users are enjoying the product. They are able to cut down on time and money while connecting to companies. One behaviour I saw from the users surprised me “lot ot people are browsing the companies to see what’s there in the IVR”. Would you ever do this by calling up companies IVR? Never.

Customers (Companies) are able to see feedback for all the customer care interactions, cost optimization and improvement in customer experience.

How does the roadmap for Breeze look like in the next few months?

We are adding many more companies to the platform in categories like telecom, banking and insurance. Additionally we are working on an integration platform to simplify integration with companies.

We have launched Breeze Android App for few months now. Our iOS version is getting ready.

We are building self-service portal for companies. Using this portal, companies would be able to push offers, and see feedback and analytics in real time.

We are also working with cloud IVR providers to integrate their IVR platform with Breeze.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Keeping up with IVR changes and ensuring that the IVR is up-to-date has been the biggest challenge. This would be minimized to great extent once we start having deep integration with the companies.

Apart from that, since Breeze platform is essentially an enterprise product, sales process on the customer side (companies) usually takes long time. Meeting the appropriate person, keeping in touch and following up during this time is a big challenge.

Andy is a mobile robot platform that uses a Smartphone at its core.

Andy is a personal robot enabled by the intelligence of an Android Smartphone or any Android device. Personal or hobby robots till date have been unaffordable due to the high costs of the hardware involved. Abheek Bose, Andy’s creator shares the journey of building Andy and the factors that influenced its development.

What happened earlier in your career that led to your founding Andy?
Abheek Bose: We were always keen upon entering the educational and personal robotics sector but the challenge was keeping the price points low, especially for the Indian market.

After attending a mobile conference on advancement of smart phones, we identified an opportunity to utilize them and build cost effective robot systems for education and personal use 

What is Andy and how does it add value to consumers?
Abheek Bose: Andy is a mobile robot platform that uses a Smartphone at its core.

On strapping the phone onto the Andy base, the entire phone becomes a part of the robot:

  1. Andy is therefore now equipped with sensors like Camera, GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth Compass, Microphone, Touch Screen just to name a few.
  2. Andy is also highly programmable where the user can either program Andy or simply download apps on the phone which make Andy execute various functions
  3. In short, Andy is a robot with very sophisticated features yet highly affordable on an individual basis (Typically such robots costs between $2000 – 5000 while Andy is below $120)

With Andy, students and hobbyists can now afford to own their personal robot, hack and develop various applications as well as share them with one another. Users of lower age groups can actually learn the concepts of computing and engineering using Andy in a more interactive and entertaining way.

What is your target market?
Abheek Bose: Anyone in the age group of 14 to 25 years is our target user group. Andy falls in the personal robotics market currently estimated to be around USD 1.3 billion.

What is your product’s differentiator from competitors?
Abheek Bose: If you really look at the differentiators, they fall into two categories, Technology and Strategic. As far as technology differentiators are concerned they are:

  1. Andy uses the Android Platform which is open source, well supported and maintains a strong developer community around it.
  2. The hardware schematics and software developed are open source and we are providing an SDK to enable the target user group further.
  3. Andy already has an initial developer community involving top educational institutes like IIIT-Bangalore, VJTI Mumbai and IIT-Bombay. This community is also growing rapidly with more engineering colleges and schools enrolling into our developer program

Operational and Strategy Differentiators
Andy supply chain is well established and streamlined with the necessary arrangements to go for mass production.

We have finalized with the suppliers for all the components including chassis, electronics, batteries and other peripherals and the process is also set where we can order in lots and receive the same in our office within 2 – 3 weeks time. Andy distribution involves various channels partners including Robot training companies (education) as well as large retail formats (consumer / personal) to maximize reach.

We have currently the following partners in the educational / community development space

  1. Gade Autonomous Systems, Mumbai
  2. Open Robotics Club, Indore
  3. VJTI, SRA, Mumbai
  4. Andy design has also been registered with the Registrar of designs to prevent copycat products.

What is the biggest challenge Andy has faced so far? How did you address the challenge?
Abheek Bose: Out of the many close contenders, the biggest challenge was to streamline operations.

It was critical that the suppliers of Andy parts were reliable, assured  high quality and also within the target budgets.

The challenge was addressed (and we are still improving this) by trying out various suppliers during an early prototyping phase and creating procurement processes as well as conducting quality tests for the same.

Online portals like AliExpress and EBay were very useful to select the correct suppliers.

How has the recent Mentor program from Mindsphere helped your company? What mistakes/pitfalls has it helped you avoid?
Abheek Bose:Mindsphere has been absolutely crucial in Andy’s development. It is because of MindSphere’s involvement that we could complete the product launch from concept to the beta prototype in just 88 days!

Mindsphere has been involved in all aspects of the product development cycle since the conceptual stages taking on a crucial role in

  1. Prototype development and design ergonomics
  2. Market research, exploration & preparation (Go to market strategizing)
  3. Operations Management and Processes
  4. Project Financials and Budgeting
  5. Pricing Strategies
  6. Distribution Planning

What do the next 12-24 months hold for Andy?
The next steps with Andy would be to concentrate on Sales, Distribution and Community Development. In parallel we will also be working on next generation design and product improvements.

Abheek is Andy’s creator and oversees the development as well as the business of Andy. Abheek’s mechanical engineering and software development roots are responsible for the Andy body design as well as the base software. Abheek also manages the overall business growth of Andy and looks into new partnerships, markets and users. Abheek when not hacking on Andy, loves to play around with gadgets, listen to music and recently taken a liking to reading Dilbert! Abheek is also a big foodie and loves trying out new places to experiment.

Product LaunchPAD: Putting the spotlight on 9 quality tech products

On day two of the NASSCOM Product Conclave, nine ‘Product LaunchPAD’ companies were announced. These companies were recognized for their high-quality, emerging products.  The gathering, which took place in the ‘Agenda’ hall at the Vivanta by Taj, comprised representatives of the selected companies, industry veterans, the co-hosts of the event (Sharad Sharma and MR Rangaswami) as well as members of the online and offline media communities.

In a time when the product ecosystem in the country is gaining momentum, it’s important to recognize the efforts of companies like these who are focussed on delivering high-quality technology products and putting India on the product map of the world. As Sharad Sharma pointed out while addressing media at the Product LaunchPAD event, the considerable phase of acceleration in the Indian product space demarcates the ‘tigers in the ecosystem’ — but why is it so important for the product ecosystem to grow?

Let’s get some context.

There are two paths that lie in front of India today: either it can go the way the UK went — where globalization hollowed out the the SMB sector — or it can go the way Germany went — where it’s vibrant and thriving SMB industry shaped the development of the country. So what role does the Indian product story have in this situation? Well, the answer to how the Indian SMB story shapes up depends largely on what’s happening in the Indian SMB ecosystem today. And this means that Indian product companies have to embrace new trends like non-traditional business models and cloud-based technology which enable the availability of software at every available price point. Sharad Sharma highlighted the importance of this last point — he drew a parallel to the revolutionary Nokia phone that was priced Rs.2000, which completely changed the way the aam Indian communicated. This is exactly whats happening in the software world today. More often than not, software is the carrier of best practices in new environments, and this is what makes India uniquely poised to start a new journey of transformation.  And this transformation depends largely on the ability of Indian SMBs to re-invent themselves around these new technologies.

Luckily for India, it’s economic structure is quite similar to the German economy. The data tells a strong story : 26% of India’s GDP comes from the SMB sector, which is growing at a much faster pace than the large businesses sector. For the overall Indian economy to treble, this Indian SMB sector has to not just double but treble — because the burden of the growth of the Indian economic sector is dependent on the growth of the SMB sector, which needs technology to help re-invent itself.

The Product LaunchPAD initiative provides a platform for these companies to showcase their products, which have been in the market for at east a few months.

This year, the judges received 54 entries and shortlisted nine companies after much deliberation. Reflecting the current trends in the industry, many of these companies showcased products and concepts revolving around the cloud, localization and location services, mobility, web applications, social media and script-less test automation.

The nine Product LaunchPAD companies selected for 2012 are:

Qualitia Software Pvt. Ltd (Pune): Qualitia is an easy-to-use yet powerful test automation B2B platform which supports leading test automation tools like HP-QTP and IBM- RFT, including open source solutions like Selenium / Webdriver. This is a script-less test automation platform that transforms the way existing QA teams work in organizations. It empower existing QA teams and automated testing teams.

InSync Tech-Fin Solutions Limited (Kolkata): InSync’s product SBOeConnect is a simple, integrated and flexible solution aimed at Magento (an eBay e-commerce platform)  merchants. The product enables fully automatic and bi-directional data synchronization between the SAP Business One ERP system and the Magento e-commerce platform.

The product is already being used by 80+ Magento merchants, as it fulfills a need that e-commerce businesses have which is a need for an integrated ERP system. The company recently launched a Windows 8 application.

Magnasoft Consulting India Pvt. Ltd (Bangalore): Magnasoft focuses on the geospatial industry, specifically on three segments: content (maps), enterprise (large software for corps) and consumer (child safety). Their product NorthStar caters to the third segment, as the company identified a sweet-spot in the area of child-safety in the K-12 ages. The product used Amazon’s cloud platform to offer a subscription based model to parents who pay Rs.50 a month to receive SMSs that tell them when exactly the school bus their child is on will reach the designated bus-stop. The system works with an accuracy of two minutes and focuses on improving the safety and accountability of school bus systems using the RFID system.

Ciafo (Bangalore): Ciafo’s product Frrole sees itself going beyond mainstream media to revolutionize the news industry. It relies on people enabling news to move faster, and champions the thought of news not being controlled by one single entity. With increased direct sharing and historically low trust levels in mainstream media, Frrole presents a revolutionary new alternative for users to discover news about and around them. By promoting citizen journalism, it also hopes to create a society with more symmetrical distribution of news and opinions.

Silver Stripe Software Pvt. Ltd (Chennai): Tour My App is Silver Stripe Software’s new product which aims to increase user engagement and trial conversion in self-serve web apps. When people sign up with web apps online, its important that they know how to use the app by themselves otherwise they lose interest. The product solves the “what should I do next?” pain point. It lets web application developers create guided tours inside their application on the Tour My App site.

Greytip Software Pvt. Ltd. (Bangalore): GreyTip’s product Greytip Online is a cloud based HR and payroll software (SaaS) that is suitable for SME companies who have between ten and 250 employees. It simplifies and automates most payroll and employee data management activities, including statutory calculation and reporting. With this product, the company takes automation to smaller companies in order to make them competitive, but uses Indian prices. It currently has a user base of 95,000 employees.

Pipal Tech Ventures (Bangalore): Pipal Tech’s application is B2C free application that  aims at bringing Google like search capabilities for offline retailers. DelightCircle is the company’s customer engagement and location based marketing platform. The DelightCircle Smartphone app allows consumers to discover places to shop and eat based on their location and interests, and get rewarded for this. There’s also a DelightCircle SMS based app and a DelightCircle website that offer the same capabilities.

SignEasy: SignEasy is an iPhone, iPad and Android application that offers a a simple and quick way to sign and return documents securely from a device. It allows for multiple signers to accelerate professional transactions and close deals from virtually anywhere. The app also allows for text and image insertions and it can be linked to Box, Dropbox and Evernote for retrieval and archiving of documents. It supports several document and image formats and also offers the ability to set a personal passcode to prevent unauthorized access to signatures and files.

 Selasdia (sales aid spelt backwards) is Aiaioo Labs’ product  which is an intelligent sales assistant for brands. It is essentially a CRM system that has access to customer information, which it uses to listen to all that customers are saying on blogs and  other areas online, and capture this information. It tracks blogs, understands the posts and lets brands know when it is relevant to them and the products they are selling. It tells brands what their customers’ interests are, helps them build relationships and helps them find people they should be talking to.

Why aren’t more developers creating serious Mobile App Products?

Mobile Apps

These are the times, when every third person that you meet in Technology world has an idea for an App. It could be every alternate person if you’re hanging out in geeky groups or among heavy Smartphone users.

The Industry trends suggest a phenomenal surge as well. According to Gartner, Mobile Apps Store downloads worldwide for the year 2012 will surpass 45.6 billion. Out of these, nearly 90% are free Apps, while out of the rest of 5 billion downloads majority (90% again) cost less than $3 per download. This trend has a strong growth curve for the next five years. (See Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, courtesy: Gartner) 

Another report suggests that 78% of US mobile App Companies are small businesses (based on the Apple and Android App Stores based research). The typical apps that dominate this market are games, education, productivity, and business.

Mobile App Store Downloads - Gartner 2012

This comes as no surprise. There is a huge divide between the Enterprise Mobility (dominated by the Enterprise Architecture, existing platforms and mobility extensions to the platforms that ensure business continuity) and End-User (Consumer) Mobile Apps dominated by the App Stores supported Small and Mid-size App Development Companies. The barriers to entry in the Smart phone Apps Market seem pretty low with the supporting ecosystem from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Telecom carriers.

However, let’s get back to the fact that majority of these Apps “do not” generate direct revenue.

While the entry seems without barriers, there are multiple hurdles on the race track:

1. Developers need to focus on the User Experience. The smartphone apps pick-up is highly skewed toward Apps that offer a good user experience even for minimal functionality. After the initial success, the App makers end up adding functionality for sustained interest, but the User Experience tops. It’s difficult to focus on UX while still trying to do everything right at the underlying architecture level for long term.

2. Marketing is important. Getting the early eyeballs is key for the App developers. Any serious App needs an immediate initial take-off, and among the things that they need to do to make it happen is to market the App beforehand and to get the authoritative reviews in place.

3. Initial Take-off is just the first hurdle. App needs to be able to handle traffic bursts, it needs scale with increased traction, support virality & social connects inherently, and also build an effective User ecosystem. None of these may seem like the core functional features of the App, but are most critical for the broad-based success.

4. The Freemium model is very popular, but it can kill the business if the marginal costs are not sustainable. The paradox of the Free model is that unless the 10% paid users are able to pay for your 100% costs, every additional user takes you closer to the grave. With this come in two questions – how do you keep the infrastructural costs low, and how do you build additional revenue models around the app.

  • IaaS can solve some of the infrastructural headache, but doesn’t provide you with the other functional layers that every App needs. You need to still build them. PaaS providers provide the scalable platform for building Apps, but you still need to build some of the functional features such as Gaming Rooms support, Messaging, User Authentication & authorization models, and so on. Mobile developers are still doing a lot of repetitive work across the smartphone Apps that can be consolidated into a framework.
  • Supporting the additional revenue models require integration with external Ad-services, Payment systems and more importantly the bandwidth to deal with this even more fragmented set of agencies.

5. The End-point device platforms are fragmented and getting even more so. A typical model for App developers is to develop an Android App, iOS App or a Windows App and then support the other platforms as they go along. However, keeping up with these multiple platforms is only getting more and more difficult with the speed with which Apple, Microsoft, and Google keep rolling out the OS. There’s tremendous pressure to release the App within the 1-3 days window of the release of the underlying platform.

Hence, while there are millions of people developing smartphone Apps as we speak, there are only a fraction that get built at serious level, and even smaller fraction that gets built for sustainable business success.

And considering these hurdles, the arrival of the Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a blessing for the App Developers. Forrster’s Michael Facemire refers to them as “The New Lightweight Middleware”. He goes ahead and lists out some of the basic tenets of what makes a Mobile Backend as a Service, but I see this list evolving as the vendors offer more and more functionality to the customers leading to en ecosystem.

And the term “ecosystem” is going to be the key. That’s because a successful mobile App doesn’t stop at the user starting the app, using the app, and leaving the app. A successful App creates an ecosystem for the viral growth, user engagement, social functionality, in-built broad-based connectivity for multi-user interactions, and more importantly the ability for cross-platform usage. In a Gaming scenario, the user interactions and the relevant immediate feedbacks are paramount. Most successful apps build an ecosystem. Instagram, 4Square, Pinterest are the common household examples today.

ShepHertz App42 Cloud API is complete backend as service to help app developers develop, buid and deploy their app on the cloud.While Michael lists out the usual suspects in his post, most of them in the Silicon Valley, there is a very interesting player in Shephertz’s App42 platform, right here in India. The ecosystem approach that they have taken seems pretty much what may be required for serious app developers that need a robust backend provided as a service, so that they can focus on the app functionality, user experience, and more importantly the marketing aspects of the App.

Now why, still, aren’t more and more developers building even more serious mobile App products? Why shouldn’t they be? I think, they will!