SaaS founders discuss NPSP 2019 with MietY Officials in Chennai

Shri Rajiv Kumar Joint Secretary in-charge of National Policy on Software Products (NPSP 2019) and Senior Director Dr. A K Garg met 20 SaaS companies founders and leader in Chennai on 13th March 2019. At meeting it was discussed that NPSP announced by Government of India on 28th February will soon create a National Software Product Registry, where SaaS companies can register and have access to GEM portal. Also, the procurement process will be suitably amended to allow Govt. departments to procure and use SaaS products.  ‘National Software Product Mission (NSPM)’ envisaged in the policy will be setup at Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).

 

 

Government has launched NPSP 2019 to focus on Software product ecosystem. iSPIRT has been advocating the cause of SaaS segment in Software products and its importance for India to remain a force to reckon with in Software in next 25 years.

The event was a golden opportunity for SaaS companies Founders and leaders, to provide feedback to and understand from the senior officials in Delhi, about the vision they have to make India a Software product power. Twenty SaaS companies represented in the event.

Speaking on behalf of SaaS founders, Suresh Sambandam, Founder and CEO of OrangeScape said,” Global landscape has changed very fast driven by new technology. We have a 2 trillion Dollar opportunity for SaaS industry. If we get our act right, India can aspire to remain in global game in Software Industry”.

The roundtable was organised by iSPIRT Foundation to facilitate officials to have direct interaction with SaaS industry and understand issues, problems and opportunities in SaaS industry, to enable Government to further carve out schemes/ programs under NPSP 2019 going further.

Decoding the Aadhaar (Amendment) Bill – PMLA Amendment

The amendment made by way of the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,2002 gives true effect to the intention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court as set out in their judgment of September 2018.

It is clear from the judgment that the objective was to empower the individual and allow for the resident to be able to uniquely identify herself to avail of every service of her choice while ensuring that there are adequate protections for such use under the force of law.

Aadhaar Act Amendment

This is clearly set out in the now amended Section 4(3) of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (the “Aadhaar Act”) as follows:

Section 4(3) – Every Aadhaar number holder to establish his identity, may voluntarily use his Aadhaar number in physical or electronic form by way of authentication or offline verification, or in such other form as may be notified, in such manner as may be specified by regulations.

Explanation-For the purposes of this Section, voluntary use of the Aadhaar number by way of authentication means the use of such Aadhaar number only with the informed consent of the Aadhaar number holder.

And further in Section 4(4)-

An entity may be allowed to perform authentication if the Authority is satisfied that the requesting entity is-

  1. Compliant with such standards of privacy and security as may be specified by regulations; and
  2. (i) permitted to offer authentication services under the provisions of any other law made by Parliament; or

(ii) seeking authentication for such purpose, as the Central Government in consultation with the Authority and in the interest of the State may prescribe.

With the above amended provisions, it is clarified that (a) the objective is to ensure that the Aadhaar number holder is empowered to establish her identity voluntarily with informed consent (b) Entities that may be permitted to offer authentication services will do so pursuant to a law made by Parliament or by way of Central Government direction in consultation with the UIDAI and in the interest of the State.

PMLA Amendment

The amendment to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,2002 (the “PMLA”) seeks to give clear direction to the above-enunciated ideas.

The newly inserted Section 11A of the PMLA provides for the manner in which a Reporting Entity may verify the identity of its clients and beneficial owner (conduct KYC). This is by way of offline verification of Aadhaar or where the Reporting Entity is a banking company- online verification of Aadhaar.

However, it is further clarified (in tandem with the aforesaid amendments to the Aadhaar Act) that upon satisfaction of standards of privacy and security, the Central Government may, in consultation with the UIDAI and appropriate regulator provide for online authentication for Reporting Entities other than banking companies.

And it is further explicitly clarified that in the scenarios as contemplated in this provision, nobody will be denied services for not having an Aadhaar number, i.e: ensuring that the presence of Aadhaar number is not mandatory but purely enables and eases the availing of services.

As next steps on this front, distinct Reporting Entities, including NBFCs, Mutual Fund Houses and other financial institutions need to approach the Central Government with requests for access to online Aadhaar authentication services.

Organisations such as DICE would be useful in mobilising groups of different financial institutions in approaching the relevant regulators and Central Government authorities for Aadhaar authentication access.

Saranya Gopinath is the co-founder of DICE (Digital India Collective for Empowerment)- an industry body representation across emerging technology sectors.

She can be reached on [email protected]

Policy Hacks – National Policy on Software Products (NPSP) 2019

It is a moment of delight at iSPIRT to see Govt. of India setting its focus on “Software Product”, with the announcement of National Policy on Software Products by government of India on 28th February 2019. The policy framed by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is aimed to sustain India as a global power in Software industry in emerging technological changes impacting the industry.

iSPIRT had earlier covered this announcement in a blog titled “India powers up its ‘Software Product’ potential, Introduces National Policy on Software Products (NPSP)”

A link to PDF document of the NPSP 2019 is given here on MeitY website. https://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/national_policy_on_software_products-2019.pdf

Ispirt held a Discussion on NPSP 2019 on 2nd March 2019 with Dr. A. K. Garg, Director MeitY and iSPIRT volunteers Shoaib Ahmed, Amit Ranjan, Nakul Saxena and Sudhir Singh. A vedio of the discussion is placed below.

 

Given below is the transcript of the main part of the discussion. (We have tried our best to put this but It is not a ditto verbatim transcript but what each participant spoke in essence).  It is advised to watch and listen to the video.

Sudhir Singh started the discussion and invited Dr. A.K. Garg to give an overview on the policy.

Dr. A.K. Garg – The policy gives wholistic looks and a single window opportunity. issues involved with HS Code. Three tire effort of building a talent pool. First, Appraising Students at school level that there is a difference between product and services. Second, Dedicated pool of developers dedicated to products. Third, Developing a pool of people who can be mentors

The other aspects we have looked at is, how do we provide dedicated market access to the product space. Unless and until there is a dedicated and early market access, we cannot create opportunities. We have not looked at graduating this from services industry to product industry, but we are looking at a completely new set of eco-system that will created around the product space, that is one thing which is very important and hallmark of this policy.

Sudhir – in the Strategy section 1 that deals with ‘Promoting Software Products Business Ecosystem’ creating ‘Product registry was an important aspect that can be further utilised to create incentives, schemes and programs.

Amit Ranjan – what can not be measured can not be improved, going further on the line, what can not be defined can not be measured. The government is taking a proactive view od first defining what is a Product and then a logical breakdown of that is building the registry, building the classification and codification system. So at least the system recognizes the different dimension and different players in the industry and then once you have a clear understanding of it than you know you can tailor policy and you can do specific thing for specific part and creating this registry will lead to mapping the industry and there after many things could emerge out of the system

Nakul Saxena –  One of the main objectives of iSPIRT was to create a special focus on Software products and thanks to people like Mr Garg and Secty MeitY and the Minister that we finally got this out. The HS code creation can help product companies to get preferential inclusion in Government procurements and Software products being included in many of the international agreements, especially where Govt of India gives grant to developing countries.

Shoaib Ahmed – Is the definition of Software product clear (referring to the early phase of development of policy when there was lot of debate on this part).

Nakul – the definition on Software product company is that that the company need to be owned 51% by Indian origin person and IP should reside in India.”

Dr. Garg – lot of thinking has gone in to Software product and Software product company. The first and foremost thing is that, it is a very dynamic world and what we have taken is an approach where Software product definition can adjust to changing dynamics. Initially we thought we will not keep any definition, but ultimately, we had to with pressure of various stake holders.

Sudhir – requested Nakul to take up the second Strategy section on Promoting Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

Nakul – One of the important features of the Policy is that Govt. and MeitY will be putting together 20 Grant Challenges to solve for specific eco-system problems in education, agriculture and healthcare. He mentioned that Secretary has asked to quickly start working on the Grant Challenges.

Dr. Garg – Can we crowed source ideas using iSPIRT and Policy Hacks platform.

Nakul – Yes, we can. This is a welcome idea and suggested we can have Policy Hacks session to structure discussions and then invite ideas.

Dr. Garg – (further spoke on skilling)  for skill development to suit product space, one has to think product and live with it. We have to think through a program that can create a pool of 10 to 15 thousand product professionals who understand product eco-system can help innovation and creation of new ideas and or mentor product companies. And that will be the most important dimension for creating a product eco-system.

Shoaib – I think that is a wonderful point and a very important point, beyond the technology and is a combination of skills with one being important is understanding of product market and development of these skills is important.

Amit – The way to think about it is that we have to catch people when they are young and I actually see this playout when lot of times when student are in their secondary education, when they are doing their class 10th or 12th, if you are able to educate them at this stage then it takes very early root in their mind. Product system is all about being experimental and all about being failing then retrying and then improving via every attempt. We should educate them about what is a Product how is it different from Services. We do not have lot of Product success stories from India. But educate them and then skill building comes at secondary stage.

Dr. Garg – We do not have to replicate the Silicon valley model and that will never work. We have to think and India specific solution that will work.

Shoaib – We need to create an India eco-system, there are a few success stories which we have in India, we need not copy but which need to be understood.

Sudhir – There are two more points covered in this section of Strategy. One is on common upgradable infrastructure to be created to support startups and software product designers to identify and plug cyber vulnerability. The second being creation of a Centre of Excellence will be set up to promote design and development of software products.

Dr. Garg – the first market in Cyber Security is Govt. So creating a single repository of various Indian Cyber products will help. The other thing could be understanding Indian cyber problems and through Challenge grant on some of these problems.

Sudhir – let us take up the Strategy section on improving access to market. Requested Nakul to start.

Nakul – for Indian Companies to start growing and start scaling it is important getting some anchor customer. The policy has taken care of this aspect for Product companies to get access to anchor customers and then compete within domestic and international market. But the product entrepreneurs have also to be aware how to deal with Govt. RFP.

Dr. Garg – So first two anchor customer are important. In Govt. space we are working on Gem to provide interface to Indian Software product. But we need to think how these product companies tie up with System Integration Companies and their interest are not compromised by Sis. Second thing is awareness building in various Govt. agencies. A young entrepreneur may not be able to get to the right stake holder, how does he get this access is what we need to think through. We will be very happy to get your views on creating access to first market.

Amit – this is a very important point, especially in the context of SaaS companies, there is an unwritten rule that Indian Domestic market is not big enough or pay enough to sustain many of the SaaS startups. And that is why many VCs are suggesting that you can build a SaaS Company of out of India but that is essentially for engineering, product design but the market it self you will have to go overseas. Development of the Indian domestic market is extremely important. One of the factors which will play a role there is kind of graduating these startups up the Quality ladder as well. The buyer will look for best product in market at best price. By focusing on Quality, they can compete with foreign companies. It is very important to break this negative feeling in the Eco-system that if you are SaaS you can not sell in India, you have to go out.

Shoaib – my point is that Quality software and creating a eco-system.  Selling Software, servicing Software and manage Software is a complete different eco-system. Making sure that policy supports that and recognizes it, is the first step. I think we have started with that and I am happy to spend more time to contribute on what does it take to do this.

Dr.Garg – if you have a Quality and you do not have a brand it a challenge.

Sudhir – this section again mentioned in Policy creating a Software product registry and connecting this with Gem for government product.

Sudhir – Let us move on to the last strategy section on implementation. I remember that the ‘National Software Product mission’ (NSPM) was proposed by iSPIRT in to the policy. NSPM can play a vital role as it can become an umbrella cover. Using this it may be possible to create many schemes and program. For example, we have a formidable SaaS industry and it may be possible to quickly create a SaaS product registry and use Gem to get access to Government. Once the registry is created may be Govt. can also issue and advisory to state Government to adopt products from this registry.

Dr. Garg – One of the important things is we have to educate the people, and secondly, we have to educate the people on procurement model. Most of the time procurement models are one-time purchase, whereas in a SaaS you have to budget every quarter or every month or it will be pay per use also. Which is a very difficult proposition in Govt. to be approved.

One of this thing that come in to my mind is the entry barrier have to be made easier, e.g. there is lot of activity around e-commerce. Now Govt. is actively going to promote product. The e-commerce system is far more developed, it has lower gestation. You can find few companies having valuation of Billion dollars, but that is not true of Product startups. So, we need to see how do we make entry barrier lower for entrepreneur of product companies, other wise human nature is to go by the path of least resistance. Product takes much longer to build, the gestations are much longer, risk are much higher.

Shoaib – the challenge are to get role models going, to showcase this. Education is some thing we have been talking about from two dimensions, one is the entrepreneur, second is the Indian SME customer or the Indian customer.

The Participants did deliberate further on important of early implementation of NSPM and working on various section of Policy and providing active support from iSPIRT.  The discussion was closed with final remarks from the participants. (please listen/watch the Video for further details on final deliberations).

The main Salient features of this policy for benefit of users are as follows:

  1. The visision is to make India a Software product leader in world
  2. In it’s mission – It aims at a ten-fold increase in India’s share of the Global Software product market by 2025, by nurture 10,000 technology startups, upskill 1,000,000 IT professionals and setting-up 20 sectorl technology cluster.
  3. The policy has 5 Strategie to implement the policy.
  4. Strategy are 1 – Intendents to create a congenniel environment for Sofware product business.
  5. An important feature of the policy is creation of a Software product registry of India that can facilitate implementation of schems and programs in future, creation of a HS Code category for Software products.
  6. To boost enterprenure ship, it itends to create a Software Product Development Fund (SPDF) with 1000 Croroe contributed by ministry in a fund of funds format. Remaining coming from private sources.
  7. 20 dedicated challenge grants to solve societal challenges.
  8. Readying a talent pool of 10,000 committed software product leaders
  9. Improving access to domestic market for Software product companies and boost international trade for Indian Software products.
  10. Lastly setting up of a “National Software Product Mission (NSPM)” to be housed in MeitY, under a Joint Secretary, with participation from Government, Academia and Industry. NPSM will further drive implementation of the policy and be able to craft schemes and programs for the said purpose.

An important part of announcing the scheme has been done. This has now to be leveraged to create a momementum in Software product. iSPIRT is committed to see the further development of India as a Product Nation.

Scaling Good Advice In India’s Startup Ecosystem – A Research Paper On PNGrowth Model

In January 2016 iSPIRT ran the largest software entrepreneur school in India, called PNgrowth (short for Product Nation Growth).  The central vision of PNgrowth was to create a model of peer learning where over 100 founders could give each other one-on-one advice about how to grow their startups. With peer learning as PNgrowth’s core model, this enterprise was supported by a volunteer team of venture capitalists, founders, academics, and engineers.  See iSPIRT’s volunteer handbook (https://pn.ispirt.in/presenting-the-ispirt-volunteer-handbook/)

However, unlike a regular “bootcamp” or “executive education” session, the volunteers were committed to rigorously measuring the value of the peer advice given at PNgrowth. We are excited to announce that the findings from this analysis have recently been published in the Strategic Management Journal, the top journal in the field of Strategy, as “When does advice impact startup performance?” by Aaron Chatterji, Solène Delecourt, Sharique HasanRembrand Koning (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smj.2987).

TLDR: Here’s a summary of the findings:

1.
 There is a surprising amount of variability in how founders manage their startups.  To figure out how founders prioritized management, we asked them four questions:

“…develop shared goals in your team?”
“…measure employee performance using 360 reviews, interviews, or one-on-ones?”
“…provide your employees with direct feedback about their performance?”
“…set clear expectation around project outcomes and project scope?”

Founders could respond “never,” “yearly,” “monthly,” “weekly,” or “daily.”

Some founders never (that’s right, never!) set shared goals with their teams, only did yearly reviews, never provided targets, and infrequently gave feedback. Other, super-managers were more formal in their management practices and performed these activities on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Not surprisingly, the supermanagers led the faster-growing startups.  Most founders, however, were in the middle: doing most of these activities at a monthly frequency.

2. Since PNGrowth was a peer learning based program, we paired each founder (and to be fair, randomly) with another participant. For three intense days, the pairs worked through a rigorous process of evaluating their startup and that of their peer. Areas such as a startup’s strategy, leadership, vision, and management (especially of people) were interrogated. Peers were instructed to provide advice to help their partners.

3. We followed up on participating startups twice after the PNgrowth program. First ten months after the retreat, and then we rechecked progress two years afterwards.

We found something quite surprising: the “supermanager” founders not only managed their firms better but the advice they gave helped their partner too.  Founders who received advice from a peer who was a “formal”  manager grew their firms to be 28% larger over the next two years and increased their likelihood of survival by ten percentage points. What about the founders who received advice from a laissez-faire manager? Their startup saw no similar lift. Whether they succeeded or failed depended only on their own capabilities and resources.

4. Not all founders benefited from being paired up with an effective manager though. Surprisingly, founders with prior management training, whether from an MBA or accelerator program, did not seem to benefit from this advice.

5. The results were strongest among pairs whose startups were based in the same city and who followed up after the retreat. For many of the founders, the relationships formed at PNgrowth helped them well beyond those three days in Mysore.

So what’s the big take away: While India’s startup ecosystem is new and doesn’t yet have the deep bench of successful mentors, the results from this study are promising. Good advice can go a long way in helping startups scale.   iSPIRT has pioneered a peer-learning model in India through PlaybookRTs, Bootcamps, and PNgrowth (see: https://pn.ispirt.in/understanding-ispirts-entrepreneur-connect/).

This research shows that this model can be instrumental in improving the outcomes of India’s startups if done right. If peer-learning can be scaled up, it can have a significant impact on the Indian ecosystem.

India powers up its ‘Software Product’ potential, Introduces National Policy on Software Products (NPSP)

This is an exciting occasion for our indigenous software industry as India’s National Policy on Software Product gets rolled out. This policy offers the perfect framework to bring together the industry, academia and the government to help realise the vision of India as a dominant player in the global software product market.

For ease of reference, let us summarise some of the major things that the policy focuses on

  • Single Window Platform to facilitate issues of the software companies
  • specific tax regime for software products by distinguishing  them from software services via HS code
  • enabling Indian software product companies to set off tax against R&D  credits on the accrual basis
  • creation of a Software Product Development fund of INR 5000 crores to invest in Indian software product companies
  • grant in aid of  INR 500 Crores to support research and innovation on software products
  • encouragement to innovation via 20 Grant Challenges focusing on Education, Healthcare & Agriculture thus further enabling software products to solve societal challenges
  • enabling participation of Indian software companies in the govt. e-marketplace to improve access to opportunities in the domestic market
  • developing a framework for Indian software product companies in government procurement.
  • special focus  on Indian software product companies in international trade development programmes
  • encouraging software product development across a wide set of industries by developing software product clusters around existing industry concentrations such as in automobile, manufacturing, textiles etc.
  • nurturing the software product start-up ecosystem
  • building a sustainable talent pipeline through skilling and training programmes
  • encouraging entrepreneurship and employment generation in tier II cities
  • creating governing bodies and raising funds to enable scaling of native software product companies.

There is good cause for cheer here. The policy offers to address many of the needs of the Software Product Ecosystem. For the first time, HS codes or Harmonised Codes will be assigned to Indian software product companies that will facilitate a clear distinction from ‘Software Services’ facilitating availing of any benefits accruing under the ‘Make in India’ programme. In addition, this will enable Indian software product companies to participate in govt contracts through registration on GeM (Govt. eMarketplace).

Considering that we remain a net importer of software products at present, steps such as the inclusion of Indian software products in foreign aid programmes, setting up of specialised software product incubators in other geographies and promoting our software product capabilities through international exhibitions definitely show intent in the right direction. With a commitment to develop 10000 software product start-ups, with 1000 of them in tier II cities, technology entrepreneurs building IP driven product companies can now look forward to infrastructural and funding support. The policy also aims to go beyond metro-centric development with a commitment to develop tech clusters around existing industry concentrations, enable skilling and drive employment in non-metros and tier II cities while actively encouraging Indian software companies to solve native problems.  

This policy could not have been possible without the vision of the Honourable Minister Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, and continuous engagement and discussions with Shri Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Rajeev Kumar and Ajai Kumar Garg from MEITY and their team.

We have seen software companies solving native problems do exceptionally well, just look at what Paytm has been able to achieve while driving digital payments in India. There is now an understanding ‘Make in India’ can help us bridge the digital divide given that Indian entrepreneurs have a greater understanding of local issues and the challenges that are unique to us.

Setting up bodies such as the National Software Products Mission in a tripartite arrangement with the industry, academia and govt. to enable creation and monitoring of schemes beneficial to native software product companies is another much-needed step that will create a forum distinct to our software product companies and help give them a strong voice.

We would like to thank Lalitesh Katragadda, Vishnu Dusad, Sharad Sharma, Rishikesha T Krishnan, Bharat Goenka, T.V. Mohandas Pai, Arvind Gupta for their diligent efforts on the continuous dialogue and inputs for the policy.

While launching the policy is a great start, its implementation is what we all will have our eyes on. Now is the moment of action. We all look forward to fast-tracking of the various proposed measures under this policy for the benefits to start showing!

References

J​ANUARY​ 15, 2019​ – ​https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/internet/india-needs-to-win-the-software-products-race/67533374

DECEMBER 8, 2016​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/what-to-expect-from-draft-national-policy-on-software-products/

NOVEMBER 13, 2016​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/national-software-policy-2-0-needed/

MAY 10, 2016​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/taxation-and-digital-economy/

APRIL 29, 2016​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/saas-the-product-advantage-and-need/

JULY 16, 2014​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/government-recognizes-the-software-product-industry/

DECEMBER 11, 2013​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/three-waves-of-indian-software/

JULY 16, 2013​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/smbs-and-indian-software-product-industry-intertwined-fortunes/

JULY 4, 2013​ – ​https://pn.ispirt.in/8-truths-why-it-services-organizations-cannot-do-software-products/

A Platform is in the Eye of the Beholder

The distinction between whether you are building a platform or a product should be made primarily to align your internal stakeholders to a particular strategic direction, as we learned in the recent iSPIRT round table.

[This is a guest post By Ben Merton]

“So are we a platform, or are we a product?” I said last month to my co-founder, Lakshman, as we put the finishing touches to our new website.

We’d been discussing the same question for about a year. The subject now bore all the characteristics of something unpleasant that refuses to flush.

However, the pressure had mounted. We now had to commit something to the menu bar.

“I think we’re a product.”

“But we want to be a platform.”

“Okay, let’s put platform then…But isn’t it a little pretentious to claim you’re a platform when you’re not?”

Eventually, we agreed to a feeble compromise: we were building a platform, made up of products.

Job done.

At least, that is, until #SaaSBoomi in Chennai last month.

Manav Garg, who has considerably more experience than both me and Lakshman at building platforms, put up the following slide:

Product = Solving a specific problem or use case

Platform = Solving multiple problems on a common infrastructure

“Here we go again”, I could hear Lakshman say to himself after I Whatsapped him the image.

“That’s his definition. It doesn’t have to be ours,” he replied tersely, “What does he mean by ‘use case’, anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

I’m in awe of the entrepreneurs who seem to bypass these semantic quandaries.

You know, the ones who say stuff like “Stop thinking so much. Just sell stuff. Make customers happy.”

For me, these are the type of questions I need to chew over for hours in bed at night.

I was therefore excited to be invited to the iSPIRT round table at EGL last week, where the topic of discussion was “Transform B2B SaaS with #PlatformThinking”. The roundtable was facilitated by iSPIRT mavens Avlesh SinghShivku Ganesan & Sampad Swain.

It takes a lot to get 20 tech founders & their leaders to travel after work from all over the city to sit in a room for three hours with no alcohol.  Fortunately, the organisers had promised a lot.  The topic description was:  

“Enable a suite of products, high interoperability, and seamless data flow for customers. This peer-learning playbookRT will help product to platform thinkers develop an effective journey through this transformation” was the topic description.”

The meeting was governed by Chatham House rules, meaning we can’t discuss the name or affiliation of those involved.

However, along with our founder mavens of large, well-known Indian technology businesses, there were 15 or so less illustrious but equally enthusiastic founders (& their +1s), including myself.

The discussions started with an overview of the experiences and lessons that had been learned by some of those who had successfully built a platform.

“We define a use case as a configuration of APIs…” the founder of a cloud communication platform started. This was going to be interesting.

“Why did you define it that way?” I asked.

“Based on observations of our business.”

I began to understand that the term ‘use case’ was being used differently by platform and product companies.  

“A use case of a platform is usually tangential but complementary to the core business. A use case for a product is something that just solves a problem,” someone clarified, guaranteeing me a slightly more restful night.

As the discussions continued, it also became clear that there were a large number of possible markers that distinguish a platform from a product, but there was no agreement on the exact composition.

To resolve the impasse, we listed out the names of well-known technology companies to build a consensus on whether they were a platform or a product.

Suffice to say, we failed to reach any consensus.  The conversation went something like this:

“Stripe?”

“Platform.”

“Product.”

“A suite of products.”

“AirBNB?”

“A marketplace.”

“A marketplace built on a platform.”

Etc etc

Even companies that initially appeared to be dyed-in-the-wool platforms like Segment and Zapier eventually had someone or the other questioning the underlying assumptions.

“Why can’t they be products?” murmured voices of dissent at the back of the room.

This was going nowhere. A few people sought solace from the cashew nuts that had been placed on conference table in front of us.

“Does the customer care whether you’re a product or a platform?” someone said.

Finally, something everyone could agree on. The customer doesn’t care.  Your product or platform just needs to solve a problem for them.

“Then why does any of this matter at all?” became the obvious next question.

“I found it mattered hugely in setting the direction of the company, especially for the engineering and design teams,” the Co-Founder of a large payment gateway said.

“And investors?”

“Yes, of course. And investors. However, I think the biggest impact that our decision to build a platform had on my business was in the design more than anything else,” he explained, “For the engineering team, it was just a question of ‘we need this to integrate with this’. But the UX/UI and the…language… needed to be thought about very carefully because of this decision.”

“So, in effect, the platform/product debate is primarily a proxy for the cultural direction of the company?”

“Exactly.”

Logically, therefore, the only way you can really understand whether a company is a platform or a product is to have an insight into the direction its management wishes to take it.

A company might appear to be a product from the outside but, since it intends to evolve into a platform, it needs to start aligning its internal stakeholders to this evolution much earlier.

“So, a startup like mine should call itself a platform even if we are years away from actually being one?” I asked cautiously after I had enough time to process these insights.

“Yes,” was the resounding, satisfying response that virtually guaranteed me a full night’s sleep.

“And when should the actual transition from product to platform happen?”

“Well, Jason Lemkin says it should happen only when your ARR reaches USD 15m-20m, but that’s just another of those rules that doesn’t apply in India,” the co-founder of a marketing automation software said.

“The important thing is that this transition – when it does happen – is very hard for businesses,” he continued, “There is a lot of risk, but it opens up new revenue streams, helps you scale and build a moat.  We hugely benefited from our decision to become a platform, but it was tough.”

It’s unlikely that we completely resolved the product vs platform debate for all founders. However, I feel that all of us came away from that meeting with a deeper insight into the subject.

Ultimately, whether you’re building a product or a platform will depend on your perspective. Most companies lie somewhere in between.

Where does your company lie on this sliding scale? And if that makes you a platform vs. a product, does it make any difference to the way you think?

We want to thank Techstars India for hosting the first of the roundtables on this critical topic.

Ben Merton

Ben is a Co-Founder of Unifize, a B2B SaaS company that builds a communication platform for manufacturing and engineering teams. He is also a contributor for various publications on business, technology and entrepreneurship, including the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Business Standard. You can follow him on LinkedIn here, and Twitter here.

© Ben Merton 2018

Featured Image: Source: https://filosofiadavidadiaria.blogspot.com/2018/01/o-principio-mistico-da-verdadeira-causa.html

Federated Personal Health Records – The Quest For Use Cases

Last week we wrote about India’s Health Leapfrog and the role of Health Stack in enabling that (you can read it here). Today, we talk about one component of the National Health Stack – Federated Personal Health Records: its design, the role of policy and potential use cases.

Overview

A federated personal health record refers to an individual’s ability to access and share her longitudinal health history without centralised storage of data. This means that if she has visited different healthcare providers in the past (which is often the case in a real life scenario), she should be able to fetch her records from all these sources, view them and present them when and where needed. Today, this objective is achieved by a paper-based ‘patient file’ which is used when seeking healthcare. However, with increasing adoption of digital infrastructure in the healthcare ecosystem, it should now be possible to do the same electronically. This has many benefits – patients need not remember to carry their files, hospitals can better manage patient data using IT systems, patients can seek remote consultations with complete information, insurance claims can be settled faster, and so on. This post is an attempt to look at the factors that would help make this a reality.

What does it take?

There are fundamentally three steps involved in making a PHR happen:

  1. Capture of information – Even though a large part of health data remains in paper format, records such as diagnostic reports are often generated digitally. Moreover, hospitals have started adopting EMR systems to generate and store clinical records such as discharge summaries electronically. These can act as starting points to build a PHR.
  2. Flow of information- In order to make information flow between different entities, it is important to have the right technical and regulatory framework. On the regulatory front, the Personal Data Protection Bill which was published by MeitY in August last year clearly classifies health records as sensitive personal data, allows individuals to have control over their data, and establishes the right to data portability. On the technical front, the Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture allows individuals to access and share their data using electronic consent and data access fiduciaries. (We are working closely with the National Cancer Grid to pilot this effort in the healthcare domain. A detailed approach along with the technical standards can be found here.)
  3. Use of information – With the technical and regulatory frameworks in place, we are now looking to understand use cases of a PHR. Indeed, a technology becomes meaningless without a true application of it! Especially in the case of PHR, the “build it and they will come” approach has not worked in the past. The world is replete with technology pilots that don’t translate into good health outcomes. We, in iSPIRT,  don’t want to go down this path. Our view is that only pilots that emerge from a clear focus on human-centred design thinking have a chance of success.

Use cases of Personal Health Records

Clinical Decision Making

Description: Patient health records are primarily used by doctors to improve quality of care. Information about past history, prior conditions, diagnoses and medications can significantly alter the treatment prescribed by a medical professional. Today, this information is captured from any paper records that a patient might carry (which are often not complete), with an over-reliance on oral histories – electronic health records can ensure decisions about a patient’s health are made based on complete information. This can prove to be especially beneficial in emergency cases and systemic illnesses.

Problem: The current fee-for-service model of healthcare delivery does not tie patient outcomes to care delivery. Therefore, in the absence of healthcare professionals being penalised for incorrect treatment, it is unclear who would pay for such a service; since patients often do not possess the know-how to realise the importance of health history.

Chronic Disease Management

Description: Chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, etc. require regular monitoring, strict treatment adherence, lifestyle management and routine follow-ups. Some complex conditions even require second opinions and joint decision-making by a team of doctors. By having access to a patient’s entire health history, services that facilitate remote consultations, follow-ups and improve adherence can be enabled in a more precise manner.

Problem: Services such as treatment adherence or lifestyle management require self-input data by the patient, which might not work with the majority. Other services such as remote consultations can still be achieved through emails or scanned copies of reports. The true value of a PHR is in providing complete information (which might be missed in cases of manual emails/ uploads, especially in chronic cases where the volume and variety of reports are huge) – this too requires the patient to understand its importance.

Insurance

Description: One problem that can be resolved through patient records is incorrect declaration of pre-existing conditions, which causes post-purchase dissonance. Another area of benefit is claims settlement, where instant access to patient records can enable faster and seamless settlement of claims. Both of these can be use cases of a patient’s health records.

Problem: Claim settlement in most cases is based on pre-authorisation and does not depend solely on health records. Information about pre-existing conditions can be obtained from diagnostic tests conducted at the time of purchase. Since alternatives for both exist, it is unclear if these use cases are strong enough to push for a PHR.

Research

Description: Clinical trials often require identifying the right pool of participants for a study and tracking their progress over time. Today, this process is conducted in a closed-door setting, with select healthcare providers taking on the onus of identifying the right set of patients. With electronic health records, identification, as well as monitoring, become frictionless.

Problem: Participants in clinical trials represent a very niche segment of the population. It is unclear how this would expand into a mainstream use of PHR.

Next steps

We are looking for partners to brainstorm for more use cases, build prototypes, test and implement them. If you work or wish to volunteer in the Healthtech domain and are passionate about improving healthcare delivery in India, please reach out to me at [email protected].

iSPIRT’s Response to Union Interim Budget 2019

Our policy team tracks the interest of Software product industry

INDIA, Bangalore, Feb 1st, 2019 – Proposals for Union budget of 2019 have been announced today by Finance Minister.

Being an interim budget not many announcements were expected. Some of the important announcements that may affect the expansion of the economy, in general, owing to increased income and ease of living in the middle class are as follows:

  1. Within two years tax assessment will be all electronic.
  2. IT return processing just in 24 hours
  3. Rebate on taxes paid for those with an income below 5 lakhs
  4. TDS threshold on interest income by woman on bank/post office deposits raised from Rs. 10,000 to 40,000
  5. Increase in standard deduction from Rs. 40,000 to 50,000
  6. Rollover of Capital gains tax benefit u/s 54 from investment in one house to two houses, for a taxpayer having capital gains up to Rs. 2 crore
  7. Recommendation to GST Council for reducing GST for home buyers
  8. Exemption from levy of tax on notional rent, on unsold inventories, from one year to two years
  9. Many benefits announced for Agriculture and Rural sector

The coining of the phrase “Digital Village” and placing it second on the list of ten-dimension vision statement in budget speech is a welcome step. The statement nudges the next Government to improve access to technology in rural India, a welcome step. We expect “Digital India” and easy and quality access to the internet for every citizen will remain a focus area, irrespective of which government comes to power.

The government has announced a direct cash transfer scheme for farmers. We are happy to see that technologies like the India Stack are being used by policymakers for effective policy-making irrespective of political ideology. Cash transfers promise to be more efficient initiatives that directly benefit our poor without needing them to run from pillar to post trying to prove their identity and eligibility. “Similarly, startups and SMEs remains a focus area in the vision statement. These are very important for a healthy ecosystem built up.

Similarly, focused phrases such as “Healthy India”, “Electric Vehicle” and “Rural Industrialisation using modern digital technologies” are welcome ideas in ten-dimension vision for Indian Software product industry and startup ecosystem.

However, among key issues for Startups and Investments which need to be addressed but have been missed out are Angel tax and Tax parity between listed and unlisted securities. Angel Tax is a very important issue which needs to be addressed conclusively at the earliest. We need to ensure gaps between policy declaration and implementation do not cause entrepreneurs and investors to relocate themselves aboard.

About iSPIRT Foundation

We are a non-profit think tank that builds public goods for Indian product startup to thrive and grow. iSPIRT aims to do for Indian startups what DARPA or Stanford did in Silicon Valley. iSPIRT builds four types of public goods – technology building blocks (aka India stack), startup-friendly policies, market access programs like M&A Connect and Playbooks that codify scarce tacit knowledge for product entrepreneurs of India. visit www.ispirt.in

For further queries, reach out to Nakul Saxena ([email protected]) or Sudhir Singh ([email protected])

India’s Health Leapfrog – Towards A Holistic Healthcare Ecosystem

In July 2018, NITI Aayog published a Strategy and Approach document on the National Health Stack. The document underscored the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and laid down the technology framework for implementing the Ayushman Bharat programme which is meant to provide UHC to the bottom 500 million of the country. While the Health Stack provides a technological backbone for delivering affordable healthcare to all Indians, we, at iSPIRT, believe that it has the potential to go beyond that and to completely transform the healthcare ecosystem in the country. We are indeed headed for a health leapfrog in India! Over the last few months, we have worked extensively to understand the current challenges in the industry as well as the role and design of individual components of the Health Stack. In this post, we elaborate on the leapfrog that will be enabled by blending this technology with care delivery.

What is the health leapfrog?

Healthcare delivery in India faces multiple challenges today. The doctor-patient ratio in the country is extremely poor, a problem that is further exacerbated by their skewed distribution. Insurance penetration remains low leading to out-of-pocket expenses of over 80% (something that is being addressed by the Ayushman Bharat program). Additionally, the current view on healthcare amongst citizens as well as policymakers is largely around curative care. Preventive care, which is equally important for the health of individuals, is generally overlooked.  

The leapfrog we envision is that of public, precision healthcare. This means that not only would every citizen have access to affordable healthcare, but the care delivered would be holistic (as opposed to symptomatic) and preventive (and not just curative) in nature. This will require a complete redesign of operations, regulations and incentives – a transformation that, we believe, can be enabled by the Health Stack.

How will this leapfrog be enabled by the Health Stack?

At the first level, the Health Stack will enable a seamless flow of information across all stakeholders in the ecosystem, which will help in enhancing trust and decision-making. For example, access to an individual’s claims history helps in better claims management, a patient’s longitudinal health record aids clinical decision-making while information about disease incidence enables better policymaking. This is the role of some of the fundamental Health Stack components, namely, the health registries, personal health records (PHR) and the analytics framework. Of course, it is essential to maintain strict data security and privacy boundaries, which is already considered in the design of the stack, through features like non-repudiable audit logs and electronic consent.

At the second level, the Health Stack will improve cost efficiency of healthcare. For out-of-pocket expenditures to come down, we have to enable healthcare financing (via insurance or assurance schemes) to become more efficient and in particular, the costs of health claims management to reduce. The main costs around claims management relate to eligibility determination, claims processing and fraud detection. An open source coverage and claims platform, a key component of the Health Stack, is meant to deal with these inefficiencies. This component will not only bring down the cost of processing a claim but along with increased access to information about an individual’s health and claims history (level 1), will also enable the creation of personalised, sachet-sized insurance policies.

At the final level, the Health Stack will leverage information and cost efficiencies to make care delivery more holistic in nature. For this, we need a policy engine that creates care policies that are not only personalized in nature but that also incentivize good healthcare practices amongst consumers and providers. We have coined a new term for such policies – “gamifier” policies – since they will be used to gamify health decision-making amongst different stakeholders.

Gamifier policies, if implemented well, can have a transformative impact on the healthcare landscape of the country. We present our first proposal on the design of gamifier policies, We suggest the use of techniques from microeconomics to manage incentives for care providers, and those from behavioural economics to incentivise consumers. We also give examples of policies created by combining different techniques.

 

What’s next?

The success of the policy engine rests on real-world experiments around policies and in the document we lay down the contours of an experimentation framework for driving these experiments. The role of the regulator will be key in implementing this experimentation framework: in standardizing the policy language, in auditing policies and in ensuring the privacy-preserving exchange of data derived from different policy experiments. Creating the framework is an extensive exercise and requires engagement with economists as well as computer scientists. We invite people with expertise in either of these areas to join us on this journey and help us sharpen our thinking around it.

Do you wish to volunteer?

Please read our volunteer handbook and fill out this Google form if you’re interested in joining us in our effort to develop the design of Health Stack further and to take us closer to the goal of achieving universal and holistic healthcare in India!

Discussion on “The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018”

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) has put up a new set of draft rules for the IT Act, and is inviting feedback.

The draft rules mostly relates to governing violations on social media.

The Draft is given at:

http://meity.gov.in/content/comments-suggestions-invited-draft-%E2%80%9C-information-technology-intermediary-guidelines

It contains a link to the new rules:

http://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Draft_Intermediary_Amendment_24122018.pdf

This PolicyHacks recording was done on 2nd January 2018 at 5.30 pm covering a discussion on the proposed rules ( amendment ).

iSPIRT Volunteers, Sanjay Jain, Saranya Gopinath, Venkatesh Hariharan (Venky), Tanuj Bhojwani iSPIRT volunteers and Bhusan, a lawyer from IDFC participated in the discussions with Sudhir Singh.

The main aspects of the draft amendment and its impact on the Software product and Start-ups in tech world in India are covered in the discussions. A transcript of the discussion is given below for read. Or you could choose to listen to the recorded audio/video on you tube embedded below.

 

The draft rules mainly cover information published by users on intermediaries also referred to as platforms in this discussion. The three broad aspects that draft rules cover are :

 

  1. Putting higher onus on Intermediaries on objectionable content
  2. High level of compliance and penalties
  3. Enforcing traceability of objectionable content

With above introduction to topic floor was opened for discussions by host Sudhir Singh. Below is the transcript of contribution made by participants ( the transcript may not be complete word by word but follows the semantics of contribution made).

On Question on how the draft rules will impact industry

Sanjay Jain – “Two three element that you have highlighted in there.

First is the definition of the platform player. Intermediaries are broadly defined. They include everybody from  telecom players, ISPs, a Social network and even a site like apartment Adda, Baba-jobs, because all of these will have some kind of user generated content, which is being published and shared with others. While the law drafting may have had one type of intermediary in mind, but it actually applies to all of them and as such that is where some of the issue starts.

Second part is that by moving some of the Onus to the platform, and I actually think they have not fully moved the onus to the platform, which is very dicey situation because, they have moved and not moved at the same time. And because, the onus is primarily still on the Govt. to notify to the intermediary, that there is something objectionable and they have to remove it. But, at the same time they have said that intermediary shall develop technological means for identifying  all of this, as well. Sometimes there is an assumption that technology can do a lot, and in reality while you can have 99.9% accuracy, you still have those 0.1% and that becomes an issue.

Third part, I wanted to say is cost of compliance goes up considerably. They have put a limit 50 Lakh users in India, though we believe 50 lakh may either be little low. They should go little higher and depending upon type of user generated content they should allow for little graded form of compliance.”

Bhusan, from IDFC Institute –  “As a context, these rules have come about are drafted based on earlier rules of 2011 and have some new features like graded approach such as significant intermediary to non-significant intermediary. They have put time lines in terms of response from intermediary and so these rules are being built upon existing set of rules.

There is some short of tightening of the compliance on intermediary e.g. 72 hours of time line for response. If you are a significant intermediary, than you have to be incorporated in India and has to appoint a person who is available 24X7, and you also have to have proactive measure to screen content on your side. Some of this is coming from frustration of getting information from intermediaries.”

On issue of how much these numbers are practical for small players? How to save start-ups?

Sanjay Jain – “Differed assumption is that if you publish any content which is against the law, you are liable. Being an intermediary protects you. If you remember the case of Baje.com, the only protection they got was proving to be an intermediary. Hence, you want to call them (Start-ups) intermediaries but get a better procedural control to stop harassment at hand of low level law enforcement.”

Tanuj came in and quoted the the line after 72 hours, in section 5 it says”as asked for by any government agency or assistance concerning security of the State or cyber security; or investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s); protective or cyber security and matters connected with or incidental thereto.”

According to Tarun, this statement is so broad that any junior level officer can say I got information that someone from Hissar in Haryana is harassing a person and give information of all users in Haryana.

Venky – “I agree with Tarun, we have the laws or the rule meant to be more sharply defined and have sharp implementation guidelines. In this case seems to be pretty loosely framed.”

Sudhir Singh – “There is another issue in draft rules on once in a month information to user, and taking their consent. Any hard compliance of rules is normally easier for large players, they may easily invest and handle with technology but small players and start-ups it is difficult situation to comply.”

Sanjay – “From technology experience we learn that if you make something automated, user ignore it. So, what will happen is this will be implemented by sending one email to every user, once in a month, stating if you don’t comply, we will delete your account from platform.

That’s an email that is going to get ignored. So, it is a very ineffective suggestion. Also, there is an implicit assumption that all users are identifiable, which is not the case always. So, just to implement it you will have to identify users. That may not be a valid requirement.”

Bhusan –  “On the point that you need to have more than 5 million users. My question is procedurally how do you even establish that?

Will platform will have to do GPS type of tracking to ensure that and does this not create a privacy risk in itself e.g. I do not know does platforms like Quora know that they have more than 5 million users in India or not. It seems, there is this focus on regulating Big Techs and this 5 Million number really come from that.”

Sanjay – “Basically, anybody can be hosting user generated content. So, lets us say we are on a common platform, and there is a message flowing from me to you. If I violate the law, and let’s say the message is liable of incitement or any other law, then I should be held liable and not the platform.

For that platform needs to be qualified as intermediary, put under safe harbour and intermediary takes on the responsibility of helping the law enforcement. So, we should not take up start-ups out of its ambit. What we have to do is make sure that, the conditions required is that conformance to the standard should not be so terrible that start-up should be excluded.

So, we need to sharpen the requirement they they should be conforming with and make it easy enough for somebody to confirm.”

It is being discussed that Govt. is aiming for higher level of Penalty. What should be our recommendation?

Tanuj – “If you take very young company any short of hit is bad, but if you can put proportion of revenue basis, it will be at least more forward thinking, even if it is not absolutely fair, in some sense more fair of not having that rule or having flat rule. The amendments of changes we should think about of moving the penalty would be not being in favour of arbitrary penalty.”

Tarun added – “Our recommendations should be around sharpening rules, like who can use it who cannot use, what are the accountability measures on them, more than magnitude of these numbers.”

Saranya – “Just to address the Data protection law vis-à-vis intermediary act. The subject matter of Data Protection law is ‘personally identifiable information’, whereas Intermediary act tries to cover ‘all communication in some sense’ and hence, Intermediary act has a longer leash with regard to the person who can take the intermediaries to task.

The criteria of what would be offensive under Intermediary act is very different e.g. encouraging consumption of narcotics. Hence, the criteria that a person can take intermediary to task is extremely wide and needs to be curtailed.”

Bhusan – “There is an inherent subjectivity in these rules and there is need to some short of standard procedures on how these rules are applied by law enforcement agencies across. All that these rules say is  – any request has to come in writing and intermediaries have to comply with.”

Venky –  “From an implementation perspective we need implementation guideline. Section 5 is so wide that anybody can drive a truck through it.”

How the numbers (e.g. 72 hours period to respond and 50 lakh users) should be defined in a manner that is suits Start-ups who are in the early phase.

Sanjay – “Broadly, we need to identify the places and various numbers to apply proportionally depending upon the size of entity and size of violation, in our feed back to the Government.”

Sanjay also brought in attention to the “Appropriate Govt”, needs to be defined well. He said,  “What we want is the Govt. agencies to be defined.”

Bhusan –  “This is very standard way of defining. I have not seen any precise definition on specifying agencies in general regulation and I do not see they will start with IT act on this.

Bhusan mentioned another important issue of end-to-end encryption is a more political point rather than national security issue. (refer section 5 last lines).

Sanjay –  “This is about tracking and tracing may not be about encryption. The fact, that I sent information to some body is about meta data, it’s not about information itself. This may be clarified better, but is not about end-to-end encryption but about meta data.”

Sanjay further added, “perhaps one clause you could add is to say that the ‘intermediary should be able to do this based on the information it has, if it does not have information, there should be not requirement to maintain information’ e.g. if you take business of mailinator, they don’t keep record of mails sent in and out.”

Bhusan, added “it should not lead to intermediaries having a requirement to do KYC on users.”

Is 50 lakh only to target large platform players?

Sanjay, “my read is they may have thought that way. But in reality a regional ISP or even a small newspaper will fall in to that category.”

“Bhusan, I don’t think it is a number generate by some study, but it seems like they just picked it.”

The discussion was rapped with thanks to all players.

Author note and Disclaimer:

  1. PolicyHacks, and publications thereunder, are intended to provide a very basic understanding of legal/policy issues that impact Software Product Industry and the startups in the eco-system. PolicyHacks, therefore, do not necessarily set out views of subject matter experts, and should under no circumstances be substituted for legal advice, which, of course, requires a detailed analysis of the relevant fact situation and applicable laws by experts in the subject matter on case to case basis.
  2. PolicyHacks discussions and recordings are intended at issues concerning the industry practitioners. Hence, views expressed here are not the final formal official statement of either iSPIRT Foundation or any other organisations where the participants in these discussions are involved. Media professionals are advised to please seek organization views through a formal communication to authorised persons.   

White Paper On The Analysis Of High Share Premium Amongst Startups In India

“High share premium is not the basis of a high valuation but the outcome of valid business decisions. This new whitepaper by our iSPIRT policy experts highlights how share premia is a consequence of valid business decisions, why 56(2)(viib) is only for unaccounted funds and measures to prevent valid companies from being aggrieved by it”

What lies beyond the horizon: Digital Sky & the future of drones in India

Drones have been around for a long time, going back as far as World War II. For most of their history, they were considered part of the military arsenal and developed and deployed almost exclusively by the military.

However, the past decade has seen a tremendous amount of research and development in the area of using drones for civilian purposes. This has led industry experts to predict that drones will be disrupting some of the mainstay industries of the global economy such as logistics, transportation, mining, construction and agriculture to name a few. Analysts estimate a $100 billion market opportunity for drones in the coming few years  [1]. In spite of the overwhelming evidence in favour of the value created by drones, it has taken quite a few years for the drone industry to take off in a commercial sense globally.

The main reason for this has been the regulatory challenges around what is allowed to fly in the air and where is it allowed to fly. A common theme around the world is the unconventional challenges that old governmental structures have to face as they try to understand and regulate new technologies. Hence the default approach so far for governments has been reactionary caution as they try to control what are, essentially, flying robots in the sky.

However, with electronic costs coming down, the hardware becoming more accessible and the software interpreting data becomes more powerful a number of humanitarian, civilian and industrial application have emerged and as governments across the world are realizing the potential of drones, we are starting to see the first version of regulations being drafted and adopted across the globe.[2]

Closer home India has a relatively adverse approach to drones or more lackadaisical rather. [3]

But as India continues to drive to become a more technology-oriented economy the role of drones in the worlds fastest growing economy and the potential benefits it can bring are hard to ignore.[4]

However, India’s approach to drone regulations cannot be that of other major economies that have the luxury of friendly neighbours and a large network of monitoring apparatus, India has had to take an approach that has to be novel and robust. Something that balances the security landscape while also being designed to allow maximum utilization of the potential that drones offer. Out of this need to both regulate secure how and where a drone can fly and keep multi-ministerial stakeholder interests accounted for was born the Digital Sky, India’s foundational framework for all things drones.

What is the Digital Sky and how does it work?

What the Digital Sky accomplishes beautifully is to fill the institutional void that needs to be collectively fulfilled by so many institutions and make it easier for the industry and consumers to interface with the government legally through one platform. Permission to fly drone no longer requires a 90-day intimation with an arbitrary number of NOCs to be approved by umpteen number of ministerial bodies at the central and federal level. The industry and the public now know one place to interact with in order to register their drone, get recognised as a certified operator and apply for permissions and all concerned government agencies ensure their overarching interests do not interfere with the large-scale adoption of drones.  

There are crucial components required for the Digital Sky concept to work, the most central being that drone operators should not be able to fly drones if they are not approved by the government. To accomplish this the Drone 1.0 regulations revolve around the concept of No-Permission-No-Takeoff (NPNT).

Our maven Tanuj Bhojwani explaining NPNT at the DigitalSky RoundTable on 4 Dec 2018 in Bengaluru

What this implies is that unless a drone has got valid permission for a particular flight through tamper-proof digitally signed permission tokens, it will not be able to take off. The Digital Sky is the platform to automate the processing of these permission tokens as they flow in from different parts of the country without overwhelming the authorities through a flight information management system (one of only three countries to build this nationally after China and the USA). In order for this vision to come true, there will be an enormous change in the way drones are manufactured and operated. Entire new industry verticals around getting existing drones compliant, developing interfaces that interact with the Digital Sky platform and making applications for India’s needs will develop. Hence this begs the question.

How are the current state of the industry are changing with 1.0 regulations

Until the introduction of the regulations companies especially in the UAV operations were doing non-restricted work and end up becoming the jack-of-all-trades. Companies in the manufacturing domain were unclear of who is their target customer and what they needed to build. All the companies in this domain were working with no clarity on the safety and permissions.

With the introduction of the Drone Policy 1.0, there is a buzz which has been created and efforts are being made to understand the regulations by all the entities who are set to gain from it. They understand that there will be a new aspect that needs to cater to i.e. the sense of accountability.

For manufacturer’s The NP-NT mandate will be the most immediate requirement, the most common route to implement the mandate will be through changes to existing firmware architecture. The changes themselves are being driven by open source initiatives with various operators, system integrators and manufacturers contributing to the shift to NP-NT for all major drone platforms in the country. The Digital Sky has inadvertently catalysed the first industry-wide initiative to bring together all members of the ecosystem. Other requirements such as ETA bring in much-needed standardisation in the hardware space, this allows benchmarking of products, easier availability of information about the standards to look out for end users.

For operators, a massive increase in the volume of business is expected as they can now focus on getting certified drones into the air, and not so much on getting approvals. The Digital Sky brings in much-needed certainty and predictability into an industry that will be focused on balancing demand and supply of drone-related operations in a market that has a huge need for drones and their data but limited expertise to acquire and process it. This also puts onus an industry to become security and privacy conscious and insurance agencies will play an important role in this regard. It will also immensely help in changing the thought process of the companies providing services and their customers. Customers will start understanding that they also need to have a defined plan, process and execution instead of a haphazard existing process of execution.

How industry/playground will change over the coming years?

With the introduction on the regulations and a platform like Digital sky enabling the ease of doing business for the companies who are serious stakeholders in this domain, there is no limit to what developments will occur in the coming years. It opens up possibilities for utilization of Drone and its related technologies in Agriculture, Medical, Energy and Infrastructure and transportation.

The existing players will become more mature and more focused. They will understand that with regulations in place a more focused approach is the key to scale. They will look at opportunities to compete with the global market also as the solutions that are developed around the Drone Regulations 1.0 and 2.0 will be key factors that contribute to the Indian ecosystem to becoming a global standard to test, adapt and innovate drone applications and management.

What are the opportunities? What does that mean for the current and new players?

UAV/ Drones as a business was a far-fetched thought for many entrepreneurs and has been a struggling industry in the past in India. Going forward it is guaranteed that it will be one of the biggest markets in the world for UAV as a business. What the regulations and Digital Sky platform will enable is a new levelled playground ground for the UAV companies to initiate good scalable business models both existing and the ones entering new to the sector.

The existing companies with the right resources can now plan to scale their operations and also have the added advantage of doing work for the private sector in India. Due to the restrictive method of operations adapted previously the solutions to private agencies was unavailable. Now going forward the companies will shift their focus from being a B2G entity to a B2B entity. Many new businesses for UAV air traffic management, surveillance, AI and ML-based UAV solutions and deliveries will emerge out of India with technology specific to India.

If you want to join our future roundtable sessions on Digital Sky and more, please register your interest here.

The blog is co-authored by Anurag A Joshi from INDrone Aero systems, Abhiroop Bhatnagar from Algopixel Technologies and Gokul Kumaravelu from Skylark Drones

My iSPIRT Experience, A Learning Of A Lifetime By Praveen Hari

In 2016, the company I co-founded, Thinkflow, went through a liquidity event. It was a great outcome for all and I was thinking of the next move. It was natural for me to think of starting again. I was wiser, had seed capital and only had to find a problem attractive enough. It looked like I was going down that path and would build another software product company for the global market.

Something interesting was happening in India at that same time. All the global giants were investing in or had invested in companies that were building for India. Venture funds like Softbank, DST Global, Naspers were making bold bets in the Indian consumer space. A lot of digitization was also happening in India. UPI was in the initial release phase (Flipkart had already committed to back PhonePe, when it was just Sameer and Rahul’s idea), the GST bill was tabled in Parliament, a system to track real-time movement of goods was being discussed. It was really a lot of action and if venture investments were any indication, it was the validation of the India story.

In a meeting with Sharad, for the first time, I understood the true potential of the digital stack (now called the IndiaStack) that was taking shape then. While the stack was not fully ready for all the use cases that we covered in the meeting, the vision to solve some of the hardest problems India was facing through technology was fascinating. That vision combined with the kind of commitment the Open API team (it is now called the IndiaStack team) put in is unparalleled in my experience

I left the meeting with a question from Sharad.  “Do you want to do a 2-year MBA that pays you a small stipend?”. I thought about it and said ‘yes’. Amongst all the challenges, unlocking credit for small businesses resonated with me. Having faced the consequences of not having access to timely credit during my Thinkflow days, I could identify with this problem and ended up doing work around data-driven and cash-flow lending. We make a number of decisions in a lifetime but a few handfuls of them are life-changing. And my decision to work with iSPIRT and to focus on Flow-based lending has been a life-changing one.

Over the last 30 months, I worked towards Improving efficiencies in the loan delivery and collections cycle so we could bring a lot more borrowers to the formal system. As an iSPIRTer, I had the privilege of working with CEOs of banks, NBFCs and Small Finance banks to design new loan products. We were working on new ways to use data to underwrite small loans for new-to-credit businesses. I was guiding them on how to use technology to deliver credit at lower costs and worked alongside them to devise new strategies to build new workflows around origination, disbursement, collections, et al.

The iSPIRT stint has been a rewarding one. iSPIRT is all about putting country first and solving country scale problems. Core values such as this and others like setting up fellow volunteers for success were totally unheard of to me in the modern day workplace. iSPIRT is a safe space for any volunteer who is passionate about changing India. The institution has been about investing in the success of its fellows –  I had the benefit of learning from the wisdom of people like Nandan Nilekani, Sharad Sharma, Pramod Varma, Sanjay Jain. My colleagues are A-players and I had the opportunity to learn from and work alongside Meghana Reddyreddy, Nikhil Kumar, Venkatesh Hariharan, Jai Shankar, Tanuj Bhojwani, Siddharth Shetty and Karthik

As I prepare to roll-off my responsibilities at iSPIRT, I want to express my gratitude and a special thanks to Sharad Sharma for giving me this opportunity. He is a great guide and has been a great mentor for me. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you. It has been a great experience working with you and the team and my learnings here are my core strength as I move on to solving for India through my next venture.

Understanding National Digital Communication Policy For Startups And Cloud Telephony Players

iSPIRT has been actively engaged in pursuing the favourable policy for the Cloud Telephony sector in Telecom Industry, an amalgamation of the various IT and Communications technologies.

National Digital Communication Policy has been announced recently and it is encouraging to see the announcements in the policy on some common issues to do with Startup ecosystem and digital communication aspects of the Cloud Telephony Players.

We are expecting the Department of Telecom (DOT) to further work on implementation and framing of rules and regulation in light of policy in near future. Despite many positive directional changes, there is a need to develop a regulatory framework for the Cloud Telephony players. Cloud Telephony players are adding value to communication and hence to the economy in several innovative ways. In addition, they also add a good revenue stream to licenses Telecom Service Providers (TSPs).

This PolicyHacks session is devoted to the critical analysis of the NDCP for this sub-sectoral player. Some of the entrepreneurs involved in the discussion are Gurumurthy Konduri of Ozonetel, Ujwal Makhija of PhoneOn, Gaurav Agrawal of Exotel and Gaurav Sawhney of Knowlarity.

A recording of this discussion is given below. Please feel free to click and watch. (About 20 seconds lost in the opening frame, apologises for the error)

The main point covered in the discussion is summed up below as are the some of our recommendations and good work is done (while the Policy was in the draft stage and during various consultation processes), which have been reflected in the policy under respective sections as under:

Page 7

1.1.(f)   – Encourage and facilitate sharing of active infrastructure by enhancing the scope of Infrastructure Providers (IP) and promoting and incentivising the deployment of common sharable, passive as well as active, infrastructure

1.1.(g).iv.  –  Allowing benefits of convergence in areas such as IP-PSTN switching.

Both of these are encouraging moves however it is to be seen how further rules and framework make easy for Small and Startup companies to use them without licensed TSPs creating a barrier for them.

Page 8

1.1.(j) – By encouraging innovative approaches to infrastructure creation and access including through resale and Virtual Network Operators (VNO)

This is a very encouraging announcement for the Cloud Telephony startups.

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2.1. (c ) iv. – Improving the Terms and Conditions for ‘Other Service Providers’, including definitions, compliance requirements and restrictions on inter-connectivity

2.1.(c ).viii. – Creating a regime for fixed number portability to facilitate one nation – one number including portability of toll-free number, Universal Access numbers and DID numbers

Again very encouraging but needs some boost up. Audiotex regime must go most speakers feel and all the players in Cloud telephony are treated as ASP. These provisions will help cloud telephony to deliver better value propositions in their offerings.

Page 15

2.2.(a) iv:  – Encourage use of Open APIs for emerging technologies

2.2. (b) – Promoting innovation in the creation of Communication services and network infrastructure by Developing a policy framework for ‘Over The Top’ (OTT) services.

2.2.(f) ii.  – Enabling a light touch regulation for the proliferation of cloud-based systems

2.2.(f).iii. – Facilitating Cloud Service Providers to establish captive fibre networks.

A welcome move to encourage Open APIs. However, licenses TSP should be given one standard that is governed by DOT to implement any APIs that let them monitor cloud telephony or ASPs on their network, instead of allowing them to create a regime of their own.

Generally, an OTT policy is recommended in reforming the sector. However, OTT framework should not be mixed with ASP or Cloud Telephony providers. It is better to keep a distinction between the two.

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2.4.(a).ii: – Promoting participation of Start-ups and SMEs in government procurement

2.4.(b).  – Reducing the entry barriers for start-ups by reducing the initial cost and compliance burden, especially for new and innovative segments and services.

Acceptance of these issues is very encouraging. The Government can be a very big user of the Cloud Telephony industry also. And we hope this will turn out to be a winning proposition for the Cloud Telephony industry in near future.

Conclusion

Whereas this policy announcement reflects a positive change, it is yet to be seen how DOT look at Cloud Telephony and provides it with a recognition as a sub-sector with easy and proper regulatory framework for same.

Note: The above article is co-authored by Gurumurthy Konduri of Ozonetel with Sudhir Singh of iSPIRT

AI/ML is not Sexy

One would think that the new sexy in the startup capital of the world is self-driving cars, AI/ML… I got news for you! AI/ML (esp. Machine Learning) is not listed in Gartner’s hype cycle for 2018.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hype-Cycle-General.png

This was corroborated on my recent trip to the valley and the US east coast, where I met several investors, founders, corp dev and other partners of the startup community. It was evident that the AI/ML hype which peaked in 2016 & 2017 is no longer considered a buzzword. It is assumed to be table stakes. What you do with AI/ML is something everyone is willing to listen to. Using AI/ML to solve a high-value B2B SaaS problem is Sexy! (Gartner trends for 2018).

As the hype with AI/ML settles down, B2B startups across the globe are discovering the realities of working the AI/ML shifts for SaaS. Many AI tools & frameworks in the tech stack are still evolving and early pioneers are discovering constraints in the stack and creatively building workarounds as they build their products.

Many entrepreneurs are watching from the sidelines the unfolding of the AI/ML hype, wondering on many valid questions like these (and more):

Q: Do I have to stop what we are building and jump onto the AI bandwagon? No.
Q: Are the AI/ML resources mature & stable to build better value products? No, they are still evolving.
Q: Do I need expensive investments in constrained resources? No, not until you have a high-value problem to solve.

B2B SaaS startups go through 2 key struggles. How to find market-fit and survive? And how to stay relevant and grow. And if you don’t evolve or reinvent as the market factors change, there are high chances for an upstart to come by and disrupt you. The iSPIRT entrepreneur playbooks look to help entrepreneurs get clarity on such queries and more. Our goal is to help our startups navigate such market shifts, stay relevant and grow. Our mini roundtables Playing with AI/ML are focused on WhyAI for SaaS discussions in multiple cities. If you or a startup you know may benefit do register

The MiniRT Agenda

Seeding & creating an active discussion on Why AI/ML? What is the higher order value being created? How to identify the value & opportunities to leverage AI? How to get started with an AI playground (if not already running)? How to think of data needs for AI/ML investments, How to address the impact on Product & Business… Insights from these sessions are meant to help refine our approach & readiness to leverage AI/ML for building higher order value products. And in doing so building a vibrant community focused around navigating this shift.

Upcoming PlaybookRTs on AI/ML

6-Oct (Chennai) 10 am – 1 pm – MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS – Shrikanth Jagannathan, PipeCandy Inc
18-Oct (Bangalore) 6 pm – 8 pm MiniRoundTable with Dr Viral Shah on AI/ML Tools & discuss your ML/DeepLearning challenges
27-Oct (Delhi/Gurgaon) 2 pm – 6 pmMiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, Adarsh Natarajan, CEO & Founder – Aindra Systems
TBD (Bangalore)MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, (based on registered interest)
TBD (Mumbai)MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, (based on registered interest)

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold, on a reasonable level playing field.

Click to Register for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Please note: All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hype-Cycle-General.png

Interesting Reads

The slow, light touch of AI in Indian Saas