What Is The Closest Landmark?

13 April, 2012

As India's GDP grows, per capita GDP, and by extension per capita output, will also grow. At 1/15th the size of the US economy and 4x the population, per capita productivity has a long way to go. Some of the improvements in productivity will be driven by the overall improvements to the infrastructure better health care, better roads etc.; some will be driven by better institutions better credit systems, reliable law enforcement etc.; and yet others by technology. I am personally most interested in the last one and in this article, I am going to talk about one particular pain point that I think should have a technology-based answer to it. The issue of finding directions!

This is a monumental time (and, therefore, productivity) sink for individuals and companies. From my experience at Canvera, I can tell you that the time it takes for our sales people to find photographer's studio limits the number of calls that can be made in a day; I also notice how much time our admin teams across our offices spend in helping clients, vendors, etc. come to the office. All of this is true at a personal level as well. Think of directing a cab driver at 5 in the morning to your house or guests visiting you for the first time. We all have 'coping' strategies but in the end, it does consume resources. There are, of course, many GPS solutions out there and with the increasing use of smartphones, one can argue that maps and directions may become ubiquitous. But somehow, I don't believe these solutions will scale in India for two reasons: 1) The "solutions" are just too expensive. In his HBR article How GE is Disrupting Itself, Jeffery Immelt talked about building a "50% solution at a 15% price (relative to developed markets)" for emerging markets. For this particular problem, I think it needs to be a 15% solution at a 5% price. 2) Consumer willingness (trust?) to rely on maps, updating of maps, road signs etc. all have ways to go.

Here is a proposed solution for a group of entrepreneurs to take on (caveat: I have not thought through the solution, so please feel free to find holes): I would like to see a solar-powered wrist watch-size device that sells for around Rs 800 that has only two functions:

1. It tells you your present latitude and longitude (keep in mind that GPS signals are available free of charge).

2. You can enter the latitude/longitude of your destination and at different zoom levels, the device will tell you if you are getting closer or not.

That's it. No pre-loaded maps, no internet connection, nothing. My thinking is also influenced by the fact that as I observe people giving and taking directions, it is the last mile that causes the problems. One can broadly get to the right area, but you need to know the local paanwala's stand in order to close the loop. On one end of the spectrum are completely manual solutions (as are largely used in India today) and on the other end are completely automated solutions (such as GPS devices), which are too expensive and complicated for India. The answer, I think, needs to be something in the middle, which takes away some but not all of the manual steps and makes the process much more reliable and efficient than it is today. At Rs 800, my hope would be that every rickshawwala will carry one!

What do you think? Will this work for directions? Does something like this already exist? What other productivity problems do you think can be solved with technology in ways that take into account the dynamics of India?


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What Is The Closest Landmark?

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