Tag: Science and Technology

The variety of Life

The variety of Life

Biodiversity, or the variety of life that exists, is fundamental to the existence of life on Earth. The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro defined biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. Biodiversity is an extremely important part of life on Earth because it is not only the variety of living organisms on our planet that affect our ecosystem, but also the interdependence of all these living things, including humans. For example, some anthropological studies suggest that mosquitoes are so important to life on planet Earth that if all mosquitoes were to be destroyed, all life on Earth will become extinct in less than five years.

Biodiversity - The Variety of Life

In spite of this knowledge, humans have been the main cause of destruction of ecosystems even as animals and plants become extinct, and biodiversity is being lost due to anti-ecological activities of humans. Thankfully, there are a few among us who are conscious about the importance of maintaining and restoring the balance in biodiversity.

A big step towards creating awareness about the importance of biodiversity has been taken by the National Children’s Science Congress (CSC) by selecting “biodiversity” as its theme for the next two years. To kick off the CSC in Maharashtra, a seminar on biodiversity was organised by Jidnyasa Trust Thane on 18 and 19 March 2006 at the sports complex of Saraswati Vidyalaya in Thane. More than 125 CSC district coordinators and other resource persons from as many as 28 districts from all over Maharashtra attended the seminar. The seminar served as an orientation workshop for these individuals who would then take it forward to the next level.

Dr Madhav Gadgil, senior scientist and recipient of Padma Bhushan award, chaired the seminar. Dr Gadgil is a renowned ecologist having spent more than forty years in research. He has more than 200 research papers and six books to his credit. Jidnyasa felicitated him on the occasion. In his address, Dr Gadgil made a strong case for a systematic data collection on biodiversity at the ground level. He has developed software, which will be used to map the biodiversity of Maharashtra, which according to him is the “need of the hour”.

The seminar featured many other experts in the field of biodiversity such as Dr Vinaya Ghate, a scientist from Adharkar Institute Pune, Dr Madhukar Bachulkar renowned botanist from Kolhapur, Sandhya Edlabadkar from Chandrapur, Vivek Ponkshe from Pune, Dr Mangala Borkar from BN Bondodkar College of Science, Thane and Shraddha Shimpi from Pendharkar College, Dombivali. Principal of BN Bandodkar College Dr. Madhuri Pejawar and Dr Govind Paratkar from Vaze-Kelkar College were the conveners of the technical sessions. Seven sub-themes of biodiversity were discussed by these experts. These sub themes were terrestrial biodiversity, aquatic biodiversity, conservation of biodiversity, generating knowledge of biodiversity, manmade biodiversity, sustainable value addition, and simulations and models.

A book on “Medicinal forest Plants” and few CDs on environment made by Jidnyasa were released at the hands of the Dr PN Munde, Director Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa Trust provided information of various science programmes that the trust conducts all over Maharashtra. As many as 50-200 species of life are lost every day – that means we lose 20,000 to 70,000 species in a year. Considering that it takes between 2,000-1,00,000 generations for higher species to evolve, we humans have an urgent responsibility towards planet Earth and towards our future generations. And for that we need to shed our lackadaisical attitude towards the variety of life on our planet.

Physics and our lives

Physics and our lives

If Albert Einstein was a giant among scientists, then the year 1905 was a giant year of his lifetime as it was in this year that Einstein published three important papers that radically changed modern physics: Special Theory of Relativity, Photo Electric Effect and Brownian Motion. Marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “Most Innovative Year”, 2005 was celebrated as the “World Year of Physics-2005 the world over, even as a number of Indian scientific institutions organised various programmes underlining Einstein’s work in the area of physics in particular and science in general.

In continuation of the celebration and with the objective of taking awareness of physics to the youth, a nationwide campaign titled “Appreciating Physics in Everyday Life” was launched last week. The campaign, which will conduct intensive science communication activities, will run throughout the year. All the members of National Council for Science and Technology Communication will implement the programmes. In Maharashtra, the student-welfare organisation Jidnyasa has been assigned the responsibility of the campaign.
The programmes under the campaign will give rare opportunities to students and teachers. School students will get hands-on experience of physics experiments, interaction with eminent scientists and a multitude of workshops including development of low cost experiments. Forty college students will undergo intensive training at a six-day workshop to be organised at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education during the Diwali vacation.
As for teachers, a special regional training workshop for selected science teachers will be organised at Ratnagiri where teachers from Goa, Maharashtra, Daman and Gujarat will participate. These trained teachers will act as guides for future programmes that may follow.

Theory versus Practice

Theory versus Practice

There is an interesting anecdote about James Watt. One day, when he was still young, he happened to observe a kettle boiling on the hearth and started to fiddle around by holding a spoon over its spout, opening the kettle and shutting it, gauging the pressure and so on. When his aunt saw him “fooling around”, she scolded him for “idleness” and told him to go out and do something more productive. His "idleness" soon led to the development of the famed steam engine.

Children's Science Centre in Thane

There is a lesson in that little story for our education system which is predominantly theory-oriented. For, true learning always follows understanding, which needs observation and involvement. This is even more so for subjects like science, which have a basis in experiments. For example, read the following statement: “The centre of gravity of a collection of masses is the point where all the weight of the object can be considered to be concentrated.” Now would you not rather that you understand the concept of centre of gravity with the help of an experiment?

School students from the city can rejoice as they can now strengthen their theoretical knowledge with the help of practical understanding. Last Saturday, Jidnyasa Bal Vidnyan Kendra, a science activity centre was unveiled at the TMC School No.7, located in Uthalsar. The centre, dubbed “Mini Nehru Science Centre”, opens up news vistas in science education for children of Thane. To begin with, 30 scientific apparatus have been installed to facilitate the explanation of basic science principles. Visiting children can now easily grasp concepts such as the Archimedes principle, effect of centre of gravity on objects in motion or how geostationary satellites work – all in a playful atmosphere.

A joint initiative of city based youth-welfare NGO Jidnyasa and the Education Committee of the TMC, the science activity centre was inaugurated by the director of Nehru Science Centre, Dr G S Rautela who said, “This is the first science centre built entirely by an NGO. It’s a very good start and a great example for others to follow.” Rautela’s delight was not unwarranted. There are 528 districts in India and every district is supposed to have at least one science centre of its own, yet the annual budget allows no more than two centres. At that rate it will take decades before we can see the light of the day. Unless NGOs like Jidnyasa take up the issue with the help of individuals like Sanjay More who is the chairman of the education committee of TMC.

Inspired by non-profit institutes like Bal Bhavan in Charni Road, the Jidnyasa Bal Vidnyan Kendra will remain open for five days every week – half a day for students from municipal schools and the remaining half for those from private schools. The centre will be open to public on weekends too, when parents can accompany their children to the centre for a nominal fee. A staff member will always be present to take the visitors around the centre. “We believe this centre will be more useful to students from Thane than visiting the Nehru Science Centre, which has become more like a picnic spot. We encourage teachers and students to make full use of the facility.” Jidnyasa, who formally handed over the centre to the Mayor, plans to form an advisory committee comprising Thane residents, who will play a role of guiding the centre activities.

Albert Einstein once said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” The science activity centre is a breeding ground for curiosities – like those displayed by James Watt.

Nature-al Instincts

Nature-al Instincts

Ecosystem \’e-ko-sis-tem\ n: Any group of living and nonliving things interacting with each other.

According to this definition, we are all a part of an ecosystem. A city, in spite of its concrete development and high density human population, is still an ecosystem. We are surrounded by nature everywhere – birds, insects, animals, trees, plants, clouds, atmosphere, lakes and other water bodies and many more living and non-living   things around us. But how often do we stop and think about it? Every morning when you look up in the sky, you’ll find hundreds of small and large birds crisscrossing the sky, but how many types of species can you identify? Do you ever stop and wonder which lakes supply water to you?   What about trees and their impact on attracting rain? Our busy urban life disconnects us from nature. But NGOs such as HOPE, Hariyali and Jidnyasa consistently work to remind us gently that we’re an inseparable part of the ecosystem.

The city, as an ecosystem, is in fact an ideal classroom for science as Jidnyasa Trust showed us by organising a bio-diversity camp for city students. 20 enthusiastic participants, all college students between 16 and 21 years, toiled for six hours every day for seven days to learn about the ecosystem they inhabit. Every evening, from 5 to 8 pm, the participants would sit through an audio-visual presentation followed by a field trip the next morning from 6.30 to 9.30 am. The camp was made possible by several experts who work in the sphere of environment protection. Dr Sanjay Deshmukh, world renowned expert on conservation of mangroves, and Dr Madhuri Pejawar, principal of Bedekar College, also known for her work in the same area, explained the importance of mangroves to the ecosystem. Hema Gupte and Amol Patwardhan from HOPE helped them in bird-watching and nature trails. While the audio visual lessons were at the Jignyasa-run Science Exploratory at Court Naka, the field work included trips to Yeoor and Thane Creek, which is on the verge of dying. The trip to the creek was particularly adventurous as the group embarked on a two-hour boat-ride from Vasai Bridge and then made a one-hour trek on the other side of the creek.

To assist participants on bird-watching Jidnyasa also circulated a small booklet authored by Hema Gupte. Manasai Apte, one of the participants, said, "We were enthusiastic throughout the camp and as we gathered vital information about the ecosystem and also the importance of maintaining a healthy balance."

Just like the 20 campers got up and close with nature, the rest of us can do too. Simply resolve to spend some time to contemplate the beauty that surrounds us, the miracle of trees growing, flowers blossoming, birds chirping and rain falling. Develop a habit of appreciating and respecting nature. Commit to memory what the legendary US architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E."

The Reach of Science
At 9 am today, DD national will telecast a special documentary called Vigyan Gaatha (Maharashtra’s Science Glory) produced by Jidnyasa Trust. The documentary will highlight the reach of science and technology and its impact on rural areas. Conceived and directed by Rajiv Shah and assisted by Santosh Deodhar and Balchandra Bhave, the documentary is part of the Year of Scientific Awareness, which the government of India is observing and of which Jignyasa was appointed as state coordinator.

Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa revealed, "The documentary captures the tremendous spread of science and technology in rural Maharashtra and to what extent it has managed to change the habits and approaches of the villagers." The documentary covers four villages including Kadam Wadi, which was declared as Ideal village by the Maharashtra Government and which enjoys 100 per cent literacy. What the documentary reveals is extraordinary – for instance, willage women draped in traditional saris working on computers, or innovative methods of producing and conserving energy. Dr Anil Kakodkar, chairman of Atomic Energy Commission took a personal interest in this documentary by donating Rs 1 Lakh towards underwriting the cost of production. So make sure you switch the idiot box at 9 am today.

The 20-minute documentary seems to have impressed DD officials also, since they have now given their go ahead for a second part of documentary. This one will focus on the role of science and technology on health and agriculture. The cleaning of Masunda Lake is also likely to feature in the second part. We’ll keep you updated on this one.

City School wins State Level Science Quiz

City School wins State Level Science Quiz

Thane’s AK Joshi English Medium School won the finals of the state level inter-school science quiz held on 16 January 2005 at the Nehru Science Centre, in Worli, Mumbai. Viviktesh Agwan and Shree Patwardhan, class IX students from A K Joshi, emerged winners from among 32 participants representing 16 schools from across the state.  G S Rautela, Director of Nehru Science Centre, gave away the prizes.

Organised by Jidnyasa Trust, a student welfare NGO from Thane, the quiz was part of yearlong celebration of 2004 as the "Year of Scientific Awareness". Schools from 19 districts reached the finals. In the finals, there was a written test, followed by a round of quiz. Only four of the 19 schools reached the last round of the finals, and A K Joshi was the fourth in scores, not a very comfortable rank to be in. At the end of second round of the finals, Viviktesh and Shree were again placed at fourth position. "The third round was the turning point, when we got all answers right and raced past our opponents," revealed Viviktesh. From then on, there was no looking back and the A K Joshi team sealed their victory in last, rapid fire round.

When asked how they prepared for the Quiz, the duo was rather nonchalant about it, attributing their success to their aptitude, hard work and support of their teachers. This is not the first time that Viviktesh and Shree have done their school and city proud. Three years ago, Shree won the gold medal at the Homi Bhabha Young Scientist Exam for class VI students, while his fellow participant, Viviktesh was the silver medallist at the same exam. The twosome confess to being science-freaks, who spend most of their free periods reading up science books. "We are fascinated by science and love to explore its various aspects," said Shree. This year too they are appearing for the Young Scientist Exam for class IX students, and have already reached the practicals stage, looking all set for bringing home some more trophies.  

When the soul dances

When the soul dances

The evening of December 3rd was, in many ways, an unforgettable one for lovers of classical dance. The Gadkari Rangayatan, which staged the 11th Padmashree Nataraj Gopikrishna Sangeet Mahotsav, was jam packed with Kathak enthusiasts.
City-based Shree Ganesh Cultural Academy organises this annual programme in recognition of Dance Master Gopikrishna’s immeasurable contribution to the art of classical dance. Manjiri Deo, veteran dance teacher from Thane, who founded the Academy, was a student of Gopikrishna. Last Friday, when she performed on stage, she deliberately chose steps and moves that the great master had taught her. So enthralled was the audience with Deo’s performance that several times the auditorium resonated with requests of "once more".

When 68-year-old Asha Joglekar was awarded the lifetime achievement award for her contribution to the field of dance, Manjiri Deo’s husband, Sriram Sripad Deo, who hosted the programme, requested his wife to present the award. But Deo’s response was, "I am too insignificant in the presence of my Guru (Asha Joglekar) and I don’t think I am worthy of presenting an award to her." Joglelar, in turn, said in her speech that she would have been honoured to receive the award at the hands of one of her most talented students (referring to Manjiri Deo). It is this humility that is the mark of great individuals.

The evening was an unforgettable experience for lovers of classical dance from Thane. And why not, it was Indian culture at its best.
Go get it!
Here is an update on the National Science Congress, where students from Thane have often outperformed the others. Once again this year, our city is set to make a powerful impression at the national round of the Children’s Science Congress. As many as four projects, have reached the ultimate round – the highest from any one city. A remarkable achievement considering that there were a total of 800 entries from all over Maharashtra, out of which only 30 will represent the state at the national round, to be held in Guwahati between 27 and 31 December 2004. As usual, President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is scheduled to inaugurate the event.
Another unique aspect of this year’s congress is that for the very first time the Municipal Corporation Schools from Thane participated and one of the four projects selected for the national round is from TMC School No. 2. The project, titled " Ice Candy – The health Hazard" and guided by Sushama Rege, analyses the quality of water used to make ice by vendors of ice candy.
What’s more, Thane District coordinator Mrs. Sandhya Dharde, a teacher from Smt. Savartividevi Tharni High School, Vartak Nagar, has been chosen for The Best Performance Award.
Thane based Jidnyasa Trust, which is State Coordinator of National Children Science Congress for Maharashtra actively supported all projects from Thane. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa says, "We got valuable support from TMC’s Education Department and the Pollution Control laboratory, which testes water samples and provides results promptly. Of course, there were many individuals too, from schools, colleges and other organisations whose support made this possible."
That the students of Thane are bright is a known fact. Time and again, they prove their mettle against the best brains in the country. Let’s all wish the participants all the very best for Guwahati. Go get it!

Science for Society

Science for Society

Jidnyasa’s Science Square is a programme that brings students, teachers and scientists together for creating a better world. Science Square encourages students from various colleges to work on community issues by applying scientific methods. Earlier this year, when Jidnaysa launched the Science Square programme, the aim was to collaborate with research institutes and colleges to bring science out of the ivory towers and into the streets.

On October 29, 2004, members of Jidnyasa Vidnyan Munch (science platform) presented their research projects as part of the Science Square programme. Dr. Shyam Asolekar, head of department of Environmental Engineering at IIT Bombay and Ashok Datar, Director of Maharashtra Economic Development Council were the chief guests at the event. SYBSc students of Ramnairain Ruia College and B N Bandodkar College presented six projects as part of Science Square. Two class seven students from Thane, Sai and Jai, presented a special project titled, "Contamination of Water in Storage Tanks of Residential Societies in Naupada Area". Sai and Jai, who are members of Jidnyasa, won accolades from guests for their research, which found that in 25 per cent of all the societies in Naupada, water stored in tanks is heavily contaminated.

In his speech, Asolekar, explained the concept and background of the sustainable development. While pointing out the importance of the work done by Jidnyasa, Asolekar noted that this kind of work represents a global shift towards environmental consciousness. TMC Commissioner Sanjay Sethi, who was also present at the event, applauded students for their sincere efforts and also appreciated Jidnyasa for its commitment to the betterment of thane city.

According to Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee if Jidnyasa, Science Square stands for four points of a square: Research Institutes (BARC, TIFR and IITs), Colleges and college students, Private and Public Schools and its students and Municipal Schools and its students. The idea is that scientists and college professors provide opportunities to undergraduate students to conduct scientific experiments while simultaneously also benefit the society. The undergraduate students and college professors would train public and private school teachers and students who in turn will spread scientific awareness among the municipal schools and its students.

Two of the projects, one on Vermi-composting and the other on biogas, were for BMC and were supported by MEDC. Two projects were for TMC, where students analysed the chemical and biological composition of sewage channels in Thane. These were supported by the TMC. Two more projects were carried out in Dicholi Village at Mokhada (Thane District), an adivasi area. Students collected drinking water samples from schools and residential areas and tested for contamination and impurities. Senior professors like Dr Athale and Dr Borkar from Bandodkar college, and Leena Phadke and Varsha Shukla from Ruia college among others guided the students in the projects. "People think that NGOs and environment organisations act only during Ganpati festival. But that’s not true. We carry out community projects throughout the year. All projects carried out by students under Science Square address issues of social relevance," said Dighe.

Well known sci-fi author Carl Sagan said, "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology." There is no doubt that greater scientific awareness in the society will lead to better use of scientific research, discoveries and innovations. Students must be given adequate opportunities to learn science the practical way instead mugging concepts from books. Theory can go only so far, but real learning happens out there in the real world. Initiatives such as Science Square can go along way in raising the scientific quotient of the society at large.

City’s Science Score

City’s Science Score

In January, when we informed you about city-based NGO Jidnyasa’s appointment as the State Organising Agency (SOA) by National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), we promised to keep you updated on the Children’s Science Congress 2004. In keep with the promise, here’s the update.

The results of the district level round for this year’s congress were declared recently and 78 projects were selected out of 230 entries from the Thane District (the highest in the state). 12 of these 78 projects are from rural areas.

15 of the 78 projects are from Thane district, eight of which are from Thane city alone. This year’s theme is "Use of Water Resources for bright future". After the district level, the projects have two more elimination rounds, before the nationals – the regional level and the state level. This year, the state level contest will be held on 3rd and 4th December at Kolhapur.

The topics of the projects that have been selected from our city schools are evidence of the talent that our city has. (See table) Surendra Dighe, the managing trustee of Jidnyasa, is confident of a good performance from Thane kids. "With every subsequent year, the quality of the projects is improving. Last year, seven students from Maharahstra reached the final round (the highest among all states), three of which were from Thane. I see no reason why our city children will not make us proud again," says Dighe

Because this year has been declared as the "Year of Scientific Awareness" by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, we hope that students from Thane will repeat their wonderful feat at the National Science Congress. From the performance so far, the prospects look encouraging. On behalf of the residents of Thane, we wish the city-students the very best for their next round of the National Science Congress.

Meanwhile, watch this space for updates on the performance of city students as the Science Congress reaches its culmination between December 27 and December 31, 2004 at Guwahati.

Project Title Name of Student Class School
Rain Water Harvesting from Terrace Water Chaitra Pavgi VIII Saraswati Secondary School
Water Purification using biotechnology Ruccha Vakharia IX Srirang Vidyalaya
Water and Hygiene – Diseases from Water Sharvari Joshi IX Saraswati Secondary School
Water Conservation in Society Tanks Sai Apte VII Saraswati Secondary School
How to save water Kaushik Kamble VIII Savitridevi Chirani Vidyalaya
Use of Saline Water for Agriculture Sonia Karapurkar IX A K Joshi
Back to roots (How to water plants/crops?) Manali Bagavde VIII Saraswati Vidyaprasarak Trust’s School
Does water become stale? Amrita Kamble VII Dr Bedekar Vidyamandir

Children’s Science Congress
Organised by the National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), the Children’s Science Congress is the unique opportunity for children of all backgrounds and from all over the country to use their scientific attitude and talents. The major objectives of the programme include: (i) to provide a forum for the children to pursue their national curiosity and quench their thrust for creativity, (ii) to effect a change in the way science is taught and learned in our schools, by relating the learning process to the physical and social environment around and (iii) to stimulate scientific temper through use and internalisation of the method of science i.e., conservation, collection of data, experimentation, analysis and then arriving at conclusions.

Net Assets

Net Assets

If there’s one old economy sector that has undergone a complete transformation completely in the past few years, it is without doubt the Banking Sector. Take online Banking. Where earlier, just to withdraw some cash you had to wait for what seemed like an eternity just to withdraw some cash, you can visit your net-banking website today, log on to your account using a secure gateway and accomplish a number of transactions online, minus the long queues! Online banking is akin to a revolution. It has been hailed by many as the second greatest boon of the Internet, after email. And not without reason, considering that the extent of flexibility, convenience, speed and control it offers to the consumers was unconceivable even a few years ago. Many feel that online banking is the way forward for both financial institutions and customers alike and consequently this method of money management is continually gaining popularity and credibility.

So what’s so great about online banking? Lots. For one, with Internet banking, you can do everything that you can do at a traditional brick-and-mortar branch, only more conveniently. For another, it has completely changed the way we carry out our banking transactions. Today you can pay bills, download up-to-the-last-minute statements, transfer funds, pay for stuff, and even apply for loans, all from your desktop at any time of the day (or night!).

If you transact with the traditional open-four-hours-a-day type of a bank, consider this: In the middle of the night, you get an urge to find out the status of a certain important cheque that you have issued/deposited, you have no option but to wait for the next morning to find out. But, online banking is accessible 24/7. At time of the day, you have to simply log on to your bank account midnight and find out the status of that all-important cheque. Similarly, if you remember that you must pay your credit card bills just minutes before the due date expires, there is little you can do except for paying the penalty, unless you bank online and make that payment at 11.50 pm!

But in spite of these great benefits, there are many who are shy of banking in the web. The two major issues that prevent people from banking on the internet are security or safety concern and technology readiness.

How safe is online banking?
Before considering how secure online banking is, think about how secure your current payment methods are. If you write a check, use your credit card over the phone, carry it with you when you leave you your home, or use it at a restaurant, you have taken a financial risk much greater than online banking. With a check, the cashier, store managers, and check processing representative not only can get your name but also you bank account number. A credit card carries less risk but giving it over the phone to an unknown person, or to a waiter, who could easily copy down the information before returning it to you, also carries more risk then online banking. With online banking the information is not available to anyone but you and your bank, and online banks use passwords, encryption, and firewall security measures to protect your account. This is more security then you have when using traditional checks or credit cards.

Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with online banking too and it is better to be safe than sorry. Never store your online-banking account details and password in a place which can be accesses by someone. It’s advisable to store it in memory and keep changing the password occasionally. Also keep cryptic passwords, which are not easy to guess. For God’s sake, please do not store your birth date or anniversary or even your children’s birthdays as passwords. Try to have a combination of characters and numbers.

Worried about technology?
Many people are scared of using online banking because technology intimidates them or because they don’t want to learn new ways of doing old things. If you are one of them, I earnestly suggest that you spare some time and make a serious attempt to use this method of banking. Online banking helps you become more of a banker, running your accounts like a small business that you control every day. Once you get started, you’ll be hooked. Soon enough you’ll be checking your bank account as often as your e-mail. The Internet, and the technology that powers online banking, are both very user friendly. Try it – you will never have to worry about a bank holiday then.

How do I get an online banking account?
To utilise online banking services you need a PC with Internet access and either a bank account with a traditional bank that offers online banking, or an account with an Internet-only bank. Those interested in online banking should make enquiries with their usual bank. There are many useful resources online to help you do this and which provide a listing of links to many banks that offer online banking. You can then access the banks’ details and view information regarding the services that they offer and their terms and conditions for opening an account.

Technology drives Customer Experience

Technology drives Customer Experience

In this era of parity in product quality and product price, the only distinct competitive advantage is superior customer service. If employed sensibly, technology can be a potent instrument in effectively enabling organisations to provide superior customer service consistently. This was the central idea of the "FedEx Spirit of Success" seminar presented in association with The Economic Times General Management Review.

No matter how much business dynamics change the customer will always be the king. Modern managers must realise that marketing today, more than ever before, is customer-centric. And because today’s customers are more technologically savvier than before, their expectations of service and value-for-money have also grown shaping a more competitive business backdrop. With instant access to all the information on any product, the customers of today can make informed decisions. Unlike in the past when products and services created or destroyed value, today that is done by events and experiences, say C K Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy, authors of The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers (HBS Press, 2004).

But technology must be used prudently, for sometimes what is designed to serve the customers ends up doing the exact opposite: disservice. Unfriendly technology, however sophisticated it might be, is as bad as poor quality service. Organisations that employ technology will do well to remember that in the end, it is only a means to an end, not the end itself. Technology should serve us and our customers, and not the other way around.

A Hi-tech Experience
Technology-driven customer service and a corporate culture relentlessly focussed on exceeding service goals has been at the core of FedEx since Fred Smith first founded the company in 1971. Smith, who is Chairman, President and CEO of FedEx Corp., believes that change is permanent. Ever increasing customer expectations must be met with ever improving customer service. According to Smith, "Change is shorthand for opportunity, and if you can be a little bit ahead of shifts in business, the opportunities can be big."

To be ahead of shifts in business, you need knowledge. It is this need for the knowledge that The Economic Times General Management Review (GMR) fulfils. The knowledge of key managers and their ability to apply it is at the heart of all successful organisations. Year after year, evidence grows that those enterprises which proactively manage their intellectual assets see bottom-line results. Knowledge is now not only equated to power but also profits. Every quarter, GMR empowers its readers with high potency doses of business intelligence. As a multi-disciplinary platform for sharing and disseminating business intelligence, GMR captures the latest in global management best practices and the techniques to implement them.

The "FedEx Spirit of Success" forum, presented in association with The Economic Times General Management Review, was the third in the series of seminars organised jointly by FedEx and The Economic Times. The purpose of the forum was to bring out the growing importance of "customer experience in marketing and the use of technology in enabling such an experience".

Held at Bangalore, the technology hub of India, the forum showcased leading names from the industry. The Trinity Hall of the Taj Residency in Bangalore was filled with managers from the Bangalore business latitude as Shombit Sengupta, Ashok Waran and Vivek Gokarn shared their experiences. We present to you the excerpts.

Have technology, will build relationships
Ashok Waran, senior director of Oracle’s North America India Operations, spoke about the role of technology in managing customers. He started his presentation by revealing some interesting figures of the US auto industry. The marketing costs of the top three car manufacturers rose 87 per cent between 1996 and 2000, translating into an extra outflow of about 3000 dollars per vehicle. In the same period, the combined market share of the top three giants dropped four percent. This was in spite of the fact that 55 per cent of the marketing budgets are used for promotions – discounts and incentives.

According to Waran, push strategies are not as effective in these days of media saturation. Proliferation in TV channels and the emergence and growth of the Internet have shrunk the average attention span of the customer and it is much more difficult to reach the customer using these. There is need to understand the customer and his behaviour.

This is where Customer Relationship Management comes into picture. Waran said that business realities have changed. Customer today, armed with information, demands higher value. He has increased purchasing power, and a higher technological aptitude. It is easier to reach him one-to-one than via the mass media. On the organisational front, marketing budgets are being tighter due to higher media costs resulting in falling marketing effectiveness. Moving to a customer-centric approach from the traditional product-centric approach is a real challenge. The technological reality is that today customer data is available more easily than ever before. The data processing too is faster and more reliable leading to improved analysis quality.

Keeping these realities in mind, relationship marketing emerges as a strategic response and CRM deployment is as the strategic tool to implement it. However,   Waran warned that majority of CRM initiatives fail not because of poor technology but due to the "the three Ps" – people, process and politics. What is required for successful CRM initiative is an executive sponsorship of an enterprise CRM vision, investment in employee training and focus on processes.

Success recipe: Mix technology with human ergonomics
When international management consultant and founder of Shining Emotional Surplus, Shombit Sengupta took the stage, the audiences instinctively sensed an unusual presentation is in the offing. And their expectations were not wrong. Sengupta presentation was as colourful and cheerful as his attire and helped him deliver his message with solid impact.

Sengupta’s focus was on balancing technology with the human factor to deliver the ultimate customer experience. He fervently declared that to be truly effective, technology must blend with human ergonomics, or human engineering is it is popularly known.

He explained this using a four-dimensional model of technology-service design, which includes rational, functional and emotional attributes that are needed to address the ergonomic character of a human being. The output is the formation of a subliminal connection to the consumer. Later, he said, "The task is to make business appealing using technology as the rational factor." He beautifully demonstrated that technology is a necessary but not a sufficient aspect of delivering customer experience by showing a skeleton and a nude picture of Marilyn Monroe and asking a simple question: How do you prefer Marilyn – this way (skeleton) or that way (with flesh)?

Using several real-life examples, he explained that technology is the rational aspect, the non-visible system, which is like the skeleton, whereas work-enabling environment is the functional aspect, which gives the usage advantage and proactive service is the emotional aspect, which connects with the consumer. So, a luxury hotel with a powerful backend technology will fail to impress if there is a never ending queue of guests for checking in. Similarly, even after his 69th visit to your company, the receptionist asks the customer for a business card, will leave him rather disappointed, never mind how technologically sophisticated your company may be. Sometimes technology itself creates a problem. A customer is hungry and wishes to order food but simply cannot use the advanced (read complicated) phone system installed by the hotel. Or, a customer returns from the
freezing cold of Moscow, only to find himself freezing in the hotel room because he can’t figure out how to use the thermostat of the AC. Unfriendly technology is as bad as poor service quality, and together they make for inferior customer experience.

Sengupta ended his presentation by emphasising that technology should be employed to create outstanding experience for the customer. And to do so, it must blend with human ergonomics, he once again stressed.

The Marketing Loop
As he began the third and final presentation of the evening, Vivek Gokarn, CEO and managing director of SAS India, confessed that he had the unenviable task of keeping people’s interest from food and beverages. Besides, he was following Sengupta’s presentation, whose vibrant presentation even featured Marilyn Monroe in one of the slides! Gokarn who holds joint responsibility as CEO and managing director for both the SAS subsidiaries in India, namely SAS India and SAS Global Services, spoke about the role of technology in enabling superior customer intelligence.

Accoding to Gokarn, pain is endemic and pointed out that organisations use technology to alleviate corporate pains. All top managers – CEO, CFO, CIO, COO or CMO – have their own set of pains. The CMO’s pains include losing market share, increased advertising expenses, declining advertising response rates, losing touch with the customer etc.  

Gokarn focussed on the closed loop marketing process of "plan, target, act and learn" to explain how customer intelligence can be used to develop effective marketing strategies. Organisations develop their marketing strategies driven by various internal and external pressures such as profit objectives, competition, market and environmental forces etc. The objective of your marketing campaign could be acquisition of new customers or retention of existing ones or even cross selling/ up selling to the existing customers. The marketing and sales set up of your organisations supports your strategy objectives and reaches out to your customers using various channels like advertising, direct marketing, internet/email and SMS. The customer is right in the middle. He has a behaviour and risk pattern and also a profit potential, as seen from the organisation’s perspective. The essence of your marketing campaign is to learn from customers and use that learning to plan your strategy, and then target it back to the customers.  
You typically begin by creating customer insight using, for example, web analysis, surveys, media spend analysis, billed and unbilled call behaviour. Then you use this insight to create new intelligence by determining which of the solutions is most suitable in your case: customer acquisition, retention or (prevent attrition), cross sell/up sell, and so on. Based on this you adopt one or more of the many solutions like marketing automation, e-intelligence, web personalisation, campaign management, real-time interaction management, market/channel optimisation and so on. For example, marketing automation enables you to understand your customer information, optimise your customer interactions, and more efficiently plan, target, act and learn from your marketing campaigns, thereby increasing campaign efficiency and profitability. Gokarn highlighted the importance of maintaining a competitive differentiator throughout the marketing campaign. He also urged that key marketing performance indicators, must be used to measure marketing effectiveness at all stages.

Gokarn’s gave several with case examples of successful companies that have excelled in their endeavours to harness customer intelligence, and have used this intelligence to drive customer relationships and to enhance customer buying by understanding behaviour pattern of customers. Among the examples were Amazon.com (online bookstore), FedEx Express, 1-800 Flowers.com (a gift and convenience store in the US), Marks and Spencer and GE Capital.

For example, Amazon wanted to enhance shopping experience to improve profitability because they were unable to measure the impact of their ongoing efforts to improve personalisation for customers. Using the above method of acquiring and applying customer intelligence, Amazon.com now has a way to measure the impact of innovation, enabling them to roll-out something which is of value to the customers and profitable for their business.

The FedEx Way
In his vote of thanks, Jacques Creeten, managing director of FedEx India, revealed some interesting facts about FedEx’s thrust on technology. Creeten said, "Technology is one of the key drivers in our business. We spend about USD 1.3 billion per annum on technology development and we employ close to 5,000 information technology professionals who develop this technology." These IT professionals develop both internal technology needed by FedEx and external technology which FedEx uses to integrate itself with its customers. Technology is a great enabler and it allows you to do a lot of things – whether your objective is cost efficiency or better targeting of your customer base – you can build these synergies.

Creeten spoke about how FedEx started using technology to improve efficiencies inside the organisation. But he insisted that even though technology is extremely important, the human factor cannot be disregarded. "Even today, if you make a mistake, the way you react and the way you recover and fast and efficiently you do that, still requires the human element. To facilitate superior customer service requires, you require not only technology but also reorganisation and redeployment of people to make the organisation more customer-friendly and the people more customer-focussed," Creeten emphasised.
Technology not only enables your organisation but also your customer. It gives your customer much more power and much more flexibility than ever before. The customer experience that you provide becomes evermore important and you cannot count on just technology to make that happen for you. It is, in the end, just a tool that helps you run your business in a better way. You still need to hire excellent people and invest in building their skill sets to enable to them to use technology to make the right decisions.

Without naming the company, Creeten gave the example of a European airline that conducted market research in the nineties and they found out that more and more passengers were using laptops on the planes. The research told them that their customers were unhappy and that they would like sockets on their seats so that they could plug in their laptops and work while travelling, because the laptop batteries were lasting about 30 minutes. Over the next two years, they installed sockets on the entire fleet of 200 aircraft. By the time they finished, there were laptops with improved battery life that lasted for five hours. This demonstrates that market research doesn’t replace vision.