Where there is no ‘last mile in delivery’, and ‘one-time password’ is key

An ICT exec and a New Zealander of Indian origin, Sunit Prakash continues to be amazed at the changes brought by technology to his land of birth, seeing them through a geeky - but distinctly Kiwi - lens.

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Sunit Prakash

On my sometimes annual sojourn to Mumbai, I am always struck by the changes and adaptation of technology and its impact on life and human behaviour. 

I still see them through geeky - but distinctly Kiwi - lens.

Yes, I find that leaving Aotearoa is easy.

Excited as I was to sample the flight from Wellington to Singapore and then on to Bombay, for someone like me, the airline app, the lounge app, and Flight Radar 24 not only kept me good company, but made my journey comfortable, easier, and a lot more interesting.

As a seasoned traveller with homes in many countries, I have multiple SIM cards. 

Arriving in Mumbai, inserting the local SIM, turning the phone on, watching itself establish on Vodafone India and the familiar ding, ding, ding, ding welcome home messages... totally priceless!


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Say goodbye to expensive roaming charges: A sim card holder is invaluable to carry multiple sims for multiple countries

Having cleared customs, immigration, and baggage collection, and established on the mobile network, it was easy to order an Ola for the ride home. 

What a novel experience, I thought! A good Indian ride-share company in India, with what else but an Indian driver! 

My Ola account worked a treat, but I was surprised to see my New Zealand credit card details had not carried over on account of KYC (know your customer) to be re-done. 

The driver expected to be paid in cash, which I did with my “Indian taxi money stash” that had escaped demonetisation.

To my relief and surprise, my Uber account worked a treat and I could go cashless. 

In the days of the old black and yellow (or kaali – peeli) cabs, the drivers had local knowledge of roads and the fastest way to get to a destination. 

The ride shares depend on GPS, and more than once I have had to ask the driver to override their suggested routes. The auto-rickshaws of course had “native” intelligence on micro-locations.  

Delhi belly, indigestion, culinary colonisation, and Indian takeaways

I was looking forward to Mum’s cooking. She had switched to a tiffin service, so there was no home cooking for me! 

In the past, women like mum would cook lunches and a dabbawala would pick up the food, and using their six-sigma quality, deliver the home cooked meal to their children and husbands to their schools and offices through an incredible network and using Bombay’s local trains.

Mum’s switch to a tiffin service was the reverse.

“Home cooked” meal services have cropped in Bombay delivering nutritious religious-appropriate meals to homes.

When inviting friends for a meal, ordering in was the unanimous choice. Out came the phones. Zomato and Swiggy were launched. Everyone ordered what they wanted from where they wanted. Our table was groaning under pao bhaji, chole bhature, sitaphal ice cream. No match for Uber Eats.

Zomato is an Indian company, delivering Indian meals to Indian households in India. Not having a Zomato account in New Zealand meant I did not have the “ordering in another country” experience. Suffice to say not only did I set up an account, so did my Mum! 

And in a Spotify-like manner, both Zomato and Swiggy started to understand my taste buds and sure enough reviewed my eats and started to provide me with recommendations and “taste-breakers”!

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Indian food delivery company Zomato had Uber Eats for breakfast and delivers more than just Indian food

Restaurants now have a whole new channel to market. 

Niche ones, some of which were going out of business, now have a new lease on life. Others are not physical restaurants, but just kitchens with online presence and only deliver.

With these services, Uber Eats stood no chance and has been digested by Zomato in India.

Going the distance; and the size that matters

“Last mile delivery” does not exist in Bombay. There is no “last” mile. 

Stepping out of our local Gymkhana (sports club) and flagging down a rickshaw (note: rickshaw, rick, or auto, not tuk tuk), I needed a glucometer. 

The local pharmacist was called at 9:30pm. After our three-minute ride, the home delivery person was waiting at our front door. 

This was his fifth delivery to our place that day. We “micro-order” just enough and replenish frequently as required making this household so “Lean”, we could put Toyota to shame. 

The pharmacist, the convenience shop (or kirana stores), the street food vendors are always “around the corner”, never too far, less than 100 metres away, and always happy to deliver. 

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Amazon India Delivery Van behind Cooper Hospital, a new sight on the Mumbai landscape

Problems that Amazon and Uber Eats are trying to solve have been solved in Bombay long ago. These stores provide tough competition to the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

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The Android Auto in India has a slightly different connotation to what it means elsewhere. Assisted by a self-driving human, their knowledge of locales far surpasses rideshare drivers who depend on “dropping a pin” – a phrase that has now entered common parlance. 

I discovered later that these autos were also Uber Autos and hence the phone for the driver app; one could order an Uber XL, Uber Share, or Uber Black; one could also order an Uber Auto! 

Then, there is the corner microstore 

Started off as paan-walas, some have morphed into the Indian equivalent of a Japanese vending machine. 

Who knows how many SKUs (stock keeping units) they hold, but they generally have whatever you want? 

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If this paan-wala was a startup, I am sure my late father would have single-handedly bootstrapped him on account of the number of paan’s he bought from him (paan = betel leaf)

The packing is small, micro, sachet, or singular sized, and how they remember the price of each item is beyond me. 

You can purchase a single A3 battery; a single Gillette shaving cartridge; a 200ml bottle of flavoured milk; or sliced bread a quarter of the size of loaves in New Zealand supermarkets.    

Smart feeds

With my geo-location on, I saw content and ads in my feed changing. A sari ad targeted me while I am reading Stuff in Bombay! Clearly, this was an algorithm error as saris are not for me. I thought again, probably it was smarter than I am as it could be a reminder to pick up something for loved ones.

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A sari ad in my Stuff feed at first seemed to be a stuff up 

Changing location on LinkedIn also was interesting. 

Locations on the app were greyed out, I could only select Bombay as “my location”. Very smart, I thought. I could not “pretend” to be a candidate or job seeker in a country where I was not physically present.

And with that came LinkedIn’s Daily Rundown – a curated list of articles of what it thinks may interest me. Not seeing this feature in New Zealand, Australia, or the US, it could be an India-only feature or a brand-new one just rolled out.

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Daily rundown feature from LinkedIn is one I have not seen before. On account of the large population and sample size, the salary information on Indian tech resources was rich in LinkedIn Premium, something I had not seen in New Zealand

Google Places seems to be a little slow on updates. Google would be constantly badgering me to rate “Spruce Goose” when in Wellington. 

In Bombay, having visited a number of micro-breweries, clubs, gymkhanas, gyms, restaurants, physios, labs, and medical clinics, it was after three weeks that I was asked to rate the business I had visited, and that too, happened very sporadically.

In search of ‘the last mile’

India is when I do most of my reading. The books are some of the cheapest in the world to buy and to post. It may have something to do with promoting literacy or perhaps a left-over relic from the past. 

A hardcopy of William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy cost about USD 21.78 (or NZ$ 32.96) on Amazon. In India, it was INR 490.00 (or NZ$10.46).

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(The Anarchy examines the corporate entity, The British East India Company, which ran an entire subcontinent. The YouTube clips of the author William Dalrymple tells a fascinating story of corporate excesses, privatisation, international business, lack of governance, conflict of interest, and unbridled shareholder greed. Very easy to see parallels with modern global digital corporates whose services we all use every day).

India is the world’s largest producer of generic drugs, mostly bound for the US market. The Bottle of Lies looks at the dark side of Indian Pharma particularly Ranbaxy Laboratories, which in May 2013, admitted in an American court to selling adulterated drugs.

Indica talks of the little-known geological history of India, knitting it to familiar cities and locales. Having a bachelor’s degree in geology, this should be a fascinating book for me. 

So, in addition to thrashing my credit card on Zomato, Swiggy, and Uber, it also copped abuse from the Amazon India bookstore.

Amazon’s delivery is stunning. 

It remembers me and the locations where I have had stuff delivered in the US and New Zealand, my payment details, and painlessly and frictionless lets me order my books.

Then it helps me track my delivery from start to finish, telling me when the package is likely to be delivered. 

Finally, for peace of mind, Amazon sends me a “one-time password” or OTP so that only on giving the password to the delivery agent, will I receive the package.

OTP is ubiquitous in India and has entered common parlance. 

A large number of services are digital (Aadhar card or universal ID, driving license, banking, payments, travel, shopping, movie tickets, the list is long); and all of them involve SMS messages to confirm, followed by an OTP for authentication and security.  

There are lots of Kiwis in India - if you know where to find them

During my stay here, Asia New Zealand Foundation has had three interns at Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai. 

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Kiwi fruit hanging out in gangs of four at the street side fruit stall at Cooper Hospital

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Advertising education in New Zealand at the back of an autorickshaw in Andheri

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Auckland based Vista Entertainment’s software exposing itself at PVR Cinemas Juhu

Creative HQ ran a five-day workshop on ‘the ease of doing business with New Zealand’ for the state of Karnataka. Former Prime Minister Helen Clarke, Commodore Melissa Ross, Graham Morton, Principal Advisor MFAT, Suzannah Jessep Asia New Zealand Foundation, Dr Manjeet Pardeshi New Zealand India Research Institute, journalist Katie Bradford, and others attended the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi; and separately journalists Anusha Bradley and Abigail Dougherty of Stuff also visited India. Kiwi politicians from across the spectrum have just concluded - or are planning - their trips.

From students to global tech CEOs 

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