Sunday, September 08, 2013

BookMyShow pulls off a David

Once upon a time in India, multiplex phenomenon was gaining pace. PVR was the front-runner and industry leader by a large margin. Bookmyshow started on the shoulders of PVR. They provided ticket booking platform for PVR customers. Then someone in PVR observed that bookmyshow is doing well. In a typical Indian way of thinking, PVR thought: "They are growing because of us, we can launch our own online bookings. Anyway we have sufficient cash in bank account to hire a bunch of web developers." So they started parallel development in copying and building a better platform than bookmyshow.
One fine day, when the development was complete they pulled the plug on bookmyshow. I can imagine that would have been a traumatic day for bookmyshow founders. They would have tried to explain the value they can bring and all that .... but obviously PVR have already decided. When that happened, I felt really sad. I felt sad because I knew bookmyshow will close down and I knew PVR is making a wrong decision. In a short career of 10 years, I've already seen this script repeatedly played out in Indian industry. Profitable companies have this idol in form of Reliance Industries, which did vertical integration from textile to doing everything. They think since they have money and right political connections they can be next Reliance. However they don't realize that time has changed. Knowledge economy has arrived and red-tape'ism has reduced a little. Anyway I shifted to PVR's online booking platform for booking.
However to my surprise, bookmyshow refused to get bogged down. They just kept going. They started putting efforts on theater, events, sports, single screen cinema etc. They did this smart thing of displaying PVR show timing on their platform, which was anyway publicly available. Needless to say that user experience at bookmyshow kept getting better and PVR kept getting worse. Then again, I knew what will happen. PVR will eventually realize that they are loosing money on this ticket booking business. However since they have made the investment their managers will keep justifying the whole activity. Then eventually those managers will switch jobs and new managers will come and scrap the whole thing. However they will not go to bookmyshow due to ego problems. They will go to some other group of developers to develop competition for bookmyshow.
Then to my surprise, I saw PVR shows could again be booked on bookmyshow. I was so happy for them. In my startup, I've also been struggling with same problem : Trying to convince Indian clients that we can do better job than their in-house engineering team and it makes more sense. I believe we can do it much better. Its a story of  David against Goliath. Felt elated.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Solving Yamuna

Water-bodies are lifeline of almost all major cities of the world. Delhi is fortunate to have one of the grandest river in the country. Unfortunately today, Yamuna is one of the dirtiest river in the world. If this problem is fixed, then Delhi will simply become the best city in the world.

There are two broad problems, as highlighted in this image by 'Save Yamuna Project' website:
  1. Much of Yamuna's water is diverted for irrigation and not much of river water reaches Delhi. 
  2. Delhi produces enormous amount of domestic sewage and industrial waste, which is dumped in to the river.  
High Powered Committee recognized by Supreme Court of India provided this solution in 1998. The committee has done a good job in finding the cause of the problem, but the solution suggested is too simplistic and absolutely impractical. It does not addresses the following issues:

  1. If tributaries of Yamuna are not provided water at Hathini Kund Barrage, then there would be loss of water for irrigation in Haryana &U.P. How will that be compensated?
  2. The report suggests to treat Delhi sewage, without any dilution! Then re-use that treated sewage for irrigation/domestic/industrial use. That is too ambitious! 
  3. Technical feasibility of diverting the sewage to Agra canal is doubtful. Even if somehow this great feat is achieved, then for sure Agra canal will become a much bigger problem than Yamuna river ever will be.
Its hard to find a really good solution to this problem, sitting in Delhi. If one travels upstream the source of Yamuna and reads all the studies on the topic, then I'm sure a very wholesome solution can be found. I wish to take that journey sometime in future. However, for now I've thought of one quick solution based on some basic observations.

The simple solution lies in installation of best technology Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP's) of sufficient capacity. This is a really expensive proposition. It would be best to fund this by charging every residential and industrial waste creating entity. However installing this sewage billing-meter infrastructure is very difficult for most parts of Delhi and almost impossible for numerous unauthorized colonies.

A simple solution is possible by replicating success of another project on Yamuna - The Yamuna Expressway. This expressway has turned out to be the best highway in India. It was a really expensive project and was developed by a private company, in lieu of real estate land allotted along the highway. So a similar model can be adapted. Few small pieces of land from Wazirabad Barrage to just after the Okhla Barrage shall be  identified in the Yamuna basin. They shall be allotted to private company for real estate development, with following conditions:

  1. The land should be really close to the river basin and the developer should be given free hand in operating the Hathini Kund Barrage. He should operate in such a way that excess water during the monsoon is stored near the barrage and is used in other seasons. Since the land is allotted right next to river basin, the developer will have to invest in system to ensure constant flow of water in Yamuna river and tributaries is maintained, all year round. This seems very feasible. 
  2. The water supply to these new colonies shall be only from Yamuna water. Hence the developer shall ensure sufficient ETP's to treat the Yamuna water. 
  3. The developer shall be given free hand in operating non-polluting transportation system in the river. This can be another major revenue source for the developer, and hence another big motivation for them to keep the river clean.
  4. These colonies can be well connected with already existing very good road network along the Yamuna river in Delhi. Hence accommodation in these colonies would surely be most sought after. In most cities around the world the property along the river are anyway most highly priced. Hence this real estate development can easily fund the cleaning of Yamuna. 
There have been already development like Akshar Dham Mandir and Commonwealth village on the Yamuna basin. They are already affecting the ecological balance of the city. Hence, it shall be ensured that this new development is last development on river basin's Delhi stretch. This would ensure elite status to this development and maintain the ecological balance. This project should be taken up in PPP model, where the role of govt. should be only limited to land identification and tender floating. The tender shall be well drafted and citizens of Delhi shall be aware about this tender to ensure transparent implementation. I'm sure lot of companies would be most willing to take up this project. Including my own company :)  

    Monday, July 29, 2013

    Fundamentally Redesigning Metro Train Travel

    Increasing the speed of  metro trains is really expensive. The technological challenge of quick yet comfortable acceleration are to be overcome & accordingly safety infrastructure needs to updated. Engineers have been working on this challenge for many years now. However all efforts seem to be focused on having faster trains.

    Lets start afresh, with a blank sheet of paper. If we step away and analyse the time taken for a typical journey. The typical graph would look like this:

    Typical Travel Time Distribution at Peak Hours in Delhi Metro

    Data analysis is such a bitch! You can twist it the way you want, to take out the juice you want. Here, I intentionally created this category of acceleration and de-acceleration. You will see later, why :)

    The other thing to be observed is that in most of the stations, the number of people who have to board and de-board are really small. Taking case of Delhi Metro, for example from HUDA City Center to Civil Lines, there are only 3 stations in which large number of people get in and get out. Obviously, they are Central Secretariat, Kashmere Gate and Rajiv Chowk. The intersection stations. In all other stations (Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas, Green Park, INA etc.) only a small % (may be maxima of 10%) of commuters board/de-board the train.

    So, based on these observation and some chai-sutta session brainstorming with my colleagues at Mechartes, here is the proposed design:

    1. Rails: Each train can be designed such that it is running on 3 set of parallel rails. Apart from central rails (which is meter gauge), there are two more thinner rail tracks (0.25 meter gauge) on the sides. 
    2. Coaches: All the coaches in the train are wider than current coaches. They are divided in to three compartments. The central compartment has 80% area, on the sides are compartments each with 10% area. These two side compartments are detachable, just like jai-viru motor-bike in "yeh dosti, hum nahi chodenge" :)
    3. Train: The train moves at constant velocity. Once it starts from Huda City Center, then it stops only at Central Secretariat. In all the remaining stations in between, it keeps moving at constant velocity. 
    4. Stations: The intermediate stations are designed such that there are side compartments always parked there. Those side compartments have their own engine and they accelerate when the train is about to reach the station. When these compartments achieve velocity same as train velocity, then it get attached to central compartment. 
    5. Commuters boarding the train : They come in and start filling up the side compartments already parked at each station. The gates of these compartment automatically close, when the train is about to arrive or if the compartment is completely filled (whichever is earlier). When the train is about to arrive at station, then these side compartments start accelerating. The acceleration is intelligently tuned so that when they achieve the speed of the train, the train is running parallel to them in same speed. Then without any problem the side compartment gets attached to the main train. The separation door between the main compartment and side compartment is opened and commuters can freely move in to the central compartment. 
    6. Commuters de-boarding the train : They move to the side compartment of their coach. (Incidentally, there will be only one of the two side-compartment attached at all times. So, there is no confusion on which side I've to go to de-board.) When the station is about to arrive, the separation door between side compartment and central compartment gets closed. Then the side compartment gets detached from the central compartment and it slowly starts de-accelerating. This is again intelligently tuned, such that it comes to complete halt at the station. Then commuters can de-board, and new commuters can board this side compartment and wait for next train to arrive. 
    Voila! Chai khatam, problem solved :)  
    Think about this one. Although this sounds very sci-fi, but it will work. The current state of technology is more than sufficient to realize this new design of metro system. I dare say, this would be the fastest and most energy efficient metro system of the world. 

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