Digital transformation of God’s Abode

Temples, churches and mosques are places where faithful and seekers congregate to see, witness, experience or participate in religious and spiritual experiences. Some throng to quench their spiritual thirst, some to marvel at the colossal architecture and beautiful carvings, some to seek their wishes and some as an errand. Right from early civilization, they have functioned as a solace cistern, as rich cultural platforms creating novel dance and music formats, community ports involved in birth, marriage and many more stages. These structures form the foundations on which the faith rests strongly and they witness sea of humankind passing through them. Blue Mosque is visited by five million people annually, while Tirupathi temple receives about 203 Million people. It is not that only these large temples draw the crowd, even smaller ones witness sizeable participation from locals and visitors. India with 205 religious auspicious days a year, and more than 69,000 temples and many churches, mosques and synagogue is a happening place. Many of these smaller institutions face challenges on grants, support and upkeep. Some function under government bureaucracy, therefore their upkeep and running is a tough affair. Some temples are family managed, or by the villagers themselves and face a problem of continuity. Migration, regional expansions, industrialization and rampant resource exploitation has robbed many of their lands and means of sustenance. Religious institutions of all hues can benefit from digital technologies in three primary areas: Devotee management, donations and infrastructure management.
Devotee management involves advance reservations for seva’s, crowd management, on the spot tickets, distribution of Prasad and others. Faithful steward, WorshipTrac, FlockBase, Minebiz, Kshetrasuvidham, Kshetra, Mohid, Emaze are some of the software available to deliver devotee management and administration workflows. Platforms like onlineprasad or e-Prasad deliver temple Prasad directly to devotees. Devotee management includes not just on premise experience, but ones that caters to off premise engagement too. Due to migration, physical challenges and other constraints many a men and women may not be able to a treat themselves with a rich spiritual and cultural experience. AR/VR experiences can help people to cherish these moments without actually being at the place. Grand scale events such as Mahamastabhisheka of Gomateshwara or ISKCON Chowpatty have successfully worked with Kalpnik to provide an immersive virtual experience to all those devotees and tourists. A smartphone to scan the QR code, s simple 2G connection and a 3D spectacle was what was required to relish the happenings. Brainseed Factory’s Mecca3D delivers a rich virtual tour of Mecca, Haram the world’s largest mosque and Islamic history. Millions of faithful who can’t visit Mecca due to distance, cost, and physical challenges benefit from these virtual experiences. Startups like Spirituallygood are bringing an integrated platform of advance reservations, social media and member devotee experience on to a common page. With this the devotee can book in advance, share the photos and experiences on both temple’s page and her personal page, can send an invite to friends and donate for a particular puja or a cause like feeding widows or cattle. Devotee and tourist help create more information about the deity and place, increase awareness and followers to the temple. Heritage temples endowed with parchment paper or Talapathra scripts realize they need to digitally archive these to preserve the valuable information, but also help many consume the same in the form of e-books.
Donations are key source of all major religious institutions. Donations are required to maintain structures, deck the statues and halls, pay for the staff and priests and conduct elaborate events on special days. Using digital technologies, religious institutions can obtain tighter alignment between sources of funds (individuals, corporates, institutions and government), increase reach and deepen engagement of volunteers and donors. What most temples and mosques need is donations of kind, support for say restoring a gopuram or a minaret. Procuring these skills may be difficult for temples and government run temples may use locally available contractor who has no knowledge of the agama Shastra’s or the age old building techniques. Donation of time and efforts is where digital technologies may play significant role. Any person volunteering for a temple may find information about various temples that requires volunteers and she can select and participate for a particular activity at a particular temple of choice. These platforms thus allow not just Arpitha sea’s but also precious support required to run the mammoth activities of a Bramhotsavam or a Baisakhi langar. These platforms also facilitate an individual devotee post about a particular program, say revival of an old structure or an abandoned temple and request for support. These platforms provide not just an opportunity to take part in activities of interest, but actually own and drive an initiative. The platforms thus help increase the reach of temple and personalized involvement at the same time. . Startups are also exploring AI tools for recommendation about Pooja, auspicious times to conduct/visit temples according to ones’s horoscope, and suggestions on appropriate donations.
Temple administration and infrastructure management is another area where digital technologies can play a big role. Booking of accommodation, managing shops and establishment owned by temple, administration of transport and human resources, and prasadam management is where digital technologies can drive efficiency and effectiveness of the operations. Inventory management, ticketing systems, transport management, contract and rent management are areas where software from companies like SAP, Quest informatics, Synergize, Shivam software, Sopanam and many others offer point solutions that may be used by temples. Key to digital transformation is to create an integrated system, not point solutions as pursued by now. IT administration is a major issue and most temples do not have sufficiently qualified manpower to manage it. Digital transformation must be therefore all pervasive, devotee centric, efficiency driven project. Digitization must help religious institutions realize better devotee engagement, higher margins for their merchandize, increase reach beyond physical arena by using webinars, campaigns.
Board administrators need systems that allow visibility of allocation to priority areas, shared responsibilities and outcomes. Boards also need systems to manage their overheads, what % of the donations spent on HR & other areas and what % of the funds used for effective development of the institutions itself. Digital transformation must therefore connect not just CRM, Inventory management (rooms, marriage halls, shops, and commodities), social media and payment gateway, but also financial system-of-record. Digital transformation does not just mean automation and elimination of manual roles, especially of those that are prescribed in ancient texts. It is more about preserving and enshrining the rituals as prescribed in scripts by self-sustained institutions. Digital transformation is also engaging believers, devotees and tourists. Digital transformation must facilitate higher donor/volunteer involvement, deeper cultural immersion and revival of these institutions. Boards and administrators must embrace digital technologies to provide better spiritual and devotional experiences.
Dr TR Madan Mohan

Business Model Innovations in SMB: roles Boards play

Across world, as Small and medium business (SMB) grapple with cheaper imports, raising costs of doing business, and slowing down of customer confidence, their boards get worried about growth and profitability.  Many SMB Boards businesses realize they have been prisoners of their past. Their business model and its components (including sales, marketing and organization) that served them well in the past have not kept pace with current environment.  Board have a significant role in redefining the business model of the company, directing and supporting the required changes to build a strong future.

1.    Foreseeing newer “friction”

SMB Boards are not only to meet the regulatory and corporate governance requirements they are also custodians of the company’s growth. Since the executive management is involved in execution, Board has a major role in looking ahead of emergent market and technology conditions, and identify where “friction” exists and how their company can benefit. They also have a role in preparing the executive management and owners to see the trends in horizon and preparing them for exploration and commitment.

2. Recasting to address “emergent friction”

In many SMB, executive management is often engulfed with day to day working and may not have a visibility or understanding of how to repackage a service or rewire a product with some alliances. Board can initiate discussions on productization of services, bundling of experiences and unbundling of groups. Business model innovation is an evolutionary model, happens in multiple stages. To start with, Boards must seek “leverage points” around existing capabilities and resources to address “friction spaces” in the market. Boards may realize moving away from manufacturing to trade and services highly profitable and executable business model innovation. In some cases the boards may find morphing from a product manufacturer to a “service marketplace offering after-sales for many producer” better business model to pursue.

3. Exteding the engagement model

As industries evolve, business relationships evolve from multiple vendors to strategic partners. With evolution of industry, Clients would like to reduce the total transaction cost of managing multiple vendors and prefer to engage one partner. What this means is that SMB has to evolve from a vendor relationship to partner management mode. Boards have to support executive management in knitting together deeper engagement models that can be more of the “managed form”, including BOT, BOOT and others.

4. Engaging and exploiting ecosystem

Often SME fail in deriving competitive advantage from ecosystem players including academia, industry associations, government bodies and standard setting organizations.  Board have a critical role to play as the gatekeepers and enablers in initiating programs on external linkages. Ecosystem play can be for fine tuning existing services, or acquiring certifications or standards or even access to key technology or access to restricted markets. Country of origin effects, technology credibility, fund raising challenges, or market access dissipates with appropriate use of ecosystem for business model innovation. Boards may play a major role in scripting the engagement, defining boundaries, revenue sharing and market signaling approaches.

5. Talent and expansion

What we have observed is talent (both internal and external) is a key for business model innovation. Internal leadership is required to relieve the senior executive management pursue newer models, and ensuring BAU runs with improved profits to sustain innovation is key.  Boards play a key role in identifying and suggesting alternate platforms and approaches to hire and grow talent.

6. Prioritize and risk management

Corporate risk management is a major charter for Board.  While it can’t be involved in actual day-to-day risk management, Board plays a crucial role by its oversight and foresight role. Board must evaluate the comprehensiveness of the risk management policies and procedures adopted associated with the business model innovation. Boards must ensure the business model innovation has a nice balance between growth and profitability, financial and risk. In some cases, for related business model boards set a max limit of 20% of the net profits as a seed investment to prove the concept and viability. Boards must seek clarity on outputs and outcomes from the business model innovations.

Given limited executive management bandwidth, Boards do have a stellar role to play in the business model innovation charter of the small and medium business (SMB).  Some Boards, have even nominated an independent director to drive these changes along with senior executive management team so that legitimate expansion and de-risk options can be pursued. In some cases, Boards have approved a skunk team, shielded from day to day work, to explore newer business models and rewire their business. Whatever the approach used, Boards have a role to play in supporting and directing business model innovations while assuring the investors and stakeholders a profitable, sustainable and de-risked business.

Dr TR Madan Mohan and D Balasubramaniam

Riding the Podcasting Wave

Of late many marketers are realizing good audio can be equally effective as a great picture or video. Companies in B2B and B2C markets are using podcasts to engage customers using good old Radio chat format or just plain talk. Podcasting, simple put is audio records that can be accessed from anywhere. Podcasts can be around a product or service offered, talk about company’s culture or credibility building with case studies and experience sharing. Marriott Hotels, Shopify, IBM, GE and many more have successfully used podcasts as a means to reach out to prospective customers and differentiate their offerings.  Podcasts are a great means to reach out to customer who may be more aural in their learning orientation. Podcasts are also useful vehicles to build communities of consumption for fashion, hosiery, education and advisory sectors.

Podcasts can come in many avatars. Most common ones are solo, co-hosted, interview, documentary, and round table format. Solo Podcasts have only one narrator who anchors the podcast. Keeping the narration peppy, interesting and experience or insight led are keys to successful solo podcasts. Co- hosted is the most widely used format wherein host(s) and guest go over a particular topic. $100 MBA, with its tongue in cheek banter, is a classic example for a co-hosted podcast. Co-hosted can be successfully used to position the experience of your company, its capabilities, share client stories or product innovations. Interview format typically has a senior executive interviewed by a host(s) and couple of specialists pouring ideas over a cup.  Marriott Hotel’s “Behind the Design” is a classy and successful podcast where the hosts interview a variety of people, talk about various issues and contextualize the experience around hospitality. Interview formats work best when the objective is more about reach than substance. It also works best for user-driven content generation campaigns. Roundtable format is a large size replica of interview format, best suited to showcase multiple perspectives around a product or service or a topic. Documentary type podcast is usually used to trace the historical roots and expansions of a company or a product.

Whichever format is used, some common rules make a podcast sail above the rest. Some companies use an external artiste with a baritone voice for professional speaking, often to address company of origin effects. Others play authenticity as a card showcasing their senior executives presenting their products and services.  A strong story telling experience with nuanced voice modulation and little theatricals work wonders. The general length of the podcast depends on the topic, but on an average it should range anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes. A Podcast will generally require more than a $50 USB Microphone and hosting plans that cost less than a sandwich. The Title, content and the length of a Podcast too are important factors to consider when you look at the type of listeners you are targeting. While scripting a podcast, ensure you have a great mix of emotions: humor; drama, and mystery. Chisel words carefully for effect, especially the closure. The Podcast can be hosted on popular platforms including: SoundCloud, followed by Podbean, BuzzSprout, Lisbyn, etc. Each have their own advantages and you can choose the one which best suits your needs. Podcasting platforms also come with analytics that can help you get finer insights. The content creators can now track more granular information including device level, city level and time of consumption.

Although Podcast won’t go viral like the images or the video, it surely can generate a sizeable number of downloads. To increase the virility of podcast companies may employ following strategies. Put a picture or a video with the Podcast. Example, Adam Carolla uploaded American images and videos so that Americans could beat the Brit. Secondly, put write SEO worthy content around your podcast. Titles play the deciding factor when a person wants to listen to a Podcast, so it is necessary to have a title that brings about interest in the topic being narrated. Distribution plays a major role in success of your podcast. ITunes has about a billion podcast subscriptions it would be a wise move to host your podcast as many people would end up seeing your content and this is a chance to get your content to go viral. Use other social media like Pinterest and LinkedIn to increase the reach and interest in your podcasts. Cross promotion with other Podcasters is also another way to draw traffic to your podcast. Finally, working with influencers, mostly paid is an approach that could be used to increase number of listeners. Sites like “Influence.co” lists the Influencers who could be actively engaged for this purpose. We can only brag and drum about our content for a certain while, and likes and feedbacks may not be helping you much. Succotosh, The Timbre and other sites offer 3rd party review of your podcast and fine tune your overall content and its packaging.

Podcast is an affordable and simple medium that works best for companies which do not have major investments into visual mediums. Combining Podcasts with other social media assets enables a company to pursue a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Vijay Krishna J, Junior Consultant (Marketing)