January 31, 2013 | Written by: Philip Malayil
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Traffic in Bangalore has many elements of Russian Roulette. You set out and the risks take over. Detours, delays, near-misses and finally the thrill: when you walk into the meeting room with seconds to spare.
While in certain circles you would need to drop names, in Bangalore you can hold an audience by merely charting a route through lesser known back alleys with fewer signals, connecting point A to point B, bypassing clogged thoroughfares and current route diversions. The city is probably an ideal candidate for an IBM intelligent transportation solution.
For the 2,000 or so parents of Baldwin Girls High School, situated in the heart of the Central Business District, whose children travel by the school bus, the daily anxiety takes a toll. Kids have to reach homes 15 kilometers away–over an hour under typical conditions, and if the bus is delayed parents waiting at bus stops or homes often fight a barrage of frightening thoughts.
Calling up the driver is an option but with his immediate responsibility in hand, the calls–especially on the really dire days–many times go unanswered. This would lead to frantic calls to the school office. And other than words of wishful comfort, their only visibility also depended on talking to the driver.
About a year back, a Bangalore-based technology vendor brought a proposal: tracking every bus on its daily route and sending real-time text messages to parents’ cell phones keeping them informed about the journey and the estimated time of arrival at a particular stop.
The proof of concept was soon implemented as a free service to parents. In the mornings, 5 to 10 minutes before the bus would arrive, there were a series of text messages tracking its progress and giving an ETA for the specific stop. Similarly in the evening from the time the bus left the school until it reached the particular stop, text messages would sequentially track the progress. Each parent received the alert for his or her particular stop.
Parents who had to juggle tasks and chores before reaching the bus stop now had peace of mind. They could time their pickup. Also delays because of traffic conditions were broadcast in real-time.
After a month of free trial, parents could register for continuing daily updates at a 10 percent additional surcharge to the monthly transportation fees.
The Cloud Solution
As a parent and a recent follower of cloud computing, curiosity led me to Google the solution. And to my surprise it turned out to be cloud-based. Seems the idea was conceived by the vendor in 2009 and took 18 months to develop.
Using an IaaS from a public cloud provider seemed to work to the entrepreneur’s requirements:
- Saved Capex on a new product development.
- Flexibility to scale as per business requirements, proportional to the number of schools joining the program.
- Data with limited security risks; cellphone numbers of a subset of parents is probably the most sensitive data.
- Monthly service charge, reasonably low to ensure continued subscription by parents.
As an added feature, an Android app was subsequently introduced to trace the bus on your phone.
The Cloud Economics
Among the competitors to this particular vendor; one is a telecom major (revenue: US$ 580.76 million) leveraging cell-sites in the city to offer GPS tracking services. This offering has the most economic monthly service fee, but sans bells and whistles like fuel-level monitors, which benefit the school administration.
Another is a global SI and consulting enterprise (41,000 employees) offering a SaaS model, which proves to be more expensive for the parents.
A third competitor is a 10-employee shop and still testing the waters in the city.
Whether cloud is a game-changer in this particular solution area is open to discussion, but it seems to have given a platform for the small and medium entrepreneur with ideas to hit the ground running and pitch his value proposition to the market, without worrying about the baggage of infrastructure.