What is the best way to utilise the power of the internet? Satyam Darmora, founder of the retail Wi-Fi solutions provider company i2e1 says that the targeted communication based upon proximity, which leads to higher conversion rates, is the ultimate goal for businesses across sectors.
This week, Analytics India Magazine got in touch with Satyam Darmora, founder of i2e1, to understand how they were using the power of analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver information to millions of users.
Analytics India Magazine: It has been written about you that you hail from a small town which in turn inspired you to come up with an idea to share new technology with everyone. Please tell us about your relationship with tech.
Yes, that’s true. My first brush with technology was when I arrived at IIT Delhi. Otherwise, there wasn’t any medium that could inform me that there existed an opportunity like such. I realized that I wasn’t alone, there were so many individuals who wanted to transform their lives, but did not get the right information about opportunities that exist. That was, undoubtedly, the first time I figured out that even after being literate, people in remote areas are not well informed.
After graduating from IIM Bangalore in 2005, I was fortunate to work on cutting edge technology and data analytics platforms at American Express in a country like Japan. My stay in Japan fascinated me on how technology has transformed societies and made me think about the possibilities in India. Hence, I joined the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) in India where I got the opportunity to closely work with several entrepreneurs using technology to solve the problem for the poor. Overall, fortunate to have life experiences where I witnessed challenges as well as solutions that technology had to offer to overcome these challenges.
AIM: When was the first time you started dabbling with data analytics?
In 2005, I started working with American Express. Before the advent of modern e-commerce, banks and within banks credit card companies were the pioneer of data analytics. Do you know that between the time you swipe your credit card, and the slip coming out of the machine, various mathematical models are calculating the probabilities of fraud, default, and even the user dying before payment cycle?
I was fortunate to work in such an environment, playing with billions of data points and creating solutions. We created the first ever non-working women card for Amex, purely based on data analytics and it was a huge success.
AIM: How can i2e1’s business model for freeing wi-fi to be used by government initiatives?
i2e1 has created an innovative business model which works on a fraction of the cost and is financially sustainable. This means that using our platform, 1 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots can be set up, run and managed at an annual cost of just Rs. 100 crores. Compare this to Rs. 5,000 crores that the government has allocated for 2.5 lakh villages. This means significant savings for the government and hence this money can be used in other fields like education and health.
i2e1 model is highly scalable and is a Plug and Play (PnP) solution. This means that 1 lakh hotspots can be set up in less than a year. This will help the government achieve its mission of universal digital footprint at fraction of the cost.
AIM: Tell us about the role of data analytics at i2e1, especially the method of data collection
At i2e1, we all strongly believe that data is the new currency and we have built our entire business on the power of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Our teams come with strong experience in data platforms and are fully committed to data privacy of end users. We do not share any user level personally identifiable information with any third party.
Our data collection method is analogous to online cookies on the website. Our platform allows seamless access to users who voluntarily sign up on the platform. In return, in anonymous ways, we are able to understand offline purchase trends. For example, % coffee share across cafes, footfall using Wi-Fi as a medium, and strengthening loyalty programs for offline merchants. Today, we have more than 7 million users.
AIM: How should small to medium-sized retailers use data analytics to improve business?
Data analytics is nothing but an opportunity galore for Small Medium Businesses (SMBs). Analytics can provide extremely compelling insight about the customers, competition, industry and shops that can help businesses, especially SMBs, grow. Further, the idea of reaching out to customers at a time when they are in the vicinity has given a new dimension to the previously untapped arena given the limits of technology until recent years.
Via a simple Wi-Fi setup in the store, retailers can send content similar to a mobile application program that appears automatically on the mobile devices of consumers. These targeted communication based upon proximity leads to higher conversion rates, which is the ultimate goal for businesses across sectors.
AIM: Do you think the CXOs in any organisations need to have in-depth knowledge of data science to make sense of the gallons of information generated every hour in their companies?
Traditionally, CMOs of offline companies did not have data to make decisions. Hence, unlike their online counterparts, who have billions of data points, have to rely on conventional methods. Service providers like us understand this situation and hence have created solutions that have inbuilt intelligence and are easy to use. CXOs can leave the understanding of data science to specialists like us and focus on consuming this intelligence to make smart decisions.
AIM: What are some of the key challenges i2e1 faces?
Being a pioneer in the industry has been the biggest challenge for i2e1. We had to really work hard to create strong proof points to gain acceptance from a larger base.
AIM: What are your thoughts on India’s potential in the Analytics sector?
India has a lot to offer to the world when it comes to Analytics. China is coming fast on AI and ML which poses strong competition to India. There are two opportunity areas for India:
- Serving international markets and their needs using Analytics as a service. With strong and skilled manpower, India is becoming the go-to-market for large companies for their analytics needs
- Creating solutions for Indian needs and markets. India is unique in many ways and requires indigenous solutions. Analytics is going to play an important role in solving many of its problems both in business and policy area. A country of more than 1 billion requires it now more than ever
AIM: Like many other sectors do, do you think humans can be replaced in data analytics by machines/robots/chatbots?
With the advent of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, a lot of rule-based analytics may become redundant. This would reduce dependencies on humans for repetitive tasks. However, the science of analytics is unlimited. The power of the human mind and faith will help open new areas and opportunities that will be led by humans and only executed by machines.
AIM: Is there a need for analytics policies in India
Yes, starting from data ownership to usage of data, India requires clearer policies and guidelines. These must be customised as per Indian conditions and made in the best interest of our development. We must not get biased with policies from the rest of the world because of the different context that we come from.
AIM: What are the new project(s) you’re currently working on?
We believe that access to information should be free and fundamental to all. And, we solve for ‘Information Asymmetry’.
Businesses today face a real challenge in sharing information with their customers in personalised ways. Websites were meant for online businesses and do not solve real problems for offline businesses. Further, with multiple digital presences like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., it is impossible for a user to find curated information about businesses.
Our solution to this problem is Linq. Linq is the fastest way to share information about an offline business. Linq is a single, unified and updated digital identity for businesses – small, medium or large. Think of it as Aadhaar, but for businesses.
With all business information including contact, location, address payments and social media in one place – this will be the only Linq one will need to share with people. While all the information about the business may change, it gets automatically updated on your Linq. Linq never expires.