Sunday, December 4, 2011

What are our priorities?

 Past couple of weeks I have come across a very disturbing observation - organizations are spending more on irrelevant and sometimes unnecessary renovations running into lakhs, but are reluctant to spend a few thousand Rupees on Security issues.

In the first instance, a trust running a hostel for men has deferred their plans for CCTV system as they have spend over 20 Lakhs on renovating the bathrooms. Cost of CCTV system - 2 lakhs - just 10% of the amount spend on bathrooms.

In the second incident, a huge residential complex which is again spending lakhs on beautification has approved a meager 3 lakhs for CCTV vis-a-vis lowest quotation of 3.5 lakhs. This has effectively killed the project as no vendor wants to work at that price and once the beautification is done, they would not want to re dig the road.

In spite of heightened awareness about the importance of CCTV system and the constant pressure from Police to install CCTV systems., there is a reluctance to spend money. This mind set has to change. In one Society, they are saving about Rs 40,000 per month by using Biometric access control on basement doors and removing a total of 8 guards. Cost of setup - Rs 60,000. So the investment has paid for itself within 2 months! with an additional bonus of enhanced bonus.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Me Anna Hazara

The latest buzz word is Anna Hazare. Everyone is professing support to his fight for the Jan Lokpal bill. I  admire his bold initiative and the way he has brought the govt to heel. Unlike Baba Ram Dev, the govt is on a backfoot here. The huge groundswell in his favour is truly amazing. In all this euphoria about the new Gandhi, two things keep bothering me:
1> We already have very strong laws and it has been proved without doubt that it is not sufficient to have strong laws - the law enforcers must have the determination to enforce them. Heavy penalties, fines and jail terms merely mean that you have to fork out bigger bribes to escape. Sometimes people get away even without bribing as the laws are not enforced. How many of us are aware that Mumbai's laws on cleanliness are stronger than much-admired Singapore's laws? The difference is in the implementation.   
2> Everyone wants the "system" to be cleaned. But what is the system? It is made up of us. Remember, under existing Indian law, the briber giver is eaqually guilty as the bribe taker.Instead of pointing a finger at the system, we the people have to change and when that happens, we will not need the Lokpal bill. Look at the state of Mumbai's roads which are an epitome of corruption. The same cartel has been cornering tenders for nearly 3 decades and getting away with it. To hell with DLP, penalties and blacklisting clauses. Now what if this same cartel used the same collective bargaining and after winning the tender, come to a common understanding that they would build the best roads with the money and not pay a penney to the corrupt politicians / officials ? Revolutionary thought isn't it? But that would be a very difficult path to tread. Better to blame it on the system, part with the officials' share of the loot and continue with the game. As an aside, I wonder what the wives and children of these contractors must be thinking when they travel on such shoddy roads?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Certification for Security solution providers

The police probing into the Rs 15.22 lakh burglary at the Union Bank of India’s Dadar branch on Friday have been unable to get a clear photograph of the culprit despite going through the CCTV footage. The CCTV cameras did not have night vision. The staff learnt about the burglary after they came to work around 7.30 am on Saturday. The door and the strong room were found open. From the footage, the police have learnt that the burglary took place between 8 pm and 9 pm on Friday.

Was the Bank being pennywise and pound foolish by not using night vision cameras? Were the Bank officials unaware of features like e-mail alert and alarm based on motion detect? Was the vendor not competent enough to recommend a better surveillance solution which would have cost just a few thousand Rupees more?

While novice players are the bane of every industry, such untrained system integrators in the Security business are harmful not only for the clients but for Society at large. There has to be some sort of certification for solution providers and only qualified vendors must be permitted to operate. Will the various associations like FSAI,  ESAI etc. take a note of this lacunae?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cause for Concern

It is heartening to know that people are becoming security conscious and have started installing CCTV systems for safety. In the UK, CCTV operators must be licensed by the SIA (Security Industry Authority), and to obtain a license they must show they have been appropriately trained. In India, most of the vendors (myself included) do not have any formal qualification or certification and whatever knowledge we have is based on experience. There is no certifying or monitoring authority like in the case of Financial Investments or Insurance. This leaves the field wide open for everyone to become an “Expert” and sell solutions. Unfortunately, very few vendors are equipped with necessary skills to provide an effective solution. These so called experts sometimes implement a solution which is not at all effective.

Moreover, as this involves creating infrastructure, such mistakes are not easy to reverse in a cost-conscious Society. This also leads to a general perception that such solutions are not effective. While some of us have taken the pains to understand the technical aspects, many of the vendors just put together a solution designed to fit the clients’ budget. No effort is made to access the requirement and to educate the client about the best possible solution.

For example, most camera systems are designed to observe human activity. The application, however, can range from crowd control / public safety (where the movement of large numbers of people needs to be monitored over a wide area) to access control (where close-up, high quality imagery is required to enable individuals to be identified). The choice of CCTV camera in particular will depend on the nature of the activity to be observed.

You may wish to:
Monitor a large area
Detect individuals approaching a building
Observe the actions of a group
Recognise known individuals at an entrance
Obtain images that would enable you (or the police) to identify an unfamiliar individual

The above example illustrates the need to select a vendor who has the indepth knowledge of the subject and the patience to evaluate and propose an appropriate solution. Merely selecting the one with the lowest quote or handing over the project to an existing IT vendor can lead to a disaster.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Networked David V/s the Standalone Goliath

The Dhaval Valia v/s Vodafone episode has a lot to teach us about the power of Social Media. Off course most of the credit has to go to Dhaval for the level-headed way he fought the war. He also maintained a record of all his correspondence with Vodafone.

There is learning in this for Vodafone also - it is not sufficient to monitor tweets and follow tweeps mentioning them ( I had also tweeted about them and was followed instantly). The people entrusted with this task have to be sensible enough to handle the issues raised. And for a service oriented company in a highly competitive market, it was sheer stupidity to sue a vocal consumer, more so when his claims of poor infrastructure can easily be verified.

This incident also proved that the virtual and real world are enmeshed - the story was picked up by Mumbai Mirror and NDTV. Let's hope other corporates monitoring social media use media for positive interaction with customers and use the feedback and comments to improve their products and services.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why do we compromise on Security?

Every day the newspapers are full of stories about robberies and thefts of valuables. The sad part is that most of these can be prevented by investing a small amount in security devices. Yet, we never give priority to such expenses. Even if a high risk group  like Jewellery stores spend on Security, it is just a token investment. Most of the Jewellers have installed CCTV cameras by now. But are these systems installed by the friendly neighbourhood computerwalla effective? Just glance through all the reported robberies from Jewellery stores in the recent past - the theft is discovered in the morning when the shop is opened. The CCTV system is just a mute spectator and is used for post-mortem of the event. Tragedy is, for a small amount more - as little as a couple of thousand rupees, these passive recording systems can be converted into active monitoring tools which can generate e-mail alerts in case of intrusion or sound an alarm or even switch on the lights. To be fair to the Jewellers, it is possible that they are not even aware of such capabilities.

It is up to the vendor to educate potential clients about the features and additional capabilities of the systems and leave it to to the clients' discretion about what level of security they require.Most vendors due discuss these with the clients, but some small time vendors are more interested in offering the lowest quote and bagging the order rather than spend time with the client and explore the best possible solution.

There is a need for an awareness campaign, but who will execute this? Who will bear the cost of educating high risk segments? What would be  the mechanism of information dissemination? Answers and comments welcome.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Pitfalls of MNP

The long awaited MNP is here finally ! I was so excited. I generated my Unique Porting no (just send an SMS PORT to 1900 - but you may not want to do that after reading my first hand experience). Any guessess for the 2 providers involved ?

The first indication that the actual story was going to be different from the script drafted by TRAI was when I got a call from my existing provider (the donor ). The chap at the other was literally pleading that I reconsider my decision to port my number. He offerred all sorts of discounts and free beeies. TRAI mandates that providers do not attempt to contact the user and try to retain him/her. So much for TRAI's guidelines.

Exactly a wek after giving the request, I started getting complaints from people that my number was coming as switched off. I releasied that MNP must have kicked in. I inserted the SIM of the new provider. Lo & Behold! My number was working with my new provider ! It was a small matter that no one bothered to inform me.

But the complaints of not reachable continued to come in. Further investigation revealed that users from my old network could not get through. Could it be because I had removed the SIM and my no was still active in the old network? Contacted both the providers - but no response. I tried the only option left - I got hold of a handset and inserted my old provider's SIM - as suspected the no was active on the old network. So here I was in a peculiar situation - I had 2 sim cards from 2 different providers, both with the same no and both active. Calls from the old provider's network were received on the old sim, calls from all other networks were on received on the new set for one whole day,

In my next post I shall describe my travials for Blackberry service activated

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Viral Effect of Social Media

Recently I have been observing the good side of Social Media .. be it the Chaka Jam movement started in Mumbai or Its Your Turn Crusade of Bhavin Turakia or the recent campaign against cnorruption in support of Anna Hazare's fast. The last is a classic example of how traditional ways can leverage their reach and effectiveness by harnessing the power of the social media.

Support for Anna Hazare has spread like wildfire, aided by facebook posts, tweets and broadcast messages on BlackBerry Messenger. Public opinion is been built on the fly, with one RT (retweeted ) message even dishing out the President's number and asking people to call up and register their support for the Lok Pal bill !

National issues apart, localised websites are also leveraging social media sites to spread news far, wide and FAST. A prime example is the web site which uses facebook status updates and twitter to diseminatej local news and comments / enquires / requests from residents of  Powai area. Manoj Nayak, the creator of the site is doing an excellent job and his site is a role model for other areas to emulate.

Sucn examples highlight the empowerment of the Aam Admi through the usage of Internet. More power to the Net !