Where Do I Start?

This will not be easy, I have decidedly been off the grid to give changes in our surroundings a fighting chance. My friends said I am not bullish on the tech sector + government action and PMR Items. They say, progress takes time. How much longer should we wait for things to get better?We are a nation in waiting it seems. Our governance rhetoric has not changed, there is one entity in charge of the country really. That shall not be named. Lets look at the alleged digital progress we are making under the new government and under the tailors of technology(*some insights from a previous article).

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the following tweet the other day.

Before we get in to the UI/UX, the App it self or the aesthetics or functionality of the screen shot embedded in the tweet. Let us first reflect on the messaging. As best I can remember we are a free market economy, so how can a DC *(Public Servant) tell local constituents to stop buying fruits and vegetables from the market. Among the listed mandate of the DC is “He is responsible for efficient use of public resources for the integrated development and effective service delivery.[1]” I am confused how can a public servant actually work to dis-intermediate free market systems and economics.

This clearly had to be investigated further. For an app that is made for the Awam, lo and behold it default loads in English, Albeit credit where its due it has a visible Urdu toggle. So once inside that App, todays vegetable rates for example would not load up(Re tried at 12th Jan./2020).

NO Products Found-

The rate part is great. People deserve to know what if any control rates are in place so that they get a sense of benchmarking. We know circa last 70 yrs that those rates do not hold in practice so I was some what excited the government machinery is trying to do some thing right, but the jury was out if they could be the next grocery e-tailer/ala whole foods. There is an online order button. So then naturally I had to go to Durust Daam App and check its about section, which clearly doesn’t have any stated goal at the time of launch about selling stuff online.. So whats going on? Whose selling the groceries?

Well so naturally I had to go and click the order button within the app to see what wizardry was afoot. Lo and Behold

This is where I encounter MIT level logic. ICT Administration Through Market Committee, ICT, has shortlisted the following delivery providers after due process.. Wah bhai Talian….(screen shot also attached for ICT site)

  1. Can this selection criteria be made public, the largest grocery related e-tailers would I am sure like to know as would potential market place aspirants and established companies.
  2. Wait, the text says delivery providers. Time to take offence, are these Sabzi sellers making margin on bulk delivery of COD or double dipping and also selling and making margin on the products them selves? (Mandi Express, Bykea, FoodPanda, EatMubarak by this measure could all participate then?) Did they? Fowrrys website claims its a market place no less but govt says delivery provider. So lets make up our mind please…
  3. Shortlisted and added to the app are 2 very different things. So my Tax rupees are being used to list only 2 market vendors where dozens exist so the cost of customer acquisition is being borne by the Citizens of Pakistan. Because you get taken to a download link . Bhai I want in on this business… Having built and run some of the most viable lead-gen/CAC based businesses this is the first time I am seeing the government being an affiliate partner. Not a bad deal if the deal is made public and we see what the ICT Admin gets in return for their support so that they can re-invest that for public good. I will give you a simpler answer to make this a free market system. Read carefully, if the govt has a published rate, then make sure you enforce that rate to all marketplaces, offline or online, instead of integrating links of select market places/delivery service into a govt entity app. Instead list all the online market places in the country, because if there was rule of law, every single one of them would be inclined to sell at no other rate besides market rate. So you see, like all other things wrong with the govt machinery, they put on boots to go running instead of running shoes. Solving problems that dont exist without solving for root cause. Some applied common sense could save every one concerned serious time effort and tax payer money. Instead of solving the price enforcement item, honourable PM is endorsing the effort of all constituents who are trying to solve a systemic problem by creating alternate lines of solutioning. FIX the damn price enforcement issue vs getting in to competing with and getting the business of apps, market places, logistics, infrastructure etc, you already have a country to take care of, fix the macro and enforce the micro without getting into PR stunts of app launches and self serving solutioning that will have zero to no material impact. We can do the math, how may people have internet enabled and subscribed smart phones, how many of them live in sub-urban areas, how many know how to engage in online commerce, would it not be easier to use tech to enforce pricing control so when I walk to my market I know that every one has to play by the underlying pricing rules. Not thats #PakistanStrong and True #DigitalPakistan if you can use tech to dis intermediate first the arthi and then enforce rule of law on pricing and then work backwards to pay the farmer on time and fix the agriculture cycle of the country vs launching apps.
  4. A quick glance through the customer feedback on the apps shows that like almost all items no turns, were taken to test the apps or their usage or the back end process. Its not my view, read the app store review. So the same consumer you want to save from the plight of the crooked middle man you are screwing via a govt endorsed service. If my govt tells me to buy some thing that its backing or has vetted and my online reprieve is the PMs portal, then #DigitalPakistan is actually being fought out at the cost of the citizens of this country. Like every thing else, because a good idea allegedly by someone was put out in the form of CDO of Pakistan, seems like it wasn’t endorsed likely in some govt or bureaucratic camp resulting in turf wars fuelled by app wars instead of big picture policy and strategic moves. Every ones “dair einth ki masjid is evident” The pettiness of the thinking may not be visible to all, but this point scoring is going to take down the nation in more ways than one.(We will come back to this later). Were you expecting #DigitalPakistan to be this? I most certainly wasnt. So whats going on here?

I was unable to find Sabzi Mandi Onlines website and their app is listed as developed by Neuron solutions who have in their repertoire some amazing credentials like making data collection apps, wrestling event apps for booking partners, activation apps for village based marketing etc. Most having 50 Downloads, but Sabzi Mandi having 10k+ So that validates the piece that free marking viz a vi a govt based affiliate download program really does help user downloads if not adaption. Perhaps the govt should think about a national policy on creating affiliate links and monetising govt sites using Google Ads? Perhaps some thing the CDO Can spearhead, given every one is alleging thats what she did at google. If the govt has sites that are visited 100s of thousands of times a day, ads revenue could be the new FX the govt has waiting for and this is an issue they can likely solve in house. I am sure Google would be open to piloting a national program and open avenues of now being an aid-fx agency style partner for major governments. All this because I was forced to see what the govt app was up to.

So Fowrry was delivering Nachos in sept 2019 per their twitter,

so this transition to market place and being synced up with the govt is great for the citizens of Pakistan. What is more promising is that the above feedback will now be replicated in Karachi. What ever is left of Sindh will now be serviced par excellence by an Islamabad based outfit. Given FoodPanda, EatMubarak , Bykea, Careem Now all operate at a bigger scale if Nacho deliveries were to be taken as a benchmark. How do we know this is coming to a neighbourhood near us…

So this is less about sabzis or the last mile fraternity or the market places. This about mis direction of resources, mis direction of people, mis direction of policy and using govt services without thinking. The intent is for us to collectively think about problems we are trying to solve vs every one coming on side and championing a cause where a pic with a pm can be taken for drawing room conversations. We must think past this.

This thinking is endemic. It doesn’t end with Sabzis lets see some more colourful examples. A few form app for overseas Pakistanis to lodge complaints. Again focus on the, on-ground issues, overseas Pakistanis went overseas for a reason or 2. Will the govt machinery continue to admit failure of policy and implementation of rule of law and the writ of the the govt because it seems every app being released or developed has to do with rules not being followed and complaints being generated. Again focus is not on solving systemic issues but finding round-about ways of doing things. If the negative reviews are to be read albeit from said constituents who are desired to be served, it paints a shitty picture, seems like a zero sum game to me.

Some free advice to the Chief Digital Officer of Pakistan. We the people of Pakistan don’t know who is in charge, but hope some one is. If its a group of people, can we first start by not having govt bodies taking credit for the following online and that too publicly. Why you ask, because on the one end we want Paypal and Google and others to come (thats the govt rhetoric) yet we are listing the following as our key accomplishments installation of Lan, doing procurement. WTF? Lets stop doing meetings govt wide, focus on creating solutions focus on increasing inbound investments, focus on dissolving sub comittes and task force and shadow bodies who do nothing besides have the zerray walay biscuit and chai in Islamabad. If Islamabad could fix our woes we wouldn’t have needed you. So get folks, to get with the program(heres to hoping there is one) and leave the sabzi selling and app making to the free market economy and let the best players win, you have them focus on rule of law and using digitization to bring universality of application of rules and regulations to all the citizens of the country.

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.” ― Plato, The Republic

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