Home / Home Page / Cellphones, cloud take self-analysis to a new level

Bangalore: A mathematician at the Chennai Mathematical Institute, K. Narayan Kumar has always been a meticulous account keeper. Now he wants to turn an efficient self-tracker, starting with quantifying the time he “wastes" in coffee breaks at work.

Rolling the dice: LimberLink’s chairman V. Vinay (left) and managing director Swami Manohar have developed perhaps the first solution in the personal analytics space in India with Alltrack. Hemant Mishra / Mint

He’s been testing a new bookkeeping system called Alltrack for the last six months, tracking expenses by sending SMSes (Short Message Service) to his account with the start-up that offers to track almost everything that one can put a number to.

As the pilot ended two weeks ago, when Alltrack went live, Kumar realized he could track his food, mood, productivity, health, habits and coffee breaks—virtually break up his personal life into elements and have it machine-analysed.

Founders V. Vinay and Swami Manohar, former computer science professors at the Indian Institute of Science, developed the Simputer in 2000 and they wanted their next venture to be as far away from the hand-held device as possible to avoid appearing to be in competition with it.

The ubiquity of mobile phones beckoned and LimberLink Technologies Pvt. Ltd was set up with ValueFirst and SMS Gupshup as two messaging service providers for Alltrack, perhaps the first solution in the personal analytics space in India.

“Alltrack is trying to make sense of the enormous amount of data that is now generated in the hugely successful mobile market in India," said Kartik Kumaramangalam, a former Boston Consulting Group consultant and a New York-based entrepreneur who runs advisory firm Tuva Ventures. “The entrepreneurs are looking at changing human behaviour at the grass-roots level at a time when most of the attention of the regulator and the entrepreneurs is towards banking and financial inclusion in general."

Users can send data tagged with a keyword of their choice to Alltrack for a monthly subscription fee of Rs100. Even short sentences or “notes" can be stored. At the end of the month, the data as well as its graphic analysis can be retrieved, either via SMSes or on the Web.

In existing SMS-based services, the data transfer is predominantly from the cloud (virtual servers on the Internet) to the phone, be it bulk messaging or a response to an action such as an automated teller machine cash withdrawal. In Alltrack, the subscriber creates or uploads data to the cloud to be processed, analysed and later accessed by the user.

Kumaramangalam said personal analytics has been “massively successful" in the US, where consumers are now going to the next level of sharing data. Business prospects are so ripe that venture capitalists such as New York-based IA Ventures are funding start-ups that handle large amounts of data, he added.

“Some 90% of the business ideas in India are a replica of the US (market), this one is no different," said Sanjay Tiwari, an analyst with JuxtConsult in New Delhi. “This is a brilliant idea, but will people be willing to use it, submitting enough data points to be meaningfully analysed?"

Arguably, the founders could be rolling the dice with a data-driven service. “The challenge really comes about because SMS services in India are currently synonymous with jokes, astrology, news and the like," said Vinay and Manohar. “We’ll have to spend some time developing this analytics category."

Still, they are looking at a user base of at least 100,000 in India before moving to other regions, particularly the Far East, where SMS usage is high and people are used to paying for services.

Experts say besides consumers, the enterprise segment could find it useful, too. “It has the potential to turn into a big value add for the HR (human resource) department in an enterprise for health and appraisal systems due to its strong personal analytics" capability, said Kiran Kulkarni, managing director of Geodesic Ltd, a mobile and wireless application provider that also happens to be the owner now of the Simputer that Vinay and Manohar developed.

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