Episode 1 Converge the Indian AI landscape through Experience Design

We sat down with Asna Siddiqui, a computer science expert and program head at IndiaAI. The portal which curates the latest news and developments when it comes to artificial intelligence in India. Asna breaks down how she and her team tackled the building of a fresh ecosystem, all while balancing every stakeholder. She also imparts knowledge on the future of AI in India, and how she sees it driving the future of business
For all things IndiaAI, and to hear about Asna’s journey so far, tune in to this edition of Business & UX Story!

Episode Transcript

Divanshu 0:00
Hi, I’m Divanshu. And this is Business and UX story, a podcast by Onething design studio. To know more about us log on to www.onething.design. Business and UX story aims to meld the worlds of business and design, to unearth the latest and greatest innovations in the worlds of both and the minds behind them. We pick the brains of industry leaders, innovators and disruptors, from all across the startup and business landscape, and learn what makes the product click. Moreover, discovering how UX and UI design in particular holds the key to unlocking so many doors in the world of business. So whether you’re an established brand, having touched the lives of millions, or a startup looking to make a lasting impact, we’re sure there will be plenty to learn from the various discourses we engage in on the podcast, keep listening!
In this episode, we welcome Asna Siddiqui from NASSCOM and we will be talking about India AI, which is a national AI portal, Asna is part of NASSCOM and heads India AI. She’s also an ex entrepreneur and co-founder at Form Zero. India AI is a portal which curates the latest news and developments when it comes to artificial intelligence in India. It is created to place India on the global footprint of AI. It’s a joint initiative of MeitY NEGD and NASSCOM. It was launched by honorable minister Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad Ji in 2020.

Asna 1:26
Hi, Divanshu. It’s great to be here, a pleasure to be talking to you on this podcast, looking forward to all the questions that you’re going to be putting through and talking about them.

Divanshu 1:38
So Asna, I want to understand from you how did this idea of India AI happen? How would this seeded, you know, what was the need of building an AI ecosystem?

Asna 1:51
Yes, so the National AI portal’s idea predates my presence in NASSCOM. It’s something that was thought of by NASSCOM in collaboration with MeitY. They wanted to do something which helps develop the ecosystem in India. And in one way they felt that was a very useful way to do that was through a national a portal where you could, you know, house, all the information relevant for different stakeholders, and at the same time, have people you know, have access to the latest developments and also give back to the AI community. So, it was more of an engagement platform that was visualized. And we’ve started that with the initial step of housing all the information on it, and keeping all the relevant news and articles on it. But eventually, we want to make sure that it goes on to become an eco-system in itself and relevant for all the stakeholders in India.

Divanshu 2:52
That’s great. That’s great. I think, if you have to, you know, understand India AI as a portal or
AI as, as, as something in India, how do you, you know, what do you like to throw some light on? How is this ecosystem shaping up? You know, who are the stakeholders, you know, that India AI as a portal targeting? You know, and, you know, if you can throw some light on those stakeholders, it will help us understand the landscape.

Asna 3:23
Yeah, so it was quite a challenge, you know, when we talk about furthering the ecosystem of AI in India, now, it’s a very broad mandate to tackle. So, you know, there are so many key players, the government being one, you know, at the center of it, especially in India, because they’ve taken such a keen interest in AI, they’ve released a strategy paper. And the industry, of course, are the, you know, is the machinery that will make it come to life. And then we have the startup community, we have policymakers who have to be, you know, making sure that regulations are in place to make sure that this develops in an ethical manner, it takes care of all the challenges that come with technology like AI. And then of course, we have the whole skilling ecosystem where existing professionals and those who are students who are looking to enter into the profession of AI, want to learn about how to go about it.

Asna 4:24
So, you know, like I just described the, the user base, the potential user base for us was very wide and scattered all over. But since, you know, that’s what we wanted to address, we decided to just, you know, provide information that is of interest to anybody looking to educate themselves on what’s happening in India, in AI and not just that, the potential audience can also be people from outside of India, you know, entities, organizations, and even government bodies from outside of India who are looking in, who are looking for information on India, they want to stay clued in to what’s happening in India. So that was another set of audience that we wanted to cater to. So it was a pretty diverse range of kinds of users that we wanted to target. And that’s what we’re trying to do. It may not be ideal, I know there are, there’s always some key personas that you should target. And that’s what we, you know, you would know that that’s what we tried to do. But then again, it’s something that we want to be relevant for more than just those few key segments.

Divanshu 5:38
I completely understand that, you know, when we’re building something new, when you’re building something that is for a technology, for a pace that is so open, there will be more and more stakeholders that will become part of it, as we, you know, kind of move forward. So you know, kind of containing it in a certain set of user personas is difficult, I completely understand your point there.
So if we have to see how India AI is, you know, it’s been, I think, one year of it going live? How do you see, you know, people interacting with it, you know, what, what is the kind of people who are actually reaching out to you for information, you know, if you can, you know, help us understand that a bit more.

Asna 6:23
Yeah, so we’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by, you know, very positive feedback from the industry, we’ve had that since, as you’ve seen, there are a lot of interviews that are conducted and then transcribed on the portal. And, you know, the people who are part of those interviews have some very nice things to say about the sort of content that is available, and how it is something that they regularly check.
Also, it is, you know, we’ve heard, you know, some students come to us saying that, you know, this is something that I do use to understand the AI landscape, they talk about that, we’ve tried to increase the share of content on scaling, and we want to continue to do so. So that it stays relevant for those who are looking to upskill themselves into the profession of AI. Apart from that, I think we’ve also had, you know, inputs coming in from organizations and, you know, government bodies, who have, you know, who are using India AI as a way to, as a window into the AI ecosystem in India. So those are the kinds of people who are interested in and, you know, regularly consuming the content on the portal.

Divanshu 7:50
That’s great. That’s great. So do you think, you know, startup founders and people who are building or want to build products in the AI space, they are to really gain from this platform? And is there enough availability of content and resources in AI for this set of users?

Asna 8:15
Yes, of course, we have a startup database that we are continuously adding to we receive requests from different startups asking to be profiled on the portal. So for a startup founder it is
ready reckoner of, you know, the competition that exists, what maturity, you know, if they’re working on a technology, what maturity that technology is at. So, understanding what is out there and who else is doing what you’re doing is something which is something that the founders usually try to have under their, in their arsenal of information. And that’s something that the portal does provide!

Divanshu 8:58
Right, right. So Asna you know, we’ve been part of this association with you for about two and a half years and we’ve seen India AI grow to what it is today from just a concept. There must be
challenges that you would have faced, you know, in building this up because of multiple stakeholders, industry bodies involved. It is a task, right, It is not a small organization that you were involved in, it is a large set of, you know, kind of ecosystem that you are dealing with, if you would like to show, you know, to share some challenges that you faced and you overcame them, and help us understand what it was. That’d be great.

Asna 9:42
Yeah, Divanshu, I think, you know, given that it was a project that was primarily coming from the Government of India, it was coming from MeitY, and subsequently NEGD was also involved, NASSCOM was very keen to execute it to perfection, while ensuring that we’re not compromising on any aspect of the portal, we wanted to also make sure that we are getting inputs from all the relevant people in the ecosystem, like you mentioned. So ensuring that we are meeting all the government guidelines as to do with the project, and then ensuring that we have the buy in from other stakeholders in this ecosystem. was not I won’t call it a challenge, but yes it was something that we had to get right.

Divanshu 10:30
Right. Right. Right. So how involved is, you know, I completely know that NASSCOM is, you know, running it, you know, in a very nice manner. And they have a team that is only working on India AI portal, which you are heading, how is the government involved, you know, on an operational basis or on a vision basis? What is their involvement? I’m sure it is not a day to day involvement, but how do they kind of, you know, ensure that their vision is being translated into a portal really well?

Asna 11:05
Yeah, so we have PRC meetings that are conducted often enough. And beyond that, we have a monthly check in with NEGD, who, where we discuss what it is that we’ve done so far. And, you know, what are the aspects that we need to focus more on so on that level, of course, we have NEGD looped in, but like I said, on a day to day basis, you know, the editorial calls that we have to take, and beyond that, you know, from a product perspective, any improvements, any, you know, from an execution standpoint, NASSCOM pretty much executes it, you know, with the help of the team that is already in place, but of course, you know, NEGD does check in from time to time, and we have a very healthy back and forth of inputs, which helped, you know, shape this portal to what it is right now.

Divanshu 12:05
That’s right. That’s right. I mean, I, I certainly think that, you know, the government has, you know, played a good part in it, and it’s a visionary government, and building a platform like this. And, you know, ensuring that your design thinking went in early in the stage is completely appreciated, because not a lot of government portals, not just in India, outside also are focused, and in terms of design thinking and not built in a way where users get really engaged, you know, and, but in the India AI, I see, you know, is a portal which completely stands out.

Asna 12:47
So that, I would say Divanshu, that there are a lot of other portals also where I’m seeing that transition into making sure that the information on those portals is easy to consume. But yes, I am particularly proud of India AI because of the kind of acute attention to user experience that we’ve been paying.

Divanshu 13:08
Right, Right, I’m glad you said that. So Asna, you know, you have a live portal now and you’re seeing data and you’re seeing user behavior in it. How do you think, you know, design thinking or design has impacted it as a portal, you know, how, how is it helping the metrics? You know, how are you, you know, what kind of metrics are you working on? And how is it helping, you know, with those metrics now, is design impacting those metrics, if you could, you know, share some inputs here will be really great for us. So Asna since it’s a content heavy portal, and it has a lot of information being fed on, a lot of articles being fed on. So what are the metrics that you’re working on to ensure you know, the user is happy, and, you know, people who are looking for the stuff here are able to discover it.

Asna 14:04
So in terms of KPI, what we initially have focused on are monthly active users. Another thing that we thought was quite important was average session duration, average session duration in particular and not time on page because our pages and the content on it can be sometimes too small. And that may contribute to small time on the page. And therefore we wanted to focus on average session duration. The next thing we want to focus on would be bounce rate and really, you know, dive deeper into what is causing people to bounce, and how can we improve their experience so as to, you know, reduce bounce rate of any particular section, and, overall, improve those sections.

Divanshu 14:49
That that’s great, that’s great. I mean, I’m really delighted that, you know, your team is kind of so much involved in improving the experience of this platform, I’m sure it holds a great importance to NASSCOM and industry bodies and government that, you know, is being, you know, worked on, worked upon in, you know, in such a insightful manner. That’s, it’s kind of great to hear this. Asna, as you know, as, as last part of this conversation, you know, if you can throw some light to, you know, a few have some tips, some points for us, and our listeners, to, you know, gain from, you know, as last part of this conversation, if you would like to share some advice, some tips with our listeners, in building a product of this scale, that will be great.

Asna 15:40
I think, when we start out building a product we sometimes focus on what we want it to be, rather than what, you know, the end user of that product wants. So, although I feel they’re there are miles to go for us but empathizing with the audience, and always staying true to that end goal of making it very user friendly, and thinking of the product from the mindset of the end consumer, is something we should definitely focus on and never lose sight of.

Divanshu 16:16
That’s great. That’s not you, you just talked, you know, spoke like a designer. Because, you know, as you know, what we have seen is that people build products out of their own perception. And they forget the end user. And then they think, oh, you know, we, you know, this product wasn’t built for us, it was built for them. So it’s great, it’s a great, great point to kind of, for people to understand that it’s you’re not building it for yourself, what you are building for is somebody out there. So understanding that somebody out there, who’s that somebody out there is very important.

Asna 16:57
Yes. And to that point, you know, we conducted user interviews, a bunch of user interviews with Onething, and our actual audience members. I’m calling them an audience, but they are our portal users. And we heard some very insightful answers from them. The questions we posed to them were not leading, we tried to keep it open ended. And the kind of answers and kind of insights we got from those interviews was something that we hadn’t anticipated going into those interviews. So I think from time to time, to check in with those users to see how they’re using it, what it is that they like, you know, sometimes the sections that you feel are not all that important, you eventually, you know, find out that that’s what the audience, I’m saying, calling them audience again, but the users are actually looking into and trying to read up more on. So, I think just that exercise alone gave us a lot of insights about what is expected from the portal.

Divanshu 18:00
Right, right. No, that’s a great point. That’s a great point. Thank you, Asna, I mean, this was great, you know, understanding what you’ve been up to in the last two years to kind of build this platform. And this is very insightful, and really happy that you could be part of this. And I hope to kind of speak to you soon. And probably meet once again, once this pandemic is over. And thank you so much Asna.

Asna 18:29
Thanks a lot Divanshu for having me, it was a pleasure speaking with you. And yes, we’re all waiting for the pandemic to be over.

Divanshu 18:37
That’s right, thank you Asna. That was such an insightful conversation! Businesses and products get impacted through design in ways more than what we can imagine. If you would like to listen to such more conversations, stay tuned, subscribe to Business and UX story. Till then, stay safe and keep listening. Thank you!

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