Archive for May, 2005

E-governance to e-Governance

May 29, 2005

In a day long Workshop on ICT for Development at IIIT-Bangalore on May 28, 2005 (coordinated by Prof Balaji Parthasarathy), five e-governance project case studies covering Sirsa in Haryana, Melur in Tamil Nadu, West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, Mallapuram in Kerala and Pondichery were presented. These studies were done using ethnographic research involving intense site visits of several weeks duration by researchers from IIIT-B, MIT, Univ. of Wisconsin and London School of Economics. The Workshop had Mr. N Vittal, former CVC and Secretary to Departments of Electronics (current Department of IT) and Telecommunications, as the Chief Guest.

More than thirty five Researchers, academics, secretaries to Governments and field workers participated in the Workshop.
It was interesting to find that most of the e-governance projects do not have clarity on the core of governance. Often success or failure is decided by financial viability; sustenance is not seriously looked into. More important, they are driven by passionate individuals (interestingly IIT educated IAS officers in almost every case), whose motives are undoubtedly benign; unfortunately, the underlying institutional structures do not seem to be supportive.

In short, the picture of e-governance projects in India is cloudy and needs far deeper thinking before mega projects involving billions of Rupees are undertaken. This is not to belittle the success of many projects.

In summary, the emphasis on “e” (electronification) should leave way to emphasis on “g” (governance)

GE CEO talks on investments in India –no need to give up on Manufacturing

May 28, 2005

During his visit to India on May 25, 2004 Jeff Immelt, CEO of the $ 150 Billion giant GE, talked of investments both in manufacturing and services.

It has become fashionable these days to talk of India having “lost out” to China on manufacturing; indeed China has a formidable edge in manufacturing. But one should not forget India makes the largest number of clocks, bicycles, two wheelers; we even make more than million cars a year (not big at all but no miniscule either); we are reasonably large in white goods manufacture (Fridge, Washing Machine); we manufacture a decent numbers of PCs, terminals, UPS, and other parts. We should start assembling 30 Million mobile handsets by the end of 2005.

Our software success should not be confused with hardware failure; China is not giving up on software though they are a hardware giant. The same applies to India; in fact the hard line between hardware and software is indeed blurring

Erosion of Indian Universities – Deepak Nayyar (ex Delhi University VC) has a point

May 26, 2005

In an article Universities in the sick bay’ (Indian Express, May 25), the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University (until recently) Dr Deepak Nayyar, makes some very interesting observations about Universities getting neglected in the post-independent era. He cites the mistakes of side-lining Universities thru Research Centers; in the process depriving the much needed funds for Universities and politicizing them.

His views on IIT’s is even more interesting – “they are icing on the cake, but when the cake is crumbling what can icing do?” – An insightful comment.

It is time we learn from United States that uses the constant source of innovation – young men and women, year after year who enroll into Universities – as prime vehicles of research and move to “peer review” based funding in place of “block grants”.

It is important that CSIR Labs attach themselves to Universities instead of becoming a University. Their funds can be better utilized – students are the most “value for money” resources!

PalmOne introduces Life Drive Mobile Manager

May 23, 2005

With the recent introduction of LifeDrive from Palm, there is action hotting up in the PDA space. After the PC introduction in 1981 and the large-scale mobile phone introduction in 1993, it was Palm Handheld in 1996 that was a true trail-blazer (after Apple’s Newton failing in the market). Ever since, Palm has been re-inventing the market; many others including Sony, and our own Simputer followed in 1999. With camera-built phones in the market, and the millions in India & China hungry for phone connection, and the resultant falling prices in 2004, it appeared that mobile phones would replace PDA’s; in fact Sony decided to pull out of PDA market. Against this background, Palm springing up with LifeDrive is a welcome development.

In the past two years Apple’s iPod has become a real hit; it replaces the Sony Walkman market, that got a new lease of life, thanks to MP3 replacing the normal CD music. With its hip design, launch of iTunes (in cyberspace) and AppleStore (in real space), Apple has been making waves.

With LifeDrive, Palm is bundling a PDA with 4 GB hard disk and has the look & feel (and weight), not very different from iPod. It can do all that iPod does but also serve as a PDA (Address, Appointments); and additionally, with its built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, it can communicate as well. It may not replace cell phone, but it may substitute an iPod for the traveler; it might hit the Black Berry Mobile e-Mail market too.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft responds to Palm’s LifeDrive, with its recent launch of Windows Mobile 5.0 Edition.

The month of May has been very exciting. If all the players – Apple, Microsoft, RIM (BlackBerry) and Palm – cooperate and add value to the end customers (instead of fighting among themselves and confusing the customers) it will be a field day for the customers.

Mobile Tariff said to fall in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai & UP

May 22, 2005

Due to the way “circles” and mobile licenses were handled, there were some aberrations in tariff “by design”; for example while the whole of Kerala was treated as “local” for charging, it was not the same for many other States (that is one reason mobile phone usage zoomed in Kerala).

States like Karnataka too enjoyed the same all along. But in Tamil Nadu, the city of Chennai was treated differently leading to a situation that calls from Chennai to outside places within Tamil Nadu were treated as “long distance” (read STD in India) calls. The “city of joy” (Kolkata) where mobile telephones were first introduced in India, also suffered from this aberration. Today (May 22, 2005), the Government removed this anomaly, a welcome development indeed.

It is nice to listen to the thought process of the Government that the entire country should become “local” as far as “calling” is concerned; that will be a true national integration. I am sure the price elasticity will increase the call volume so much that the service providers’ net income will be more; a sure “win-win” for the consumers and the service providers.

Spirit of Entrepreneurship

May 21, 2005

I will briefly stress on three aspects of Entrepreneurship that does NOT get emphasized sufficiently
1. Entrepreneurship is beyond “quick money” – While no one can underplay the importance of wealth creation, job creation, market capitalization etc., too often the spirit of entrepreneurship is lost in the cacophony of business plans, term sheets, sweat equity, share of equity, loans, deals with venture capitalists and angel investors etc., All of them are important, but just because we have Incubation Parks (into which Crores of Rupees are being sunk), Entrepreneurship Cells in every Institute (NSR Cell in IIMB, Wadhwani Center at IIT Bombay, Vinod Gupta Center at IIT KGP, SIDBI Center at IITK etc.,) let us not get into “straight jacketing” Entrepreneurship with 101, 201 Courses, and fancy buildings. It is all about “fire in the belly”, passion, hard work (often toil), earth-shaking ideas, world-changing products.. “Honey, it is all money” is too shallow a prescription for Entrepreneurship!

2. The second point is that entrepreneurship is not limited to business alone. It was Swami Vivekananda who suggested to Jamshetji Tata to start an Institute that is today the celebrated Indian Institute of Science. Swamiji had re-interpreted Hinduism in contemporary context and boldly articulated it in his famous address at the “Parliament of Religions” at Chicago in 1893. To me, it is no different in spirit than the re-writing of Unix into Linux (in 90’s) using two decades of growth in software engineering (from 70’s). CV Raman’s discovery of “Raman Effect” using equipment that cost less than Rs 100, and in the process challenging the idea that to do great Science you need Laboratories that cost Crores of Rupees, is another instance of Entrepreneurship. Shri Ramanujacharya sharing the “mantra” with thousands of common folk (even at the cost of he going to Hell for breaking the tradition of secrecy of “mantra”), to me is no different than Mark Andreessen joyfully sharing his “Mosaic” browser with thousands of other users (Mark started the Internet revolution later thru Netscape).

3. Finally today’s entrepreneurs should study the intense days of successful entrepreneurs in their early days. Not many study in depth the struggles of the pioneers (Infosys Founders or Google Founders) in their early years. Such a study will teach tomorrow’s entrepreneurs many lessons (watching their interviews today in CNN or CNBC or the BMW’s they drive or the golf matches they play). How many know that Microsoft created the notion of “Developer Network”, that is today’s MSDN. Every IT vendor (Intel, Oracle, SAP, IBM, HP, and Sun) has a Developer Network, but it was Microsoft that started it; in fact Bill Gates’ father used to “organize” the events in early days! Many ideas such as “Daily Build”, “Program Management” came out of early days of Microsoft. How many IIT K Alumni know that IITK created many innovations (they may not have been “sold”) – Grading System, Semester System, Subject-based Pass etc. In fact the first “payroll” program in India was written at IITK. “Managing Data Center” – a big idea today was actually implemented at IITK in early 70’s by Pawan Kumar at IITK Computer Center (the same person who went to TCS, started IBM Global Services in India and vMoksha three years back!)

In short the spirit of Entrepreneurship goes beyond money, beyond prescriptive details of Venture financing and not limited to business alone. It is worthwhile studying the early struggles of successful entrepreneurs.

(My talk at IIT Kanpur Alumni Association in Bangalore on May 20, 2005)

Insights into leadership (May 20, 2005)

May 20, 2005

Leadership at individual, firm and even country level can be learnt by looking at some key events; I will use the “story metaphor” to drive home my point.

1. One of my students re-told the way Microsoft “caught up” with Internet (and the browser Internet Explorer). It was like a traveler standing in the Indian Railway platform when a train was about to leave. There were announcements that the train was about to leave. There was one passenger who refused to board the train declaring it is NOT for him. The train started, even picked up speed; suddenly the same passenger realized the train will take him to his destination ran all the way and managed to get into the train; interestingly this strange passenger did not stop after entering the train. He ran all the way till he reached the engine. In fact he went up to the engine cabin, kicked off the driver and started driving the train muttering that he can take it to whatever destination he wanted! (the lesson is simple; if you are clear you can take the organization to where you want to!!)

2. Creative is an interesting Singapore-based IT company, that has occupied a leadership position. But when they started in early nineties, Microsoft tried to make a “sound Card” (once in a while Microsoft does enter hardware arena, the latest being xBox video game console). The sound card from Creative Technology (branded as SoundBlaster) was far superior. After a couple of quarters Microsoft withdrew its hardware from the market and started endorsing Creative solution. Here is the classic case of a small company taking headlong with a giant and winning. (If you have a compelling product you will win even against heavy odds)

3. Intel had an unpleasant task of facing the “Pentium Bug”. As it happens to many of us, the initial reaction of Intel was to deny; any number of reporters were told that it is “inconsequential”; but soon it was clear that it was a BUG, thanks to an Internet posting by an Israeli Professor. Then Intel senior management veered around and executed a strategy that involved “recalls” for those who wanted (Unlike Automobiles recalls are difficult for microprocessors as they are made in hundreds of millions); simulated results about all possible damages; frank acceptance of the error (a simple data entry error involving some coefficients to a complex equation used to “speed up” calculation) and blessings through a Harvard Professor in the form of a Case Study (Leaders need to know that once in a while they have to face unpleasant situation; honesty is often the best policy!)

4. There are any number of other stories (Two Microsoft developers writing much of the ODBC specifications and in the process getting a foothold (and later dominance) in the database area where Microsoft was a late entrant; Toshiba remaining singularly focused on Laptops (except for a brief stint in 2002 when they entered Desktop and quickly withdrew); Microsoft taking along any number of printer and software vendors by relieving them of the drudgery of writing individual device drivers for every possible printer and software product (it was sufficient for them to write to Windows) (you can sometimes win by taking a different route and joining ahead of your competitor; laser sharp focus is a must, even if it gets blurred get it back quickly; larger benefits to much larger partners will win you wars)

5. On the applications side the Indian Railway Reservation system and Sudarshan system at Balaji Temple in Tirupati were examples of leadership that saw the tangible benefits to a significant size of the people and using that to face any number of attempts to stall (George Fernandes as Railway Minister or the employees of Balaji temple) (be clear of “your” constituency and have tangible benefits)

6. Some bold decisions at IIIT-B include speed of execution (between June 3, 1999 to Sep 15, 1999 everything was done, get the place ready (Class rooms, Labs, Hostel, Offices, Library, Computing), have faculty, design curriculum, get thousands of students to apply, select them and have them on Board!); betting on Laptops, Wi-Fi; incubate companies; use the power of media (BusinessWeek, Fortune, Stern) and global partnerships (US, Europe, Asia and Africa) (size and age are NOT limitations, lack of imagination is)

(My invited talk to senior management of HP Divisions in India in Bangalore on May 20, 2005)

Industry Academia Interaction – Challenges for Karnataka Colleges

May 20, 2005

The colleges in Bangalore and Karnataka are lucky in that most of the leaders in IT, both from India and abroad have committed significant resources for the benefit of the students. Today’s Oracle grant of access to complete suite of products in the database, middleware and applications is indeed a welcome development. This is preceded by Intel grants in microprocessor and networking area, Cisco grants in the networking arena, Microsoft grant of desktop and server software licenses and Infosys Campus Connect that gives access to lots of courseware.

This has led to a problem of shifting from poverty to plenty; this is no different from the dilemma human beings face – when they are poor and did not have enough to eat they never had to worry about what to eat; once they had an affluence, they cannot eat anything just because they can afford them, without spoiling their health.

The colleges should have a strategy to internalize what they are getting, re-design courses, train teaching and support staff and integrate Oracle and other software pieces into their curriculum; else, the software boxes will remain “show pieces” in the Principals’ offices, something the colleges can ill-afford

The second challenge is the position that individual Institutions or group of Institutions should take. Instead of every college proudly proclaiming partnership with every vendor, can a group of Institutions take the position that Oracle Partnership is our USP and focus the energy and resources on a single partnership for a period of 1-3 years? This would have the benefit that the students will stop at “nodding acquaintance” but “dive deep” into specific technologies.

With Indian IT prowess getting accepted as leader, it is time that the colleges shoot for “lofty goals” – why not the “three of the Top 10” Oracle experts come out of Karnataka in the next three years, instead of 3,000 more students knowing the “spelling” of Oracle products?

Only such a focused strategy will lead to satisfaction for Mr. Dhawan, CEO Oracle India, and his colleagues for doing all the ground work to make such a multi-million dollar grant possible

(My keynote address as the Chief Guest of “BITES – Oracle Academic Alliance” in Bangalore on May 20, 2005)

That’s IT in April 2005

May 16, 2005

Broad Issues: Pakistan Prime Minister talks peace with India and Chinese and Japanese Prime Ministers talk IT in their recent India visit, recognizing India’s strengths in IT globally; Stock market crash globally and in India on April 15, 2005; Maruti rolls out its five millionth car and Maruti board clears Rs 3,271 Crores investment for another car plant in India; Maruti & Suzuki assemble a team of Indian engineers who design the next generation car “Swift”, a long way indeed for the Indian experience in automotive manufacturing, that started in early eighties with Maruti, a joint venture with the Japanese auto maker Suzuki; Jammu Thawi – Udhampur railway line is commissioned, demonstrating that Indian engineers can execute amazing Railway projects, if only politicians give them freedom; Euro II compliant fuel supply starts in select cities in India from April 1; ONGC net profit crosses Rs 12,500 Crores, proving that public sector can deliver, if the politicians do not come in their way; Europe revokes the patent given to “neem”, a natural tree product used by the common man in India for centuries, a win in India’s struggle for fair global Intellectual Property Regime; Indo-US “open skies” policy cleared; Jet Airways starts flights to Singapore; globally, Airbus A 380 aircraft that can seat 800+ passengers, completes its maiden flight; Iraq gets an elected Shia leader Jaafari; oil price reach a record high of $ 58, though it came down towards the end of the month.

On the Products front, Motorola launches sub-Rs 2,000 mobile handset, recognizing the needs of the growing market that the IT Minister says will be 200 Million by 2007 (from the current 45 Million today); AMD launches dual core Opteron 800 processor; Intel follows suit; in a boost to Indian language computing, Microsoft India and C-DAC start offering Tamil Office; Toshiba to launch LCD TV with hard disk; Google doubles e-mail storage space to 2 GB for G-Mail users and introduces “search history”; Windows to co-work better with Solaris and Linux; Adidas announces microprocessor-embedded “intelligent” shoes at Rs 12,499 for the Indian market!

In the Marketplace, Indian software industry exports cross Rs 100,000 Crores ($ 22 Billion) and accounts for 2.66% of the global software services market; Bangalore STPI alone accounts for 1/3rd of the total country’s export; Indo Japanese trade to cross $ 10 Billion soon; Cognizant buys US-based Fathom solutions; Lenova (the new face of IBM PC Division after its sale to Chinese) India operations start; Helios-Matheson acquires Pawan Kumar founded vMoksha, an IT services company with nearly 1,000 professionals in Bangalore and Pune; HP bags Bank of Baroda order for Core Banking solution implementation; globally, PC sales cross 46 Million in Q1 of 2005; HP buys Snapfish, an Internet-based imaging company; Adobe buys Macromedia for $ 3.4 Billion signaling major consolidation in the desktop graphics software market.

Indian IT companies post great results; TCS annual sales crosses $ 2 Billion; Infosys crosses $ 1.5 Billion annual revenue (it became a Billion Dollar company just last year) and expect to cross $ 2 Billion next year; Moser Baer commissions its German facility; Mindtree posts $55 Million in 2004-2005 (well on its way to $ 123 Million in 2007-2008 that they projected on Day 1 way back in 2000); Sasken gets a small, but significant funding from Nortel networks; i-Flex bags the order from Taiwanese Ta Chung Bank.

MNC IT Companies continue to invest in India. Dell to increase headcount to 10,000 from 8,000 in India; with IBM, Oracle, HP, Intel, Accenture well on their way to crossing the 10,000 mark, India is an interesting place for MNC IT majors to grow; Support Soft to increase headcount by another 100 in Bangalore; WebSense starts Indian operations; Sanovi Tech to invest $ 10 Million in Bangalore; Sonim Tech opens Bangalore office; growth is not limited to software services alone; products company BEA Systems to hire 200 engineers in Bangalore; in hardware, Nokia launches its handset manufacturing facility in Chennai with $ 150 Million investment (to be ready for production by early next year) and Elcoteq facility starts manufacturing mobile phones in Bangalore; Graphics card major ATI sets up India operations at Hyderabad while NVIDIA is already present in Bangalore); growth is happening in Engineering & R & D too with Motorola commissioning its 11th global R & D facility in Bangalore; Samsung deciding to pump more money into its R & D facility in Bangalore; Underwriter Laboratories expanding their Bangalore operations; and, Symbol Technologies investing $ 20 Million in Bangalore operations.

In Telecom, with a steady growth of million+ new customers every month, Indian telephone lines cross 100 Million; Bharti Telecom annual revenue crosses $ 2 Billion; BSNL (public sector telecom service provider) plans to invest Rs 80,000 Crores ($ 20 Billion) and add 75 Million lines in the next three years; locally made mobile telephones to be preferred by public sector telecom companies boosting local manufacture; Nokia launches its handset manufacturing facility in Chennai with $ 150 Million investment; Elcoteq facility to manufacture mobile phones in Bangalore is commissioned; TRAI cuts domestic leased line tariff (though TDSAT has stalled it); globally, Internet service provider AOL starts phone services in 40 US cities adding another twist to the global telecom industry; Microsoft strikes a deal with Symbian (practically owned by Nokia) to let MS Exchange mails to be read off mobile smart phones powered by Symbian O/S.

In ITES, iGate crosses Rs 570 Crores just in their third year of operations; mPhasis employees alleged to be behind $ 350,000 theft causing flutters in the Indian BPO industry.

On the People front, we had some very distinguished visitors to India in April; the list includes UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and Pakistan Prime Minister Musharaf; Elcoteq Chairman CEO Antti Piippo, Ernst & Young CEO Jim Turlay, Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz and Dell CEO Kevin Rollins visited India in April; other interesting developments include Wipro Vice Chairman Vivek Paul getting included in the list of “most respected CEO’s” by Dow Jones; Paul Wolfowitz becoming the new World Bank President; Mark Hurd taking over as HP CEO; in yet another dimension, the newly elected Pope hails from Germany after the passing away of the Pope John Paul II.

On the Education & Research front, there was an unusual endorsement of the contributions by IIIT Alumni in the United States by the US House of Representatives; Chinese Prime Minister visits Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; Pakistan students are to be admitted into IIT’s and IIM’s; IIT Kharagpur launches 5-year B Tech (Honors) and MBA Programs; TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) Linux Cluster with 1 Teraflop horsepower of 64-bit computing, moves to 34th position in Asia and enters Super 500 Club; Microsoft India files for 70 patents; globally, Russia and China bag top honors in the ACM Collegiate Programming contest; Stanford scientists are close to perfecting a bionic eye; the largest prime number was found by Mersenne group (distributed PC network among thousands of volunteers).

On the Infrastructure front, Jammu Thawi – Udhampur railway line in Jammu Kashmir State is commissioned; Indian telephone lines cross 100 Million.

On the Applications, Bangalore One (multiple Government of Karnataka services under one roof) opens with a bang (including controversies); in a boost to Indian language computing, Microsoft India and C-DAC start offering Tamil Office; the innovative rural ICT project e-Chaupal of ITC crossed a business volume of $ 100 Million (expects to cross $ 2.5 Billion by 2010).

Some interesting numbers; 7,50,000 unique game downloads happen in India everyday; Globally PC sales cross 46 Million; mobile handsets to cross 780 Million in 2005 (compared to 680 Million in 2004)

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The author (Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan) is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal reflections on the IT industry, more so from an Indian perspective. The inputs are from Journals (IEEE / ACM / Technology Review), Magazines (Dataquest / Voice & Data/ eWeek / CIO Magazine), Sites (Tech Web / Ziff Davis), Newsletters (IEEE, ACM, AIS, Fierce Wireless / IT Toolbox / CRM Guru / Arc Wire / CIOL) and Newspapers (New York Times / Economic Times / Times of India / Deccan Herald / The Hindu). He can be reached at ss@iiitb.ac.in

(appeared in Education Times of Times of India (the world’s largest English language newspaper dated May 16, 2005)

Microsoft to offer “health-check for PC” services

May 14, 2005

Microsoft is planning to start offering a service that would indicate the “health” of PC to end users using Green, Amber, Red Colors (like traffic lights) indicating safe, caution or dangerous conditions of end users’ PC and a service to fix PCs if needed. It will be a welcome development. End users find it too complex; even competent users find fixing PCs a “waste of time”. Checking the number of files, inter-linking, loss of integrity, signatures of dangerous viruses etc., is something that must be “automated”. Microsoft is best suited to do so. Compared to many others who only check for virus, spam etc., Microsoft can do a “thorough check”.

Taking the analogy of medicine, busy executives in Bangalore prefer a “comprehensive” check in Apollo Hospitals than end-less individual checks (blood, sugar, ECG..). Similarly end users would prefer a comprehensive check from Microsoft; it is eminently doable. If done well it will hugely help Microsoft in retaining customers