Bengal’s IT Future at 6 Netaji Subhas Road

Bengal’s IT Future – this was the topic for discussion yesterday – May 12, 2012 at Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized by The Economic Times.

The speakers were:

  • Professor Ajoy Kumar Ray, Vice Chancellor, Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU), Shibpur
  • Kaushik Bhattacharya, Location Head, IBM Global Services, Kolkata
  • Oney Seal, Chairman  & CEO, Databazaar
  • Kalyan Kar Co-founder & Executive Director, InThink – Infinity Knowledge Ventures.

The moderator of the session was Mr. Kalyan Parbat from Economic Times

The audiences were selected group of individuals (30 people) from the Industry and Society, and I was one among them 🙂

The discussion started with Kalyan Da’s (ET) question to the speakers “If Bangalore is rated 8/9 out 10 as far IT is concerned, then what will be your rating for Kolkata”? The moment I heard this question, there was a frown on my face but kept quite as I was eager to hear from speakers. Kalyan Da from Infinity answered it well. His rating was 6 out of 10, and he gave a proper justification from his end. The same question was asked to 3 other speakers and they almost had a same justification.

Kalyan Da (ET) asked several other questions, some of them were according to me were very relevant and each of the speakers cited their views very well. Oney Da from Databazaar said “Internet Penetration” will play a major role and immediate steps should be taken to achieve the mission “last mile connectivity”. Mr. Kaushik Bhattacharya, IBM said increasing the efficiency of the flights and improving the airport services will help greatly. Kalyan Da (Infinity) said focus should be more on branding, there should be strong POLITICAL will-power towards IT in the state and the citizens of Bengal should stop taking “ill” about their own state. Professor Ray, BESU said there should be more “Industry – Academia” collaboration.

After this there was an open house discussion involving the audience. I was the second person from the audience to ask a question which had a background.

If I am not wrong with figures, the scenario is something like this: 800+ MNS, 3000+ IT Companies, 4th Largest Technology Cluster in the world – this is Bangalore. Can Kolkata beat Bangalore? Answer is NO, and why do we have to beat Bangalore? Why do we forget Michael Porter and are so much in love with David Ricardo? In Modern Global Economy, “Comparative Advantage” (David Ricardo) is less relevant and focus should be more on “Competitive Advantage” (Michael Porter). One point which was not discussed was the importance of “Clusters” for development of any sector”.  I asked the speakers since growth will happen in the Emerging Verticals; why not FOCUS on a single vertical and be a leader in that segment? I cited them few facts & figures:  One of the emerging vertical is Media (printing & publishing) – global sourcing addressable market will be 17-20 Billion USD by 2020 (Source: NASSCOM). Yes, Mr. Kaushik Bhattacharya, IBM answered “FOCUS is important” but moved slowly into IBM’s focus instead of answering what the STATE has to do. 😦

There were 2 more questions from the audience and the discussion ended exactly at 6:30 pm. The moderator – Kalyan Da thanked everyone 🙂

While coming back, this is the thought I had People of Bengal is more interested in Bengal’s Future… so the question is what role IT will play in shaping Bengal’s Future 🙂

“Great Indian IT Product Story” – what is stopping us?

I am sure my friends from the IT community will be able to relate to this. I have read a number of articles and have heard many people giving their insights on this topic. Some will say ecosystem matters a lot and start blaming the government and the state, some will allege “skills are missing”(some will state India produces less PhDs compared to other countries) , and some will say “they need proper funding”.

Let me not get into all these for the time being but, let all of us for sometime start thinking from a different angle.

To start with I want to make a simple statement “You don’t need to invent, rather innovate”

It is completely wrong to say India do not have products (IT products are not included here). Let me give you some examples of products, which are built on Indian innovations and are now slowly moving into world markets (developed countries) – a) Ford, Toyota want to sell their India designed low cost cars globally b) Maggi noodles – a low cost and high nutrient product of Nestle which have been primarily developed for India is on its way to Australia and New Zealand c) General Electric’s low cost versions of ECG and ultrasound machines primarily for Indian markets are now moving to world markets d) Pepsi’s – Kurkure and Nimbooz e)  McDonald’s Aloo Tikki Burger. The list can go on. All these products are “innovated –in-India” and then slowly are moving towards the global markets.

So how such innovations (non-IT) are possible? Why cannot the same happen for our own IT Industry?

If you analyse carefully – traditionally products were designed in developed markets and adapted by the rest of the world. Technology came first followed by price. But what is happening now and will continue to happen is called “reverse innovation” that is low-cost but high value products being developed primarily for emerging markets (like India), which will eventually graduate to the developing world. Now technology is tailor-made keeping cost in mind.

Now back to the IT Industry. Indian IT companies (start-ups and SMEs) are unable to build a product on Indian innovation and then scale up globally. But MNCs or foreign companies have been building products (example many MS products are build from India development centre, many small start-ups in India are working on product development, which have been outsourced to India) How is it is happening? In my opinion “Cost” is a major factor. I totally do not agree with the fact that “we do not have ideas”, we do have ideas but the “cost of execution” and “scaling it up” is a hindrance to this.

By the year 2020, total IT addressable market (NASSCOM-McKinsey Report- Prospective 2020) from new geographies – BRIC region (Brasil, Russia, India, China) will be around USD 380-420 billion ( For India – USD 90-100 billion). That means we will see a lot of IT Innovations happening in Indian Markets. But the question is can our IT start-ups/SMEs do it? US IT Companies can achieve their growth, build products and reduce cost by outsourcing it to India but how can we (Indian IT start-ups/SMEs) innovate? – outsource (how? and to whom?) or focus on our frugal engineering skills (Jugaad)?

Because of these numerous questions I sometimes see a bad dream quite often – Re-birth of East India Company .