Tuesday 1 November 2011

Sam Pitroda: Telecom Revolution

This profile appeared in India Abroad, New York, Oct 21, 2011

Making of a Revolution
Sam and Indian Telecom
 

Shivanand Kanavi looks back at the ingenious ways in which Sam Pitroda connected billion Indians



Sun Microsystems, the famous Silicon Valley computer maker, of the ‘80s, used to have an ad line a few years ago, which said: “We are the dot in .com”. Obviously, the slogan was meant to advertise Sun’s role in Internet infrastructure. If one were to coin a similar slogan for C-DOT, then it would be: “C-DOT is the com in Indian telecom”.

Until the 1980s, Indian telecom was dominated entirely by electromechanical switches. This was one of the main reasons for bad telephone service. The Indian government was then looking at ways of modernising telecom. An obvious option was to import digital switches from the US, Japan or Europe. While this was the fastest route, there were primarily three drawbacks to it:



• India had meagre foreign exchange resources.

• The switches made by multinational companies were designed to handle a large number of lines (up to 100,000), and hence suited large cities. They did not have small switches that could handle about 100-200 lines, or the intermediate-range ones the country needed to spread telecom to small towns and large villages in India.

• It would have meant no incentive for indigenous R&D.



The question was, could India afford to spend enough money to develop its own switch and manufacture it at a competitive price? Even the most optimistic advocates of indigenous effort were sceptical, and they preferred to take the route of licensed production in agreement with a foreign multinational company. The CEO of a large multinational wrote to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, cautioning her that his company had invested more than a billion dollars in developing the technology, and implying that it would be foolhardy for India to attempt to re-invent the wheel with its limited resources.

That accepted wisdom needed challenging. And the person who could dare to do so was Sam Pitroda, a Chicago-based telecom engineer from Orissa, who had studied in the US and participated in the development and evolution of digital switching technology. Pitroda had over thirty patents in the technology while working at GTE and later at Rockwell.

As an entrepreneur, he had done very well for himself financially.

In the early 1980s, he heard from a friend that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had set up a high-level committee to look into the modernization of Indian telecommunications. He thought it was time he paid his dues to his country of origin. Having seen poverty and social discrimination in his childhood in his village, and now having become a participant in the worldwide IT revolution, Pitroda had no doubt that a modern telecom infrastructure would go a long way “in promoting openness, accessibility, accountability, connectivity, democracy, decentralisation—all the ‘soft’ qualities so essential to effective social, economic, and political development,” as he wrote later in the Harvard Business Review (Development Democracy, and the Village Telephone—Sam Pitroda, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1993).



Pitroda brought along with him his knowledge of technology, a ‘can do’ attitude and an impressive silvery mane he tossed while making a point, but not much else. He brought a breath of fresh air of optimism, aggression, confidence, flamboyance and media savvy into Indian telecom. He offered his services to the Indian government for one rupee a year.

And the offer was taken.

To recap the situation, in 1980, India had fewer than 2.5 million telephones, almost all of them in a handful of urban centres. In fact, seven per cent of the country’s urban population had fifty-five per cent of the nation’s telephones. The country had only twelve thousand public telephones for seven hundred million people, and ninety-seven per cent of India’s six hundred thousand villages had no telephones at all.

“India, like most of the Third World, was using its foreign exchange to buy the West’s abandoned technology and install obsolete equipment that doomed the poor to move like telecom snails where Europeans, Americans and Japanese were beginning to move like information greyhounds,” asserts Pitroda in his characteristic fashion. “The technological disparity was getting bigger, not smaller. India and countries like her were falling farther and farther behind not just in the ability to chat with relatives or call the doctor but, much more critically, in the capacity to coordinate development activities, pursue scientific study, conduct business, operate markets, and participate more fully in the international community. I was perfectly certain that no large country entirely lacking an indigenous electronics industry could hope to compete economically in the coming century. To survive, India had to bring telecommunications to its towns and villages; to thrive, it had to do it with Indian talent and Indian technology”, Pitroda added in his article.

Many discussions over three years, plus flying back and forth between New Delhi and Chicago, led to the establishment of C-DOT, the Centre for Development of Telematics. C-DOT was registered as a non-profit society funded by the government but enjoying complete autonomy. The Indian parliament agreed to allocate $36 million to C-DOT over 36 months to develop a digital switching system suited to the Indian network.

“We found five rooms in a rundown government hotel, and we went to work using beds as desks,” says Pitroda of those early days. “A few months later, in October 1984, Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, and her son Rajiv became prime minister. He and I decided that I should press ahead with the initiative for all it was worth.”

According to Pitroda, C-DOT engineers were conspicuously young, and they never seemed to sleep or rest. “C-DOT was much more than an engineering project. It did, of course, test the technical ability of our young engineers to design a whole family of digital switching systems and associated software suited to India’s peculiar conditions. But it was also an exercise in national self-assurance. Years earlier, India’s space and nuclear programmes had given the country pride in its scientific capability. Now C-DOT had the chance to resurrect that pride.”

By 1987, within the three-year limit, C-DOT had delivered a 128-line rural exchange, a 128-line private automatic branch exchange for businesses, a small central exchange with a capacity of 512 lines, and was working on a 10,000-line exchange. The components for all these exchanges were interchangeable for maximum flexibility in design, installation and repairs, and all of it was being manufactured in India to international standards—a guaranteed maximum of one hour’s downtime in twenty years of service! There was one problem; C-DOT had fallen short on one goal—the large urban exchange was behind schedule—but, overall, it had proved itself a colossal, resounding success.

What about the heat and dust in India and the need for air-conditioned rooms for digital switches? This was a serious issue for the country, large parts of which do not get a continuous supply of electricity. The solution was simple but ingenious. “First, to produce less heat, we used low-power microprocessors and other devices that made the exchanges work just slightly slower. Secondly, we spread out the circuitry to give it a little more opportunity to ‘breathe’. The cabinet had to be sealed against dust, of course, but by making the whole assembly a little larger than necessary, we created an opportunity for heat to rise internally to the cabinet cover and dissipate,” explains Pitroda.

The final product was a metal container about three feet by two feet by three feet, costing about $8,000, that required no air-conditioning and could be installed in a protected space somewhere in a village. It could switch phone calls more or less indefinitely in the heat and dust of an Indian summer as well as through the torrential Indian monsoon.

By November 2002, C-DOT switches equipped over 44,000 exchanges all over India. In the rural areas, ninety-one per cent of the telephone networks use C-DOT switches. Every village has not been covered yet, but we are getting there. Nationwide, 16 million lines, that is, forty per cent of the total operational lines in India, are covered by C-DOT switches.

Pitroda and Rajiv Gandhi also decided to open up the technology to the private sector. So C-DOT rapidly transferred the technology to over 680 manufacturers, who have supplied equipment worth Rs 7,230 crore and created 35,000 jobs in electronics. Seeing the ruggedness of these rural exchanges, many developing countries, such as Bhutan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ghana, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Nepal, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda and Yemen decided to try them out.

For any institution, sustaining the initial zeal is hard once the immediate goals are achieved. After C-DOT’s goals were achieved, the Indian telecom sector has gone through, and is still going through, a regulatory and technological upheaval. But that has not deterred C-DOT’s engineers.

“It is creditable that through all this turbulence C-DOT has moved on to produce optical fibre transmission equipment, VSAT equipment, upgrading its switches to ISDN, intelligent networking, and even mobile switching technology. Today C-DOT may not be as high profile as it was in the 1980s, but it continues to provide essential hardware and software for Indian telecom despite intense competition from global vendors,” says Bishnu Pradhan, a telecom expert who was among C-DOT leaders between 1990 and 1996.



THE STD BOOTH: A BRILLIANT SOLUTION FOR LOW TELEDENSITY



Before we move on to other parts of the communications revolution, let us note a characteristically Indian innovation not so much in technology as in management, which led to quantum leap in connectivity. That is the lowly public call office, or PCO, found at every street corner all over India today. These PCOs gave easy access to those who couldn’t afford telephones, and brought subscriber trunk dialing to millions of Indians.

Public call offices are a part of any network anywhere in the world, so what is innovative about India’s PCOs? The innovation lies in privately managed PCOs. As a result, we have over 600,000 small entrepreneurs running these booths and the telecom companies’ income from long distance telephony has multiplied manifold.

The innovation also lies in realising that Indian society is essentially frugal in nature, and is amenable to sharing resources. What Pitroda did was to translate the Indian village and small town experience of sharing newspapers into the telecommunications scenario.


Sam Pitroda: An Interview

This interview appeared in India Abroad, New York, Oct 21, 2011

"We need to redesign the nation"

 

Sam Pitroda has advised more than half a dozen prime ministers of India over the last three decades regarding technology applications and policy. Shivanand Kanavi captures the highlights of this rich experience in a conversation.


How did your engagement with government of India as a technology advisor start nearly thirty years ago?

In the early 80`s computers were just becoming more and more viable in terms of desktop, that was the time Rajiv Gandhi came into the mainstream of politics as a young MP in India. He was visionary and was himself technology savvy. He saw that computers could play very imp role. I had background in telecom, IT, and software in the US and I was also young and because of my background in telecom, I decided to look at telecom as an instrument of change in nation building. 

How did C-DOT come along?

Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi gave me an opportunity to set up C-DOT (Center for Development of Telematics) to develop indigenous technology for India’s effort to digitize networks. Then we had electro-mechanicals [switches]. However we were going digital so we needed products, and one idea was to get products and technologies from MNCs like Alcatel and another approach was to develop indigenously using Indian talent  to meet Indian needs like rural telephony, smaller exchange that can withstand Indian climate; dust; high temp and all of that, so my entry into India was to essentially focus on digital networks, develop rural telecom through C-DOT.

Were you not part of the “computer boys” of Rajiv Gandhi’s era?

Collectively we all felt computers have a role to play not only in telecom but also in other areas and if we really want people to see the benefits of IT then we need to apply it quickly in areas where average Indian could see the advantage. Otherwise they would all say, look this is all fancy stuff only for the rich, urban, elite etc. Many used to say ‘what does this guy know about rural areas? Rural India is very different’. People used to tell me you should work on agriculture, drinking water and sanitation. I used to say ‘you are right, but I don’t know anything about it. You need to find an agriculture or a water expert. I happen to know about IT & telecom so I can only work on it, my knowledge is limited, but there are so many other things going on in the world like biotech, nanotech I don’t know anything about it so I have to focus on what I know and someone else has to focus on other areas’.

How did the idea of computerisation of Indian railways’ passenger reservation system, which celebrates s Silver Jubilee this year, originate? That actually changed people’s perceptions on the ground.

Rajiv was convinced that technology can be an instrument of change. We said we must look for area which affects large number of people. Many people wait at the railway stations e.g. a person is waiting at the railway station window no 6 to get a ticket to Nagpur and you get all the way up to the line and when you say you want a ticket to Nagpur you are told that you have to go to window no 7 and so you have to start all over again. The hassle of getting railway ticket, going to station for booking it etc all that was a painful experience for every citizen. So we thought how about using this for railway reservation.

Problem however were the unions. They were going to be against it as the general impression was that computers take away jobs and that automation is not good. ‘Automation is for the west not for India and India should not automate anything. We should focus on labour intensive technology. We have more people we need to create more jobs so manual is the only way to do it’.

How did you overcome the resistance to the idea?

Unions reacted saying ‘no way’ we will allow this to happen. We started dialogue with unions saying this is important in the long-run and in passengers’ interest. In one of the conversations somebody figured out that if we put computers we would need to have Air-Conditioned rooms so people will benefit from the better work conditions and environments. So we said let’s try it in some place and create a POC (Proof Of Concept). We told the board, ‘give us a slot to try and if you are not happy, unions are not happy then we will revisit’. So people agreed that we should try. Dr P P Gupta the then CMD of CMC was very happy. He was given the mandate to prove the concept. CMC was seen as a new organization; dynamic and innovative. We had the talent in CMC to do this kind of things. After a lot of effort, when we showed the unions that it can work, then we saw change.

In India  at that point in time we also didn’t have the capabilities, if there had been RFPs then they would have surely gone to the IBMs of the world but then the mood was ‘indigenous development’. When proved the concept, people saw it and said consumer would substantially benefit from it as they won’t have to go through the hassle, but then the challenge was how we did it. Even today revenue-wise freight is more important, but we wanted to look at benefit for consumer because then the acceptance for computers overall at a national level would be better, so in a sense it was a railway project but it was more than that. It was a project to prove to all stakeholders; our consumers in many fields and unions in many fields that automation is not bad. Computers are not bad. They will upgrade the jobs. Now your people will work in AC. All those things were critical.

What about wider adoption of IT in the railway operations?

That’s how the CRIS (Centre for Railway Information Systems) was born. Besides reservation there are lots of other things but it took 20yrs for people to embrace this whole idea in a big way. Reservation and ticketing was an instant success. People thought it was a miracle and I would say this was the first grand success for IT in India. By then C-DOT was rolling and exchanges and telecom modernisation were seen as the important.

Going back to the railways story, don’t you think we could use technology to make them safer?

In the Indian Railways, we have huge possibility to use IT for travelling, traffic billing, we have built the highway we want satellite based or GSM based real time monitoring anti-collision device etc. All of that it is very simple. Indian Railway has 40,000 kms of its own optical fibre they are trying to put another 10000 so IT is becoming important in railways in traffic building. Many people die at railway crossings everywhere. We could give the person manning it this little device, which listens to the train coming in and gives an alarm signal that train coming so get off the track. Technology should be used to prevent such deaths. Very soon many technology initiatives of Indian railways are going to be announced.

There were also other technology missions….

Yes more technology missions came in where we could take technology to address the routine problems of people related to water, literacy, immunization, edible oil, and telecom. These were the 5 missions to which we added dairy development as the 6th mission. Then we started changing the mindsets. That was a big accomplishment in a country of then 800 million people-to convince people that technology is something that is positive. Technology is not bad it is not urban, exotic, fancy. To me in those 5 years this was the main accomplishment and it will benefit our young.

What are your current preoccupations?

Today we are nation of connected millions, unfortunately people don’t quiet appreciate this big revolution that has happened in the history of India. So far we were a nation of unconnected millions, now we are all connected in some fashion. You can reach Kashmir, Mizoram, Kanya Kumari just like that. So what does it mean for a nation going forward? How do you redesign the strategies  based on connectivity for development? Should we go around doing the same thing that we have done in the past and not notice the fact that we are a nation of a billion connected now? Something huge happened in last decade let’s sit back and take advantage of it. How do we do everything we do today, differently? I think that’s the main challenge how do we examine governance, public services.

So what it means is that now we need to redesign the nation, if I may use that word. How do we get birth certificate, how do we get land record, how we can file a police report. Today when I file a police report in kerala somebody in Maharashtra can’t read it due to different format, different column, and names do we standardize that so that when a police report is filed in Kerala  it is available in Maharashtra i.e. anybody in Maharashtra can read it and can we do it online because we are connected? Everything we do has to be rethought.

In a sense everything we do today is obsolete; people say we don’t have enough professors, with connectivity we can take a great professor from IIT Kharagpur and broadcast to 2000 colleges. All of that is possible now, distance learning, e-governance all of this can be a reality.  Can we provide for video conferencing so that people don’t have to travel hours for a 5 mins meeting? What we are doing now, could have been done on Skype. So we can avoid you travelling for an hour and half to reach this place to see me. All of these things are possible but this will take time to change the mindset of people. I was once telling PM, “a lot of people come to see you. You could schedule a 10 min interview with a person in Kerala that individual gets up in the morning takes a flight goes to PM’s house where 15 people are waiting he is always hassled it’s going to be 7:30 then 7:45 then you meet for 5 mins and he says “Sir ye problem hai”( Sir, such and such is a problem).. Poor guy has lost whole day so much petrol so much time... you could do the same on video conferencing”.

So going back to the original thought we are nation of connected million and we need to do things differently we need to use cameras, videos, scanning to reduce travel you know to manage our cities better. We cannot manage our cities the way we have been managing. For example, today everybody is focused on urbanisation but their idea is Mumbai has 18 million people and it will become 26 million in........ But we don’t want extrapolation. We need restructuring. How will I use GIS (Geographical Information System) to make Mumbai better. How to use scanners to make Mumbai secure? We really need to make our cities smarter. Come up with different ideas how we improve our slums.

Where is the resistance now?

The government in a sense is not technology friendly. There are young individuals like Jayaram Ramesh’s of the world, who are tech savvy, but there are secretaries in IT who don’t use computers. The Department of Electronics uses manual files to make decisions; they should computerize their files, how many people in Department of Electronics use computers to make decisions. They are taking decisions on technology but they are using manual files. But that’s the system we have. You never see people in Indian government taking notes on a laptop, how many ministers know how to use laptops. You have to be connected you have to be able to read your e-mails, you can’t write or call your secretary and say “dictate karta hoon note likho” (will dictate a letter note it down) and then mail it and then wait for the reply. Those days are over, we are a connected people. We have built this nation in the last 20 years based on technology. Today if we have over $300 billion forex reserve it is only because of technology. IT has given us great deal of global recognition, lots of global companies of our own, lots of success stories, our advantage is we are in large numbers.








Sunday 2 October 2011

Archaeo-Metallurgy, Dr Baldev Raj, A Conversation


From: Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol 5, Issue 2

http://www.ghadar.in/gjh_html/?q=content/archaeo-metallurgy-where-gods-come-alive

Dr Baldev Raj

Archaeo-metallurgy: Where Gods come alive

 
Dr Baldev Raj is a highly distinguished metallurgist and nuclear scientist. He was till recently the Director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Advanced Research of the Department of Atomic Energy at Kalpakkam. He is the current President of the prestigious Indian National Academy of Engineering and has a very large number of research publications to his credit and has been honoured by many countries. He has also co-authored, “Where gods come alive: A monograph on the bronze icons of South India” (2000, Vigyan Prasar). Shivanand Kanavi met him at the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor facility, Kalpakkam recently and spoke to him about how he got to employ his considerable skills as a metallurgist in studying some objects from our ancient and medieval past and what we can learn from it.

How did you get interested in archaeo-metallurgy? When did it start?

It is a strange coincidence. Prof. C V Sundaram was our director at Indira Gandhi Centre for Advanced Research. There was a fellow of IISc, Dr Paramsivan, who did his PhD in archaeo-metallurgy six decades back! He came to C V Sundaram and said he was interested in the characterisation of bronzes. Prof Sundaram called me (it was the late seventies-early eighties) and said you are doing non-destructive testing, why don’t you work with Prof Paramsivan? I said yes. We then went to the south Indian temples where the bronzes are, and also went to museums which gave us permission to bring them to the lab. The very first results were welcomed and appreciated. Dr V S Arunachalam was the scientific advisor to Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister) at the time and had keen interest in that. He was encouraging and said that good science should be done and that just saying that we have a great heritage does not help. That was the trigger point. Then I got interested in the iron pillar, I got interested in icons, in the temple at Mahabalipuram, and so on. Now I am interested in the characterisation of Ajanta and Ellora using Raman spectroscopy. We also studied the musical pillars of Madurai, which appeared in the cover of the Accoustic Journal of the USA. Now I am as interested in archaeo-metallurgy as nuclear metallurgy.

SK: To begin with, can you explain what is archaeo-metallurgy and why it is important?

BR: Those metal objects were made a long time back, maybe 2000 years or 700 years or 200 years ago.
The very conceptualisation of those objects happened with the knowledge base of that time, and the inspiration was even greater than the knowledge base. Today there may be a much greater knowledge base, but how many things are done with that kind of inspiration? Only such things stand the test of time. We get the knowledge of technology of that time from the scriptures but everything is not mentioned. It is a broad description. They had mastered the technology without the characterisation tools or modelling. So, archaeo-metallurgy is digging into the past metallurgy through reverse engineering. It is very fascinating.
When you still find gaps, you leave the hypotheses open. Sometimes the historians, sometimes the experts in arts, bridge the gap but you provide them the component of S&T (Science & Technology). It becomes useful to them also. In India fortunately there are a number of artefacts for archaeo-metallurgy. In fact one needs to broaden metallurgy to include materials science. Then you cover almost everything — stone, paintings and so on.

SK: In terms of Indian heritage there is a lot of ignorance and, because of colonisation, an inferiority complex also. One tends to think that Europe produced everything. This type of scientific research into our past which describes complex technologies being employed in ancient and medieval India changes that perception.

BR: Earlier nobody was interested in India but today people take you seriously. Of course nobody is interested in hearing claims which have epics as the basis. But if you can use scientific methods then people in the outside world listen. Then even the enlightened tourists would be interested. Take Yoga for example. Because a lot of serious people took up writing, teaching, popularising Yoga (and a few might have misused it also) it enhanced the position of Yoga internationally. Even our work on a scientific basis of Indian science and technology would lift the reputation of India from a low cost centre of cheap manufacture to a people who are capable of innovative and inspirational work. One can then have a robust story to engage the rest of the world with confidence. Even when we studied the south Indian bronzes it was from that point of view.

SK: What did you learn and conclude from that? What got you interested in the south Indian bronzes?

BR: One factor was beauty. The artists were involved in producing more than the daily necessities. How could they produce something which was so inspirational? Bronze technology was mature but nobody had produced such aesthetic objects. They were inspired by the scriptures. Castings at that time were made using bee wax but how did they give them such perfect shape and shine? I think they probably did not realise at that time that they were creating something almost perfect. Material was also not very abundant at that time — they had to re-melt when things went wrong. But if they created something beautiful they incarnated it and installed it in a temple. When I studied the bronzes, I found that they had very few defects whereas even in today’s 21st century investment casting there are so many defects in small pieces! The conclusion I drew is that there are certain things in human creation which come by commitment, which do not come from the technology or machines you use!
They were inspired by the fact that they were creating images of god, and second was the fear of the king who had commissioned the work. In the process they created perfection. They did not even have ways to check for defects that we have. The products were an unparalleled combination of beauty and technology. We have compared with many other things of that time in the world.

SK: What did you learn from the study of the Iron pillar?

BR: Nowadays we are talking about cost effective technology and actually the iron pillar is one such example. It is ordinary iron of no fancy alloy composition, but it has survived 2000 years! That is great science. The anti-corrosion property has been studied well. It is primarily because of the phosphide layer, which regenerates in a few months even if you remove it.

SK: It is said that during Alexander’s time India had steel technology.

BR: Yes, Wootz steel.

SK: Have they figured out how Wootz steel was produced?

BR: We have figured out its micro structure but not been able to reverse engineer it.

SK: Has enough field work been done to find any people with memories of these technologies?

BR: In the case of south Indian bronzes it has been done. The last of the persons who actually knew of it passed away a few years back. Fortunately, we recorded his interview with photographs etc. Dr Sharada Srinivasan and Prof S Ranganathan have done considerable work on Wootz steel.

SK: In building the story of Indian science and technology people have largely depended on epics and the Puranas etc., which many Indians also may not believe, but the material artefacts are indisputable. What we can reconstruct forensically from them would be sound and verifiable.

BR: Yes it would be verifiable by any country. Science has to withstand questions and has to be verifiable by anyone independently. If more and more people take this up as a hobby, it will bring them closer to their civilisation and culture also.
Today when we talk of being global, it sounds very vague. Nobody knows what that means. This kind of work would bind them to their culture and also look at global possibilities. I think this should be taken up by more and more good people as a hobby. Not that one should set up a big lab for archaeo-metallurgy. Every lab can do it wherever there is interest and specialists. Take the Taj Mahal for example, one can do a lot there from the archaeo materials point of view. It has been explored to a great extent from the point of view of architecture. For example, if I ask the question, what is the remaining life of the Taj, what is the answer? Are we expecting it to stand till eternity? Why can’t we explore it? We will learn along the way. We need to put together a small group of 10-20 people comprising civil engineers, material scientists, experts in characterisation etc. That kind of work would attract the attention of anybody in the world!

SK: When I first visited the Taj Mahal what struck me was not its beauty but the technology involved in it. The minarets are conical. The angle of the cone is so small that only when you look at it from far do you notice it. So how did they machine the marble which has been kept in C-sections which are cylindrical but also have a small conical slope? This has been done with such high accuracy that each one sits perfectly on the next one. Obviously this cannot be done by hand burnishing. So what kind of machining did they do to those marbles? Moreover it is over 300 years old. In the period since then there must have been several serious seismic shocks, then how has this structure with-stood it? How did they earthquake proof it?

BR: One should study its foundation, using non-destructive testing methods. Also during seismic events one can measure the vibrations and calculate in reverse and estimate what kind of foundation it must be sitting on. There are a whole lot of issues.

SK: When I visited some caves in Maharashtra in Lonavala, in Ajanta, in Sahyadris or even in Mumbai in Mahakali, Jogeshwari or Elephanta etc.- I had many questions. Some of them were built 1500 years ago in the Satavahana period. I have always wondered how they cut the hard rock. What kind of metallic tools were used? I have asked archaeologists but have not got answers. Similarly, how was the Kailash temple at Ellora built from a monolith? What kind of project management and planning did they do to achieve the outcome?

BR: There are a lot of questions. It is very exciting and one does not know the answers. One has to spend quite a bit of time and research in a step by step manner to get plausible answers.

SK: Thank you Dr Baldev Raj. This has been a very stimulating conversation.

Monday 19 September 2011

Book Review: Reinventing India--R A Mashelkar


Business India, Oct 2, 2011
Managing Brand India
Shivanand Kanavi

Reinventing India- Raghunath Mashelkar, Sahyadri Prakashan, Pune, 2011

Sa'id al-Andalusi, a leading natural philosopher of the eleventh century Spain, which was then under Arab rule, wrote in 1068 CE, in his “Kitab Tabaqat al-'Umam”, (See “Science in the Medieval World—Book of the Categories of Nations”, By Said Al-Andalusi, English Translation: Sema`an I. Salem, Alok Kumar, University of Texas Press, 1991) about the contributions to science of all known nations.
He said, “The first nation (to have cultivated science) is India. This is a powerful nation having a large population, and a rich kingdom (possession). India is known for the wisdom of its people. Over many centuries, all the kings of the past have recognized the ability of the Indians in all the branches of knowledge.”
Further, “The kings of China have stated that the kings of the world are five in number and all the people of the world are their subjects. They mentioned the king of China, the king of India, the king of the Turks, the king of the Furs (Persians) and the king of the Romans. They referred to the king of China as the ‘king of humans’ because the people of China are more obedient to authority and are stronger followers of government policies than all the other peoples of the world. They referred to the king of India as the ‘king of wisdom’ because of the Indians’ careful treatment of ulum (sciences) and their advancement in all the branches of knowledge”. Science (ulum), as used by Sa'id and other scholars of that period, is a broad term covering virtually all aspects of human knowledge.
The point to be noted in the above quotation is not on India being “the first nation to cultivate science.” It is on the fact that European scholars, as late as the eleventh-century, thought India as a leader in science and technology.
Eight hundred years later, Thomas Babington Macaulay in his infamous minute on Indian education, said “who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India”!
However violently one might disagree with this assessment, it is a fact that India was not looked upon as a source of science, technology and innovation by the rest of the world during and immediately after the colonial period. Clearly from an innovator and leader, India had fallen far behind and become a receiver and a me-too in the advancement of science and technology.
In the 70s and 80s we were all brought up on a steady diet of “import substitution”, reverse engineering, “adapting advanced technology to the needs of the developing world” ad nauseam.
How it is then, in the 21st century, the situation seems to have changed in global perception? Today as Mashelkar points out in his collection of writings and speeches, “Reinventing India”, India is a very important part of the global knowledge network. Indian researchers are being sought after by global corporations.
Considerable amount of Indian talent migrated to North America and Europe in the 60s and 70s, filling the ranks of: NASA; Bell Labs; Silicon Valley; National Institutes of Health and the global health care system and pharmaceutical industry; Wall Street and of course global academia. However, today at the last count by Mashelkar, 760 global companies had set up their R&D establishments in India employing over 160,000 Indian researchers. To top it all, recently the Financial Times spoke about India as a hub of manufacturing driven by its own “Frugal Engineering” (see ‘The New Trade Routes’, Friday, May 20, 2011, FT Special Reports) signifying that a new culture in innovative science and technology is percolating to the shop floor and market place as well.
This is a remarkable re-emergence of India in the global knowledge networks.
Mashelkar’s book chronicles this re-emergence; cheer leads it; brands it and markets it, in an inspirational way, like nobody else could. Anybody who has heard him speak on the subject finds the evangelist in him compelling, irresistible and motivational. Even die hard sceptics and naysayers, of which we have a plenty in India, will find narration of his own life’s journey from the poverty stricken chawls of Mumbai to the pinnacles of R&D management and policy making, hard to resist.
Many readers might find several themes repeated or often recycled with a new spin in his speeches and articles collected here. But a cardinal mantra of brand building is, ‘spell out the differentiator of the brand clearly and hammer it repeatedly and relentlessly in all your internal and external messaging’. Mashelkar does it to a ‘t’.
One blemish in the otherwise well produced book is poor copy editing. For example, on page 8, a sentence, “24 July 1995 marks the day on which India started to reinvent itself” appears as a separate paragraph with no connection to the previous one or the subsequent one, puzzling the reader about its significance.
Many of Mashelkar’s messages regarding India having the potential to become a platform for global R&D, have become passé in the 21st century. The world has recognised the worth of Indian talent. And Indian talent has recognised the worth of its ideas in the market place. However, it should be remembered that Mashelkar stood out alone as an articulate dreamer and inspiring speaker in the uncertain ‘90s.
Today the geo-political discourse has changed from ‘potential of India’ to the ‘rise of India’. Of course, one would still consider Obama’s remark that India has ‘already emerged’ as an American excess. In the ‘90s, Mashelkar looked amazingly naïve but uplifting but today his messages are a given. Hence the ideas in “Reinventing India” are worth going over again keeping the dates and context in mind.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Bridging the Digital Divide in India

Excerpts from an hour long programme on Lok Sabha TV on bridging the digital divide in India, where yours truly was invited.
Head Start    Lok Sabha TV
Nov 10, 2009
“Bridging the Digital Divide”
Panel discussion Participants- Shivanand Kanavi and Dinesh Sharma
Host: Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Paranjoy- India entered the new millennium with 1/3rd of the world’s computer software engineers and 1/4th of the world’s poor. Can we bridge this digital divide? Can IT benefit the poor and underprivileged in this country? Let me welcome the guests.
I have here with me Shivanand Kanavi, a theoretical physicist from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and then studied in Boston; moved from a teaching and academic career into economic consultancy and then to journalism and then to back to corporate sector and currently Vice President, Special Projects at Tata Consultancy Services a leading company of its kind in the country and author of a recently published book Sand to Silicon. We also have Dinesh Sharma, Science Editor of Mail Today has spent 25 years in the profession and author of the book, The Long Revolution-the birth and growth of India’s Information Technology Industry.
Let us start the discussion on to what extent IT has affected the life of the aam admi of this country?
Shivanand-  To look at that lets first look at the basic features that information technology has, the first thing is that information technology has in certain areas increased human reach, human powers, we can go into that in which way and so on later. Second thing is it has helped in cooperative behaviours, collaborating / sharing things with others and communication so on so forth, which all goes into co-operative, networked behaviours. The third thing is as it creates a direct channel in a sense of communication between various individuals there is a sort of delayering and disintermediation.  
Paranjoy: Explain what you mean by that…
Shivanand: It is very similar to what a Bhakti movement did when it said that let there be direct communication with God, why do we need go-betweens who can act as gatekeepers.
In every transaction in our society, with government or with other individuals there are so many middle men. These middle men can not only add to the cost and time for a transaction to take place but also make life very asymmetrical and miserable for a citizen. You have a culture in India, since several thousand years, at least going back as far as Chanakya, where the state is supposed to do so many things. It is part of its Rajadharma to do so many things for its citizens. Now if there are so many middlemen in those services then a state becomes a highly oppressive instrument, it doesn’t matter what the stated policy is. So if technology can help in removing those middlemen and making things easier and faster for citizens, then straight away everybody from poor to the middle class and rich will benefit, a lot of transactions and services can be smoothened out.
Paranjoy -   Shivanand has given a somewhat philosophical answer to the question. May be you can give some examples
Dinesh: You referred to the number of software engineers India produces and no of poor people we have that is the digital divide. On one hand we have a generation which is major user of all the digital devices and on the other hand we have millions of people who have no access to them. Even before this whole concept of digital divide and digital technology came, India did some experiments which proved to be hugely successful; one of them was computerised railway reservation that remains to my knowledge the largest application of information technology, anywhere in the world till today. It’s not the question of somebody using a computer or a mobile phone; it’s a question of how technology is touching someone’s life. That is the technology diffusion that has taken place. Today 17 million people travel by Indian Railways every day, so it is touching the life of 17 million lives everyday. All three of us belong to a generation of long queues, one train, and one window. You could not book onward journey or return journey, you had to send telegrams. The amount of time someone spent buying a railway ticket was almost equivalent to amount of time you travel by the train, so the change from then to now is amazing. This process has started in 1984 and it continued till 1999, 2005 it was connected to Internet. So it remains to be the largest technology diffusion project of its kind till date. Imagine 6 billion people travelling by train every year in India, so it is touching the life of that many people.
As Shivanand said it has cut down the cost, it has cut down the transaction time; it has cut down the intermediaries. The other example is of course banking, it used to take 6 days or even more than that for a local cheque to clear, 6 weeks for an outstation cheque to clear, so all that has changed. The technology has changed the way services are offered.
Paranjoy - What really changed in the mindset of employees who opposed the use computers in Banks?
Shivanand - There are several things involved in it, first of all you need the motivation in the top leadership to actually implement a programme like this and communicate with the employees and to all the stakeholders the benefits of this to the banks and their customers. The employees have the stakes in the growth of the banks, its survival, profitability etc and as well as their own personal growth. Of course they have to assure them of job security which is the first thing you would have to ensure. In India no project has been done successfully without the implementer assuring the employee the jobs are safe. But then there is something more than that, you are learning new skills. You are moving into a different level of skills and technology and ability to do many more things than you used to do before.
Paranjoy - Dinesh do you agree with Shivanand?
Dinesh - In any new technology project or introduction of new concept we do need a champion at the top be it political leadership, be it a champion within an organisation, so certainly agree with him. Again go back to the railways why there was opposition in banking and why there was no opposition in Railways , the reason behind this is the decision to computerise banking operations was taken at a certain level  and it was implemented in that way. The process of Railways computerisation started with the involvement of the employees, because the process itself was so complex. For example, there were 200 categories of tickets and umpteen numbers of coaches and one had to understand that. The company given the project was CMC. They had to sit and spend time to understand from Railways clerks for hours and days together, and make them a partner in the whole process.
Paranjoy -  Shivanand, let us talk about the experiences of say computerisation of land records in some of the southern states like Karnataka, where I understand it has been done very well.
Shivanand - I am not that familiar with this project though I know some of the features of it, probably Dinesh can talk about it in detail. But I can tell you little bit about another project that is currently sweeping India and has created a safety net by the government for rural poor; that is NREGS. The whole question on rural development programmes and poverty alleviation programmes has been like what is the leakage through corruption? Does it reach the right people and have any productive assets been created?
Paranjoy - How has computerisation helped in National Rural Employment Guaranty Programme?
Shivanand - One example is NREGS in Andhra Pradesh. One more general point I want to make is: in these kinds of software projects, there is no a software package which is available, a readymade solution in answer to XYZ requirements. Human beings, procedures, and legacy issues all these need to be dealt with. It’s not even just automating what exists. What exists can be highly anachronistic, because we have as legacy essentially colonial state machinery; its procedures, rules and so on designed in the 19th century! So it may not be desirable to automate it. So you need to do what is called re-engineering. It would mean the deep involvement of the administration at all levels, at the Panchayat level or the Mandal Panchayat level; who is going to enter the data; how he is going to evaluate a project; how he would evaluate the progress in the project and how will he differentiate between say digging in soft soil and a rocky area, when the two are very different. All these nitty-gritties have to be configured into your system. So it has to be a co-developed system. It’s not something which a software company has readymade. For example, Dinesh discussed how the railways were involved in the computerisation. There were so many complexities. At the end of the day, once you do a successful project in India you can do anything anywhere in the world!
Paranjoy: Let me raise another issue. Even if there are some success stories why are we not able to replicate that success elsewhere?
Dinesh - A few years back a survey was done on all kinds of ICT or eGovernanace projects that are going on in the country. At that time the count was 300 or so and they were in different pockets, like Bhoomi in the whole of Karnataka, Friends in Kerala, others in AP, Tamil Nadu and North. It was found in that survey only 15% of them have been successful in their objective, 35% partially failed. So that was the kind of assessment of these projects. The problem is for any eGovernanace or citizen interface government project to succeed, we need three things: First willingness to reform, because you are bringing a new system, there is no point in computerising existing forms and putting them on the web, that is not e-governance, that is not going to solve the problem and it might even complicate it. So there should be willingness to reform the existing system without that e-governance cannot succeed. Second is availability of technology, you might need to develop software, you need to have a hardware particularly designed for that project and so on for example, in Bhoomi they tried Bio-metric technology for first time on such a large scale since many cannot enter a password. The data, Land records should be available only to certain people and their bio metric data was needed. This technology was specially developed for Bhoomi project. So the availability of hardware, software and technology is needed to execute these projects.
Paranjoy - What is preventing us from scaling up such successful projects? Why are others not repeating it? Is it lack of political will or resources?
Shivanand - As far as resources are concerned I don’t think that is a constraint now, especially with the kind of 8%-9% growth we have been seeing, the Government should have enough resources to implement large projects. But as you said even though it is a cliché that ‘political will is required’ it definitely plays a major role in government projects and especially when the project deals with systems where there is scope for corruption. For example, in Andhra Pradesh there was government tendering and procurement, when that was IT enabled; put on the web with no complicated tendering process; e-auction, reverse auction etc then there was a serious campaign in certain sections of the media against it and against the political leadership. So things can get politicised immediately because there are vested interest involved
Paranjoy - So media was acting on behalf of those vested interests?
Shivanand - Some sections yes. As you know in many areas media houses are controlled by Politians. So there were serious allegations and slander and all kinds of things going on. But in the face of all this resistance, when the government went ahead, there was advancement. Another important thing is the transparency that Information Technology has brought in, which has prevented excuses like, “we cannot locate the file” etc.
Dinesh - One point I wanted to add on why it succeeds in one place and not in another. It depends a lot on the capacity of the administrative machinery to manage and absorb the change. The states which have very good administration, I would put most of the southern states in the category, are also leaders in the good deployment of e-governance
Paranjoy - Vested interests has also become a cliché. Who are these vested interests? How can they be eliminated?
Dinesh - Vested interests can vary from project to project. Suppose a municipal body like BMC or MCD wants to put up a list of illegal constructions in Delhi or in any other city location wise, which is a simple transparency measure that any municipal body can take. But no municipal authority has been able to do that because of vested interests of councillors, MLAs or politicians or even big industries. So there are wasted interests depending on project to project
Shivanand - I will give you another example: the very simple case of garbage collection in Mumbai. The population in Mumbai produces thousands of tons of garbage everyday now there are close to 2000 garbage trucks which are involved in it and a lot of them belong to private contractors. Despite all these systems you find garbage lying in all kinds of places and citizen complaints. So when it was investigated it was found that there are many contractors who never did those trips but collected money from Municipal Corporation. So how are you going to track these trucks. There was a solution which was implemented using GPS system- Geographical Positioning System. That can really track the truck, which route it has taken, how much time it has taken, how many times it has gone around etc.
Dinesh - The same technology was also proposed to FCI – Food Corporation of India trucks which supply food grains to the pubic distribution system. When trucks go out of FCI godowns, you can simply track them with GPS, however it was never allowed to work!
Paranjoy –It is easier to pay bills, book tickets on the Internet etc., however technology is still impacting a very small number of people. Is that correct?
Shivanand - Yes, but at the same time the numbers of beneficiaries is increasing and it is increasing at a very healthy rate, I would say. Even though India has had computers and software engineers for more than 50 years, it is only in the last 10 to 15 years that widespread adoption of this technology is happening in our society, particularly with respect to government, markets, financial services sector, in banking sector etc. So today we have what Gunnar Myrdal once called ‘the revolution of rising expectations’. We can’t even imagine today the earlier situation! For example, before computerised stock trading came into the picture back in 1994, how were the stock exchanges operating? There were cases of fraud, there was no transparency but today we want higher and higher transparency, and all kinds of mechanisms to prevent frauds, bring in as many new people as investors and brokers, make it easier, make it more accessible to even small towns and so on so forth through VSAT and satellite technology, otherwise a few brokers used to control entire stock trading and all this has happened in less than 15 years
Paranjoy – We have 3 computers per hundred population and US has one out of two. There is such a low level of Internet penetration. Don’t you think Dinesh the use of technology has not benefited common man as it should have? There is a clear digital divide.
Dinesh - When we talk of digital technology let’s not get fixated with computers; the concept of personal computers cannot be applied to India. Here computer is not personal that is why the whole concept of kiosks came in, where you don’t need to own a computer but still you can get benefitted by a service that is being offered through internet or a use of computer. I don’t think we need to replicate the western model of one computer per child. Let’s move away from that. Because we have 450 million mobile phones today and the power of at least 100 million of them is as good or much better than your computer. So what we need are applications that run on these mobile phones. It’s not just for voice or texting but we need more and more applications on mobile rather than getting fixated with computers.
Paranjoy - Can we expedite the process of IT usage?
Dinesh - We have moved very slowly, there are many projects which are moving very slowly. Everything is not what we would like it to be but compare that to what has happened in NREGS where they are issuing smart cards, money is getting transferred to their account etc. The difference is that many projects have to deal with legacy systems and procedures which we have been working from past 100 years. It’s very difficult to change the legacy system. It involves both the mindset and processes involved. For example you need a signature, an emblem etc. all that can be solved. Technology has a solution for everything and you can get as good a birth certificate as you would normally get as a handwritten certificate. But it’s a question of how do you change a mindset and how do you change those legacy processes in the system, that is the biggest challenge
Paranjoy – Where have been successful in coping with the past, the legacy Shivanand?
Shivanand - Any large system, affecting a lot of people, employees as well as citizens is a real life exercise in change management, for example take the State Bank of India. I mentioned that because SBI is probably the largest bank in the world, in terms of number of branches--with its associate banks it has close to 14000 branches where as the largest banking group in the world is Citi Bank and Citi Bank has all over the world less than 3000 branches! So when you need to connect branches for anytime banking and anywhere banking and not just going to a particular branch and opening those ledgers, then you need to create a single central database and connect all the branches to it, all the ATMs to it and so on so forth. One could be in Ladakh, or backwaters of Kerala on a boat etc but one should be able to access one’s account. Dinesh already mentioned the Railway Passenger reservation system, see now what is happening in India Post.
Paranjoy - Would you like to talk about telemedicine, Dinesh?
Dinesh - when we talk about the application of digital technology that’s where we can bridge the digital divide like you have a combination of internet put it with satellite technology and some add on hardware on both the side specifically developed for that project and then you can have a very nice telemedicine project. Kerala has been successful; again they all are in pilot scale. There by you are able to solve a problem of connecting a specialist as well as doctors in rural areas. Not only in consulting but even follow-up. For example, somebody comes to AIIMs for surgery he needs to follow it up after 15 days to 2 weeks or 3 weeks he has to make 3-4 visits to AIIMS only for that, so surgery can be done at AIIMS but the follow up can be done where the person is through telemedicine. Telemedicine has undergone a whole lot of change now you have video conferencing facilities, you can connect anybody to anybody. We need slight changes in systems and we can work on that. This has been demonstrated already. For example, in Rajasthan in Indira Gandhi Canal area, where malaria is on the rise, where there are very few testing labs. So samples have to travel from once place to another and it takes 2-3 days. Now there is a technology where you can do the diagnosis there itself and convey the results or an x-ray can be taken and sent through a mobile phone the images can be transferred to radiologists in the city. So these all are simple applications but we need to work on that. Again hospitals are legacy systems, how do you change them? That is the biggest challenge. You cannot have telemedicine centre working on its own it has to be integrated with existing healthcare system
Paranjoy – Shivanand do you want to add to that?
Shivanand: Yes. I want to add another aspect of healthcare i.e. healthcare management and not just telemedicine based consultation. How do you network the hospitals, how do you create a database of patients? A positive example in this regards is the Arogya Shree scheme in AP. Literally millions of people below poverty line are covered by it. A person who has a serious medical problem goes to a nearby project centre and shows his card and through the IT system they can find out which hospital is the best to deal with this and where beds are available etc. They are just using a keyboard and mouse to do this. Instead of running from pillar to post, paying the bill and trying to recover it through reimbursement, all this is just a cashless transaction. So that’s a success. So I think using IT to make efficient public health is also important.
Paranjoy - How can information technology help the poor from our society?
Shivanand - With all this technology we are still trying to provide services and include in the economic growth about 200 to 300 million of our population. IT is helping in including these by breaking the silos and letting services flow from government to citizens as well as creating some cooperative networks amongst these 200 to 300 million people. This is a huge challenge, because 300 million is entire population of United States!
Technology will not address on its own how the rest, 700 or 800 million people can be added to this inclusive growth. That’s why you see a chunky growth, certain sectors would advance fast despite the fact that the roads are bad etc. Telecom is a classic example, nobody envisaged 10-15 years back that 500 million mobile phones would be there in India and today we have them and all kinds of people are using them. If the 450 to 500 million figure is correct, then nearly half the population has mobile phones and that is obviously an advance in technology application despite bad roads, and education and the whole social sector being poor. Including 700-800 million people is a much deeper question, which has to do with the structure of our economy, I don’t think information technology can address that. IT can help in managing certain things for eg- I remember a well-known politician asking in 2001, “Yeh IT, YT kya hai?” He said if there is drought how IT is going to bring rain. The answer is, IT can help you in drought management and relief management, it cannot bring rains, it cannot fundamentally improve agriculture in that sense. After all, IT is information technology so it can give you information.
Dinesh - I feel the growth we have achieved here is lop-sided. We have been talking about 450 million mobile phones but that could be in just 2-3 metros and other developed areas. So I would still say this growth is lop sided, there are several hundred villages in India without a village telephone at all. So there is a certain obligation. We have the Universal Service Obligation fund, which has been created which not been spent, so government is still to do its part since money is coming from private operators so the growth is lop-sided whether its mobile telephony, whether its services reaching out to the people for eg- Bhoomi is useless for landless labour, what record it’s going to find? Of course IT has touched lives of several millions of people but still there are lot of people which are not included in this. So we need to look at innovative approaches, innovative applications of different forms technology which are available. One example I gave was of healthcare sector if there is phone with village level worker she can collate all the data and data can travel faster to nearest healthcare centre and health care can reach the village. There are several applications like that. For example, you don’t need to send your soil for testing in agriculture centre in district, there are sensors which you can put in the soil which don’t cost much and data can be transported through the mobile phone. Then you can know how much fertilizer you should apply, there are applications like that which are not very costly
Paranjoy - Would internet on mobile or 3G impact lives of people?
Shivanand - I think yes. Broadband is going to provide rich content to reach people and in no way landlines or cables are going to provide that. The broadband has to come wirelessly. So any new development, whether it is 3G whether it is WiMax or 4G, all these new technologies are coming. Whichever proves affordable and replicable on large scale is going to make a big difference.
Another example which I wanted to give you is a technology application that can include many more people who are not yet in this 300 million. It is a technology for literacy, which was developed with a lot of inputs from linguists, psychologists and computer scientists. It is called a Computer Based Functional Literacy module. It uses discarded computers. It does not need high powered computers and within 40 hours it can teach an adult illiterate enough to help their children in homework, people who could not read and write have been able to read news papers and help their children in home work. The thing is to replicate it and the estimate is that within next 5 years we could make entire India functionally literate
Dinesh - People say that when we don’t have electricity in villages how people are going to use computers so there are paddle powered computers. Innovations exist!
Paranjoy – Shivanand in your book Sand to Silicon you have written about Amar Bose, Sam Pitroda, Arun Netravali and literally dozens of eminent Indian technologists who have contributed so much towards the growth of digital technology all over the world. Do we see brain gain happening instead of brain drain with the diaspora?
Shivanand - I think it’s bound to happen and it has already happened in the last 15-20 years and there has been a great amount of interaction between Indians who are abroad and Indians working in India especially regarding digital technology or information technology. Fundamentally, these are not the days of Thomas Alva Edison or Graham Bell, where one guy would sit in a lab and who could develop a technology. Now any new technology goes through networks of thousands of people all over the world so you can’t even call it Indian technology or American technology or Chinese technology. People have to collaborate and that is the reason that you have so many companies where their front end is in Silicon Valley with their R&D being done in India and similarly there are Indian companies which are making use of the research being done elsewhere whether it is pharma industry or digital technology industry, information technology industry. These changes in the world have led a kind of circulation of ideas and what Tom Friedman called the Flat world, at least in this field.
Paranjoy – We live in a highly unequal world so are we seeing the world really becoming flat? Or was Mr Thomas Friedman engaging in hyperbole, to put it mildly.
Dinesh - Mr. Friedman was looking at the way the technology has flattened the delivery of services like you buy a MacDonald’s burger in Los Angles and the back office processing taking place in Egypt or somewhere else. In that sense he gave the idiom of the world is getting flat.
Paranjoy: But are we becoming a nation of cyber coolies with body shopping or knowledge workers? Of course I am using exaggerated expressions.
Dinesh: There is no doubt that we have good base of knowledge workers and all the large corporations including big companies like TCS who themselves are a MNC, are seeking knowledge workers wherever they are. Companies and people would go wherever there is a comparative advantage in terms of talent which has become a very important resource and in that sense the world has become flat. We have an advantage of numbers and we have to see how we can add that to our economic growth
Shivanand - In the world of knowledge, in the world of technology, I think the world has become flat and not in other aspects. If you are comparing farmers in Tanjavoor and farmers in California or in Canada then it is not flat. However the point I am making is Satyen Bose had to write a letter to Einstein and wait for months together for a reply when he had worked out a new statistics for photons and that is not necessary in today’s world.
Paranjoy: Now it can be done in a fraction of a second through email. I get your point. We have run of time. Thanks Shivanand and Dinesh for coming to our studios and sharing your views. The consensus is IT has changed in some ways the lives of ordinary Indians but surely it can do very much more. Thank you very much.