25 and Going Strong

These have been momentous years for the IT industry and also for Dataquest.
Lets take a trip down memory lane

While Sunil Agarwal had been expecting an announcement on the New Computer
Policy, he was surprised by the alacrity of it. After all, it certainly wasnt
the best of times. Mrs Indira Gandhi had been murdered in cold blood and the
city of Delhi was witness to one of the worst cases of rioting (anti Sikh) in
modern times. It such turbulent times, precisely on November 19, 1984, the
government made the announcement public.

Under the new policy, import duties for peripherals were reduced, foreign
equity participation was allowed, import of computers was liberalized and
software got recognition as a separate industry. In a flash of the wand, PM
Rajeev Gandhi unshackled the fledgling IT industry, just what the industry and
Agarwal had hoped for. For some time, there had been much talk about such a
policy, but Agarwal could hardly believe that Gandhi would do it so soon
considering it had just been a fortnight since he had taken over as the PM.

But now a greater task stood before him, to compile all the information and
spread the word within the IT community through Dataquest that had been launched
nearly a year back. All this had to be done in a hurry as the issue had to be
packed. Agarwal and his edit team got cracking, and over the next few days they
labored day in and day out, talking to the government officials, industry
captains and other analysts. Fortunately, the secretary of the Department of
Electronics (DoE), N Seshagiri seemed quite eager to share his views on the new
policy and over a period of two days gave an extensive interview.

Result: in the month of December, 1984, Dataquests cover had a picture of a
rising sun viewed from an open door, with the text, Doorway to the future,
Rationale of the New Computer Policy. The issue had the most intensive
coverage, over 40 pages, of the draft policy, and an exclusive interview with
Seshagiri. It was blood, toil and sweat for Agarwal and his team but it was
worth it. Unlike normal issues, we closed this issue in a short time frame and
the industry very much appreciated the coverage of this critical issue, he
recalls. Reportedly, Seshagiri used to share copies of Dataquest with industry
captains and others to make the implications of the new policy clear.

In many ways, this event set the tone for Dataquest and its relationship with
the IT industry. There were many aspects to that rolethat of a chronicler, a
guardian angel, a guiding light and, at times, that of a naysayer. From the
first Dataquest edition that came out on a frosty December day in 1982 to the
edition you hold in your hands now, the commitment to be a credible source of
(and on) information for the Indian IT industry has never been reneged.

In fact, over the last 25 years, the bond has only deepened. One just has to
go through the archive and the bond will be evident. Dataquest has, at all the
times, raised issues and subjects that were pertinent to the evolution and
growth of the IT industry. Take the case of the New Computer Policy itself, just
a year later the magazine did a cover story, analyzing the gains made and the
opportunities that were frittered away. It was in 1985. Again in March 1994,
Dataquest spoke about the National Infotech Policy and ran a cover story on the
subject. The text on the cover read, Ten years after the New Computer Policy of
1984, there appears to be a need for a radical re-look at the industry. Will the
government oblige?

Way back in 1983, when the government duties were at their peak and computers
cost anything around Rs 3,00,000, Dataquest carried a story that spoke about how
the high prices were hurting the industry, and making a case for price cuts.
Out of every Rs 100 a buyer pays for a computer in India, Rs 42.5 goes to the
government. With the recent reduction in duties the buyer can expect to pay
less, the story ran. Then again, in May 1989, the magazine spoke about the
promise of Low-cost PCs in India, discussing the hows, the whys, and the whens.

As the Indian software industry was evolving, Dataquest made it a point to
highlight the different issues that mattered to the industry. In fact in 1984,
before the New Computer Policy had been announced, Dataquest ran a Software
Export Special, talking about the pros and cons of going global and what it
entailed. Three years later, in 1987, the cover page of the magazine read Birth
of Indian Software Industries. And, after the Government of India had
liberalized the economy, the magazine ran a cover story on how the Indian
Software Industry was raring to go, in November 1993. The same issue had a
feature on how TCS was gaining strength on international shores.

Through the Thin as Well
Going through the Dataquest copies of the1990s, it becomes evident that the
industry was going through a lean phase. The first Gulf War had resulted in
global economic slowdown and its effect on Indian economy was quite severe. Even
the political conditions in India were very fluid. In those days, the IT
industry was very vulnerable to even small issues. Even a political disturbance
could offset the quarterly targets for the industry, recalls Pravir Ganguly,
who was the editor of Dataquest in the early nineties.

The May 1991 Dataquest issue seemed rather ominous, Is there a way out or
will the crises knock the Indian IT industry out? the story ran. If that wasnt
all, in December 1992, the cover of Dataquest had two words in big and bold:
Tough Times. With sluggish sales and restructuring, the priority for the IT
industry this year is survival. The focus in on margins not revenues. Strategic
business partnerships and software exports are in, and total solutions and
pushing boxes are out. Hardware companies are becoming system integrators and
offering more value to the user. All this is giving rise to a new industry, so
ran the story.

The industry was also undergoing a leadership crisis, as different
associations like MAIT, CSI, and a newly launched Nasscom were trying to be the
voice of the industry. In fact, the August 1990, Dataquest carried a story on
the Crisis of Leadership as faced by the industry.

Around the same time, MNCs were also looking at India as an investment and
R&D opportunity. In October 1991, there was a story on MNCs: the second
coming. But the big story on March 1992 spoke about the Return of IBM.

By the end of the decade things had started to look up, thanks to things like
Y2K. In 1997, Dataquest spoke on the issue, Y2K: Indias Goldmine? The story
spoke of how it could be a big opportunity of worth $1 bn for Indian software
companies. With the dreaded date approaching fast, we are miles away from the
target, will we make it? it read. Even now, every year, Dataquest runs an issue
on packaged software industry, and nurturing it so as to speak.

A Social Role
Yet, it hasnt been only the IT industry that Dataquest has spoken about. In
the early eighties, Dataquest had taken upon the issues of computer education
and how it was necessary that the youth took to computing. In 1986, the magazine
had a cover story on Growing on Computers. In June 1990, the magazine had
carried an assessment on how the Indian Railways was carrying out the
computerization process. The whole system of the railways was assessed and the
problems diagnosed from different angles.

In the nineties, there also this issue raised about the use of electonic
voting machines (EVMs) in the elections. VP Singh was opposed to it, as he
thought it could be easily rigged. Dataquest carried a series of articles on
this subject talking about how and what these EVMs were.

Dataquest also spoke about issues that were not spoken about, like e-waste.
In October 2004, there was a special issue on Lethal Waste, highlighting how
developed countries were dumping their toxic electronic waste in India.

When the whole country was looking at the metros, Dataquest never forgot the
rural hinterland. In September 2004, Dataquest ran a story on how tech was going
rural. If that wasnt all, in February 2003, the magazine spoke about the
Talibanism in Technology. The story spoke on gender bias in the IT sector and
how there werent enough women in the industry.

Dataquest also talked about the famous Nigerian con, namely Nigerian 419. In
August 2003, there was a special story on the Nigerian con game, and it created
quite a hue and cry. And while every youth in India was looking at call centers
as agents, in 2003, Dataquest ran a story that read Why I Will Never Make A
Good Call Center Agent

In 2005, Dataquest had also run an extensive story on the murky e-Governance
scenario in India, touching upon the reasons why India was known as a graveyard
for e-Governance pilots. On the other hand, in 2006, there was a special story
on offshoring in India, charting the whole process from the time when GE decided
to open up a center in India, named Genesis. If that wasnt all, in 2007, the
magazine ran an extensive story on how Indias national animal, the tiger, was
close to extinction and how technology could be used for tiger conservation.

Big-ticket Specials
Yet, the biggest attractions of Dataquest still are the various annual
issues. In the very first year of its existence, Dataquest had carried out the
first salary survey for the computing industry. In 1984 came the DQ Top 10,
which later on transformed into DQ Top 20 that currently runs into 4 mammoth
issues annually. The magazine has also been toasting the success of the IT
Industry so, in January 1985, there was a cover story on 30 years of Indian
IT. Followed by 50 years of Indian IT in 2006. In fact, in February 1987, on
the occasion of Dataquests 50th issue, there was a special story on 50 issues
confronting the industry.

In 1993, Dataquest decided to start honoring the IT legends and star
performers through the Dataquest Awards, often dubbed as the Oscars of the IT
Industry. Recipients of these awards have been personalities like N Vittal,
Shiv Nadar, Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, FC Kohli and others.

Among other Things
Today, keeping up with the times, Dataquest has regular sections on
Mobility, e-Governance, Storage, Green IT, Innovation, among others In the
bygone years the sections were quite interesting and educative as well. For
instance, in the eighties, every magazine used to have around 8-10 pages in blue
that were targeted at the student community and it was dubbed as Data Class.
The section used to have elementary articles on subjects like How PCs are built?
How microprocessors work? The story of transistors, etc. In these pages, one
could find crosswords, puzzles and even rhymes and limericks.

There were also light hearted pieces, in the early eighties, written under
the pseudonym IS Rakshit. He used to write pieces about how he was struggling
with the computer and how his company was grappling with one as well. Later on,
there used to be a section called as Data Jest which featured satirical pieces
on the IT industry.

It is also an interesting exercise to go through the Data News section in the
old magazines. For instance, in 1983, there were news that trade unions had
expressed shock at the bank computerization process, deeming it as a way to
layoff people. In the same issue, there was a talk of how Bangladesh was in the
process of formulating a strategy for overall computerization, earlier to India
in fact.

From the international shores, in another issue of 1983, there was a news of
how IBM had overtaken Apple in PC sales. In yet another issue, there was this
announcement about launch of laptop computers by Radio Shack. In those times,
going by the table shown in one of the magazine, there were 16 computer
companies in the Fortune 500 list and Microsoft wasnt one of them.

There was this news bit on Pranoy Roy, who in association with a software
company named Statart, had launched a handwriting emulation software package for
PCs in the nineties. Sometime in the nineties, even MF Hussain had written a
piece on Canvassing for computers. And, Bill Gates had written a contributory
piece in Dataquest on how the future would span from Microsofts perspective. In
all the anniversary issues, like the 50 years of Indian IT last year, all the
big wigs of Indian IT shared there vision for the future.

Gunning for Gold
The past 25 years have been momentous for the Indian IT industry as well as
for Dataquest. For instance, back in 1991, Dataquest had talked about the
devaluation of the Rupee and its implication on the IT industry. In those days,
RBI had depreciated the Rupee by around 8% and the conversion rate stood at Rs
25.95 to a single USD. In 2007, Dataquest ran a cover story on the Rising
Rupee talking about the other side of the appreciating currency.

When the magazine started in 1982-83, the computer industry revenues were a
little under Rs100 crore, in 2007 it was worth more than Rs 226,879 crore.
Meanwhile, the first issue of Dataquest was worth Rs 8; its now at Rs 25, not
quite matching up with the growth of the IT industry. Thus, in many ways,
Dataquest has not only been a conscience keeper but also democratized the
industry so as to say. Thus, if there is one thing that you as a reader can be
sure of, it is that Dataquest will only live up to its pledge to the IT
industry, long into the future.

Shashwat DC

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