Bitter Fruit, Lousy Weather

Every year, when the DQ editorial staff gets together to chart out the
content for the Top 20 series, it is the theme for that year’s issues that is
first deliberated upon. Having a staff full of bright young IT things has its
minuses–everyone has his own idea, one that “portrays the real
picture”. Arriving at a consensual central tagline, therefore, can be a
long process. This year, however, was easy–nearly everyone mouthed the same
one word–Survival. A few said Tough, but that again culminated in a Fight for
Survival. And so it is that we arrived at our theme for DQ Top 20, 2001-02–The
Year of Survival.

Just for a bit, let’s look at the broader numbers. Indian software has
grown by 19%, ITeS by a heady 73%, while hardware has shown a negative 3%
growth. Overall, Indian IT has grown by 14%–against last year’s Rs 54,000
crore. We are looking then at overall numbers of around Rs 62,000 crore–match
this 14% growth with last year’s figure of nearly 60%, and we have a
figurative picture of which way Indian IT has been headed in the last 12 months.

By these numbers, the IT dream would appear to have dissipated–that’s the
question CMIL inboxes have been filled with for months.

Behind the numbers game
Not really. The number obsession stops short of telling the complete story.
In sheer numbers, yes, we have headed southward, but we have also learnt to live
in tough times, balancing out falling numbers in one segment by venturing into
newer fields and marking gains there. Newer geographical boundaries have been
breached; ITeS has emerged as the new big thing; e-gov and education have been
pursued with new gusto; and ‘B’ and ‘C’ class markets have been focussed
on to great effect. In tough times, Indian IT has learnt to parry and counter
the thrusts and pokes coming its way.

The government has been forced to shrug off its lethargy and push for greater
IT implementation, both at the central and state levels. Increasingly, states
are moving along the IT path, with numerous stories of departmental successes
being bandied about. We have the wonderful strides made by Punjab and Gujarat
with IT in excise collections; the computerization of the registration process
in Tamil Nadu; IT-enablement in Maharashtra, with BMC leading from the front;
Kerala and Rajasthan automating public-facing departments; and Andhra and
Karnataka needing no introduction, having been at the forefront of the
revolution. The list grows each day.

On the other side is corporate India (read user enterprises)–banks and
telecoms, in particular–having taken to IT-enablement in droves. A new market
segment has opened up, with back-end and customer support emerging as critical
success imperatives–this has seen the ITeS space booming, providing a leg-up
to an industry scouring around for at least one big wave in a dismal year.
Educational institutions have widened their sphere–both in offering advanced
IT courses, and using IT to push across existing curricula.

These three user points form a perfect growth triangle, one in which Indian
IT has pegged a firm future foundation. In a tough year, these pockets of demand
have kept industry and development going. And this is just the tip of the
iceberg–for the possibilities are enormous.

In the previous issue of Dataquest, we talked of the Rs 65,000-crore
opportunity that’s just waiting to be tapped. Corporate usage and enterprise
IT programs will only fatten this opportunity. And with everything from
petroleum products to pizzas and sewing machines to high-performance cars being
sold either on-line, or using an on-line platform at some stage of the sales
process, the kitty in the ITeS space would only swell. Regardless of the fact
that most industry bodies are staking fatherhood, motherhood and whatever-hood
to proclaim the new cash cow as being under their personal aegis, the boom bodes
well for all segments of industry–hardware, software, services or facilities
management. At the end of the day, what matters is success in an industry that
has created more wealth and health for India than any other single phenomenon,
except perhaps the ‘Green Revolution’.

Rajeev Narayan in New Delhi

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