One of the most interesting conversations I had in April was with the man who
could well claim to be one of the architects of the modern software exports
industry, N Vittal. The stories of push and pull between the Department of
Electronics, the nascent IT industry of those days and the powers that be in the
government will find their way into a book on the history of the industry, which
a journalist colleague and I have just started work on. But one theme that he
mentioned which I have now completely researched and thought about is the
imperative for any country to aspire to become a comprehensive national power (CNP).
Speaking at an international conference on China and East Asia in Seoul, in
2004, Hu Angang, director of the Center for China Studies at Tsinghua University
defined the concept of CNP as the comprehensive capability of a country to
pursue its strategic objectives by taking actions internationally that
demonstrates its economic and military might and leverage its strategic
resources in science and technology, human resources and skills, and enables it
to exert influence on the global stage.
Speaking about CNP at the annual Regional Conference of the Confederation of
Indian Industries (CII) in southern India, the challenges facing India in its
move to improve its CNP standing was discussed by an interesting panel drawn
from industry, academia, labor, industry associations, and the press. The key
problems identified were those that have become an oft repeated refrain: the
widening gap between the super rich and the hundreds of millions of the
underprivileged segments of society, the alarming lack of quality education,
skilled development and research, and the declining productivity standards at
all levels of the economy.
Today, the awareness of IT and the global career opportunities it creates is
almost as widespread as the love for cricket in our country and it is very
feasible to harness this awareness and skill of the IT workforce for the overall
benefit of all industrial and agricultural sectors. One tangential benefit of
the impending slowdown in the western economies may well be that much of the
intellectual property and systems thinking capabilities that lie embedded in the
large project experience of the hundreds of software export firms, could be
leveraged to build high quality applications to improve the throughput in the
factories, offices, and farms around the country. And if the same technological
capabilities are also brought in to school, college and vocational education in
the country to transform curriculum, pedagogy and reinforcement learning
mechanisms in both urban and rural classrooms, it is conceivable that the
gargantuan challenge of making millions of skilled knowledge workers available
to all the services segments might still be faced and surmounted successfully.
The IT industry needs to stand up to be counted and take the lead in the major
challenge of skilled resource creation on a national scale.
Strategic capabilities that the industry will have to build include
predictable quality of products and processes, flexible business and delivery
models and innovation in all aspects of marketing and delivering the services.
As the industry grows from its present $60 bn level to $100 bn by 2010, with
over $75 bn of exports, the scrutiny of the worldcustomers, competitors and
aspiring countrieswill only increase and every mistake will be magnified.
Will all this enable Indian IT and BPO to reach the pinnacle of success and
stay there for a decade or more? It will need an ongoing partnership of the
industry with all the key ecosystem participantsacademic institutions, industry
associations, funding agencies and of course the government.