PUNE: Charge of the Light IT Brigade

Pune is buzzing with activity. The state government is laying six tracks of
fiber optic cable along the expressway. Every inch of space in the 400-acre IT
park set up by MIDC and STPI has been sold out, with another 400-acre park under
development. Consider the financials: all told, IT investments in Pune totalled
over Rs 100 crore in 2000-01 alone. Trained manpower, you said? Well, the city’s
engineering colleges and IT institutes spew out 3,000 IT professionals every
year. Industry acceptance? Nasscom itself promoted IT in Pune in June last year–the
first time the software association pushed any city. Fot those still
apprehensive about corporate acceptance, here’s the clincher–Wipro, as part
of its expansion drive, has chosen Pune as the first base for its global R&D

Pune: Future IT Capital?

For Against
to Mumbai, India’s financial capital
Not a capital city
Nasscom, MCCIA, Pune Vyaspeeth pitch in
political leader spearheading the campaign of Pune IT City
cuts travel to Mumbai totwo hours,
new international airport near Mumbai
international airport
quality engineering institutes
Low influx of talent
mostly on embedded systems, communications, VLSI, applications software,
chip design, network products–on the high-end of the value chain
large MNCs: most companies are small, entrepreneur- owned 

Competition for Bangalore’s status as India’s IT hub? Perhaps not, but
Pune is quietly transforming itself from being just an educational and
engineering base–which, by the way, has earned it sobriquets like ‘The
Oxford of the East’ and ‘India’s Detroit’–to a hi-tech city without
parallel. As the Pune government puts it, “We might still lose out in this
race to figure on the global IT map if we stay quiet. With so much being written
about technopolises and cyberabads, why should Pune, a city with equal if not
better charm, lag behind?” Why indeed?

There is a similarity between the head that wears the crown, Bangalore, and
the other that aspires to wear it, Pune. The latter has the image of being a
laid-back town, fit for holiday-makers and students, and a pensioners’
paradise–something Bangalore too was called till IT arrived to transform the
landscape. Pune is now fighting hard to shrug off its rustic countenance, in its
bid to covet global IT majors. It is already number five on the Indian IT
ladder, following Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. Interestingly, all the
others are state capitals.

But Pune lays a qualitative claim to fame. As Anand Deshpande, MD, Persistent
Systems says, “In Pune, the quality of software developed is far better
than all other centers, including Bangalore and Hyderabad. You will find
esoterically good quality in Pune. Companies in other cities like Hyderabad and
Bangalore have predominantly low-end to medium-scale work. Pune does
top-of-the-line development.” This stand is vindicated somewhat by the fact
that most IT companies in Pune are largely into technologies like embedded
systems, communications, VLSI, systems software, applications software, chip
design and network products–the higher end of the value chain.

An overview of the investments in the city: Wipro’s development center,
housed in the 600-head-capacity 100,000-sq meter campus at Hinjewadi Park, will
focus on providing design and development services for global communication and
embedded systems. The center has already garnered development projects from
global majors. Then there’s Finolex Group’s International Institute of
Information Technology at IT Park, with an investment of Rs 20 crore. The
institute, which will offer intensive PG diploma courses in software development
and telecom, will provide residential facilities to 300 students. Small research
labs will be set up on the campus in association with companies like Microsoft,
Intel, Sun, SAP and Lucent Technologies. The institute will also focus on
software development for the SAARC countries. Finolex also plans to lay fiber
optic lines in parts of Maharashtra at an investment of Rs 600 crore, with the
highway-parallel line being laid under its aegis.

Then we have the Internet-over-cable service launched by Silicon Mountains
and Global Electronic Commerce Services, touted to be the first-of-its-kind in
the country. Silicon Mountains has installed a 100-km hybrid fiber cable
backbone spread across the city. Global has a gateway in Pune for this project
and its satellite gateway–with bandwidth of 20 Mbps–is already operational.
The fiber cable has bandwidth of up to 200 Mbps (traditional copper lines offer
only 2 Mbps)…indications enough that Pune is going all out to bolster quality
infotech development, a fact also recognized by MNCs Versaware, PTC, IBM and
Veritas, and Indian giants Satyam, Infosys and Wipro, all of whom have set up
huge development centers here.

IT minister Pramod Mahajan’s efforts at taking infotech to the masses also
finds a common voice among agencies like CDAC, which is known for its pioneering
work in multilingual software, and Pune Vyaspeeth, an NGO promoted by
parliamentarian Suresh Kalmadi. It suffices to say that Pune may be behind in
terms of numbers–of large MNCs, IT revenues, investments–but it has the
potential to figure in the top league. Deshpande says, “Pune is not lagging
in terms of innovation.”

Corporates are all praise

Corporates are all praise

Major Development Centers at
STPI Pune, Hinjewadi
(Square meters)

Infosys 100,000
Wipro 100,000
Veritas 40,000
Cognizant 40,000
Geometric 10,000
KPIT 20,000
STPI 8,000
of Info Tech

Paeans for the city flow, almost an invitation for many more to follow.
Ganesh Natarajan, deputy chairman and MD, Zensar, says, “The city has
talent, with people who are comfortable building a career here rather than
wanting to migrate to the US.” Sudip Banerjee, chief executive, operations,
Wipro, says, “We decided to come to Pune because of the availability of
local talent and excellent infrastructure facilities being offered by the
Maharashtra government.” Such comments are expected of Pune, long called
the education capital of India.

The large number of outstation students has also influenced the cultural face
of the city. Deepak Shikarpur, chairman, IT sub-committee, Maharashtra Chamber
of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, says, “A cosmopolitan work set-up
encourages talent from other parts of the country as well. Couple this with
pleasant weather, facilities almost comparable with India’s main metros and a
lower cost of living. With such comforts in his pocket, the IT professional is
free to concentrate on his core function!”

After the recent initiatives by Pune’s Vidya Prathisthan, IT education has
even spread to rural Pune. An IT center has been set up with an investment of
over Rs 12 crore. Shikarpur says, “Soon farmers from this village will
start selling their foodgrain on the Net.” No wonder that with such quality
talent emerging from Pune’s institutes, city-based development centers churn
out top-quality software work.

Advantage infrastructure

Pune also scores on the infrastructure front. Banerjee says, “We are
happy with our experience, particularly with state government agencies like the
Maharashtra Industrial Development Corp, which has been most cooperative.”
He has reason to be happy; the Wipro center at Hinjewadi STP was up in just
eight months. Real estate and infrastructure availability forms the basic
framework to set up any business, and Pune offers both of good quality in ample
measure. Agrees Murali Santhanam, MD, JobCurry Systems, “Pune has certain
inherent advantages that contribute to the growth of IT here. The biggest factor
is the ample scope of real estate development around the city. This means that
emerging as well as growing IT companies need not acquire large premises in the
heart of the city in order to succeed. The setting up of STPs and business
centers on the outskirts has effectively led to emerging townships in these

Among the IT parks coming up in the city, apart from the DoE’s STPI Pune,
are the Pune IT Park, Magarpatta Cyber City, the Kharadi Knowledge Park and the
Software Technology Park at Talawade. All provide ready-to-occupy plots with
24-hour electricity, and dedicated telephone exchanges and earthstations for
bandwidth. And as a bonus, the Pune Municipal Corporation has permitted software
development centers to be set up in residential premises, which has further
boosted IT growth. Remember, Infosys was born out of a two-bedroom flat in Pune.

Shikarpur feels the day is not far when Pune will have more IT companies than
beauty parlors. “Even intelligent housewives will start Net development in
the traditional cooperative style from the city,” he predicts.

Pune scores in yet another area: the converging IT and BT sectors. RK Arora,
executive director, CDAC, says, “Pune can develop disciplines like
bio-sciences, bio-informatics and genomics.” He feels institutions like NCL,
NCCS, CDAC, Bio-informatics center of Pune University are equipped to take this
newly emerging area to greater heights. Arora says, “This will decidedly
distinguish Pune from other city destinations in India–converging IT with
BT.” The Hinjewadi Phase II project coming up near the present Infotech
Park will be called the “IT-BT Park”.

Bottlenecks remain

Before proclaiming Pune as the new IT Eden, there are some hiccups. Transport
is one. Pune’s airport is still controlled by the Indian Air Force, and there
is no sign that Pune will get an airport of its own. But a proposed
international airport in the vicinity of Navi Mumbai and the much talked-about
expressway should make life easy for frequent travelers. And the city itself
does not have much of a public transport system to talk about. You need to
depend on your own private vehicle or the ubiquitous three-wheelers.

Arora feels lack of planned development may inhibit growth. He says, “As
the infrastructural needs build up, there is a necessity of commensurate planned
initiatives ahead of time to cater to the developing needs of roads, housing,
recreational facilities, commercial plazas, water, electricity and civic
amenities. The city administration needs to be alive of this situation and take
adequate measures to prevent opportunities from becoming bottlenecks.”

Murali Santhanam, MD, Jobcurry.com, feels the state government is positively
oriented towards growth of IT. “However, it needs to concentrate on
upgrading core infrastructure sectors like public transport, roads, traffic
regulation, water and more importantly, power supply.”

Anupam Bhide, CEO, Indra Networks–which is developing a product that should
make web access faster–says “Companies in the Silicon Valley have done
well because you’ll find any skill you need among them, people with esoteric

“The Maharashtra government should lay more emphasis on marketing Mumbai
and Pune effectively. Though Maharashtra accounts for most of the country’s
software exports, it hardly gets credit for it. This is largely the result of
some unimaginative marketing of the state’s trump cards. The need of the hour
is to bring about fundamental changes in infrastructure and e-governance to
market the state within and outside India. I believe things are now moving in
the right direction,” says Achyut Godbole, MD, Concio Technologies.
Ashutosh Parasnis, director, PTC, says, “It’s a chicken-and-egg story: to
build the infrastructure first and attract the investors or vice-versa.” He
feels the government should invest in top-level infrastructure for better
connectivity, travel and also in making the procedural aspects simpler.

Surendra N Agarwal, president and COO, Neilsoft, feels Pune is well
positioned to emerge as the country’s IT hub and lists the following issues in
his preferred order of importance: technical competence, education, labor
supply, government incentives, telecom infrastructure, productivity and cost and
venture capital.

Bhide agrees. “Pune needs a more focussed assistance from the state
government. It needs to invite a lot of dignitaries. Any PR exercise from the
government is not apparent and is not happening adequately.” Natarajan
assures of making Zensar Pune’s best employer, providing ample job challenges
in a range of technologies and domains. He adds confidently, “We aim to
change the geography and history of Pune in IT in the next few years.”

Existing industry

Pune, the home to a strong automobile and engineering industry, promises to
provide a fertile ground for IT organizations too. Some world-class facilities
have already been set up by companies specializing in software development and
test automation for the engineering and manufacturing industries. And
opportunities in Pune are immense in IT-enabled services for engineering process
automation and IT infrastructure automation. The city is all set to emerge as a
much sought-after IT hub of India.

Bijesh Kamath in Pune with inputs from Nanda

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