So Near, Yet So Far

r&d.jpg (22191 bytes)The
education and R&D segment continued to invest in IT during the year despite an overall
tightening of government funding to the education and research sector. Most of the
institutions, be it educational or research, have been left to fend for themselves. The
total IT spending by this segment was over Rs 950 crore, of which a dominant portion came
in from the education segment which was involved in large-scale upgradation of its
technical infrastructure. The research segment spending is not fully reflected here
because some of it is clubbed under government spending especially in the areas of defence
and aerospace research.

Industry linkages by way of industry-sponsored projects
have proved to be a successful model both for institutions and the industry. Such projects
abound in the field of IT. While sponsorship projects are never meant to be commercially
attractive to the industry, it cannot let go of such opportunities keeping the long-term
perspective in mind. Industry-sponsored projects serve as a testbed for many new
technologies. Compared to the global success model of synergy between education and
research institutions and the industry, India may be far behind. Nevertheless, MNCs like
Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Digital, and others have done their bit for this segment by
providing the latest technologies in their fold. The intranet at IIMs and microprocessor
research lab at IIT-Mumbai are some examples.

By its very nature this is a segment which seeks to infuse
leading-edge technologies besides what it buys commercially for infrastructure building
like computerization of administrative functions. Overall, the segment enjoys tremendous
price advantage when IT purchases are concerned. Almost all the IT vendors the world over
have special pricing schemes for the segment. Moreover, there are no customs and excise
duties applicable. It is estimated that the market value of hardware systems sold to the
education segment alone would be in the region of Rs 100 crore annually.

Amongst the major buyers in the education segment last year
were IITs, IISc, Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs), and BITS Pilani. Vendors report a
distinct trend with many of the smaller engineering colleges buying substantial amount of
IT. In case of RECs, almost all of them upgraded their information infrastructure.
Traditionally a Unix territory, the segment saw massive invasions by NT last year.
Similarly, Intel made significant inroads into RISC strongholds of the segment. In fact,
soon there would be a peaceful balance between Unix and NT and RISC and Intel.

r&d-1.jpg (16136 bytes)Across the
segment it has been observed that nearly 25 percent of the IT budget is earmarked for
networking. And in many cases it is an upgradation from older network topologies and
technologies to newer ones like frame relay and ATM-based campus-wide networks. Widespread
use of web technologies would happen this year.

Apart from conventional educational institutions delivering
courses in engineering and management, application-oriented educational set-ups also
bought specific technologies. For example, Madras-based CIPET conducts a World Bank-funded
education project for teaching CAD/CAM applications in the plastics industry. Some of the
other examples are the IT purchases by National Institute of Design, Industrial Design
Center, and the Film and Television Institute.

In the category of research institutions, IT purchases are
heavier, depending on the type of research-life science, material science, space and
aeronautical engineering, and the like. IT purchases in this segment range from basic
high-end computing systems like parallel machines and workstations, alongwith scientific
third-party application-specific solutions, to specialized devices for data capture,
storage, processing, and output. For instance, for a satellite imaging application,
National Remote Sensing Agency acquired real-time data acquisition equipment,
high-capacity storage devices, and high-end workstations. The application software is
being developed in-house. Similarly, pharmaceutical research organizations and materials
research institutions rely heavily on third-party applications in areas like molecular
simulation. The big buyers this year in the research segment were the Department of Space,
Department of Atomic Energy, Institute of Plasma Research, Space Applications Center,
DRDO, CSIR, and Council of Agricultural Research. This is the segment which will be most
affected by the post-nuclear sanctions imposed on India by various countries. Many of the
planned IT purchases may not materialize in this year and the next.

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