“The Government understands the significance of IT.”

—Anil
Batra,
Country Manager (India and SAARC Region),
Cisco Systems Inc.

ceosp.jpg (19683 bytes)While
all major revenues networking companies in India saw their revenues falling down, last
year, Cisco Systems had a boom time. The company not only registered a growth of 84
percent to post a turnover of Rs 70 crore in the fiscal 1997-98, but also bagged the
numero uno position in Voice & Data’s annual Networking Masters survey. And evidently,
the credit goes to Anil Batra, Country Manager for India and SAARC
Region. A BE in electronics and communications engineering, and Master’s in computer
science, Batra began his career, in 1976, with Hewlett-Packard. From selling HP systems to
founding APT Technologies (P) Ltd, a networking and Internet solutions provider, Batra has
come a long way. Talking to Ibrahim Ahmad of DATAQUEST, he discussed the
state of Indian market and his company’s Internet advantage. Excerpts:

Are you satisfied with the way the
IT market has been growing in India?

No. I think, we need to do more. I believe that Internet will be the enabler. The policy
is almost there and we are waiting for it to arrive. You’ll see a lot of ISPs coming up
and web access for the business community will grow tremendously. At Cisco, we are doing
over 50 percent of our business over the Net. I think that is what will happen to Indian
business community as well.

How much importance, do you think,
corporate users give to networking?
Today, nobody is deploying
anything but networked computers. You must remember that we are a client server country.
So networking is automatic. Everybody today is installing a server and PCs around it.

Recently, Cisco Chairman John
Chambers expressed a lot of dissatisfaction and pessimism over the overall economic
scenario currently prevailing in India. What do you feel about this, considering that your
company has done exceedingly well in India?

I can reassure you that he has got a lot of respect for India. There are many very-senior
executives at Cisco who are Indians. He thinks India is a great country with such a large
democracy, a rich knowledge base, and a huge population that can communicate in English.
He knows we have a lot of industries and businesses here. There is a huge population of
consumer class. So, he wonders why is the market size so small. He has a lot of
expectations from India. He keeps asking when is the Indian market going to take off like
China. When we started the process aof liberalization and globalization, India had set up
a lot of expectations in the minds of MNC investors and corporates in the US. But the FDI
of about $ 10-12 billion is nothing compared to the $ 76 billion worth FDI in China. I do
not think it is pessimism. I think it is a very positive expectation.

But do you think his expectations
will be met?

I think as a country we have slowed
down in terms of liberalization, but the intention is there. And the intention is right.
We are talking of opening up the Internet, we are talking of IT infrastructure, and we are
talking of doing business on the Internet. Even our Prime Minister is talking of an IT
infrastructure for the country. I think we will move forward.

What do you think the Government of
India should do to promote IT in the country?
The Government should make it
easy for people to procure, deploy, and use computers, so that numbers as well as usage
goes up. This way issues regarding pricing, duties, availability, infrastructure, and
education will be automatically addressed. The Government should take all the steps to
encourage people to use computers so that more and more people see the benefits of
information technology. But most importantly, this should be done as early as possible.
The country can leapfrog if it uses this technology.

Do you feel that the present
Government is capable of doing these things, given the present circumstances?

I think any Government here is capable of understanding the significance of IT. They are
all very knowledgeable people. I think our Government as well as our bureaucracy
understands these issues and knows what is to be done. There has always been a continuity
that has been maintained as regards to infotech. But, can they do it is the question.

Are benefits of computerization
reaching the common man?
Of course, they are. Isn’t it
easier to book railway tickets now? Isn’t it easy to book airline tickets now? Even movie
tickets are now being booked through information technology. See, how fast is the bill
prepared at the departmental stores….

Are benefits for the masses or the
end-customer coming out of all the computerization that is taking place, especially in
Government offices and departments?

For some projects direct benefits for the masses have come out, and in some cases they
have not happened.

Considering the part of the society
you are referring to, doesn’t IT seems to be helping only those who have computers or have
access to them?

Let me tell you that computers and its benefits will reach the common masses. But for that
we will have to address some of the basic issues of the country. Issues like deployment of
IT in education, health, power, water, and infrastructure. All of us will have to move
together. In the last 10 years we have moved a lot, and in the next 10 years also, we will
move a lot.

Do you think mass appeal is
important for IT penetration?
Mass appeal will come by a
look-feel-touch approach. For this, the Government needs to encourage people to use
computers. Look at telephones. They were not there five years back, and today even small
villages have a PCO. People have become comfortable using telephones because they were
provided to them.

How is Cisco in India using
Internet for gaining competitive edge?
As all our partners are on the
Internet, they have access to the same information about our company and products as we
have. I do not have to check and cross check if all the latest information has been sent
to them, or if they have got the mails, or if they have received all the manuals. They can
see product configurations and prices, and place the order directly on the Web, and their
orders are booked immediately. They have access to all the resources, whether it is
marketing information, product and pricing information, competitor information, or
corporate information. No replication is needed. I do not send prices to anybody, they are
downloaded from the Web. All this gives us tremendous competitive edge. Twenty-four hour
support is available via the Net to our customers. All this makes Cisco a virtual team
which is very big and is always available at any place.

Internet has been termed as another
revolution after the Industrial Revolution. It is also said to be a new generation. What
do you think will be the next generation after this?

It will be very difficult to predict that. Frankly, I don’t know. Could anybody predict 40
years back or when mainframes came that there will be a PC in 1982?

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