As India Develops

My business partner at Deeshaa, Rajesh Jain has been focusing his Tech Talks under the heading As India Develops where discusses challenges and opportunities along the road to a developed India. The topics he introduces in these series of Tech Talks lie at the core of what needs to be done for India’s transition from an underdeveloped to a developed economy.

Take, for instance, his view on energy.

One of the biggest challenges in India in the cities as well as rural areas is the availability of reliable power. Even as India goes about trying to set up gigantic power plants and revamp transmission to bridge the deficit, there is a need to think very differently about the power situation. Since there is little legacy in most parts of India (especially the rural sector), are there new options that can be looked at for providing power rapidly and cost-effectively across India?

He introduces his ideas on ICT thus:

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been the dominant factor for the productivity growth in the developed markets. The problem with the current ICT is their cost – the dollar-denominated pricing makes it affordable to only a small segment of the business and consumer segment in India. While competition has ensured that talk on cellphones is now among the cheapest in India, the same is not the case in computing given that two virtual monopolies (Intel and Microsoft) control the two most critical components.

For India to develop, there is an increasing emphasis on the need to build out the physical infrastructure – roads, ports, airports, power and the like. But there is the need for a parallel digital infrastructure – high-speed networks, access terminals, software and content. While the telecom carriers are now building out the high-speed networks, not enough attention has been paid in the other areas. This needs to change.

What India needs is an affordable computing and communications platform, one that dramatically brings down the cost without compromising on the performance or utility. Luckily, many of the components are now coming together to make this happen. What is needed is for us to adopt these innovations to build the equivalent of “tech utilities” which make “commputing” (as Om Malik put it) a reality for the next markets.

Regarding market access, he starts off with

Information abounds around us, but if it is not available at the right time to support decision-making, then its value is limited. The Internet helped bring ease the distribution of information globally. In India, too, we have benefited significantly over the past decade. But a lot more needs to be done to take the benefits of information access to larger numbers across India. The need is to leapfrog from the request-reply (1-way) web to the publish-subscribe (2-way web).

He stresses the need for distribution hubs and writes:

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and Rural India are the twin engines for India’s economic growth and development. SMEs need technology solutions which can help them build their digital infrastructure as they search for global opportunities and seek to make operations more efficient. Rural India needs an array of services at affordable price points. The common thread is the need for distribution hubs which aggregate products and services. While SMEs need the equivalent of Tech 7-11s, Rural India needs RISC (Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons).

He elaborates on the subject of RISC as distribution hubs (caution: shameless self-promotion follows):

RISC (Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons) is an economic model for the transformation of Rural India, proposed by Atanu Dey.

According to Atanu: “Fundamentally, the specific market failure that RISC addresses is that of coordination failure. RISC is designed to coordinate the activities of a host of entities-commercial, governmental, NGOs. It synchronizes investment decisions so as to reduce risk. It essentially acts as a catalyst that starts off a virtuous cycle of introducing efficient modern technology to improve productivity that increases incomes and thus the ability of users to pay for the services, and so on. It creates a mechanism that reduces transaction costs and therefore improves the functions of markets.”

Atanu and Vinod Khosla co-authored a paper on RISC in August 2003. The monograph outlines the challenges in dealing with rural India and a framework to solve the many inter-linked problems to build a new “urbanised” rural India.

All of the above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Much lies below the surface and for us to be able to transform India, a great deal of energy will be required. India is like a super huge supertanker. Changing course, leave alone reversing direction, will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. No single entity can do it. It will require coordination, cooperation, competition, and sheer blind luck. It will require the private sector, the public sector, the government, the households, the NGOs, etc etc. The motivations will be equally diverse. For profit, for fame, for self-gratification, for power, or whatever. Somehow if the vision is shared, though our means and skills be different, every one of us can make it happen.

How to create a shared vision is of course where the challenge lies.

Author: Atanu Dey


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