INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RULES THE ROOST
The Internet surpassed radio as a source for political news in the US in 2004 as more people went online to keep up with the Presidential election campaign. Twenty-nine percent of US adults used the Internet to get political news last year, up from 4 percent in 1996 and 18 percent in2000. Television remained the dominant medium for most voters. For those with a broadband connection at home, the Internet rivaled newspapers in importance.
India may not be such advanced as the US in terms of Internet coverage, but beyond a shadow of doubt India is galloping forward in the IT revolution, and the youth brain power of this country is helping such revolutions take place in many other countries as well.
The Central government and the State Governments are spending crore of rupees in promoting e-governance in every field in order to ensure efficiency, transparency and better citizen-friendly interface. Most of the banks have been computerized and the banks are functioning with minimum staff, with almost all customers provided with ATM-debit card with which they can draw cash from any of the ATMs that have mushroomed in the cityscape. Railway tickets can be had through the Internet and mobile. The cumbersome position in la* id registration offices has been done away with the installation of computers in villages and towns. Touch screen helps you get platform tickets and there is an array of computers that inform you about the availability of reservation, the status of your reservation and the like. A single window helps you to pay all utility bills-in respect of charges for electricity consumption, water consumption, house tax, land tax, road tax and telephone charges. In March 2005, the then Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. T.S. Krishna Murthy announced in Madurai that the Election Commission would moot the idea of voting through the Internet to increase voter participation and Introduce biometrics in electronic photo identity cards.
We have only made a beginning in e-governance. IT must also play a significant role in interdepartmental cooperation and coordination and the linkup between the departments of the Central Government and the State Governments. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has already started work on the inter-operability for the Central and State Governments.
Sky is the limit with IT and IT-enabled services dominating the realms of higher education. The Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) a deemed university from June 2003-has joined hands with the satellite-based education delivery service, DirecWay, to offer a one-year MBA in financial services that can be taken across 23 cities in India through interactive sessions. The Programme covers financial markets; domestic and global saving and investments; consumer finance; credit ratings; mergers and acquisitions; project financing, etc Ten modules spread over two semesters can be taken through twice-weekly evening classes at 33 satellite-backed classrooms in 23 cities, created by Direcway, a brand created by Hughes Escorts Communication Ltd. (HECL), the Indian end of the US-based satellite provider, Houghes.
Faculty members from MAHE currently use the Bangalore studios of Direcway to transmit the lessons, which students in any of the countrywide classrooms can attend. These special facilities have a number of computer terminals backed by microphone and headphones, so that students can listen to lectures-and can interact with the faculty; live, by voice or e-mail, Direcway has set up studios in Gurgaon (Haryana), Jamshedpur (Jharkhand) and Kozhikode (Kerala). The entire system is backed by a network of Very Small Aperture Satellite (VSAI) systems.
The Government of Kerala is planning major initiatives in making information and communication technology (ICT) an integral part of school education in the State. About 23,000 computers would be made available to Government High Schools and Higher Secondary Schools so that there would be one computer per three students. The government has already provided training to teachers in using free software. Each school would have at least two multimedia rooms that would also serve as virtual classrooms using the satellite, EDUSAT, for communications.
One of the States in India is all set to implement a Treasury Information Management (TRIM) system that is aimed at making the functioning of government treasuries more citizen-friendly. Pensioners drawing pension from State treasuries and people having treasury savings bank and fixed deposits are among those expected to benefit from the system that is being developed by the NIC guide touch screen information kiosk. The National Informatics Centre has already developed a voice guided touch screen information kiosk for 189 district and sub-treasuries. The kiosk will enable dozens to access their pensions and savings account through a password protection system.
The bonanza bestowed by IT and IT-enabled services should not be cornered by a select few; it should reach every citizen in order to bridge the digital divide; we can ill afford to have an advanced India and a backward India. Studies show that urban residents are better off than their rural inhabitants, men are more privileged than women, and adults have greater access than children. Both the Central and State Governments have taken several steps to eliminate the digital divide. The yawning gaps in the outreach of IT have received the attention of even the UN that has since assumed global leadership of the effort to close the gap between the “haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This has resulted in the formation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The WSIS, which first met in Geneva in2003, will meet in Tunis this year to decide on new financial and institutional structures to help resource poor nations. Among the proposals to be considered is the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund to aid the least developed and developing countries.
India has taken tremendous strides in reducing the digital gap what with expanding telecommunications networks and software production capabilities. But just an increase in the absolute number of telephones, landline and mobile, personal computers, and rising software exports is not enough. We boast of our 11 million PCs, but it is a mere one percent of our population; the Internet population of about five million is far inadequate compared to our population. According to a report released on June 28, 2005, the number of Internet users in China now exceeds 100 million. China’s position is now second only to the US in terms of online population. Experts say that within the next two years the numbers of PCs might jump to 24 million and Internet subscribers to 18 million in our country. Yet, we would be still far behind the US and China.
Says Mr. Azim Premji, Chairman of the Wipro: I would like to see at least three Indian IT services companies among the top 10 ranked companies globally. Companies like Wipro are already among the top in terms of market capitalization and employee numbers, but not there yet by sales revenue. Given the quality of competitiveness of Indian lT services companies and the economic logic of worldwide sourcing, I have no doubt that this will be true before the year 2010. It is important to achieve this milestone as it would establish that Indian IT services companies could operate on a global scale and on global benchmarks”.
Experts say that IT services industry would create four million jobs every year. Right now, the IT industry would have added two lakhs jobs directly and six lakhs jobs indirectly. If the present pace is maintained, by 2015, there would be an incredible rise in employment-one million jobs directly and three million jobs indirectly bringing the total to four million.
The top five software and service players have maintained their positions in the industry body NASSCOM’S annual list of top 20 software service exporters for 2004-05. Tata Consultancy Services is sitting pretty on the top of the heap with revenues of Rs. 7/449crore followed by Infosys at Rs. 6,806 crore and Wipro with Rs 5,426 crore. Satyam and HCL Technologies are next in the line with revenues of Rs. 3,377crore and Rs. 2,664crore, respectively. Nasscom does not take into account the revenues of these companies from business process outsourcing and IT-enabled services business.
IT has transformed the way of life beyond recognition in the last decade and is all set to make life easier and richer for the common man. There was a time bank employees’ associations used to fight computerization in their sector, but now everyone has come to realize that IT is an integral part of today’s life.