Exporting Indian innovation

DQW Bureau
New Update


We can use IT for better delivery of public services-be it government, health

care or education. It can also be used for improving national security

Nandan Nilekani has been recently inducted into the government by the Prime

Minister of India, Manmohan Singh to head the Unique Identification Authority of

India, a new agency set up by the government to issue national biometric

identity cards across the country. Nilekani is former co-chairman of Infosys.

Lately he has been on the global talk circuit discussing his book, Imagining

India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, which describes the ideas that guided

India's development and the challenges to cementing India's future as a

global power.


If you were the Prime Minister of India, how would you use technology to

address growth and solve problems?

I think there are many roles for technology, particularly information

technology, in the Indian context. First, we can use IT for better delivery of

public services-whether it is government, health care, education, or whatever.

Second, we can use technology for identifying beneficiaries, especially the

poor, so the correct people get entitlements from government.

There is the whole issue of using technology for land records so that we can

have much smoother land transfers and reduce litigation. You can use IT for

improving national security.

You can use it for tax collection. There is a proposal in India to implement

the goods and services (GST) tax, which can only be implemented using IT.

Throughout government, technology can play a very big role.


Can India become an important supplier of new technologies, delivering

innovation to the rest of the world?

Already, it is. Many Indian companies have created innovative business

models that are fundamentally disruptive, for example, ICICI Bank and Bharti,

which are now getting exported globally. ICICI Bank offers services in the UK

and Canada and Bharti is seriously looking at servicing international markets.

What telecom innovations are you referring to?

Telecom companies have been able to create very profitable operations and at

the same time dramatically reduce the price of phone calls as well as the value

of each recharge. They have been able to create high volume, very low cost, high

quality solutions. And as they go and offer these abroad as a service, they will

be competing aggressively with local providers.

They have managed to come up with ways of sharing infrastructure, for

example, making investments in technology on a variable basis. Instead of

spending a lot of money buying capital equipment, they pay their technology

partners on the basis of the usage of the equipment-the partners are paid for

each minute that is spoken. So they are able to transfer a capital cost into an

operating cost. This has created a whole new business model that is very elegant

and disruptive. And this came out of necessity-everybody couldn't afford to

invest capital in rural areas.


What about innovations in banking and health care?

ICICI Bank is able to offer banking transactions at much lower cost than any

existing banks. So when they offer their transactions in a foreign country, they

are very competitive on phone banking and Internet banking, because everything

they have done efficiently leverages technology. In electronic banking and

mobile banking, the number of innovations is very high and can be transferred.

In health care, many of the Indian hospitals, such as Narayana Hrudayalaya,

have come out with the ability to do a high volume of operations, including

heart surgery, at a very reasonable price.

Beyond exporting efficient business models, can India become a major

exporter of new technologies?

Yes, many people are developing products in health care and communications

that could be exported. Some estimates hold that 750 million Indians will own

mobile phones in the next few years.


What impact can or might these numbers have on India?

Mobile phones are already having a huge impact in India. When you look

around you see people from all walks of life using them. Ninety percent of

mobile phones in India are prepaid and 40 percent have recharge of less than 10

rupees. I think this is empowering people in many ways. It is enabling them to

get employment; enabling them to find prices for things they are selling, so

they can get the best possible prices; enabling them to get information on

weather and farming.

One of the great visions is that phones will allow even the poorest-or almost

the poorest-Indians to secure bank accounts and loans on fair terms.

Yes, it can provide financial inclusion by giving everybody access to banking

services, to get a loan. It can provide for ways to get cash transfers from the

government to the poor. The mobile phone applications are limited only by our

ability to conceive of things that can be done. Yet many of the efforts in this

direction are still just pilot projects.


What has to happen to implement them at large scale?

The reason we have so many pilots is that every pilot is being done by

different institutions with different technologies. Very much like the U.S.

health care system today-there is no common way for hospitals to exchange

medical records. Similarly, if you really want to do financial services on a

mass scale, you need standardization of financial records, standardization of

citizen identification, rules for interoperability of data, and so on. Since

those are lacking, you end up with a lot of fragmented applications but nothing

which is scaled up.

The reasons for such challenges are often not technical-they are either

political or economic. In government departments there is a normal tendency not

to share data. We fundamentally need to get out of that mindset. Where

businesses are involved, there is commercial interest in not wanting to share

the data. Governments have a huge role to define the sandbox in which you will

play. They need to define the framework with common data formats,

interoperability, and formal technical standards. Within that, of course,

businesses can innovate and develop solutions. The key is aligning multiple

stakeholders in different segments to come together and bring about standards.

Let's talk about Infosys specifically. What challenges need to be overcome

to make Infosys the largest IT services company in the world?

I think Infosys is fundamentally extremely well positioned to become the

trusted partner of choice for business transformation for companies around the

world. We want to keep accelerating change in our business model because the

world is developing fast. We need to offer software-as-a-service and more

platform-based services. One of the solutions we now offer is procurement.


Instead of just providing the IT for procurement, we tell customers we will

take over the procurement function and share in any savings they are able to


Infosys caught the IT services wave. Is there a new technology opportunity

for the young companies in India today?

The IT services industry is going through a fair amount of metamorphosis. We

are seeing the rise of things such as cloud computing, software as a service,

mobility-based solutions, and sensor-based transaction tracking where sensors

monitor goods and the movements of things. Indian IT services firms often claim

they have tons of innovative new technology- but that they can't talk about it

very much, because what they build is the property of their clients.

Could you talk, at least generally, about some of the emerging

technologies Infosys has built for clients?

Many of our applications, especially our newer applications, are based on

mobility-using mobile phones, synchronizing mobile phones. We are doing a lot

with social commerce using the context of social computing to give businesses

far more intimate contact with their customers.

We are also building an application where we are essentially making retail

stores more intelligent by putting sensors on goods so we can see what customers

are buying. Based on people's choices we can point out for them, on the mobile

phone, special offers in the aisles they are in at the moment.

Infosys has sometimes suggested that its real value to clients is in the

new business processes they've helped develop. Could you give us a specific


We are working with Alstom, which is a French power company. We are working

with Cisco on things such as order processing, and we've been able to bring in

process transformation there.

David Talbot

Source:Technology Review