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Still in IT Backwaters

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DQW Bureau
New Update





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Kerala today boasts of 100 percent literacy and some of the best e-Gov

success stories. But, it needs more to make it a favourite IT destination

Destination of choice for IT investments is indeed a misnomer these days for

some of the state governments of our country. The Kerala govern-ment, one of the

destination hard sellers, is pitching itself as 'Gods own eState.' That

might well become a hyper-bole if rhetoric continues to mask the ground

realities. Sure, the Technopark at Trivandrum is world class and the Infopark at

Kochi has 100% booking. But, apart from these, the state has not much to

showcase on the IT front. The other big-bang initiative 'Dubai Internet City'

is yet to emerge from its ambitious 'paper to reality stage.'

Given the ground realities, the two key investment destinations out of Kerala-Trivandrum

and Kochi-need to go the extra mile to attract big and new investments.

Meanwhile, the media-savvy IT Secretary of Kerala, Aruna Sundararajan, who

aggre-ssively positioned Kerala as an IT destination, is believed to have gone

on a long leave. According to rumour mills, Sundararajan has left the IT Mission

she was heading. An official clarification from the Kerala government is

expe-cted soon.

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What ails Kerala?



The chances are that if a perception audit is to be taken on the question:

"What is your top of the mind recall on Kerala?" the answer would be-

ayurveda or scenic beach resorts. Any mention of IT is most unlikely. This is

indeed sad for a state that pioneered the IT park concept way back in the early

1990s with Tech-nopark. But while other southern states hogged the limelight,

Kerala groped in the dark with strikes and trade union demonstrations and a

society mired in communism.

So, economic liberalization had little takers here when IT was booming in the

rest of the world in the 1990's. That Kerala, which has been riding on the

media blitz as a 100% literate state, was dubbed as 'India's Living Hell'

in one of its cover stories last year by the Outlook magazine, is no surprise.

The glaring realities hitherto masked by hype came to fore with that report.

While the report did not explore the IT potential out of Kerala, it, on the

other hand, exposed the ground realities. Says SR Nair, managing director, Team

Frontline, "Kerala needs an attitudinal change and has to be more inviting

to outsiders. Also, the entire city of Kochi is choking with dust, garbage, and

sewage everywhere."

While most IT industry heads complain about the slow progress made in terms

of augmenting the infrastru-cture, a sense of affinity to the place makes some

of them base their operations from Kerala. Quips N Jehangir, managing director,

NeST Group, with its turnover all set to reach Rs 500 crore: "For well over

a decade we are operating out of Kerala. I strongly believe that Kerala has

immense potential and the kind of domain centric jobs we execute to clients

spread across globally, is testimony to the skilled manpower available

here." But Kerala needs many more companies like NeST, which, at present,

is an exception.

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The typical, dismal, multi-cultural levels existing in the state maybe

another reason. According to an CEO of a leading company in Techno-park, which

set up operations way back in the mid-1990's: "When I came here from

Mumbai, Technopark impre-ssed me, and I went in for a huge facility. But, in the

first six months, some of best people I had, quit, saying they cannot gel with

the place and the environment." Bringing manpower from outside and making

them stay here has been a challenge for the com-pany. "So, now, we take

less of outside people and give preference to the locals."

Perception Issues



One of the biggest prob-lems confronting Kerala is the perception factor and

the mindset associated with it. For instance, Kochi is being pro-moted as a BPO

destination. But, currently, Kochi does not have the skilled manpower for BPOs.

Also, due to the accent problems, it is extremely difficult for voice-based

initia-tives to succeed in Kochi. So Kerala needs to evolve more skills on the

transaction side of the BPO space and that might work in the long run. Says KA

Joseph, managing director, Kerala Venture Fund, "I agree that in the past

we did have issues on the perception front, but in the last few years, things

have changed and we are making concerted efforts in promoting new IT compa-nies

in Kerala." But, the opti-mism exuded by a handful of technocrats is just

the tip of the iceberg. For instance, the hartal culture that results in

unscheduled holidays every month puts a fix on 24/7 kinds of operations.

Infrastructure Need



Kochi badly needs office spaces built by private players. Today, Infopark is

the only location that's touted as the happening place. Let's take a closer

look. The Infopark is spread across an area of 120,000 sq ft, currently being

occupied by 24 companies. Another 220,000 sq ft is getting ready and sources

claim that it is fully booked. According to Infopark sources, the entire new

building would house just six companies and it includes the biggest IT players

in the country and from outside. The biggest problem: shortage of space. Sources

also claim that the upcoming Infopark facility will house companies like DITRO

from Spain and ACS among others. While Infopark will improve Kochi's IT

potential, critics argue that the govern-ment should motivate private real

estate players to build more office spaces that will give investors more choice.

Moreover, the coming of Wipro or TCS, as branch offices, cannot be used as a

yardstick for economic competitiveness.

Destinations like Kochi need to re-invent themselves in a whole lot of

aspects. The city needs a facelift and efforts have to be taken to improve the

civic infrastructure with roads, shopping malls, and recreational facilities

among others. So if Kerala is serious about IT, it need to make a realistic

assessment of the ground realities, and plug in the key areas that will make it

a key contender to reckon with in the IT space.

Shrikanth G in

Kochi

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