India Computer Stats

A MAIT Presentation (ZIP file) gives a detailed overview of the IT scene in India. Summary of stats for 2001-02 (year ended March):

– PC sales: 1.67 million (down 11% year-on-year)
– Of these: 1.3 million were bought by businesses, of which 47% by SMEs
– First-time buyers: 71%
– Assembled PC share: 46% (down from 53%)
– Top 4 metros account for 56% (down from 68%), next 4 for 14% (vs 20%)
– Projected PC sales for 2002-03: 1.9 million (up 12%)

– Notebooks: 45K, Servers: 51K
– Printers 836K, of which: Dotmatrix 345K, Inkjet 428K, Laserjet 61K
– Network cards: 1 million, Hubs: 206K, Modems: 470K
– Internet accounts: 1.3 million

An excerpt from the press release on the surprise package in India: “One of the most notable findings of the study this year has been the increased consumption of IT products in smaller towns and cities. 30% of total PC sales was accounted for by Class B and C class cities – a phenomenal growth of 106%. ”

B2BAI as ESW Entry Strategy

One of the areas which has been fuzziest to me in Emergic has been about how we should be creating enterprise software (ESW) components. So far, I had been thinking of building a eBusiness suite integrating ERP, CRM and SCM. Easier said than done! Of course, our approach would be to look at a minimal feature-set which could get us started as we target SMEs. But even there, where do we begin? How will we handle the challenges of customisation that will inevitably come? My solution to that was to build only the components which would do 60-70% of the work, with independent software vendors doing the rest. Basically, build the Lego blocks which make assembly of low-cost enterprise software applications easy.

All this sounded neat in theory. But, implementing would it would be a huge task. Especially, for us, with no experience in the enterprise software space. So, the thinking continued. What should we be looking to do? I did not want to not do anything. When we go to SMEs, we need to go with a whole solution (or at least promise availability in a few months). Server-based Computing (Thin Client-Thick Server) would be the first step which would allow them to build their enterprise IT infrastructure, and have a computer on every desktop. The Digital Dashboard would be the second step, which creates an enterprise knowledge management system based on whats there is peoples heads and not whats sitting in files and databases. The third step had to be with the core business applications.

Edge Services

I have now come up with a different line of thinking on how to tackle this issue. Instead of focusing first at the core, let us look at the edges (the periphery) of business: the interactions between enterprises. In other words, instead of focusing on EAI (Enterprise Application Integration), let us look at B2BAI (Business-to-Business Application Integration).

In EAI, one has to look at legacy data already existing in companies. It would have meant us worrying about their existing applications (if any) and the data that they already had. It would have also meant customising or building adapters for data transformation. We would get into the heart of the company without too many resources. Besides, much of what is done within is very specific to the enterprises.

In B2BAI, the focus shifts from transaction processing to document processing. Businesses are exchanging information between themselves product information, financial information, order details, shipping details, etc. Information is the primary flow. Even for the actual product and money flow, it is the information about them that matters. This is where the last few years have seen the emergence of standards in the form of ebXML, RosettaNet and BizTalk. While Microsofts BizTalk has focused more on information flows, RosettaNet has actually mapped out processes through its PIPs (Partner Interface Processes). RosettaNet provides the model, specifications, format and validation for various processes between enterprises. (There are, perhaps, strengths and weaknesses for each of the standards. This is what we need to take a closer look at: what is good at doing which part best. Can we do value-added aggregation across them?)

So, our focus initially should be building the interfaces between businesses, based on the standards that exist. This is the area where SMEs would be interested in seeing how they can communicate electronically with other SMEs or with their bigger partners. Of course, in the latter case, the partners would set the communication mechanism, but the push is going to be towards standards. Our approach should be to use standards to leapfrog the proprietary communication mechanisms. (Think back to how Oracle used SQL to its advantage in the mid-1970s.)

So, we need to codify various business processes using the process and information exchange standards which are coming into place. What we also should look at doing is seeing how we can build an SME Exchange connecting various SMEs together. This is a good starting point as SMEs do a lot of procurement from each other also. Standardising this using the XML base and Web Services is what is needed.

SME Slashdot

Another related idea is to target SMEs through the industry associations that they belong to. One idea here is to create a Slashdot-like community weblog ASP. This would allow SMEs to come together and share best practices and learnings. It is also a low-cost way of reaching out to SME Clusters. It has the potential to spread like an epidemic, as SMEs see the benefits of belonging to online community networks. Creating self-organising networks of SMEs can only be done online; if we can play an enabling role here, it would solve one of the biggest problems we face reaching out to SME. .

Over time, this edge strategy gives us the network of SMEs to then start building the Lego blocks for use within the enterprise. Sometimes, it is better, especially for newcomers, to chip away at the edges, than attack the core.

Again, this is the theory. But, I feel that this seems a much better approach than the earlier one which I had been thinking of. Theres a lot more to think through, which I am hoping to now do this month. At least, I now feel the problem is solvable. One small step forward.

NextGen Enterprise Apps – InfoWorld

Two good articles in InfoWorld:

Next-gen enterprise apps
: “With greater amounts of data exposed as XML and tied together via Web services, enterprises are looking to lash together compenentized business processes to attack business problems with the best parts of existing applications. These emerging collaborative or composite applications will combine functions from multiple application systems to execute a larger, near real-time process that will then be published as a Web service.”

Collaborative challenges
: “Several thorny problems need to be solved to make collaborative applications work, including data transformation, business process coordination, and transactionality.”

TECH TALK: Server-based Computing: Recent Developments (Part 2)

8. Wireless: The proliferation of wireless devices like cellphones and wireless data networks will require information to be available on small form-factor devices. These can actually be thought of as thin clients, thus putting the onus of computation on the servers.

9. Broadband: As broadband networks proliferate, the distribution of software and access to information on the Internet in real-time will become better. Until this happens, servers will need to be on the company LANs. This is one key difference with the ASP model which has met with only limited success.

10. Desktop Power: Moores Law continues to drive speed on the desktop. We have reached a situation where technology has moved much further ahead of what users need on the desktop (and in fact, what they are likely to need in the coming years). What this opens up is the opportunity for desktops to be used as server appliances, thus dramatically lowering the cost of server-based computing.

11. Emerging Markets: As the developed markets reach a saturation point in their adoption of technology, the action is going to shift to emerging markets, and the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) there. SMEs as the weak links in the supply chains in an integrated global economy. They are the last frontier in technologys relentless march.

12. Computer Recycling: An emerging problem is what to do with the tens of millions of computers that the developing world is disposing off every year as it upgrades to not just more powerful computers but also different types of devices (laptops currently, with the prospects of Tablet PCs in the future). The disposed desktops of one market are the thin clients of another.

By themselves, each of these developments would not have made as much of an impact as they can taken together. The time is right for another look at server-based computing.

As a related aside, look to some of the questions that Microsoft is working to answer with its proposed new operating system, code-named Longhorn, which is scheduled to release sometime after 2005 (Fortune, July 8, 2002):

Why are my document files stored one way, my contacts another way, and my e-mail and instant-messaging buddy list still another, and why aren’t they related to my calendar or to one another and easy to search en masse?

Why can’t my computer protect me from distractions by screening phone calls and e-mails, and why can’t it track me down when I’m out of the office or forward things to me automatically?

Why can’t our computers arrange conference calls and online meetings for us?

Why is it so hard for a soccer mom to set up a simple Website and e-mail group to keep people informed about who’s driving and who’s bringing treats?

Why can’t I tap into all my stuff at home or at work from any device that’s mine, and have it just be available because it knows I’m me?

What Bill Gates and his team probably mean is that there is a need for smarter software and more powerful hardware on the desktop. But read between the lines, and one will clearly see the value of doing all the processing on the server!

Next Week: Server-based Computing Redux