Open-source software has much wider usage. So far, we have been familiar for the use of Linux for mail (Sendmail), proxy (Squid), file and print (Samba) and web (Apache) servers. There is a lot more. There are databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL, there is an application server JBoss, there are open-source CRM and sales management applications like OpenCRM and Relata. In fact, there are open-source applications available for almost everything that one can think of. The problem is that many of these applications may not be finished or may have inadequate documentation and support. This is the opportunity for Indias software industry to build on top of and around these applications to make them industrial strength.
The one issue unaddressed so far is that of the core banking applications. Most applications today are Windows-based or need Internet Explorer. This is where the co-operating banks need to put pressure on vendors to make their applications work on Linux or other browsers. Many database vendors and applications work on Linux (or another Unix variant) at the server-level. In fact, even if a collective of banks need to even finance the cost of getting applications re-written by vendors to support Linux and the other browsers, it will be well worth the investment.
I am not suggesting that Indian banks do away with proprietary applications or slash their IT budgets. No. What they should look at is for hybrid solutions a mix of open-source and proprietary applications will create a win-win solution for the banks and their customers. The most important requirement to make this happen is an open mind on the part of the technology decision-makers in banks. In fact, one of the side-effects of this could very well be that the proprietary solution vendors also start offering rationale pricing rather than dollar-denominated or monopolistic pricing. Banks should use their IT budgets to deepen the penetration of technology both in terms of employees having access to computing as well as the type of applications in use (for example, investments in knowledge management and data mining software).
These ideas may seem quite radical and counter-intuitive. After all, banks and the financial services sectors many plenty of money. Why should they worry about reducing costs by going in for technology that may have not been used elsewhere in the world? Why should we be the guinea pigs? In fact, from the point of view of most managers, this is just the solution they should not want to try out it is different, it is not Windows, it may be risky, and most importantly, the money being spent is not their money.
The issue we need to consider as a nation is that of optimum utilisation of the limited resources that we have available and self-reliance. Expenditures on technology may not seem much when we as a nation are buying 2 million computers a year and running pirated software on more than 70% of these. Our nation of a billion people needs a technology infrastructure as much as it needs roads, power, food and water, if we are to realize the dream of being a developed nation in the coming years. The need of the hour is for disruptive innovations, and not status quo.
Tomorrow: Part 5
TECH TALK An Affordable Alternative Technology Architecture for Indias BFSI Industry+T