Internet in Africa

NYTimes writes:

Calls in and out of sub-Saharan Africa have long been among the world’s most costly, strangling business opportunities and burdening ordinary people. Services have been tightly controlled by government-owned telephone companies, many of which are rife with corruption and incompetence. Governments also imposed high tariffs on international calls, seeing it as a lucrative source of revenue.

But now, thanks to what is called voice-over-Internet, phone alternatives are flourishing, sharply lowering costs and expanding opportunities for business and consumers in some of the poorest places on earth even as they pose a competitive threat to government-sanctioned telephone companies.

Sending telephone calls over the Internet is gaining ground in Africa because it makes possible a range of new services, linking the sub-Saharan to the world’s major industrial centers in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. And better digital connections, mostly via satellite, are raising the hope that Ghana the most peaceful country in a West African region besieged by civil wars and ethnic strife may become the regional hub for an information-technology industry.

Support as Linux Inhibitor

ZDNet reports about the findings on Linux usage in the UK:

The No. 1 factor preventing companies from purchasing Linux installations was support availability, the survey found. “What’s worse is that the people who are using Linux are even more critical of the support situation,” Mike Banahan, chief technology officer of OpenForum Europe, said. “For busy IT directors, they want to have someone to place a support contract with. They want to continue with their established suppliers whom they’ve been using for ten years, and whom they know are going to stay in the market. Proper service-level agreements and support contracts are something the industry has to get into place.”

Ironically, one of Linux’s biggest selling points is its reliability, and some large organisations using it — such as the London borough of Waltham Forest — say it essentially needs no support, according to OpenForum’s case studies. But such arguments fall on deaf ears with most businesses, Banahan said: “You can argue that it’s all a charade and it’s stupid, but that’s what the market wants.”

Other findings were more positive for the open-source community. Companies are taking the software more seriously, as they grow increasingly concerned about lock-ins to proprietary products, the survey found: listing their business priorities, the top concern was creating more efficient internal processes, followed by examining the possibility of using open-source software.

The main draw of Linux is the perception that it decreases costs, the survey found.

Have been thinking about the possibility of setting up a Linux support centre from India.

Continue reading

Gelernter on the Next Newspaper

David Gelernter writes about the “Next Great American Newspaper” – in short, replacing the New York Times.

It will have to be published on the web and not on paper, and as a new style web newspaper, not one of today’s conventional web-based losers. It is coming–and (in the nature of things) it will redefine the news story and the newspaper.

As an object-in-time the web-paper will be king, if we let it be–but what kind of object is that? If a still photo is an object in space, a parade seen from a fixed location is an object in time–its grand marshal two hours in the past, its rear end 20 minutes into the future. And (it just so happens) the news is a parade, it is a March of Time (Time-Life’s famous newsreel series), a sequence of events–and thus perfect for a (new style) web newspaper. How can history’s parade (or any parade) not be interesting? A proper web-paper will be a parade of reports, each materializing in the present and marching off into the past.

The web-papers of tomorrow should be “objects in time,” and here is the picture. Imagine a parade of jumbo index cards standing like set-up dominoes. On your computer display, the parade of index cards stretches into the simulated depths of your screen, from the middle-bottom (where the front-most card stands, looking big) to the farthest-away card in the upper left corner (looking small). Now, something happens: Tony Blair makes a speech. A new card materializes in front (a report on the speech) and everyone else takes a step back–and the farthest-away card falls off the screen and (temporarily) disappears. So the parade is in constant motion. New stories keep popping up in front, and the parade streams backwards to the rear.

Each card is a “news item”–text or photo, or (sometimes) audio or video. “Text” could mean an entire conventional news story or speech or interview. But the pressure in this medium is away from the long set-piece story, towards the continuing series of lapidary paragraphs. There’s room on a “news card” for a headline, a paragraph and a small photo. (If the news item is a long story or transcript, only the opening fits on the card–but you can read the whole thing if you want to, by clicking the proper mouse-buttons.)

So: a moving parade (or flowing stream) of news items–new ones constantly arriving in front, older ones moving back. (Actually it’s one long parade reaching back to the newspaper’s founding; you can rewind it like videotape.) You can only see one full card at a time; the others are partially hidden by cards in front. But you can guess what’s on the partially hidden cards, because you can see their top edges and left margins. And when you touch a card with the cursor, a complete version pops up instantaneously. The news stream uses foreshortening to make the most of screen space: One glance encompasses the most recent 20 or 30 postings, the latest quarter-hour to several hours of news, depending on the world’s pulse at the moment and your preferences.

Everything on every card is indexed, everything is searchable should you care to search–the news parade is (equivalently) an “information beam” you can focus as precisely as you like. Type “Tony Blair” and you get a Tony beam–still a moving stream edging backwards into the sunset, but all Tony, all the time.*

Gelernter’s views echo what his software (Scopeware) does wth information on a PC.

Small Sites Power

Jakob Nielsen writes: “Small websites get less traffic than big ones, but they can still dominate their niches. For each question users ask, the Web delivers a different set of sites to provide the answers.”

He adds: “The Web is not a mass medium. It’s not broadcast. The Web is on-demand, driven by each customer’s specialized need in each moment…Small sites have two huge advantages over big sites: there are many more of them and they are more specialized and thus more targeted. Small sites speak directly to the specific needs and interests of a committed user community, and thus have much higher value per page view..Diversity is power on the Web. Big sites may be bigger, but smaller sites will keep scoring higher for specialized topics, both in terms of their connections with users and in terms of each visit’s commercial value.”

India v China

Foreign Policy asks if India can overtake China: “Whats the fastest route to economic development? Welcome foreign direct investment (FDI), says China, and most policy experts agree. But a comparison with long-time laggard India suggests that FDI is not the only path to prosperity. Indeed, Indias homegrown entrepreneurs may give it a long-term advantage over a China hamstrung by inefficient banks and capital markets.”

Write Yasheng Huang (of MIT) and Tarun Khanna (of HBS):

China and India are the worlds next major powers. They also offer competing models of development. It has long been an article of faith that China is on the faster track, and the economic data bear this out. The Hindu rate of growtha pejorative phrase referring to Indias inability to match its economic growth with its population growthmay be a thing of the past, but when it comes to gross domestic product (GDP) figures and other headline numbers, India is still no match for China.

However, the statistics tell only part of the storythe macroeconomic story. At the micro level, things look quite different. There, India displays every bit as much dynamism as China. Indeed, by relying primarily on organic growth, India is making fuller use of its resources and has chosen a path that may well deliver more sustainable progress than Chinas FDI-driven approach. Can India surpass China? is no longer a silly question, and, if it turns out that India has indeed made the wiser bet, the implicationsfor Chinas future growth and for how policy experts think about economic development generallycould be enormous.

The authors point out how NRIs could play a role in shaping India’s future:

Until now, the Indian diaspora has accounted for less than 10 percent of the foreign money flowing to India. With the welcome mat now laid out, direct investment from nonresident Indians is likely to increase. And while the Indian diaspora may not be able to match the Chinese diaspora as hard capital goes, Indians abroad have substantially more intellectual capital to contribute, which could prove even more valuable.

The Indian diaspora has famously distinguished itself in knowledge-based industries, nowhere more so than in Silicon Valley. Now, Indias brightening prospects, as well as the changing attitude vis–vis those who have gone abroad, are luring many nonresident Indian engineers and scientists home and are enticing many expatriate business people to open their wallets. With the help of its diaspora, China has won the race to be the worlds factory. With the help of its diaspora, India could become the worlds technology lab.

One India-China battlefront front is Software. Business Week writes about how “Indians are realizing that their big edge in English skills and multinational investment should hold off China’s software threat.”

Why the confidence? One reason is the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak showed that China isn’t all powerful. Yes, the virus now seems to be under control. And yes, the Chinese economy, having defied predictions of a SARS-induced collapse, is surging again. Yet for several crucial weeks, the world shunned China.

India, on the other hand, was SARS-free. The outbreak in China provided vital psychological support for Indians who previously had heard little but glowing reports of China’s stupendous economic progress, which makes India’s steady but slow growth seem pathetic.

Another reason for Indian confidence is the continued migration of jobs to India. Back in 2001, the boom in business-process outsourcing hadn’t started. Now, hardly a week goes by without another multinational announcing that it’s opening or expanding an office in India so that low-salaried, high-skilled Indians can provide all sorts of back-office support. Companies are hiring thousands of Indians to work in call centers, answering questions from customers a half a world away.

India’s big advantages — the base of English-speaking talent, the size of local players like Wipro and Infosys, and the critical mass of investment by multinationals in Bangalore and other areas — give Indians good reason to feel secure that they’ll be able to withstand China’s challenge better than just about anybody else.

Continue reading

Knowledge Management is In

Richard Karlgaard (Forbes) has a collection of CEO quotes from the CEO summit. His conclusion: “Of surprise to me was how much these CEOs talked about knowledge management. In fact, this tenet was universal at the Microsoft CEO Summit: Smart companies will prosper; the rest will die. CEOs are happy to buy technology that makes their employees smart, especially about customers.”

A few quotes:

Joe Forehand, Accenture: “As the economy improves, it’s going to be all about the customer again. If we want to win, we’re going to have to win the battle of the customer. The cost of acquiring and servicing customers is higher than ever. Brand loyalty is at a lower point than we’ve ever seen. Technology needs to integrate the whole marketing cycle–marketing, branding, sales, customer service and postservice support. We need true insights about the customer.”

Klaus Kleinfeld, Siemens: “If I have people sitting in Sweden who specialize in offshore oil drilling and I have a customer sitting in Texas who wants to do some offshore oil drilling, I need to make sure that the data flows between these two parties in the shortest time possible. Companies have to tap the knowledge that sits with every individual. There’s huge potential if we can do that and do it quickly.”

Marks: “I have 100,000 employees, 25,000 of whom are knowledge workers. I write an e-mail about every week to ten days,distributed to everybody in the world. People like to hear from me because they feel I’m talking to them directly. So I can send that e-mail out, and within about 24 hours everyone will have read it. The amazing thing is how I can change the direction of the entire company within 24 hours. Ten years ago I couldn’t do that.”

Anderson: “What do I want? A device that provides precise just-in-time information about a specific customer and provides just-in-time learning for the employee so that we can leverage information for the benefit of the customer.That would be a powerhouse killer app.”

Kleinfeld: “I would love to have a structure for just-in-time knowledge and one for just-in-time access. When you’re out in the field somewhere, you want to have the answer right there, right away. The power of that would be unbelievable.”

My favourite is by Forehand: “Microsoft should create an Xbox for the business world [general laughter]. Seriously! Start with that in mind–everything is included, you can see things in color and see what’s right and wrong. Start with how you approach Xbox, and tie that to business.”

TECH TALK: Dear NRI: India Rising

Dear Non-Resident Indian,

I have a simple message for you: Now is the time to consider returning to India both for a better personal life and for helping build the New India. India is changing, at least one part of India that constitutes urban India. There is an optimism in the air. Opportunities abound. India is Rising. The time to think about a return to India is Now.

For many like you who left India for the prospects of better opportunities abroad, the image of India remains frozen at the time that they departed. Subsequent short, annual visits have probably only given fleeting glimpses of the changes that are taking place. So, the status quo of the image persists. Landing at one of the airports does little to erase the impression of an arrival at a third-world country. Pollution, traffic jams, poverty may be visibly all there. So what really has changed about India?

In one word: Attitude. The last few years have seen Indian self-confidence rise. It is a mix of various factors. The growth of the Indian software services industry in the face of a worldwide slowdown, the boom in business process outsourcing (rarely a day goes by without a new announcement of another global major deciding to shift some of its services to India), the rising incomes in urban India, a stable government at the centre for the past 4 years, Vajpayee and Kalam at the helm, smart performances by Indian sportsmen (and not just in cricket), the malls and multiplexes, the expressways starting to link cities, Indian companies fighting back the MNCs and the Chinese onslaught, the USD 82 billion forex reserves. Or maybe it is just the pessimism in the rest of the world. Whatever it is, there is a growing feeling in India that the game is ours to win or lose.

For the first time, I sense a feeling among Indians that tomorrow will be better than today. For a long time, there was a feeling of resigned acceptance that what is will be. This is changing. There is a growing feeling that what we make of tomorrow is in our hands, that the opportunities are there. What tomorrow brings is more in our hands than divined by destiny. Optimism in the people is not an easy thing to inculcate it is something which one sees all around, and mirrors it back.

There is a long way to go. But one cannot help feeling that the Indian train is finally moving after decades of standing at the station. There is a sense of purpose and determination a drive to reach the destination. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. India and Indians have begun that journey. Perhaps, it is time for you to begin yours.

Tomorrow: Opportunities Unlimited