Europe.eGov

WSJ writes:

European governments’ motivation for taking public services online is promoting democracy as well as cutting costs. E-government “is a tool for public sector reform,” said Erkki Liikanen, the commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society, inaugurating the Como conference. It will produce “a public sector that is open and transparent” and “that is capable of delivering high value for taxpayers’ money.”

Despite heavy upfront spending, online public services can pay back their investment quickly. It’s much cheaper to have citizens fill out forms and consult services on the Web than take up an official’s time doing it in person or on the telephone.

“European governments all face big budget pressures and know they must drive the costs of services down,” says Kasper Rorsted, managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for H-P. His company has more than 200 projects in Europe. They include supplying Italy with electronic identity cards, Sweden with a 24-hour self-service portal and Bulgaria with new passports and ID cards.

Then there’s an apparent lack of strategy. Instead of a global plan designed to bring governments on the Web, businesses complain that public services only modernize bits and pieces.

“Most of these services are specific tasks with one specific agency,” said Piero Corsini, IBM’s vice president of public sector for Europe, Middle East and Asia. “What they still don’t have is the flow through different agencies.”

In India, too, eGovernance services are a growth area in IT. Will we have “Real-Time Government” anytime soon? Of course, some will argue for better governance, rather than the eGovernance!

Voltage and Secure Email

News.com writes about the launch of a new encryption mechanism by Voltage:

Voltage Security’s e-mail encryption system is a slight twist on the current practice of using a combination of security codes–one publicly available and one privately stored–to encrypt and decrypt messages. Using Voltage’s approach, the so-called public key is derived from the sender’s e-mail address, eliminating one step in the process, according to the company.

“You don’t have to go through the process of obtaining a security credential or certificate,” said Voltage CEO Sathvik Krishnamurthy.

Although the same security level can be reached using existing public key authentication systems, Voltage executives say the simplicity of their software could draw businesses that are interested in more secure e-mail but have been daunted by the work required to put such a system in place.

The result of Voltage’s efforts is a program that the company says eliminates the need for somebody to plan ahead before having an exchange of encrypted e-mail. Krishnamurthy said only the sender of an encrypted e-mail needs to have the company’s software. The recipient can then automatically decode the message while using Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or even a BlackBerry handheld. A test version of software for IBM’s Lotus Notes software is also available.

Adds WSJ:

Voltage developed server software that authenticates users and generates private keys from users’ e-mail addresses or other information. It sends those keys to users that have a related piece of PC software, which is designed to spread rapidly.

An existing user could send a scrambled message to another person who had never used the technology. To unlock it, the recipient would click on a link in the e-mail to go to a site running Voltage’s server software, which would send the recipient the software to both read and create messages. In Microsoft Corp.’s popular Outlook mail program, Voltage’s PC software appears simply as a button labeled “send secure” that is next to the familiar “send” button on a message.

A bank or insurance company could use the technology to send out encrypted information to its users, Mr. Krishnamurthy notes. The company, which hasn’t disclosed pricing of its software, says it also can protect instant messages or even voice communications on the Internet. Users also don’t have to be connected to networks as often as most public-key systems, he says.

This would be useful to check out, considering our presence in the mail server business.

ASPs make a Comeback

News.com writes about how some rented software services (RightNow Technologies, Salesforce.com, NetLedger, Onyx Software, Salesnet, UpShot and Workscape) have survived the shakeout and are looking forward to growth.

Large software systems from the likes of Oracle and SAP typically require an initial investment of many thousands of dollars–if not millions–to cover installation, training, purchase and licensing costs. By contrast, hosted software, which is essentially rented from an ASP, usually costs several hundred dollars a month, an amount small enough to be absorbed among routine expenses within corporate departments.

“It’s just a lot easier for a company to leak this cost into their profit-and-loss statement, over time, than it is for them to take a big hit up front,” said Timothy Clifford, chief executive of Workscape, an ASP based in Framingham, Mass.

That, in turn, helps companies minimize the vexing problem of “shelfware,” or software that lies idle because it is too difficult to support or use.

With hosted applications, “the risk is very low for the customer,” said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif. “You don’t buy the perpetual license and hope you use it some day. You pay for what you use, which makes sense in a bad economy. It makes sense anytime, but particularly now.”

Hosted software puts fewer demands on in-house computing staff–as the ASP takes care of updating and maintaining the applications–and, in some cases, even allows business managers to bypass their information technology departments altogether.

Southeast Asian Tigers No More

TIME has a story about the challenges facing Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, after many years of rapid growth. “The issues for the region nowquestionable or authoritarian political systems, economic competition from China, and terrorismare obstacles that even the most optimistic visionary has trouble seeing past. In the 20th century, the region’s bogeymenimperialism, war and communismcame from without. In the 21st century, Southeast Asia’s greatest threats come from within.”

A related story looks at Singapore:

To the casual visitor flying into Singapore, such gloom seems absurd. The wealthy city-state still thrums with technocratic efficiency. But beneath the gloss of its modern skyline, an unprecedented economic downturn has produced the worst identity crisis since the traumatic 1960s, when the island gained independence from Britain. The body blow the economy took from SARSPrime Minister Goh Chok Tong recently warned of a possible recession in 2003has confirmed Singaporeans’ worst fears about their future. Accustomed to defining themselves by their country’s extraordinary commercial successes over the past four decades, they now confront the possibility that hard work and talent may not be enough, that history and geography can rob a nation of its wealth as fast as it was earned. “It sometimes seems as though Singapore’s best days are over,” one Singaporean accountant in his late 20s says. “Now we have to run as hard as we can just to stay in the same place.”

This was a view echoed by a few of the people I met during a recent trip to Singapore. Outwardly, everything remains the same – Orchard Road on a Saturday is full of crowds, the flights seem quite full, SARS is only visible in the hoardings and leaflets, construction activity continues. But beneath, there are rumblings that there is a bubble waiting to burst.

The two growth engines of the Asian region are China and India. These are the places to be. The coming years will see some economic turmoil in the other countries as China sucks up manufacturing jobs, and India does the same in services. Both countries also have huge, largely untapped domestic markets, which could become large opportunities.

Info Aggregator and I

4 days of non-reading resulted in 1100 items in my Info Aggregator (from July 3-6) – the collective output of some 80+ sites (OPML file). It took me about 60 minutes to do a quick scan of these items (that is about one item every 3 seconds). I would look at the source and subject fields of the items in my mailbox. If it was interesting, I’d keep it, else hit the delete key. (This is something we are all good at thanks to the need to counter the sampes we get.) At the end of the hour, I was left with about 100-odd items for further reading.

I could not have imagined doing so much in so short a time. Previously, I’d have barely made it to 8-10 sites over the hour. That is why I believe the Info Aggregator combined with the fact that it uses the familiar email client interface is a “killer app” for information management, especially microcontent.

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TECH TALK: Dear NRI: Opportunities Unlimited

Dear Non-Resident Indian,

As the New India emerges, there are plenty of opportunities not just in the information technology sector (which I am a part of and more familiar with) but also in the other areas. Opportunities are what we make of them. True, there will plenty of ups and downs, but that does not deter from the fact that there is a lot of catching up and leapfrogging that India, its consumers and enterprises have to do. I will talk about the IT space. (I am sure if you speak to people in other sectors you will get a similar sense of the opportunities that lie ahead.)

So far, India has been known for its software services quality programming and support for a fraction of the cost. Led by Bangalore and followed by other cities, India has carved a niche for itself in developing software for the worlds leading organisations. The Indian software companies, led by TCS, Infosys, Wipro and Satyam, have become part of many technology supply chains. Even as that continues, the new buzz is about extending the Indian advantage to everything service-oriented. Business process outsourcing (or IT-enabled services) is the new talk of the town everywhere. The legacy of English left by the British and our vast numbers are finally being put to good use!

In the telecom sector, companies like Bharti, Orange (and Hutchinson), Idea Cellular (jointly owned by Birla, Tatas and BPL) and Reliance Infocomm are finally bringing connectivity to the masses at affordable prices. The most recent offer from Reliance calls for an invtsment of just Rs 501 (about USD 11) for a cellphone. Smart businessmen are using two cellphones the second one is a Reliance phone so they can talk long-distance to their branch offices and associates (also on Reliance) for 40 paise (less than 1 cent) a minute. Imagine that. Just a few years, a peak hour Mumbai-Delhi call cost 100 times as much.

There are two large untapped opportunities that lie ahead in India: SMEs and the rurals markets. Both are very similar in the sense that there has been a co-ordination failure among the various solution providers, with the result that the small and medium enterprises and the people of rural India find themselves in a low-equilibrium situation. They are invisible markets, underserved by the existing solution providers. New technology and a co-ordinated effort by multiple players has the potential to carve open two large markets: there are estimated to be 3 million SMEs in India, and 700 million in rural India.

What they need are innovative solutions built using the newest technologies the ones that you know and understand well. From eBusiness software suites to WiFi, from mobile applications to alternative sources of energy there is plenty of scope for disruptive innovations to tap into these markets in India, and then take the solutions to the other emerging markets of the world.

Opportunities also exist in every sector if one is willing to think entrepreneurially. What is needed is Will and Vision to make a difference. Yes, there will be failures, but the New India is willing to take these in its stride. After all, Silicon Valley was built not just on the successes of a few, but the failures of many. It is for us Indians and NRIs to help build the New India.

Tomorrow: The New India

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