TECH TALK: Envisioning A New India: A Technology Foundation (Part 1)

“A Connected Computer in every home and office.” It may seem foolish to even think of this when millions of Indians live below the poverty line, and are not able to get clean drinking water and two proper meals a day. I don’t think any government initiative can change this; after all, we haven’t succeeded with subsidies and Schemes For the Poor in the past 50 years. The way out, according to me, is to get people across the country to leverage technology – for themselves, their children and in their businesses. The computer will become a “tool of the trade” – people will automatically figure out the best use for it in their personal and professional lives.

The computer is a disruptive technology and has to be used as such. So far, only a fraction have had access to it. Providing access to computing and communications can radically reshape people’s thinking. They will come up with uses for it which we cannot imagine. It will spur imagination. The Rich and the Big Companies take technology for granted and follow the book when it comes to usage and deployment – my belief is that for the Poor and the Small Companies, technology can be a very powerful weapon for they have none other.

To enable the vision of a Computer in every home and office in India means also redefining price points. The cost of the computer cannot exceed Rs 5,000 (USD 100) – it was at this price point that TV sales took off. No computer manufacturer or semiconductor company will help us achieve these price points directly. The solution lies in using the Castways of the Developed World.

This is a quote from Michael Dell (Fortune, January 21, 2002), who is explaining why his business will recover in the second-half of 2002:

You’ve got 150 million computers that are over three years old, 45 million of which are in the large corporate-account sector in the United States of America, where Dell has about 40% market share. If we capture our 40% share of those 45 million, that alone would be 18 million units–which is what people expect us to do for the entire year.

Take this quote and view it differently. 150 million computers in the US which are more than 3 years old, of which 45 million are in corporates. The traditional upgrade cycle is 3 years, which may get pushed out by a year due to slower IT spending. Still, the US needs to dispose of 45 million PCs atleast in the next couple of years to make way for the newest desktops. Companies will be delighted to get even a few dollars to get rid of their older machines. Where will these 45 million computers go? How about India?

Think back 3 years ago to 1999. We were all quite happy with the computers and software we had. There was no reason to believe then that we needed a computer 4 times more powerful (which is what we have today). We had all the software we needed. The trick is not to use 2002 software on 1999 machines (and then worry about memory, speed and disk space). It is to use 1999 (or even 1998) software on 1999 machines. Alternately, use Linux.

Indian customers would be delighted with a 1999 product. It is like Amul’s Rs 20 Pizza – entire classes of people who had never tasted something can now afford it. Apply this to notebooks and other technologies. Indians are good at repairing older things – many homes still have 10-year-old TVs which continue to work just fine! Putting it another way: today’s computers and other new technologies being used in the US will reach us in 2005.

The Key is the Price Point: no more than Rs 5,000. At this price point, I have every reason to believe that Indian can do 5 million units a year for the next 5 years, creating a platform of 25 million units within 2000 days. Now we are talking!

The next question: What about the software and Internet connectivity?

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