ISB Discussion on Emergic

Thanks to Arun Anantharaman’s initiative, our Emergic ideas were discussed at the Indian School of Business. These are his comments on the discussion.

The general feeling was that this was more or less a variation of Sun’s push for a server based computing model. Mostly, people were not too convinced, primarily I think because of a few reasons.

1) Open source as a commerical alternative still has its doubters
2) Banks/schools may not be a feasible market because of the nature of the applications (hard disk space is possibly essential).
3) The primary push for such an ecosystem may have to come from the government-Both in terms of the network infrastructure, regulation and adoption.

Frankly speaking, right now I have my doubts about the feasibility as well. Not the idea per se (Assuming the backbone is in place, the server based model has many advantages), but more from an implementation perspective. As of now, there are the few successes like e-choupals, and the work of the M.S. Swaminathan foundation in coastal Tamil Nadu. But personally I feel that many more local language applications (if there are many local language applications that already exist, at least I am not aware of them) may be required to drive demand.

Right now after having read your doc, thought and discussed about it, I am inclined to think that to make it work certainly requires some degree of governmental fillip. For e.g. despite your own thoughts on the telecenters (tech 7-11’s) I am not sure there is a requirement today for anything beyond the services provided by a normal cyber caf/gaming center. The one place, I certainly feel there is great potential though is in engineering colleges. And arguably, besides the government, the best way to develop suitable applications and drive open source as a commercial alternative is to take this route. For SME’s, I think it will be a difficult sell until and unless there is a reasonably strong open source software support community. (Piracy still is an easier & better alternative.)

Interesting feedback. I’d have loved to have an interactive discussion with the ISB class – hopefully that will happen some time soon!

I still believe that a solution like Emergic is what is needed to bring about a grassroots technology revolution across emerging markets like India. What I do not have an answer to yet is which markets from the ones I have identified (schools, colleges, homes, telecentres, government, bank branches, SMEs) will be the first ones. I think what is required is to enable the creation of an alternate ecosystem based on low-cost computers, Linux and local languages.

The ideas about Emergic are not new – like Sun’s “the network is the computer” or Ellison’s “network computer”. The key lies in the price points that we can make this available at, and how we can build a large framework of content and applications aorund these for the next set of users, across the digital divide.

If I were to bet on the first market where we are likely to see success, it will be telecentres in schools, serving the twin purpose of education and providing computing and communications services for the community. The telecentre also becomes a front-end touchpoint for egovernance applications (eServices). This is where it can make a difference to the poorest of the poor, by giving them a voice and an opportunity for the future.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.