Bus. Std: Building Digital Infrastructure

My latest Business Standard column:

As I mentioned in my previous column, Future Tech celebrated its first anniversary recently. Here we take a look at some of the key ideas discussed over the past year. All columns are available online (www.emergic.org/futuretech).

The central theme in most of my columns has been leveraging emerging technologies to build a digital infrastructure in India. By focusing on the needs of users in India, start-ups and established companies can build the next generation commPuting platform, which integrates computing and communications.

In tomorrows world, what is inside todays desktop will move to the server and what is inside a cellphone will power the computer. Broadband networks will be internet protocol (IP)-based. Voice will become yet another service over these digital networks.

It will be a world that will converge at the back-end (data stored in the network cloud) but will diverge at the front-end (multiple devices). The mobile phone will be our constant companion and will be complemented by the availability of multimedia-enabled network computers with large screens. Services will occupy centrestage.

We have the opportunity to build the next technology platforms that will form the foundation of our digital lives. The communications platform needs to be built on IP and be always on.

The computing platform needs to focus on affordability so that a connected computer is accessible to every family in urban and rural India, and every employee in corporate India. The information platform needs to become real time, event driven and multimedia-oriented. This technology platform will be built on the new and next internet always on, ubiquitous, high speed, on demand, personalised and not free.

This new internet will make possible path-breaking applications and services. From voice-over-IP which will allow phone calls anywhere in the country for a flat fee, to video-on-demand which can provide education and entertainment to users when they want it, from software as a service for businesses to automate all their processes to multi-player gaming platforms which will transform leisure time, the new internet will create new opportunities as well as threaten conventional business models.

It will force players in the computing, consumer electronics and entertainment industries to enter each others territories.

As we look ahead and seek to create the next platform, it is useful to look at the rear view mirror. Every 12 years or so, the world of computing sees major breakthroughs. Think of this as the computing equivalent of the Kumbh Mela.

The last major breakthrough was during 1992-1994 when the launch of Microsoft Windows 3.1, Intels Pentium processor, SAPs R/3 and the web browser Mosaic heralded an unprecedented period of all-round growth until the slowdown early this decade. The next computing Kumbh Mela should be just around the corner.

What will it be? My answer: the next big thing in computing will be about building a platform which makes the two most important creations of the past the computer and the internet available to users at a fraction of todays prices.

What emerging markets like India need is the equivalent of a tech utility which makes available commPuting as a utility to the masses.

A centralised platform that makes available computing as a service and accessible via thin clients over a high-speed broadband infrastructure, neighbourhood computing centres that provide access on a pay-per-use basis, a community-centric content platform which makes available local information and helps small businesses connect with one another, and investments in education and healthcare to make sure they reach rural people these are the tech utilitys elements.

India needs a Rs 5,000 network computer, Indian language desktop applications, industry information and process maps (for small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, to automate their business), fixed-price broadband bundles and locally relevant information and services.

There are two key ideas from the telecom industry that the computer industry needs to adopt. The first is the creation of a zero-management user device. The second is a subscription-based utility-like payment model.

The underlying enabler for both will be the broadband industry that is coming alive in India. India needs to leapfrog to next-generation networks that can deliver broadband over the air to users, creating a high-speed, ubiquitous and pervasive data network.

We can make tomorrows world a reality. India has an opportunity once again to do things right. What is needed is a generation of entrepreneurs who think outside the box to create technology platforms and solutions for tomorrows world.

The challenge for entrepreneurs is to think about creating solutions for the twin engines of future growth rural India and SMEs. Indian entrepreneurs have the opportunity to shape history but only if we begin to start looking at the market within.

Rather than trying to only focus on providing services to the rest of the world, we need to start producing hard and soft goods for Indians to use and leverage. Can the next black swan in the technology space come from India?

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.