At INTEROP, I had the privilege to meet with Prof F. C Kohli. "Those were the days when we were provided with Russian computers. These computers used to heat up after every 4-5 hours and then we had to shut them down and let them cool off before we can use them again", said Mr F. C Kohli recalling his initail days toying with these machines called Personal computers then.
Those who have never heard his name- Well! Prof. F. C . Kohli is frequently referred to as the Father of the Indian Software Industry due to his significant contribution in Indian IT industry. Padma Bhushan, Faqir Chand Kohli completed 90, on March 19, 2014. It was a day to celebrate for many Indians whose life he has touched directly or indirectly. A workaholic, who scoffs at the concept of retirement and fading into the sunset and is deeply engaged in using technology and systems approach to solving societal problems at 90!
Mr Kohli continues to be proactive, focusing his energies on education. His current efforts are around using computer aided sounds and images to impart basic literacy, particularly to illiterate adults, in a matter of months.
I clicked a Selfie and Yes, I was lucky! It was "Teacher's Day" and I got this opportunity to be blessed by him as a "Woman Achiever in IT". Information Technology isn't that old in the country. I still remember my First Personal computer- Bulky with Cassette and Floppy drives!
The 1980s liberalization of the Indian informatics industry took place in the context of continued high levels of state involvement, but there was evidence that the character of that involvement was changing.In 1991 the Department of Electronics broke this impasse, creating a corporation called Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) that, being owned by the government, could provide VSAT communications without breaching its monopoly. STPI set up software technology parks in different cities, each of which provided satellite links to be used by firms; the local link was a wireless radio link. In 1993 the government began to allow individual companies their own dedicated links, which allowed work done in India to be transmitted abroad directly. Indian firms soon convinced their American customers that a satellite link was as reliable as a team of programmers working in the clients’ office. Today, advancements in IT has been of benefit in creating more jobs in India but the real revolution is yet to begin.
Those were the days. Quotes from Mr F.C Kohli:
"When we started, the Indian software industry was primarily focused on exports and 40 years later, it still continues to be so. The domestic market accounts for only 15% of the software industry's $100 billion annual turnover. The country has too few computers. This is because there are no computers in Indian languages. China has computers in mandarin, but India, for historical reasons, has stuck with English. The computer is but a tool and Indians should be able to use this tool in their own language. You express your ideas best that way. Innovative thinking comes in your own language. After all these years of speaking in English, I still dream in my own language.
Most people in India seem to have been carried away by the spectacular success in IT services ($ 70 billion exports in 2012-13 according to RBI). A decade ago, some politicians even started calling India, quite prematurely, an 'IT Superpower', in their own inimitable style. However the man who started it all is far removed from such pompous statements. He has been painstakingly advocating that India cannot be a significant player on the global technology map without a developed hardware industry.
He said, "Right now, India does not have a hardware industry. But we will have to develop one, once the computer reaches the masses. Using technology, I can go and make the small shopkeeper more efficient that a supermarket mall. A computer can handle a shop's supply chain management, from purchases to inventory control. It can bring down costs and collect customer data. In the USA, local shops don't necessarily close if WalMart comes to town. We need both."
Ignoring your own produce- There is a huge talent that we produce in India. Number of graduates- three million a year, about 450,000 are engineers; 600,000 and more are commerce graduates and 1.1 million from humanities. We have 95 agricultural colleges and 15 agricultural engineering colleges, where do they go? They are not in villages; they are not in agriculture, it means we are not interested in what we have produced.
Practically Illogical Industry- ‘What computer has done for the country? Almost all the software is exported, we have about $50-60 billion out of exports and $10 billion revenues from the indigenous market, out of that again half the software is from Microsoft, Oracle and others, which we import and sell. So if we really see, hardly any software (made and sold) within the country.
If we are depending on IT, Do we have computer literacy? Everybody is making profit by exporting software and who wants to dirty their hands and focus on India? It is not easy to develop software for India, we have 22 languages, China has 2, Saudi Arabia has only one i.e. Arabic, and so software finally has to be made in local languages like European do. Our states are bigger than the many European countries, so you can’t even say that everybody should learn one language, we also wants to keep the diversity because it is an asset.
Skewed Numbers- The limit is your imagination.- If 900 million people of India becomes computer literate, than you need many more PCs than now, every year now, 6 million PCs are sold in India, which are imported or locally assembled. Then we need 25 million PCs a year, for that kind of number, we need indigenous hardware industries. We also need micro-electronics engineers for hardware industries, India is producing less 200 engineers and small country like Israel produces more than 1000 a year, when we will we be to produce 3000 to 5000 micro-electronic engineers?? Intel is having its design centre in Bangalore they are designing their 6 core chips here and not in the US.
The Indian IT industry is still young and the growth process is not going to stop anytime soon. It will certainly become more sophisticated. There will be new players, niche players, specializing in different applications. We are still doing a lot of lowend work for the global market, though we are also into some high-level development. The domestic market will also throw up low-end work. If you can't find growth avenues despite all this, it is a managerial problem.
Interop Mumbai, debate and Keynote
ET- Interview with Dr Kohli