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January 29, 1999


What goes down must come up: Rediff yawned at NASSCOM '99. But the final day makes us revise the rating from 'poor' to 'good'. Priya Ganapati
at NASSCOM '99, Bombay

Everything has a beginning, middle and end. But if you are dazzlingly brilliant, people may not notice. Like is the case with the short stories of Somerset Maugham.

Email this story to a friend. NASSCOM '99 too had its three segments. It began on a decent note. The next day was a disaster. But today, the final day, was the twist in the tale. As they say, all's well that ends well...

Electronic government and its market

Usha-Motorola talks
NIIT for top slot
New Pentiums
The session was dealt by IBM Global Services President Pawan Kumar; Information Technology Secretary of Andhra Pradesh R Chandrashekhar; Advisor, Multimedia Development Corporation, Malaysia, Mohammad Salleh Hj Masduki and IBM, Vice-President for Emerging Markets George Corsilia.

In a presentation that had the audience all ears, Chandrashekhar explained the initiatives taken by the Andhra Pradesh government to move towards electronic governance.

He made a case for the electronic government in a society that is getting increasingly networked. "There are a few driving factors that have convinced us that it is not a passing fancy. There is an increased demand for better quality services because of greater awareness among the people and the media pressure. There is greater fiscal pressures and quality of services cannot be improved without recourse to an electronic government," he pointed out.

As this argument gained momentum the overhead projector slid to a bulleted list:

  • Equal access helps the poor
  • Transparency in administration
  • Government operates by the rules
  • Citizens' charters is delivered, recorded and measured continuously
  • Reduces effective cost to the user

He revealed that the Andhra Pradesh government will sign a BOO (build, own and operate) agreement with United Telecom Limited on February 5. The agreement is to put up a state 'wide area network'.

The backbone network over 2 MBPS fibre optic lines will link Hyderabad and all the district headquarters. It is expected to be operational by May this year.

The government also plans to enter a joint venture with a Singapore consortium that comprises NCB, SNS and NCS corporations. This joint venture will offer value-added services over the wide area network.

The project involves capital investment of Rs 1.5 billion over eight years.

The joint venture, which is to be called, has already been approved by the state cabinet and an agreement is to be signed with the Singapore consortium on February 23.

The Andhra Pradesh government and the consortium would hold an equal stake in the venture. The equity of each party is expected to be $3.5 million.

Chandrashekhar explained that eight core applications, including utility bill payments, land registration, commercial taxes and employment exchanges would be incorporated into the network.

Chandrashekhar told Rediff that the AP government is planning a database on the basic information of citizens. The database will be implemented in collaboration with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. It will use C-DAC's PARAM supercomputer architecture. The Department of Electronics and the state government would jointly fund the Rs 30 million project.

"All citizen-based applications like those for ration cards, caste certificates and school admissions will use this database. The database would be in public domain but we would be framing laws soon to decide the extent to which this information should be available to others," he said.

The next presentation by Malaysia's Masduki explained how the nation is planning a 'Multimedia Super Corridor' that would make their electronic government a reality by 2021.

IT opportunities in financial services market

Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal, who is also the biggest evangelist for IT in government, released a paper on 'Information technology and software industry working capital finance' in the post-lunch session.

K Kannan, chairman and managing director, Bank of Baroda, explained some of the problems in computerisation of banks and financial institutions. "We had installed three ATMs at Peddar Road. Yet the transactions on those three ATMs were probably two or three. Now to guard those ATMs over the night we had to have three watchmen. I would rather have an extra cashier at the bank if this is the kind of response I get to computerisation."

This anecdote summed up the tone of the rest of the session. Is IT earning its keep in the banking sector? Kannan pointed out that "There is no method to calculate the financial returns on IT investment in banking." He joked that the only visible benefit of computerisation that Bank of Baroda employees can feel is the air-conditioning.

This sparked Vittal into demanding that the National Association of Software and Service Companies come out with a paper on what the return on investment in IT has been. He even set them a deadline of a month.

Actually, Vittal did an extempore charter for NASSCOM, here are the remaining points on it...

  • Strike a strategic alliance with the Indian Banks Association
  • Get the Parliament to take up the cyber laws bill and see to it that it is passed in this session itself.
  • Identify the outsourcing opportunities for the banking industry.
  • Create a strategic framework for use of IT in the banking sector.

Vittal also revealed that he has convinced Securities and Exchange Board of India Director D R Mehta to issue an order by March 31, 2001, making it mandatory for all listed companies to make their payment of dividend and interest electronically only. This, he claimed, would encourage adoption of information technology.

NASSCOM '99 coverage:

  • Day 2: Yawn! 'Repetitive stress syndrome' acquires a new definition.
  • Day 1: New Delhi is venture capital. DoE is setting up a Rs 1 billion fund for the IT industry.

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