Technology Is The Biggest Transformation Lever

Updated: Aug 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
Unassuming. Thats the word that comes to mind when you first meet the chief executive officer of the second most profitable software company in the world. Clad in a light-blue shirt and dark-blue trousers, Nandan Nilekani of Infosys Technologies greets me warmly outside the convention centre of the India Habitat Centre.

The noise around impinging into our conversation, we move to the library lounge. Its definitely much more peaceful out there. Mr Nilekani is obviously enthused about the organisation hes heading.

Infosys is at an exciting point. We have a strong list of clients. We will continue in our approach to be more solutions led and thats a fairly big task. We are focussing all our energies in this direction and with this, we can take the challenges of global competition, says he says.

Ask any Indian which two things make him most proud of his country and the answer will be Sachin Tendulkar and the IT revolution. And Infosys has led this revolution from the front.

The company had modest beginnings. It was started way back in the early 1980s by N R Narayanamurthy, Nandan Nilekani and five others. The real boom happened in the last 10 years in line with the liberalisation of India. And we have been a prime example of that liberalisation, says Mr Nilekani.

The companys guidance for revenue for the year ending March 31, 2004, on a consolidated basis under US GAAP in US dollars is US$ 966-982 million. The question that follows naturally is whether the golden days are back again for the software industry The great tech meltdown that first occurred almost two and a half years ago, affected almost all software and IT companies in one way or the other. The world economy is not growing as it used to in the boom era, admits Mr Nilekani, but he points out that offshoring and outsourcing are becoming mainstream and that India is becoming a preferred choice in these segments.

India is also becoming a prominent BPO hub. Critics of BPO have time and again lamented the fact that too wide a focus on BPO could actually bring us down the IT value chain. But Mr Nilekani begs to differ. Every country has to offer a basket of services. Both bring jobs and economic growth, he says firmly.

But what about the recent global backlash in BPO outsourcing A lot of countries are not growing so rapidly. There is some unemployment. Its all part of the globalisation process, he says.

What Mr Nilekani is really enthused about is the BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force) of which he is a part. The BATF comprises of a set of prominent volunteers in the city who are working with the various city departments to upgrade Bangalore. This is a unique example of private-public partnership. The idea is to bring in best practices from outside government and work in partnership with the government and various civic authorities to make Bangalore a better place, says Mr Nilekani.

Accordingly, BATF is closely working with seven city departments: BMP (Bangalore Mahanagera Palike, the city corporation), BDA (Bangalore Development Authority), BWSSB (Banaglore Water Supply & Sewerage Board), BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation), BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company), BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd) and Bangalore Police.

The BATF is one of the task forces instituted by the S M Krishna government when it came into power in 1999. The task force holds a summit every six months wherein the stakeholders make presentations on progress achieved and targets for the next six months. The BDA, for instance, is implementing an online property tax system, which should be available across all 100 wards of the city in the next few months. The BDA is also involved in the restoration of the citys famous Lalbagh Botanical Garden.The BATF has created a sense of focus and has brought in management tools that are used in the private sector, like financial accounting models and computers, and are implementing these in government deparments. This is a sustainable approach, argues Mr Nilekani.

The benefits of IT and e-governance do not stop here. Citizens spend a lot of their time interfacing with government. IT speeds up the processes. E-governance encourages self-service, he says. After all, our interface with government starts when we have to get/renew our licences, pay our electricity bills, obtain birth certificates, file tax returns and the like. Take the case of tax. People can assess their own tax and file it online.

Technology, if properly applied, is the single biggest lever that can transform this country. If you create transparency and accountability and put the same in the public domain, then in the long run, its sustainable, argues Mr Nilekani.

The e-world looks all right, but what about the c-word (corruption) and passing the buck, the two great malaises present in government departments With online systems in place, the interface issue is removed. IT has the power to deliver public services to the consumer without the consumer having to come to the concerned department, explains Mr Nilekani. He says its time for us to leverage our software capabilities to provide better services to our citizens.

When I quiz him on his other interests and hobbies, Mr Nilekani says that he leads a rather boring life! Probe him further and he says hes currently reading the UNDP Human Development Report. Some other form of reading He replies, Well, I am reading a book called Tipping Point. The book tells you how small points become a standard later on. How things move from being a niche to a mainstream idea. Well, he should know!