Essay on the Role of Computers in Indian Economy

Sources in National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) say that the Indian Software drive remained, insulated from the economic turbulence around and pushed smoothly, its drive for exports. During the year 2007-08, our software exports are expected to increase by 18 per cent.

Most of these exports were directed to the USA and Canada. Out of the total exports, Europe accounted for 26 per cent. In recent years, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are looking towards India for their software solutions.

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European Community’s euro-conversion project could bring to the NASSCOM about $50 million. Besides India, the euro-conversion projects have also been allotted to computer industry in the US, China, Japan and Australia.

The Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) has taken the initiative together with a few Indian IT outfits and the Indo- German Chamber of Commerce to ensure that Indian software and service companies have a fairly good share of the cake. They have created an Indian Special Interest Group and will shortly initiate an accreditation scheme to ensure standard solutions.

At present, exports from STPI account for 38 per cent of the country’s exports. As it is, STPIs have been promoted as “complete environment complexes for 100 per cent export units by the department of electronics. Thus STPI serves as one of the largest of network exporting units in India.

Meanwhile, a study by NASSCOM shows that there has been a perceptible shift in the last few years from on-site services to offshore services, the latter contributing to about 41 per cent of the export. Today, about 90 per cent of the STPI exports are through offshore development.

According to Raj Naram, Chairman of the NASSCOM for 1999, during the last decade of NASSCOM existence the Indian software industry has grown 30-fold in size to reach an annual turnover of $ 4 billion. He also revealed that NASSCOM has now prepared a growth profile that would make India a software superpower with a turnover of $100 billion by the year 2008.

However, the Information Technology (IT) plan outlined on July 14, 1998 by the National Task Force on Information Technology on Software Development has set a target of $50 billion for export of software and related services by the year 2010.

In order to boost,the availability of skilled manpower, Department of Electronics has recommended the setting up of national visual institute which will provide for distance education to enhance knowledge of working professionals in the software sector. This institute will seek support from premier engineering outfits and training companies for exposing software professionals in the latest in the industry.

But all said and done, the Indian software industry is miles aw/ay from attaining a really global status. For all intents and purposes, India’s software exports constitute less than one per cent of the total international market.

IT experts are of the view that India is ‘still’ a marginal player in the software market and its expertise is limited to the provision of on-site services and offshore software development. A study carried out by a team of experts from the Indian Institute of Technology points out that the present industry structure prohibits India from emerging as a major software developer/exporter in the near future.

Similarly, a study by the ICICI (Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India) Banking Corporation Limited lists many negative features afflicting the Indian software industry. “New entrants into the Indian IT industry are scared of bureaucratic norms which are stumbling blocks in such ventures.”

A New Delhi-based software exporter says handling IT related issues lack professionalism and vision. On the other hand, Mr. Shyam Kumar, a Bangalore-based software entrepreneur, says that India should start experimenting with new technologies, sites, programmes and plans to emerge as a global IT superpower Building Internet Communities in India World-Tel, a UN sponsored body to spread the telecom revolution around the world, will expand operations in India, particularly southern India, where a network of Internet Community Centres was being set up to bring about an information revolution.

“It will bring a revolution beyond any body’s imagination,” Mr. Sam Pitroda, Chairman World-Tel and a former advisor to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, says: “In India, we have chosen so far four southern states for building a network of Internet community centres, similar to trunk dialing booths.”

“This is because, the four states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra are fit for such a networking in a speedy manner. Such centres will be different from the America on­line Service where one needs a personal computer at home.

Our centres will provide access to all the service and information for their day-to-day needs on open booths. It will bring a revolution beyond anybody’s imagination,” he went on to say. ”

All revenue records, licence procedures, payment of electric and telephone bills, school examination results, children’s home work, newspapers and hundreds of other things could be made available on Internet in local languages,” he continued. He further said, “However, this would happen only if state governments make their database available in the local languages.”

Mr. Pitroda went on to say, “We (World-Tel) are ready to provide the structures. The primary challenge before India is to change the old mindset.” He said the information race was on and it will not wait for any country or person. He said, “Information technology, along with biotechnology, is going to open the floodgates of new life, new values, new methods of working, new ways of thinking and new ways of running the economy.”

Mr. Pitroda said state controls had kept away non­resident Indians from investing in their native country, “It is difficult to do business in India. There are too many official procedures and people think they need the government support, permission, patronage etc. to do anything worthwhile in India. One has to do a lot of running around and after a while one gets tired of it..There is no clear-cut partnership between the business and the government,” he added.

While comparing India with other countries, he said signals of progress from Africa were confusing while those from China were encouraging. But most of all “Latin American countries were very liberal and were making fast progress while making for lesser and lesser controls,” he said. “India with its vast reservoir of talent could make a major difference in IT in the 21st century,” added Mr. Pitroda.

Explaining the work of World-Tel, Pitroda said, it was the offspring of the UN International Telecom Union with 192 countries as its members and a governing council of 48 countries. “ITU is the oldest institution of the UN. Eight per cent of its members are from developing countries,” he said.

“We decided Five years ago at the Telecom Advisory Council of ITU that we should do something for the developing countries. We collected a donation of $500,000 from 30 different companies and hired Mckinsey and Company to study and report on this aspect. The latter itself donated a million dollars. It was after this development that World-Tel was born,” he said.

Mr. Pitroda was chosen from three other contenders for the chairmanship of World-Tel. The Council had heads of Telecom from Australia, the USA, and an expert from Kuwait. The World Tel has two projects in hand at present. First, a billion dollar project in Mexico with a World-Tel equity of $100 million and the second in Azerbaijan worth $ 100 million, with World-Tel equity of $ 50 million.

He said the World-Tel was also working on projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Peru, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. He said, “Our job is to structure a project in one and half year’s time. We arrange finances; we sit on the board, and become catalysts.”

Better Memory Chips

As microprocessor speeds continue to increase exponentially chip manufacturers are scrambling to find a design that will stop memory bottlenecks within a system.

Cashing in on this need is Rambus, a $40 million Silicon Valley-based company in which an American Indian is spearheading the effort to design and market high speed memory interface technology.

Mr. Subodh Toprani, vice president and general manager of Microprocessor’s Logic Products Division, says: “Processor speeds will reach speeds of 800 megahertz over the next few years while memory chips are still at 100 mHz.” This disparity between a slow memory chip or a dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and a microprocessor could cloud the performance of next generation processors from industry leaders such as Intel, and Advance Micro Devices (AMD).

According to Mr. Toprani, Rambus has the technology to speed up processing by fostering better communication between memory chips and the logic devices that control them such as microprocessors, promising up to six giga bytes per second output soon-to-be-released DRAM design called “RDRAM”.

A factor likely to spur the adoption of Rambus’ technology, Toprani said, is its endorsement by industry leaders such as Intel, NEC and Samsung. Manufacturers of DRAM chips such as NBC, Toshiba and Samsung are already paying Rambus royalties of some 1.5 per cent to adopt the idea.

“Rambus has a chip-to-chip interface, so we have set a standard. If ten companies are using Rambus then the 11th will want to use Rambus because otherwise the chips won’t hook up with the other companies’ devices,” he said.

The new Rambus technology works by packing the three messages that travel between a memory chip and a logic chip on the computer’s motherboard for transmission-down a single electronic line substantially speeding up the interaction between the memory chip and the processor.

The three messages concerned are the address where the data impulse is to go, the data bits themselves and the instruction that says what should be done with that data. These three messages traditionally run on different paths at different speeds, to be recombined on the memory chip.

According to Toprani, Rambus ‘big break’ came in 1995 when Japan’s Nintendo was looking to leapfrog the popular play station video game made by rival Sony.

A new memory was just the trick. Nintendo-64 player game uses Rambus designs with custom made logic chips from NEC to process graphic data at a speed close to that of a supercomputer ferrying the data between memory controller and chips at a speed of 500 million bytes per second. The Nintendo system proved our technology was viable. That set the stage for being seriously considered for PC main memory, Mr. Toprani said.

DNA Computer Chips

Motorola inc. in the US will collaborate with Packard Instrument Company to- develop a DNA-based computer chip aimed at improving diagnosis of genetically transmitted illness and speeding public health response to epidemics. The two companies will pay 519 million for a five year license to commercialise a research breakthrough by the Argonne National laboratory and the Eaglehard Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow.

The agreement marks one of Motorola’s first forays in the much hyped and volatile field of biotechnology. The deal was announced at a telephone conference call by officials of the two labs and their new corporate customers.

Fredrico Pena, Secretary of the Energy Department, which oversees Orgonne, gave the venture a dramatic introduction. “This morning we could very well be witnessing the birth of a new multi-billion industry that will allow American and Russian children to live in a substantially healthier world,” Pena said.

University researchers, who are expected to help identify new uses for the biochips, should begin to receive them in about two years. It will be five years or more before they come into widespread use as a diagnostic tool in doctors’ offices,” said Richard McKernan, President of Packard Instrument Co.

But a University of Chicago scientist familiar with the Argonne- Eaglehardt research noted that the technology is still unproven. And an industry analyst wondered if two companies working with two research labs on opposite sides of the world could muster the focus needed to bring commercially successful biochips to market.

Motorola and Packard will try to capitalise on a discovery by Argonne and Eaglehardt researchers that allows scientists to arrange genetic .material “in a gel on a computer chip. Suspending it in a gel gives it three dimensions. When unknown genetic material is introduced to the chip in the presence of fluorescent light, it produces distinctive pattern of light that serves as a kind of signature.

The three dimensionality of this microgel technology should increase the accuracy of identification of genetic material by a factor of at least 10, Packard officials said. Microgel biochips could be used to identify viruses and bacteria in epidemics and identify mutations that cause disease among humans, said McKernan.

Interest in chips is especially high because of the 8-year- old Human Genome Project, a federally funded effort to map, sequence, and decode all the 100,000 or so genes in the human genetic blueprint. The current state-of-the-art in biochips requires using time-consuming, expensive photolithography, making the area ripe for breakthrough.

But the micro gel approach has worked only in prototype form, said Robert Hazelkom, a University of Chicago researcher who has worked with- Andrei Mirzabekov, the investor of the technique. “They have still to show that the thing works,” said Hazelkom, the Funny L. Pritzker distinguished professor of molecular genetics and cell biology.

So far, the liquid polymer gel has diffused the light passing through it, limiting the effectiveness of identifications, Hazelkom. In the immensely complex world of biotechnology, the Argonne-Eaglehardt advance has an appealing simplicity, according to McKeeman.

But Eddie Hedaya, an analyst for Bio Vest Research Inc. of Hartsdale, New York said that while microgel chips are “very interesting new technology, it is a strongly entrepreneurial activity which needs considerable focus to succeed.”

Motorola Vice President Rudyard Istvan said the company would set up a new bioinformatics business unit to make the chips, either at an existing facility at Arizona or Illinois. “We see this as a logical outgrowth of our core competencies,” in semiconductors and precision manufacture, Istvan said.

Privately held Packard, a unit of Packaid Bio Science Co., headquartered in Meriden, Conn., will make microrobots to insert genetically material in gel and produce the laser optics for biochip analysis. Both devices will be manufactured at the company’s facility in Downers Grove,” Illinois.

Doctor on the Internet

There are neither distress calls to helpline nor letters addressed to any of the numerous agony aunt columns. They are just two of the millions of messages pasted on the bulletin board of an Internet site. Today, Internet medium is providing relief to millions around the globe in the garb of medical help.

What is St. John’s wort? Can Cycloserine affect the vision of a person? What to do when cornered by a migraine? Just a click of the mouse can answer all these questions now.

Internet has opened new vistas for millions of those who seek a second opinion from a doctor in the other part of the world and the ones who are in dire need of emotional support, says Rodolfo Panteon, a volunteer in a Chile-based, non-profit organisation for AIDS patients, “I don’t have any sort of medical or paramedical training but I like to help people. And that is why I go online to help people overcome that phase’ in which they feel they haven’t got anybody to turn to.”

Special cases can be posted on the Internet and help can be asked for. There are a number of doctors and health experts who help online. Many specialists can be consulted who are otherwise inaccessible owing to distance.

The medical data and the sites catering to the needs of a layman are staggering. There is not only the user-friendly Yahoo and also specialised libraries and other government aided sites.

Some of the reliable Web sites include those aided by the US government, the health finder (healthfinder.gov), which has information from federal agencies and non-profit organisations and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) which has information like diverse topics like botulism. Hepatitis C, school violence,. AIDS research update, family parenting and child care. Then there are special sites for cancer (Cancer Net, nci.nih.gov), etc.

However, Indian sites for the specific needs of Indian people are yet to make a mark. One of the major ventures on Internet has been taken by the Mumbai-based Health Education Library for People (HELP), which started a site in 1997. Its site (healthlibrary.com) is India’s first consumer health resource centre.

It is the only site on the web which has searchable databases of Indian hospitals, doctors, medical equipment manufacturers, medical libraries and medical colleges. Another site that has a complete list of hospitals in Mumbai and hospitals in other metropolitan cities is mahesh.com says Dr Annuradha Malpani, Medical Director of HELP, “Indians are like everyone else they all need information on their health and medical problems, and the Web is an excellent source!

However, there is still very little ‘India specific’ medical information on the web. For instance, you can find the names and addresses of all doctors in the USA, but you cannot find even “a complete list of hospitals in Mumbai as yet.”

So much about the plethora of web sites. All of us know that information technology is the in thing these days; how reliable is this medium? “Can be reliable and unreliable”, says Dr. Malpani. “After all the web is a very democratic medium, anyone can publish information on the web,” with no quality control measures being implemented.” “Just like there are good doctors and bad doctors; there are good web sites and there are bad web sites.”