Experimenting with entrepreneurship in Orissa

Suchitra Pattnaik,
TEKONS Systems (pvt) Ltd.,
29/30, Rasulgarh Ind. Est., Bhubaneswar - 751010, INDIA
ph: 91-674-581885, 91-674-580529
email: suchitra@cal.vsnl.net.in; suchitra@aiol.com; suchitrapattnaik@yahoo.com

Present Address: 718, North 4th street, #19, TACOMA, WA 98403 USA ph: 253-573-0966

I am an entrepreneur by choice, a computer consultant by my technical skills and a thinker by my natural aptitude. I am just trying to share some of my experiences and thoughts. I have struggled in Bhubaneswar = for the past ten years and the battle is still on. It is my attempt to figure out why nothing much has really happened in IT in Bhubaneswar in the last few years and what best could be done under these circumstances.

Ten to twelve years back we practically had nothing in Bhubaneswar in the field of IT. No Computer training institutes nor any private or public enterprises engaged in Computer software development - not even too many users. Possibly, Orissa Computer Application Center was just = in its infancy . National Informatics Center was up with a massive NEC installation and with a handful of promising skills and Utkal = university was offering just a Diploma course in Computer applications which = mostly involved teaching COBOL/FORTRAN/PASCAL programming courses etc. We didn't have any hardware stores and we didn't have too many sales outlets of national computer vendors. Computer prices were high and there were hardly any manpower resources in the field.

It was during that time , I gathered the courage to think about a possibility where everyone is a computer literate in the state. They didn't have to rush to Madras or Delhi to buy Computers or for that matter to buy computer consumables and where high school kids could = talk about word processing and databases. The outcome of this drive resulted in ORICOM in Bhubaneswar. Many of my friends who are settled in US have seen those toiling days where a sale meant running from pillar to post. By the way, today I am no longer involved with it. It was during that period, I started persuading one of my relatives to set up a private engineering college. It was Orissa Engineering college and the stress was on Electronics and Computer Sciences. It added to the technical = pool generated through OUAT , Utkal ,Sarang and REC. NIIT franchise center came into picture. Then followed Apple, Lakotia, BDPS etc. Some of them survived and some of them did not. I don't know how much computer programming or application knowledge really the student picked up, but computers became a buzzword in every household and people began to believe that a course in computers is an insurance to a sure shot job.

A number of MCA colleges floated soon after that. I am not against the number at all. If there are twenty centres then there is a possibility that two or three will excel. Unless we have that element of dissatisfaction in us , we will never move forward. The quality of education that is being imparted is highly diluted and that resentment has driven a few to think about adopting means and methods to improve = on it.

Lets talk about Software houses. I have my own firm popularly known as TEKONS rendering CADD . programming and data-processing services in Bhubaneswar. It was during the period when I was freelancing as a Consultant when one of my uncles, an excellent engineer who is no = longer alive today, got me interested in computer applications in the field of engineering and electronic drafting . My primary focus in TEKONS for = the first few years has been on CADD, therefore. Imagine my trying to run a business establishment in Bhubaneswar concentrating on an area where no local assignments and no local skills were available. I trained my own CADD staff and was trying to execute a contract from Cuttack = Development Authority and National Thermal Power Corporation, a Delhi based company came and recruited all my CADD staff leaving me in a vacuum. I know in A place like Bangalore or Delhi, in a similar situation, there would have been no problems. But, in Bhubaneswar it was really hard. So, availability of right kind of skills is a perpetual problem. And, so with the case of assignments. We have hardly any established private business houses. All the software houses including TEKONS are mainly dependent on Govt. assignments. And, nothing else can be more unpredictable than that. You participate in a tender. The tender gets canceled. It is re-tendered. And, the budget lapses. You finally get = the order six months to one year after. And, just forget about getting the payments in time. You simply can not plan your logistics nor your financials on Govt. orders. It is a bitter truth. I run a business establishment in Bhubaneswar and in many things I am dependent on Govt. organisations and their support. But, I keep the courage to be blatant about things which are true and real bottlenecks to a service industry in Bhubaneswar. I am talking about the system not about anyone in particular. And, there is no necessity for me to be diplomatic if I am serious about addressing an issue where I am trying to draw global attention. All along I have put efforts in my individual level and have been struggling so far a battle without anyone's support. There have been choices for me always. A lot of things have changed meanwhile. The only thing that has remained unchanged so far is my passion to bring Orissa first to the national IT map and then to global IT map. Many of my friends and relatives call me impractical and obstinate. Must be a fool I am, they think since I am trying to navigate a boat upstream. There have been moments where the grip has weakened. But, I have never lost my convictions. I have changed my methods.

Things have been rapidly changing in Hyderabad and Vizag. Possibly, = they entered IT almost in the same time as Bhubaneswar. What is it that is making our growth sluggish ? I think it is worth a research. There are = a few thoughts which are highlighted below:=20

1. We cann't expect the local houses to close down their businesses = just because they are dependent on the Govt. Bhubaneswar today does not = have too many private/public user companies anyway other than significant number of Government organisations who are users of computers. Just for skills to be floating around, there has to be enough jobs for these houses. And, believe me, there are sufficient opportunities to provide such jobs. It is a value-based battle we have to fight if we are daring to dream that we will completely change the scenario within five years.

2. There has to be enough big brands in Bhubaneswar so that it = increases its visibility in the national map. Be it ORACLE or INTEL or HP or MICROSOFT. They have to come to the city. And, what kind of infrastructure and policies are going to make Bhubaneswar attractive to those big houses is worth another research. With big names there is going to be a change in the quality of IT life in Bhubaneswar and there will be a self gathered momentum which is bound to result in an acceleration of pace in the talked about IT evolution.

The initiative taken by Govt. of Orissa to set up the IBM training centre is praise worthy and let's hope it is implemented fast and = takes us a long way .=20

3. There should be easy and cheap provisions for Internet and email access. It should be made available not only on an institutional level but also on an individual level. Access to internet is the gateway to the expansive and ever increasing knowledge base. That way, the skills will be enhanced and there will be a continuous availability of technical manpower. The standard of training will be at par with international standards. And, there will be immediate availability of all kinds of information.

All India On Line (AIOL) , an enterprise setup by Prabhu and me with = the help of two other NRIs through IS &T , plans to provide easy Internet and email access in Bhubaneswar and Calcutta to start with through the support of VSNL and STPI. It aims to link the largest number of non-resident Indians worldwide. It is a dream that remains to be substantiated with actions, financial outlay and implementation plans. But, AIOL and similar institutions will play a very vital role in opening up the floodgate to the information explosion existing on the web and exposing the technical mass out there to global standards.

To increase Internet awareness and usage TEKONS is promoting three different Internet publication projects alongwith adoption of JAVA literacy programs in schools. My aim and objective is to connect a number of good schools through PCs ,modem and Internet through a CLASS project The ideas of those school students might get captured in a central database. I have limited facilities and limited resources. Odds are ten times the evens. But, I am trying. The 'Gajapati' of Puri gave us a personal visit and gave us permission to have the web page on Lord Jagannath - a proud symbol of universal brotherhood . It is a culture that will overwhelm the world in its speechless form through Internet narratives.

4. There is a need for a central body which can act as a pathsetter and formulator of standards. Besides, local and individual initiative, the organisation should also take active role in arranging knowhows, funds, assignments etc and that can eventually flow down to local houses. It may be better with a non-Govt. body and totally committed to the purpose. Having a set of resourceful and energetic individuals from US and other metropolitan cities of India as its key members could significantly contribute. I don't know too many people here. But, = people like Dr. Saroj Behera or Jnan Das from here and Dr. L.M. Patnaik from Bangalore I know can be highly resourceful if they seriously wanted. It all needs rigorous brainstorming. The efforts could be on an individual level but the results of such efforts will always yield in collective benefit.

Orissa Information Technology Society (OITS) formed by all of us last year primarily focuses on improving IT related educational standards in Orissa . Either through OITS or through similar other institution , we have to take initiatives for rapid IT growth in the state. And, it will mainly address the industrial needs; work on its weaknesses and formulate means and ways to gradually strengthen it.=20

The only way, the software houses in Bhubaneswar will come up if they line up some job contracts either from other metropolitan cities of India or from abroad. Export is the only option which can pull Bhubaneswar out of the existing blurrness to distinct national visibility. There are two things one would look at as requirements for an export house.=20

a. The connectivity issue
b. Availability of skills

With availability of Internet/email, we want to be sure that the connectivity problem is taken care of. In fact, I know of a company in Banagalore where they have an overseas office in US and they get most = of their documentation and programming done in their Indian base just by emailing the programs and specifications. They don't even use internet connection nor point to point connection.

Presently, there are enough skills available for doing database applications and production oriented jobs. And, the available skill set has a very fast learning curve and they can be easily trained to be usable. However, due to lack of enough opportunity the local houses are not being able to explore that market. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to think of export without having a base here.=20

So, you are the people who can truly help. I realise that everyone cann't have a business aptitude and those who have a sense of identifying such possibilities, they don't have the inclination. Well, humanity starts from home. Let's look at our own state before we think of taking up a humanitarian project in Ithiopia or some other place. Let's do some serious soul searching in our leisure hours and come up with ideas , methods and ways whereby we can truly help. I would be = more than glad to have you share your thoughts with me.