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Are Indian tech start-ups leaders when it comes to adopting the latest technologies? Or do they play safe by sticking to existing technologies? We spoke to some experts in the field for their opinions.
it is said that India lags behind the West in almost every sphere, but especially where technology is concerned. But is that the case in information technology too, where India is considered by many experts to be a superpower?
Are Indian techies, especially those launching or employed by start-ups, really engaged in developing products based on the latest platforms, or do they merely make the most of ‘popular' technologies? To find out, we turned to Abhijit Bhattacharjee, CEO, mymobilephone.in; Alap Ghosh, business head, Activemedia Technology; Krishna Kumar, CEO, Zyoin.com; and Y S Sheshadri, vice president, Services Business Division, Canarys Automations.
Is technology induction in India too slow?
"Indian software start-ups dare to experiment with development in newer languages or platforms," says Bhattacharjee. He points out that most of the Ruby development in India is being done by start-ups that are ready to learn and try technologies that could give them a disruptive advantage.
But though he thanks the free software movement propelled by the Internet for enhancing Indian techies' access to knowledge, Bhattacharjee believes the hardware scene is not so equable. "Finding sufficient people amenable to training is a problem. Most colleges don't teach anything of practical use. Those who are good have learnt things on their own, often at the cost of their grades," he laments.
Ghosh is not even optimistic about software development, as he feels that Indian techies predominantly use existing platforms. What's worse, they hardly have a choice, according to him! Elaborating his point, he says, "Our academic curriculum does not focus on any new technology. Chances are that the powers-that-be choose to allow a technology to mature and settle before taking the risk of building skills internally. Even within Indian technology companies of all scales, there's a serious absence of technology induction processes. The expertise usually rests with a handful of people who are largely reluctant to share the career advantage that comes with a new, successful technology. At the same time, the management is reluctant to invest more than the bare minimum in training, for fear of the training going waste if the demand falls in recessive times or if the trained/empowered employee departs without enough value being extracted from the training. As a result, our proficiencies remain limited to proven technologies."
The need to adopt technology
The fact is that proficiency in a certain technology is not the only criteria that encourages or dissuades an Indian start-up from adopting a certain platform.
Kumar believes that techies keep a close watch on emerging technologies. Nevertheless, as far as adopting a technology is concerned, a start-up makes this decision after carefully considering two factors. First, it reviews cost. As most start-ups are self-funded to begin with, they choose technologies that would give them the desired output with minimal overall total cost of ownership (TCO). So if there are licensing barriers to adopt a technology, a start-up cannot afford to use it. Second, the past experience and exposure of the founder(s) to technology matters. People prefer developing products on technologies that they are comfortable with.
Bhattacharjee adds that any enterprise (start-up or otherwise) would opt for ubiquitous technologies-those available on the maximum number of client platforms-so as to be certain that a product would be usable by large numbers of people.
Shying away from cutting-edge technology?
Start-ups apparently grapple with a plethora of issues when it comes to adopting technology. But strangely (or perhaps not), one of the most influential of these is an internal one - the Indian mindset.
Sheshadri says, "Besides the fact that access to cutting-edge technology is minimal in India as compared to developed nations, Indian companies, in general, hesitate to challenge the world with the latest innovation. This is an expected outcome of mindsets that are not sufficiently appreciative of cutting-edge technology." Interestingly, he affirms that Indians learn/adopt new platforms or technologies very quickly but fear to develop products based on the latest technology, because they do not want to take on greater risk. Simply put, Indians lack an entrepreneur's love for high risk-high gain ventures. As a corollary to this, Indian IT companies are treated as service providers, as opposed to major innovators. In truth, they would much rather prefer to cash in on outsourcing opportunities than develop software products. To a certain extent, the ITES business has overshadowed the opportunities for software product development.
Agreeing that Indians with the ability to buy are generally behind the times in technology matters and conservative in their thinking, Bhattarcharjee points out that this factor influences tech product developers who perceive a miniscule market for products based on the latest technology. "Since there is no culture of adopting technology for its own sake in India, tech developers are consequently not excited by new platforms," he observes. For instance, an Indian company would invest in a fingerprint scanner only when it becomes a standard industry practice. Then, if a vendor tries to sell it an identification product based on voice instead, it's unlikely to be interested in it, even though the same technology would find takers in other countries, where CEOs intrigued by the technology would go all out to support it.
This seems quite like the chicken and egg situation!