India’s IT industry must make a transition, says Rediff chief
SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and chief
Rediff.com, which publishes
India Abroad, said last week that the future
success of the Indian information technology
industry would likely depend on its ability to
make a transition from being just a provider
of low-cost programming services.
He was addressing a discussion on science,
technology and education at the New School
University, New York. The event, christened
India’s World, was organized by the Center
for Public Scholarship and its flagship journal, Social Research, in collaboration with the
India China Institute.
“As the world’s largest democracy, contem-
porary India represents an unprecedented
experiment in popular governance and
nation-building,” said conference co-director
Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor of
media, culture, and communication, New
York University and Senior Fellow at the
Institute for Public Knowledge. ‘While there
have been many efforts to write India’s obitu-
ary, it is more alive today than it has ever
been. This conference seeks to map the cur-
rent Indian landscape in all its complexities,
by sparking discussion among leading voices
on the topic from across the academy.’
Balakrishnan spoke on ‘India’s IT Industry:
The end of the beginning.’ ‘What we have
seen in the industry is only its labor-saving
aspects, but real applications may be lying
ahead of us,’ he said.
He cited the work of scientists at Siemens
in the United States on a machine learning-based software that enabled non-experts to
detect colon polyps with 96 percent accuracy,
a better rate than that achieved by radiologists. He also spoke of how US scientists were
building a machine learning-based software
to diagnose breast cancer.
“These kinds of IT applications may revolutionize the way health care is delivered by
bringing down costs and making it more
widely available. But this would require IT
personnel of a high-skills regime,” he added.
Balakrishnan said one of the
challenges that India faced
today was the lack of skilled
people to take up the immense
opportunities in the IT sector.
Noting that the education
value chain throughout the
world had been built on the
industrialization model, he
said students were being
brought into ‘factories’ called
“Microsoft was not even invented when I
went to Indian Institute of Management in
Kolkata. So, what did IIM teach me? As I
look back, maybe it is curiosity,’ he said. ‘I
think tacit knowledge is more important… I
think the pace of learning is different.
Students learn more from each other.”
Balakrishnan’s address was based on a
paper he wrote for Social Research. It noted
the need for a business design for education
where students could learn in different ways,
have a mix of linguistic, mathematical and
visual intelligences and learn at different
He spoke about applying social media technologies to education in India.
“I agree with Ajit’s viewpoint,” said Anindya
JAGDEESH N V/REU TERS
Indian school children use computers at an I T exhibition in Bengaluru. Ajit Balakrishnan, inset, says one of the
challenges that India faces today is the lack of skilled people to take up the immense opportunities in the I T sector
Ghose, Robert L & Dale Atkins Rosen facul-
ty fellow and associate professor of informa-
tion, operations and management sciences,
NYU. “Social media come into play very
effectively as far as education is concerned.
This is something that I have learned
through my years of experiments in class-
Balakrishnan said the real value of educa-
tion lay in students’ ability to transfer learn-
ing from one context to a similar problem in
a different or new situation.
He noted that for the Indian IT industry
the transition from being a provider of low-
cost programming services was not going to
be easy for a number of reasons, including
the fact that the core skills of the first gener-
ation of middle managers dominating the
industry were to hire and deploy increasing
numbers of programmers. He wondered
whether they would be able to oversee a new
business design where the yardstick would
not be their skill to ramp up manpower, but
how they made do with decreasing number
of programmers per dollar of revenue.
SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
Geeta Menon, Abraham Krasnoff professor
of global business and professor of marketing, Leonard N Stern School of Business,
New York University, was last week named
dean of the undergraduate college at Stern.
The first Indian-American woman dean of
Stern, she will take over July 15.
The appointment comes less than a month
after another Indian-American woman,
Neeli Bendapudi, a scholar of business practices and professor of marketing at Ohio
State University, was appointed the Henry D
Price Dean of the University of Kansas
School Of Business.
Menon, whose research interests include
the study of consumer memory, information
processing and emotions in the contexts of
survey methodology, advertising of health
information, and risk perception, has been a
member of the faculty at Stern since 1990.