CM putting lot of shine on Bengal image..

“We will exceed, over deliver targets”

ONE finds a see-change in the IT sector in West Bengal. But what is the propelling force behind this "tremendous growth and resurgence", as claimed by Mr. Subhendu Kumar Mitra, Managing Director of WEBEL, the nodal agency for the state's IT activities? "The image of our Chief Minister. What he says and what he does are basically putting lot of shine on the image that West Bengal had. This perception front is being turned around" he observed in an interview with Amitabha Sen. With this changes in the perception front, more and more IT people are being attracted by "the availability of excellent quality talent pool" the state offers, he said adding that the state is trying to putting lot of emphasis on SME segment as well. SMEs are no less important to the IT policy makers here in this state, Mr. Mitra asserted.

AS: What are the main reasons you would like to attribute to the growth of the state IT sector in last two years?

SKM: Basically in last two years we have seen tremendous growth and resurgence in the IT sector in the state. The reason for that is basically two-fold. Firstly, the image of our Chief Minister. What he says and what he does are basically putting lot of shine on the image that West Bengal had. We had image turnaround of perception. West Bengal never had the problem of talent but the perception front was a problem. This perception front is being turned around, so there is nothing that can stop us now from surging ahead. Secondly, the availability of excellent quality talent pool.

AS: Infrastructure still appears to be a major area of concern. How you are going to tackle it?

SKM: We are addressing the infrastructure for IT, physical infrastructure issue, in a huge way. That was one of our expose flaks. To support the growth of IT you have to create a lot of world class physical infrastructure. That exactly what we are doing now, we have brought in the best building company in India, DLF; we are brining in world class companies like Ascendas of Singapore. Very reputed builders like Raheja Group, Salarpuria Group are very eager to partner us to create ambience and infrastructure. In the next 18 months we will be creating 4 million square feet of built-up space for IT. Salt lake is virtually full. Rajarhat is the next IT hub coming with 1.3 million sft. Ascendas has also been given land there.

So far as infrastructure is concerned, I must point out that a very unique building is coming up in the next 12 months. It is called technopolis. It will be the first green building in the field of IT. There are only three green buildings in India which are required for something else. Green building does not necessarily mean that it is physically green building. It is basically hugely, hugely energy saving building to put it briefly. You have to bring in specific technology for this energy saving building.

Solar energy is one of them. There is huge energy leakage in the process. Plants and machinery sometimes guzzles energy, so there are specification of plant and machinery to save energy. There will be specific technology to save energy. The building is constructed in such way that it not only saves energy, it conserves energy as well. You have a lot of heat leakage from your windows which are exposed, large areas of exposure. You can have double glazing of your windows to prevent loss of energy. It may increase the cost of your building but it would save energy. Who saves energy? The person who is renting or bought that building. This is like this. At every stage of your drawing energy- right from raw power to leakage of energy- it is controlled and the norms followed are not Indian norms, it is US norms. It is controlled as per international norms, the US norms. When you get a certification, this certification is international.

AS: What is the key message you are trying to convey to the potential investors?

SKM: Unless investors feel that there is business to be done, whatever you do will simply fall flat. The message that your investment here would pay dividend is sent to the IT community. Message is sent to the investing community that money is to be made in Bengal.

AS: Could you tell us two major reasons that should prompt an IT company outside Bengal or for that matter India, to set up facilities in West Bengal?

SKM: Clients want two things. Firstly a business conducive environment. What does that mean in real terms? Ability to hire talent and ability to retain talent. Attrition is a thing that bothers an investor most. The attrition rate is very low here in Bengal, due to partly economical and partly social reasons. There are companies who pay the same rates whether they have branches in Mumbai or Chennai or Bangalore. Rs30K in Mumbai goes a lot less than Rs30K in Kolkata. The satisfaction of a person who gets Rs30K in Kolkata is obviously much more than a chap who gets a similar paypack in Mumbai. In addition to that, there is something which is in the social fabric. In Bengal we do not jump jobs for a Rs500 increase. It is the combination of economic and social reasons that’s why the attrition rate is very low here and that is a feature that will drive growth in the next three to four years’ time. So far talent is concerned, West Bengal is rich with this crucial aspect of human resource. We have vast reserve of talented , skilled manpower available in the state.

Power is yet another important factor. Availability of steady and quality power is also another major reason that prompts an investor to decide on the destination of his new project. Bengal is a power surplus state. Although IT is not a power intensive industry but quality of power is very important. In places like Noida and Gurgaon, the State Electricity Board power is a luxury. They basically run on diesel and when you run on diesel power, not only the cost increases, it cannot ensure best quality power. Bengal power generation is basically coal-fired , therefore the power quality is excellent. Wherever IT hubs are being developed, we are taking special care to ensure robust power situation.

Frequency of transport is improving all the time. But one can never be satisfied and claim we are the best, No. What we are doing in the next phase of growth, we will see habitats coming up. Habitat means significant chunk of land where there will be offices and residential facilities as well. We have applied to the government for 500 acres of land, part of that office blocks would be surrounded by all the supporting activities such as recreation, housing etc.

AS: How many IT companies are now in your state? Have you set any target in terms of number and time frame to achieve that?

SKM: There are about 185 IT firms in West Bengal today. We do not go by targets in terms of number. We need firms who would contribute to the revenue pie of the country. We have targeted all the big firms. We are also supporting small firms. We give lot of importance on small firms. You name the name. Except Infosys, Satyam is here, IBM, TCS are there and Wipro which is coming in a very big way. We hope Infosys too would be coming to this state. Initially Wipro decided to start with 500 heads and cap it at 2500. They had started with 1000 and plans to cap at least at 7000. It is the biggies who add to the revenue pie but SMEs are very much valued here because (a) they basically build the fabric by generating lot of trained manpower (b) they very often work on very niche areas which is unique to that company. For instance, there is a company called Metalogik. They only build software tools for a particular segment of the industry. So SMEs are important to us and big too are.

AS: Countries like Philippines, Vietnam are also emerging as India's major competitors? What you have to say about them?

SKM: The cost advantage is a major deciding factor here. Today any new enterprise which comes up, goes to venture capitalist. I am talking about new enterprises. VCs will not fund them unless they say that they are doing something in India. In Silicon Valley, the heaven for the VCs, anyone who wants to start a new and if the VCs find that they do not have any link in India they will say ‘sorry your cost is not going to support your business. It’s too risky a venture.’ That is the scenario today. VCs will first want to know whether they any business tie ups in India. So far as BPO is concerned, VCs normally do not fund such activities.

Yes, countries like Philippines and Vietnam are coming up but there is a difference. Philippines and Vietnam are coming up but they are having yawning gap with India. They may come up in BPO but not in IT Services. But why? They do not have the solidity in education system that India has. We have created education machine that churns out people which are best in the world. In fact in BPO one country that can really pose challenge to India in future is Russia because they have a solid education system. I would rather say not Philippines, not Vietnam but in the long run it will be Russia that would be our real competitor. Philippines are definitely strong in one area. Their English language skill is very good due to the American presence in that country but neither they can increase in numbers nor they can scale up the way we can. For example, in West Bengal alone number of persons registered today for graduation course is over half-a-million. And they are fodder for BPO. Human resource in India is solid and quality is excellent. You are world name today. Why? Because of IT. Why? Because of our education system.

AS: Being a nodal agency WEBEL has a special role in the state IT sector's growth and expansion? Could you tell us something about that?

SKM: We are a nodal agency. We are doing our jobs. We are always seeking opportunities and seeing where we can add value. Two recent projects we undertook are in the field of IT and Telecommunication. In the field of IT, animation is a fledging area. Why animation is not growing in our country at the rate it should have grown. Because of lack of industry-ready animators. After talking to the industry, in western and southern regions in particular, we have created India’s first animation academy- Toonz Webel Academy. That’s unique. The curricula is world class. Faculty are international. Our Dean is an Irish.

WEBEL always thinks two steps ahead. What is required tomorrow. What is the requirement today, the world knows. We have a perspective planning and the proof is the Animation Academy. We are doing lot of work in the field of broadband. This is done deliberately. Apart from business side of it, broadband would reduce digital divide. Unless you take Internet to semi-urban areas to begin with and then to rural areas, I think IT will remain urban-centric utility which I think is a shame because IT should be unleashed where the majority of people lives.

I would like to make a special mention about telemedicine. We are country’s leader in this field. The deployment of any project which does not have any problem, you will then have to be very suspicious whether that is a hoax. Today we have 14 hospitals connected to four referral hospitals in the city through telemedicine system. It (telemedicine system) was so successful that the Tripura govt. had invited us and few weeks back we helped them introduce telemedicine in that state. In an area where public health needs massive addressing because of lack of expertise, you have to ensure availability of that expertise to the rural masses. Today expertise is concentrated in urban facilities. Telemedicine is a combination of IT and telecommunication.

In the field of education for the deprived people, we have brought out a range of products for the blind. We are very very happy about that. Some time back, the last IT minister in the Central government during his visit to Switzerland told the Swiss government about this "marvelous work for the blind" and the minister had promised a product for the blind in that country when approached by the Swiss government. The product basically involves newspaper reading by the blind. "I have promised and can you do it in addition to your other products?", the minister told us. We said ‘"done". That product today stands very good. Today there are 72 blind schools in India which are using the Brail system developed by WEBEL. Even in state like Karnataka known as India’s IT hub, blind schools there are using our product.

AS: Have you made any study on the requirement of IT tools for physically and mentally challenged people in the state?

SKM: It depends on the disability. We do not make wild study. We have started this for the blind. It has reached certain maturity. Gone on to next project. Now we are developing a system for children affected with cerebral palsy. That is completely a different kind of problem. They have got terrific problem in motor movements of their arms and legs. They also need some learning. For that we are developing a system. It is very very mature now. In learning and in communicating with people who are not palsy affected. For example, a palsy affected child wants to write a letter to his near and dear one, he will use the cerebral palsy IT system to compute the letter and send it and the letter comes out as a normal letter. We are trying to open the doors of IT more and more.

We feel we have to take IT to masses. We also feel we will have to do for the people who do not have the faculty, the same physical faculty that a normal being has. Think about brail system. You can write letter in multi languages. In 12 languages, in all major Indian languages- Marathi, Tamil, Telegu , Assamese, Gujrati and Kanada. A blind child sitting in Guwahati writing a letter in Assamese to his father. This is something that cannot be explained in words, frankly speaking. This is something one can feel only.

AS: How do you find the state IT sector five years hence?

SKM: Five years hence what I see is that we will be strengthening our brand image. The process has started. We has set ourselves certain physical targets. We will achieve that targets, rather exceed them. We will over deliver all those targets.

AS: Do you think the state government is over emphasizing IT at the cost other important segments of the economy?

SKM: I don’t think it is true. I have a strong view on this. We keep on saying that we are a late starter in IT. Why we were late starter. Our obsession was with land reforms , agriculture where we are solid . We are no 1 in production of rice, fish, vegetables and fruit we are number 2 in pulses. Look at China. Today you will blame them as one of the fastest growing capitalist countries. Society is evolved, people look back, they correct themselves and unless you continuously correct yourself, you become a fossil and fossils exist below the ground.

February 8, 2005

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