”Our priority is to become relevant to one billion Indians

FOR an emerging technology superpower, India, Microsoft’s topmost priority is “to become relevant” to country’s one billion population. “Microsoft is committed to helping India and Indians realize their full potential", said Microsoft India managing director Neelam Dhawan. Enterprises, SMB, Consumer have been identified as three major focus areas of Microsoft India, she said in an interview with Amitabha Sen.

“Microsoft’s consumer strategy is aimed at enabling Indian consumers to embrace a Digital Lifestyle enabled by a rich constellation of Microsoft products, services & partnerships”, Dhawan said adding that Microsoft will invest in the infrastructure required for the showcase of its products and also provide its retail partners with marketing support.

AS: Backed up by your long and rich 22-year experience in sales and marketing of IT products, at Microsoft what would be your macro India agenda priority wise?

ND: Today India is at the brink of becoming a technology superpower. However, to truly achieve our goal, it is very important for IT to become relevant to each and every Indian. Our aim at Microsoft is to help realize this goal, and our number one priority is to become relevant to one billion Indians. Microsoft is committed to helping India and Indians realize their full potential and towards this, we are creating products and technologies which are relevant to every Indian. Overall, Microsoft India is specifically focused on three customer segments –
Enterprises – Technology adoption within Indian enterprises is on the rise, and we are committed to helping Indian enterprises build these competitive differentiators by making optimal use of technology solutions, that span the entire spectrum – from the backend servers to the desktop. We are working with organizations across verticals including government, education, BFSI and IT and IT Services to help them ramp up their IT deployments in congruence with their business needs and environments.
SMB – Small and Medium Businesses is among the fastest growing segments in India currently. It is very important to provide SMB companies with the tools required to fuel and sustain this growth. Microsoft India has made available products and technologies that have been customized for this segment and have been developed to provide them with the best-of-the-breed solutions. We now have powerful and cost effective solutions in the areas of CRM and ERP in addition to our traditional desktop and server offerings aimed specifically at small and mid sized businesses in India

Consumer – This is an emerging segment for Microsoft in India and we are focused on helping people realize their full potential through technology, so they can have more fun, get more done and stay connected. Building software that enables devices to connect smartly and enable a “better-together” experience is a part of the value we want to provide people. Overall, we are working with our partners to help people in three areas: helping them get more things done, enabling them to stay in touch with the people that matter in their lives, and simply have more fun.

AS: What according to you is the Indian IT industry’s USP? Is it only the low cost structure, an impression that has been developed over the years (may be due to the emergence of India as preferred outsourcing destination)?

ND: India’s biggest USP is the quality of its talent. While, cost is an important factor and is definitely one of the reasons for India’s emergence as the preferred outsourcing destination, it is the talent within the country that is the primary reason for India’s stronghold in the global IT market.

AS: Being in the thick of business, you are well aware of the very poor PC penetration in India. Not only for hardware, much of the expansion in software business, more so for giants like Microsoft, the PC penetration rate has to be raised as the two are intertwined, What is Microsoft India’s strategy to enhance this penetration? Against this backdrop, how would like to see the introduction XP Starter Edition in this country as one of boosters?

ND: Empowering end users of all levels – from beginners who have never used a computer to experienced developers – is core to Microsoft’s mission of making technology relevant to people across the country. We believe that making technology accessible and affordable to all is the key to increasing PC penetration in the country. Through the Windows XP Starter Edition and our other innovative products and programs, we aim to provide access to leading, value-based technology that will build skills and open opportunities – specifically for the entry-level user in developing technology markets.

The Windows XP Starter Edition program in particular is an extension of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to reach out to governments and geographies with the mission of enabling digital inclusion and IT opportunity. Windows XP Starter Edition is designed for first-time users in developing technology markets and provides local and regional governments with the ability to address the specific technological and economic challenges that hinder digital access in their regions.

AS: So far as the software market is concerned, which are the main sectors of the Indian economy, you think, that offer vast and growing potential for Microsoft products? We understand Microsoft India is chalking out a ‘retail strategy’? What are the main features of this retail strategy and which segment of user sector this strategy is aimed at?

ND: The enterprise segment has traditionally been the most significant adopter of technology solutions, and Microsoft too has been targeting this segment with its products and technologies. However, in the current scenario, the small and medium business segment as well as the consumer segment have also emerged as major technology adopters and are key to Microsoft’s India strategy.

Microsoft has introduced several initiatives targeted at the SMB segment in India. At the centre of this is Microsoft’s three-pronged strategy - increasing product relevance, extending partner reach, and strengthening customer relationships. We recently announced plans to extend our reach from 16 cities to 32 cities across India by the end of the year. We also launched Open Value - a new licensing program aimed at the SMB segment, and made available the Microsoft Business Solutions Navision 4.0, an integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) solution for the SMB segment.

We also recently launched our consumer strategy, which is aimed at addressing the technology needs of the growing consumer segment. Microsoft’s consumer strategy is aimed at enabling Indian consumers to embrace a Digital Lifestyle enabled by a rich constellation of Microsoft products, services & partnerships. As part of our focus on the Indian consumer, we have outlined a retail strategy under which, we will partner with over 500 retail centers in India within the next six months. Consumers will be able to walk into these outlets, and play around with the products under the guidance of onsite experts who will help them experience the rich functionality of each offering. The centers will feature a range of products and devices in the areas of Entertainment, Education and Learning, Gaming, Productivity and Communications. Microsoft will invest in the infrastructure required for the showcase, and also provide its retail partners with marketing support.

AS: More than 73 per cent of Microsoft software deployed in India is allegedly pirated. You are trying to curb/reduce it through the proposed licensing programme. Would you kindly enlighten us about this strategy and how it could curb piracy of Microsoft products? Do you have suggestion to offer to the Government of India to curb this menace, besides what the anti-piracy authorities are already doing?

ND: In our opinion, educating the end consumer is critical in the fight against piracy – if consumers understand how using pirated software impacts them, and are aware of how to distinguish between pirated and genuine software, that’s half the battle won. This view is validated by a recent research that stated that a large percentage of consumers use pirated software unknowingly. The research indicated that this section of consumers would do the right thing (buy genuine software) if they knew that they were unknowingly using pirated software and if they knew how to tell the difference between genuine and pirated software. Given this, we have launched several initiatives to bring down the piracy levels in the country –
Genuine Windows campaign which is aimed at making consumers aware of how they can be sure of whether the software (operating system) that they are getting with their new PC is genuine.


Introduced the ‘How to Tell’ website: This is an interactive anti-piracy web site, which features an easy-to-use click-through guided tour for consumers to help them distinguish between counterfeit and genuine software. The website provides end users vital information on what constitutes software piracy and answers to frequently asked questions regarding software piracy

The Indian Government recognizes that to take its rightful place in the knowledge economy and to encourage investment it needs to ensure strong protection of intellectual property. India has some of the strongest copyright laws in the world. However, strong laws are not the only issue, there needs to be a consistent and effective approach to all levels from both the private and Government agencies. We work through industry associations to undertake training for enforcement officials so they can use their expertise to identify counterfeits and take effective action.

The effective enforcement of the laws by the enforcement officials and continued vigilance of copyright owners means that new start ups will also benefit as the years of R&D will be protected and they will be rewarded for their innovation and investment.

Greater enforcement of these laws can help bring down piracy levels further. The Karnataka Government’s decision to declare Karnataka, as a piracy free state is a very good example of how Governments can take an active role in curbing the piracy menace in the country. The State Government intends to take the lead in fighting piracy by using only genuine software and taking firm measures to protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). In fact, the zero piracy initiative has already been kicked off with a training program for 250 officers from the police and various Government departments.

Having said that, it is important to understand that the issue of piracy requires consistent and joint effort by both the national and local governments and private industry

AS: At CONNECT 2005 in Chennai you pointed out to the non-availability of services in local languages as one of the prime reasons of low IT use in India. Microsoft India has already initiated some moves in that direction in collaboration with some states, we understand. Could you enlighten us on this in greater detail? What is Microsoft India’s strategy to help India get over this crucial problem? Are you having any collaboration with Indian universities or IT institutions in that direction?

ND: Over 95 per cent of Indians use their local language more than English in their work and personal life. With the rapid growth of IT in the country, there is therefore a huge demand for localized products and applications in India. Realizing this need Microsoft conceptualized Project Bhasha, a program aimed at accelerating local language computing in India. This program breaks the language barrier and promotes the usage of IT across all levels of the society. Project Bhasha, is a key milestone in Microsoft’s drive to stimulate local language based computing and take IT to the masses. A comprehensive program, it aims to localize (provide local interfaces) to Microsoft’s flagship products, Windows and Office, in 14 Indian languages, besides enhancing the Local languages ecosystem by engaging constructively with the Government, ISVs and community at large.

The program was conceptualized way back in 1998 with the first India visit of Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates where the focus was to usher in the IT revolution in the country in a phased manner - localization was identified as the key catalyst for effecting this development. This was followed by initiation of the Microsoft India Localization Program.

Some key highlights of Microsoft’s initiatives towards ushering in Local Language Computing in India include roll-out of:

Windows 2000 range of operating systems which supported Devanagari and Tamil
Office 2000 South Asia Edition which provided basic enablement for Hindi and Tamil
Launch of Office XP & Windows XP in 2001, which extended enablement to 11 Indian languages including Hindi, Sanskrit, Konkani, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, Gurumukhi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali & Malayalam


Launch of a localized version of the Share Point Portal Server which marked Microsoft’s entry into the more complex server based Indian language solutions market


Launch of VS.NET with Indian language support


Launch of Indian language version of the Content Management Server aimed at the burgeoning local language Web Content Management market


Launch of Project Bhasha in 2003

AS: Possibly linked with this success of e-Governance plan being planned and implemented by various state governments. In this respect one can mention about ITC’s e-Chaupal initiative in the private sector for example. Do you think e-Governance in local language would make the governance far more meaningful and stronger as the people of concerned states would be in a more comfortable position to understand the activities of their state governments and can communicate with the administration down the line? How Microsoft India can contribute in this program?

ND: I am in complete agreement with this. Ensuring that e-governance programs are in local language will definitely make these far more relevant and accessible to the intended audience.

Towards this, Microsoft initiated Project Bhasha which is a cohesive program for bringing together the governments, the academia and research institutions, the local ISVs and developers and the industry associations on a common ground for promoting local language computing. It is a collaborative program aimed at accelerating local language computing in India and providing impetus to e-governance initiatives in India.


Neelam Dhawan has been associated with the IT industry for 22 years. Prior to joining Microsoft, she was HP India Vice President - customer solutions group with a focus on enterprise, public sector and SMB sectors for all computing products and services. Before joining HP in 1999, Neelam had served in IBM and HCL.

January 30, 2006