A surging, chaotic power
- By Bruce McConnell
- Apr 23, 2001
Poised to overtake China as the world's most populous country, and accounting
for 30 percent of the world's software engineers, India has entered the
21st century with great potential and challenges. For many reasons, it is
in the U.S. government's interest to enter into partnerships with reliable
The scale of India's challenges is daunting. Unreliable electrical power,
poor roads, harsh climatic conditions that demand rugged equipment and costly
services from a monopoly services provider are the major obstacles. The
central government will invest $50 million to create satellite-based community
Internet access in up to 1,000 population centers in the next two years.
It is also partnering with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media
Lab to promote low-cost wireless Internet access.
Human capital is a more complex matter. The existence of 17 official
languages magnifies the challenge of providing basic education in information
and communication technology skills. At the university level, the demand
for skilled ICT engineers and managers is outstripping the capacity of the
On the other hand, retention of skilled young people is improving
more than half of the graduates of the best computer institutes now stay
in India. Low labor costs continue to be an Indian advantage, belying the
fact that more Indian companies than U.S. companies have earned the top
rating from Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute.
India's 1 billion people are only beginning to be affected by this change.
Bullock carts overloaded with sugar cane still creep past the telephone
access shops that have sprung up in every village the drivers and shop
operators unaware of the valuable information about crop markets that lies
just beyond their reach in cyberspace. Progress is slowed by a difficult
working relationship between the public and private sectors. The crafty
denizens of the derisively named "babucracy" are skillful at retaining their
middleman status and delaying the potential of e-government to streamline
import and export processing, issue permits and otherwise strengthen India's
As a result, the private sector has moved forward where there are fewer
obstacles. Call centers, a leading service export, are assisted by cost
structures for overseas connections, but held back by regulation in domestic
In the meantime, Indian companies and the U.S. companies who have partnered
with them are weathering the slowdown in the global information technology
industry better than many of their peers. They have been aided in this success
by strong onshore/offshore partnerships that are creating a virtuous cycle
of human, intellectual and financial capital flows between expatriate and
domestic Indian professionals.
The opportunity that this situation creates should not go unexamined
by the United States, the world's largest buyer of programming services.
McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office
of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).