Friday, October 08, 1999

The Cyber Scene in India ~ by Ravi Kamat

October 8, 1999. A note on E-Biz India ’99 

I am Ravi Kamat ( I work with Focus Software Private
Limited ( in India and am responsible for the Indian
operations. I have been part of the IT industry since 1974 I have witnessed
and faced the waves of change as they hit IT shores. I am proud to be part
of Focus Software as we have chosen E-commerce as our business direction
using Lotus Notes and Cold Fusion with Java and its related technologies
for solutions.

Keeping in touch with the industry, I recently attended a conference at the
Oberoi Towers, Mumbai, India, entitled E-Biz India '99. It was facilitated
by Nasscom ( the National Association of Software and
Service Companies in India.

Since we work out of Pune, I drove down to the conference with my colleague
Sandeep Deo. The drive through the hills was very good, and refreshed us
before we hit the traffic of Mumbai City.

We reached the Oberoi Hotel at 11:00 am. The conference was in the Regal
Hall that has a capacity to accommodate a 1000 people, and was packed to
capacity. One of the key speakers Mr.Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO, Rediff-on-the
Net ( was giving his presentation. His message was very
clear: to be a part of the E ­ commerce world, you must be ready to lose
money before you can hope to make some money. The opportunity is huge, but
the approach must be the right time and place. Persistence is a virtue that
will get tested by Web.

He was followed by an equally able speaker, Mr. I. B. Saxena, CEO, who runs a very successful e-commerce site, but opened with
“The more I hear about it the more confused I get about it. And after a
detailed analysis I have come to this conclusion that everyone is trying to
formulate his or her own definition of e-commerce.” He then went on to
express his views with the intention to simplify the subject, which he did
with great success. It’s a treat to visit his site as he sells fresh cut
vegetables as one of his prime products and boasts of a daily regular
clientele of 100 families as of today.

This session lead us out to lunch. Can you imagine 1000 people pouring out
into the lobby to a treat of a sumptuous buffet? The Oberoi chief’s are the
best in their culinary expertise and this conference was no exception.
There was a vegetarian spread of 15 dishes and a non-vegetarian spread of 7
dishes with 9 different salad and 5 different kinds of Nan­bread followed
by 4 varieties of rice. The desert trolley topped it all with 3 hot deserts
and 3 cold one’s. I am a small eater so did not do justice to the spread.
The after lunch, sessions took their toll and the heavy eaters found it
difficult to concentrate.

The post lunch session started with Mr. Ranjit Limaye­CEO, IBM India He stressed on the need for business
transformation irrespective of the technology used. He impressed us with
the product range net.commerce and web-sphere. He also mentioned the
importance of Lotus notes as the leading Groupware product.
This lead to parallel sessions and I attended the one entitled “e-commerce
strategies for IT companies.” The first speaker was Mr. Neeraj Bhargava,
Principal, McKinsey and Co. They have been retained by Nasscom and the
Government of India to do a study on the infrastructure that needs to be
put in place for India as country to meet the challenge of the next
century. The statistics he gave were revealing. To quote a few:
“Only 40% of the E-Commerce transactions use online payment
internationally. With this background the Indian E-commerce system need not
wait for the Credit Card system to mature in India.

“E-Business is about the complete cycle of selling/purchasing and must
involve the logistic of delivery. The Indian Post Systems VPP can reach a
package to the remotest corner of the country in the friendliest manner.
The formal report is scheduled to be presented in February 2000 and is
expected to draw-up the strategy on E-Commerce for the India Software
Industry over the next decade.

We then heard Mr. Girish Bodas, Director, GE Information Systems and his
personal experience of implementing a GE Trading Process Network. Under the
leadership of his CEO Jack Welch. This is a very business focused
e-Commerce solution with very good returns to GE--a must-see site for
everyone who wishes to venture in the world of e-Commerce.

I then waited for the Power Panel discussion, which was chaired by Mr.
Nripendra Mishra, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. He is
responsible for framing the cyber laws that will govern E-Commerce in
India. He was very supportive of the needs of industry but very protective
towards the consumer. That was the basis in which the law is being framed.
Mr. Mishra was flanked by Mr.Amitabh Kumar, the acting Chairman and
Managing director of VSNL ( single authority that routes
all internet access from India; Dr.A.K.Chakravarti, Adviser, Dept. of
Electronics, who plays a key role in the framing of the cyber laws; and Mr.
Harish Mehta, Managing Director, Onward Novell Software India Limited. Mr.
Mehta was so frank in his speech that he said “Please do not clog the
Internet with bureaucracy. Protect the consumer but do not strangle the
entrepreneurs. Leave it to us and we will give you a working framework
faster than you, as our Government ever can." This was a good session and
it ended on a very positive note with all agreeing to work together to make
e-commerce happen in India.

It had been an exhausting day and we eager to get back in the car and start
moving back homeward. The journey back was not going to be easy. We
stopped at Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai for dinner, and then Sandeep took
over driving the car. The hills were pitch dark and the traffic was heavy,
but Sandeep drove all through. I tried dozing in the passenger seat, and
must have rested well because when we were closer to home I felt very
fresh. Sandeep looked tired. He dropped me home at 02:00 hrs, picked up
his car and drove off to his place about 5 kms away. Home sweet home.