Sucheta Dalal :Why the US trumps India in IT innovation
Sucheta Dalal

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Why the US trumps India in IT innovation  

March 3, 2010

The Budget has been disappointing for the information technology (IT) industry. The much-needed Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) scheme has not been extended. There are also no schemes to encourage innovation in IT. The only silver lining has been the generous funding allocated to the unique identity (UID) project. This will surely help software and hardware companies to generate more revenue.


For all the hype about India becoming a superpower in IT, the government consistently shows a lack of vision. Contrast this with the US. Even in such dire economic times, the US shows its mettle by investing for a bright future. The US govt is coming up with a new category of visas for founders of start-ups. The Bill has recently been introduced and is yet to pass.


The proposed new visa norms go something like this: If one can get funding of $250,000 for one's start-up—with $100,000 from a qualified US angel investor or a venture capitalist (VC)—one is eligible for a two-year visa to grow one's start-up. At the end of two years, if the start-up is able to generate a $1 million in revenue or get additional $1 million in funding or create five full-time jobs (not including jobs for children or spouse), the founder becomes eligible to get a legal residence. Hats off to the US, the eternal place for enterprise and innovation.


It is this spirit of the US that has cemented its place as the leader throughout the 20th century and now going into the 21st century, it is already laying the foundation for its continued leadership.


Indians on the other hand are happy to be contractors for US firms. In fact, a growing country such as India should be the hub of entrepreneurship due to its growing market and the government should have had all kinds of schemes to foster high-tech entrepreneurship.

But there is none. Let us remember one thing—of all the software which Indians use to make their outsourcing money, most have been invented in the US or European countries. Right from C, C++, Java, .Net, or the Internet or name any other innovative technology, nothing has come out of India. And I can assure you that if the government's current stand continues, none will come out in the future. We will have all kinds of excuses for being second grade. There is no dearth of excuses for inefficiency and incompetence in India.


Is it any wonder then, that for the top brains of India, the US is still a magnet? For all the hoopla about Indian brains coming back, most of the people who come back are managers. Very few of the people who do high-tech innovation come back to India. And when they come back, they either go back after a while, or worse still, they end up working in more mundane but lucrative fields.


A few weeks back, we had another unsavoury incident. Tata Consultancy Services, India's top outsourcing company, had its website hacked. A company that probably does security work for many clients could not keep its own website secure. The Tata Group is a great entity; I have high respect for them. I myself have worked for the Tata Group on several occasions. Nevertheless, I am disappointed here to see the state of security in one of India's premier companies.


We don’t know what caused the security breach. Perhaps, a very rare vulnerability was exploited. I expected at least a press statement from the Tata Group. However, the lack of response from them somehow gives me the hunch that it could be plain negligence in keeping one's own website secure. Maybe I am wrong; it is still not late for the Tata Group to mend matters.


Bottom-line, if we are not able to take measures to work on areas that could give us a leadership position, at least we should stop harping on how a great IT superpower we are. Remember that superpowers don’t get made overnight. The US has a big history of research in technology.


The transistor which is the precursor of the electronics revolution was invented in the US in the 1950s. What has India to show for, in comparison? —  Dr Samir Kelekar

(Dr Samir Kelekar is founder-director of Teknotrends Software, Bengaluru.)

-- Sucheta Dalal