An Indian Success Story A Trip to Silicon Valley

An Indian Success Story A Trip to Silicon Valley

With astonishing perseverance and unprecedented insistence, India has achieved its brilliant miracle. It has read the age and entered through its widest door. Science was the key that it possessed, and insistence was a road which brought it to the end, to become a main player in this world, and to offer a magnificent lesson on the ability of peoples to challenge the harshest conditions of backwardness, and take off from them to contribute to the progress of the country and the service of humanity. It is a wonderful success story. Perhaps there are some conclusions to be drawn from its lessons.

Riding elephants is no longer an Indian goal. Times have changed now. Those whose image used to be linked in the memory with elephants, monkeys, snakes and toothless bears have taken off to ride in space ships, own intercontinental missiles, atomic weapons and artificial satellites, clone panthers, and manufacture cars, the cinema and medicine. But the real miracle of India is represented in an astonishing superiority in a clean industry that has become an indicator of the progress of countries, namely the programming industry.

In the largest railway station which has become a major landmark of New Delhi, one of the cafés occupies a prominent corner in that imposing building. When we came near it, we realized that it specializes in offering Internet services. It was one of the first of a series of cafés which the Indian government inaugurated in the framework of a national plan to provide Internet services in all the railway stations in cities throughout the country.

This 24-hour service which the railway stations provide every day is obtained through cheaply priced cards, which a traveler can buy from the ticket counter. This enables him to contact all parts of the world, even the most remote. In addition to Internet services and sending E-mail messages, the stations offer fax, electronic printing and video conference services.

What the largest railway station in the Indian capital contains was merely an indication of the surprises which that country contains for those who come to it with the traditional images planted in their minds of a country crammed full of poor people and recluses who squat all day long in the squares with their unkempt hair and submissive faces, displaying the arts of swallowing glass and sleeping on metal spikes. Or they play on their flutes so that cobras dance, or jump high like monkeys.

But the railway station was not alone responsible for changing that stereotyped image of India into its complete opposite. There were also dozens of surprises awaiting us at every step we took in the cities and states of vast India

Perseverance of Human Beings

India has changed completely. It is no longer a land of famine and a sign of Asian tragedies as it used to be in the 1960s, in spite of the existence of several hundred million poor people in it. It is no longer its monkeys which jump high, indeed it is human beings who have been able, through perseverance, self-sacrifice and planning, to make a place for their country in the heart of the age. Thus India in our present time has become a dazzling proof of the will and ability of human beings to overcome bad situations and remain strong under the sun.

India now is a state which has been able not only to achieve self-sufficiency in grain production, after using methods of the Green Revolution. It has also become the largest wheat producer in the world in recent years. It is now a country that will invade space by the year 2008. It has become a leading manufacturer of medicine in the world, apart from becoming a member of the nuclear club. But its modern miracle, about which the world is talking with admiration these days, is the very great leap it has achieved in the field of information technology, the language of the age and the indicator of progress in it. After India s exports of software and information services became an important source of national income in hard currency, they yield about $7 billion a year and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs.

India has overturned all the equations known to the world on the course of development, when it designed a new road for itself in the midst of the emerging markets. While Asian economic powers concentrated on exports of conversion industries, India chose to become the first of these powers to depend on development impelled by technological strength. The astounding thing is that India has been able to achieve this resounding success without the need for major investments, and in spite of the sorry conditions of roads, airports and harbors in it.

The Castle of the Future

We headed for Hyderabad, and specifically for the city of Cyberabad , the stronghold of technology towards which people s gazes are turned at present, in astonishment, admiration and appreciation.

The reason why gazes are turned towards it is very simply that it is a city which speaks in the language of the age, after it was able to decipher the codes when it found the answer to a question that had continued to repeat itself, Why is there a brain drain from this country to other countries? And how long will the truth continue to be ignored that one out of every six computer experts in the world is an Indian expert?

The answer was to provide the right atmosphere for these so that they would be creative inside India s borders, and to benefit from their ideas to develop their country, and attract billions of dollars in revenues to their country.

From here the idea began, and there was perseverance to turn the dream which tickled their fancies into a reality. This is what in fact happened, as Hyderabad turned into a base to develop software for foreign companies, to the extent that Microsoft chose it to set up its first software development center outside the United States of America. Research and invention centers in that company in fact arrived at the building and took up their positions in it. And many giant international companies are now working to develop their own software in its technological castle.

When the right decision came, for the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, of which Hyderabad is the capital, he gave the major companies in this field all the facilities, so that they would come to the state, and invite Indians to return and contribute to pushing the wheel of progress forward in their country. He considered that, as long as the infrastructure was there, incentive facilities could be offered.

This being the case, we had to go there, to the city which is sometimes called "High Tech City". Or let us say its name that the people of the city call it, "Information Technology City" or Cyberabad , or even Cyber Tower as it is written on its huge circular building, which is about a whole hour away from the heart of Hyderabad.

Minds Only

Entry was not possible at any time or for any person. We had to obtain a permit to enter the city, and the appointment for the visit was fixed. This was something for which Nasim Arifi, the Editor-in-Chief of the Urdu newspaper Munsif (which means Equity ) gave surety. It is a mass-circulation daily newspaper in Andhra Pradesh state, which prints more than four million copies every day. The approval came, enabling us to enter that castle in which work was inaugurated on 22 November 1998. The process of establishment was completed within only 14 months. After that the city was able to attract 52 international companies to it, the largest companies in the world in the field of software. They include Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Compaq. Between seven and ten suites were reserved for each of these companies, and in fact they began their work a short time ago.

Before we headed there, we had the belief that this city would include factories to manufacture programs, and massive workshops to assemble computers. But matters soon changed when we asked R. Sereda Ran, the Manager of the Operations Department of the company L & T Info City, one of the largest companies operating in Cyberabad, to show us a place where we could photograph workshops for computer assembly, and workers producing and manufacturing programs. The reply which he gave us was simply a broad smile, before explaining: The important thing is not assembling computers, not even manufacturing programs. This work is extremely simple, and any small shop anywhere can do it. But the very important thing, the most important thing always in the field of information technology, is the idea.

The official in the amazing technological castle continued to talk to us: All you will find in this building is experts sitting in front of computers and busying themselves only with inventing ideas, and others sitting also like them in front of computer screens, whose main task is to give these ideas concrete form. This castle concentrates in its conception on the production of programs and their solutions. Consequently it is different from other technological cities in India and elsewhere. As an example he cited Dubai Internet City, which concentrates on hardware companies, namely the assembly of computers. He emphasized that a form of co-ordination and co-operation could be achieved between Cyberabad which specializes in software and Dubai Internet City which specializes in hardware.

Sereda Ran said that the volume of the information market in Cyberabad at present is estimated at about half a billion dollars a year at a time when that volume in India as a whole is $7 billion. The number of companies working in the information sector in the country as a whole is about 12,000.

The idea of establishing the city began in 1996 with the development of the infrastructure, and the first phase has been completed. The other phases of the project include the construction of a conference center, residential buildings, a large shopping center and a hotel.

The official in charge of information and technology in Andhra Pradesh state, Stai Narayan, considers that the information technology and engineering communications city Cyberabad in the city of Hyderabad is one of the mammoth projects with which the state is entering this age in strength. It is fully aware that it has chosen to enter a frenzied race, as the language which has become predominant in it is called the information trade.

A First Step

We had arrived at the orange-colored glass building in the Madhapur quarter on the outskirts of Hyderabad, after the car transporting us had passed through a number of areas in which the houses were divided among the poor and the rich of Hyderabad. The magnificent Banjara Hills area was an indication of the extremely luxurious life which its inhabitants live. It was difficult, when the car transporting us was passing through the main street in it, for us to believe that such an area with its shining green trees, its silken smooth roads and elegant style houses with splendid, beautiful gardens, was part of India. And it could be similar to areas whose spaciousness had astonished us in some states which we visited in the north and west of the country.

At the gate of the electronic castle the guide whom the city management had allocated to us was waiting for us. He took us on a sightseeing tour inside the round building which we found was made up of four buildings each one of which had ten floors. These were of conical shape, and were enclosed together by a circular wall of glass of two colors: blue close to the color of the sky, and yellow inclined to orange.

Info City, the company which manages this technological castle, does not belong to the state government or the federal government, but to the Indian private sector. However, there is great co-operation between them. The state government owns 11% of the shares of that company through the Infrastructure Industries Company Limited, while a company called Larsen Andnawero owns the remaining 89%

In this building, whose roof looks like a spider s web as an allusion to the web of the Internet and whose total occupied are on its floors comes to about half a million square metres. Every large and small requirement was provided, even though this building is not the only one in the three-dimensional model which was planned for the city, and which we were shown. In addition to that tower which at present contains 4,000 employees, there are three other buildings that have actually been constructed. There are also three other towers under construction. The guide pointed out to us a building located on the opposite side of the street which when it is opened is expected to contain 9,000 employees. High Tech City comes within the framework of a massive project called Cyberabad on an area of 51 square kilometres. The city for which we headed lies on an area of 151 hectares, and its investment costs amount to $400 million. The first phase of it was completed in 1998, and the second phase will be completed next August, while it is expected that the remaining seven phases will be completed by the beginning of 2008.

The plan indicates that hotels and workshops also will be constructed during the next five years, so that this city will become absolutely complete, and so that the Cyber Tower building will be merely the first step in that city that will become the most massive software castle in the world.

Success of a City

But how did Hyderabad manage to achieve this great leap forward? The thing was no coincidence, and when we asked those in charge of the electronic castle or inhabitants of Hyderabad whom we met, there was a consensus that the credit is due to the personality of a man called Chandra Babu Naidoo who heads the government of Andhra Pradesh. His name is never mentioned in any conversation without praise for him. They say that this man has provided all the means for the development of Hyderabad. In order to build that massive technological castle, he went to the East and West, and opened all doors to the process of development and growth in Andhra Pradesh state.

Among other things it is said of him that although his state contains the most important technological castles in India, and maybe in the world, he refuses to ride in any car that is not made in India. He also still lives to this day in a three-roomed apartment which does not have air conditioning, only an ordinary fan in the ceiling. He refused to take comfortable government accommodation. These people say about Naidoo that he has several distinctive characteristics which have made him a popular hero in the view of the inhabitants of the state, who have been re-electing him for many years, although he does not belong to the ruling party. He is a decision-maker, as well as being good-natured and quick-witted.

The city of Hyderabad is regarded as one of the areas that most attract services of the technology of information systems. That is due to the rapid growth in the power infrastructure, wide scale communications and advanced means of transportation, as well as low labor costs. The inhabitants of Hyderabad who are interested in the technology of information systems have natural inclinations to work in engineering, design, information processing and information technology in general, as well as to direct them.

As soon as Naidoo became chief of the state government in August 1995, he ordered the completion of a dilapidated government building on the outskirts of Hyderabad, in order to turn it into a college for computer programming. This institute is considered a living example of the way in which Naidoo has managed to transform Hyderabad from an administrative center of an agricultural state which by all standards was one of the poorest states in India, into the pivot of the pharmaceutical and programming industries in India.

Be following a long-term method for general policy, Naidoo was able to transform Hyderabad into a high-technology area. In a relatively short time that city of 6.6 million inhabitants has become an axis for computer programming and a center for telephone services and medicine factories, which has contributed to pushing the wheels of development forward to most parts of the previously poor state of Andhra Pradesh, with its 78 million inhabitants.

The first step which Naidoo took at the beginning of his assumption of office may have been his success in persuading the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Microsoft Bill Gates to invest in Hyderabad. He seized the opportunity when he met him at a dinner party. After that, this major company opened a programming center. Bill Gates announced during a visit to the city that the center would be expanded over the next three years, so that the number of specialists in programming functions in it would increase to 500 people.

A Page from a Book

The story of Hyderabad, which was where we stopped to observe the successes of Silicon Valley, represents only one chapter in the book of brilliant scientific successes that India has achieved in the last few years. With them, this subcontinent of a country has become a real giant that has to be taken into consideration a thousand times in the world of today, after it has been able, with the help of a broad base of professionals with higher education who speak English, to transform the information technology sector into a project which earns billions of dollars. At the present time giant companies in the world are competing for it.

It is a purely Indian success story, from A to Z. Contrary to what is said that the success of India is represented in its ability to attract capital, the facts show that this country, which has waged three bloody wars over more than half a century, and has long suffered from having to feed the mouths of more than a billion people with the failure of all solutions to limit their fertility, and which has been hit by dozens of droughts, floods, epidemics and famines, through its pure national will has become one of the most important centers of medicine and pharmaceuticals in the world. It includes the most important centers of agricultural research, with which it has managed to achieve self-sufficiency in food, and export abroad what is surplus to the needs of its 1.2 billion people. Then it exports brains which work in the most important factories in the countries of the world. It manufactures numerous cars and exports them, and owns the most important cellular communications companies in the world also, apart from its outstanding ability in the field of the information revolution, its invasion of space, and its membership of the nuclear club.

That has certainly not come about by chance, nor is it a coincidence that former US President Bill Clinton, when he was in power, observed that when a customer contacts Microsoft to ask for help on a matter related to computer programs, he usually finds himself talking to an Indian expert, not an American one.

Programming and Other Things

But things do not stop here. After India has scored great achievements in the field of developing programming, this rising power today stands on the threshold of a new age of services linked to information technology. If a patient visits his doctor in New York or London, his medical file is printed in India, and sent within hours to the doctor s computer. In most cases when the owner of a car is contacted to remind him to pay his insurance premium, the person who contacts him is sitting behind a desk in one of the cities of India: Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai or Calcutta, which include information technology areas. Their harmony achieves something that resembles a silent revolution. Perhaps the most important thing that distinguishes this technological revolution is that its scope is expanding enormously, in a manner that makes these areas emerge as a new destination for the market for services linked to information technology that is worth billions of dollars.

Indian design and engineering companies have come to supply everything, from three-dimensional pictures in the simulators of Airbus Industrie to motion picture cartoons for Hollywood companies like those which appeared several years ago in the film The King and I . Indian programming services provide a large number of products related to the Internet to foreign companies, ranging from search mechanisms on the latest generation of mobile telephones to commercial web sites. At the same time India is recording astonishing success stories in the field of electronic chips, computer equipment and mobile telephones.

These operations associated with information technology are different from the industry of developing programming, which require people with a high degree of skill and intensive training . Services related to information technology are flourishing where there are university graduates, who are not required to have more than a knowledge of the English language. India generally provides them to the countries which make the products, and employees in India send them via communications or data networks, after contracting with these transnational companies. They include mainly medical prescriptions, communication centers, measures for loan and mortgage operations and salary accounts.

In fact we saw this with our own eyes, and it was a cause for astonishment. When we were leaving the place where I had met the official from the company Info City in the Cyberabad Building, the guide of the building headed with us towards the office of the Punjab National Bank on the first floor. There we found the bank, which is in a large hall which does not contain a single pillar in the middle, as is the case with all the offices belonging to the giant companies in the Cyberabad Building. It does not contain a counter with an employee standing behind it to carry out the customers requests, but only three desks distributed among the corners. Behind each one there is an employee, and on it there is a computer which enables him to carry out the tasks of his job efficiently, and flexibly as well. When our guide noticed the signs of astonishment on our faces, he pointed with his hand and said, Banks in the next few months will become like this. He explained that in this place the most complex bank accounting operations take place, for banks whose headquarters are thousands of miles away, in North America and Europe.

Renting out Expertise

At a time when India has entered the arena of international competition to develop programs, besides the production and development of programs it also rents out programmers to countries and companies abroad. Major international companies contract with Indian companies to supply computer programs. However India does not stop there. At the same time it has plunged into the field of design on demand, which is a field that concentrates on the practical and scientific skill of a trained work force.

Such an industry is extremely expensive in the West, because of high wages and the high value of time. This puts societies in the Middle East, if they train their people well, in an advantageous position to meet the needs of the world in the programming industry. India has also resorted to another market, namely data entry. International companies, like airlines and banks, need to enter huge quantities of data in the computer, and to escape from the extremely high labor costs in the West. Thanks to computer networks, the distances between the countries of the world have been completely abolished, and the person who enters the data and the person using them are virtually in one place.

The volume of world demand for Indian software programs has grown considerably, so that they are used today in various services in airlines, banks, engineering companies, manufacturing companies, space activities, entertainment units and most American hospitals. Also most international airlines use Indian software programs. Indeed even Japan, which pays unprecedented attention to standards of excellence, has turned to Indian software companies to obtain digital signals systems in order to get rid of the traffic jams from which it suffers. Thus India s exports of programs increased more than eighteen-fold, and the earnings of the computer multiplied by fifteen times in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The Road

It was an astonishing thing for us as we were listening to this information from the Indians in charge of Hyderabad technological castle. The question which leapt to our minds was, How can a county which has suffered from all kinds of backwardness, epidemics, wars and natural disasters, indeed and all those mouths to feed, achieve this astonishing leap forward in a few years?

We asked this question of one of those in charge of the technological city, and he believed that grated to the West, and who form 28% of those who work in Silicon Valley in California, as well as the early encouragement by Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister, in the early 1980s for this industry. And also there is the English language, which is the official language in India.

But there is another important factor. The companies that deal with India came through the language of business, that is represented in the factors of cost, speed and delivery. The Indian software companies stand out from the others for their skill in providing excellent programs at prices with which no one can compete, in addition to their ability to deal with huge projects, and also to carry things out at the right time.

He said that the source of the motive force for this was the government, which built 30 academic centers for technical education, with finance which came from the profits of ventures that had been privatized and had previously belonged to the Indian government communications sector.

The Indian selection of the programming industry was based on a practical viewpoint relating to the environment and the conditions of the surroundings. Practical experience had shown that the programming industry was completely suited to the circumstances of India. It requires skilled labor, does not leave any negative effects on the environment, and in addition it grows with enormous speed. At the same time, other industries require large capital and labor with limited skills.

A Real Giant

India chose to go in two directions. The first is the manufacture of integrated circuits, which are the basis of the computer industry. The second is the programming industry, which does not require industrialization with special equipment as much as it concentrates mainly on the human element trained in the uses of the computer.

As far as skills are concerned, India is facing an increase in world demand for the import of technicians from it, particularly in the United States, which grants 200,000 visas every year to Indian experts. This is in addition to increased demand for them in Germany and Britain. Indian nationality has come to mean excellence for computer programmers. In the Indian arena itself warnings have begun to increase that the country may face a shortage of trained labor during the coming years, because of the huge increase in demand for professionals in the field of programming, after India in recent years has turned into the preferred center for major computer companies and multinational companies.

India is no longer only an attractive place for the most important programming companies in the world, it has also become the main source of exports for most countries, particularly the advanced countries. There is nothing more surprising than to learn that the American market is regarded as the largest market to sell Indian software exports, and that last year it absorbed about 62% of the total products which Indian companies supplied to 91 countries in all continents of the world. At the same time, Europe occupies second place on the list of markets where Indian technology exports are sold, with an average of 30% of total Indian advanced technology exports.

India s total exports of computer programs and services increased last year. They came to $7700 million in 2001/2002. The share of North America in this was estimated at $4950 million, compared with $3750 million the previous year. Europe was the second destination for Indian exports of computer services and programs, and the second largest market in terms of volume of business of these exports, which that year amounted to $1800 million, achieving a growth of 35% over the previous year. The Far East region, including Japan and South Korea, occupied third place in terms of the volume of Indian exports of computer programs and services. The value of purchases of them came to $220 million, whereas India s exports of programs to Latin America amounted to $10 million, an increase of $2 million over the previous year. Statistics show that two out of every five companies in the technology sector worldwide obtained their software requirements from India.

An Army of Technicians

In order for India to maintain rapid economic growth, it has to increase the numbers of graduates working in the field of information technology and advanced technology, to compensate for the drain that is still heading westwards, particularly to the United States. About 38% of employees of the companies in Silicon Valley are Indians or of Indian origin.

In order to be able to maintain the growth of the Indian programming industry, which at present absorbs about half a million people, and cover the need for about two and a half million people by the year 2008, India is making great efforts in technical education and training processes.

The official in Andhra Pradesh state in charge of information technology, Stai Narayan, believes that if India now were to provide Internet connections by cable throughout India, with the aim of extending that service to 70 million people, it would make that country an international site for the development of electronic commerce. Internet services have become an important part of programming activity in India, now that it has come to use high-powered artificial satellites to make rapid connections, in order to develop programming and loading. This may also be one of the important factors for success of the Indian programming industry.

Indian officials emphasize that by increasing the rate of growth to 10%, the proportion of poverty will automatically be reduced to 20% within one decade, while the average individual income will increase from 11,000 rupees (the equivalent of US $266) to 22,000 rupees (about $512).

The Indian computer programming sector has achieved what can be called a miracle, after the growth rate of this sector over the last ten years exceeded 40% annually. The returns from exports have reached record figures. Earnings are expected to rise to $58 billion in one year by 2008.

Thus I did not find any meaning for that reprehensible question which is still repeated, Do you take me for an Indian? After that journey to India, and after stopping specifically in Silicon Valley which is contained in the city of Hyderabad, I became aware of the extent of the great deception which speaks about the Indians as if they were lacking in intelligence. Whereas others, who have failed to achieve even a small part of their brilliant accomplishments, are considered people of sound judgement and understanding.

If that question involves despicable conceit and a miserable attempt to conceal failure, just like the jokes which circulate about these people and are very far from reality. The truth which cannot be hidden is that the Indians have not often stopped at the limits of this talk which other peoples continuously repeat about them, leaving them to the enjoyment of spouting out words and disparaging the abilities of others. And the latter have busied themselves with what is useful to people on Earth, while the foam vanishes.


Zakaria Abduljawad


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