Potentials of improving what we have.In 2005 this country was producing 200 Micro Electronic Engineers. This was clearly not enough in scale to serve or fulfill the role of Design Engineers to the world. The laboratories needed to be updated as any Micro Electronic Laboratory which is not state-of-art, is useless. Mercifully suitable steps have been initiated and 100 educational institutions have been identified for having good Departments of Physics and Mathematics. In 2010, India produced 1200 Micro Electronic Engineers instead of 200 earlier. This has already brought some research from CISCO and others in the country. Illustratively INTEL 64 Chip was designed in India and not in the West Coast. In fact we need about 4,000 Micro Electronic Engineers annually.
Further, there are several organizations in India which have no manufacturing capability but have good design capability. Even that gap needs to be bridged. Recently I was in Taipei and I went around the various appointments which included a session with the External Affairs Minister and the Minister for Examinations. One could see these concerns being mirrored in their External affairs Policy and even in their testing services.
Somewhere the public discourse in this country has grown counter productively repetitive and slogan mongering seems to have taken the place of a coherent debate. There can be nothing wrong which talk of 'secularism', 'equity', 'social justice', 'distributive justice', 'inclusive growth'. Good and unexceptionable ideas as they are, ad nausium repetition of the same renders even the slogan mongering pointless. It is about time the bars were raised and social discourse and political debate acquired the necessary range and depth which a country such as India, given its potential and possibility, would rightly expect. The gaps in hardware manufacturing in Information Technology area need serious response.
Our requirements on computerization are different. This country has to make a plan which needs to sustain employment. It can not afford to put any small scale industry or shop out of business. A back of the envelope calculation establishes that there are about 12 million small shopkeepers. The track record is that in United States wherever Wal-Mart has moved in, small shops have gone out. In the heated debate which currently runs through the country on the subject, there is very little citation of statistics and references to specific experiences. Generalization can not substitute logic. Saying this and that happened in China or South East Asia has limited lessons for India because China is too big a category with too many regional variation of which we know very little, to hold lessons for India in such general terms.
One is simply making a plea for a more cogent debate and reasoned conclusion. Research in its applied manifestation is an important precursor activity for this. Each shopkeeper on an average can be said to be supporting at least 10 people. Hence the conclusion that 120 million people are supported by small shops. The focus could be on making them more efficient and more productive. Today they operate under primitive conditions with little or no familiarity to modern business tools, what to talk of computers. IIT Bombay made a limited experiment on the inventory control of shops and tried to introduce some 'artificial intelligence' tools. The focus should be on helping a group of small shopkeepers use computers to control their inventory so that client does not have to wait. The system should place order with a supply chain and other aspects.
Of this one does not hear much reference. Surely this gap in discussions of growth and development needs to be urgently flagged and bridged. Then there are issues of cash management, customer relationship management. Assuming that a small shopkeeper serves 500 to 1200 clients, he should have the data on the client on what they use, what they like and dislike. This will make the spread effect of computers far more simple and enriching than simply talking of how efficient multi-national retail can be like. Indeed multi-national retail can have its own space in mega cities but there can not be the slogan of "one size fitting all".
If computers are used as a tool in small business, the scene changes. If one uses some special toothpaste and the day I get it in my inventory, the computer will arrange that it be dispatched to the client without the shopkeepers have to bother about it. Hence retailing becomes personalized. This makes a client become a part of the shop-operation.
In a city like Coimbatore, there are about 6000-7000 small engineering workshops. (I have researched in that area looking at these issues). In each workshop there are 10-15 or may be 20 skilled workers. They produce most of the spare parts for automobiles, for farmers, for compressors but they have no access to computers. One could introduce computer aided design. They do not have to work on actual machines till the design is completely tested on a computer. This would help improve the potential of what we have. Educational institutions could support this effort in their out reach activity. The possibilities are endless.
Honorary Chief Editor, Abhigyan and Chairman, DKIF