Harsh Chitale, CEO, HCL Infosystems urges Govt to facilitate IT usage instead of giving free laptops

harsh-chitaleEven as the government continues with its ambitious IT projects such as Aakash low-cost tablets and the ‘One Laptop per Child’ (OLPC) program, the manner in which such schemes are executed raises serious doubts on their effectiveness. Dataquest spoke to a prominent leader in the IT industry to get his views on such programs and how they can be made more effective. In conversation with Harsh Chitale, CEO, HCL Infosystems:

What is your view on the recent controversy surrounding the ‘One Laptop per Child’ scheme?

I think it is a good policy to facilitate the availability of an affordable computing device to every student or at least one member in each family. Having said that, I think how that should be facilitated can be a matter of debate.

Are such programs really able to achieve their desired objectives?

If we look at the `Aakash’ program, I believe it has set the direction and created visibility to the need of creating a low-cost computing device for vast and growing student population of India. Within 2 years of such a program, we have now seen prices for good quality 7″ tablets coming down from over 20,000 Rs/unit to almost 7,000 Rs/unit and with scale and development this will go down further. Hence, the Aakash program has, in a way, already served its purpose of galvanising the OEM community in designing lower cost solutions and getting them to commercializing them. I don’t think actual ‘government paid’ development and procurement of such tablets is now necessary.

You mean distribution of free products is not really necessary…

Yes, in a way. If you look at the penetration of mobile phones, 900 mn Indian consumers bought such phones without any government subsidy on devices, as soon as choice, affordability and access were ensured through competitive market economy. Something similar can happen here. We do not need government resources to be spent on developing and gifting away such computing devices. Unfortunately in most such cases, value of such a free gift is not perceived and at times these devices find their way into the grey market as a device available for re-sale!

So, the government should not focus too much on development of such products?

I believe the development of an end-user computing device by a government is no longer warranted as already there is lot of private capital that is now engaged in this activity and hence there is no need for scarce government resources to be deployed here. Also, in smartphones, tablets or PCs, product life cycles are shrinking day by day. A product becomes ‘end of life’ in terms of its commercial availability within 6-9 months and a government sector development and procurement cycle is just not geared towards such a high technology churn consumer product. Any product procured through such a process will suffer from being at least a generation older

How do you think can these schemes be made more effective?

These schemes can be made more effective by the government actually by facilitating ownership and right usage of these devices rather than by giving them away free. This can be done by way of affordable student loans through banks or through colleges (with some bank funding at the back) and making them available on an EMI of 24-36 months to students. That will ensure that the students have a choice and at the same time they have a feeling that they have spent to `own’ their device.

Government resources can instead be spent in creating:

·Better connectivity in each of the educational institutions (eg- Wi-Fi class rooms, Wi-Fi campus, and providing internet access to all the schools) (Source: DataQuest)

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