Jahangir Raina, Chairman ICTA JK, in conversation with Ehsan Quddusi discusses the state of IT industry in J&K and the role ICTA has been playingin generating substantial job & business opportunities in ICT sector of J&K.
Jahangir Raina is serving as Chairman of ICTA JK. Besides, he is also involved in two ICTbusinesses: iLocus which operates under a KPO model carrying out market research for telecom industry, Kolahoi which is into web products.
First of all, will you throw some light on the state of IT industry in J&K?
The IT industry has grown on its own without any developmental incentives or set policies devised by the government. The industry has grown past its infancy. However the attention from the state government remains elusive. The industry has an annual turnover of around Rs.35 crores right now, employing nearly four thousand skilled youth. Those figures exclude hardware sales.
Recently in an interview with Mehraj Ud Din, Director IT&SS, KU, he said, “IT industry in J&K will be visible in next 05 years”. How do you take this statement?
I guess it is already visible. We have had our period of infancy and we grew out of infancy without people around us even realising it. Today the IT industry in J&K is an established sector of the economy employing 4,000 people and generating revenues in excess of 35 crores a year.
What type of IT business models can be found here?
We have a good variety. There are software companies, networking companies, and BPOs. There are product companies as well as services companies among them. Among the BPOs you have CRM companies as well as those who carry out digitization. Then of course, you have the IT training institutes.
What is the top most challenge facing this industry?
The toughest challenge is government apathy. If we carry on with the same momentum we have had, the industry could employ projected 30 thousand skilled youth by the year 2016. If however, the government gives this industry the due attention it deserves, we can boost that figure up to round abut 50 thousand.
This is a big figure. Can you explain how that can be achieved?
The govt of J&K has lined up e-governance projects worth over a thousand crores over the next three years. There is a project called State Wide Area Network (SWAN) that provides connectivity to all govt offices upto block level. An associated project is State Data Center, which apart from providing officials access (via SWAN) to all the data of the state offices in digitised format will host various custom software applications for local needs. Obviously data needs to be digitised first to justify needs for SDC and SWAN. Together the digitisation, SWAN, and SDC projects are worth near about Rs.500 crores. This is just one line of spending in e-governance projects. There are many IT projects pertaining to various state departments. The projects are worth thousands of crores over the span of next 10 years. The problem is that the state govt has always shown preference to national level players, bypassing the local vendors. If it engages the local vendors and local industry it can significantly boost the employment in local IT sector.
What is the role, ICTA has played in this regard?
We have spent a lot of our time and energy explaining to the govt that if a certain percentage of these IT projects are allocated to local IT vendors, we can generate substantial employment. We have maintained a sustained level of campaigning to this effect. We interacted with the Rangrajan Committee recently and hope to have a good representation in that report for the local IT sector. ICTA has also set up consortiums of local IT companies in order to better perform at tendering level. Basically the state govt has to go ahead with its IT projects at some point. It can choose to do them with us or without us. ‘With’ us would be great because that helps generate meaningful employment.
We just mentioned ICTA. When was ICTA set up?
ICTA stands for Information and Communication Technology Association. It was setup around November 2008. Prior to that there were efforts throughout the summer of 2008 to arrive at a consensus as to the requirement of such a forum and what the objectives should be. A lot of the initial momentum was put in by an NGO called Mercy Corps. They huddled the IT players together in the initial stages.
What does the Association plan ahead?
Our priority lies in securing a substantial share of government business because we realise that government is the biggest potential customer for the local IT sector. Although an overwhelming majority of the industry turnover is due to the work conducted with customers out of state and out of country, we realise that there are business opportunity just across the street with our own state government. It would be foolish to relinquish such opportunities.
Any out-of-the-box ideas to overcome the complacency from the government quarters?
We have submitted input on a regular basis through different foras. In terms of an out-of-the-box ideas, we recently suggested to the state IT department to turn JAKEGA into a PSU with participation from local IT companies. JAKEGA is a government agency for implementing e-governance projects. By turning it into a PSU, the government can create corporate speed for implementation of e-governance projects. At the same time participation of local IT vendors in such a venture will create opportunities and jobs in those companies.
What other challenges does the IT industry face?
There are many. And we are working on them. We do not have an advances package custom made for IT sector. We need to have that in place. We do not have IT parks or office facilities that can house small IT companies and provide them the requisite infrastructure. We need to work on a general awareness about the presence of an IT industry in the state. There are issues related to bridging the skills gap. Sometimes we are not able to find the people with requisite skills. The Internet connectivity is not of the standards that is required for a growing IT industry. I must also add that the disturbance that we have seen consistently over the last three years has also weakened the IT industry.
Why is ICTA putting so much emphasis on public sector IT projects?
See when you engage youth in these projects, not only do you generate employment, but overtime they will acquire skills. These skilled people will create new business opportunities in turn and bring more business into the state. So it is a virtuous cycle you are setting in. Don’t look at public sector projects as just a one-off opportunity. It is an opportunity to create a sustainable industry. Having said that, our emphasis is not only the public sector IT projects. ICTA roadmap contains mandate to seek business from out of state by establishing tie-ups with bigger IT companies. This bit we have done to an extent by facilitating several partnerships. Our mandate also involves helping local companies develop demos and then marketing them overseas. There are also plans to position companies for venture capital. So there are lots of things we plan to do. However the first two years of ICTA have gone into government advocacy mainly.
Are the companies in ICTA having so much of strength (technical and financial) to work in this model?
I think it would be fair to say that on an individual level we are able to focus on individual sub-segments of the ICT market. But on a collective basis we are capable of delivering scalable end to end solutions. That is one of the reason why there are consortiums like Webone and Unisource in place. These consortiums have been put in place by ICTA.
What is ICTA doing in bringing uniformity and code of conduct in tendered works?
We provide feedback on each of the large IT projects when the DPR and EOIs come out. We make sure that the local companies have favourable qualifying parameters. Usually the IT department listens.
ICTA had arranged an IT EXPO some time back, what was its target and who got benefited by that?
The main purpose of that event was to tell the state govt that we are here and that the industry exists. I think we were successful in sending that message. All the major government officials were there including the CM and the concerned minister. Today the IT department and the IT policies that are coming up recognize that it is important to have a strong component about employment in the state IT policy. Previously the IT policy was confined to effectively implementing the e-governance projects. The expo is also going to be our yearly feature. So eventually this becomes a buyer seller meeting point and event.
How is ICTA an excitement for a local company to join in? How many companies have already joined in?
ICTA is basically a social cause. While there are benefits for companies in identifying business opportunities, I think that should not be the reason to join ICTA. The reason for joining ICTA should be driven by the desire to work towards establishing IT as a sustainable industry in Kashmir. We currently have 24 companies as our members.