[Fsf-friends] The Controversy on Smart City

doxa@sancharnet.in doxa@sancharnet.in
Wed May 18 11:52:58 IST 2005

The Smart City controversy in Kerala is taking turns after turns, for the worse. Should we analyse/modify this draft and go public, with a press release. Let us show that FSF-India is there.

1. Information technology (or to be more precise, its productive market) is like a picture that needs a wall to be painted. The wall in most cases represents the traditional industry, where IT co-exists, adding value to the existing services offered by such industry. Very rarely do we see the same IT industry consuming itself, though there are instances. Hence for IT to survive and excel, the traditional industries should be in a position to consume the value-added services. This traditional industry, if situated in a foreign land, brings in foreign exchange. Hence if Government is really concerned about promoting information technology, it should revive the local traditional industries (or liaise with foreign governments to revive their traditional industries, and insist them to buy solutions from us).

2. The wall can also assume the form of Government, where it consumes information technology aided services. Presently our Government is leasing services from monopoly developers like Microsoft Inc, where it is shying away from owning such services. This is a long-term liability for the Government. The Government can rejuvenate this intake, thereby creating a demand for such services, provided it redefines its position and declares on *how* such services are to be provided. By insisting on solutions that are totally indigenous, devoid of elements that allow control from outside (insisting that every component of software be traded under the GNU General Public Licence, for instance). The solutions should also not be monopolistic in outlook (i.e., if for amending a solution, one has to necessarily refer back to the original provider, then the provider is a monopoly).

3. The Business Process Outsourcing segment of the "conventional" Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) that includes transcription services and call-centres is another area that consumes services from information technology. To promote such an environment, and create new opportunities, the Government has to necessarily influence the foreign nations or foreign industries who consume these services. This is usually a difficult task for any Government. If this is not adhered to, the creation of jobs actually are those which are transferred from one location to another - and not new opportunities. As a caution, one should always recall that transcription service will decrease as and when appropriate speech recognition or pattern recognition software are developed. Moreover these opportunities do not need any "engineering skills".

4. Most of the "big" software development companies in India, who keep their average age of employees in 20s, are those who mainly help commission solutions with other traditional industries in the service or productive sectors, in India or abroad. The phenomenal profits, some of these companies earn are heavily dependant on the favourable monopolistic conditions under which they lease their services. New international intellectual property rules are increasingly in favour of these companies, those that prevent similar smaller companies from emerging. Hence the main service that these companies are providing to the domestic market, is the help which it extends to train (a kind of apprenticeship) their employees for short duration (reflected through their average age figures, and attrition rates). There are also studies that indicate that by energising foreign traditional industry, empowering them with information technology at subsidised rates, the local counterpart is pushed to a disadvantageous position. This shift in balance determines the winner when the corresponding service sector is "liberalised", activating GATS provisions.

5. The remaining sector visible in the information technology field is the one which is  co-located at its site-of-need. Industries operating in the sectors of finance, telecommunication, distribution, transportation, health, tourism, consultancy, construction etc. for instance, are examples. The information technology segment cannot be detached from these sectors so easily, and relocated outside its area of operation. Hence any suggestion for exclusive geographical area for such operation of this industry sector incorporating information technology would appear meaningless. By far, this is the largest sector that houses information technologists and sees them through the rest of their life, or as long as they wish.

6. All these points are suggestive of the wrong steps that the incumbent Government in Kerala is indulging at present, making the controversies that are following in public view, a non-affair. It appears as if the Government is keen in to place the cart before the horse.

CK Raju,

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