NEW DELHI, September 16
India has been hailed as an information technology superpower.
Yet only three in every 1,000 Indians have access to computer.
Less than 5 per cent speak English, the language of information technology.
Perhaps realising this, major companies in the information sector are now looking at the Indian market for software in local languages. Microsoft plans to launch native language software in 2001. Speaking at a press conference, on Thursday, in New Delhi, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation, announced the launch of new local language versions of such Microsoft products such as Office 2000 and Windows 2000. Currently, Windows 2000 supports Hindi, Tamil and Sanskrit. The company plans to launch Windows 2000 in four more languages, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, and Punjabi.
IBM and Lotus have already launched their version of Hindi software. The portal IndiaHQ.com plans to go vernacular with its yellow pages in six months.
All over, companies are waking up to what could be the next big marketing opportunity. Says Dewang Mehta, president, National Association of Software and System Companies (NASSCOM), "Only less than 5 per cent of Indians speak English, and look at the information technology industry in the country. Even if you consider the market for local language software to be only 10 times as big as the market for English language enabled software, it is gigantic."
The annual growth rate of the IT software and services industry has been consistent, always being above 50 per cent since 1991. The industry earned revenues of $5.7 billion in fiscal 1999-2000. According to the Nasscom-McKinsey report, 2000, revenue projections for this industry in 2008 are $87 billion. Once the Internet goes vernacular, the industry could explode. Sources at NASSCOM say that there is already a rush of would-be cyber squatters to register domain names in local languages.
By March 2001, in India, there will be 1.6 million Internet subscribers or 5 million users. This figure is expected to increase to 4 million Internet subscribers (10 million users) by March 2002, and 8 million Internet subscribers (18 million users) by March 2003. Many of these will be surfing away late into the night, at small cyber cafes in towns and villages far away from the hustle and bustle of Indian cities.
The market is not only for software development. Other business opportunities include the creating of web pages or web sites for vernacular readers, the creation of portals that could enable non-English speaking small-time merchants to carry out transactions on the net, IT education in the vernacular, technical literature in the vernacular, to name just a few.
Says Ajay Sikka, CEO, IndiaHQ, which is setting up city-specific net sites that would enable the rustic merchant of small town India to sell over the net, "We are not looking for sudden profits. Our interest is in the long term." The marketing strategy is to tie up with local networks to convince rural merchants to list on the site, while IndiaHQ.com takes care of the technology.
Another major marketing opportunity is e-commerce. E-commerce transactions in India were about Rs 450 crore in the year 1999-2000, out of which 50 crore were retail, that is B2C (business-to-consumer) and the rest B2B (business-to-business). NASSCOM predicts that by 2001-2002, a firm regulatory framework, better telecom infrastructure and an increase in PC penetration could lead to Rs 15,000 crore worth of e-commerce transactions in India.
In e-commerce, business models such as shopping malls, domestic search portals, and cyber communities would benefit from the rise of vernacular software programming or vernacular content. Efforts that are now on are in Hindi, and to a lesser extent in Tamil. Other languages are expected to follow soon.
Another lucrative option is the teaching of information technology in vernacular. Teachers at some of New Delhi's premier computer institutes say that they often get students who cannot handle English, but are wizards at the computer. Many of the rural small town rich also send their children to computer institutes. Within a few years, even the small towns are going to be computer literate, and they represent a huge untapped market.
Initially, just like in the West, information technology in the country was confined to the best universities of the country. With the arrival of the Internet, and the mushrooming of cyber cafes, information technology has spread widely.
Theoretically, there is no obstacle for local language programming as computers don't understand any language, and instead convert all information fed into them into '0's and '1's in an analog format. However, English has been the preferred language because information technology was and primarily is an American phenomenon.
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