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BEYOND THE well-documented success stories of the Indian information technology industry in exporting software and attracting offshore outsourcing business lies new and virgin territory, rarely explored for potential. But every once in a while, bright brains and canny enterprise combine to create an opportunity overlooked by every one else.
Recent months have thrown up two such examples of hard nosed `desi' ingenuity:
The first case study should be called Perry Mason-like "The case of the micro millionaires.'' Micro finances and micro-credit are "manthras'' for developing economies, and have been exploited successfully in countries like Bangladesh. It took a group of five Indian computer science and management graduates mostly from American Universities to see a micro money model in the nascent business of web-based auctions four years ago. Sites like eBay, racked up phenomenal business 62 million users last year, nearly 200 million items listed; revenues of nearly $2 billion. Yet 80 per cent of the money from selling through online auctions was made by just 17 per cent of eBays users. The typical user lacked the savvy to fix the right price; to create professional looking listings, to handle shipment, payment and logistics.
Then in his mid twenties, Manjul Shah, a Stanford University computer science major, came together in 1999, with friends Amit Gupta, Rajiv Dutta, Vijay Chawla and Prashant Nedungadi to start Andale Inc., (www.andale.com) , the first ever provider of auction management tools and services for sellers and auction-related research for buyers.
They are all still with Andale and in the years since then, Andale's suite of services has grown to over a dozen products to handle tasks like advertisement creation, images, payment processing, email services, post sale management... Most of these services are compellingly priced at around $10 a month and with over 60,000 customers (2,000 new every month) being regularly billed, and accounting for $5 billion in sales on eBay alone, Andale has become a major catalyst for the auction major and is now a privileged partner receiving valuable access to eBay's data base to better leverage it for her own customers.
Yet as Mr. Shah (he is Andale's CEO), showed the author recently, the entire operation almost all of it involving customers on the North American continent is seamlessly conducted from Andale's Bangalore unit where 85 per cent of the 130 plus staff is based. The U.S. operation essentially performs a marketing function.
Andale's success in focusing at auctioneers like e-Bay on one hand and enabling thousands of small businesses to establish a web-based operation for the first time, is more than a shrewd business model. It is changing the way people do business in fundamental ways and by making e-commerce meaningful and rewarding to the lay and untutored user, it will, one hopes, be one day be seen for the pioneer that it is, in encouraging the Internet way of life.
What is "Micro'' Munjal's next challenge? He would dearly like to bring the benefits of online selling and buying to small Indian businesses.
Outsourcing opportunity in education
If you thought outsourcing was all about getting American companies to shift their customer service centres and back office operations to Gurgaon, Bangalore or Hyderabad, think again. Long before offshoring or outsourcing became industry buzzwords, a Bangalore-based software and services company has been quietly been doing just that for customers right here in India. And in the process, they have brought the benefits of IT and the Internet to a sector that sorely needed it: education.
Ali Sait founded Pacsoft Solutions (www.pacsoft.co.in) in 1989 when the Internet was not yet a reality in India. The company created a software solution called "Lyceum'' a comprehensive school management system that included a dozen modules: admissions management, teacher monitoring, time tables, examinations, fees, library management, student activities and reports. In a decade, 1,800 institutions country wide, across 255 locations, and reaching three million students were part of the Lyceum network.
In parallel, the company also created an exclusive intranet for all the schools of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Examination (ICSE) system.
When the Internet became more pervasive in India, Pacsoft could exploit the full gamut of web-enabled resources to create Lyceum 2.0, a revamped system, based on the .Net architecture and allowing a host of devices to be deployed: parents got fee alerts and pupil-progress information in SMS messages on their mobiles or as emails. Teachers could place a whole range of resources on Web sites that were personalised for every student. "There is a great divide in education,'' Mr. Sait feels: between child and school, parent and teacher, community and institution... . And between new technology and its true potential.'' He and his core team at Pacsoft, derive great personal fulfilment in removing this barriers in every way they can. They are already putting in place new modules that will allow client schools to use cutting edge technologies: scanners to enter marks; hand held or pocket PCs to log attendance, tablet PCs to enable assignment submission and grading... ..
Nearly 25 schools in Bangalore alone make use of some or more modules of Lyceum 2.0: Their students and teachers and parents can go to www.my-lyceum.net and they will get a personalised view of their own educational world. Banks of computers in Pacsoft's offices, maintain the web-based resources for thousands of such schools, nationwide, allowing individual institutions to create their own look and feel without having to invest in costly servers of their own. All they need to do is to invest in the few client terminals for the school and leave the management of their data bases to Pacsoft.
It is an interesting business model and a very Indian response to an all-too-familiar situation: the need to harness technology for our children, in an environment where resources are scarce, and sharing is the only way to go.
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