A farmer in a remote Indian village striking a business deal with his counterparts in Cairo, Amsterdam or New York is no longer just a dream. Today, even the most inaccessible hamlet in a tiny corner of the world is part of the ICT/IT network. Thanks to cyber enterprises providing internet browsing & telecommunication services, reaching across to people is no longer difficult.
Advances in information and communication technology have made the world a mini village. So much so that people-to-people interaction and cultural ties have increased dramatically, and enabled cross-border trade in services, resulting in a business processing outsourcing boom.
But that's not where the benefits of ICT applications end. They help make the Small Scale Industry sector more efficient and enable them to survive in the competitive market. Evidences suggest that SME companies that use information and communication technology perform much better, more upbeat about their expected performance and are more confident of surviving in the next 10+ years than their counterparts.
How about micro ICT enterprises themselves? Will they survive in the market in the current scenario? How can they develop their business activities and portfolio? What are the emerging areas for cyber enterprises, other than what they traditionally offer, and how can they exploit present-day opportunities?
Today, it is the services sector that provides the maximum number of jobs. In the early 1990s, the manufacturing sector contributed a 96% share in the total number of enterprises, where as it came down to 66% in 2002, as per the third All India Census of Small Scale Industries.
Service enterprises that offer a mix of services such as internet access, computer typing/typing, fax, photocopying etc are fast emerging in the cities as well in semi urban and rural areas. It was the enterprising youth who took the initiative to provide such services and set up ICT enterprises in their neighborhood. This had the advantage of providing job opportunities as well.
Interestingly, the NGO sector also came forward to provide ICT services across the country. Some of the prominent ones were n-Logue, Tarahat, MS Swaminathan Foundation, Byrraju foundation and Drishtee. With NGOs playing a very proactive role and some of them helping youth entrepreneurs setting up their own cyber enterprises in villages -rural India also got connected. Thousands of cyber enterprises were set up and entrepreneurs promoted, by such NGOs.
This enabled handicrafts and rural - village enterprises to market their products and get wide exposure. In fact, so great is its potential that the possibilities of ICT for further job creation have to be explored. For instance, aspects like how many rural handicraftsmen and enterprises have become empowered with ICT and how many more can get benefited, what are the new areas that could take advantage in the next ICT boom, etc could well be studied in detail...
Cybercaf's have been playing a major role in fuelling Internet development in India. The revenue from IT related services is likely to touch Rs 81,000 crores by the year 2010. And Broadband usage in India is growing 20% per month, according to the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI).
Business Development for cyber enterprises becomes an important and challenging task. With increasing broadband penetration, cyber enterprises cannot survive by themselves on the businesses that they get from surfers living nearby or other services that they offer, like photocopying and etc. With broadband penetration rate going up day by day their customer base also would decline, if not yet. But opportunities are vast in today's widely networked world for cross border trade in services, for instance, as the business process outsourcing boom proved.
Business development for new technology enterprises is the real challenge in this era and new avenues and tapping new areas would open up job opportunities for thousands of people. The use of ICTs to move outsourcing jobs to rural areas is a challenging opportunity and would benefit multiple stake holders.
These days, in order to be more competitive, several outsourcing majors are shifting their base to tier II and tier III cities and ultimately may shift to rural areas to cut down on overhead/operational expenses. Byrrajju foundation of Hyderabad have already started BPOs in rural areas. The setting up of rural BPOs in villages could generate employment and livelihood opportunities, increase standard of living and enhance rural economy. Transfer of BPO units to rural areas make tremendous business sense. So the question is how cyber entrepreneurs could be helped out in taking up outsourcing jobs?
Outsourcing of non-strategic government functions is also happening the world over. Generating jobs is the major challenge in the technology driven world. Development of new technologies, while on the one hand creates new avenues, also kills jobs in a related area, as new technology innovation would propel a phase of creative destruction as Joseph Schumpeter said several years back. For instance, introduction of computers in the 1980s that created massive job cuts.
Additional jobs could be created differently. Management of local governmental level data could be outsourced to rural cyber enterprises. For instance, successful e-governance initiative in Andhra Pradesh has made life easy for common man. Rural cyber enterprises, if used imaginatively can partner with the State to simplify matters for citizens. They can manage and maintain different documents & data and provide different services that otherwise get from a village/panchayat office or from district headquarters. Gradually services like rail ticketing can be outsourced to cyber enterprises.
Apart from creating more jobs, this would prevent migration to cities by rural youth, help the rural economy to flourish and bring about a pragmatic 'gram- swaraj' as envisaged by Gandhiji.
But benefits of ICT to penetrate and reach all sections, we must be ready to face a 'creative destruction' phase. The big question is how are we going to treat these opportunities?