One of the six founder members of the HCL group, Ajai Chowdhry took over the reins of HCL Infosystems, the flagship company of the group, as President and CEO in 1994 and has been its Chairman since November 1999. A great believer in the manufacturing potential of India, Ajai has relentlessly advocated the cause of manufacturing in India to industry bodies and the government.
In recognition of his visionary ability, Chowdhry was invited to be part of the IT Hardware Task Force set up by the PrimeMinister of India, to give shape to the country’s IT strategy. In a chat with Shubhendu Parth, Managing Editor, eGov, Chowdhry explained why HCL Infosystems’ product-oriented approach to services would be a winning formula.
Services have become the larger component in your business, at 26 percent. What has been driving this transformation from a product company to a services company?
When we move from the hardware business, one major area we want to focus upon is system integration. Currently we are sitting at an order backlog of $1 billion and that’s a good position to be in. What we set out to do in system integration we have gone and done but there is still more needs to be done.
Today we are focusing on 12 areas of system integration. We have added literally one area every two years.
We have decided we will add certain new areas like Oil and Gas, and travel and transportation.We have been a product company since the day we started in the year 1976. A decade ago I got to know that we are probably the first company to produce a computer. I met somebody in Apple and then I realised that the date when they launched their first computer was two months after the date we launched ours. That first computer was all designed and manufactured in India—the hardware, the components, the operating system; everything.
Now while doing a system integration project, if we find that 10 other similar projects are going to happen then why not take a product-oriented approach. The boulevard of our strategy is to provide customized solutions. For example, we created a solution for the municipal corporations. We will come, install, modify but you can get started very fast. You don’t have to start from scratch.
So you are taking a product-oriented approach to system integration…
In e-Governance, we have an Nrega product, we have an e-Municipality product file management system and all these are functional. These have been installed at a number of places. There is another product in the power segment. We have the CRM billing system. Then in banking and financial sector, we have the largest number of products. We have a number of products for education segment like digi-school product. The main idea has been to provide complete solutions through our products.
As we go to Middle East or an African country, we can say we provide different solutions for e-Governance. We can directly demonstrate the product out there and take their consent to move forward. Earlier, we had a lot of our own components but the service component was being outsourced a lot of time, but now we have added services capability and so do it on our own. The product- oriented thing is about thinking ahead. A lot of applications we have developed will tomorrow go into the cloud. If a customer is not ready to buy hardware or software they can buy the services. We have a BOOT model and a cloud model. Boot model mostly works in a government or a semi-government set up. We have four cooperative banks running on our cloud model.
What has been the trigger for taking this route? Why are other Indian IT services companies not taking the same approach?
They are mainly going in the IT services direction and we are going in the system integration product direction. We wanted to differentiate; we wanted to do something that is close to us. So we for new software and then wait for it to
get developed. That’s why we prepare readymade solutions and make customised changes here and there as per the requirements of the organisation.
And will it be across all verticals?
Going ahead security, health, education, rural development and power are big focus areas for us. We have designed a handheld device for registration. It can read your thumbprint, smart cards and it has a monitor and a printer. It has GPRS connectivity and now you can connect it through 3G.
How would you describe the Unique Identity or UID project in India?
UID is the centrepiece of all the e-Governance projects. It will impact everything that is happening in this country. One important thing to understand here is that UID is identity and not the identification. Identification means weather you are an Indian or a Pakistani, whereas identity means your identity as part of a society, a group or in this context as a citizen of the country.
you happy with what has happened to that report?
The good news is that the report we submitted last year is being adopted. So they are coming up with the recommendations. It is in the last stage. An important part is the creation of an electronic development fund of Rs 5,000 crore for designing products that are required in India.
Do you think government should adopt the cloud model?
Government must adopt it. The cost will be reduced and the work that has to be done will be reduced.
What are the technology trends in the next one or two years?
A lot of people are still scared or apprehensive using a computer. We should develop a human interface. All interactions with the computer are language based so far. There should be an icon-based solution. You may come up with a voice-based solution. However, the combination with gesture is very much possible and we are working to develop that technology. It will be ready soon.