by January 6, 2012 0 comments

India’s economic reforms in the beginning of the Nineties were necessitated by a balance of payments crisis it faced, which made it pledge gold reserves overseas to avail an IMF bailout. But then that was the way it had to be, to lift an economy beset with decades of slow growth, a move away from socialism to capitalism targeting high economic growth and industrialisation to set in motion a development-intensive future of the nation. Talking about HCL, I still remember that because of close to 15 days of foreign exchange in 1990, we in HCL and the industry had serious problems importing components to manufacture computers. That’s the time we seriously started working on exports.

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1990s was an era of true technological advances, discoveries and breakthroughs on which rest the technological advancements of the 21st Century. For, on that decade rests the laurels of fast changes, future married to technology enabling businesses as much as individuals.

Indeed, the 90s was a decade of virtual revolution with commercial web browsers taking over. Communication saw a new dawn and collaboration increased exponentially. With more bandwidth available and the cost of hardware steadily coming down, the globe became better represented in the World Wide Web, lending an even playing field for everyone, including India. Research grew by leaps and bounds since this realm could be readily identified with applications. Research and analyses were further strengthened by search engines, first Alta Vista and then Google, and R&D was more than just a commercial work and definite tools to excel.

Forging of PCs and the Internet

It was just as well that India charting a new route to progress coincided with the birth of the information superhighway or Infobahn, or the digital communication systems and the Internet telecommunications network. Perhaps the watershed year for IT in India was 1995, when on August 15th, Internet was initially introduced in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Pune. Exactly 16 days earlier, the then West Bengal Chief Minister, late Jyoti Basu, made India’s first cellular phone call, inaugurating ModiTelstra’s MobileNet service in Kolkata.

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The ecosystem became stronger with the entry of all Global PC brands; however Indian brands stood up and continued to innovate for India centric products. Internet backed the need for personal computers and this in turn created an exclusive PC market that continues to innovate, advance and include nuances of our daily lives.

The Net became the base to bring the world closer with people finding new ways to not only input or offload data but also to exercise their senses via multimedia. Emails became the popular form of communication, and transgressed all barriers of geography and time. It is to the credit of the 90s that we are able to do things on the Internet we never imagined earlier.

Instant Messengers or IMs, born then, went on to become a source of exchanging and generating ideas and the speediest way to be in touch across the world. The GUI-based instant messaging clients began with ICQ in 1996, followed by AOL Instant Messenger in 1997. Later Microsoft and others took to this highway and introduced messaging clients such as GTalk and Skype. Thanks to the Nineties’ all-round push towards developing IM clients, our freedom to communicate knows nearly no bounds today; and with the advent of mobile IMs, it has become an integral part of the way we conduct our businesses today.\

Of course, the Net power was best realised, enhanced and utilized in the Nineties by Microsoft with Windows 95. Then the Windows successive upgrades followed, but had these advancements in OSs not taken place, we’d still be entrapped in DOS limitations.

The high-speed Pentium processors we use today were born in the Nineties too.

Mobile Phone Revolution in India, a Gift of the 90s

Mobile telephony, on the other hand, complemented the Web as a vehicle of accessibility, penetration, growth and development. The ground for the first call heralding cellular revolution in India was, in fact, paved earlier in the decade, first with the liberalisation of the sector in 1992, the receipt of an annual foreign investment of Rs 20.6 million by the sector a year later, then the licenses for the four cities in 1994. Thereafter, in 1997, the setting up of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India not only indicated a robust intent but also streamlining of the process in the country.

It is pertinent to mention Nokia’s position in this market; reasons which make it the top player here rest on the pillars of ingenuity and its ability to localise as per customers’ needs. Nokia’s Indian story has not been about giving its customers what had worked elsewhere but innovating on working models suited to their needs. A Nokia mobile set with a flashlight or a torch, for example, has been one of the most successful products to be sold in this market.

‘Made in India’

Globalisation impacted the industry in many ways. For instance, in a defining moment, HCL was one of the companies who formed the crucial JV with HP. Where the former understood the Indian market, the latter focused on what the world needs and what does it take to be a MNC. On the other hand there were names like TATA-IBM forming a JV.

Although many manufacturers and software companies were born in the Seventies and Eighties in India, the Nineties was truly the decade of the Indian software industry. Indian software exports stood at $24 million in 1985; by 1992 it had swelled to $164 million and went to grow to more than $8 billion closer to the new Millennium. It was only in the early Nineties, after sufficient recognition, that Indian companies were able to win contracts in a large way to carry out software projects off-shore (in India). Since then, Indian companies and professionals are regarded among the best in the world.

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Entrepreneurial activities led to the founding of companies like VisualSoft and Pramati Technologies as the world began to recognise Indian software companies’ prowess in the Nineties. Who won’t remember the defining moment of the entry of Indian software companies in Y2K and therefore acceptance into blue chip accounts into the US? Companies like HCL Technologies realised the potential and charted their future courses based on the all-round opportunities of the Nineties. Today they continue to organically and inorganically grow on the word stage.

The BPO industry too grew exponentially in this decade, including the home-grown outsourcing industries.

By the end of the Nineties, the Indian IT industry, with about 2 million professionals, had become one of the most bankable sectors, one which not only took the country’s potential to the rest of the world but which promised to make accessibility a reality across socio-cultural barriers within.

Resultantly, it was in this decade that the country had its first-generation millionaires. Added to them were the likes of Sabeer Bhatia (co-founder of Hotmail) and Vinod Khosla (co-founder of Sun Microsystems) in the Silicon Valley who established that Indian IT professionals don’t make waves only from the home turf but also overseas.

Laid Foundation

As is evident, IT and India’s economic reforms, were Nineties’ partners which lay the foundation for a growth surge in the new Millennium. Although in the Nineties, having a PC at home was a thing of pride, but that such a thing should happen, set PC penetration to begin. Further, with IT revolution of the Nineties, one witnessed the advent of IT-Enabled Services too, as was evident with the rise of the call-centre culture and back-office outsourcing. What IT also enabled was the arrival of the Indian entrepreneur, who was not only recognised for his prowess at home but also overseas.

It was back in the Nineties that introduction of IT in sectors like railways made concepts like accessibility become an enhanced reality today. At the same time, one wonders how much of the information highway we ascended and whether they have insulated themselves from India’s inherent problems like its burgeoning population. Indeed, IT has been one, a creator of a new band of consumer who’s got the buying power and two, the ability to absorb the latest in innovations and designs. Yet, one still feels that the Nineties were just the starter years on which the following first decade of the new Millennium rode.

Now, in these times of overall global bleakness, the need is not for the manifold leaps of the Nineties, but consolidation for steady growth.

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