by October 11, 2003 0 comments

In a business environment, traditional wisdom has it that choices spur innovation and competitive pricing.But, in the tech world, choices sometimes do get limited. Intel for the desktop and mobile CPU, Microsoft for the desktop OS and the office suite, Adobe for the graphics package and HP for printers are but some of the examples of one product or brand having an overwhelming superiority of numbers in the market place.

Sheer availability and compatibility issues force most users to adopt these brands by default. Lack of market tends to make the rest of them stagnate and after some time give up hope and wither. Economic theory has it that such a situation could lead to the market leader becoming complacent and, hence, innovation suffering. Big business has no incentive to support the underdog. Individual users are too insignificant to make a difference. What do we do in such a situation?

I believe this calls for positive action by the government. I am not talking about the legal arm of the government setting out to prosecute the winner in the market place. I am not talking about anti trust or such other actions. I am talking about the need of the purchasing power of the government coming into play. Today, the government is one of the major purchasers of technology products and services. With e-governance projects taking off in the country, this situation will only improve. This is as good an opportunity as any for governments to foster competition. It is my belief that instead of opting for the safer route of going with the leading vendors in the field, governments should use this opportunity to foster competition and to help the cause of creating better products.

Typically, a government tender specifies one or two leading brands or component brands by name. There is a fairly elaborate process for getting included in this list, maintained by the DGS&D, the Directorate general of Supplies and Disposals. That is fine in itself. But getting DGS&D registration is only the start. The tender or request for proposal may often end up specifying only the leading brand. e-governance projects, by their very nature, can end up with a lot of mud slinging happening between the government and the opposition. The choice of vendor for the project often ends up as the main point of debate.

A simple change to this mechanism can mean a sea change to the tech industry. Instead of specifying the brands by name, all that the tender or RFP need do is specify an equivalance or interoperability requirement. For example, if it is a software package, then instead of specifying the leading brand of software, what should be specified is the level of interoperability required with the leading brand. Similarly, in the case of hardware, instead of specifying a brand, what should be specified is a similarity of performance or interoperability with the leading brand.

This one change can go a long way in providing the even playing field that no amount of legislation or sloganeering can ever hope to achieve. Any takers?

Krishna Kumar

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