Uma Ganesh is the CEO and principal consultant, Kalzoom Technologies. Kalzoom Technologies is focussed on providing boutique solutions in business transformation with a large focus on knowledge management and e-learning.
She did her Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in 2004.
She was earlier CEO of Zee Interactive Learning Systems and vice president at Aptech. She has also worked with Fibre Glass Pilkington, Oasis, and Crompton Greaves. She was awarded IT Woman of the Year Award for 2001 and has been actively involved with professional bodies such as Nasscom, CII, NACT and CSI.
In interview with rediff.com, Uma Ganesh spoke about the Pan-IIT Global Conference to be held in Mumbai from December 23 to December 25, about how IIT-ians have helped transform India, and what young IIT-ians and entrepreneurs must do to succeed. Excerpts:
'Inspire, Involve and Transform India.' Can you dwell upon the significance of the theme for this year's Pan-IIT global conference?
India has made tremendous progress in all sectors during this decade and the IIT community has made stellar contributions to this success. The success of many IIT alumni serves is a lodestone of inspiration for the youth of the country and it is important for all of us to think of maximum levels of inclusion as our successes become a wave that builds momentum for our countrymen.
It is only this ability to inspire and involve that will lead to true rapid and sustainable transformation in our country. As our country approaches a tryst with a global destiny, this theme assumes enormous significance for the conference and its deliberations.
How do IIT-ians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?
IIT-ians have already done great work in giving back to their country, whether they have built their careers abroad like Rajat Gupta of McKinsey and the late Arun Kumar of Hughes and Flextronics, or in India like Ashank Desai of Mastek and Ganesh Natarajan of Aptech and Zensar.
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The recognition of the country and its capabilities in areas ranging from management consulting to computer training to software and telecom products and services has been the result of the endeavours of these and many thousands of other IIT-ians who have taken their companies and their country to success on the world stage.
IIT-ians are the pride of India. What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?
The power of our intellect, the inspiration many others derive from our success and the transformation we are bringing in the capabilities and mindsets of others who work for and with us. I believe that the generosity of IIT-ians who have come back and given their ideas, time and money freely to others in the country is our biggest contribution.
What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?
The quality of its intake, the process of providing outstanding education and the supremacy of its output sets it apart from the best of the rest in India and abroad.
When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?
I did my PhD in IIT Bombay and that experience was truly rewarding. As CEO of Zee Interactive Learning Systems, one of India's pioneers in multimedia education, I thought I knew a lot, but the process of interacting with peers and many with superior intellect and experience taught me the virtues of humility and gave me a thirst for knowledge which persists to this day.
Did you have any role model who inspired you in your career?
Mr F C Kohli, the 'Bhishma Pitamah' of the Indian IT industry who can justifiably claim to have set the wheels in motion for building this truly world class industry in the last twenty five years and more.
How did the IIT help build your career and personality. How does the IIT-ian network help?
I have not really leveraged the entire IIT alumni network but the frequent interactions with peers in the industry who are IIT graduates like Ashank Desai, Anand Patwardhan, Saurabh Shrivastava and Arun Kumar and, of course, the fact that I am married to another PhD from IIT has helped in many ways to widen my knowledge boundaries and deepen my insights into the world of business and technology.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how the IIT education has helped shape it? What is Kalzoom Technologies?
Kalzoom Technologies was founded to test my PhD hypothesis that successful entrepreneurial ventures need a 'knowledge force' to sustain them through the trials and tribulations that every new venture goes through.
Kalzoom has pushed the boundaries of knowledge in the area of e-learning and knowledge management and has developed technologies that enable content to be repurposed and distributed through corporate universities on the internet and other interactive media.
Could you tell us five things that young IIT-ians, entrepreneurs must do to succeed?
- Come up with a compelling idea.
- Have a well thought out execution plan.
- Execute as planned and demonstrate success quickly.
- Be passionate about your idea, articulate it well.
- Build a core team that buys into your idea.
What are the challenges that India faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenge?
While we are euphoric about our success and progress made thanks to the services sector driven by IT and BPO, with more than 50 per cent of our population being under 25, we have a monumental task in our hands.
Amongst the many challenges that India faces in the new millennium, foremost relate to creating jobs for the millions, basic education for all and ensuring social equality of opportunities for all segments of the society. Job creation in sizeable numbers is possible only through manufacturing or agriculture sectors. The level of investment and associated infrastructure support require urgent and priority attention if these two sectors have to show any momentum.
We need to find urgent ways to stop suicides amongst farmers and migration of people in large numbers from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. We need an integrated approach to address these problems which touch upon employment, fair remuneration for produce from farms, level playing field in the international market for the goods manufactured in India, bridging information and infrastructure gaps and transparent and efficient governance. How do we achieve this?
It is pointless to keep saying that we have limited resources, we have started initiatives on various fronts, we will see results by and by, etc.
First and foremost what is required is empathy and a genuine concern to improve the lot of the people. Next, there has to be a coordinated effort between the government and other agencies. Four focussed initiatives in each district around education, agriculture, industry and social equality could be identified and on an experimental basis ten districts could be identified and handed over to IIT-ians who have the zeal to bring about the transformation with a time bound agenda, with the commitment to support them through various agencies.
If we can make change happen in 10 districts in a 5-7 year period, we can then look at taking the success story to other parts of the country.
How can IT be used by SMEs to grow the market?
With distributed technologies accessible by all, SMEs can run their entire business on the internet today. Right from sourcing partners to outsourcing they core or non core activities- be it design, manufacturing, accounting, secretarial or other services, depending upon the resource and capabilities available within the SME and the areas where it wants to concentrate and build it own competitive capabilities, technology can be leveraged in many ways today.
Internet is a fantastic tool for cost effective marketing and by innovative use of this medium, companies have started expanding the business on the strength of communities they are able to build. Also in the early stages use of blogs effectively to generate effective word of mouth for any untested new ideas has also helped entrepreneurs greatly.
What keeps India from becoming a product giant like it is in services?
In my view, innovation takes place in any country as a consequence or a response to the market needs one perceives. An Indian entrepreneur is best suited to understand and respond to the needs of the services market and there is a phenomenal opportunity in this sector.
Therefore, why diffuse the limited resources towards building product capabilities? It is not to say that we should not encourage islands of product innovation, but the sea of opportunities is really in the services sector for India presently.
How do you contribute to the society, industry, IIT?
I believe giving back to the society as an extremely important part of my life- something I truly enjoy and look forward to. However small or big be the contribution, I strongly feel every citizen should find time for this. The experience gained over the years by being part of the IT industry, the strong academic and analytical foundation provided by IIT, and the networks built over two decades all come together in a variety of ways in different initiatives that I am closely involved with.
I keep aside about 10 per cent of my time for contributing to issues that concern the industry and the society at large. Some of the areas that I am currently focussing with reference to the industry include human resource development in India, innovative use of IT by SMEs with the view to growing the domestic market for IT, nurturing women talent for senior management roles and entrepreneurship development.
Social initiatives include working with various bodies for creating better traffic management in the city of Pune, developing cultural instincts in young children and finding innovative tools for the visually challenged young people. Depending on the need, I try to find the right people who could make a difference from IIT or the Industry so there could be a qualitative contribution to the cause.
I am also involved with some of the academic programmes offered by IIT. For instance, I am involved with professional development workshops conducted by IIT from time to time; I also handled two full courses on Knowledge Management for the School of Management Studies.
In what way do you help train women for senior management roles and entrepreneurship development?
Through active association with professional bodies such as the National HRD Network, CII and Bombay Management Association, I have been closely involved with the training and development of women for senior management roles. The number of women in the middle and senior management roles is slowly increasing and with their natural flair for multi-tasking and the ability to rise to the occasion to deal with crisis situations, their contributions are getting to be recognised and valued in the corporate world.
As far as entrepreneurship development is concerned, this continues to remain my subject of interest both for research and training. In order to develop an international perspective on this subject, I am currently associated with the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom as a Visiting Faculty at their Centre for Entrepreneurship.
What are the biggest obstacles that Indian women entrepreneurs face?
Entrepreneurship primarily involves out of the box thinking to come up with a revolutionary innovation or an idea that will lead to evolutionary innovation in existing scheme of things. Creativity and freedom are restrained partly by our education system and partly by social restrictions in our country which affect women much more than men.
Further, entrepreneurship is facilitated by extensive networking which becomes a constraint for women given the various family and other responsibilities they shoulder.
What role can IIT-ians play to develop India as a knowledge economy?
In order to make India a knowledge economy, fundamentally, what we need in this country is not setting up more higher education institutions of technology and management but institutions that can provide quality basic school education.
I would strongly urge fellow IIT-ians to ponder over how they can contribute towards this goal. Large cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai etc. have a variety of schools and options for parents who can afford to give their children the right exposure. Travel 10 kms outside the city limit, and you will find millions of children who are either unable to go to schools or even if they did, the quality of their education is abysmal.
I would love to bring together other IIT-ians who are passionate about creating model schools in every district in the country which provides as good an education as a leading school in the city could offer to children in the rural areas irrespective of their caste, economic background and affordability.
While we pride ourselves to be the second largest country in the world in terms of human numbers, by not providing them with the right education, we are depriving them and the country with a better talent pool that can truly make us a knowledge supremo.
Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India. Do you think this trend is changing now? How can India retain its talented people?
The lure of higher education, opportunities to earn substantially more money, access to interesting career avenues not easily available in India and the fascination to explore other countries used to be the motivation to go abroad. While some of these reasons still exist, the trend to come back to India and rediscover the new face of India is increasing.
Lately many IIT-ians are finding lucrative careers with international firms based out of India offering lucrative salaries and hence do not find the need to leave the country in search of such opportunities. But given the cumbersome ways of functioning and getting things done in India, it is not easy for some one to give up a lucrative career and relocate to India after a gap of 10 odd years.
Even today, apart from IT and BPO, for those interested in advanced sciences or technologies, India does not offer the right ecosystem or career opportunities. In a country like ours with limited resources, it is impossible to create opportunities in esoteric fields but we can certainly make it more attractive for those wish to return by creating a single window system which can help them counsel and direct them to the right agencies to assist them in arriving at the decision to return.
At this point in time, there is no such concerted effort made by the government: perhaps, an initiative in that direction will help.
Which are the technologies and companies in the rich India that can have a beneficial impact on the rural India?
Internet can be used as an effective platform to uplift rural India. Some companies are already providing up-to-date mandi pricing details to farmers to help them decide on the effective buy/sell process. However, we have just about scratched the surface. There are several applications which can be made available to rural India -- distance learning, business exchanges, comprehensive information relevant for farmers for improving the productivity of their farms, marketing and sales of handicrafts are just a few examples of how technology can help rural India in a significant manner.
Companies should come forward to host their software platforms on a hosted model rather than expect the users to buy the software individually. This will help in proliferation of services and enhancement of ecommerce that would be beneficial to rural India.
In what ways have the earlier Pan IIT events helped? What projects has it worked on?
A number of initiatives have commenced. One company in India has actually embarked on a brand new global delivery platform creation for collaborative software development based on ideas discussed at the IIT conference held in Washington DC a few years ago.
Should India have more IITs? Why?
The fundamental question we have to ask is why do we want to create more IITs? Is it to leverage the brand of IIT or emulate its high standards in imparting education?
If it is for the former only, then yes, it would help students and faculty get better attention. If it for the latter, there are already regional engineering colleges and other institutions of excellence set up with the objective of catering to the increasing demands for quality education. The goal therefore has to be to find ways to enhance the quality of learning and research in these institutions.
And perhaps the best among them over a period of time could be conferred the IIT 'branding' and thus elevate the overall quality of engineering education in the country. As they say, in India there is no dearth of temples and some gurus have been advising people not to set up any more temples but take care of the ones which are already there.
My personal view is similar to this when it comes to temples of higher learning.
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