"CSCs are AISECT's major focus at present"

Chairman Santosh Kumar Choubey in an interview

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | June 20, 2011


AISECT chairman Santosh Kumar Choubey
AISECT chairman Santosh Kumar Choubey

AISECT, established in 1985, is one of the leading IT training and educational services networks in India with over 8,000 centres. It has so far transformed the lives of over 10 lakh students and created over 10,000 entrepreneurs. Santosh Kumar Choubey, chairman of AISECT Ltd , also the director general of the AISECT group and chancellor of the Dr C V Raman University, spoke with Samir Sachdeva and Sonam Saigal on the group’s achievements and plans. Edited excerpts from the interview:

AISECT has been working in IT promotion in rural areas for a decade and a half. How did it start?
When we started, we were basically a science promotion organisation. We were concerned more about science and scientific tempers. As part of this work we had to travel extensively to the rural areas and we found that information technology, which was just arriving then, would bypass rural areas unless special efforts were made. The fundamental realisation was that language is the core issue if one has to take IT to people and we started working on Hindi training modules, regional language training modules and started setting up centres in blocks and panchayats. While everyone else was going to the metros and was talking about software exports we were trying to empower people through IT.

How did you develop your rural IT centres?
We developed a multipurpose model of IT centres. Just as a rural dhaba where one can get tea, food, cigarettes and may be a paan, our centres became multipurpose by providing training, services and information on government schemes.

How did you ensure sustainability of these centres?
Sustainability depends on the type of the model. The bigger brands were focusing on urban-centric models which required an investment of about Rs 10-15 lakh and their profitability expectations were also very high. We de-scaled the entire operation with just two or three machines and an investment of only Rs 1.5 lakh.

Who makes the investment, you or an entrepreneur?
We always went for a franchise model. AISECT created a menu of services like screen printing, desktop publishing, video titling and digital photography. We helped the entrepreneur get government projects, training programmes in schools/colleges, and training for women workers, revenue officers, police personnel, patwaris and other extension workers. So we gave them a revenue channel through government projects and they were able to sustain through Business-to-Citizen (B2C) services. In due course of time, say five to 10 years, the block-level centres started making something like Rs 8-10 lakh a year. Our district centres make Rs 15-20 lakh a year and bigger centres up to Rs 50 lakh.

Tell us about the geographical spread of these centers.
Initially, we focused on Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other Hindi-speaking states. By 2000, we had set up 1,000 centres. That was when Y2K gained publicity and after that we launched our all-India programme with the government of India. Currently, we are working in 27 states and three union territories

How do you compare your centres with the Common Service Centre (CSC) project under the National e-governance Plan (NeGP)?
The difference between CSCs and our model is that they are service centres and we are multipurpose centres. The government selected the CSC operators through a tendering process and not through benchmarking. We won tenders in Chhattisgarh and are setting up 5,000 centres there.

What is the progress of your CSCs in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh?
In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the target was around 4,500 CSCs and we have already rolled out 90-95 percent of them. Our core service in these CSCs is education on which one can mount other services. In our model, 70 percent revenues are to come from training and therefore our sustainability is high. We have tied up with State Bank of India for banking and insurance related services.

You have also collaborated with MP Online, the state portal.
We proposed this idea to the entrepreneurs and they said they were keen to integrate with the state portal. We are also working with Suvidha online which has services like railway ticket booking and matrimonial services. It’s the entrepreneur who decides on the services of his choice and our job is to keep expanding the menu.

You also have a tie-up with the Indira Gandhi National Open University?
We signed an MoU with the IGNOU last year. We have selected 1,200 centres, which are the best ones, for IGNOU courses. Currently there are 38 AISECT programmes and IGNOU has 30 courses running through these selected centres.

Are you also active in rural BPO domain?
Our centres do data entry work, non-call-based BPO, photography work for district collectors and some work for the election commission. Thus, BPO work is anyway being done by our centres. But now we are going to brand it as AISECT eMerge, the rural BPO.

Which are the schemes in which you have partnered with government?
With the government, we work on case-to-case basis - like with the ministry of rural development, we are working on a major project on training and placement in 10 districts. We have taken up three trades, one trade is IT, the other is retail management and retail sales and third is insurance. We have trained about 8,000 people and we are targeting about 13,000. We also train self-help groups of women in micro finance activities.

What is the road ahead for your organisation?
We want to increase the number of centres to about 15,000 from the current 8,000 and include new areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. We are setting up the AISECT University in Bhopal and we already have the Dr C V Raman University in Chhattisgarh. We look forward to setting up more universities.
CSCs are our major focus at present and we have won the bid in Punjab. We are aiming at about 1,000 centres in Punjab and overall we will have about 10,000 CSCs which is about 10 percent of the total CSCs in the country. In the e-district mission mode project we are exploring to partner with Wipro and in MP Online with TCS.

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