Interview with Ranbir Singh, Group Director, Public Sector, Microsoft India
Samir Sachdeva | March 16, 2012
Microsoft India has partnered with government in delivering many successful e-governance initiatives. It has played a key role in the areas of education through the Siksha initiative by enhancing IT skills of the teachers. Ranbir Singh, group director, public sector, Microsoft India, in an interview with Samir Sachdeva mentions the areas where Microsoft has partnered with various government agencies for the betterment of society.
What is the importance of public sector as a vertical for Microsoft?
The definition of public sector differs from company to company. At Microsoft, public sector means government, centre and state, education (not necessarily government, it could be private sector) and healthcare (again, it is not just government but private sector as well). Education and healthcare are extremely important segments for us where we don’t look purely from the revenue perspective.
Microsoft India has a document called the national plan. This national plan document constitutes a detailed plan about what we want to do in this country, aligned with the priorities of the government of India. It is a rolling three-year plan. We have looked at the twelfth five-year plan, we have looked at all the priorities of the government. As a technology company, we can contribute in some of those priorities of the government and we have identified those areas. This plan is not just a business document but it also highlights our priorities as a socially responsible organisation.
What is driving your interests in education and healthcare? Is it corporate social responsibility (CSR) or something beyond that?
When we drive these sectors, they are driven in a typical business manner. So I have the same set of people who would go and do business like any other business team. However, within that definition of doing business, there is a very clear charter. In these sectors, the business should not be lost only because of the issue of price and margins. What is important for us is to make sure that if there is a certain initiative which is coming up and we feel that the budgets are very limited in that and we need to do something different, maybe giving something as good as free, we would do that. When I say free, it means at a minimal cost.
What are the initiatives taken by Microsoft in the e-governance domain?
As far as e-governance is concerned, Microsoft India has been involved with majority of the e-governance projects in the country. We have categories within e-governance like infrastructure; state data centres (SDCs) and more. We are part of data centres across the states. The states are now looking at virtualising data centres. Whatever infrastructure is created, the utilisation should be maximised. We are working on one of the first and the largest security projects in the country which is crime and criminal tracking network & systems (CCTNS). It is about automating the entire police force of the country and application is being developed for it. There are two applications that are being developed and one of those applications is on the Microsoft platform.
Is it possible that a cloud created by Microsoft is shared by 2-3 states?
One of the initiatives which is already more or less gone live and on which we are working with the Madhya Pradesh government as well as with the Jammu and Kashmir government. The J&K government wanted to start using some of the applications which have already been developed. So they were in discussions and we facilitated the program wherein one of the successful applications of the Madhya Pradesh government was hosted on a cloud and that is being actively used by the J&K government. Now that will be the first instance with a cloud set-up where an application is being used by a tenant user. So we see that as a big step, it is a small application in comparison to the CCTNS. But I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Unique identity project is one of the largest projects in India. Is Microsoft playing any role in it?
We have been involved in UID in various ways. The biggest way which is worth talking about would be the part related to the enrolment. As we understand most of the enrolment for the UIDAI is being done by national population register (NPR), which uses our software.
You are taking some initiatives for the local language promotion also like the project bhasha. What has been the development in that direction?
It is a fact that India has multiple languages so what we have done is we have our products like Windows, MS Office in 12 Indian languages. That was the first step. Secondly, we have been engaging with many application developers of the country and encouraging applications to be developed in the local languages. We have a portal called BhashaIndia.com which is a key tool in this domain.
What has been the role of Microsoft in the citizen-facing initiatives?
We have been involved in many initiatives. CSC is a big initiative wherein a lakh of kiosks had to be set up. We are engaged with the government in ensuring that whatever productivity tools we have in Microsoft, are made available in spite of whatever are the budget constraints.
Government these days is becoming sceptical about the internet. They are going to head for monitoring of internet. I think they are talking to companies like yours. What is your view on that?
I think these security concerns of the government are valid. We have to make sure that there is no spamming/hacking. I think the government has valid concerns. These are the challenges that are not just faced by the government agencies but by the technology companies as well. And in whatever way we can assist the government, we will try and do that. We provide a direction in terms of how monitoring can be done, whether it should be done manually or by using some software tools. We step forward in trying to identify the kind of tools that are available to ensure that there is sufficient security around portals or any emailing solution.
Governments are working on various standards also and within that they are talking about open standards. And then we have open source software also. How does Microsoft see these two phenomena?
Open standards is the right way and there is no doubt about it. But I think there are various perceptions and misconceptions around open source. We are trying to educate the users saying open source is not always necessarily free. Also something that is free would come with its own challenges in terms of the quality of development. We are definitely propagating open standards. n
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