The moment we hear ‘capturing images’, suddenly our antennas go up

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | June 30, 2010




Be it the much-talked-about Unique ID project or lesser-known initiatives of making ID cards for government employees or fishermen, whenever an e-governance scheme needs to capture images, there is a role for firms specialising in digital photography. Firms like Canon India. As you walk into Canon India senior vice president Alok Bharadwaj’s office, the first thing you notice is a lot of trophies on display – he has won awards for the ‘corporate executive of the year’, ‘Pride of Industry’, ‘The Most Influential Person in Photography’ and so on. He says these are “highlights of some of the achievements that the company has got in different fields and I happen to be the person receiving the award from the company’s side.” In an interview with Samir Sachdeva, Bharadwaj spoke about Canon’s role in governance.

How has Canon fared in India?
Canon India started operations in 1998. We are in the 12th year of running. It has been a big struggle. We began by putting fundamental blocks of organisation in place, then the focus shifted to the products and processes, and now our focus is on managing growth. I am saying that because growth has been
phenomenal. So the company has gone through a journey of different experiences. Each experience required a different reaction. And I am happy to notice when I look back that our response to probably every such development has been quite satisfying.

Has revenue growth kept pace with the company’s expectations?
Our revenue should cross Rs 1,200 crore
this year. Last year, we did about Rs 840 crore, so we expect a growth of more than 40 per cent.

Does that mean the global recession did not impact your business?
Last year, there was an impact, for about a year. But the impact is very relative when you talk about the recession. Even at a macro level, the impact of recession has been disastrous for some countries, while it has been limited for the Indian economy as a whole. For us at Canon, it spelt just a slowdown. So it was just a slowdown, not a recession. We had been growing at over 30 percent till 2008. In 2009, our growth came down to 27 percent. So, there was some impact, I would say. But this year, again, we are expecting a 40 percent plus growth. So, the opportunity lost last year is going to be more than compensated by the super bright future that we are anticipating.

What has been your experience in dealing with the government?
Three developments over the last few years are key to the way business is to be done with the government. Number one is the government’s recognition that in any programme which it does for the citizens – for the beneficiaries or for even the businesses, what you can call G2C, G2G or G2B – technology will have a role in that. The second thing that has happened is the government’s impatience to move on e-governance. The great thing about the Mission Mode projects is that the government announced a comprehensive National e-Governance Programme (NeGP) and even greater thing is the implementation speed in some of the programmes that we have noticed. This is almost like a snowball and it is important that the mass starts gathering quickly before this snowball becomes really huge. We expect this will result in multiple departments in multiple ministries in multiple state governments and local governments and, of course, now the central government beginning to adopt e-governance. The beginning is right. Probably, from my perspective, a higher speed of implementation (of NeGP), even faster than what we have been able to achieve so far. The third thing that has happened is the decision that for the last mile connectivity PPP (public-private partnership) is the way to go forward.

Can you tell us more about the system integration division and the government sub-division of your company?
System integration is an outcome of the decision of the government regarding PPP. If the government has to undertake a project on a large scale, then two things are required: resources and effective implementation. The private sector can play a role here and bring in that expertise that the private sector always has – the speed of execution, a higher level of accountability, more professional coordination, measurement of the outcomes, regular reviews, collaborative systems that they are used to working in and finally produce
results. To handle these large e-governance projects, system integrators are required.

What has been Canon’s role in the Passport Seva project?
TCS, which is implementing the Passport Seva project, looked at Canon’s image capturing technology, camera technology. In the Passport Seva project you need the capturing of image, you need the capturing of biometrics and you need the capturing of the documents – we call this image capturing. Canon is an imaging company, therefore our digital cameras, and in this case a remote-controlled digital camera, was obviously useful for the project. A digital camera can be connected to a laptop or computer and you don’t have to  press the shutter. The person comes in front, you look at the frame, from a computer you control it and you capture it and the image comes on your computer. You merge it with the software application and the biometrics and then you store this image as an input for that particular applicant. TCS is going to be deploying our remote-controlled digital cameras.

Does Canon have any plans to participate in the Common Service Centre programe?
The CSC project was one of the most visible and talked-about initiatives. It is yet to happen all across. But substantial progress is visible.

Have you partnered with some states?
We have not directly partnered with any state. We do it through a system integrator. SREI Sahaj is one such integrator. We have got Spanco which is doing it. We have done it in Uttar Pradesh, we have done it in east India.

What are your expectations from the UID project?
UID is a major initiative which will touch more than a billion people. The project is essentially about capturing data and images. The moment we hear ‘capturing images’, suddenly our antennas go up and we begin to explore the opportunity. We have remote capturing cameras that work on the digital SLR mode and they are the ones that will be able to take high-quality, high-resolution pictures.
As a pilot study, we have done this in one big project which was handled by Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bangalore, and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad, and they are doing image capturing for issuing the ID cards to the fishermen. That will be across eight states and that work is going on. There, too, we have sold our digital SLRs.
Another project where we have used the image capturing is the ESIC (Employees State Insurance Corporation) project. This is a Wipro project, which is happening in government hospitals. As you know, there are 10 million government employees. They will be issued two cards with images of the employee and the family members. So image capturing is multiple, taking five members per family it becomes 50 million. Cameras have already been supplied to Wipro and they are going to use it. So, these are the experiences that we are capturing from these two projects which we will be able to use when we come to the UID project.

You have collaborated with TCS, IBM, Wipro, HCL, UTI and others. What have been the areas of collaboration?
We are a technology provider, essentially hardware provider and our collaborations are to ensure that all the technologies we are launching from time to time are known to the system integrator. In terms of providing the comfort of service and suitability of the product, we are keeping them well informed. So engaging with them becomes very important. Canon’s range is very wide. We want the system integrators to be aware of these new technologies.

 

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