I recently visited Hyderabad, and had the opportunity to inspect closely the technology city they have built over the past decade, over a rocky terrain (literally). My hosts were kind enough to drive me around, and show me the complete landscape from various vantage points, explaining the workings too.
It was quite an eye-opener, not that we are oblivious to the state's growth (having read in the media so many times).. but seeing it firsthand is always an eye-opener (literally!).
I remember that a few days ago, a senior journalist from a local media house at Indore had interviewed me, and in the volley of questions, there was this one about "how can Indore and MP be made an IT hub like Hyderabad (and Bangalore)?".
I am now in a position to answer it better!
Let me list the things that actually work in favour of making a particular city a "hub" of something. Let me generalise my thinking, and offer a broad perspective. What I write now applies to all success stories, and the lessons are of enduring value.
- Building on the first breakthroughs: As soon as signals are apparent that the first breakthroughs have been achieved, the system needs to quickly build on those. The success stories need to be circulated to other majors of that sector, so that they are prompted to invest quickly, lest they should miss the bus. Roadshows need to be accelerated in this phase.
- Consistency in policy: What is good about such stories is that the next government (of a different political party) finds it profitable to continue the old policies below-the-radar as that helps the international image of the new party in power. This has happened in AP. Policy continuity was welcomed by the IT majors operating there, and the virtuous cycle continued to benefit thousands.
- Good luck! No matter how much one plans, ultimately a lot of it boils down to sheer good luck. States that have successfully managed to bring a revolution (in some sector) owe a lot of it to the positive confluence of a lot of factors many of which surely they could not have controlled. So lady luck is always to be sought in abundance!
Unfortunately, if we talk of IT, my state (Madhya Pradesh) has missed the bus. None of these factors seem evident, and yet there are hopes expressed off and on in media about a positive possibility. It is not happening anytime soon! Interestingly, winning states may lose in other fields to losers (in IT for example), and so on. But the lessons must be learnt fast for that to happen.
The horrible truth is : these states (like Andhra Pradesh) have built the critical mass in IT infrastructure already. It is all too easy for an IT major to set up shop profitably there - everything is readily available. So with every passing month, the entry barrier for the other states goes up significantly. Why should I, as an IT major, even bother to think of any other state when established solutions are already available? So honestly, when someone tells me that they have constructed one huge building (call it an IT park) and that will be the IT hub of a city, it sounds like a cruel joke to me, as cities like Hyderabad have hundreds of those-sized buildings already brimming with action, life, hope and revenues. It's not about a building, it's about a whole friendly ecosystem. I am not a pessimist, but this surely beats all imaginable heights of optimisim!
Have we learnt the lessons, and are we willing to outdo others in other fields at least? With every major battle won (and lost), we do tend to come to final conclusions about the end of the world! But it is not so. There are always emerging industries waiting in the wings. Genetic science, renewable energy, next wave of Telecom and 3G.. it's all yet to happen. Business has a certain cruelty to it - successful empires often are left by the wayside when new ones emerge. So there will be another set of winners. And losers. Wait and watch.