Wanted: Progress technique for tech expertise

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the last decade of the 20th century when the IT industry took its baby steps in the state, the demand naturally was for encouraging service companies. The business outsourcing model led to hundreds of such companies flourishing in Technopark and Infopark. The strategy was not wrong and IT exports has grown over the years, reaching Rs 12,000 crore in the last fiscal.
Till now, Information Technology growth was measured based on export revenue and the number of jobs generated. Industry experts feel that product companies, which can meet future demands and compete globally, are what the state needs now. The employment generation will be less, but they are profitable in long run.

As of now, several product companies have started operations in the state. Apart from startups, there are at least a dozen companies funded by venture capitalists. Carestack/ Good Methods Global, based in Technopark, is now funded by , an early investor in Facebook and Flipkart. Carestack, a practice management software built for dental practices and chains in the US, employs 120 product engineers and analysts.

Many successful product companies are finding opportunity, capital and favourable policy in the state. However, what they find lacking is product engineering talent. “Unlike service companies, product companies can’t do mass hiring. If we hire five persons, all of them must have the talents required for product companies such as identifying problems and finding solutions. Our engineering colleges do not impart such skills. Also, engineering students prefer to join service companies. That mindset must change. We are already seeing signs of that change and are hopeful,” said Robin Alex Panicker, co-founder and chief product officer, Finotes Inc.

J Letha, who holds the charge of vice-chancellor at , said there is a dearth of talent required for product companies. “We are introducing programmes to bring in industries to institutions. Under such programmes, students can join for summer internships in companies. Also, companies can offer specific courses for students and identify talents. The KTU is also launching ‘minor’ courses, which will enable students to take up industry-linked courses in addition to their ‘major’ subjects,” said. Saji Gopinath, CEO of , said that the mission is focusing more on product companies. “In fact, more than a mere product or service, convergence of both product and service will be more sustainable,” he said.

The KSSM, he said, is providing a grant in the range of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 12 lakh for startups with product ideas. “While service companies get immediate returns, product companies have to wait till the product get a market. In addition to finding venture capital, the and government is mulling the idea of ‘venture debt’, where government provides loans to companies which invest in product companies. We are in discussion with regarding this. Another project involves providing loans for working capital of product companies,” he said.

Hrishikesh Nair, CEO of IT parks, said specialised zones for different technologies will help create an environment friendly for product companies even while supporting the service companies. “The government of Kerala wants the state to play a prominent role in future technologies and has set up centres of excellence for emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, blockchain, and mobility. We recently set up the centre of excellence for mobility at Cyberpark in association with IAMAI. Through these centres we intend to support startups on their work on product development and new services in focus areas,” said Nair.

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