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Can IT aid national power?

In a detailed analysis of five countries that were being watched then, he demonstrated how China was slowly improving its positioning in comparison to its peers – India and Russia - and narrowing the gap with Japan and the US, writes Ganesh Natrajan.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2008 00:20 IST
IT Scope | Ganesh Natrajan

Speaking at an international conference on China and East Asia in Seoul in 2004, Hu Angang, Director of the Center for China Studies at Tsinghua University, defined the concept of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) as the comprehensive capability of a country to pursue its strategic objectives by taking actions internationally that demonstrate its economic and military might and leverages its strategic resources in science and technology, human resources and skills and enable it to exert influence on the global stage.

In a detailed analysis of five countries that were being watched then, he demonstrated how China was slowly improving its positioning in comparison to its peers – India and Russia - and narrowing the gap with Japan and the US. Four years later, India has shown much promise in its economic march but China has almost caught up with the US on most of the CNP parameters and has demonstrated its intent to transform both its strategic capabilities and outcomes on an ongoing basis.

At a recent conference of the Confederation of Indian Industry, the challenges facing India in its move to improve its “CNP standing” was discussed by an interesting panel drawn from industry, academia, labour, industry associations and the media. The key problems identified were those that have become an oft-repeated refrain – the widening gap between the super-rich and the hundreds of millions of the underprivileged segments of society, the alarming lack of quality education, skills development and research and declining productivity standards at all levels of the economy. While these are all issues that will need a larger debate among those who have the willingness and ability to confront the problems, one key resource that is available to the country in larger numbers than any other country including China is the volume of quality IT manpower that the phenomenal growth of the industry has created over the past decade.

Today, the awareness of IT and the global career opportunities it creates is almost as widespread as the love for cricket in our country and it is very feasible to harness this awareness and skill of the IT work-force for the overall benefit of all industrial and agricultural sectors. One tangential benefit of the impending slowdown in the Western economies may well be that much of the intellectual property and systems thinking capabilities that lie embedded in the large project experience of the hundreds of software export firms could be leveraged to build high quality applications to improve the throughput in the factories, offices and farms around the country.

And if the same technological capabilities are also brought in to school, college and vocational education in the country to transform curriculum, pedagogy and reinforcement learning mechanisms in both urban and rural classrooms, it is conceivable that the gargantuan challenge of making millions of skilled knowledge workers available to all the services segments – financial services, retail, healthcare, hospitality and of course IT and BPO might still be faced and surmounted successfully.

Will all this enable a more balanced approach to resource deployment and create the strategic outcomes needed to enhance our CNP? This year will provide some answers!