Interview: Aruna Sundarajan, Kerala’s Secretary for IT on Open Source
Q: How would you rate Kerala’s progress towards making it a top Indian IT destination?
Aruna: I believe that Kerala has made significant progress over the last two years in marketing itself as an attractive IT destination. As a result of the aggressive promotional initiatives by the state government, Kochi is today ranked as one of the most attractive locations for business process outsourcing (BPO) in the country. Until recently, a major constraint in Kerala was the absence of large IT companies. However, this scenario is now rapidly changing with the entry of such companies as Infosys, TCS, McKinsey and others. Kerala is now set for fast-track growth in IT.
“Open source software is clearly the direction of the future.”
- Aruna Sundarajan
Q: You have been at the forefront of advocating, promoting and initiating various IT awareness programmes and projects on e-governance, infrastructure development and e-literacy. How do you see open source software (OSS) playing an integral role in the development and deployment of these projects?
Aruna: Undoubtedly, open source software is the ideal platform for large e-literacy and e-governance programs. It offers significant advantages over proprietary software. For one, it has tremendous intellectual appeal because it offers the possibility of people coming together for collaborating to drive innovation. It also upholds the freedom of the developer to contribute creatively in building the software. It is also ideally suited for a country such as India, where scarce public money is invested in IT projects.
Q: Could you highlight some successful OSS projects in Kerala?
Aruna: An application for the management of cooperative banks has been developed on OSS and is currently working well. One of the local firms here has developed a widely accepted accounting package for BSNL. All the Kerala government portals are hosted on open source. The PWD asset management system that we are developing is also on open source.
Q: What is the status of the Akshaya project community technology centers to bridge the digital divide (www.akshaya.net)? How will open source fit among the technology solutions being implemented or planned?
Aruna: In the Akshaya e-literacy project, we have taken care to ensure that the learning materials will be available on neutral platforms. The choice of platform would be basically left to the entrepreneur, although the application would be available on both open source as well as proprietary platforms. (The decision to support both platforms was taken based on the requirements of the Akshaya entrepreneurs who shall be imparting the training). The IT mission had also organized a special training programme on Linux to popularize open source. About 200 Akshaya entrepreneurs had come forward to register for the programme. Although we do not have exact estimates of how many of the Akshaya centres use open source, there has been a growing awareness.
Q: How can other bureaucrats in the Indian states tackle the challenge of implementing OSS solutions for government/ e-governance services? What is your advice to fellow bureaucrats?
Aruna: I do not think it is desirable to mandate the use of OSS solutions for all e-governance projects. Ideally, a judicious choice would need to be made by the user, depending upon the technical requirements and other parameters of each project. The point is that there needs to be a concerted effort by all concerned to develop expertise in OSS. We also need to create widespread awareness, so that people can comfortably use this technology.
Q: What is your message to central and state ministers on the usage of OSS?
Aruna: There is a huge need for training IT personnel on open source platforms! India needs to develop significant open source capabilities; on the lines of what China is doing, for example. This is one area, which the central government should clearly focus on.
Q: In a recent speech at Pune on May 28th, 2003, the President of India made a strong statement on why it makes sense for India to use OSS. Your comments.
Aruna: I think all of us would agree that OSS offers definite advantages, particularly in terms of cost-effectiveness and security. That is why I had earlier stated that OSS is clearly the direction of the future. However, the decision regarding which technology is to be deployed would depend upon the requirements of the user, and his/her level of preparedness to use a particular technology.
Thanks for your time Aruna.