Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Indian IT and Global Change

March 5, 2010

Just as India's brand of technological innovation has elevated the country's international status, improved millions of Indians' livelihoods, and changed the world's way of doing business, so it is a force for addressing pressing global problems. In delivering this message on Monday at Brown, Infosys Technologies Ltd. Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy pointed to a sweeping array of challenges and their technological solutions. Among them: green technology to combat global warming; e-government to increase democratic accountability; computer mapping to ensure water security; remote medical services to lower healthcare costs.

Murthy's ideal future is one that affords every citizen healthcare, nutrition, education, shelter, and an environment of hope, comfort, and peace, he said in his lecture, titled "The Global Economic Future and the Role of Indian IT in Creating It." His faith in the power of technology to create such change is born of recent history; many call Murthy a father of India's information technology revolution.

In the 1990s, with ongoing advances in electronics and global networking, Murthy and fellow Indian entrepreneurs figured out how to overcome constraints of distance and time zones to serve international markets. They developed the global delivery model and the 24 hour workday - two innovations that Murthy says have had as great an impact on the world market as Japan's lean manufacturing model of the 1950s - and ushered in now common practices such as business process outsourcing and remote software development. As companies everywhere began operating around the clock and around the world to benefit from unprecedented efficiencies, reduce costs, and reach new markets, Murthy's Infosys became a global IT powerhouse.

But Murthy sees globalization in social as well as economic terms, he said. "It is about frictionless capital, services, goods, and labor across the globe. It is also about global sharing of ideas, knowledge, and culture. It is about creating a shared concern and a plan for global issues like poverty, AIDS, and the environment."

Looking ahead, Murthy sees Western demographics moving countries like the US to turn increasingly to Indian and other offshore service companies. An aging US population will seek out lower costs in services ranging from accounting to medicine, and India's growing population of engineering school graduates and other skilled workers will be there to fill the demand.

And looking back, Murthy pointed out that, for all its promise, technology was not the starting point of progress in India. Instead, India first developed a political system embracing democracy and then moved on to focus on its economy, he said, contrasting this model with neighboring China's.

Murthy quoted US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the four freedoms that are fundamental to democracy: "freedom of speech and expression," "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way," "freedom from want," and "freedom from fear."

He placed tremendous emphasis on democracy as the best platform to address the goals of progress, development, and the various needs of citizens, from health and nutrition to shelter and education. Democracy reflects the collective aspiration of the people by its openness to discussion and debate, Murthy said, producing the finest ideas and allowing for equal opportunity.

His talk was one of the ongoing Stephen A. Ogden Jr. '60 Memorial Lectures on International Affairs, given in the Year of India at Brown. The Ogden lecture series commemorates Stephen A. Ogden Jr., a member of the Brown Class of 1960, who died in 1963 from injuries he suffered in a car accident. His family established the lecture series in 1965 as a tribute to his interest in international relations.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah '11