Sunday, November 20, 2005


High-return Computing

Based on seven years of work looking at low-cost computing for the developing economies as an academic, and four years of market experience in this area as the CEO of PicoPeta Simputers, I can say with considerable authority that

Low-cost computing is a red herring.

Let me use a concrete experience to illustrate.
Harvest data collection by the village accountants is the end task. We put together a complete solution and deployed it in 2003. The following are the components of the solution:

For ALL of the above the government of Karnataka parted with US$75,000, inclusive of everything.
Certainly very very low cost computing.

No other system integrator can offer such a solution at such low costs. So why has this project not been scaled up to cover the entire state of Karnataka (9000 village accountants)? The answer is simple: the total cost will no longer be low.

To reduce the cost of the scaled up solution, the easiest target to beat on is the hardware vendor. Witness the irrational focus on "sub-10,000 PC." The second in line are small application developers who will be asked to develop applications and provide support/upgrade/bugfix on a perpetual basis for peanuts. (Large software platform vendors like Microsoft and Oracle will get payments for their 'core software platform' much more readily). Still the cost will be about 15 crores, just for deploying the harvest data collection application across the state. Not a small amount to justify, given that there are farmers committing suicide unable to pay paltry loans of a few thousands. May be it is worth saving a hundred lives than to provide this solution.

That is why low-cost computing is a red herring.

The right question to ask is what are the returns on my investment in computing? I propose the se of the phrase "high-return computing". It allows for extensions like very high-return computing, super high-return computing and mega high-return computing and so on.

High-return computing changes the focus to the output benefits of computing, rather than the input costs. In the above scenario, the right questions to ask are the following:

Sadly, neither government, private industry, non-government or academia is exploring these aspects of computing. Each constituency is repeating their mantras and each is pulling in their own direction, all with good intent but with no overall progress.

We are all like blind men mightily pulling the ICT elephant to its destination of benefiting society. We not only don't know what it is that we are pulling, but each is pulling in its own favorite direction.

From now on I am going to work on high-return computing.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?