Q- What triggered your interest in the higher education space?
A- I come from a family of educationists and have been associated with the education industry for quite some time. During 2002-07, I had a lot of interactions with President Abdul Kalam and the vice chancellors who came to Rashtrapati Bhawan. I built up my relationship with them over time.
In the course of my interactions, I discovered the huge IT requirements in the higher education space and that no one had any idea of how to go about an automated system. This was a huge niche opportunity market and there was no serious competition in the space. From the commercial perspective, this was a market segment that had a lot of funds available including government grants. So I decided to build technology targeting the higher education space for universities within and outside the country.
Q- You were also involved with developing the countrys first tele-education delivery system using V-Sat technology. How did that come about?
A- The government of India is talking about providing education to all and increasing the gross enrolment ratio from 12 per cent now to about 18-20 per cent in the next five years. A lot of money has been allocated to that end in the 11th five year plan of the government of India. It is laying tremendous emphasis on research in higher education. Talking practically, going forward it would be impossible for anyone to impart higher education across the country and reach out to tier-II and III institutions. How can any government system set up IITs in every district or village or be able to have the best colleges across the country? You can impart the best education only by adopting a technology through which a subject matter expert can deliver a lecture from a central studio, which gets beamed across the country through a tele-education system and a student can log in from wherever he is: making it a virtual classroom.
I personally believe that is going to be the future. Interaction will be oneto-one: between the aculty and the student; one-to-many: one faculty member with multiple students; and many-to-many: interaction among students. Everything will happen on a virtual platf orm. So when you talk about taking education beyond boundaries, it is nothing but a tele-education system.
Q- What made you focus on developing this?
A- Technology has always been my love and so developing it is natural to me. I believe that any system can prosper, any government initiative can fructify and a social system can reach its outer limit through the adoption of technology. I also felt it had a huge demand market commercially. I would like to quote Abdul Kalams statement here: Anything that does not have a commercial value will not have a lasting life. This is an area that definitely creates value (which I was keen to do). At the same time, we have the ingredients to make a product that uses technology to make higher education reach the next level. This told me that this is the right market segment and the right space in which I wanted to operate.
Q- Your company has also designed and delivered the worlds first integrated technology platform: VEDAS. What is it and what can it do?
A- VEDAS is an acronym for Virtual Education Delivery and Assessment System. It is a technology platform: a technology street consisting of 12 independent software models. In this platform, resources are made available on a pay-and-use basis. The platform is very rare because it has business intelligence, dashboards and other technology frameworks like SOE that are unique even today. Our technology can shake hands and speak well with any system, so students dont have to install new stuff. We are also trying to provide technology through an application model called Managed Application Service (MAS). In this, we provide the software, hardware and accessories and also look after the project management and disaster recovery. We manage the entire IT and academic administration for the client end-to-end. From a commercial standpoint, we do not sell the platform to anybody. We make it available to the client in the form of a service model owned by the company perpetually and forever. The client uses the platform and pays only for the services used. For e.g. Examination automation is one of the components of the VEDAS platform.
Q- Youve interacted extensively with many vice chancellors - is the higher education sector receptive or resistant to change
A- Change is always resisted in any form because it is human nature. If my table is changed or my books are rearranged, even I will not be comfortable. It depends on how effectively youre able to make people understand that the change is good for them and I think I (as an organisation) am quite good at that. I have had a very good relationship with the Vice Chancellor community for a long time and they treat me as one of them. Its a question of mindsets. It has taken some time for them to see the impact and get it into their internal systems. But today, across the country, a majority of the Vice Chancellors know about my company and the product. There was some resistance initially, but we are working effectively now.
Q- What are your plans for the future?
A- As of now I am not looking at any other segment than higher education as there is a huge market available and the market potential remains untapped. I have a business plan for the next five years and it does not include anything other than higher education. Even if we fulfilled our dream of becoming a multinational corporation, I would still not have a 180 degree change in my business plan.