Fireflies lighting up the sky

Some years ago, Infosys and Wipro put Bangalore on the global map. Now, Bangalore is once again marching ahead. It is creating a new kind of technology ecosystem, which is culturally different from what exists today.

Today’s tech-ecosystem is about a few ‘hathi’ firms doing IT Services. Metaphorically, this is about manicured lawns, straight rows of carefully planted flowers and an occasional oak tree. In contrast, the new ecosystem is about hundreds, nay thousands, of small tech product startups. It evokes the image of a vibrant forest with fast running streams, wild flowers and bamboo shoots. If you think of the current ecosystem as a cathedral, then the new one is a bazaar.

Behind the cacophony of the new tech ecosystem are two powerful trends. The first one is about Software as a Service (SaaS). Gone are the days of buying big servers, expensive software licences and bulky implementation services. Increasingly, business software is just rented and used by employees much the same way you and I use Yahoo mail. This seemingly small shift has momentous implications.

Since a software company doesn’t need an army to sell and deploy its business application anymore, size is not an asset; focus is. So a plethora of small single-minded startups have emerged. And some of them like Zoho, InMobi and Fusion Charts are making waves around the world.

The best days are still to come. SaaS is spreading like wildfire. Doctors’ offices are using it for less than a price of a Café Coffee Day latte. Apartment complexes are using ‘ERP’ type SaaS business software for Rs15 per apartment per month. Lots of small companies in Peenya and Okhla are using world-class payroll and leave management SaaS business software for Rs10 per employee per month.

Basically, SaaS is going into nooks and crannies where no business software has gone before. Just like mobile phones brought telephony to the masses, SaaS is bringing useful business applications to all SMBs. Indian startups are at the forefront of this emerging revolution.

Complementing this SaaS trend is a grassroots movement for strengthening the tech ecosystem. Gone are the trade bodies; in its place have come in volunteer-driven think tanks and communities like iSPIRT and HasGeek. Much like the Aam Aadmi Party, they use bottoms-up participation to fuel a collective process of creating public goods that everybody consumes.

Entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs by putting their winning (and even losing) playbooks in the public domain. All this is inspired by the amazing success of the open-source movement that created Linux and Wikipedia. Based on all this, a new glow is visible. Look out for the fireflies lighting up the sky.