Spotlight on US-India biz at Berkeley Haas conference

The matters discussed included trade wars, IPR, red tape, privacy and innovation

Ritu Jha

More than 250 people, including academics, executives, entrepreneurs, researchers and students attended the third-US-India Conference, held September 7 at the Hass School of Business, UC Berkeley, California.

The daylong conference built around the theme “A transforming India: tapping growth opportunities” discussed a variety of topics that included India’s growth to challenges, the upcoming digital data law a local version of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and Medicare.

Among other things, speakers discussed how India, still short on smart villages, was still working aggressively on drafting a digital bill. They also considered the dangers of a trade war, and what percentage of their funds would venture capitalist invest in India.

Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, The Hero Enterprise(left) with John T Chambers, founder and CEO JC2 Ventures and Chairman Emeritus, Cisco.

John Chamber, founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, chairman emeritus of Cisco, and one of the biggest advocates of India said he believes service will always be part of technology.

Chamber was circumspect when discussing with indica Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to adopt a digital law and the potential for GDPR in India, only saying, “When you think about the future of India you need to have a vision for your country on a digital architecture. It should support the education system, and your startup community across all states and territories.”

He added, “I am seeing how Prime Minister Modi is doing, in terms how do we grow at the same time. I give him probably among the very the best marks in the world in terms of accomplishment and taking on tough optics in a way that others world leaders can learn from.”

Akhil Bansal, deputy CEO, KPMG India, who was on a panel titled, “Envisioning India’s Digital Economy.” He lauded India’s efforts even though the going would be challenging.

He told indica later, “It would work. What India has adopted now is more stringent than the European rules.” He believed it would be functional by December.

(From L to R) Vikram Chandra, founder Editorji Technologies, Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School, TV Mohandas Pai, President AIMA, Akhil Bansal, Deputy CEO, KPMG India

“We are realizing that it is important to have the data privacy and therefore far more in the stringent rule has been put in place,” Bansal said. “It will get implemented in few months and will get better results.”

Bansal discussed the difficulties involved.

“It will be very challenging,” he said. “There are two things: India is large, both in terms of geography as well as the number of people we have. Therefore, to implement anything it takes time., Secondly, anything involving compliance makes life a little more difficult when you have to put together a few processes. Should I focus on work or compliance? In the Indian scenario, it is difficult to strike the balance, but like GST [Goods and Services Tax] it is inevitable. Can we live without it? Probably not. And it would be not good in the long run.

Discussing problems, he provided the example of China.

“One reason companies were scared of IPR [intellectual property rights] being breached. In the same way people are scared of doing business in India because they believe data may be stolen or misused.,” he said calling for the need for strong IPR.

There have been questions about big corporate companies installing data server in other countries, in this case India.

“Look at Facebook. There are more users in India than in the US,” Bansal said. “The data may be not so important right now but five years later the data will become very important.”

Prof AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at UC Berkeley, also felt GDPR was an important first step.

She told indica, “The European [law] is very poky and confusing, I think India can take the next step. I would love India engaged in it.”

Prof.AnnaLee-Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at UC Berkeley.

Saxenian felt India needed to work differently if it hoped to compete with China.

“It has to create a brand involving privacy, security and a more human-centered internet culture,” she said.

Another speaker at the conference Vivek Wadhwa, distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering at Silicon Valley,  echoed the above sentiment.

“I think India needs a GDPR square, tighter regulations, well thought out protections [to keep] its data and people from predators,” he said, adding that India had a trillion-dollar opportunity to build its own technology but needed to do it in a sensible way.

He believes implementing regulations won’t be tough because it’s not an internal party issue; it’s a matter between India and the world.

TV Mohandas Pai, president of the All-India Management Association, chairman of Manipal Global Education Services and former director of Infosys, said that while India had missed the industrial revolution it was ahead of the US in digital technology. Out of 1.3 billion people there, over 900 million have a phone. There are 450 million smartphones in use and the data plans are the cheapest in the world.

He said that most people Silicon Valley have a back office in India. But the engineering is done in the US and the marketing there.

“We want our data back, “ Pai said, adding, “We are still growing. Implementation is very weak and many don’t follow the law.”

Prof Solomon Darwin, executive director, Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, Hass School of Business, U C Berkeley, agreed with Pai. He said things did not move fast in India.

“It’s very difficult. Every time we ask someone to move, we are asked how much [money] do we have in mind,” he said. He said that while business has grown removing roadblocks could accelerate growth.

“All the pieces of the puzzle are right there at the table but they are unevenly spread. We need someone to put the pieces together and generate knowledge and technology,” he said.

Darwin said conference, started three years ago, is gaining momentum.

He said that it’s a platform where the academics, as well as Silicon Valley executives and Indian executives, come together to discuss ways they can collaborate. Many of them were large companies with deep pockets to invest in startups.

Darwin said the Indian government is into technology and was willing to talk.

“Now we just need to make sure it happens,” he said. “They also said they would build a smart city but they didn’t. They are still working on it but it’s not yet a reality. I don’t think enough progress has been made.”

Rekha Sethi, director general if AIMA, brought 22 people from India said last year, they had 12 people.

She told indica she wanted to see the conference do well.

“The first two years people were watching us with curiosity but not much confidence. The confidence has been built up in the last three years.” she said, adding that the added credibilty and the fact that the venue is in the tech haven that is Silicon Valley has ensured that Indian CEOs also attended.

“We visited iconic companies, such as Apple, Facebook, Google and some startups. I think a lot of innovation is coming from startups,” Sethi said. “ It gives a holistic view to the Indian delegation… It helps them. I think it’s a very good learning exercise/”

Asked about the new tariffs the Trump Administration was putting on she said businesses learned to live with them and added that there was too much going between the two countries.

“Ultimately, India is a too big a market for anyone to ignore, including the United States. Our middle class is bigger than the entire population of Europe. Anyone who ignores India ignores it at its own peril,” she said, adding that every government, be it the US or India, does what is best for its people.

Meanwhile, the day-long panel also discussed India’s healthcare sector.

Preetha Reddy, vice chairperson at Apollo Hospital, in her presentation, said that education and health were fundamental rights and that every government needed to provide a certain quality of healthcare to its people.

“The Government of India has become extremely conscious and has tried in the last 12 months to put policies in place. And to me that is most exciting,” she said referring the Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM), popularly known as Modicare, and added, “I think the biggest challenge is skilled manpower. We might have the resources to build hospitals, to build infrastructure, and [increase the supply of] drugs and devices. But don’t have enough doctors.”

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