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Tuesday, December 9, 1997 Published at 18:13 GMT

BBC World Computer Week

Looking East to answer millennium conundrum
image: [ Computer services are burgeoning in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley ]
Computer services are burgeoning in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley

As the countdown to the year 2000 approaches, Western companies are looking increasingly to India to avert the impending computer crisis.

Countries all over the world are having to tackle the problem of computers being unable to recognise the new year "00" as their internal clocks strike midnight.

The results could be catastrophic as computer systems ranging from air traffic control to bill collection grind to a halt, thinking time has gone back to 1900.

The worldwide cost of putting the problem right is estimated to be more than 400bn.

[ image: India teaches old computer languages to solve new problem]
India teaches old computer languages to solve new problem
But India is offering cheap solutions by way of its highly-skilled but relatively low-paid software workforce.

As a result, American banks, British insurance companies and Australian conglomerates are all flocking to India.

For India, this comes as a welcome chance to boost its ambitions to be a global player in computer technology.

"I think India is going to get a tremendous amount of exposure because of the millennium bug, and that's going to be a very healthy thing for India," says Mr Ramanan of Tata Consultancy Services.

India's software industry has become one of the most dynamic sectors of the Indian economy, expecting revenues of almost 2bn this year, and employing 260,000 people.

Mr Ramanan believes India's global reputation for software expertise will be enhanced by rising to the millennium challenge.

Ironically, part of the reason India has a head-start is because it still uses computer languages considered obsolete in many countries. But these are the languages that computers were programmed with 20 years ago, and that need to be altered now.

Dewang Mehta, executive director of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, estimates that at least 1.4bn of millennium computer work could come to India.

The Indian company BFM is tackling a large job for Federal Express, the international courier, while TISL is undertaking projects in Australia, the US, Europe and the Middle East.

[ image: Computer training courses - now in high demand]
Computer training courses - now in high demand
Meanwhile, computer training programmes are opening everywhere in the streets of Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, to meet the demand on Indian software companies.

For Western companies, using Indian expertise to convert computer networks is often the cheapest option.

"You will be able to reduce the cost of conversion by doing the bulk of the task in India," says Mr V Ramakrishnan from the Reliance computer company.

Indian computer programmers earn up to 10 times less than their Western counterparts. An entry-level software programmer in India can expect to earn about 3,000 a year.

But the entry level salary is still twice as much as it is for India's civil service. And it also rises steeply to around 20,000 after 10 years.

So computer training is an attractive career option for Indians.

When Bill Gates visited India earlier this year he predicted that in the next 10 years India could emerge as a software superpower - perhaps it will only take a little over two years.

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Internet Links

Silicon India - monthly magazine

Indialine - Daily webzine about internet and computer technology

Year 2000 - Computer Crisis Information Centre

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