ISA Vision Summit 2009 lacks the punch!

February 16, 2009

Yes, that’s how I felt, at the end of the opening day of India Semiconductor Association’s (ISA) Vision Summit 2009! Won’t know much about how others felt!!

The picture here shows the ISA Vision Summit 2009 being inaugurated by the Guests of Honor, Dr. Debesh Das, Honorable Minister-in-Charge, Department of Information Technology, Government of West Bengal and Dr. Arunachalam, Chairman & Founder, Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore. Standing by are Jaswinder Ahuja, ISA Chairman, and Ms Poornima Shenoy, ISA President. Congrats on putting up a great show to the India Semiconductor Association, despite all the recession around us.

The opening day was largely built around sessions such as Local Products: Emerging Opportunities; Indian Design Influence: Ideas To Volumes; and Embedded Software: Its Growing Influence on the Hardware World! Yes, all of these were very interesting sessions.

However, there was no word on the Indian semicon policy, or even about India’s plans to have (OR not have) a fab! There was very little about how to incubate and handhold start-ups, and help them grow bigger! And, even less about how to go about building a successful product company in India!

It is in all of these areas, I felt, that the ISA Vision Summit 2009, lacked the punch! Last year, the enthusiasm was quite evident! The Indian semicon policy had been announced in late 2007, and the fab plans looked very much in line! However, it seems, this year, no one’s willing to bet on fabs, or rather, even speak about them!

One gentleman discussed my post on the possibility of an Indian investor buying Qimonda, and even cited examples of how looking at certain memory fabs in Taiwan won’t be quite out of line! Yes, this is exactly the time to invest and think really big, India!

Let me also highlight a comment left on my Qimonda article on CIOL by a reader, who calls himself/herself as “The Edge”. BTW, dear friend, I have not at all back-pedalled! Rather, I have been screaming hoarse, and loud enough to perhaps, land in the bad books of some industry folks 🙂 Well, here’s what “The Edge’ says:

“Ed, I happened to read your blog and notice that you have already back pedalled a bit (though the outrageous comment has not provided reasons as to why he/she feels that way.) I’ll provide some reasons as to why India should look to invest NOW and not two years later when the markets start to look up.

1) Fabs are shutting down or idling at the moment: In this scenario, equipment vendors will be more than happy to get rid of inventory even at huge losses so as to keep some business going.

2) Onus on product development: This is evolutionary and will come along with experience; akin to a baby crawling before it begins to walk! How about jumping into the foundry business first and playing a minor role in product development for the time being? The role and the direction of development will evolve over a period of time. Just as importantly, one has to be in total control of the full life-cycle of the product. Else, there will be that missing link/experience between optimum design and subsequent efficient manufacturing.

3) Technical know-how: Reverse brain-drain and attracting of expats to move to India is easier during the downturns, when intelligent folks might get laid off and would be available for a lot lesser (if at all) compared to the boom-times. Most importantly India has NOTHING to lose. This can be the first serious foray into the semicon manufacturing sector, if the money goes in now. NOT two years later, because by then, the set-up costs would be that much higher and personnel/partners/acquisitions would be hard and expensive to come by in a good market scenario. An early start, i.e., right away, will position the semicon manufacturing industry (along with whichever partner/acquisitions) to be ready to make full use of the next peak in the industry. That big name might well be Qimonda or maybe some other innovative company that might have been reduced to a pauper during this downturn.”

This is absolutely something I agree with and am passionate about! Even though others called my post out of line, and outrageous, it does not matter. I have high hopes for the Indian semicon industry, and as I was telling an industry friend today: I will continue to write about what I think should be done!

Coming back to the ISA Vision Summit, this morning, Nandan M. Nilekani, Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Infosys Technologies Ltd, in his keynote, highlighted communication, healthcare and energy as the key domains for semiconductor industry to leverage for potential business. The solutions should be scalable and low cost. Quite rightly so! Indian solutions to solve Indian (and global) problems are the need of the hour. Nilekani touched on India’s demographic dividend, which gives the country the rare advantage over the rest of the globe.

However, I wonder whether developing these solutions alone will be enough to pull the Indian semiconductor industry right to the top! A lot of people at the event wanted to hear my views, and as far as I am concerned: A lot more needs to be done!

Prof. Rajeev Gowda, IIM-Bangalore, the moderator for the opening session, Local Products: Emerging Opportunities, struck the nail on its head, when he said in his opening remarks that while Bangalore had become an IT center, it had yet to become a knowledge center. He stressed on the need to get people to think creatively and innovatively. If only, this was as simple as it seems!

Can the Indian semicon industry innovate? Or, will it find it hard to get out of the rut it seems to have run into, as far as fabs are concerned? Will it finally find some way of incubating, building and growing product companies? I am still awaiting a good answer, rather, any answer!

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