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24 January 2005  
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Home - Management - Article


PicoPeta is going places

The company is focusing on enterprise and e-governance projects to achieve faster break-even, says Vinutha V

We want to work on new viable hand-held devices for developing countries
Swami Manohar
Chief Executive Officer
Picopeta Simputers

Four professors from the Indian Institute of Science resolved to produce affordable computing solutions for India and other developing countries. This was the start of PicoPeta Simputers in 2001. In its first year, an indigenous product called the ‘Poor Man’s Computer’ was developed. From then on, PicoPeta has been striving to reach out to the masses, both rural and urban, in education, e-governance, health and micro-financing. The company exudes optimism for the first quarter of 2005, and is set to garner a fair chunk of customers. To date, it has over 25 customers in the government and private sector, in verticals such as FMCG, utility billing and media.

It was not easy for the company to break the Indian mindset of not accepting indigenously-developed computing products. Says Swami Manohar, chief executive officer of the company, “I accept that we have been very slow and systematic till now. By studying the market, we realised that a lot of awareness has to be created among people. At the enterprise level, it [acceptance] has picked-up, and we have been getting a lot of inquiries.”

e-governance boost

In January 2003, the Karnataka government deployed 200 Simputers for its ‘Bhoomi-Suggi’ project. The devices were put to use for collecting data about the harvest in rural areas of the state. This gave a fair push to PicoPeta. The data collection system used prior to Bhoomi-Suggi had a turnaround time of about a year. Using the Simputer, the lead-time was brought down to just one month. Currently deployed in the districts of Bagalkot, Belgaum, Raichur, Gulbarga and Bijapur, Bhoomi-Suggi will be replicated in other parts of the country. Seeing the success of the project, the Karnataka government is planning to provide Simputers to 9,000 village panchayats across the state. The company has been getting inquiries from other state governments including Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh for their e-governance projects. It has also designed a solution for the Andhra Pradesh e-governance project. In this initiative, people can pay their utility bills such as telephone, water and electricity at telephone booths or to visiting bill collectors.

For an education project in Chattisgarh that used the Simputer, the company went beyond merely providing hardware and software. It came up with a methodology and an infrastructure plan that led to a sustainable and self-contained model for school education using technology. School children and teachers used Simputers for over six months, and the pilot project received positive feedback. The company is now ready with the necessary application to cater to educational institutions.

For the masses

After working on it for over a year, the organisation launched the Amida in July 2004. This marked its entry into the retail segment. The Amida comes with innovative features—sending e-mail messages in the user’s own handwriting, listening to MP3s, and reading stories from an e-library. Since the device has a USB port, it can connect to a digital camera, CDMA phone, printer or barcode scanner. The company decided to retail Amida Simputers through its own retail outlet in Bangalore. Says Manohar, “The Simputer is a complex product to the common man, and this notion slowed down the process of reaching out to people. For the Amida, we need good technical, customer, sales and after-sales support. We will therefore be investing in advertising, creating customer awareness, and setting up technical support in the next couple of months.”

Change in strategy

From March 2005, PicoPeta will aim to broaden its user base. During a pilot project in Mumbai, the Simputer was used to issue bills for the sale of mobile pre-paid cards. The company says that it sees good potential for this purpose that will boost the sales of Amida in Mumbai and Bangalore.

On the enterprise front, PicoPeta’s continuous support and customisation of applications based on user requirements has lead to various telcos and financial services outfits evaluating it for network management, DSL provisioning, banking and share trading. The company has been associated with an online retail store to offer an e-mail service bundled with the Amida Simputer.

PicoPeta recently introduced an office administration application that lets users identify themselves by simply inserting a smartcard into an Amida. The smartcard reader scans identification details from the card, and either allows or forbids entry into the system (say, an office). The entry or exit times are logged into the Simputer’s resident database, and can be synchronised with a PC for recording and further analysis.

Micro-financing software

Implementing Sanchan software for micro-financing, PicoPeta plans to deploy its solution in Karnataka. Here, mobile bankers armed with Amida Simputers can educate, inform and collect data from villages. When they are back in office, they can use a PicoPeta-developed application to transfer data and observations to a desktop. Their managers can then generate various MIS reports, and monitor the progress of loan disbursal programmes. The deployment model has a single person who is responsible for the activity at a central-level—usually called a centre or kendra—and he is referred to as the centre or kendra manager. Using the PC-side module, the kendra manager will be able to use Sanchan for working with their kendra(s) for adding, modifying and deleting group and member details in terms of loans and savings products. Through this, services such as transactions, insurance and multiple data entry will be offered to people in the hinterland.

In the next two years, PicoPeta aims to reach out. Says Manohar, “We want to work on new viable hand-held devices for developing countries. We are getting inquiries from Malaysia, South Africa and Brazil. In the next six months we aim to be present in all these countries.”


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