M Rajendran

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Wednesday, January 08 2014.

 

Ideating India: Two software engineers dreamed of taking multimedia applications to vernacular languages. All that stood between them and success: disbelieving companies. After months of getting knocked down and standing up again, they are now on the verge of making it big. We tell their story in the first of an eight- part series on innovation.  

NEW DELHI: It was a pleasant Friday in March 2013. Britain was hosting a conference. Language World, to find an answer to the failure of languages in the digital space. Phani Bushan, an IIT Kharagpur graduate, and his business partner Gopal Pradhan were excited: they had an  answer and were all set to make a presentation on their concept to billion – dollar Indian IT company.

“We didn’t sleep the whole night; we felt we were just one step away from success,“ says Bhushan, founder of Anant Computing Platform, an IT startup.

As the presentation, unfolded everyone in the conference room listened with rapt attention. At the end came the shocker. “The company’s top executive said: ‘You are talking of making a bridge to the Mars. it sounds exiting on the beach, not in the conference room. It just can’t be done,’”  said Bhushan.

It was like a punch in the face for the duo. Phani was convinced about about the product. The two decided that they would work on, concretise their innovation. And “sell the product not the concept”.

Three months later, they had a fully operational product in their hands a vernacular operating system (OS), using which developers can make applications (apps) in the vernacular language, and the man on the street can download and use his existing digital device.

“This innovation will change the way computing is perceived today,” says Debashish Chakravarthy, associate professor at IIT Kharagpur. “Technically now it is possible to bridge the digital divide that the English language had created.”

Using the vernacular OS, one can deliver apps on any computing device such as mobile, PC or tablet, and across platforms regardless of their OS and language support.

As the duo moved forward, they found that developing their product was only half the battle. When they started talking to hardware manufacturers, said Bhushan, “We got very cold response.”

Response from investors was too cold they approached Indian Angel Network (IAN), “We were asked to bring customers, “Bhushan recalled, The deal could not happen to an emailed question from Hindustan Times, IAN’s responded through Padmaja Ruparel and said, “Anant Computing is not an IAN portfolio company.”

It was financially draining. They had to fall back on revenues from their small company, Viaedge Software technologies, which offers a load balancing solution for web traffic, and form its servicing, to fund the OS project.

“We however had firm belief that this is the need for the hour. “Bhushan said. And they went back to the drawing board.

After more work they came up with a new OS that was acceptable to all, without hesitation. The new solution would work on both smartphones and normal phones – a crucial factor as 94% of India’s 950 million mobile phone users do not have smartphones, and hence do not have language support on their handsets. In fact many phones have just basic Java (a computer language). These people are in no position to access vernacular apps.

Phani Bhushan, 40 (left) and Gopal Pradhan, 37; creating a breakthrough for local languages in the world of digital applications.

 

“The (new) system would give access to online services to be seamlessly delivered on both normal devices and smartphones and definitely revolutionise the way people communicate in their own native language, “said Suyash Sinha, director, Central Water Commission.

“Finally, I see the benefit of technology reaching out to the public in their own language … One of the biggest beneficiaries of the platform would be the social sector and the government.” said Arun Patil, chairman, Indian Dairy Association, West Zone.

A senior executive at IBM India, who has tested the product, said: “The diversity of the platform and the device agnostic approach, especially for mobile devices, will benefit both the social sector and companies,”

Anant Computing’s platform solves the problem for the end – user as well as the developer. “Apart from technology innovation this product will make lot of social impact, says BP Patnaik, chief consultant, Nextgen.

With the benefit of hindsight, Bhushan says: “All the rejections were a blessing in disguise. Now we are ready with our product and soon will tie up with big companies.”

APP CHALLENGES:

  • At present, developers have to make separate versions of their apps for different operating systems such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows.

 

  • Apps also tend to be heavily skewed in favor of English, leaving local langauge consumers out in the cold.

 

  • An organization has to manage many lines of the same application from various platforms.

 

  • Anant Computing Platform is platform – diverse and device – agnostic, meaning that a single application can work across different environments, even on ‘non-smartphones.