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Time for a national e-procurement strategy

Posted by egovernance on November 16, 2006

Time for a national e-procurement strategy

Andhra Pradesh took to e-procurement a few years ago by involving the private sector for expertise and sharing the costs in a public-private partnership. It covered eight critical departments, 13 public sector units, 57 municipalities and a few autonomous bodies. According to the IT department of the government, it has reportedly transacted 13,600 tenders with a value of about Rs 34,000 crore in three years. The range of items procured includes drugs, pesticides, office stationery, hardware, software, transformers, office equipment and commodities. The values ranged from a mere Rs 56,000, for procuring drains for a municipality, to an irrigation contract worth Rs 2,365 crore.

The Andhra Pradesh government states that there have been discernible benefits apart from total transparency. They include avoiding cartels, physical threats and manipulation of documents, as well as widening the supplier network. According to an official presentation, direct savings through lower costs of procurement estimated in three years—from 2003 to 2006—is over Rs 2,000 crore. There were further gains from savings in advertisement costs and shortened lead-time to 36 days, from 90-180 days.

It is the stated vision of the Central government that all its departments as well as states will migrate to e-procurement by April 2007, but little progress has been made despite some early conceptualisation. The government launched the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) in 2002. It is to cover 25 separate projects of which 10 are state focused, eight are Central government focused and a few are integrated ones in mission mode. While most are service delivery oriented, e-procurement also figures as a proposal.

The National Institute for Smart Government had also reportedly conceived a national strategy for e-procurement, which possibly remains an idea, though states like Orissa and Karnataka are reportedly adopting e-tendering. The Central Vigilance Commission had clarified and commended e-procurement for public sector enterprises, but just a few have taken to it. Even the private sector has not been implementing e-procurement enthusiastically.

Many countries have realised the power of e-procurement and e-commerce in achieving multiple benefits. For instance in the UK, e-procurement has been adopted as a proactive national strategy with involvement of even provincial and local bodies. It is the same with Portugal, which has a national e-procurement plan. Case studies show that the savings can be anywhere between 5% and 30% depending on the items.

E-procurement has a bearing on better governance and efficiencies for the government and competitiveness for the industry. If half of the corporations and government departments were to adopt e-procurement in two years’ time, one could expect immediate savings of about Rs 50,000 crore, apart from the several other benefits. It will also enable the industry to participate in e-commerce globally and compete in hitherto unknown markets. It is, indeed, the new way of a globalising economy.

The joint venture, Metaljunction, between SAIL and Tata Steel is a classic example worthy of mention. Metaljunction was created as a joint e-commerce initiative and has become an outstanding platform for online sales, e-auctions and e-tendering. It has even integrated financial solutions for those trading and, thus, has become a one-stop solution for procurement and sales transactions. This move has reportedly reduced the purchase and sales costs by hundreds of crores and increased the reach of the users globally. Since inception in 2001, it is estimated that material costs were reduced by 5-10% and transaction costs by 40-60%, apart from better information/data management, greater transparency and reduction in procurement cycle to about 20%.

It is time the government took up the long-standing intention as a priority mission with a wide remit to take up awareness and advocacy throughout India and build capacity to migrate to new technology and methods– it can consider partnering with various networks such as industry bodies, employee collectives, academic institutions, governance institutes and solution providers to achieve its objective within two years. Otherwise, entrenched interests will continue to slow down the required reform in the government as well as public and private sectors.


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What’s good for the Indian post office

Posted by egovernance on November 16, 2006

What’s good for the Indian post office


Subir Roy

November 15, 2006
China and India are both examining the future of their post offices in the wake of some of the leading earlier fully state-owned European postal services successfully transforming themselves. It is important for India to get things right but as of now there are no signs that it will be able to do so.

There is both a similarity and a critical difference between what China and India are contemplating. The similarity is that officialdom in both the countries wants to reserve postal mail below a certain weight for the state-owned service, amidst strong protest from private operators in the field.

The private courier services in India and China have pointed to the most important consequence that such a monopoly for the incumbent is likely to have – kill a large number of low-skill jobs with the couriers, which governments can hardly afford to allow.

In the case of India, the website where the draft Bill to sanction this monopoly is posted for public discussion says in support of its move that such monopolies exist in other countries. But what it does not say and which is relevant is that in one part the world, for example the European Union, where such a practice still exists, it is set for sunset under the European Commission’s ongoing reform programmes. India should surely conform to the future, not the past.

While monopoly for the incumbent is an emotive issue, there is another, which is far more important. The Chinese government has approved plans to corporatise China Post into a state-owned firm, and what is more, within that, carve out the savings bank operations into a full-fledged bank which in size will become China’s fifth largest.

India has no such plans although a massive amount of deposits, around Rs 2.6 lakh crore in 2004-05, resides with the post office. How big this is can be gauged from the fact that the country’s largest bank, State Bank of India, currently has a deposit base of around Rs 4 lakh crore (Rs 4 trillion). The Indian post office ended 2004-05 with a deficit of Rs 1,382 crore (Rs 13.82 billion) after receiving a remuneration of Rs 1,861 crore (Rs 18.61 billion) for performing the savings bank functions.

Why the Indian post office savings bank operations are not being converted into a separate bank is easy to understand. The entire amount of deposits provides a budgetary prop to the finance ministry, which without that will find it that much more difficult to keep its deficit under control.

Every time postal rates are raised, public discussion centres around the subsidy that the lowly postcard needs in order to be kept alive for the good of the common man, but seldom mentioned is the handsome benefit that the finance ministry derives from the way the post office is run.

Anyone who has the future of the post office at heart and wants it to be robust and self-reliant, even while discharging important public service obligations, should focus attention on making it autonomous and within it convert the postal savings operations into a proper bank.

The latter will give the entity the financial muscle to both look after itself and also do some public good. In such a scenario, the post office can become a bit like the railways, performing some public service even while being financially robust.

Deutsche Post and TNT of the Netherlands have both morphed from public postal services into more broadbased logistics and express services providers. The Indian post office has a chance to morph itself into something even more significant because of its unparallelled reach.

It can be the final e-governance outpost of the Indian system, provide the simplest banking services like receiving deposits and making remittances (the latter at much lower costs than now possible through the postal money order) and offer internet kiosk facilities in areas where none others can.

But for an organisation to transform itself from a staid government department into something more professional and innovative, it needs not just autonomy but a strong revenue stream. With independence, administrative and financial, comes self-esteem and then it becomes possible to attract better talent.

On the other hand, the new initiatives the post office is now taking are piecemeal. It is selling a bit of financial products for others and getting ready to offer service like address verification. It also runs the express service Speed post, which has recently cut prices to fight low-cost competition.

The service seldom delivers the next day and it is hopelessly difficult to log onto the net and track your item if you wish to. What is needed is a vision under which product offerings and their pricing are carefully thought out.

If the government eventually allows postal savings to be turned into a bank, then a key question to be addressed will be whether it should go in for retail lending, say give small loans to farmers.

Probably, that will not be advisable initially. The deposits should be placed in government and top-quality paper. The postal bank can also lend to micro finance institutions, selected and approved by an organisation like Nabard.

Micro finance beneficiaries can open deposit accounts and in the entire process money order charges, which currently add several percentage points to the cost of micro finance, can be eliminated.

So much is possible but to get it right you have to begin with autonomy, administrative and financial, and then get down to formulating a vision and drafting a business plan.

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Codes for political executive, civil servants to check corruption

Posted by egovernance on November 7, 2006

Codes for political executive, civil servants to check corruption


New Delhi, Nov 07: Unscrupulous leaders and bureaucrats beware. Codes for the political executive and civil servants are in the offing.

With India being projected as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) plans to come out soon with a set of codes for political executive and civil servants, to counter the trend.

The codes are being contemplated as part of the commission`s mandate to suggest measures to cleanse the system of corruption and inefficiency and to fix accountability, its chairman Veerappa Moily said.

In an interview the former Karnataka Chief Minister said the codes are being thought of as “you cannot deal with corruption in a soft way” and with a firm belief that “honest system will displace dishonest men”.

Regretting the tendency of always aiming at soft targets, he said the ARC favoured the codes to be the roadmap for total accountability and transparency.

The commission planned to come out with report on the issue of ethics in governance which would include the course, he said, adding the ARC would also soon go into the issue of reforms in the civil services in the wake of changed scenario.

Besides, the commission is also deliberating on strengthening the Lok Pal and the Lok Ayukhts, he said.

Moily, however, said the proposed Lok Pal Bill should not include the Prime Minister in its purview.

He said the commission planned to revisit some of the provisions of Article 311 of the Constitutions which give immunity to civil servants while dealing with corruption charges.

Moily said the panel has, however, not taken a decision on demanding repeal of the article, which has to be revised to fix accountability, dishonesty and inefficiency.

“Time has come now to set in position ethics in governance and systemic improvement as we cannot have any excuse or alibi on the question of corruption and inefficiency,” he said.

Moily said the need for revisiting the article and evolving the codes arose in view of the fact that there have been lacunae in the whole system which takes a minimum 10 to 15 years to bring into effect any disciplinary action.

With a view to make the exercise foolproof, the commission has talked to a number of legal experts, former Chief Justices of India and even some of the victims of the system, who were subjected to harassment for being honest.

The commission planned to go into the issue of relations between civil servants and political executive to ensure that one does not encroach into another`s space and there was “no push down” or “no push up”.

The transfer system would also find a place in its report on the ethics in governance, he said.

He said the things have not changed much on the accountability front inspite of the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee and the Constitution Review Commission.

The issue of accountability has gained added significance in the current era of e-governance when governments run on autopilot.

Bureau Report

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Chat-based customer support finds favor

Posted by egovernance on October 4, 2006

Chat-based customer support finds favor
Many customers are switching to chat which is seen as more effective
Friday, September 29, 2006

Priya Padmanabhan

BANGALORE: Call center employees often find themselves at the receiving end of irate customers who vent their fury over the prolonged waiting time or comprehension issues.

All these headaches may disappear both for customers and call centers if one were to go by the increasing acceptance and popularity of chat-based support.

A recent survey conducted in an American enterprise by Decipher Inc on behalf of customer support solutions provider, SupportSoft, revealed that 69 per cent of corporate employees would prefer online chat to resolve technical problems at work.

Additionally, 66 per cent of employees who tried web-based chat to resolve problems related to their PC hardware, software, Internet or e-mail usage, had a positive experience.

Besides this, Gartner research indicates that web chat could help to increase employee usage levels of self-service web portals within enterprises.

Reasoning this uptake of chat-based support, Craig Lee, CTO, SupportSoft, said, “ The phone medium is not very friendly. Chat creates an even leveling field. Support  executives in India need not worry about issues like having a neutral accent.”

He said that the growth of chat occurred over the last few years. “Five years ago, 98 per cent of customer support was on voice while two per cent was on chat and email. Now the chat and e-mail pie has widened to 30 per cent.”

Tim McMullen, senior vice president, products and alliances, Talisma Corp, a Customer Interaction Management (CIM) platform provider, also echoes the same view. “Chat saves money and time and delivers customer satisfaction. It also creates revenue generation and up-sell opportunity. It is easier for customer support executives to learn about customer behavior through e-mail and chat sessions and up-sell accordingly.”

He cites examples of one of Talisma’s clients, which is bolstering its chat-based support program. “A leading computer manufacturer has been using chat for over three years. Fifty-six per cent of their customers preferred support on chat over the phone. Now the company hopes to increase the use of chat to 70 per cent in two years.”

McMullen says that this customer was able to achieve 300 per cent up-sell opportunity on chat compared to phone-based support. This kind of productivity boost is possible since an agent can manage 3-4 chat sessions on an average vis-à-vis a phone call allows only a one-on-one interaction at a time.

India getting there

Indian BPOs are still slow to pick up this trend. But industry watchers believe it is just a matter of time. Bangalore-based e4e has successfully developed a chat-based support program for its client Symantec that not only delivered customer support but also dramatically improved customer satisfaction and opened up a new revenue channel for Symantec. According to Sridhar Mitta, CTO and MD, e4e, The support costs reduced by 40 – 60 per cent and also allowed agents to cross-sell and up-sell Symantec’s products and solutions to customers, thereby turning the cost center into a revenue generating unit.

Talisma is currently working on making the e-mail and chat mediums smarter by automating responses with its technology called Answer.

“This expedites the responses thus increasing customer satisfaction as well as requiring fewer agents to support email inquiries,” said McMullen.

He thinks that to position themselves in a commoditized market, it is important for BPOs not just to hire people but also differentiate with smart people and low cost channels like email and chat.

Besides, another benefit for India is that communication challenges such as heavy accents that lead to lack of understanding and unsatisfied customers can be overcome. Which would also mean a reduction in backlash, abusive calls and most important of all- a stress free BPO employee.

© CyberMedia News

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Paper-based storage device

Posted by egovernance on October 4, 2006

Paper-based storage device

Are the days for CDs, DVDs, Zip drives over? A computer whizkid is revolutionizing the computer data storage through his Rainbow Technology, reports M A Siraj.


A student has developed a technique for portable data whereby the data can now be stored on ordinary paper. And to boot, larger amount of data can be had on lesser space. The immediate question that pops up in the mind is how to retrieve the data. Will it be as facile as feeding a floppy disc or CD into the drive and having it on the monitor? Perhaps it will be much easier than all that. The piece of paper or even plastic sheet storing the data has just to be scanned in the scanner and read over the monitor.

Named as ‘Rainbow Technology’, the new technique is the brainchild of Sainul Abideen, who has just finished his MCA from MES Engineering College in Kuttipuram in Kerala’s Malappuram district.

Low cost, high speed

The extremely low-cost technology will drastically reduce the cost of storage and provide for high speed storage too. Files in any format like movie files, songs, images, text can be stored using this technology.

Currently of the several options available for data storage, DVDs constitute the best mode. But a high quality DVD which is very costly can store just about 4.7 gigabyte (GB) of data.

In contrast, the Rainbow Versatile Disc (RVD) can store 90 to 450 GB of data. And Sainul has simultaneously developed a scanning drive based on his Rainbow software which will come in smaller sizes to be initially carried with the laptops and later to fit into their bodies. Sainul says a CD/DVD consume 16 gm of polycarbonate, a petroleum by-product.

While a CD costs Rs. 15, his paper or plastic made RVD would cost just about Rs. 1.50 and would have a 131 times more storage capacity.

Sainul who has just turned 24, says, instead of using zeroes and ones for computing, he has used geometric shapes like circles, squares and triangles for computing which combine with various colours and preserve the data in images. An RVD therefore looks like a print-out of the modern art. He says all kinds of data has to be first converted into a common format called ‘Rainbow Format’.

In a demo at his college laboratory, this author could see text typed on 432 pages of foolscap paper being stored in a four square inch paper. The author was even shown a 45-second video clip of a Malayalam film stored on an ordinary paper piece.

Sainul was guided by Prof. Hyderali, head of the MCA Department of the College in all these projects.


Sainul says the biggest advantage of the new technology would be the biodegradable nature of his storage devices which would do away with the e-waste pollution.

He says with the popularity of his Rainbow Technology, computer or fashion magazines in future need not carry CDs in a pack.

The computable data printed on a paper can be attached in a tearable sheet and will be capable of carrying even software programmes, or movies, MP3 data or text.

Disposable storage

Sainul is promoting the theme of disposable storage and says newspapers, magazines and video albums could benefit from the idea and also distribute their material in this form in order to curtail use of paper and facilitate the disposal of the waste.

Sainul is simultaneously moulding the technology into ‘Rainbow Cards’ which will be of SIM card size and store 5 GB of data equivalent to three films of DVD quality. Sainul says as ‘Rainbow Cards’ will become popular, Rainbow Card Readers will replace CD drives of mobile phone and computer notebooks and will enable more data in portable forms for mini digital readers. Large scale manufacture of the Rainbow card will bring down its cost to just 50 paise.

Sainul Abideen is currently in consultation with a UK based company for manufacture of the Rainbow Cards.

Databank next?

Sainul has also put forward the idea of DataBank with Rainbow Technology which will enable huge servers with a high storage capacity.

uoting a research study carried out in the US in 2003, he says the entire static data in the US would require US 500 crore (Indian Rupees 23,000 crore) for storage with the current storage devices. But Rainbow based DataBank could reduce the cost to Rs. 35 lakh.

He says he could construct DataBank with almost 123.60 Peta Byte (PB) capacity.

Sainul is also working on project Xpressa, a software package for regional languages. This will enable the Internet browser to access the newspapers available on Internet through mobile phone in audible form.

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The ”other side” of Internet

Posted by egovernance on September 28, 2006

The ”other side” of Internet Undoubtedly, Internet is the greatest invention of the 20th century. But like everything else, it also has a darker and dangerous side. From Net crime to addiction, it’s a dangerous place out there on the information superhighway. Shashwat Chaturvedi

Shyam Asher (name changed) suffers from a disease that he is unable to pronounce. Asher works as a manager at one of the major media groups in the country, and can be found online most of the time. For years, he had been suffering from a nagging backache, and almost gave up after trying out quite many doctors and remedies. One fine day, he decided to give Internet a chance to play doctor, he poured out all his ills to the Google search box and indeed the doctor quickly diagnosed his illness as ankylosing spondylitis.

Now, Asher leads an austere life as defined by Dr. Google, recently, he has given up eating wheat and does not have dairy products, also his food should be cooked in olive oil, much to the chagrin of his mother. Don’t they say, too much of something is a bad thing, and the Internet can be at times be that too much.

Over the last few years more and more people have come to depend on the Internet for everything right from buying stuff to finding succor for loneliness. And this dependency could create a lot of issues. The Internet is a great medium for everything and like any other medium has its pros and cons. Most of us are aware of the pros, lets take a look at the cons.

The macro and the micro

Broadly, Internet related problems could be bracketed under two headings, macro and micro. Cyber wars, where hackers from one country deface websites from another, for instance during the Kargil conflict, a lot of Indian websites were defaced. Or cyber crimes like phishing, wherein people’s banks accounts are attacked. There is also, the DOS (denial of service) attacks by hackers, where specific websites are targeted.

These are the broader threats that one faces on the Internet. On the other end of the spectrum, are micro issues, or people problems. Issues like addiction or overt dependency fall under this header.

Cyber wars and other

Internet poses a potential threat of the breakout of information warfare. Some countries have applied the Internet into military operations, have conducted mock attacks against other countries’ networks, or have fabricated deceptive information harmful to other countries’ military forces. At a time when the information networks have become an important infrastructure of the nation and the military, the information warfare will be a war without the explosives, a war with a high invisibility, low cost, international, and multi-area (political, military, economic, social and material resources) approach.

There had been a recent controversy with the Google Earth satellite images, which are being argued posing threat for the defense of India. Zoom-in at the Bangalore airport on Google Earth, and you will find the type of fighter jets India has parked there. Korean government had already banned the images of the defense areas of the country on the Google Earth.

Speaking from the Indian perspective, the New-Gen is distinctly different from the old one. Over time, attitudes seem to be undergoing drastic changes due to the impact of the online medium. The “I know all” attitude has come into being, as information is at hand. This arrogance is quite at display at the numerous schools and colleges in the metros.

Not only that, most of the college-goers today rely on the Internet for all their assignments; good old understanding and hard work has taken a beating. Students tend to ‘google’ rather than work their way out of academic problems. The effects could be quite bad. In this case, most faculty feel the CTRL-A, CTRL-C and CTRL-V attitude of the students would not help them in the long run.

Then there are the health issues like obesity and insomnia or sleeplessness. With most of the people getting online, working for long sitting down they tend to gain more weight over a period of time.

Impact on children

Frequent and prolonged Internet sessions may pose physical health risks for children. The most frequently cited are visual strain, harmful effects of radiation, and posture and skeletal problems. But apart from them, psychological issues can be quite dangerous. The availability of porn and the threat from strangers is on the rise, take the recent case of an Ahmedabad girl, who was lured to a private place through chat room by a man, who, along with his friends, attempted to molest her. Thankfully, she was saved. But imagine so many youngsters are at risk from such lecherous individuals.

According to a study conducted in Beijing, Internet corrupts people’s minds, influences and changes moral perspectives and ethical values. Driven by the profits in the numbers of hundreds of millions of dollars, the pornography merchants across the globe have opened adult websites, massively producing various kinds of sex information. This development has led the Commerce Committee of the U.S. Senate to propose the “1995 Communications Act for Good Behavior” to prohibit sex crimes committed on the Internet.

Personally speaking

Are you hooked to the Net? Do you feel the compulsive need to check your e-mail every 15 minutes? If yes, it could just be the start of an addiction to the Internet. In the West, there have been many cases of families getting disrupted through virtual relationships developed on World Wide Web.

“While not yet defined as a true addiction, many are suffering the consequences of obsession with the online world, unable to control their use. From gaming to sexual and emotional relationships, the Internet is taking over lives. More and more people will be confronted with consequences such as divorce and physical symptoms which will force them to seek both medical and psychological treatment,” comments Diane Wieland, a clinical specialist based in the US.

In the US and Europe, cyber porn and online gambling and gaming are some of the factors that drive addiction. Recently, in Scotland, there was a case where a man was arrested for siphoning off a million pounds into his personal account to feed his uncontrollable online gambling habit. Experts say that Cyberaddiction is a condition akin to pathological gambling or compulsive shopping.

In India, Net addiction has not reached such alarming rates. But the proliferation of computers and the way in which email has replaced snail mail, has changed the way we communicate.

Some of the physical symptoms of addiction are dry eyes, sleep deprivation, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches. Internet addicts may also get the “cyber shakes” when off line, exhibiting agitation and typing motions of the fingers when not at the computer.

Coming back to Asher, his family is still trying to cope up with his net addiction — hoping, someday he will emerge out of Dr. Google’s care.

(With Priya Padmanabhan, Bhaskar Hazarika and R Jai Krishna)

© CyberMedia News

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Endpoint device protection to become key in India

Posted by egovernance on August 25, 2006

Endpoint device protection to become key in India
Seventy per cent of data theft happens from internal sources – knowingly or unknowingly
Friday, August 25, 2006

<br> Pragati Simlote

NEW DELHI: With mobility gaining popularity in the enterprise space, data loss due to theft or misplaced mobile endpoint devices such as laptops, PDAs, smartphones and removable media is becoming a harsh reality.

By securing sensitive information stored on endpoint devices, organizations can protect and enhance their image, minimize risk, shield confidential data, guard information assets, and strengthen public and shareholder confidence.

Encryption solution provider Pointsec Mobile Technologies, subsidiary of Sweden-based Protect Data AB, provides enterprise solutions protecting information stored in the endpoint devices. The company provides full disk encryption software for PCs, mobile security for smart phones and PDAs, disk encryption for removable media and data encryption management tools that can be deployed and managed across the enterprise.

Pointsec India country manager Altaf Halde said, “Currently companies have taken care of the perimeter security through firewalls, antivirus, etc. and ninety-nine per cent of the Indian companies are at that stage. But still, they are not totally secure, as the people inside the organization who are within this particular firewall themselves are the bigger risk. According to a Forrester report, 70 per cent of data theft happens from internal sources – knowingly or unknowingly. Sixty per cent of information theft results from lost or stolen equipment; only 25 per cent from network intrusion.”

He added, “Endpoint device protection is going to be the key in India very soon as it is already happening all over the world. We offer very strong encryption technology and offer up to 256-bit encryption, which is the strongest encryption not been compromised. Like anti-virus is loaded on machines as a default nowadays, the same is going to happen to data encryption also. Now people are accepting the fact that they need to protect their data and we are trying to plug one of the holes in a company’s IT security policy.”

Today, Pointsec has a global presence with offices in the USA, Australia, the Middle East, Japan and Europe. It biggest markets include Japan and the US.

Select Technologies is the company’s exclusive distributor in India and the company has around 118 active channel partners dealing in security products. Pointsec has about 15 local customers in India ranging from as low as 100 users to as high as 55,000 users and the total installed base of Pointsec in India is around 60,000+ deployments in terms of devices.

Halde said, “Our revenue model is per device based. We are currently targeting verticals like BFSI and ITeS in India. Going forward, another potential vertical us is the pharma sector. Right now it’s the fear factor, which is driving the sales in India. The amended IT Act is also expected to have compliance driven into it. If that happens then compliance is going to be the biggest driving factor.”

© CyberMedia News

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