Microsoft Launches ‘Saksham’, a kiosk model plan for IT in Rural India

Microsoft's 'Saksham' ‘Saksham’ a scalable and successful public and private, kiosk model plan intended at taking the benefits of IT to rural India, has been introduced by Microsoft Corp. India Pvt. Ltd. Software giant Microsoft will also design a rural portal powered with content and applications aimed at the rural segment and will work with regional and local ISVs to fasten the acceptance of these services.

“As India marches into the knowledge economy it is imperative that rural India, where 70% of our population resides be exposed to the benefits of IT. So far IT has been viewed as means for social development for this segment, but we believe that it can also serve as driver for economic growth,” said Managing Director, Microsoft Corp. India Pvt. Ltd., Neelam Dhawan.

“‘Saksham’, through its four levers of innovative business models, public private partnership, localized content and affordable solutions will address the issues that have so far affected the uptake of IT in the rural segment, be it the lack of infrastructure and connectivity, or of affordable and relevant IT services and solutions. The initiative also effectively addresses concerns regarding the economic viability of existing kiosk models,” said Dhawan.

Microsoft said ‘Saksham’ has been developed in close discussion with industry partners and consists of the principles of public-private partnership to create a sustainable economic model and a strong rural IT ecosystem. The project will not only provide local entrepreneurs with the prospect to set up and manage these kiosks for content and services, but also provide the local ISV (Independent Software Vendor) community with the opportunity to develop rural content and applications. The rural portal, which is under development, will bring all of these services together in a comprehensive manner at the front end and provide a flawless experience to the end user.

Ranjivjit Singh, Group Director, Consumer Business, Microsoft India, said, “Over the last two years, we conducted research at 350 kiosks covering 4000 users across six states in India and found that users are looking for a mix of online and offline services to address a range of socio-economic needs. They want access to government records, agriculture related information, entertainment and communication services, access to commercial services such as astrology and matrimonial services, education and learning among other things. However, there is a gap between what they want and what the existing models are able to offer. With ‘Saksham’ we aim to enable the rural ecosystem to deliver solutions to these needs.”

The kiosks will offer a range of relevant content and services for the rural community such as:

– Government to citizen services: land records, birth and death certificates

– Health services: direct referrals to hospitals, online appointment requests, online consultation requests

– Agriculture services: vet consultancy services, agro-newspaper, online consultation

– Commercial services: insurance, digital photography, astrology, matrimonial services

– Communication services: chat, online telephony and email

– Entertainment content and services: Web browsing, games, music and movies

– Desktop publishing: typing, printing and designing

– Education content and services: computer education, language literacy

Microsoft said that it is discussions with banking institutions including State Bank of India, which is currently running a pilot with Microsoft and IIIT Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, to provide credit options to entrepreneurs.

M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, National Alliance for Mission 2007 and Chairman, National Commission for farmers, said, “The “Saksham” initiative of Microsoft is an important landmark in India’s quest for achieving a rural knowledge revolution. This initiative will help and accelerate the pace of progress in achieving the goal of the National Alliance for Mission 2007 (“Every village a knowledge center”) in the area of mobilizing the power of ICT for ensuring the progress and prosperity of rural India”

Microsoft has also teamed up with Drishti, Jai Kisan and n-Logue to roll out these kiosks across the country

Ranjivjit Singh said, “We will set up 50,000 kiosks across India over the next three years. This is a great start, but is only the tip of the iceberg. Our larger aim will be to touch more than 50% of the rural population within three years. We believe that ‘Saksham’ serves as a great framework for a rural kiosk mode, and other bodies including government and private entities, will see merit in using it as a channel to reach rural India.”

“This partnership has not only helped Drishtee and Microsoft, but also the Indian rural space in using IT as a tool in their daily lives,” said Satyan Mishra, CEO, Drishtee.

“n-Logue Communications has been working with Microsoft for over a year now and we are happy to see a strong commitment to rural areas. Both organizations have gained in this partnership and I am happy to hear about the new rural initiative of planning to set up 50,000 rural kiosks in the next four years. n-Logue will consistently partner with organizations that are growing the rural internet market and we are optimistic that this program will work well,” said PG Ponnapa, CEO, n-Logue Communications Pvt. Ltd.

President, Jaikisan.org. Sanjiv Sharma said “Microsoft has technology, experience and the platform to support the multilingual networks located in the rural environment. This ICT initiative of Microsoft is going to benefit even the remotest population in India. It is these factors that prompted us to partner with them to establish the ‘Kisan Soochna Kendra’ together in Uttranchal and other states as we extend our reach to rural India.”