Information Today & Tomorrow (ITT '99): Towards Information Content for GLobal Competitiveness - A Report

VC Rao
Dr. BR Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad

SS Rao
Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai


The Meet held during November 16-19, 1999 at Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (iict), Hyderabad, India was initiated by National Information System for Science and Technology (NISSAT) and sponsored by NISSAT, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and Ministry of Environment of the Govt. of India. The Meet comprised as usual inaugural and technical sessions, panel discussion and a road show for doctors.


The session was presided over by Dr. K V Raghavan, Director, IICT. In his opening remarks he emphasized the importance of information technology (IT), provided a bird's eye view of the efforts of various state governments, and detailed the efforts of Andhra Pradesh in the promotion of IT by acting as an international hub, creating an infocity, knowledge park, etc. He briefly mentioned about the IT facilities and applications that are being introduced in IICT. The Institute has hosted a Web server and extended e-mail and Internet access facilities to the staff members.

Dr. A Lahiri, Adviser, Nissat, introduced the theme of the ITT99, i.e. Information Content Development and briefly discussed about the previous meetings of ITT. The Calcutta Meet organized in 1995 were devoted to CD ROM- based Export and Import Information. The next Meet held at Pune in 1996 dwelt on Internet-based Information, and the 1998 Meet held at Chennai were on the topic Information for Grass Root Level. He emphasized that Information Content Development should be organized as an industry following the lines of hardware and software industry by CSI and NASSCOM respectively. Dr. Lahiri elaborated on the lead taken by NISSAT and pointed out that despite India's huge potential for Information Content Development, few firms have come forward to venture into this area.

Dr. R A Mashelkar, DGSIR and Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), lighted the Lamp to mark the ceremonial inauguration and delivered the inaugural address He correlated the advances in IT and the developments that are taking place in the city of Hyderabad with the theme of the event. He shared happiness with the participants considering the fact that the recommendations made at the Chennai 1TT98 Meet have been incorporated in the IT Task Force Report for Content Development. He enumerated his perception of ten factors that could transform the human society. The factors enumerated are: the transformation in communication, way to deal with information, way of learning, practice of health care, nature of commerce, nature of work place, method of designing and building, conducting of research, understanding the environment, and government and governance. Dr. Mashelkar visualized the whole community transforming into netizens. He firmly concluded, "If the next century is the Century of Knowledge or Mind, then India has a legitimate right to lead the World".

Dr. N Ahuja, Director, IIIT, Hyderabad delivered the keynote address on Information Pathway to Better India. He described IT as a powerful enabler to improve the lot of common man, and presented IT in the Indian context, lawful living, personal trajectory, etc. citing such examples from daily life as roads and traffic, police, monitoring development, rewards, industrial productivity, courts, public dialogue, education, entertainment, identity recognition, etc. He concluded by emphasizing that there is a need for a concerted effort for development through IT with a mission of identifying IT compatible problems, formulating approaches and implementation.

Mr. N C Murthy, Head, Information Management Area, IICT and Convener of the Meet proposed a formal vote of thanks.


Session I: Content Development

Dr. S S Murthy, Director, Defence Scientific Information and Documentation Centre, New Delhi chaired the session and provided a brief background of the formation of the Working Group on the Content Development in the IT Task Force 98 emphasizing the role of NISSAT and ITT 98 inputs.

Dr. A Lahiri's presentation entitled Opportunities for Content Development in India outlined the scope of content development and content industry. He dealt at length on the variety of function/purpose-based content development areas and inputs for the same; identified its areas in India including local content, viz. primary and secondary publications, government-held information, local culture and cultural heritage, folk wisdom and traditional practices, education, contents for Web hosting and internal collaboration; highlighted India's advantage in respect of expertise and latent manpower, government support, and geographic location for content development. He also opined that India's participation in international content development activities would be of mutual benefit and advantage to India and the world. In fine, he recommended concerted efforts on content capture, content development, fiscal and other incentives and support facilities to promote the content industry.

Session II: Internet & Web Servers in India

Prof. N Balakrishnan of Supercomputer Education and Research Centre (SERC), a constituent of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, chaired the session and remarked that homepages should be created for individuals instead of organizations. In all five papers were presented in the session.

Dr. T B Rajasekhar, National Centre for Science Information (NCSI), Bangalore presented the paper titled VIGYAN: Web site for Indian Science & Technology Information and explained the goal of the Web site set up with the aid of NISSAT. The Web site aims to host authentic information on Indian science and technology and the Internet school is to train users and Web publishers. He briefly discussed the design of the content, storage, search support, etc of the Web site, which is yet to be dedicated.

Mr. I R N Goudar of National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), Bangalore discussed about AeroInfo: A Web Virtual Library for Aerospace Sciences . He emphasized the need for aerospace information on Web; detailed the Web site of Information Centre for Aerospace Science and Technology (ICAST) that was launched on Web server of CSIR Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation (C-MMACS) <>; and highlighted the unique features of the site in its content organization by subject categories, document type, source type, online journals and magazines, etc.

The third presentation devoted to Web Server on Indian Ocean was by Mr. M P Tapaswi of National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. He recounted the NISSAT-supported Web site called Gateway to Indian Ocean containing data of thirty-one countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The Web site contains information about academic and R&D institutions, National Institute of Oceanography, government departments, various programmes and funding agencies related to Indian Ocean. The Web site is also covering information on various marine industries and commerce and is being updated every 15 minutes.

Mr. S N Krishna Rao of Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore presented the paper Web Server on Food Technology and Library Network and adumbrated about the available library networks in India and the NISSAT-funded Mysore Library Network (MYLIBNET) that has two sections, i.e. library network and food technology. Library network offers e mail, home pages, remote access, etc. to members and the Web server on food technology covers information on food patents and standards, food technologies, on-going research projects, medicinal properties of fruits and vegetables, value-added food recipes, regulations, policy, guidelines, customs, etc.

Mr. Viswas Chavan of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad discussed about the issues and strategies of launching scientific databases over the Web and shared experiences of handling scientific databases such as biodiversity. He emphasized the need for static to dynamic Web pages and expressed concern about the poor organization of Indian S & T Web sites.

Session III: Content Development: Strategies and Issues.

Dr. S Krishnan of National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, chaired the session that witnessed the presentation of three papers.

Mr N V Satyanarayana of Informatics India, Bangalore talked about the challenges and opportunities of content development for local and global markets. The content development industry in the country stands nowhere despite the fact that increased bandwidth is available, private Internet service providers are operating and there are Web-based newspapers and magazines. Possibly the high infrastructure cost and availability of minimal contents for education and research are hindering the growth of content development. The content development industry is a prospective industry in India. He raised the issues relating to licensing, pricing, role of government, etc. in formulating policies for its marketing and argued that content development industry needs a national vision and global outlook like IT industry.

The presentation by Dr. T B Rajasekhar dwelt on the content handling strategies for information- oriented Web sites. He emphasized that the Web sites should be content-rich, up-to-date, and product-oriented. He suggested that Access and Push models need to be supported by library Web sites; highlighted the contents for Web-based library services; and raised issues relating to Web browsers for accessing and hosting of the content keeping in view the users on Intranet and Internet, level of access, and security.

Mr L J Haravu, Information System Consultant, Hyderabad discussed Web-enabled databases highlighting their advantages such as global access, platform-independent access, dynamic updating, single interface access, etc. He briefly reviewed the available technologies for such databases embracing static vs. dynamic content, DHTML, CGI, DLLs, Microsoft Technologies and Active Server Pages. The increase in the size of the databases; lack of sophisticated statistical analysis tools, and standards among browser manufacturers, etc. are some of the problems confronting development and maintenance.

Session IV: Case Studies on Information Services to Industries

Mr. N V Satyanarayana chaired the session in which four papers were presented.

In his presentation on technological options for Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association (BDMA) for global competitions Mr N C Murthy of IICT, Hyderabad defined the scope of drugs and pharmaceutical industry in India that had an appreciable growth rate of 14 per cent. He pointed out that the avenues available in the international market for generic drugs are to the tune of US $ 35 billion, when 20 patents takes off within the next five years. To revive the industry biotechnology and biodiversity routes of development of new drugs, computer-aided drug design, increasing interaction between the government and the industry, following proactive and innovative approaches, etc are but essential.

Mr Ashok Jambhekar of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. detailed the information services being provided by the NISSAT-funded National Information Centre on Management (NICM) to the industry plus other activities including programmes conducted, consultancy services rendered, assessment of market information done, etc. He also highlighted the quarterly Information Bulletin on Management providing industry application information, current contents in management and current index on marketing.

Mr. B Sudarshan of Central Machine Tool Institute (CMTI), Bangalore highlighted the information sources and services of National Information Centre for Machine Tools, Production and Engineering (NICMAP). The information services described include bibliographic, product, and patent information; document delivery services and customer services. The feedback from the satisfied users was also presented.

Dr. S Krishnan shared the NICHEM (National Information Centre for Chemical and Allied Industries) experience of marketing of information in his exposition embracing the issues involved and introduction of new services. He discussed the approaches for marketing of what is owned and what is not, and methods of marketing keeping in view of the digital library scenario, while stressing the need for value addition to the information products and services.

Session V: Panel Discussion on Content Development

Dr. A Lahiri chaired the session and panelists present were Dr. S S Murthy, Mr L J Haravu, Mr. N V Satyanarayana, Prof. Shalini Urs, Mr. IRN Goudar and Ms Vasumathi Sriganesh.

Dr. Lahiri introduced the topic as to how India could position herself for content development for local and global market by defining content and content industry based on the document Draft Guiding Principles for Content Development.

Ms Vasumathi initiated the discussion by stating that for a country intending to become content rich, it is necessary to tackle the education sector because the content development process needs people having good thinking capability, command on language and writing skills. Responding to this, Prof. Shalini pointed out that at present our education system does not prepare students for content development, suggested integration of fourth R, i.e. informancy, expression and communication skills in our education, which are very important in a media-driven era. Secondly, there is a strong need for attitudinal changes, which calls for a collaborative role amongst the active players.

Mr Goudar maintained that content creation is a manpower intensive activity, wherein the inputs from all the professionals are required. Attitudinal changes and training of professionals are also important. Some sectors are already well organized, and in the remaining areas catalytic process is needed to come out with OPACs and a referral centre needs to be created by NISSAT as a portal for content development taking into account manpower, technologies, expertise, guidelines, etc. Dr. Murthy observed that since content development would be enormous and cover several areas as such the line followed by National Dairy Development Corporation with decentralized collection and centralized activity might be emulated. The services of educated housewives with orientation can be utilized for this, with qualitative checks. There is also the need for stock taking of content development activity.

Mr Satyanarayana discussed as to how Indian content development programme could be made vibrant and taken to the next millenium. Content development has to be media and domain specific. He opined that the content development industry needs a direction and a set goal and there is a strong need to develop a `vision document'. The industry might follow the model of National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) and Manufacturers Association for Information Technology (MAIT) that had set a goal for hardware industry.

Ms Vasumathi reacting to Prof. Shalini's observations suggested certain measures such as filtering of the intake in LIS schools, inputs from real subject experts, support from computer personnel, marketing of information products, keeping the products market-oriented, etc. to bring about desired attitudinal changes and improvement. Moreover, there is a need for synergy in content industry involving content developers, IT industry and IT professionals. Awareness also needs to be created to get right kind of people for right jobs.

Mr. Haravu called for professional leadership in the country. The content development process should also address such questions as why, what, and by whom of content development and the process should be kept socially relevant. He discussed as to what society expects from content development and opined that one has to necessarily share information at the present day society. As ours is the largest knowledge society, one needs to collaborate, go for self-learning, increase electronic learning, etc. He highlighted the community experiments conducted by Dr. M S Swaminathan Foundation in Pondicherry for developing suitable content for various sectors. His suggestions among others include development of local content for local market, greater role of professional bodies, and the preparation of a `vision document'. Some returns have to be expected since content development is an economic activity, etc. The funding bodies should strive to bring about synergy of the relevant sectors apart from putting efforts on skill development.

Inputs from the floor are as follows: (i) Funded mode of motivation towards content development in addition to regular jobs should be taken into account, (ii) Entrepreneurs may be involved who could do this for returns, (iii) Format and design of information products should have impact on the very first hit, otherwise the efforts would go waste, (iv) Role of professional bodies should be given due consideration towards enriching of the government Web sites with scientific content, which are the largest information holders, and (v) There is need for training the entrepreneurs in content development. Responding to the inputs from the floor, Mr Haravu stated that India is information unconscious and there is a greater need to sensitize the senior management for information as well as content consumers.

Dr. Lahiri summed up the discussion with the following remarks.

  1. Content development should start at grass root level.

  2. Extension activities need to be organized to sensitize and support people.

  3. Information services and products need to be evaluated.

  4. Content development should be looked at from users' point of view.

  5. Role of professional bodies and funding agencies should be defined, and

  6. Formats, design standards, etc. should be given due consideration.

Session VI: IPR Issues in Databases

Prof. N Laxmana Rao of Osmania University, Hyderabad chaired the session wherein three papers were presented.

Ms G S Srividhya of National Law School, Bangalore discussed briefly about the intellectual property right (IPR) issues relating to databases including copyrights, trademarks, domain names, trade secrets, patentability and civil law. She highlighted the international protection scenario, some international conventions and treaties and the existing methods of protection for databases.

An update on IPR issues in databases was presented by Mr V K Gupta of National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, New Delhi. He spoke on current developments for the protection of databases through copyright, contract, national legislative measures, technological measures, international agreements and treaties and detailed the national Sui Generis legislations, viz. EU Database Directive and Database Protection in USA, international agreements, additional protection for non-original databases and key issues in database protection. He also discussed the issues and implications of the proposed WIPO Treaty in the Indian context.

The second presentation by Ms Srividhya was devoted to IPR Law Web site being funded by NISSAT. She highlighted the salient features of the Web site. It acts as a comprehensive IPR repository and showcase of happenings in Indian IPR domain. The site covers Indian acts, rules and regulations, constitutional provisions and their amendments, international conventions, digital library of articles, FAQs, etc., relating to IPR. She proposed to develop hyperlinks to related Web sites all over the world, message board, e-commerce compatibility, etc.

Session VII: Digital Libraries

Mr Gopalakrishnan of Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad chaired the session. In all, four papers were presented in the Session.

Ms M K Prasanna of Indo-American Centre for International Studies (IACIS), Hyderabad dwelt on the Federal-funded Maryland Electronic Learning Community (MELC) project which is an educational technology innovation contributing to create an electronic learning community in the disadvantaged neighborhood of Baltimore, USA. The project at its centre has an electronic lesson plan template that is used by teachers to create online learning modules. The vision of MELC, history, indicators, merits and challenges were detailed. She concluded by saying that technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological. A new technology does not add or subtract something but it changes everything.

Prof. Shalini Urs of Mysore University, Mysore in her presentation on electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) narrated the evolution of digital libraries, focussed on the problems of access and availability of theses and dissertations, and highlighted the advantages in using electronic formats for theses and dissertations. She touched upon various ETD initiatives of Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, University Microfilms International, National Library of Canada, Dissertation Online, UNESCO Workshop on ETD, etc. and opined that ETD could be an attractive and viable alternative, despite few problems and concerns, in view of their ability to make theses accessible to the scholarly community. Since ETD initiatives are relatively new, systems, services are still largely prototypes and digital libraries of these would continue to evolve.

Metadata forms the theme of presentation of Ms Subhada Nagarkar of University of Pune, Pune. She described the problems of the retrieval of relevant information from Internet due to variety of data formats, limitations of search engines, improper formulation of queries, etc.; discussed the concept of metadata, its structure and various standards such as MARC, Dublin Core, FGDC, NBII, TDWG, etc. available on metadata.

She detailed the Dublin Core metadata standards and projects using Dublin Core elements. Metadata not only provides pointers to the original data sets but also helps in sharing data among the database producers.

Dr. S Venkadesan of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam explained the various aspects of building a digital library system and shared the experiences of implementing certain strategies in the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research library. The Centre plans to establish a Web compatible digital library on the models of Carnegie Melleon University by 2002.

Session VIII: E-Commerce & E-Retailing

Mr A K Dasgupta, Eenadu, Hyderabad chaired the session and remarked at the end that a presentation on education on e-commerce would have been appropriate at the Session.

Dr. N Chandrasekaran of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Pune in his presentation dwelt on Indian options in e-business, e-commerce and e-governance. He made an attempt to identify tools that would be beneficial in implementing e-governance strategy; opined that client/server technology would continue to foster official-centric approach to governance as opposed to network-centric approach.. He discussed options for selection of appropriate hardware platforms, creation of multi-tier Web serving environments, integration of national language support. In order to prosper exploiting the opportunities afforded by IT revolution, to build a strong digital economy and a transparent corruption free government, India needs to lay emphasis on powerful technologies, rethinking, business and government.

The next two papers were devoted to e-commerce. The first one was presented by Mr Somjit Amrit of Satyam Infoway Services, Hyderabad and the second one by Dr. N N Murthy of Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC), Hyderabad . Mr Amrit defined e-commerce; presented its overview; outlined its necessity, motivation to implement, and enumerated its types; discussed as to whether e-commerce is a hype or reality with statistical support from consultants as Price Waterhouse and Coopers (PwC) and McKinsey; provided an overview of Internet with applications such as Web site, customer relationship management, supply chain management, etc.; and finally adumbrated cyber laws, Satyam Infoway services to e-commerce arena; and Indian scenario of e-commerce. Dr. Murthy highlighted the applications of Internet for commerce, e-commerce requirements and solutions, payment methods, flow of e-cheque, other documents and digital certificates; and recounted the govt.-funded project - Internet Payment Methods, being developed by CMC and Electronic Copyright Management System.

Session IX: Electronic Publishing/Media Tomorrow

Dr. P Vyasa Murthy of Satyam Computers, Hyderabad chaired the last session in which only one paper was presented.

The paper presented by Mr H R Mohan of The Hindu, Chennai was devoted to information dissemination, and electronic archiving/ publishing on Internet . He traced the evolution of information dissemination media from traditional print media (newspapers) to Internet (electronic publishing); highlighted the general trend of electronic publishing covering document management systems, CD-ROM publishing, self-publishing and electronic journal market; demonstrated the Web pages of, McGraw-Hill's beta@book, the Book Corner, ACM Digital Library, Soft book, etc. and finally touched upon Web publishing and related issues.


The recommendations that have emanated from the presentations and discussions are as follows:


Cultural programme

The Kuchipudi cultural dance by Abhinayadarpana was a memorable event on the evening of the first day of the event.

Road Show for Doctors

Information Content - A Medical Focus was demonstrated by Ms Vasumati Sriganesh of Qmed Services, Mumbai. She explained the factors influencing the developments in publishing, Web publishing, retrieval, etc.; touched upon the use of retrieved information, information sources available on Internet, and trends.

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2000, p.7-p.12