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In Conversation With Satish Jha

Anil Saigal

An information management and e-governance specialist, Satish is a former Editor of The Times of India Group and was the Head, Global Information Systems for the Vitamins Division of Hoffmann-La Roche at its headquarters at Basel, Switzerland. He founded James Martin Consulting in India in 1993, chaired Meta Group India (1995-'99), with Ashok Khosla founded Tarahaat in 1999 and co-founded Baramati Conference with Sharad Pawar of Baramati and M Kusakabe of The World Bank in 2001. He established Digital Partners India, an NGO in the field of ICT for Development in 2001 and has supported a couple dozen ICT projects nurturing Social Entrepreneurship. He chairs Digital Partners India, eHealth-Care Foundation and is a Special Advisor to Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICTs. MA in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University and an MBA from Institute Theseus in France he studied International Development at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, management of technology at The Kennedy School of Government, Political Economy at The Institute of Social Studies, The Hague and the US Foreign Policy Making at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs. He is actively interested in using information technologies for process reengineering, productivity gains, transparency, reforms and improving citizen-state interface. He also Co-Chairs World IT Forum (WITFOR).

Lokvani: While you were at Indian Express in the early 1908s, what were your major achievements?
Jha: In 1983 I started Jansatta, the first national newspaper in Hindi with a goal to write in people’s language, the way people speak Hindi, departing from simply translating from agency news in English. Our motto was “What we publish is news”. It set a record when we reached a circulation of 100,000 copies within the first six months of operation.

Lokvani: What made you come to America and Fletcher School at Tufts?
Jha: It is ironical what motivated me to come to US. In 1983, I used to interact with Bharat Karnad, (younger sibling of writer and thespian Girish Karnad), of Hindustan Times when my wife said, “When Bharat talks he sounds like he knows America, when you talk about the US it seems you just read the books about America.” It is then that I decided to understand the US and got selected as a Hubert Humphrey Fellow to attend The Fletcher School at Tufts University, which turned out to be a turning point in my life. I followed that up with a program on Governance of Science and Technology under Prof. Harvey Brooks at the Kennedy School at Harvard University.

Lokvani: What was your experience at Institute Theseus in France?
Jha: This program had 18 mid-career students from 11 countries in which more than 70 professors from all over the world came to spend a few days at a stretch and were totally immersed with us from morning until late night. The key focus was on how Information Technology will change the design of work even more than the invention of paper had achieved over a few centuries. I have always kept that focus in my mind. Even today, everything I am involved in uses that theme.

Lokvani: What made you start Tarahaat.com?
Jha: After managing information technology division for various companies, I started Tarahaat.com as my heart was always in supporting the villagers. TARA stood for Technology Alternatives for Rural Advancement under the umbrella of Development Alternatives. The company received significant grants from various organizations to help achieve its goal. My goal was to commercialize the technology but the management had its own challenges to transform a not-for-profit culture into a for-profit and business like orientation. I strongly believe that “If you have an employee attitude, you can’t be an employer just like if you are a thinker, you can seldom be a doer. Similarly if you believe in the culture of taking grants, you cannot start a business or company,” which was broadly the culture at Development Alternatives and affected Tarahaat as well.

Lokvani: What are your views about non-profits?
Jha: Most of the non-profits have a desire to learn and critique and do not have the experience or a commensurate capability to create. This, in many ways, limits its growth. As I focus on social entrepreneurship, some of my goals are to make it sustainable, replicable, scalable and commercializable. The goal of Digital Partners is to increase competition among rural Indian projects and make them market oriented. Over the years it has funded Drishtee, SKS, a project dealing with batch model delivery of wireless, e-Healthcare and many others.

Lokvani: What does e-Healthcare do?
Jha: e-Health Care is a web-based EMR/ERP service dealing with steps from patient registration to discharge, physician practice and hospital management including commercial aspects such as billing. The current cost for IT operations in US hospitals is approximately $10,000 per desktop per annum. Our goal is to bring it to $100 or lower per desktop for the Indian market. A typical hospital in US spends 2.5-6% of its budget on technology, which is way too much. We need to find ways to reduce the cost of technology use in the Indian setting to help the healthcare sector become more efficient in terms of quality, cost and access to healthcare.

Lokvani: It is said that US is way behind in implementing EMR/ERP compared to the rest of the world. Why is that so?
Jha: Most mid-size hospitals in the US have a multitude of systems, about 80 to 100 or so. This limits integration and raises costs of technology. In addition, unless the hospital has IT budget upwards of $100M, it is not able to attract high caliber CIOs. This results in sub-optimal decisions across the hospitals leading to innumerable systems with no clear decision points to solve the current problems and move forward in a strategic way.

Lokvani: How do you see the Indian market?
Jha: If India decides to go the right way, the gains will be much higher than in the US. However, the risk is their inability to see this as an investment, in which case the gains will be limited much like we have seen in the US. IT is part of hospital management but maximum gains will be achieved only when we move up the learning curve. It is easier to train people in technology but learning to manage it better has its own challenges.  

Even though there is a lot of talk about improved medical services in India, it has not changed much at the lower level. At the highest level, the cost in India is not too different from those in the US. There are about 100M people in India who are willing to pay the premium, but currently there is no satisfactory delivery system. India clearly has the potential and an opportunity to do things right but the way healthcare delivery systems are unfolding, quality care will mostly serve the privileged few.

Lokvani: Thanks for the time.
Jha: Thank you.

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