J A Chowdary is a study in contrasts. He is a now-or-never man, permanently in a hurry. As the Special Chief Secretary & IT Advisor to the Chief Minister – Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, he is all for chasing new growth horizons, pursuing radically different development approaches and outguessing technology trends that will shape the future. Chowdary is fired by the zeal of a serial innovator, as he creates the IT-driven blue-print for the state of Andhra Pradesh.
But on that unusually busy Friday afternoon, seated in his high- back chair on the seventh floor of Peninsula Business Park, Chowdhury is a picture of composure and equanimity, quite in contrast with his image of a man in a hurry to achieve his mission. His voice is gentle, as is his demeanour.
“Let me tell you a little story first,” he begins. “Once upon a time, a shoe manufacturing company sent two salesmen to Africa to determine the market potential for their products. One salesman was sent to the east coast of Africa, while the other salesman was sent to the west coast of Africa. Both the salesmen completed a basic survey of the target market and called back to the headquarters. The salesman sent to the east coast of Africa reported “No one here wears any shoes, there is no market for us here!” The other salesman sent a message “No one here wears any shoes, there is a huge market for us, send inventory fast!”
The second salesman’s perspective resonates well with Chowdary’s approach towards the development and technology vision of Andhra Pradesh. “Ours is a newly created state. We don’t have capital or infrastructure. So in that sense, we are a startup state, and to develop this startup state our mission is: Dare to dream and strive to achieve,” he proclaims.
Chasing new horizons
Relevance is the path to reinvention. Or as J A Chowdary would say, adapt or perish. And he should know- born into a family of farmers, Chowdary attained an engineering degree from IIT Madras, he then went to hold a leadership position in several technology companies. He became the Chief Architect of Hi-Tech City, Hyderabad. And now as the Special Chief Secretary & IT Advisor to Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh he is tasked with mobilising investments, creating IT ecosystem, generating employment opportunities and spurring technology backed development in Amaravati, the proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh.
On one occasion, Chowdary recalls how the CM of Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu summoned him to deliberate on the problem of job displacement due to digital disruption. Over the past few decades India has played a leading role in creating software services companies and emerged as the outsourcing hub. But now, there are systemic changes sweeping the IT industry. Jobs are getting automated en masse. “We need to reinvent our industry for a population of 1.3 billion job seekers. If we do not ride the next wave of growth created by digital technologies, then our youth with be rendered unemployed,” he was told by the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu.
Taking a cue from this, Chowdary created an action plan to reinvent the technology industry in the Andhra Pradesh. He has his visionary Chief Minister to thank for the action oriented approach.
N. Chandrababu Naidu was the driving force behind the much-vaunted IT revolution that transformed Hyderabad into a preferred IT software destination for technology titans like Microsoft, Dell, Oracle and Google. Today, Hyderabad is India’s fifth largest centre for software exports. Naidu now wants to unleash the same investment spree to make Andhra Pradesh a hi-tech hub in the newly emerging sectors like AI, cyber-security, IoT and fintech.
“There is a yawning skillgap for these emerging technologies all over the world. We are trying to bridge this gap by training the youth in these areas,” asserts Chowdary. As a step in this direction, the AP Government set up The International Institute of Digital Technologies (IIDT), India’s premier institute in digital technologies, at Tirupati.
“Currently, we are offering courses in cyber security and analytics. We will be starting a course in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. We are also launching a course on Blockchain technology. These are the four technologies that are defining the future of fintech industry. Today all the banks are competing with fintech and they need these skills,” he avers.
Andhra Pradesh is trying to woo new-age industries in IT, robotics and digital space, which are riding the growth wave and generating employment opportunities. And the vigorous efforts have borne fruit. With a ready pool of talent in these emerging avenues of growth, Andhra Pradesh will become attractive destination for companies scouting for talent. Tech Mahindra has come forward to set up a CoE in Robotics and Analytics Department at the International Institute of Digital Technologies. Cisco will start a CoE on Internet of Things, cyber security and analytics. Kii Corporation will establish a centre for research and development on IoT-related applications shortly.
Leap at the opportunity
The global Fintech software and services sector is predicted to touch USD 45 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 7.1%. The government of Andhra Pardesh is eyeing this opportunity to promote Vizag as the fintech capital of the world by creating the best fintech ecosystem. In order to create a conducive environment for business, the Government of Andhra Pradesh is creating a self-sustainable, global fintech ecosystem that focuses on converging finance and technology, to create large avenues of growth through industry-enablers, world-class infrastructure, entrepreneurship and innovation.
“The state government is developing Visakhapatnam as a fintech hub with comprehensive ecosystem after inaugurating Fintech Tower at Rushikonda by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu in December 2016 signalling the campaign to develop Fintech Valley-Vizag as the new rendezvous for investments.It is a special body floated by the state government to bring pioneers and enablers of innovation, entrepreneurs, investors and mentors to a common platform to transform Visakhapatnam into a fintech hub,” he shares.
Chowdary has a razor-sharp grasp over this goal. He has developed a 5M strategy to make Vizag a fertile ground for all ecosystem players involved. As a part of the strategy, the state will provide manpower, money, market access, mentoring, metapayments to the fintech players. “These five Ms will shatter entry barriers for fintech start-ups.
We want to create technology jobs in Amaravati, Visakhapatnam and developing towns like Hindupur. “We have partnered with Israel on cybersecurity. We have another partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, to create a blockchain centre in Vishakapatnam. We have signed an MoU with the Monetary Authority of Singapore to develop Vizag as a fin-tech hub,” he states.
Fintech Valley-Vizag organized a ‘Finackthon’, a hackathon on financial technologies, last year. The hackathon was held under four categories – banking, insurance, capital markets, and NBFCs. “The winners were given a chance to carry out a PoC with corporates and execute it in the Fintech Valley-Vizag. Investor network of the valley will be invited to study the prototyped solution. The solutions will be included in the use case repository, which was launched by the valley recently to help financial technology institutes as well as start-ups,” he reveals.
Ahead of the curve
Chowdary is single minded in his determination to make Andhra Pradesh the blockchain capital of the world.
“Today people are talking about blockchain like they were talking about internet when it was invented. The use cases for Blockchain are becoming horizontal as it is cutting across every field. We are creating a model for world blockchain stratup companies so that they can participate in hackathons. There will be a huge demand for blockchain skills over the next two years,” he says.
We are in the process of setting up a blockchain university. We are creating the manpower for blockchain skills.
“We are attracting the best blockchain startups from across the world. Black Cactus, a New York based startup company in blockchain technology is bidding projects is healthcare blockchain. Half of our fintech tower has been occupied by them and they are sourcing the talent from fintech valley to execute healthcare blockchain projects the world over,”he adds.
Andhra Pradesh is ably riding the blockchain wave. “The Government Andhra Pradesh has signed a MoU with Covalent Fund to start a Blockchain ecosystem in India. The collaboration will focus on creation of manpower, access to capital and creation of an India-focused Blockchain stack at Fintech Valley Vizag. An investment of up to $10 million will be done as an initial pilot program,” he reveals. ANSR Consulting has also agreed to set up a Global Innovation Centre (GIC) for which the government has allotted 10 acres at Rushikonda.
Chowdary has been nominated chairman of the blockchain technology committee set up by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to suggest measures for secured applications in blockchain.
We have allotted 40 acres to international investment firm Franklin Templeton and its partner Innova Solutions to set up their campus at Rushikonda.
Clearly, Chowdary’s action oriented approach to talk the talk and walk the walk is paying off on several fronts. But he knows only too well that he needs to move ahead with an outcome driven approach to make Andhra Pradesh a fertile ground for new age companies to sprout.