Rob Katz

Tech Firms See Next Billion Users, Customers

Craig Barrett ChinaFriday’s Wall Street Journal featured a front-section story, Tech Firms Woo Next Billion Users (subscription required), describing the aggressive BOP strategies of tech firms Intel and Microsoft. In it, we learn that Microsoft is rolling out 50,000 entrepreneur-run computer kiosks throughout India; Intel, meanwhile, has already trained 1.3 million Chinese and Indian teachers on classroom technology use. Teacher training and kiosk development aren?t profit centers–at least in the short term. But both firms have taken a strategic, long-term approach to market and product development. Microsoft India chairman Ravi Venkatesan is quoted in the article:

“This is a good way to do long, long-term business development…We are under no illusions that this is going to generate a quick payoff.”

Another excerpt cements the long-term strategy:

Their aim is to reach what executives call “the next billion users” of consumer technologies like the Internet and cellular phones. The images of executives helping the poor can also help maintain good relations with the government, a critical part of doing business in both China and India…Getting technology to rural residents isn’t easy. It requires navigating local bureaucracy, offering extremely inexpensive products and teaching people who may not have easy access to electricity the benefits of the chips, software and computers. And executives acknowledge that their efforts won’t necessarily show up on the bottom line right away.

The article goes on to describe how Intel designed a computer that will hold up under the harsh, dusty conditions of rural India. The authors mention BOP projects undertaken by Motorola, AMD, Quanta, and the One Laptop Per Child project. All in all, it is a pretty comprehensive look behind the scenes of big firms’ BOP projects.

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for its focus on the business models at work and not the corporate philanthropy angle. And I certainly won’t complain that the authors chose ’Next Billion’ to appear in the piece’s title.

(Big hat tip to former NextBillion staff writer John Paul for the heads up)