After much talk, cloud computing is finally gaining traction in developed nations. Corporations are gradually moving more applications to cloud data centers where they can take advantage of pooling of computing resources, more efficient use of data processing power and increased flexibility. Of course, the cloud model is already standard for consumer-oriented social networking Web sites.
But the place where I see cloud computing having a transformational effect on societies and economies is in emerging markets. In places where money isn’t plentiful, the ability for companies, governments, and universities to share resources offers the opportunity to bring massive computing power to bear in ways that were not possible before.
One of the biggest opportunities will be in mobile services. Carriers will increasingly use clouds to develop innovative new services, launch them, and scale them up to handle millions of users–services such as banking and small-business listings. A First of a Kind collaborative research project announced today between IBM and the Indian state of Karnataka, home of Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, demonstrates the opportunities that are unleashed when you combine clouds with mobile. Pay close attention. This could be the beginning of a technology revolution–and could lead to a social revolution, empowering the world’s poorest billions of people like never before.
With the help of IBM, the Karnataka Vocational Training and Skill Development Corporation is creating what IBMers call an “opportunity marketplace.” Using cloud computing, the mobile Web and IBM’s Spoken Web technology, they’re setting up a system that will allow employers and training organizations to connect, potentially, with millions of job candidates. On the surface, the system is simple. People seeking employment will create profiles and search listings by using the keypads on their mobile phones and responding to voice-based navigation prompts (No smartphone required). When an opportunity match comes up, they are alerted via an SMS. In the background, a cloud computing setup handles voice recognition, skill matching and data analysis that enables employers and government officials to understand supply and demand trends.
The beauty of the system is that it will serve not only Karnataka’s high-tech community but millions of people in villages out in the country–where many people are illiterate or semi-literate. The Spoken Web technology makes it possible for such people to tap the power of the Internet without being able to read and without having access to computers and Web connections. “Our system empowers people. They know where the opportunities are. They can plan and get the training and go after them,” says Gopal Pingali, head of the IBM Global Cloud Center of Excellence, who also leads this project.
If this system takes off, think what it could do for India. The country has 700 million people who are under the age of 35, and many of them are now considered to be unemployable. Partly it’s because they don’t have skills and partly it’s because they don’t have convenient ways of finding the millions of new jobs that are being created in India’s fast-growing economy. The country has set a goal of improving the skills and employment status of 500 million people by 2022. It’s a huge mission. Without systems like the one being developed in Karnataka, it’s difficult to see how this goal can be reached.
State government leaders immediately embraced the technology when IBMers presented it to them during a tour of IBM Research’s lab in Bengaluru last September. The skills development agency was formed in 2008 and given the task of finding jobs for five million people in five years. “Our goal is to empower our citizens and create employment opportunities in the state by creating a conducive environment for all stakeholders. This platform will help us expand our horizon and reach people in the most remote parts of Karnataka,” says Dr. Vishnukanth Chatpalli, the executive director of the agency.
The system is being launched this month in two districts and is expected to expand later to eight more. Gopal considers this to be a research project conducted in the real world. IBM scientists will continually refine the system as they learn more about how people want to use it.
These are early days for applications that combine cloud computing with mobile communications in emerging markets, but its already clear that experiments like the one in Karnataka have implications for India, Southeast Asia and Africa. This could be the beginning of something really good all over the globe.