Poonam Gupta-Krishnan addressing
the Technology Innovation Summit
on Oct. 23 in downtown Chicago
By Sunthar Visuvalingam of Desi Talk
The day-long Technology Innovation Summit (TIS) hosted on Oct. 23 by Northern Trust Bank in downtown Chicago brought together visionary Indian American innovator Sam Pitroda, US technology corporations, and local government administrators amidst exchange and excitement. TIS organizer, Poonam Gupta-Krishnan, CEO of Iyka Enterprises, explains her initiative to Desi Talk.
What do you hope to achieve from TIS?This summit came about because of challenges that several municipal technology managers have shared with me over the years. There are two major issues they face today: 1) keeping pace with the fast-changing technology landscape; and 2) the government bureaucratic process itself. Unfortunately, there is still a gap between the two resulting in inferior services to citizens, less jobs, and a higher and disproportionate cost to conduct government operations. Our goal is to spur discussion among major stakeholders on how to improve local government technology, connect bureaucrats with thought leaders in innovative technology, and help them design effective projects by highlighting best practices.
Why was Sam Pitroda invited as keynote speaker?Pitroda brought the telecom revolution to India when 80% of the population was rural and 1990s reforms were still far away. He has succeeded in taking his vision into political and governmental processes and is playing an active role at the national level in innovation, technology, and public policy that is bringing over a billion people together. Over the last 2 decades, here in the USA, we are seeing a decline in the creativity and innovation that had made our country great. My hope was that Pitroda would impregnate the US government technology scenario with is hard-won wisdom. Indeed, Pitroda made paradigm shifting remarks with pertinent examples, such as fears of information security (privacy) holding back the efficient delivery of education, healthcare, and other basic services to the poorest of the poor. The $3 billion National Knowledge Network has been launched in India. It consists of 1,500 connection point nodes operating at a bandwidth of 40 gigabytes to pull together all of India’s universities, libraries and higher learning institutions. When Pitroda met with President Obama last November, they decided to launch a joint open-source, open government platform for the U.S. and India. This August, Pitroda met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to announce that this platform will now be available to all countries free of charge. The Network—already available to Japan, the European Union and the United States—enables their universities to seamlessly interact across continents.
How can India and the US learn from each other?Seen from far the two countries, developed and developing, are very different. However, Pitroda pointed out that Western service model is not scalable as it focuses on a minority population of the rich and not the majority population of middle class and poor. He talked about democratization of knowledge, redefining the role of educators, making talents a universal commodity, political will, and affordability of services. All of these scenarios apply also to the USA. So from the technology services point of view there are more similarities than difference between the two countries.
How different were the aims of last year’s summit?The themes were the same but in 2011 we focused on the collar counties. This year we wanted to provide a much larger perspective ranging from the international to local nuts and bolts. [Ed. Note: Collar counties are the five (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will) that border on Cook County. Though tied to Chicago economically, they have very different values than does the core city.]
What has been the feedback from TIS 2012 participants?TIS 2012 offered a pyramidal structure with Pitroda bringing the international perspective, Toni Preckwinkle the county vision, with panels covering specific challenges at the interface between the processes of technology and government agencies. Most feedback, largely favorable, was on Pitroda’s inspirational speech and how well the event was put together, with ongoing offers of support from individuals and corporations.
Tell us about Iyka Enterprises and your role as its CEOIyka, which I founded in 2000, is now serving Europe, North America, and South Asia. A certified minority, woman owned company, Iyka provides data management services to government, financial institutions, healthcare, education and telecom. I was listed among the “Top 100 Under 50 Executive Leaders” by “Diversity MBA” magazine; Iyka as “Top 10 Fastest-Growing Asian Businesses” by the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC), “Top Employers to Work For” by “The Business Ledger,” and “Fastest-Growing Minority Company” by the Chicago Minority Supplier Diversity Council. I have served on a number of boards, including North West Housing Partnership, Metropolitan Asian Family Services, IT Industry Group, Minority Input Committee, as well as governmental legislative committees. I have MSc. degrees from Illinois State University and Kanpur University in India. Prior to founding Iyka, I worked for Cabot Corporation and INX International.
How did you end up in Chicago and this techno-vision?I was born in a humble Kanpur family. My father was an orphan who became the most educated of all in his extended family. I was the first girl in all my extended family ever to go to high-school and beyond. Growing up I was not happy seeing the world around especially for women. All I wanted at first was to do the best I can then give it back to improve the world around me. Against many odds and fierce resistance, I got admission in Illinois State University and came to USA to be something. I was never satisfied by doing only “the job.” I left my “regular” job to start my own business in 2000. Earning money has never been my prime objective but making a difference in people’s lives has always been at the core of my being. I have served in many non-profits so far as well helped the needy in USA and India. Making a major impact in people’s life gave me solid self-confidence.
Small business has its own challenges but it really bothers me to see that we look at government for all solutions. It is true that government support is necessary but at the same time citizens have to be engaged. I saw a gap in technology, Innovation, and leadership. I had some discussions with Illinois Institute of Technology’s Innovation center and decided to put these pieces together to bring about Technology Innovation Summit. Going forward, I would like to invite major corporations to join hands in building an innovation center for government technology.