Internet is perhaps the greatest revolution in science
and technology that our generation can imagine. It has brought in many
benefits to the society- cultural, economical and political.
It is in the interest of the society that the benefits
which the Internet technology promises, should be harnessed to the
betterment of the society.
One of the most important aspects of Internet is its
ability to connect people through the communication network irrespective
of their physical location. The benefit flowing out of this is the ability
to bring about a collaboration of people for a common task without
physically bringing them together into an office. Virtual offices are
therefore a reality of the day.
Netpreneur-The Building Block of a Digital Society:
In this Virtual work environment, any individual with
a Computer connected to the Internet can be part of a global office as if
he is sitting along with his colleagues in the office. This can be called
the concept of " Virtual Employment". Virtual employees can use their
skills such as "Web Designing", "Editing", "Teaching" and many other
faculties for and on behalf of a Virtual Employer.
Similarly, a single Computer owner can interact with
the whole world of Consumers and do business with them. This has given a
boost to the concept of "Netpreneurship".
"Netpreneurship" is the ability to run a business on
the Internet. It requires just the "Connectivity". A Netpreneur, as long
as he has a service which the market requires can set up a viable business
with his "Intellectual Capital" as the main input and the "Connectivity
Infrastructure" as the only physical input.
A Netpreneur can be a self employed individual or one
who predominantly employs several virtual employees. Those Netpreneurs who
can afford their own computer and connect to the Internet and carry on
business can be called the Self Employed Netpreneurs (SENs).
Those Netpreneurs who have more resources and engage
"Employees" either for physical world services such as marketing, order
fullfillment etc but carry on the main business activities on the Virtual
Environment, are the Small and Home Office (SOHO) establishments.
For convenience of definition, it may be necessary to
define the scope of such establishments. I would define any Computer
network of less than 5 Computers as a SOHO Computer network. Extending the
same definition, any business with 5 or less number of physical employees
can be defined as SOHOs.
Larger establishments including Call centers and
Medical Transcription units etc fall into the category of IT enabled
Service Establishments beyond the limited scope of SOHOs. These bigger
units have a strength of their own and are outside the scope of present
An enterprise cannot go smaller than one single
individual namely the "Entrepreneur". In this sense, the "Netpreneur" is
like the smallest building block in the "Business Network". He is like the
"Atom" which is the building block of the physical world. His intellectual
ability is the nucleus and the Electrons are the elements of
connectivity. Bigger the atomic weight, more is the energy potential of
The Netpreneur is a premium member in the Community.
He provides service to the community including employment. To the extent
he provides services outside the community, he adds wealth to the
community by his Export activity. He is a person therefore who needs to be
encouraged by the Community for its own benefit. More the Netpreneurs in
the society, better it is for the community.
Just as Atoms add up to molecules and molecules add up
to elements with various properties. Netpreneurs add up to build other
higher value added economic units in the society eitherj oining hands with
other similar Netpreneurs or with other Brick and Mortar entities.
Propsperity springs when an environment is created
where such Netpreneurs flourish, enter into mutually beneficial
partnerships and enjoy the benefits of a Connected society.
SOHO Service Providers:
While a typical Self Employed Netpreneur posesses his
own minimum infrastructure of a Computer connected to the Internet, at the
micro level, a Netpreneur can also run his business from a "Cyber Cafe"
with shared facilities.
It is in this sense that the "Cyber Cafes" are actually
"Business Enablers" and have a great role to play as
"E-Bridge Centers" in an economy short of Money Capital..
The Cyber Cafes as well as Service Integrators (eg:
Soho Network India) who collate the services of the Netpreneurs fall into
a separate layer of second level business units who are service providers
to the Virtual Employees, Netpreneurs and SOHO players. Because of this
direct relationship, these SOHO Service providers also belong to the
industry surrounding Netpreneurship.
In a society like India starved of Money Capital but
rich in Intellectual Capital, it is necessary for the benefit of the
society to harness the individual Netpreneurship through aggregation. Such
an aggregated entity will have economies of scale besides the strength of
The society therefore needs to nurture the SOHO
industry in whatever manner necessary.
Taking the example of the recent
controversy surrounding Sohonet India, a company which is specializing
in distributing work for SOHOs, it is evident that if the SOHO industry
has to blossom, there has to be a mechanism by which the energies in the
industry are properly channelised.
Without implying anything to the case of Sohonet India
in which Naavi.com is working for an amicable resolution of conflict, it
is evident that there could be business entities who may utilize the
opportunity available for remote business development to their advantage
and deliberately exploit Virtual Employees and even cheat the public.
There is also a possibility that a business well
conceived and run with passion and good faith may fail for many reasons
beyond the control of the entrepreneur. In such cases, all the affected
persons would prima-facie feel that they have been cheated while they may
actually be victims of circumstances.
This feeling of "having been cheated" gets accentuated
when in the face of initial business setbacks the good entrepreneur tries
to mend things without taking others in to confidence and keeps on
increasing the risks in the hope that it would pay off in the end.
Somewhere his calculations go wrong and then with hindsight every outsider
will come to the conclusion that the entrepreneur even after losing hope
of reviving the business kept on giving false promises and therefore
cheated the public.
Many such good intentioned businesses suffer because of
the illogical actions of Bankers or Venture capitalists who desert the
project midstream and create a crisis. Ultimately the entrepreneurs of
such ventures are lost to the society and those from public who invested
in such companies lose their investments. On both accounts, it is the
society that suffers.
This experience is not new in India and we have seen
NBFCs, Teak Companies and Capital market dependent Corporates suffering
due to this syndrome of "Mid Stream Desertion by Capital Suppliers".
In certain cases, the regulatory system meant to
protect the public are themselves causes of such downfalls. The role of
RBI in NBFC regulation and SEBI in Primary Capital market regulation are
examples of such "Industry Down Trend Due to Regulation". Even in the
Cyber Law area, I have been highlighting how aggressive pursuance of
Intellectual Property rights have been harmful to the Cyber Society.
Soft Regulation for SOHO Industry
However, considering the long term interest of the IT
industry in India and the need to harness the SOHO potential, I feel that
some kind of a "Soft Regulation" would help in the proper channelling of
the potential of the Netpreneurs.
With this object in mind, and to trigger a public
debate, I propose as follows:
1. Every State should recognize that Internet based
business networking is a good business model having a potential to
harness the individual Computer based skills of the members of the
society and provide an "Employment Opportunity" to many of them. In
order to ensure that the industry is not spoiled by a few scamsters,
there is a need for some kind of regulation which is skewed more towards
"Voluntary Compliance" rather than being "Restrictive".
2. It is therefore suggested that at every State
Government level, the Department of Labour and Employment should create
a "Netpreneurship Cell" or "E-Entrepreneurship Development Cell", (EEDC)
which would work as an apex monitoring body of the scheme for
development of Netpreneurship for public good. ( If the State Government
so decides, it can be under the IT department or Small Industry
department or even a separate department for E-Governance such as the
one created by the Karnataka Government.)
3. This EEDC will provide a voluntary "Registration
Facility" for different categories of people who would like to
participate in the IT based SOHO industry. The categories would be
a) Virtual Employment Seekers (VES)
b) Self Employed Netpreneurs (SENs)
b) SOHO business units (Units with less than 5 work
units engaged in any IT related business). Small Cyber Cafes may also
fall in this category.
c) SOHO Service Providers who use the VES/SENs in
aggregation. (Large Cyber Cafes will also fall under this category)
5. The Cell should develop "Good Business Practices"
for each of these stakeholders in the industry for voluntary compliance.
(on the lines of what has been suggested for Cyber Cafes working as
6. Provisional Registration should be open to any
stake holder who subjects himself voluntarily to the suggested norms.
7. Provisional Registration should be converted into
"Accreditation" after some checks and inspections that may be prescribed
on a periodical basis.
8. Similar Netpreneurship Cells developed in
different States should form a "Federation" and exchange their
9. The Government can look at passing on any IT
related business to this network on a priority basis to support such a
voluntary work force of self employed Netpreneurs.
These "Accredited Netpreneurs" will be the building
blocks of the era of IT Based Home enterprise in the Country. This project
of building such a network should be an E-Governance Project for the
Department of Labour and Employment in each State.
If this scheme succeeds, it will be first of its kind
in the world aimed at organized development of the real benefits that the
Internet offers as a business opportunity for the Community.
I am confident that all genuine business entities will
welcome such a move.
Comments are welcome.
February 23, 2003
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