HP's e-drive targets underprivileged worldwide

Hewlett-Packard's e-inclusion programme, which aims to take technology-led development to underprivileged communities worldwide,...

Hewlett-Packard's e-inclusion programme, which aims to take technology-led development to underprivileged communities worldwide, is on track to be a revenue model, said Maureen Conway, vice president of e-inclusion and emerging market solutions.

The company has developed 12 products based on needs of the communities involved in the programme. HP is also working with local entrepreneurs to introduce products on a revenue-sharing model.

The first commercial product is expected to be ready by the end of October and is likely to be deployed by March. The product will focus on education and is the offshoot of extensive experimentation in the Kuppam i-Community in Andhra Pradesh state in south India, and Dikhotole Digital Village, a community outside Johannesburg in South Africa.

The e-inclusion program is seen by HP as a way to open up new market opportunities, while also serving and empowering technologically underprivileged communities.

"The focus for the work in India and in South Africa is to add to our business," Conway said. "So we are not going into it with philanthropic dollars, but with strategic business development dollars."

HP and the government of Andhra Pradesh initiated a three-year alliance last year to build the HP i-Community in Kuppam, with 320,000 people in four rural villages. Under the alliance, the government is to help establish necessary access infrastructure in Kuppam and make the area a priority for information and communications technology investments, while HP works in the community to develop scalable, self-sustaining IT products that can be replicated elsewhere, and also leads in establishing teamwork among participants.

The company has developed a solar-powered mobile photography studio including a digital camera and printer that can be carried in a backpack. Five women in Kuppam are testing the mobile studio, offering photography services for social events and government identity cards.

HP and its partners have also set up five community information centres at Kuppam, which provide villagers with online services enabling access and online applications for government programmes.

The company and its partners have further introduced the HP Mobile CIC, with an eye to taking the online services, information and facilities from the centres to remote areas, using mobile vans connected to the CICs by 802.11 Wlan technology. The mobile vans also offer soil testing facilities to farmers, information repositories, expert systems for farmers, water testing and purification tools, literacy testing tools, and an entertainment centre.

HP is using some of its existingwares, at times re-engineering them to survive the rigours and inadequate infrastructure of rural environments, and is also working on new technologies such as touch screens and local language interfaces to make technology more accessible to rural people.

"Not everything we do will generate a business for HP," Conway said. "However, a lot of what we are learning will probably be built into products for these markets."

HP wants to ensure that the programs are sustained. "Our goal has been to ensure that the solutions are self-sustainable, so that they continue to be there even after we have left," said Anand Tawker, general manager of HP's e-inclusion and emerging markets solutions.

"That means that the service must be perceived as valuable by the local community, providing an incentive to local entrepreneurs to take it forward."

John Ribeiro writes for IDG News Service

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