By Mohammed Shafeeq
Visakhapatnam or Vizag, as it is popularly known, is emerging as the hub of new age technologies as top financial technology firms are looking at this coastal city to start operations.
The keen interest shown by some national and global players for a presence in Fintech Valley Vizag may boost the prospect of developing the city as a key destination of emerging technologies -- blockchain, cyber security, data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Andhra Pradesh, which had to start from scratch in information technology after losing tech hub Hyderabad to Telangana three years ago, wants to ride on these new technologies to create a niche for itself.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who, as Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh between 1995 and 2004, steered Hyderabad to become one of the global IT destinations, faces a challenge to attract investment in the transformed IT world.
With traditional IT no longer relevant, he is focusing on technologies which are expected to drive growth in the future.
Fintech Valley, which completed one year this month, has attracted nine Fintech companies while 19 others are in the pipeline. It has also roped in 20 partners, including the country's top banks and ports, to create a repository of use cases in blockchain technology.
At the blockchain business conference held here this month, ICICI and Mahindra Finance announced the setting up of two accelerators in Fintech Valley. Tata Capital, State Bank of India, HDFC and others too will be starting their accelerators.
Broadridge Capital and Thomson Reuters announced the setting up of centres of excellence. Conduent, a US-based business process services company, has committed to set up a development centre in Vizag to create 5,000 jobs, including 2,000 in Fintech, over the next three years with an investment of Rs 649 crore.
Wipro is also looking at building its blockchain practice here while National Stock Exchange (NSE) proposes to set up a data centre.
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and other partners also plan to set up accelerators, with each expected to bring 20 to 30 start-up companies for work on solutions to their problems.
These developments are expected to spur development in Fintech Valley and boost the efforts of Andhra Pradesh, which has already taken the lead by piloting use of blockchain technology in land records and transport.
"We are extensively using IT to deliver services to citizens and that is why we require blockchain technology to protect our IT assets," IT Minister Nara Lokesh told IANS.
The state is not only creating an entire ecosystem to attract companies but also roping in regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to create the mechanism and a policy for use of the new technology across the administration.
Officials say that in the short span of a year, Fintech Valley has become a global brand.
"Companies go to Silicon Valley and Bengaluru because they have the ecosystem. We are creating the same here," said JA Chowdary, advisor, information technology, Andhra Pradesh government.
As part of the effort to create manpower for new technologies, the state has set up the Indian Institute of Digital Technology (IIDT) in Tirupati. It is also conducting monthly hackathons, seminars and workshops to educate the youth on emerging technologies. It also has plans to introduce the subject in the school/college curriculum.
Fintech Valley has also announced Global Fintech Challenge Award of $1 million to attract global players. To participate in the competition, the companies will need to have 20 percent of their operations here.
"We will conduct competitions in various global destinations like London, Singapore and Tel Aviv and the final will be held in global Fintech conference here next year," said Chowdary, who, as chairman of the Software Technology Park of India (STPI), Hyderabad, had witnessed the first wave of IT revolution.
The state is also in the process of establishing a Rs 500 crore Fintech Fund for start-ups operating in the domain and housed at Fintech Valley.
Lokesh, who is Chandrababu Naidu's son, admits that it's not easy to attract IT companies to Vizag. "The social infrastructure doesn't exist here. When you say the social infrastructure it is not just alcohol or nightlife alone. The city has no good eateries and other forms of entertainment. The mid-level management feels it is difficult to come to Vizag. From housing to education to more flights, the city needs an entire social infrastructure," he said.
"I am talking to eateries, hoteliers and airlines and telling them Vizag is not only the next destination but is the best return on your investment," he added.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)