The concept of integrated technology parks continues to be relevant despite the brief (and in some cases, continuing) dalliance with the work-from-home (WFH) model that the Covid-19 interlude forced on the IT industry.

This becomes clear if one looks at recent pivots, none more instructive than the ‘Taurus Downtown Trivandrum’ facility coming up in Technopark Phase-III here, says John M Thomas, CEO, Kerala State IT Parks.

Taurus is a mixed-use office, retail, residential, and hotel development located at the heart of Technopark-Thiruvananthapuram, one of the country’s largest IT parks.

“Previously, promoters would build strictly IT infrastructure one after the other. The focus has now changed to integrated IT townships. At Taurus, you have separate IT and commercial buildings, a shopping mall, and a residential complex, all on 20 acres. So there’s a high-quality live-work-play space available all within the township,” Thomas told BusinessLine.

WFH selectively useful

“So when we create 10,000 jobs, it is not going to add 10,000 cars zooming between Thiruvananthapuram city and Technopark. If we can provide a facility where clients can proceed from the airport to Technopark in 25-30 minutes, and once they reach the campus they don’t need not leave the campus for any need and ensure them and employees a high-quality life, that’s a strong value proposition,” Thomas added.

WFH has been found to be a useful model in specific cases but problems arise when this is sought to be forced on the entire workforce or an entire spectrum of companies. “Because for large swathes of the IT workforce, you need an office atmosphere. Especially so for fresh entrants. A lot of their learning happens actually by working with seniors or under mentorship. In WFH, they will miss out on professional guidance,” he said.

Company work culture

The second part is some CEOs place a premium on the culture of the company. Most successful business leaders have become what they are because of a strong work culture. Work culture and ethics can be passed on only if there’s a fair share of work from the office.

Then there are data privacy issues with the WFH model. “So there is umpteen number of reasons why you, the employees, the industry and leadership need a fairly good extent of work in the office,” Thomas said.

Proposal for Pallippuram

As for the integrated township model, Thomas says there’s an excellent proposition for Pallippuram (Technopark Phase-IV), some distance away from Technopark, where 300 acres of land area are available for development — a model township based on the SmartCity concept with assured arrangements for waste collection, traffic management, flood management, and disaster recovery.

“I’m a firm believer in having a master plan for Pallippuram. We could ideally have an integrated SmartCity standing on 30 acres of land, or even a network of SmartCities on 30 acres apiece, a proposal for which is currently engaging the attention of the State government,” he said.

Retrofitting option available

So what happens to the existing huge Technopark infrastructure (Phases I and II)?

One idea is to retrofit existing buildings to green building standards, add recreational spaces and energy-efficient windows, and spruce up the guest house and the club house. “But we may not be able to bring up it to international standards because existing building design may not necessarily lend itself to such improvements,” he said.

Social infrastructure becomes very relevant. “If people have to feel ultimately happy, they need good health infrastructure and good schools... on these two fronts, we’re fairly okay. But you also need good sports facilities, parks and nightlife. We’re catching up though. Even within technopark, we’re placing a premium on these kinds of spaces now. We’ve taken up a huge refurbishing campaign within for all our existing buildings. We need to bring them up to industry standards,” Thomas said.

A rainwater harvesting facility has been recently built on the campus with a walkway around. Unused spaces are being converted to parking lots. EV charging stations are being set up and walkways built by the Thettiyaar stream that flows in the neighbourhood.

“But what happens inside the park needs to be supplemented by those outsides. So we’re working with several agencies to improve the environment and surroundings outside,” Thomas said.