Friday, June 04, 2004

Outsourcing Documentary - Review

Thomas Friedman certainly lived upto his reputation as an excellent reporter. IMO, the documentary gave an excellent perspective on what the scene is like at all levels of the outsourcing industry - from call centers to the real programmers. and an important aspect he touched upon was that of the majority of the population not being touched by the boom at all ... they touched topics like accent neutralization for call centers (this concept was too cool ... now i know how those telemarketers from india can speak like an american so well), training, easy money, changing lifestyles, paradigm shifts in ideals etc. etc. i wonder if the call center examples are representative of the rest of the 20 year old urban pool ...

the documentary featured interviews with Azim Premji (WIT) and Nandan Nilekani(INFY). Premji's "Globalization is a two way street " quote hit the nail on the head I think - but i also think that India will also get to hear more of the same from the west when they decide that its cheaper to move the IT boom somewhere else where it is even cheaper. Although it doesnt seem to be any time soon. there was another term friedman used - "glocalization" - whereby the companies use local markets to sustain the economic boom locally. an example given was of the animation services company jadoo - in addition to generating cartoons and animations for US based client, they are also using local artists (trained to be software animators) to create animated features like "krishna" for the local (indian) market. but companies likejadoo are few and far between. during a discussion at work today, the issue came up - are indian software companies the "IT coolies for multinational corporations" - is that what the indian software industry is reducing to? i have always had this question - do companies like INFY/WIT/SIFY etc. have a "product" of their own? competiting in the global market is possible if there is a distinct edge over the competition. right now, the edge seems to be purely because of cost - it is a matter of time, before this edge erodes. but while there is an edge, are companies taking steps to have another compettitve edge - viz., that of innovation - having better "products" inthe market - instead of becoming backoffice providers to microsoft or ibm, become another microsoft themselves. then another issue comes to mind - the chinese (or koreans) were not content with being backoffice cheap labor providers - they wanted to become big, and they did - they are now perceived as a "threat" to the US economy. but the indian companies seem "content" taking a backseat role in the global economy. again, i am not a software engineer, nor have i observed the indian software industry from close quarters. perhaps, i am misinterpreting the attitude of indian companies. but i still think that come the point when the indian companies cannot offer the cushion of "cheap" labor, because someone else is cheaper ... at that time, it will be indian companies who have invented their strategy through innovation who will survive the run on the software services industry. this is very similar to the indian pharma industry. the indian patent act of 1970 gave them a cushion/protection from international competition for about 30 years, but once it was amended 2-3 years ago to bring indian patent laws in accordance with the WTO rules, the companies who had the innovativeness (ranbaxy, reddy labs, etc.) who will be able to withstand competition from the mercks, pfizers, bayers, and novartises of the world.

coming back to the documentary: personally, for me, this was the first "visual picture" of the outsourcing boom. i suppose the outsourcing phenomenon is certainly very huge in bangalore as compared to pune and almost non-existent (relatively speaking) in mumbai. there are about 300,000 people working in call centers in india, but i do not know a single person myself who has ever worked in a call center. so it was all a new thing for me.

Friedman did bring out the fact (although not so explicitly stated) that "India Shining" is certainly not what the BJP wanted the junta to believe ... and i suppose they got bitten in return by the same junta ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I tried to dig up an old interview of Narayanmurthy from Rediff site, but couldn't. That interview was the reason I lost bulk of my respect for that man.

The whole time he stressed on service industry and how Infy became one of the leaders. The impression he gave was that infy would be content being service provider for backoffice or cyber-coolies. He also said that to be a meaningful force, companies have to come forward, take risks and develop innovative products. So far so good. But then he said that Infy has showed the way, and others should come forward and take those risks; that Infy was comfortable being a leader in current situation.

What was lacking was vision. We can't become an IT superpower by just being a BPO hub. We can't become a superpower by being content with status quo. Possibly the reason India has a huge potential that is largely untapped is that we are content with status quo.

I hoped that Infy would show the way, spend significantly on R&D, have innovative people in its fold (and fuel their innovativeness). Alas!

- Niket