For a Few Rupees More

By Tom Field, CIO |  Career

GOOD STUFF, CHEAP.

That's the reputation of India's IT outsourcing industry, and it's both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that India has finally been able to seize the global stage by harnessing its greatest natural resource -- people -- and focusing on filling the world's yearning for IT skills and services. By becoming, as some call it, "the back office of the world," India has grown its IT exports in less than a decade from $150 million to more than $4 billion -- 10.5 percent of India's total overseas sales. And in so doing, India has built a solid record for developing IT talent as well as delivering top-notch legacy system maintenance and software applications.

The curse is that, despite what IT outsourcing has meant for India's economy, the country's top IT vendors have been typecast, and they're scared. Wipro, Infosys Technologies, TCS -- they all hear the approaching footsteps of Ireland, China and the Philippines, the up-and-coming IT service centers. What happens to India if any of these upstart countries learns to provide good stuff, cheaper? At the same time, these vendors feel the pressure of great expectations. They represent India's best hope to achieve economic prosperity in the 21st century, and so they push themselves to develop new products and services to meet projections that India's software exports will exceed $50 billion by 2008. But these companies already have grown so quickly that they now face their own staffing crunch. They compete with one another -- and with their foreign customers -- to recruit and retain thousands of young, restless programmers who want to get their hands on the hottest new IT projects. Yet how do India's IT vendors grow their businesses and create these hot, new projects when they're stuck with this label of "good stuff, cheap"?

"India has been branded as a country with a lot of cheap people available, and that's a lot of baggage to carry," says Soumitro Ghosh, general manager of worldwide marketing at Wipro, based in Bangalore. "We're trying to change that image. Getting work is not difficult; getting the right kind of work is difficult. We have to convince customers that they can outsource high-value work to India."

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