How India's IT outsourcing leaders can stay on top

By Stephanie Overby, CIO |  IT Management, outsourcing

The double-digit growth rates of Indian IT service providers have long been the envy of their Western counterparts. But as the offshore outsourcing market matures, India's outsourcers will have to move beyond the lower level IT work that got them where they are today.

Indian IT service providers grew at a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32% between 2005 and 2008 compared to just 7% for Western outsourcers, according to outsourcing consultancy and research firm Information Services Group (ISG).

In the last three years, growth has slowed. Between 2009 and 2012, Western providers delivered just a 0.4% CAGR while Indian outsourcers fell to 16%, according to ISG.

[Related: 9 IT Outsourcing Trends to Watch in 2013]

"[Indian provider] growth is now slowing since they have begun to reach high levels of market penetration," says Sid Pai, partner and president for ISG Asia Pacific, says, "so the onus on them is to find ways to continue progressing by expanding into solutions and industry-focused software products."

While Indian companies continue to outperform their Western equivalents, a sluggish IT outsourcing market overall could start take its toll one some India providers this year.

[Related: Is IT Outsourcing a Dying Concept?]

"[That will] drive down margins further as competition gets even more intense," says Phil Fersht, president of IT outsourcing analyst firm HfS Research, which is predicting a slight 3.5% growth in IT services deals in 2013. "We may even see one [Indian provider] post negative growth in this slowing market."

"Ongoing margin pressure and an increasingly competitive environment will make it difficult to maintain even those reduced growth rates," says John Keppel, partner and president for ISG North Europe. "For India-heritage providers, changes in strategy -- some subtle and some not so subtle -- are required."

Firms that continue to focus on transactional low-end, low cost work may miss out on the next wave of IT services investment. "The market trend towards smaller deals and multi-sourcing is moving some business away from commodity offshore-based models, towards niche players as well as onshore-based models," says Rakesh Bhatia, senior associate of outsourcing consultancy Pace Harmon.

"It's time for these providers to make the necessary investments to continue their growth journey," says Fersht, "or they can start to look at some rather interesting case studies of providers in the Western world who failed to keep up with the times."

Indian IT outsouring service providers should take this six steps to ensure continued growth:

1. Hire IT Expertise Abroad

Indian firms need to up their consulting and domain specific expertise, says Atul Vashistha, CEO of offshoring consultancy Neo Advisory. And they'll have to look outside India for that.

"The India-heritage Tier 1 [providers] have recognized that growth of some of their highly commoditized services is threatened and they are dealing with it in various ways," says Bhatia. "They are growing their non-Indian employee base at a faster rate and performing strategic acquisitions outside India to reduce the leakage of their business to smaller onshore competitors."

"The future is going to be less about selling the low-end work, but the more complex IT-enabled business processes that are specific to industries. Hence, the investments the providers need to make are going to be in more consultative talent and specific technology IP," says Fersht of HfS Research. "And you can't find all of that for cheap rates in a third-tier Indian city."

2. Crack the Public Sector

Protectionist legislation will continue to inhibit India's growth in public sector IT outsourcing, but some opportunities exist. "Public sector contracts are large, complex deals are expensive to win, but they are also sticky and profitable," says ISG's Keppel.

3. Spend That Cash

Some Indian providers are setting aside significant portions of their reserves to invest in newer, less commoditized IT services--those that sit at the intersection of IT and the business or incorporate social, mobile, analytics, or cloud computing, says Bhatia.

4. Embrace Automation

Indian providers must break the mold of linear growth that requires greater investment in full-time employees in order to increase revenues, says Fersht of HfS Research. "This means more investments in automation and business platforms that can increase work volumes without increasing staff numbers.

5. Sell to New CXOs

Indian providers looking for new business ought to look beyond the CIO's office. "Taking leadership positions in newer trending areas is giving them the ability to expand their footprint at existing clients by selling services outside of the CIO's organization," says Bhatia.

6. Go BPO

Business process outsourcing, IT outsourcing's younger cousin, remains a higher-growth area. India currently holds about 36% of the market, according to ISG, leaving plenty more to acquire. "Sustained growth will require not just success but dominance of the BPO market," says ISG's Keppel.

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO.com's IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about outsourcing in CIO's Outsourcing Drilldown.

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