What an upbeat atmosphere

What an upbeat atmosphere

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary reports on the discussions at the annual Indian IT industry conference

So here we are at the Nasscom Leadership Forum in Mumbai. I have attended this annual conference for each of the past six years, watching as the entire Indian technology industry rails against some injustice, or just enjoys the moment.

My earlier visits were against a backdrop of violent anti-offshoring protests in the UK and US. How times change.

I noticed last year that there seemed to be less of a unifying theme at the conference, possibly as the industry matures.

The lack of unification is even more obvious this year. Some people have insisted that innovation is the theme for 2008, but I am afraid that is a bit too nebulous.

I walked into the event thinking that the general air of this year’s conference might be quite negative.

Stock prices in the sector have struggled recently, as margins have been eroded by unfavourable dollar-to-rupee exchange rates.

Add to that a general fear of economic slowdown in the West, and you might expect a cloud or two to
be hanging over some of the event’s participants.

In general, however, the mood has been upbeat. Companies either see a downturn in the US as an opportunity to get out there and use the low-cost-India calling card once more, or they just see new opportunities on the horizon.

One of my contacts, Paul Morrison from the consulting and research firm Alsbridge, acknowledged some of the difficulties in the outsourcing market, but also felt some industry voices were protesting too much.

Morrison said he would challenge a lot of the general concerns running across the Indian technology industry, because he does not think the problems are huge.

“I think that, in fact, the real discussion here is more about the next set of growth opportunities,” he said.

Morrison referred to knowledge process outsourcing and suggested that real case studies are now emerging, rather than just hopeful talk.

“The domestic Indian market is also rising up the agenda, and so the main question is: where is the balance going to be struck between any potential slowdown and all the different opportunities for growth?”
he said.

Morrison is absolutely right. What is the point of talking vaguely about a wave of innovation on the horizon, when there is a list of very real and tangible industry opportunities ready to be grasped by whoever
wants to go first?

In fact, such opportunities make concerns over recent share price performance seem very shortsighted.

We all know that public companies need to justify their performance to external shareholders, who start becoming jittery as margins begin being eroded.

But the only company I can think of in the outsourcing sector that has really taken leadership and stuck a flag in the sand is Cognizant, a firm that has talked up the market opportunities and told analysts that results are going to be higher than market predictions. Brave words, indeed.

So let us hope Francisco D’Souza, Cognizant’s chief executive, achieves his numbers and proves the industry doubters wrong.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is a board member of the National Outsourcing Association