Indian IT outsourcers look ahead

But Nasscom still can't escape the present

But Nasscom still can't escape the present

Indian outsourcing industry association Nasscom says it is focusing on the future. But that does not mean it can afford to ignore today's business issues, says Richard Sykes.

The Nasscom Leadership Forum is India's major annual gathering of the IT industry. This is my second visit - in February 2007 I learned that in this context leadership means Indian leadership of the wider world IT industry.

Special Report: Inside India

In February 2007 silicon.com's Steve Ranger visited the Indian tech hotspots of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune. Click on the links below to see photo galleries of the cities and companies visited.

Satyam's IT campus
Hyderabad's tech parks
Bringing tech to rural India
High-tech on the streets of Pune
Pune - the new Bangalore?
Boom town Bangalore
Bangalore's Electronics City
SAP and Wipro in Bangalore

The event opened formally today, with a series of presentations by leading figures from the industry.

Already there is an underlying tension between the longer term, which is the focus of the day, and the shorter term - for a start the impact of a potential US recession that keeps creeping in.

2009 is Nasscom's 20th birthday. The young turks whose vision created Nasscom two decades ago are now the leaders of the businesses they built, including Infosys, TCS and HCL - all now global majors.

Ahead of the Leadership Forum, Nasscom released figures showing an expected 33 per cent growth in IT sector sales for the Indian industry to the end of March, to a total of $52bn - $40bn from exports of software and outsourcing services - and indicated all is on track for Nasscom's 2010 target of $60bn for exports of software and outsourcing services.

By 2010 the IT software and services sector will deliver 10 per cent of India's GDP. But that success emphasises how much of the Indian population still remains at the margin, barely registering on the conventional measures of GDP.

Still, Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of Infosys, listed the impressive ways that technology has already transformed contemporary India. For example voting in elections is fully electronic throughout the country, financial services and capital markets are of a high quality and there is a nationwide railway reservations system in place that works.

He went on to set out an agenda for the coming decade that included a national facility for registering land, a unified system for identifying each Indian citizen electronically, and distribution channels that would reach every citizen, even in the most remote rural areas.

And APJ Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, set a vision of India's transformation from a global software powerhouse to a global knowledge systems powerhouse, at the heart of a global knowledge network devoted to driving the non-linear economic growth required to end global poverty within a generation.

And yet. A panel of three business leaders, Accenture COO Steve Rohleder, Satyam founder Ramalinga Raju and Cisco chief globalisation officer Wim Elfrink, were far more focused on the issues of today: performance delivery in turbulent markets, tackling issues of talent shortage and development and working with a genuinely global mindset.

The strong positioning of India in the global economy was articulated endlessly - but so was the reality of working with today's very real business challenges.