Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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1/25/2006
11:55 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Opinion: Don't Ignore India And Hope It Will Go Away

Maybe India and other developing countries will become the centers for future tech innovation. Maybe India's contribution will be limited to low-cost, low-end jobs. But India's tech industry is not going away, and American IT managers shouldn't underestimate it, or ignore it, says Rob Preston.

Network Computing and our sister publication InformationWeek recently sent two editors to India to get a feel for how the country's roaring services sector is shaking up the technology establishment. The editors chronicle their week of travels and interviews in a series of blogs on nwc.com and informationweek.com.

Our report from India follows several other Network Computing stories on the Indian IT services phenomenon. In October 2003, for instance, Wesley Bertch, then director of software systems at Life Time Fitness, related the mess that resulted from his hiring an Indian contractor to develop a Web application for the Minneapolis-based fitness chain. Bertch, a staunch proponent of globalization, is nonetheless still sour on IT offshoring. "You get what you pay for" is his take on the Indian sector's low-cost value proposition. In January 2005, Network Computing took a look for itself. For a cover story by senior technology editor Don MacVittie, a former application engineer, we outsourced a customer service app to India's Patni Systems. Patni exceeded our expectations, showing great flexibility in delivering a quality product on time.

Big Ambitions

Whether you think the center of tech innovation will move to developing countries such as India, or you think India is just a low-cost up-and-comer, let's all agree on one thing: It's not going away. If editors Ron Anderson and Aaron Ricadela came away from their recent trip with one overarching impression, it's that Indian technologists are smart, hungry, tenacious and entrepreneurial. In areas where India is deficient now--depth of technical skills, business acumen, physical infrastructure--it'll get its act together. India is to services what Japan was to manufacturing three decades ago: dead serious about becoming the global gold standard, not the low-cost provider. Don't underestimate it.

In response to a recent blog on this subject by InformationWeek's Paul McDougall, one reader, echoing a sentiment expressed by other displaced U.S. IT professionals, writes that he has "no interest whatsoever in reading about all those folks enjoying the jobs that we all once held." It's an understandable reaction, but it's counterproductive. It's incumbent on all U.S. IT pros to read these and other accounts of India's (and China's and Eastern Europe's) rapid rise, to understand why some of their jobs are moving overseas and how they can make themselves more vital, even indispensable, in this global economy. A refusal to acknowledge, much less confront, an external threat doesn't chase the threat away.

India and other developing countries aren't just taking on basic app dev, call center and other low-hanging tasks. They've set their sights on entire business processes. Clerical jobs like payroll and benefits management are just the start; the engineering, legal, health-care and, yes, even media professions are next.

Another reader responding to the McDougall blog writes: "I suspect that Mr. McDougall is currently employed somewhere outside of India, in what he thinks is a secure job. But plenty of people in India and China can write, too. So watch out!"

Like-minded readers will take delight in learning that journalists who extol India's virtues aren't impervious to the forces of globalization. David Levin, the CEO of Network Computing's London-based parent company, United Business Media, is exhorting his execs to explore IT, editorial, audience development, production and other outsourcing opportunities in India and elsewhere.

So you bet we're watching out. No job is secure anymore, mine included. But instead of turning a blind eye to globalization, we're trying to make it work to our advantage, as we evaluate the product testing, writing and other editorial capabilities of our Indian partner, Cyber Media. The prospect of offshoring may unsettle us a bit, but better that we adapt to change than be blind-sided by a future we chose to ignore.

Rob Preston is editor in chief of Network Computing. Write to him at rpreston@nwc.com.

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