Down To Business: The Mind-Set Of The Indian IT Exec - InformationWeek
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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: The Mind-Set Of The Indian IT Exec

After a week of meetings with a few dozen locals in three Indian cities, a clearer picture emerges.

Most of us have notions about the business cultures and practices in other countries, generally based on limited experiences, third-party anecdotes, and even stereotypes. Much has been written about the business environment in India in particular, as more and more IT and other services get moved there. Having just visited India for the first time, I'm no expert on the country, but after a week of intense meetings in three Indian cities with 30 or so CIOs and a handful of vendors, I offer these impressions.

As background, four U.S. colleagues and I traveled first to the growth-ravaged city of Hyderabad, where we spent a day with Satyam, one of the nation's top IT and business service providers. The next day, we were off to the even higher-octane metropolis of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), where we met with several tech vendors and hosted a roundtable discussion with a dozen local CIOs. Finally, we visited the more refined but still frenetic capital city, New Delhi, where 20 CIOs participated in our roundtable.

The two InformationWeek roundtables centered around Tomorrow's CIO, the subject of our recent survey of 719 mostly U.S. business technology executives. At those sessions, convivial, opinionated, sometimes confrontational CIOs from companies such as Tata Chemicals, Shoppers Stop, Bharti Airtel, and Maruti Suzuki let us know how their jobs, priorities, and experiences compare with those of U.S. CIOs.

What's the No. 1 thing keeping Indian CIOs up at night? Besides mosquitoes, joked one exec, it's finding and retaining talent. Satyam, for instance, needs to train between 8,000 and 10,000 entry-level people a year, and the vendor and its domestic rivals normally get first crack at the top tier of graduating students. Outsourcing to those vendors is one solution. Finding smart generalists and training them on the technology is another.

Indian CIOs, or at least most of the 30 we met, are laser-focused on business strategy. In a domestic economy still growing a torrid 8% a year, the tactics of IT infrastructure and application management are left mostly to senior staffers or outsourcers, they said.

Most of the Indian CIOs we met said they report to a CEO or owner. Most said they don't have the authority to set or influence most big corporate decisions, such as acquisitions, but they're regularly consulted. In comparison, 31% of the U.S. execs we surveyed said the CIO is actively involved in such high-level decisions, while 48% serve more of a consultative role.

When asked how their IT organizations best contribute to the overall success of their companies, U.S. execs put "maintains existing systems," "ensures network availability," and "leads large-scale deployment of technologies" at the top, while "contributes to company innovation and growth," "manages outsourced relationships," and "champions disruptive technologies and processes" pulled up the bottom. The Indian CIOs suggested that their priorities are the reverse. The fact that legacy systems are more of a concern in the United States than in India and that Indian companies as a whole are growing much faster than U.S. companies may partially explain that disparity, the Indian CIOs said.

The Indian CIOs take for granted that their businesses operate in a global context, so they apply that mind-set to all dimensions of their job, from sourcing to project development to customer service.

The Indian execs agree with our U.S. survey respondents about most of the attributes that define a cutting-edge CIO: leadership, execution, communications, vision, innovation. At the bottom of the U.S. list was "sales orientation," an attribute considered much more important for Indian CIOs, they said, as they sell projects internally and meet regularly with customers.

Both the Indian CIOs and execs we met with at Satyam (including soft-spoken chairman B Ramalinga Raju) described their organizations' culture as "participatory." The Indian CIOs portrayed the U.S. IT culture as "autocratic" and the European one as "democratic"--an overgeneralization for sure.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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