Managing scale vs growth emerged as one of the biggest challenges for the Indian IT industry in FY’17 as it explored ways and means to navigate the disruptive tech forces
The Indian IT industry is at the fag end of conventional outsourcing, as we know it, and at the beginning of a new phase where the rules of engagement are completely different. As we look at FY’17, it was a mixed bag. The em-
IN ALL, FY’18 LOOKS LIKE A MAKE OR BREAK YEAR FOR INDIAN IT. WHATEVER INNOVATION THE COMPANIES ARE TALKING ABOUT WILL MANIFEST IN FY 18
phasis seemed to be on sustaining the scale rather than growing. Many factors contributed to the stunted growth - tighter visa regime, contraction of the market, shrinking of the volume business, overall cautious tech spending, layoffs added with the change of political guard in the US and the strong anti-outsourcing rhetoric by the Trump administration - all these have acted as dampeners for the Indian IT and outsourcing industry over the last year.
As we look at the DQ Top 20 listings this time, the IT industry is clearly going through mid-career blues. There is clear trend towards retrenchment in the industry, where at one point in time retention was a big challenge. Attrition is no longer an issue. If one looks at the Top 5 companies, the struggle to grow becomes quiet evident as we compare FY’17 with FY’16.
TRANSITIONING TO NEW REALITIES
According to reports available, the global IT industry is pegged at $1.2 trillion and growing at a rate of 4%. In a presentation titled IT-BPM Industry in India: Sustaining Growth and Investing for the Future, industry body NASSCOM talked about growth drivers and headwinds during FY’17. The growth drivers as cited by NASSCOM are: the addition of over $11 bn in revenue (8.6% in constant currency; 7.6% in reported currency) and digital becoming mainstream are two big events during FY’17. Due to the digital transformation wave, the industry is rather nudged to focus on skills in demand and expanded its play in multiple geographies like Continental Europe, Japan, China, and Africa. Moreover, the industry also did new acquisitions and forged new partnerships to enhance digital capabilities, domain, and consulting skills.
NASSCOM also cited few headwinds, the significant ones are: increased rhetoric on protectionism, Brexit and visa issues, delayed decision making due to macro-economic uncertainties, slower growth in traditional services, focus on cost optimization, currency volatility led to difference of 1–3% between constant currency and reported currency growth and longer gestation period for enhanced R&D investments in products and platforms led to some impact on margins.
As we look at some of the challenges post the US elections last year, it is the anti-outsourcing rhetoric that became the conversation topic. But TCS CEO and MD Rajesh Gopinathan in an interview to Dataquest said, “The current discourse on the issue in the US is driven by emotions rather than the economy and the best way to tackle it is through greater engagement. Sometimes, companies like us get characterized is very different from the reality of what we bring to the table. The industry is not an outcome of a visa regulation. We have gone through a huge revolution on the technology side. The sheer extent of technology work globally has expanded many fold and India has emerged as a phenomenal source of high-quality supply for it.”
Companies in the fray are making concerted efforts in taming the headwinds. For instance, Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka said while announcing Q1, FY’18 results, “Our persistent focus on execution in Q1 is reflected in broad-based performance on multiple fronts– revenue growth, resilient margins despite multiple headwinds, healthy cash generation and overall business results. I am encouraged by the uptick in revenue per employee for six quarters in a row, and the strong momentum in our new high growth services and software, as we accelerate our focus on innovationled growth.”
So clearly the rules of engagement are changing and with the digital wave sweeping enterprise IT organizations across the world has triggered a range of ramifications- right from layoffs to the emergence of new delivery models.
Quips Debashis Chatterjee, President, Global Delivery, Cognizant, “Being digital is the defining challenge for today’s C-suite and the enterprises they lead. To speed our progress, we have many initiatives underway. We are expanding our solutions portfolio. To do so, we are deploying repeatable, industry-tailored solutions faster across our three practice areas. And we’re further developing offerings through select partnerships and acquisitions. We are deepening and broadening our digital skills under the guidance of Chief Digital Officers in each of our industry and regional business units. We’re further enhancing our digital engagements with clients. For example, at our collaboratory or co-innovation centers, our strategists, designers, data scientists, human sciences and cyber security experts work with clients and partners to design, prototype, build, and run new customer experiences and business processes.”
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
While doomsday pundits wrote last year that the Indian IT industry has hit its nadir, but given the huge size of the global IT industry, it offers tremendous scope to Indian IT. Industry estimates say that for FY’18 software exports are expected to grow at sub 7% while domestic market growth is pegged to grow at about 11%.
But on a larger level, companies need to devise ways and means to offset the challenges in the traditional ADM and packaged software segments with non-linear offerings and a platform led approach will help.
Yet another biggest challenge lies is managing the scale the IT companies have built over the years. As they embark on downsizing initiatives, it will clearly upset the workforce demographics within the organization. High paid lateral employees were given voluntary separation offers and in the short run, this might jeopardize the senior leadership roles.
In all, FY’18 looks like a make or break year for Indian IT. Whatever innovation the companies are talking about will manifest in FY’18. The ongoing year will see the full extent of the layoffs and the extent of downsizing and in a way, set a new direction for Indian IT industry.