A Passage to India

Last week I made a flying – in every sense of the word – visit to one of our long-term partners in India, Tata Consulting Services (TCS), NIIT is the other.

Visiting Mumbai with all its traffic in the Monsoon is decidedly interesting – but this is not a weather or a traffic report.

So, can anything new be said about Indian IT? Probably not. But I was forcibly impressed – as I always am when I meet Indian IT people – by the rather different place that technology and technology people and companies hold in the Indian economy compared with the UK. Not only is technology seen as a very valuable and strategic profession – it is seen as one of, if not the, top professions. One that the best students aspire to: we have all heard about the queues of graduates taking the recruitment tests for the Indian (and US in India) IT giants.

It is a truism that India is a country of contrasts.  IT campuses with their ultra modern facilities and lawns, exist sometimes literally next door to areas of urban or rural deprivation.  

But the Indian IT Model is visibly working: the IT sector has pioneered India’s export-led growth, it has been a major driver in growing an aspiring middle-class that is fuelling consumer demand and has pushed for infrastructure investment.

And the leaders and managers of the Indian IT sector are major contributors to philanthropy and social responsibility.  TCS, for instance, showed me their rural micro banking project using mobile phone technology, thumb-print reader and voice read-outs in all of India’s languages.  Another Indian IT leader I know well, is founding a university.

The Indian leaders I met were pleased that our Prime Minister is making an early visit. With Europe in the economic doldrums, the UK clearly needs to develop our trade with an economy likely to grow at around 10% a year.

Yet I suspect some Britons still have some strange ideas about India, with images of the country a mixture of distant history and pictures of under-development from past aid appeals.

Yet we in the UK have so much to learn from present-day India, especially in the IT field. I want to flag up three areas where we should be emulating our Indian counterparts.  And before anyone points to the exceptions that prove me wrong, I am talking about relativities here not absolute differences:

1)  The close links between the elite Indian IT universities (and graduate schools) and business. In the UK we still have something of a gulf between business and university – too often (but with many honourable exceptions, of course) neither sector quite “gets” the other;

2)   The cohesiveness of the Indian IT industry which – through its industry association (NASSCOM) – has been very effective in presenting the central role of technology in Indian Economy and Society, and winning support from Government. In the UK we do not have a single authoritative voice for IT;

3) The way that Government has supported the Indian IT sector with tax holidays and support perhaps not possible in the UK. 

Now, the UK IT industry is thankfully very much still a UK success story. It has created jobs and wealth against the trend. To keep it that way, we should be learning from our Indian counterparts, at the same time that we admire how they have helped to transform Indian economy and society over the last 15 years.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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