Wednesday, January 25, 2006

“Quality or Cost for India Inside or Both”

Did you know that 75% of the world’s CMM Level 5 software centers are in India?
The need for making a mark in the world canvas provided the trigger to the quality movement in India. But the real impetus came after Motorola’s software center at Bangalore became the world’s second CMM Level 5 unit in 1994 (the first was at NASA). There are close to 100 to 120 software centers on the planet that are assessed at CMM Level 5.Of all those centers, 75% are in India.

CMM is the classic Capability Maturity Model from the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Level 5 is the highest level on the maturity scale.
India’s software industry isn’t surprised. Indian organizations have led the world in quality certification for years. Now the latest trend of certification being followed is PCMM. The world’s first PCMM (People-CMM) Level 5 organization is also in India.

India is making progress on both Software CMM and People CMM faster than any other nation in the world. The pinnacle will be reached when the reverse brain drain phenomenon will become more prominent and wide spread. This phenomenon has started spreading its tentacles with loads of Indian diaspora returning back to Indian shores. These guys who bring with them loads of experience and global exposure chair many of the Indian arms of the global MNCs. In my view there are other factors also triggering their return apart from the bullish economy such as personal reasons and close knit with one’s culture.

Take a look at the numbers again, and then take a look around. Outside the “First World offices” of the Indian software and BPO firms is a huge and crowded Third World country with all its challenges and limitations. You’d immediately sense and experience the issues and problems of a developing economy.

And yet, surrounded by the sea of “non quality” there are these hundreds of world-class organizations in the software, systems engineering and the BPO space, epitomizing excellence. These are routinely visited by foreign delegations and even country leaders. If some dignitary lands in Bangalore, his/her visit is incomplete without a visit to Infosys and Wipro, these are the temples, the Taj Mahals of modern India, proud showpieces for a not-so-otherwise proud population. Well I have been to Infosys and they have a swanky campus and there in the lawns you can find sign posts under a tree planted by various world leaders and politicians.
These organizations are not doing cutting edge work to be frank. But they are doing work, which are drivers of any business entity at amazingly low costs. Well at times I debate with my friends over the kind of work and my logic is over night a firm based on Indian soil can’t get into R&D and product development and it is only with time as we demonstrate maturity, the world will show its confidence on Indians in India with regards to these waters which have not been tried to a greater extent.

I love this paradox. As a nation and society, India has amongst the world’s most chaotic environments. In one of my projects I was working under a manager from UK and he was on board here @ Bangalore and was spell bound by seeing these paradoxes. He wondered how people are able to keep body and soul together. The community is largely passionate, volatile, energetic and willing to break rules—some to survive, others to get ahead. All break rules, all the time.

However modern we may be, for us it’s the family that comes first and it’s our first school. At home, however, we individuals respect tradition and our elders, follow strict family norms, have a deeply inculcated sense of value for education and exhibit a relatively ego less state (within a family, or team), meeting commitments, believing in “duty”, and not worrying about the goal or the endgame too much. Software and Tech organizations and customer service agents fortunately and surprisingly seem to emulate the Indian “family values”, rather than the society at large. To cite a simple example, I was at work during Diwali and was helping my development team members on the other side of Pacific. It was not because I was trying to impress my boss but somehow its in our blood, we tend to have a innate sense of helping others. I was there because all my other team members being natives from the Southern part of India had been home and I was OK to stand by the team in their absence. I may sound emotional but in my three years of professional life have felt so, team spirit is there. I don’t care about the managers :-).

While India’s success can be attributed to the value of cost, the more important factors are the spirit of the Indian people (passion, worth, love, wisdom, bringing heart to the workplace, and openness) as also their problem-solving skills and flat organization structures. I may give a feel good picture as I have been in a MNC moving with a young crowd but wish this virus spreads to all layers across industries.

Tau Role Model Kahna Se Mila
The trigger to the quality movement was the notion that exports to west were unthinkable without international certification.(Kuch kar dikha na tha) The real impetus came after Motorola’s software center at Bangalore became the world’s second CMM Level 5 unit in 1994 (the first was at NASA). The industry was inspired, the press flocked, the confidence built up and the wave spread.

In BPO, GE was the anchor, pioneering the concept of ‘back office to the world’. Its spectacular success (over $300 million savings annually) made corporations worldwide sit up and take notice. India itself woke up to its latent potential—a large number of educated, English speaking and misemployed graduates obsessed with continuous improvement.

Competence and culture of senior management
Most people believe that it is the large army of English-speaking technical manpower that has been largely responsible for India’s success. Actually, it’s primarily because of large number of talented developers/programmers and kudos to some great schools (IIT’s, IIM’s, NIT’s, BITS). Also the large numbers of senior executives who understand how and why to run a high maturity organization plays are dominant role (NRM, Premji, Mittal, etc)

The paradox and the future
While organizations continue to be and create newer “islands of excellence”, is the heady growth and revenues of the software and BPO sectors sustainable? Can the environment at large be transformed to provide the high-quality infrastructure required for these organizations to thrive and compete in global markets? Can the highly competent workforce be effective in starkcontrasts? Can India become to services what China is to manufacturing? Can it sustain growth and margins when Indians are famous for complacence? Will we be victims of our own success, with backlashes everywhere?

My personal belief, is that it’s only the beginning. India’s paradoxes can and should be leveraged for its success and not be its weakness. They say “Quality is free, but it is not a gift.” saw it in a pamphlet put up in a conference room. Success in the next phase is possible but will not be easy. To be successful, India will need to do things in a different way. From being service providers to owners of products and IP. From quality to design and innovation. The next revolution must begin and in fact it was started.

In the process, India is rapidly growing into being the custodian of the world’s knowledge. Every business is fast becoming a software or knowledge-intensive business, and software is but proceduralized knowledge. Therefore, IT was India’s only entry ticket into all other businesses of the world. The next phase will see the “India Inside” every knowledge and service-based system. Business pressure and opportunity are forcing firms to fuse knowledge to do new things in ways not done before—which means innovation. With momentum, this could become a routine.

Keep reading and remain connected. I am not giving any gyan but if you have time just read this book "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das. It’s awesome and good gift for " Ganatantra Divas ".


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