China: The Juggernaut Rolls On

Chatting with the vice-mayor of Shenzhen city at the celebration of Zensar’s
first major project executed for an American client at our China Offshore
Development center, I was amazed by how well-informed he and his entire team
were about the various Indian companies in the software sector and how curious
they were about the intricacies of our operations and strategy. Coming from a
country where passive support and the provision of infrastructure is all one
really hopes for from the government, it was all the more remarkable to see how
much the city of Shenzhen and the province of Guangdong are willing to do to
attract investment and create software opportunities for their people.

The Gartner report on outsourcing published in 2002 had predicted that China
would move out of its embedded systems and hardware niche and begin to compete
for IT and BPO projects to reach respectable global revenue by 2006. This seems
to be happening already, and the arrival of many Indian companies, notably TCS,
Infosys, Mphasis, Satyam and Zensar to set up JVs, and dedicated outsourcing
facilities in Shanghai and Shenzhen could well accelerate the emergence of this
nation along with Ireland, Philippines, Russia and Singapore as aspirants for
the global software outsourcing business. Ireland has long been a worthy
contender limited only by its talent pool and Philippines seems to have lost its
early advantage because of lack of significant government investment in
developing infrastructure or people. Singapore with its aggressive government
and outstanding infrastructure and its recent return to double digit GDP growth
can never be underestimated. Russian programmers are beginning to proliferate in
larger numbers on global software projects, as are programmers from smaller
countries like Poland and Vietnam.

The war for global supremacy ten years from now will indisputably be fought between India and China

But the war for global supremacy ten years from now will indisputably be
fought between India and China. A country which can turn a city like Guangzhou
into the world’s electronics manufacturing capital in under two decades, and
which has the will and ability to invest in building over fifty centres of
education, research and technology can be underestimated only at our own peril.
Compare this with India, where many cities with the potential to be global
players are out in the cold because they lack the basic infrastructure with
which to attract capital.

The tragedy is that even in the few centres where we have achieved global
recognition, the callous indifference of a few politicians is sending the wrong
signals both in India and abroad. When will our politicians realise that the
easiest way to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of employment and
prosperity is to deny it the basic infrastructure it needs to succeed. The
Bangalore-Hosur road, which is now becoming a kind of poster child for the
infrastructure issues in the country, is just one symptom of this malady.

But then one road does not break an industry, much like one successful
experiment in Shenzhen or Shanghai may not guarantee success for China in the
near term. The good news is that the competition between cities has taken off
well in India and it is the Kolkatas and Thiruvananthapurams and Punes with
their supportive government machinery which will lead the charge towards the
Indian software exports industry’s still intact 100-billion-dollar dream.

Finally, the question that the Shenzhen vice-mayor asked me during our press
conference in the city truly intrigued me: “If we are willing to put a few
thousand young software engineers through a rigorous training program in China
and India, will your companies find job opportunities for them?” With this
kind of aggression and willingness to invest not just in technologies and
infrastructure but also in people, success cannot be denied to the Chinese
programming community for long. The day is not far off when Chinese and Indian
software engineers will work shoulder to shoulder on projects in both countries
and abroad and give new meaning to the age old “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai”

The author is deputy chairman & managing director of Zensar
Technologies and chairman of Nasscom’s SME Forum for Western India Ganesh

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