New Wine in Old Bottles?




Decades ago, great deeds of IT industry pioneers paved the path for new
entrepreneurs

The last fortnight of the
old year is always a great time for catching up with old friends particularly if
they are living in the US for a couple of decades and flock to India like
migrant birds speak at a couple of conferences and generally hang out with
people from their past and present. One such interesting tete-a-tete was with Dr
Arun Maheshwari, one of India’s lesser known, but nevertheless very successful
first generation entrepreneurs—an academician at IIM Ahmedabad in the early
seventies who decided that teaching American cases to a desi audience was not
for him and started work in a fledgling company called Tata Consultancy
Services.

GANESH NATARAJAN
Innovation surge will
take the industry to its next logical success platform of $60 bn exports
by the end
of this decade

Dr Maheshwari went on to a great career
in the US in Management Consulting and Insurance before setting up an IT company
with its back office in Indore, sold it to the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).
Later he led CSC in India with distinction before taking on his current
assignment to build offshore capabilities for one the largest American financial
services product firms. Apart from his stellar successes, the most inspiring are
his memories of the entrepreneurial energies of TCS where the capabilities of F
C Kohli, the quintessential manager-entrepreneur, Yash Sahni the consultant and
Ramadorai the hardware expert, were joining their intellectual energies to build
an institution that has created a world beater industry!

Three decades later, we enter one more
new year with a sense of déjà vu as well as optimism. Deja vu because so much
is still the same—but it is the energy of Ramadorai, Premji, Murthy, Raju and
Karnik which provides the bulk of success today with a score more of us lining
up to add new value to customers—in KPO, product development, modernization,
testing and many other niche services. And optimism because we can see the
development of the next generation of entrepreneurs who attempt to capture the
spirit of innovation and unearth new veins of gold from the enterprise
transformation needs of global corporations.

This innovation surge will take the
industry to its next logical success platform of $60 bn exports by the end of
this decade. As a top management trainer in NIIT, we used the Stages Theory
Model to articulate the stages of transformation for an organization in its move
towards Information Maturity. In my PhD dissertation, I argued that the
Knowledge Management Maturity Model for organizations would need a similar
articulation of stages. Today we could probably begin to postulate an Industry
Maturity Model. As Indian IT moves from youth to adulthood and BPO stands up
from its infancy to enter youth, each will have to contend with different
challenges.

BPO will have to deal with all the
problems of adolescence, such as non-voice back office process migration
necessities and the growing restlessness of the youth employed in it, with the
media magnifying every issue whether it is the distressful incidents in
Bangalore or stress caused by erratic work hours. IT on the other hand will have
to manage the expectation shift from just cost advantage to more mature delivery
models and the ability to provide the quality and innovation benefits that a
total outsourcing contract justifiably demands. We also need to be ever watchful
of external forces, whether it is the union movement stoked by the compulsions
of political forces, horrors of unreliable infrastructure or the threat of fast
developing economies and outsourcing destinations like Vietnam, Costa Rica and
the Eastern European countries.

A finale for this piece is one more gem about TCS from Dr
Arun Maheshwari. He talks about the time when Messers Kohli and Ramadorai
visited him in the US and only after Kohli had gone to meet his boss, Arun
discovered that Kohli’s son was in hospital. “The show must go on”-an
altruism that typifies the best of Indian IT today was surely planted by the
great deeds of great men in those early days-let the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian
IT, F C Kohli take a bow, and inspire the millions in this industry to perform
similar acts of conscientiousness and selfless achievement!

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