SOFTWARE EXPORTS: The Juggernaut Slows Down

DQI Bureau
New Update

Now is the winter of our discontent"

William Shakespeare, in King Richard III


For software exporters, financial year 2001-2002 was a long winter. A year of

Murphy’s law–if one might mix metaphors a little–in which everything that

could go wrong, did. When recovery and hope always seemed just around the

corner, but somehow weren’t. It was a year that began badly and then proceeded

to deteriorate steadily. In April, the affects of the slowdown were already in

full bloom. By September, the industry believed it had beaten that with tighter

belts and mass layoffs. But then came–of all things–the plane rammings into

the World Trade Center towers and the US ‘War of Terror at India’s doorstep.

When the industry began to pick up those pieces came the attack on the Indian

Parliament. As exporters were shrugging that off, came the standoff between

India and Pakistan, with some nuclear brinkmanship thrown in. If this were a

movie script, the producer would have thrown it out of the window for

over-dramatization. But it wasn’t, and the figures show it. For the first time

in history, four of the Top 20 software exporters showed negative growth rates.

Compared to 13 the year before, only one company grew over 50% (Digital

GlobalSoft). None grew over 100%, compared to five in FY 2000-01. Despite this,

the Top 20 exporters contributed to 62.7% of overall exports–an increasing

share of total growth, up from 63.4% in the previous year to 68.9% in FY

2001-02. Implicit in that data–barring a few exceptions, Tier 2 and Tier 3

exporters were getting squeezed even more.

Software exports grew by only $1 billion in fiscal 2001-02, compared to $2 billion the previous year
No company grew 100%, compared to five the previous year. Only one, Digital GlobalSoft, saw

over 50% growth
The big got bigger: The Top 20 made up 63% of overall exports in fiscal 2001-02. In 2000-2001, they made up 62%. And in the year before that, the number was 60%

If outsourcing was the big word of FY 2001, then last year, it was offshoring.

But the changing nature of deals and a growing presence of global IT services

companies in India ensured that contrary to what the industry had hoped for,

offshore revenues of a number of the top exporters either remained the same or

went down. Combine this with pressure on billing rates and margins were looking

increasingly thin. The only piece of good news was despite everything, the

software exports segment remained the star performer, with total revenues up by

20%. This may be a third of the growth rate of the year before, but is still not

a number to be scoffed at–especially not in view of the reviews you’ve read

in the rest of the segments.

Here, we take a look at the trends of the year gone by, and of the year to

come. At lessons learnt and unlearnt. And most of all, at some new strengths and

weaknesses. This was a year that changed the industry for ever and its

reverberations will be felt for some time to come.

The new customer

The industry changed primarily because its customers did. Hit hard, if not

harder by the slowdown, numerous sectors in the US–still the primary market

for Indian exporters–came to a skidding halt. This, in turn, affected their IT

purchasing in numerous ways. First, of course, IT budgets got slashed. The days

of running to upgrade with every new hardware tweak came to a halt. And with

that, so did porting and migration, the part of the software service line that

rides on hardware upgrades. A good example of that was the poor offtake of Intel’s

much-touted 64-bit Itanium processor. In a cycle that is as vicious as it is

old, Itanium didn’t take off to the levels expected because there just weren’t

enough applications available on it. And there weren’t enough applications

available on it because not many customers were willing to incur the cost of an

upgrade in such slow times.




disparity in billing rates for offshore and on-site software

development as well as the overall tendency to cut costs

across the board, saw a 4% increase in offshore development


Similarly, new software projects got hit. According to a McKinsey survey late

last year, the first part of IT budgets to go was investments in new

technologies. The last–maintenance of existing systems or budgets committed to

ongoing projects. This had a few immediate consequences–support went up

significantly during the year as compared to products or new technology

deliveries; and in a slightly worrisome counter-trend despite the stress on

offshoring, onsite revenues of Indian exporters didn’t go down as much

expected. The simple reason–maintenance and support are comparatively larger

onsite payers than customized software development.

For instance, onsite revenues of Tata Consultancy Services went up from 62%

to 71%; of Cognizant Technology Solutions Inc from 60% to 68%; and of Satyam

Computer Services from 67.8% to 70%. Even Digital Globalsoft, which gets a bulk

of its revenues from Compaq, saw onsite revenues rise from 64% to 68%. Wipro

Technologies remained at more or less the same level, while Infosys saw a

marginal drop in onsite revenues. But far more fundamental was the attitudinal

change in enterprises toward technology investments–customers now demanded and

expected a compelling case for return on investments. Also, they were no longer

satisfied with technology solutions–they wanted business solutions and a very

high level of domain expertise in IT services companies.



Despite the

software industry’s attempts to wean away from the US

market, the dependence on this erstwhile key driver increased.

The slump in the UK and its slow pace of outsourcing did not

help matters either

Exporters reacted to the latter by hastening the process of aligning

themselves organizationally along their main verticals and putting domain

experts in charge of them. But there was little they could do on RoI, except

squeeze their margins further. According to a US productivity analysis by the

McKinsey Global Institute, a vast majority of IT investments between 1995 and

2000 have been "unproductive". Six sectors that accounted for 40% of

IT capital investment growth contributed to almost all labor productivity

improvements in the US economy…while 50 other sectors accounting for 62 % of

IT investment growth accounted for less than 1% of total labor productivity



As was the

trend last year, the share of consulting dropped. Software

products too were down, as clients demanded customized

solutions and support–and this doubled growth


This IT overspend came from three main areas–Y2K, platforms and IT

standards upgrade, including telecom and network infrastructure, and concomitant

software expense, and the e-commerce boom. A price had to be paid for that kind

of profligacy–enterprises had paid for it, and it was now time for the IT

industry to feel the pinch. Infosys COO S Gopalakrishnan echoes every other

company in the industry when he says, "Every time we went to the customer

with our best price, they asked for a little more (cut)." It was almost

like every customer had suddenly turned into GE–notoriously the hardest

bargainer in the business. Which is why Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju told his

shareholders–"Last year, for the first time in the history of the Indian

IT services industry, billing rates saw a decline, putting pressure on operating


There was, however, an upside to the new customer behavior. As CIOs

centralized purchasing and consolidated vendors, there was a tendency to give

out a single large deal to a single vendor for better cost-efficiencies.

Ironically, in one of its worst years, this led to some of the largest deals

signed in the history of the services exports segment. Late last year, Wipro

signed a $70-million systems integration deal with the Lattice Group–a record

that was broken a few months later by a $100-million deal signed by TCS.

The new competition


Not only did customer behavior change last year, the nature of the

competition also did. Numerous factors contributed to it. If quality

certifications were the headlines of fiscal 2000-01, they were stale news in

2001-02. India has the largest number of SEI CMM Level 4 and Level 5 certified

companies. This is no longer seen by customers as a distinctive attribute–in

fact, it is deemed a necessary one. Add to that the undifferentiated offerings

by most Indian IT services players–what you get, then, is a sea of similar IT

companies, offering similar services at similar cost and quality levels.


Dataquest Top 20 Software & Services Exporters
2001-02 2000-01 Company 2001-02 2000-01 Growth

1 1 Tata Consultancy Services 3939 2870 37
2 2 Infosys Technologies Ltd 2552 1874 36
3 3 Wipro Ltd 2298 1800 28
4 4 Satyam Computer Services Ltd 1703 1192 43
5 5 HCL Technologies Ltd 1320 1145 15
6 10 IBM Global Services India 733 506 45
7 9 Patni Computer Systems Ltd 732 516 42
8 Silverline Technologies Ltd 603 436 38
9 14 Mahindra British Telecom Ltd 541 374 45
10 7 NIIT Ltd 486 570 -15
11 11 Pentasoft Technologies Ltd 459 496 -8
12 12 HCL Perot Systems Ltd 439 439 0
13 8 Pentamedia Graphics Ltd 431 526 -18
14 15 Mascot Systems Ltd 403 340 19
15 18 i-Flex Solutions Ltd 391 290 35
16 ** Cognizant Technology

Solutions India
17 Digital GlobalSoft 331 184 80
18 17 Mphasis BFL 313 273 15
19 16 Mascon Global Ltd 307 339 -9
20 Oracle India Development

Total Top 20 18,668 15,260 22
Total Industry* 29762 24813 20
Total Market inclusive of

36862 28913 27

packaged software exports

Estimated India revenues of Cognizant Technology Solutions, India. The full

global revenues of Cognizant India’s parent, US-registered CTS, Inc, are about

Rs 864 crore.

In previous years,

full global revenues were included for ranking and for computing India’s

software exports, both by Nasscom and Dataquest.

India submits the

full global revenues of
Cognizant, Inc on the grounds that most of the

development happens here.


(a) Cognizant, Inc is a US-registered company; (b) well over two-thirds of its

revenue is billed abroad; (c) Cognizant is a development subsidiary that

operates largely as a cost center; (d) this is similar to the models

followed by development centers of other MNCs. Thus, if we were to include Cognizant

global revenues, we could be including revenues for a large number

of other MNC-owned India development centers (possibly even 7% percent of

Oracle’s global product revenues, because 7% of Oracle’s development

base is in India, etc). This is clearly unrealistic. The most compelling

argument against this is that such global revenues do not actually come

into India. What does come: remittances to cover salaries and other costs,

and/or revenues against whatever billing does happen from India. Thus,

such inclusion would present an incorrect picture of ranks and relative

sizes of software exports revenues being earned by India-based development


Thus both Nasscom and
Dataquest have decided to exclude the full global revenues from the

industry totals as well as for ranking purposes, for foreign-registered

MNC companies such as
Cognizant. This gives a much more realistic picture of the

industry size, taking into account only export revenues that actually come

in to India. (See box on page 114: The MNC IDCs: Figuring out those

Revenues). This is the reason for the apparent drop in

revenue and

rank and listed here, versus last year.

When the pie was big–this wasn’t a big issue. As the pie shrunk, the

customer had to make a choice–he chose size. And thus began what McKinsey

& Co subsequently called the ‘Flight to Scale’. Small was suddenly no

longer quite so beautiful–which is what accounted for the Top 20 players

contributing to a whopping 67% of overall software export growth. Not that the

large players had it easy. For the last few years, the biggest competition to

Indian companies have been other Indian companies. This was never more so than

last year, when multiple rounds of negotiations and severe cost-wars led to some

large orders being won at billing rates as low as $18-20 dollars an hour.


The only companies relatively untouched by the phenomenon were niché players

like iFlex, which grew by a healthy 35%. Other telecom software players like

Sasken were also unaffected, though they faced other issues–that of falling

investments in new projects and the woes of the telecom equipment provider

industry. The year also saw China emerging as a threat to software exporters in

the medium term. With strong government backing, a well-entrenched hardware

industry and comparable if not cheaper software development costs, China

suddenly emerged as a competitor to reckon with, and prepare for. Even more so,

because it is a prime near-shore development center for the large, lucrative and

yet under-penetrated Japanese market.

Indian software exporters, however, have responded to this swiftly. Many of

the Top 20 companies have already set up (or are in the process of setting up)

development centers in China–among them Tata Consultancy Services, Satyam

Computer and Infosys Technologies. Others like Wipro and Mascot Systems already

have a significant presence in Japan. Mascot Systems gets a good 10% of revenues

from Japan, while Wipro Technologies has been getting 6% of its numbers from the

region for the last two years.

The new players

There were other more fundamental changes taking place, changes that will

have a more important and longer-term consequences for Indian exporters–the

setting up of offshore development centers (ODCs) by independent software

vendors and global IT services companies. Over the last few years, the presence

of MNCs on Indian shores has grown quietly but steadily. Dataquest has estimated

that the Top 20 MNC exporters in India today employ nearly 25,000 people and

generate Rs 4,500 crore in revenue measured on a cost-plus basis–at the rate

of Rs 15 lakh per employee per year (see box). This is by all means an

underestimation. They would spend over Rs 25 lakh per employee if they were




thrust is clearly on enterprise-side applications, which

showed 2% growth. Packaged software implementation was up, as

was Web-based e-commerce.Y2K projects, of course, dipped

At first glance, this may seem insignificant compared to the 80,000-odd

people employed and Rs 17,000-odd crore earned by the Top 20 Indian software

exporters alone. What the numbers do not tell, however, is the speed at which

the MNC sector in India has grown. Sure, come companies like Texas Instruments

have been around for long. Most, however, are comparatively recent entrants.

Today, 12 of the Top 20 ISVs have an offshore presence in India, including

Microsoft, Oracle, Novell, Rational, SAP, Cadence, i2, Symantec, Adobe, Veritas

and PTC. And all of them plan to expand their footprint in coming months, as the

stress on offshoring increases. While this is good for the India Inc brand,

Indian companies themselves are not at the moment geared to take part in their

growth, largely due to a lack of product orientation. India still remains a

largely services player and its product skill-sets are at best limited.

Apart from ISVs, global IT services companies have set up an offshore

presence in India in a big way (see box). For instance, IBM Global Services

India has more than 3,000 people spread all over the country, EDS has 850, while

both Accenture and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young are looking to enhance their

presence. These usually tend to be cost centers, with budgets to cover salaries

and overheads. However, since they avail import duty sops, they have export

obligations, to cover which they bill some revenues (declared to the local

software technology park). The declared revenues may be nominal, covering just

the export obligation, or may be substantial, going up to the kind of

revenue-per-employee of the Top 20 Indian software exporters. For instance,

exports revenue per developer is Rs 22 lakh for TCS and Rs 22 lakh for Infosys.

A few MNCs report revenues at that level–Rs 24 lakh per developer for IGSI and

Texas Instruments–but most have much lower reported exports revenues per

developer. For instance, Rs 9 lakh for CTS and Intel IDC, Rs 5-6 lakh for Oracle

and PwC, and so on.

The differences come because the development centers may or may not bill

fully. Often, such MNC development units do a mix of work–

  1. In-house development for their parent companies, such as HP-ISO developing

    HP-UX compilers;

  2. Work for customers of their parent companies, such as IBM’s IGSI

    implementing projects for IBM Europe’s business customers; and

  3. Work for their own customers in the US or Europe, or elsewhere–businesses

    that may or may not be customers of the parent organization.

In the case of (a), there may not be internal billing at all, while (b) and

(c) usually will reflect in billings.

Dataquest estimates the minimum value (of salaries plus overheads,

infrastructure and development expenses) for MNC operations in India at about Rs

15 lakh per employee for software development, though it may be higher for

cutting-edge IP and engineering work, and lower for IteS (around Rs 10 lakh per

employee for most BPO operations, to Rs 6-8 lakh per person for call center

employees). ITeS (IT-enabled services) operations are, of course, not included

in these rankings.


up the SW Exports Ladder


( in %)


50% growth


Global Services India

British Telecom

Computer Services

Computer Systems


Consultancy Services


Wipro 28



NIIT -15


High up the exports growth ladder was Digital Globalsoft

with 80% growth. The lowest–NIIT

The implications of this for Indian software exporters are manifold. The

upside–this imparts greater legitimacy to offshoring and enhances the India

Inc brand as never before. The downside–most, barring the top Indian

exporters, are not ready to take on this new competition. IGSI, EDS, Accenture–these

are all large systems integrators with an end-to-end solutions offering that

customers are increasingly favoring. Combine that with the cost advantage of

working off Indian shores, and they have an unbeatable proposition to offer.

During the year, a large chunk of IT outsourcing contracts, for instance,

went to IGSI, including a long-term ABB deal in which few Indian exporters were

even significant bidders. In the coming year, Tier 2 and 3 companies will find

themselves increasingly pushed to the wall on the larger SI and IT outsourcing

deals, even as the Top 5 will face stiff competition. Some of this, of course,

will be offset through partnerships, but by and large, global IT services

companies in India have changed the name of the game. So long as Indian

exporters went out to compete in the global market, they could pick and chose

their fights. Now, global competition has come right home.

The new landscape

All of the factors mentioned above combined to make for a year of tumultuous

changes and a few counter-trends. The slowdown hit European shores last year,

and given the continent’s slow pace of outsourcing, the industry’s efforts

to wean itself away from too great a dependence on the North American market

came to naught. In 2000-2001, exporters had succeeded in bringing down exports

to the US from 67% to 63%. This went up again last year–to 66%.

Exports to Asia Pacific–a difficult market to being with–were also down,

though there was a marginal growth in exports to Japan, largely due to efforts

of a few companies making inroads into large Japanese multinationals, which are

the first movers in that geography. Indian exporters’ presence in the Japanese

market today includes a dedicated ODC run by Wipro for Bussan Systems, an ODC

run by HCL Technologies for Toshiba, and one by Patni Computer for Hitachi

Japan. Canon runs a development center of its own in India, developing embedded

software. Japan is the world’s second-largest IT services market and an

increasingly good bet for exporters in the R&D services space, provided the

local language and culture issues are dealt with.



shakeout that the downturn resulted in sent several smaller

players scurrying for cover. Though the biggies too battled a

tough year, the share of the Top 20 grew once again to 63%

Finally, barring a few bright spots, the industry’s efforts to move up the

value chain also came to a halt. Both Wipro chairman Azim Premji and Infosys CEO

Nandan Nilekani warned that last year was and the coming year will continue to

be a "volumes game"–essentially low-margin, low-value maintenance

and support. This shows up in the numbers–consulting went down from 18% in

fiscal 2000-01 to 12% last year. As did product sales, from 11.5% to 9%. What

did go up was support, almost doubling from 8.5% to 16%. Just about the only

things that remained constant were the key verticals–telecom, manufacturing

and financial services.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, and it is not necessarily an

incoming train. Two years of a grueling downturn notwithstanding, India has a

talent pool whose quality cannot be denied. The mushrooming offshore development

centers of global services companies, ISVs and even design centers for companies

like Honeywell and Delphi are more than enough testament to that.

The low-cost volumes business may be the only opportunity today, but it will

not always be so. Though many like Mascot Systems CEO Gerhard Watzinger believe

that India will never lose its low-cost branding, that doesn’t prevent it from

replicating its success in customized software, in other service lines and other

verticals. A change in legislation in the telecom service provider, healthcare

and utilities segments in the US is opening up a new opportunity for Indian

exporters. At the same time, systems integration–billed to be among the big

growth areas in coming years–is already a service line in which larger Indian

exporters are building up competencies. As is R&D services–already,

companies like Wipro Technologies and HCL get nearly half their revenues from

this service line.

"There comes a tide in the affairs of men," said Shakespeare,

"which taken at the flood leads on to fortune." Last year was one

such, as will be the ongoing one. If software exporters can just ride this tide,

there is still a promise of great things to come.


The MNC IDCs: Figuring out those Revenues

For India development centers or India-based software development

subsidiaries of MNC companies, Dataquest is now using (for rankings and industry

size estimates) either reported revenue, or a DQ-estimated "development

cost" based on developer numbers–whichever is greater.


SW Exports

by revenue as declared or estimated by Dataquest
Rank Company


Rs cr
1 IBM IGSI 733
2 Cognizant

Technology Solutions
3 Digital

4 Oracle

India Pvt Ltd
5 OrbiTech

Solutions (now merged with Polaris)
6 Hughes

Software Systems Ltd
7 Hewlett-Packard

(I) Software Operation Ltd
8 Syntel 220
9 Siemens

Information Systems Ltd
10 Covansys

(I) Ltd
11 Motorola 188
12 PwC 180
13 Texas

Instruments India Pvt Ltd
14 Xansa

(India) Ltd
15 Cisco 168
16 Lucent 140
17 Philips

Software Center Ltd
18 EDS 128
19 Intel

Technology India Pvt Ltd (IIDC)
20 i2



estimates shown in red

  • This applies to India-based

    software development centers of MNC companies such as Intel, Oracle etc.

  • Such MNC development units are

    usually India-registered companies that are 100% subsidiaries of their

    parents, such as Oracle India, HP ISO, Intel IIDC, Cognizant and

    Syntel India. MNC units are those with at least 51% holding by a

    foreign-registered company. Examples: MNC: Intel IIDC, Digital GlobalSoft

    (51% owned by HP Co, USA). Indian: Mahindra BT (BT holds only 43%, M&M

    holds 57%), HCL Perot (HCL Tech holds 50%, Perot, 50%).

  • MNC development units often tend

    to operate as cost-centers, with budgets to cover salaries and overheads.

    However, they do have export obligations, and thus they do bill some

    revenues, and declare these to STPI.

  • We have however used a

    conservative Rs 15 lakh per software developer as the minimum remittance

    likely to come in for an MNC software development operation in India. For

    the revenues of these MNC subsidiary units, we have thus taken the greater

    of the two figures: {revenue reported by the company} or {developers x 15


  • Nasscom will show two separate

    lists, a domestic software companies ranking (ranked by revenue) and an MNC

    exporters ranking (ranked by developer numbers). This year, Dataquest is

    continuing with one master Top 20 list, for consistency of comparison with

    the past, but will also list and rank the MNC India development centers

    development in a separate list separately, based on the revenue estimation

    outlined above.

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