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Newer markets beckon Indian IT professionals

Cyber India Online, Wednesday 13 December 2000 11:50 AM

It is clear now that the numero uno position held by the US in attracting the crème de la crème of Indian IT is being challenged by other countries, especially the European and the Asia-Pacific regions. Giving them stiff competition are the oil-rich Middle-east countries. Many Indian software companies, such as Aptech, Logix Micro Systems and Planetasia, have reportedly seen an upward trend in tie-ups and offshore/onsite development projects in the Gulf regions of Dubai and the UAE.

Though it all started with the US announcing an increase in the H1B visa or the work permit visa from a mere 65,000 to 2 lakh, the rumblings started with Germany announcing a raise in its visa numbers to 20,000, which are specifically for IT related jobs. This move, in fact followed the German Chancellor's call to Indian IT professionals to take up opportunities in his country. Not to be left behind, Japan and Australia also followed suit. Though the UK was already in the reckoning, it was only in recent times that it is pitching for IT in a big way. The Japanese proposal, which too came in during its Prime Minister's visit to Bangalore, includes issue of multiple-entry visas valid for three years to Indian IT specialists.

A National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) report says that in 1991, when our exports were close to $100 million, almost 95 per cent of our exports was to the USA with Europe accounting for the rest. Now, at the end of the decade, when software and services worth $2.65 billion dollars were exported, almost 23 per cent went to Europe and 60 per cent to the US. The figure is expected to rise by another 10-15% in the next five years in favor of Europe. Still, many were cryptic when questioned about a shift in exports from the US to newly opened European and other traditionally closed markets such as the Middle East. But Indian professionals, who have always worked to stretch their horizons towards newer and better opportunities, seem to welcome the opening up of new opportunities with its associated challenges. This is evident from the fact that software companies are beginning to see a steady increase in their software exports to Europe and other countries. The US no longer has a monopoly hold over our software exports.

Though IT in a larger sense consists of many related fields like e-commerce, telecom and wireless, when it comes to software exports, the perceived notion is that e-commerce related exports form a large chunk of the US market and wireless application software dominate the European market. Says Sameer Kumar, CMO, Planetasia, "By and large, e-commerce solutions dominate the US market whereas wireless holds the sway in the European market." Agrees, Suresh, Manager, HR, Mphasis, "Embedded technology solutions form a core area of the European segment and we have had excellent track record in this area." Concurring with this perception, another software specialist says that Euro solutions and interactive architecture are also major revenue earners.

A marketing professional from a leading software company says that his company ventured into the German market in the area of Y2K and e-biz solutions even before the now hyped up visa boom. He admits that though his company faced many an initial glitch, it is now being acknowledged for the quality project carried out and is now one of the sought after solution providers. The company's software exports to Europe, mainly to the UK and Germany, account for 30-40 per cent of its revenues. And, this figure is expected to improve in the coming years.

Vivek Shiroor, GM, L&T IT Ltd., which has focused mainly on offshore projects in the US along with a considerable presence in Europe and Japan, says that though nearly 60 per cent of his company's software exports and services go to the US market and the rest to Europe. The company has plans to capture the Australian market and also enter the largely untapped southern European market.

Sheen Thomas from Aptech's e-commerce division says that nearly 30 per cent of the company's exports is from the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. According to him, it is not only the wireless and telecom solutions that account for a major share of the exports but also e-biz and e-commerce solutions. Concedes, Rekha, HR executive, Logix Microsystems, "Though the US holds the sway as of now, with the other markets booming, there will definitely be new opportunities on par, if not better than the US." She says that her company has major plans for the next couple of months and is open to exploring new avenues.

Much as one sees a gradual growth in the market potential, apprehensions still dog IT professionals in the new fields. Analysts point out that there are not many takers for offers from the other markets and the US continues to be the hottest destination. This is attributed to a variety of hindrances, ranging from cultural issues and work environment to unfriendly immigration laws and disparity in pay and perks compared to the US.

Says Vivek Shiroor, "Germany and other non-English speaking European countries are more conservative than the US or the UK. For any high-end work, local help is very necessary. The local presence of Indians is miniscule in comparison and hence the feeling of alienation is more profound here." He says, "We have people who prefer to work on short-term stints. The maximum period is for a year and a half or two. On an average, we have sent about 90-100 IT professionals a year." He adds that the scenario will change in due course as Europe offers much scope in terms of high-end technologies which are both challenging and innovative for the IT specialists. Agrees Sameer Kumar, "We see a huge demand and good market potential in the area of cutting edge wireless technologies, digital management and CRM technologies."

The other interesting feature is that companies deputing their employees also offer exclusive training programs designed to familiarize them with the culture, language and the general awareness about their destination country. Companies like Aptech, Planetasia, Mphasis, L&T IT and many others have designed and implemented such programs with remarkable success.

All these companies also agree on one aspect-that there will be this perennial fear of talent squeeze and shortage of skill as long as we don't have trained and qualified professionals. The need of the hour they feel is to curb the mushrooming of second rate institutes and to give impetus to quality and standard training institutes.

According to a report, the Indian IT sector can clinch a major share of the $2-3 trillion market for e-commerce and other IT enabled services such as medical transcription and call centers including many outsourcing works. Another report, in fact says that IT is now heading to be the major revenue earner and could contribute significantly to the country's GDP in the coming years. Though, many of them attribute this to the cheap labor available, it's an established fact now that recognition has come at last albeit late for all the hard work and quality inputs. From the land of snake charmers, India has sure come a long way. It remains to be seen which way the balance tilts in this largely uni-polar market.

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