Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why we don’t have product-making companies?

I have already written an article called, ‘Why Product-making companies?’ Before I start writing on what we need to do, I would like to talk about some of the most important reasons that curtail us from spawning product-making companies. Some of them are obvious- history, post-independent economic policies, our social structure, etc. But I don’t like to list 10+ different reasons for each problem. I like to concentrate on 2-3 top reasons. Here, I list what I think is the top reason why we don’t have product-making technology companies.

Our obsession with stars and brands

I agree stars are important. It’s the obsession with those stars where I see the problem. We (as Indians) are obsessed with stars and brands. We don’t need to look deep to realize this about us. Our Cinema (unabashedly called ‘Bollywood’) and Cricket has many examples. The whole focus is on one or two individuals while the rest are completely unknown. It applies to our technology space as well. IITs are a brand. Therefore, anything to do with technology in India is referred to IITs while hundreds of universities and other institutes get no mention at all. If an IITian starts a paan shop, the heading goes, “The IITian left his cushy job to start a paan shop right across the street…” If they start some dumb political party, the article reads, “The IITians instead of going to US have sacrificed their careers to start a political party to better India…” A mere contraption of no significance from IITian gets the attention of starving media. This media is more interested in writing ‘This IITian has done…” than writing what he has actually done. The media is only feeding into our own obsessions. They reflect our sentiments- that of ordinary people, the families, and the societies.

The same is true of our software-services companies. Why we did not look at other important industries is because these services companies were hogging the limelight for more than 20 years now. In fact, they are hogging the complete light while the rest of the industry is languishing in the dark. Bangalore, which is supposedly the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ (which I don’t agree at all), has lavish office spaces (look at Infosys and ITPL) which almost resemble a developed world. These are the same office spaces which have been glorified by the likes of Thomas Friedman (who has added more fuel to the celebration of our mediocrity). On the other hand, the same Bangalore provides extremely worse conditions to the industrial sectors where hardware and manufacturing houses are located. I have visited some of these manufacturing places- they don’t have roads, they are connected by muddy paths which have huge cracks in the middle, they don’t have water or electricity and this place looks like a remote village of India in the 16th century. The attention of whole of media, political administration, elite, institutions, investors, has been directed towards software-services companies while other industries do not get basic amenities. Software-services companies get lands at very low price; they get tax-holidays, exporting and importing is easy for them. Meanwhile, the manufacturing and other industry of India is putting with policies of old economy. Here is what I have to say to these software-services companies:

‘Thank you, you have done a good job of re-branding India. You have changed our image from being a land of snake charmers to the land of software programmers’. But my thanks stops right there. ‘You are also the culprit of taking away complete attention from other important industry. You rob us of passion of the young minds to make them Xerox machines. Your growth is welcome, but its avarice and appetite is overwhelming. We are not able to proceed to the next step. Our fear is we will get stuck right here’. There are examples galore where many countries got stuck to a label and that actually turned out to be their doom. South American countries which rode the wave of globalization have now realized that they got ‘stuck’ at being providers of raw material to the Western world. East Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, etc, are faced with similar situation, where the competition from Taiwan and China has robbed them of their advantage of being the manufacturing houses. There is danger in being slotted that way. ‘We don’t want to be slotted that way.’

What our media, the analysts, the writers, etc, did in their over-enthusiasm and over-excitement is a great damage to India. They said, ‘Since we completely skipped industrial revolution, there was no need to go back to that.’ They insisted on continuing with services industry and professed it was good enough for India. They cited some examples (which are actually very rare) of product-making companies (like IBM) moving to take up services, and justified their jobs and their companies. The media lapped it up, furthered this notion, and made it a ground rule for India. Their message was: ‘If West has products and technology, China has manufacturing, we in India have services!’ The VCs furthered it, the investors furthered it, the entrepreneurs furthered it, and even the government joined hands. Thomas Friedman made millions selling the same idea back to India while making sure he and his country continued to dominate the technology markets.

Young minds of India, even those with passion and enthusiasm to create and innovate, get bogged down by the pressures- created by us- the media, the elite writers, the parents, the teachers. They end up taking up a career at Infosys and Wipro just because of its brand. Seven years of working there, he is not good for a product making company anymore. He is already institutionalized. Only few make it out of that vicious cycle only to face even bigger issues that confront them.

As a step one, we need ground breaking examples. To unshackle ourselves of this casteist mentality where in we accept our position in the hierarchy of technology businesses, where we get slotted into one type of industry by the virtue of what our ancestors did. These examples have to be the tough ones. They have to ride their boat against the strong tide. But they have to do it. I see some companies around me taking up this struggle, it’s a long way to go, but I also see that once one case gets successful, suddenly there will be new articles written and soon India will be seen differently.

The industry (even those involved in software-services) needs to consciously promote product-making companies. Is there a vested interest? Yes, there is. No nation, no industry, no man can make loads of money for himself while the rest around him are paupers. It just doesn’t work. Such disparities are not sustainable. One has to create an ecosystem. Those in the ecosystem need to be making loads of money. That money has to translate to the societies and communities that we live in. That’s when we can go the next higher level of making more monies. A society which has very few stars while the rest are all paupers is not a sustainable system. Even the software services companies will benefit if there is technology product making company ecosystem in India. Where would I want to outsource my work when we become a successful product making company? To other Indian software services companies, of course!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Why Product-making companies?

I insist on high tech product making companies for India. No matter what we do with our IT-ITES sector, we will not scale dramatically to be able to become an economic power. The GDP of India in 2005 is $720B of which the IT-ITES sector contributes less than 3.2% (it has improved in 2006 to approximately 4.5%). According to report from Goldman Sachs, Indian PPP measure of GDP will exceed that of US in 2038 and will be at approximately $23 trillion.
How do we get there from here? Do we just sit back and hope our current IT-ITES sector, which is primarily driven by services, will deliver us there or do we really take this as a dream and try to make it real or may be even make it sooner? 

Only a technology-product making company can add the right kind of money into India at a faster and quicker pace using smaller manpower. Just look at some of the statistics here (mostly from 2005):
  • Total output of Indian software industry for 2005 is $22.6 B (and for 2006 it is slated at $40B or little more).
  • The number of people directly employed by Indian IT-ITES sector is 1.3 million.
  • India is currently producing approximately 180,000 engineers for IT-ITES sector.
  • The rate of increase in output of employees is currently at 5.5% increase from previous year.
  • Assuming a steady increase for the next five years, the output in year 2010 would be approximately 220,000.
According to NASSCOM, India is poised to make $70 B in 2009 with a workforce of 2.2 million. This projection assumes that each employee with earn approximately $32,000 in 2009 while it is approximately $22,000 in 2005.
Now look at this for comparison:
  • Microsoft currently makes $40 B with 60,000 employees while Nokia makes $40 B with 40,000 employees. (each employee approximately makes $600,000 to $1M).
  • These two companies alone with a work force of 100,000 (in 2005) make more than the projected output for India in 2009 (with 2.2 million workforce).
No matter what we do, contribution of IT-ITES will be marginal in contribution towards Indian GDP unless something dramatic happens. And that can happen only with more technology-product making companies. 
Case of technology-product making companies

How do you think most developed countries have been able to remain competitive? According to NSF (National Science Foundation, USA), “High-technology industries are driving economic growth around the world”. According to the Global Insight World Industry Service database, “the global market for high-technology goods is growing at a faster rate than for other manufactured goods”. 
“Even during the recent, slow-growth, ‘post-bubble’ period (2000–03), high-technology industry continued to lead global growth at about four times the rate of all other manufacturing industries.”
According to NRC, Hamburg Institute for Economic Research, and Kiel Institute for World Economics 1996, “High-technology industries are R&D intensive; R&D leads to innovation, and firms that innovate tend to gain market share, create new product markets, and use resources more productively. These industries tend to develop high value-added products, tend to export more, and, on average, pay higher salaries than other manufacturing industries. Moreover, industrial R&D performed by high-technology industries benefits other commercial sectors by developing new products, machinery, and processes that increase productivity and expand business activity.”

What is the output of high-technology sector in each of these countries?
  • In India, high-technology sector accounted for 2.0% in 1980, 3.7% in 1990, 4.8% in 2000, and 4.8% in 2003.
  • In US, for 1980s it was 11% of total domestic production, in 1990s it was 13.5%, in 2000, it was 27%. In 2003, it is estimated at 34.2%.
  • In Japan, it was 17% of total Japanese domestic production in 2000. In 2003, it is estimated at 15.7%.
  • In EU, it increases from 9.5% in 1980 to 11% in 1990 to 13.2% in 2000. In 2003, it is estimated at 13.4%.
  • Countries like Taiwan (28.5% in 2003), Ireland (more than 50% in 2003) and China (19% in 2003) fare much better than India.
The case is strong for technology-product making companies. So, what are we going to do about it?
[To be Continued]