During the 1980s, the US denied India’s request of Cray supercomputers, which India needed badly to bring about technological advancement to a host of its government services and departments. U.S feared that India might misuse it for military gains (yes, the same country that had already dropped-tested nuclear weapon on cities alive with millions of souls feared a non-nuclear nation, beat this irony). However, the US denial did not go in vain and proved a blessing that, in the end, reaped sweeter benefits for us than what we could have achieved had we knelt down.
Enraged by U.S then, a brilliant Indian Scientist, Dr. Vijay Bhatkar took upon his shoulders the task of indigenously creating the supercomputer. A few years later, he did and CDAC was born. Today we export our supercomputers across the globe and CDAC stands at par with the best American and European Advance Computing institutes. Our own navigation technology too is an outcome of a US ban on India since 1996, space technology is the result of similar let downs. And many other such necessity-bound marvelous endeavors can be told off.
What my point is, from the Indian IT industry standpoint, though the times are less desperate for now, the opportunities have never been so loud and clearer in a similar way, especially in the face of US changed immigration policy. First, let us understand why the fear around the whole H1-B Visa embargo is itself unnecessary, before understanding ‘ki dar ke aage jeet kyun hai’.
IT Folks clearly have been bugged mentally because the geostrategic calculations shown for the service and technology demand and supply around the world, centering India as a mere ‘body shopping’ destination at its core, are wrong. As such, there is absolutely no need to panic or feel a sign of distress. Even if the whole H-1B visa program is stamped out tomorrow, it cannot paralyze the robust India’s $110 billion information technology services export industry the way it has been feared. It is one of the most stable and deep-rooted job sectors around and it is here to stay.
US companies need Indians for both offshoring and outsourcing and have been organically evolved to target and feed upon the Indian (producer and consumer) market. They need outsourcing because certain quality of skilled labor is not easily available in the US. The Indian talent and hardworking is inherently a key differentiator here. And this is not something new. IBM outsourced jobs of 500 workers (after laying off the same in Minneapolis) to India and other countries in Feb this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently raised a demand to triple H-1B visas due to this dire need for outsourcing.
Traditional Bank Migration jobs, database administration jobs, SAAS, CRM, manually complex tasks (that impede business from focusing on their core domain and customer service areas) and for thousand other areas, U.S has no option but to cross their borders. To say, companies do not outsource just because of cheap skilled labor outside (of course, skilled and low costs English-speaking staff is a motivation, but today’s ‘Body shopping’ lingo which helped U.S deal with the Y2k bug before has gone way ahead of its traditional meaning). Most US Companies have outsourcing as their core business model. It is the fuel to US IT Engine of growth. Without it, it just cannot prevail any longer than it would think.
In a debate hosted by Fox News, Trump himself asserted, “We need highly-skilled people in this country,” “If we can’t do it, we will get them in”.
While outsourcing leads to hiring people with desired skills, it is offshoring that directly sends jobs out of the country. And it is this Offshoring that Trump’s Administration is targeting. Now, as far as the VISA issue in concerned, we need to understand that even the top seven Indian companies account for only 13% of the total new H-1B visas of which US accounts for 62% of exports. And both Indian and Global Giants (the likes of Google, Yahoo etc) are impacted as both rely on H1-B to hire non-Americans.
So the good news is that – While, the U.S policy may reduce the number of Indians traveling to onsite (for companies will have to hire US locals in the US in order to keep their business going), affect operating margins of companies here with the rise in H1-B wages and will slightly impact jobs which are currently offshored, majority of jobs which are outsourced to Indians (in US or in India) are safe, unless the company sees upskilling as an imperative activity to retain employees otherwise not. In which case, it is both essential and necessary for an employee to participate in the company’s upskilling activity.
Indian has been more of an Investment destination rather than a manufacturing one unlike China which is both. So, in China’s case, cheaper skilled local labor force companies to close their shops in the US, produce goods in their own countries and arrive back in the US only to sell what they produced in their home countries to serve the US markets. The Indian (consumer) market, on the other hand, gives an opportunity for US companies to expand here – without having the need to close their shops in the US.
In fact, with the coming of these new US visa norms, a rare opportunity has opened itself for Indian IT and all the stars are aligned just right.
First, after a decade of a complete disregard by the Indian government to the Global factors that were shaping the IT and ITES around the world, we have policy makers today who understand that change is vital. With Prime minister Modi at the helm of it having a mindset that sees the development of India’s Neutrino Observatory (INO) and Mangalyaan just as important as opening a bank account of a poor – the stage has never been better before – and Donald Trump, trust me, with his new ‘America first’ policy, is surely (albeit unintentionally) is giving us an opportunity of a lifetime to create our own technological ecosystem, in software development, service and export, that could be self-sustainable and independent. India’s own version of Silicon Valley has never been so close in spirit.
With enough talent and work force in the country and leveraging national campaigns like digital India and Make in India campaigns, we have everything to retain the best within our own borders. We must accept any policy or technological disruption today with optimism and as an opportunity to innovate our own delivery models. Employees must upskill themselves to not only come out of this old industry narrative of the job getting redundant but must also recognize themselves as the agents of Indian IT growth engine.
Companies, on the other hand, must realize that in key emerging areas such as digital, AI, ML & Cognitive computing, Data and Insights, Automation, Digital Assurance, Continuous Delivery Solutions etc opportunities lay explored completely. And “to become more multi-cultural than ever before, rather than looking at it as a lacuna”, they must explore this time to bring about a transformational change in their operating model across verticals and must consider serious investment in IT manufacturing and Research. New technology adaptation, however quick and disruptive that be, will create new roles and jobs if it is poised to take out some.
Yes, going by NASSCOM’s statement, “A certain level of … uncertainty will prevail” until we hear more on the policies, but these are only jitters. Moreover, the USCIC has officially announced that there will be no change in H1-B visa norms this year. Hence, even for this change to occur, we have plenty of time to switch our BU practices and explore more avenues of growth.
We have been supporting IBM servers, drive migration for commercial banks, helping Microsoft test and distribute its critical Operating System patches, run IBM’s technology help desk and help GE maximize their profits. Now, it is high time that IT service industry must envision a dream from service selling to servicing procuring and Software and R&D Export. A dream similar to what Dr. Vijay Bhatkar and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai envisioned decades ago and put us where we are today – self-reliant, shining in indigenous computing and Space sector, and not fear H1-B policy change or any change for that matter.