Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Outsourcing outsourcing, or plain spin ?

India is outsourcing outsourcing, according to a report in the New York Times.

Ahead of the US elections, when outsourcing, and the loss of tech jobs in the US, will again likely figure as a big issue, Indian outsourcers have floated the new spin that they are in fact creating a large number of jobs in the US and Europe, nay outsourcing to the US.

Some link the creation of jobs in the US and Europe and other countries to the appreciation of the Rupee versus the US dollar, and staff shortages in India.

However, most of Infosys’ 75,000 employees are Indians, in India, says the New York Times report. India’s large outsourcers have about 60,000 staff each on an average in India, and having a couple of thousand staff in the US or Europe will not make the Rupee appreciation more manageable, or reduce staff turnover in India dramatically.

It is a case of making a large virtue out of a small necessity. Indian companies have been setting up operations in the US, Europe, and Mexico for some time, because their customers are demanding on-shore and near-shore capabilities in Europe and the US. They are also choosing low-cost locations in the US and Europe. When a company like Wipro Ltd. wants to set up operations on-shore in the US it will not go to pricey New York to set up shop, but to locations like Atlanta.

In Europe, which is slowly getting around to the idea of outsourcing, and its variant offshore outsourcing, customers are keen that their employees are protected. That means that Indian companies should be willing to take in staff from a customer – witness the deal between Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Royal Philips Electronics N.V.

So it is not that Indian companies are exporting jobs, or “outsourcing outsourcing”. They are just doing what they have been doing for years --- setting up operations closer to the customer, when required. Most of it used to be called on-site work earlier. As the H1-B visa regime got tighter in the US, or in Europe because of the need for language skills and to absorb staff from their customers, they have to hire locals. Infosys has employed local staff in Brno for over two years for their language skills.

It is hence a trifle arrogant for Indian outsourcers to claim that they are outsourcing jobs to the US and Europe. This is spin for the pols in Washington.

As of now about 85 to 90 percent of their staff are still in India, and it won’t change any time soon. Even after the appreciation of the Rupee and the rising wages in India, these companies continue to hire frenetically in India, because the comparative costs are still lower. Satyam, for example, is hiring 15,000 new staff before the end of the Indian fiscal year to March 31, 2008, according to this report in The Economic Times.

In contrast, Wipro Ltd. plans to hire 500 in Atlanta over the next three years, besides some 900 staff from its proposed acquisition of Infocrossing. Inc.

Spin about outsourcing to the US will not go down well with folks like Washtech who have been complaining that tech jobs in their thousands are moving from the US to India, and sure they have. By coming up with the lame one that they are also hiring a few hundreds in the US, Indian outsourcers can hardly hope to assuage the anxiety of anti-outsourcing lobbies.

Better to take the challenge headlong. Talk about the competitiveness offshore outsourcing is giving to the US. Inform the American people that a large proportion of employees in India are employed by Indian engineering centers of US companies. Tap into unstinted support from folks in the ITAA (Information Technology Association of America). But please, don’t insult people’s intelligence with the “reverse outsourcing” or “outsourcing to the US” spiel.

Related Article:

Indian outsourcers not floundering, not migrating

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