We Need to Manage From India

Customers starting to look to indian tech services companies for more than coding.

Outsourcing to India has delivered rich rewards for a number of companies, freeing up scarce funds to fuel strategic investments and, in some cases, corporate turnarounds. Next up: enlisting Indian partners to revamp business processes.

And those partners are willing. Indian providers are increasingly moving beyond a reliance on labor arbitrage to create intellectual property they can sell to customers. Several large customers told their experiences here at the Nasscom conference.

"Were aiming for 35 percent productivity improvement next year. Working with Indian suppliers will be a key part of that," said Paul Coby, CIO of British Airways, of Harmondsworth, England. Coby said BA has already taken great strides, reducing IT costs by 40 percent and cutting $2 billion from the cost of running the airline. BA has 10 IT partners, two of which, Tata Consultancy Services and NIIT, are in India, said Coby.

With the goal of improving customer service, BA started by building a componentized IT architecture with the help of Indian partners. As a result of that work, BA has implemented e-ticketing for all its sales and allows half its customers to use self-service check-in.

Despite this success, Coby stressed that BA has not relinquished control of IT. "I believe wholesale outsourcing is ill-advised. If you depend on technology, why would you give it away to someone else," he said. As a result, BA retains control of IT strategy but outsources application development. But even that level of outsourcing has generated savings that can be put to use elsewhere. "India does what it does best: low-cost, high-quality coding. IT architecture has become a business strategy. The IT revolution is in full swing at BA," Coby said.

Toyota Financial Services launched a similar customer service push in 2002. "We want to be the best captive financial services company in the world," said Shaun Coyne, vice president and CIO of TFS, of Torrance, Calif. Formerly a quiet unit of the automaker serving its dealers, TFS did not invest in technology and was not customer-focused, Coyne said.

"Four years ago, we moved a lot of work to India. We saved money and pumped it into the customer service strategy," said Coyne. "Were tying it back to business benefit, creating loyalty through customer services," he added, explaining that the unit launched an ambitious effort to broaden its financial services products as well.

Now, through a Web-enabled SOA (service-oriented architecture), TFS has a common platform for use at all dealers worldwide, Coyne said. With the Web services platform as a backbone, TFS can use third-party outsourcers for credit cards, mortgages and auto loans through one customer interface, said Coyne. "We needed to deliver, and the best way to do it was to go to India. I was empowered to make the decision, and it has paid off for us," he said. Toyota is in a major push to double its size without increasing its work force in the next five years. "Toyota is depending on technology, not people, to stay ahead," said Coyne.

Other customers were intent on cutting costs with the help of Indian partners.

"The U.K. market is very competitive. There is pressure on margins. Cost reduction is at the top of our agenda," said Carol Borghesi, managing director of British Telecom Retail, in London. BT is in the midst of a major technology buildout, spending about $17.4 billion on an entirely broadband network that will result in a switchover from its PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) by 2010, Borghesi said.

To free up funds for this push, BT has been using Indian providers HCL Technologies and the Progeon unit of Infosys since 2000 for its contact center needs. "Were having partners build according to our blueprints. We sent two BT people to Delhi and Bangalore each for a six-month orientation.

"Its labor arbitrage for now, but were moving toward innovation," Borghesi said.

Tanuja Randery, managing director of business transformation at Colt Telecom Group, a London-based provider of telecommunications services in Europe, said cost savings have been crucial to her companys turnaround. Colt sank billions of dollars into a fiber-optic network several years ago, which failed to pay a return. Seeking a turnaround, company leaders sought dramatic cost savings by calling on Indian providers.

All customer orders are filled through Indian companies TCS and Infosys, whose workers function as part of Colts work force. Although Colt is still losing money, savings are being invested in Pan-European VOIP (voice over IP) services, said Randery. "India is the platform for re-engineering for us. Its enabling us to unify processes across all countries," she said.

Some observers note that Indian wage inflation could erode customer savings over time, but Randery said she is not worried about wage increases. "I tell people not to worry about that. By the time it catches up, well be in a completely different space," she said.

She said that in the future, customers should call on India for more than just cost savings. "It shouldnt be just left-brain low-value work in India," Randery said. "We need to manage from India, not from Europe. Its not going to be about just cost, but about business processes."