Som Mittal just took over the NASSCOM presidency from Kiran Karnik, though he has been involved on the executive council of the organisation since its inception nearly two decades ago. Yes, NASSCOM is nearly twenty years old and this depth of experience at lobbying and pulling the entire industry together is something that many other countries look at with envy.
I wanted Som to explain exactly what NASSCOM does, as many of the readers of this blog will not be in India and may not have even heard of the organisation before we started blogging about it. Som started by setting the scene: “NASSCOM is a chamber of commerce or trade body representing the entire IT services industry. Most IT companies here in India are members of NASSCOM.” He then elaborated and described some of the key roles of the organisation: “I would say we have three broad roles. One is to ensure that we are influencing the environment in which our companies perform – in India or outside. The second objective is to ensure that our companies have the right enablers, such as the telecoms policy or providing inputs to our own industry in terms of what are the opportunities that are coming up in future – we do a lot of research. The third objective is to ensure that our companies are helping in the broad sweep of economic and societal development. That’s a broad definition and it always changes of course, but that’s where we are now.”
So, although it is a trade body representing the hi-tech services industry in India, their remit extends far beyond just commercial pressures. I asked Som about some past activities, such as creating an international trust in Indian IT and he agreed that this was a former role, though is less required now India has built a stable reputation for quality. He said: “Our role keeps changing. At one time we were focused on branding India. There was a time when India was not known for high quality in anything and we had to build the India Inc brand, but that’s behind us now.” He adds: “What is important now is that the world has to get the right perception. There are things happening that might raise concerns about recession, currency, data security, competitiveness, and similarly in our own environment we need to keep on working on trying to ensure that IT is a preferred employer.”
And of course, talent surfaced once more as the most important concern for the industry in India: “The most significant thing we are working on at present is to ensure that there is a continuous supply of people. This industry is all about high quality resource and the industry has experienced such huge growth, something like a continuous 30 per cent growth rate each year, so we actually need to change the paradigm to cope with non-linear growth. We are investing so much in training and development at our end in the industry so the question is can some of this training be pushed back to the colleges? What we need is to move from trainable people to employable people when they leave the colleges.”
Som acknowledged that there are some issues with the education system churning out people who cannot enter the workforce, and are not even good enough to be trained by the private sector: “In the short term we have no shortage of graduates, but we only ever address about 30 per cent of them as 70 per cent are not even trainable. So we are focusing on determining what are the issues that make it difficult to train these people, so we can improve the numbers we address.”
Of course, everyone at Steria is interested in the development of business across Europe and why most business relationships from India seem to be with UK or USA based customers. Som explained: “As the Indian IT market started developing, the US was obviously the biggest target because it was large, there was the financial services market, it was English-speaking and there was plenty of low-hanging fruit as well as a good exchange of information about the market through students from India going to the US. It’s true that the companies in Europe really do have the same needs as the US. It’s not really about outsourcing though; it’s about the changing demographics in the world. For whatever reason, populations are aging, working life is getting longer, and the world in general is looking for resource. It’s true that India’s large population was once considered to be a burden and it is now becoming a huge source of resource. Human resource is going to be as important as any natural resource in future.” Som believes that in IT services, language only plays a part in certain parts of the value chain: “When it comes to Europe, the first issue is that they [Indian companies] have not been used to it. Language was also a barrier, but if you take anything in IT and then take the top two layers out then it is English. It doesn’t matter. Technology does not have a language barrier. The language issues all come in the business layer. We are really pleased to see about ten per cent of revenue in this industry in India coming from continental Europe. There are many areas in Europe where shortages of particular skills means that companies can work with India, such as in various areas of design capabilities.”
I asked Som about some of the challenges ahead in his new role and he immediately recalled some of the difficulties of the recent past: “It’s been an interesting move. I was the chairman in 2003/2004 and we had huge issues at that time because of the anti-offshoring sentiment in the US, due to the presidential election that year. I have been a member of the executive council all these years as well so I have always been a part of the governing body, but I decided I wanted to do something more with my life and on a larger canvas. So I quit my job with Hewlett Packard to come to NASSCOM.” Som adds a great summary of the organisation: “NASSCOM is an amazing organisation. We are a small group of people but we unite the entire industry. The challenges are varied and huge, so we have to pick the ones where we can have the most influence. I am looking forward to this term. It is similar to the role of a senior executive, where you spend time influencing, except I am doing it with a country and many companies.”
NASSCOM is clearly in safe hands with someone who could not be more enthusiastic about his new role. Kiran Karnik casts a large shadow, but Som has been involved with the organisation since the beginning and knows the industry inside out. This blog wishes him every success in his new role.