Sajai Singh is a partner at law firm J Sagar Associates in Bangalore. He is one of the most recognised figures in India with an expertise in the legal aspects of outsourcing. I’ve been regularly talking to Sajai at industry conferences and by email for about five years now. His knowledge of the Indian legal system contributed extensively to my first book ‘Outsourcing to India’. So I was pleased to bump into Sajai at NASSCOM and we went for a cup of tea and chat in the media centre. Though I don’t have any specialist knowledge of the law myself, it’s good to get a perspective on what’s happening from a practitioner who can summarise the legal jargon for the layman.
Sajai was excited about some of the new concepts being discussed at NASSCOM this year: “I was really interested to hear KPMG talking about outsourcing the core of a company. You never used to outsource the core, so although I have not yet seen any deals coming through that are involved in doing this I think it’s going to be interesting when it happens.” He is right, because it goes against everything we ever learned at business school, but I had a chat to Edge from KPMG about this and his arguments were convincing.
Sajai was also interested in some of the new technologies being used for collaboration, such as blogging: “There is a lot of interest in Web 2.0 concepts here, such as the commercial use of virtual worlds like Second Life. When I hear these concepts being discussed in the conference I immediately think about how the law can be applied to these new scenarios. So it’s really fascinating, I’m layering the legal implications onto some of these new ideas.” He added some thoughts on the international implications of collaborating across borders in this way: “There is usually no problem if the information is shared on a private network, but where there is anyone other that the closed user group involved, such as if the public Internet is used for information sharing, then some issues can be raised. This is especially complex as it can cover a number of jurisdictions and different countries view different issues in different ways. For example, virtual worlds and collaboration are unlikely to work in the Middle East. Social networks are not allowed in many of those countries, so some of these issues will come up when cross border collaboration using technology tools is attempted.”
It was interesting to hear Sajai’s main focus at present: “The most time I am spending right now is on renegotiating outsourcing contracts. It’s interesting that they are not going to completion; they are being renegotiated in the middle of the contract. At the end of the tenure they would not need so much legal support, you know that you need to negotiate again when the contract expires, but in the middle of the contract you need a lot of legal support to redraft the contracts.”
That’s an interesting comment and possibly disturbing. Why are so many contracts being renegotiated before they even expire? Sajai did tell me that there is not one reason for this, but he did say that scope is often a sticking point. If that’s the case then maybe we still need to think a lot more about how contracts can flex, so changing business circumstances can be priced, allowing service levels to change over time?
I really wanted to hear what Sajai had to say on the proposed amendments to the IT Act of 2000. This is the main piece of Indian legislation that provides a framework for the entire technology enabled industry: “It’s really good news that in 2008 the government is expected to amend the IT Act of 2000. I would never assume it is going to be passed, but I think so. There are some drastic changes and so that is really welcome.”
Sajai is excited because the law should be changed to catch up with reality, including measures such as defining various methods of cybercrime. Though Sajai mentioned that this is already rising in general awareness now: “Courts are taking cyber disputes much more seriously now. Unlike in some other countries we did not really have a body of case law in India in this area, but that body of law is now being created and it helps for the area to be taken more seriously.”
There is no way I can list the proposed changes to the law in this blog. It’s exciting to know that the government is taking the industry seriously and attempting to provide a strong legislative framework. We need that to operate, especially across borders, but I’m sure you don’t want to read the minutiae – unless you are a lawyer yourself. Sajai provided me with a very succinct summary of what is going to be worth looking out for though: “A lot of the provisions from the Indian evidence act and penal code have been brought into the IT Act, because the statute was earlier focused more about the exchange of information, subjects such as digital signatures. It is now being updated to reflect offences such as cybercrime, but what is really good is that it is being written in a broad technology-neutral way and refers to the Internet explicitly. It is going beyond how the old act was written before, which was quite dependent on specific technologies. It will cover most crimes that we are now aware of, for instance there are crimes such as phishing that the Indian consumer is still not very aware of. There really is a lot of maturity in the new proposed statute.”
It sounds really positive and you have also seen the leaders of NASSCOM praising the proposals for the new IT Act on this blog. If India can bring its IT legislation into the 21st century then it will give a great boost to confidence in the industry.