Information technology (IT) has been one of the sunrise industries in India. However, while we have been offering technology services to the world, we have never harnessed our skills to innovate. While we have grown significantly over the last two decades, we have bred inefficiencies in our workforce. If we step back a little, at a collegiate level too, our students have never been able to shake off primitive theories and largely irrelevant curriculums. Let me run through both these areas.
The flawed metric
I think we have had a tryst with complacency. We have been happy with what we are doing as long as it fetched us good dividends. As a profit-building model, the time and material way of pricing was always flawed on a basic metric. More hours billed is equal to more dollars earned for the service provider, while fewer hours billed is equal to more dollars saved for the client. Now that is strange and more strangely, no one in the industry bothered to correct this metric because no one complained. The impact was seen only during recessionary times—when the price had to be reduced and growth had to be maintained; something that only innovators can do.
In a price-led industry, where more people billed naturally yields more revenue, we only needed to do one thing—fill the industry with people and more people. In 1992, the industry was absorbing about 100 people out of the 200,000 plus engineers that India produced. A company could be extremely choosy in hiring the type of resource it wanted. Today, the industry hires more than 150,000 engineers out of about 450,000 engineers that now graduate every year. With billing pressures having mounted over these years, there is hardly a choice left for companies. If I may sound a bit punitive, the unwritten job description seems like this—youngsters with hands, legs and a degree could be hired. Brains necessary, but need to be used to increase billing hours only!
While organizations can train or teach their employees how to innovate, innovation is a value and that has to be imbibed early on. This is where Indian education systems play a very important role. The course content has to enable an environment that encourages innovation among students. The study material must be dynamic and relevant to the developments in the outside world.
I have always felt that the syllabi in Indian universities are quite primitive compared with what the world is heading towards. From an employee perspective, when fresh grads join companies, they often get a bit of cultural shock from what they have learnt and what they get into. This is where, I opine, the Western varsities better prepare their students with topics as current as social media, analytics, smart apps, etc. I guess we are not on that journey yet. We are quite a laggard in updating our course content in schools and colleges. Be it technology or management, our course content and teaching fails to catch up with the real world. We still give examples of timber merchants of the 1950s while explaining business concepts. It is ironical that a 90 percentile student would get selected in a top rated IT firm to work on something that he never studied to get that high a score!
Lack of cohesiveness
I believe that there is a sheer lack of unison between the education and corporate world. The association is limited to sporadic guest lectures by corporate executives in B-schools and tech institutions. There has to be a serious involvement of the corporate world in designing the curriculum as per the changing needs of the industries and simulate the corporate environment well enough to prepare the students for the real world.
The runway is quite long for the IT industry. We are operating in a $2-3 trillion market space and there is ample scope lying ahead for us. If we still grow in single digits, it is our straitjacket mindset to blame. We must bring about a cohesive mechanism of grooming students into potential innovators of the future. We must create the change. We may have thrived in the past with conventional course content and teaching methodologies. In order to leapfrog in changing environment, even if we need to give euthanasia to some of those, we must do so to create a breed of talent that questions the ordinary and disrupts to create a new order. We must innovate. At the end of the day, we owe this to ourselves—to the industry that we have created.
Phaneesh Murthy is CEO, iGATE, Global Growth Company member of the World Economic Forum.