Home / Companies / Steria hopes French, German are languages of success in Europe

New Delhi: Outsourcing services provider Groupe Steria SCA is betting large on being able to expand its European business from India after the Paris-based information technology services company acquired a 5,000-strong workforce here after buying British offshorer Xansa Plc. last year.

Language lessons: Mukesh Aghi, India chief executive of Steria. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint

Companies in Europe, excluding the UK, are set to spend around €49 billion on IT outsourcing in 2009, according to Ovum, a tech services research and consulting firm. Indian IT services companies such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Wipro Technologies Ltd get around 10% of their revenues through clients based in Europe.

Many Indian technology and back office service providers have built up their European business as a way to decrease reliance on contracts with US companies, but Indian providers have generally handled that work through centres in eastern Europe or north Africa, in part to account for language limitations including the challenges of finding sufficient French and German speakers in India.

Steria is trying to work around that, by training 1,000 of its employees to speak European languages.

Plus, “only India has the...capability to get 50 testers overnight," says Steria’s marketing manager, Sachdev Ramakrishna, referring to ready availability of employees who run tests on new software.

Steria is hoping that offering multiple languages in its staff will give it a competitive environment.

“Language is a key issue that Indian companies face when going to Europe, so this is an advantage," insists Steria’s chief executive in India, Mukesh Aghi. He describes a conversation he had with a European customer who runs a BPO in Warsaw and has an employee attrition rate of 70%.

“The work ethic (is) very different," says Aghi, arguing that India-based centres can compete with centres in eastern Europe. “In India, they see it (such jobs) as very good career growth."

Chiraj Jain, for example, has been with Steria in India for four years, and took German classes when the company offered them.

“We may not be that fluent when it comes to talking, but we have working knowledge," Jain says, describing an instance where he was able to translate an email that came from a German client, asking about certain technical capabilities.

Anil Dhar, another Steria employee who works on a call centre process, says he was able to get by on his French even when he went to Paris for one week on a client visit.

Steria’s 1,500-employee office in Chennai is designated as the French centre, while a 1,000-employee operation in Pune will focus on German.

The UK-based Xansa worked primarily for British clients, including public sector firms such as the Royal Mail Group Ltd, Britain’s chain of post offices. Steria says UK alone accounts for about 85% of work offshored to India from Europe.

After the acquisition, Steria started offering 20-hour French courses to anyone interested in taking them, and around 60-80 employees cycled through each month. Steria then started conducting intermediate classes in conjunction with the Alliance Francaise, with 100 certified French speakers, and around 50 certified in German.

The company also supplemented its existing cultural training for Indian employees going to the UK with material on French cuisine and French wine. Steria’s goal is to have 10% of the company’s India workforce speak French or German.

“We’re hoping that at some point European governments and enterprises will be forced to look at India much more freely," says Steria’s human resources director Shantanu Banerjee.

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