| When it comes to academicians-turned-entrepreneurs,
theres no telling what to expect. Chennaibest.coms
interview with Dr Sankaran P Raghunathan, Founder, Chairman
of Blueshift Inc, (a leading IT solutions provider) was all
about paradigm shifts with a difference. Dr Raghunathan is an MBA
from XLRI and a Ph. D in international business from Temple
University, Philadelphia. He is on the faculty of Emory University,
Reversing the Brain drain
The Brain drain phenomenon can be reversed in two ways.
Firstly, by arresting the leak, and retaining people within the country.
look at the background of the situation. Software companies involved
in exports are given a 10-year tax holiday. So they dont focus
on the domestic market. Firstly, because it doesnt pay as well
as the international market does. Secondly, whatever it pays is taxable.
So the governments tax-holiday policy leads software companies
to look outside, instead of within the country. And worse still, the
policy is applied indiscriminately; not just for company exports through
work done in India, but also for exports through work done overseas.
That means that in the name of software exports, companies are exporting
Of course, the government did not intend this to happen. But with
such policies, there will obviously be a Brain drain. In India, software
companies enjoy tax holidays and other concessions because they are
involved in export. Also, there are reduced duties and taxes on inputs
like computers, software etc, but there are no such concessions when
it comes to people. So the benefit reaches only the company and its
shareholders, while there is no gain to employees or the country.
We can make people stay in India if we ensure that the tax concessions
reach the individuals who work in India, doing work for export.
This way the people involved in exports, but staying here in India,
reap rewards and find an incentive to remain here and hold on to jobs
within the country.
The second way in which we can reverse the Brain drain is by increasing
the inflow of outsiders into the country.
If other countries can lure our people out, theres definitely
enough magnetism in India to lure outsiders to come in and work in
India. In the United States, it takes less than two years for an Indian
to realise the American Dream (a house with a two-car
garage, one wife, two and a half kids and a dog). If they can allow
outsiders to achieve their dream without restriction, why do we create
problems for foreigners to come in and do the same here? We allow
Chinese products to flood our market. We allow a whole lot of international
commodities to flow in. Why not encourage foreign people to come in?
grew last year at a rate of 6%. When Chidambaram was Finance
Minister, we were looking at achieving a 10% growth rate every year,
with a minimum investment of $ 10 billion in each sector. Foreign
investment has not come in. What prevents us from bringing competent
foreign people in? They can add value. Bringing in competent people
with world-class skills, and then getting others to work with them
will ensure tremendous value addition to everyone concerned.
Essentially, we need to understand that reversing Brain drain into
Brain gain need not mean merely encouraging Indians to come back to,
or remain in, India; it can also mean attracting foreign brains in.
The problem of Indian software companies being
saddled with low-end programming jobs
While many companies claim they are moving up the value chain, the
fees they charge do not reflect that proclaimed value. If fees are
any indication of value, the low fees our companies charge doesnt
match the value claims. Unfortunately our entire approach to the international
market is based on a low-cost USP. We are a low cost country. We do
not speak of quality, or scalability. We focus almost entirely on
quantity and low-cost. In another ten years, our labour cost will
get equalized with international labour costs. What will we do then?
Any organisation or country that builds its strategy for success,
on the labour cost differential will not get far. Look at what happened
with the Tigers of Southeast Asia; countries like Malaysia, Singapore,
Philippines and South Korea. They capitalized for a while on the low
labour cost advantage. But soon the advantage vanished once their
labour cost levelled with international costs. The lesson is clear.
If we continue to build our strategy on the positioning of low labour
cost, we are not likely to get India out of its present morass.
Now one might be prompted to ask how these countries have made it
good when they took advantage of the low labour cost advantage. Why
have we not been able to do even that? The main difference between
these countries and us, is that after using the low labour cost advantage
as a USP and getting business, they executed all of this work from
within the country. This benefited them in two ways. One they
retained and consolidated skills and; Two they ensured maximum
fruitful employment within their countries.
is precisely because we market ourselves as a low cost (low value)
service provider, that the global market is throwing us crumbs
conversion work, porting work and testing jobs. (This is not to say
that there are no high-end projects being handled by Indian software
companies. But the bulk of projects are not much to write home about
in terms of their position in the value chain).
So what do we do to change this? We must position ourselves, first,
as a country that can deliver high quality. As a country that can
meet resource requirements at short notice. As a world-class service
provider in the real sense. If global players buy this, then we can
throw in the cost advantage. Our low cost factor must be presented
as an incidental advantage.
The other way to do this is to urge other countries to open up their
borders to people. If we are opening up our borders to free
trade, why cant the developed countries do the same? After
all, free trade does not involve only goods. It can also mean people.
When we export people to the US, they put down a quota
for entry. And because there is a restriction, folks here are even
more enticed by the forbidden fruit. So everyone wants
to go abroad.
If we force them to open up their borders, then free movement of manpower
is ensured and wage levels will equalise. That is what the developed
countries are afraid of. They fear that with free movement across
borders, wage levels will come down and their standard of living will
Let me elaborate. A Lancer (tradable) in India costs $ 6,000
more than in the US. But a haircut (non-tradable) costs $ 13 in the
US, but is only $ 2 in India. So, while, on the one hand we are under-valuing
our people (and their service), on the other hand we are making goods
less affordable to them. A classic case is our hotel tariffs. Food
and services are priced low, but hotel rooms are priced as high as
in New York. If we ourselves undervalue our people, how can we expect
the world to place a high value on them?
What ails e-commerce in India?
Firstly, as a community, Indians have low consumption levels; whether
it is drinking Coke or using the telephone. Secondly, there
is a peculiarity in our consumer/seller behaviour.
we are not comfortable buying and selling on the phone, how will
we be comfortable doing it on the net? Forget consumers buying for
the moment. Even sellers are not comfortable doing business on the
phone. The buyer does not even get the information he needs, to
make his purchase decision on the phone. There is a lot of distrust
when it comes to commerce without seeing (on the phone).
So imagine what levels of distrust are there for commerce without
seeing or hearing (through the net). Its
there in our culture; this inherent distrust. It has nothing to
do with technology.
Going further, lets assume we get over our distrust. Then
theres the problem of poor physical infrastructure. For example,
toll-free calls, which can be a huge marketing tool, are prohibitively
expensive in India. Worse still, even after the allotment, only
four digits are allowed in the number. That limits the total figure
of toll-free numbers in each city to only 10,000. How we managed
to mess up the number system to limit the availability of numbers,
IT in Chennai; as compared to other cities
Chennai has some good IT professionals. But compared to global standards,
there is much to be desired when it comes to quality. Yes, when we
compare ourselves with other cities in India, Chennai is probably
better off in terms of IT manpower quality. But we are not competing
with a Hyderabad or a Bangalore. We are competing with the finest
in the world when we talk of a global market.
Why is this lack in quality IT manpower? Probably because preciseness
just isnt there in our culture. Quality does not come to us
when we join a company. It has to be built into us right from kindergarten.
So what we need is a massive change in inputs at home, at school and
at work. The achievement of global standards is not about a technology
change or an infrastructure change
it is about a cultural change.
A transformation of mindset.
It will definitely take a long time. But hopefully, new-generation
parents will teach their children these essentials. Then imitative
behaviour will probably help raise our standards to those practised
- Ivan Fernandez
Photographs : V Ganesan