Sree Iyer in conversation with Sridhar Ramasubbu
Mr. Sridhar was the CFO of Wipro through its growth years, and he has seen the meteoric rise that Wipro enjoyed as there was need for outsourcing services from the world for India.
Sree Iyer: Today if I look at IT industry in India it is going through consolidation for couple of reasons, one is that with technology moving towards cloud the number of people you needed like for instance India used to have wise like grip on DBA jobs in US Data Base Administration is usually for India but those things are kind of becoming easier to manage.
The other challenge you have is the new America for Americans only a kind of a nationalistic drive that is being pioneered, I don’t think it is just Trump, you see Brexit so in Britain also people are thinking that and Australia every where this is becoming now. So what we have is very talented workforce that possibly is in danger of not being able to have the same kind of lifestyle they have enjoyed this far because some of the jobs that they used to do, may just not be there in a days and years to come.
So, Sridhar you have been on both sides – you lived sometime in India and in the United States and now you are part of a new company. What are your thoughts about how you think the IT industry in India should reinvent itself?
Sridhar: I have been thinking about this issue for past 10 years. One of the fundamental things, we will come to the growth and appetite for IT from India. I strongly believe that India will reinvent itself and it will be a bit forced it.
What are the some of the ways and means it will happen, for that we should understand fundamentally what went wrong for about 10 or 15 years back, with the ever increasing demand the company growing like 40-50 % what has happened is the starting an engineering college and churning out the engineers in numbers became a low hanging fruit and sort of politicians and other people exploited it, that’s the starting point of the problem. In the beginning of the year 2000, we had about 190,000 people graduating out of engineering college, out of 190,000 about 30,000 were qualified to get into Microsoft or Intel for the sort of fundamental research companies the remaining people could not get into that, they could have probably got into a second tear in that aspect a job there.
But then came this IT thing where people were able to use those talents because they were good mathematics and Science talents, fundamentals were good. The most important thing is we spent billions of dollars and trained them, so that worked for a period of time. But, what went wrong there was that 190,000 graduating people became 1.2 or 1.5 Million people today. So, whereas the company’s business which was growing 40 to 50 % came down to 20% and then came down to 15% and now it’s about to 6 or 7% whereas the number of students graduating has gone from 200 to 400 to 700 to 800 to 1.2 million on the supply side there is no dearth for people coming out and very low quality and on the other side demand is coming. So I was thinking that this will lead to some sort civil unrest at some point of time because, Firstly, if the quality is good still it could be observed somewhere but the quality is bad because all these people are doing it for a sort of end purpose just to churn out people that’s the fundamental problem. When the supply is increasing exponentially and the demand is coming down in a very drastic manner this is bound to happen.
Second thing is the nature of IT like how infrastructure used to be earlier, how Y2K used to be earlier, how the main frame has got replaced by various other devices today. While those things are required but what is relevant today, what is the solution provided today to customer is through a Cloud, is through advanced AI and machine learning, is through application of mobility, is it through social and is no more of those enterprise level software maintenance, It is there, but it is not the main core anymore and then what happened was most of those type of jobs which were there could be done through Automation, where as the value added jobs so called value added jobs which will also become automated after 15-20 years, currently not automated, people miss that boat.
On one side they are doing automation and on other side they are increasing the number of people (workforce) when Wipro had 1000/2000 people even 500 people on international operation. I have seen it happen and today they have 170,000 people. Cognisant has some 250,000 people, TCS has some 300,000 people. I mean they went on adding 10,000 people through campus recruits every year and of course all these companies have spent lot of time on training but all the training is to do vanilla types of jobs and not on the new job.
On one hand IT demand is coming up and quality of engineers coming out are not good and these people are putting on training but this is becoming cliché because of no more legacy business – legacy training they are doing and not the futuristic one and large scale automation is happening, so is creating big situation today.
But how these IT companies can become more efficient, I think they have to bring down numbers, no doubt about it. I think India has got excellent mathematics and science talent. Somebody has to work on it, India is known not now, but 2000-3000 years back in terms of fundamental thinking, After this along with couple of my friends I am on the site working with engineering college in Tamil Nadu and one friend in California and other from Coimbatore, we together have started looking at forget about money / forget about everything how do we take around 30-50 people from engineering college and how do we teach fundamental thinking to them. We started the process now and in six month time we will finish with two engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu and then of course it is a successful thing we will do it.
Second part of it is really tough to replicate any product thing from India it will take about 6 – 8 yrs. Because for every dollar spent in R&D by the time it will go to ISV and OEM is hundreds of dollars, by the time product reaches customer it would become millions for marketing and by then the market changes and we are not ready for that. I think this is bound to happen as we have around 25000 start-ups in India and expected to go to 100,000 starts up in 2025 which will have 500 billion / ½ a trillion dollar economic impact and providing jobs for 3.5 million people. But what do we do in these 10 years before this happens? While all start-ups are coming I think we should focus more on Science / Chemistry / Physics or Fundamental science and get out of Computer Science and MCA type of thing. Even if they study engineering they should look at fundamental system level thinking that is what we are in small way trying and hopefully this will work. I think India will reinvent itself.
Sree Iyer – That’s wonderful – It is like hitting a nail on the head. You give the right tools and bring the confidence and teach them the right thing; now some of the start-ups are failing which is good in a way as you learn more from failures rather than successes which will be an advantage to India.
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