The march of the product brigade!

For the last fifteen years and more, there has rarely been a meeting of visionaries and practitioners in the IT industry where somebody does not offer the view that the days of IT services are nearing an end and the product movement will create new heroes for the industry and country.  In each of those fifteen years, the gap between the revenues of the services firms and product pioneers has only widened and a cynic might be pardoned for asking “Is it really worth our while to obsess about products when the services sector continues to do well and find newer and newer avenues and models for growth?”

The truth is that the success of  product ventures is an idea which has been slow in developing but whose time has now surely come. Many successful Product Conferences conducted by NASSCOM in Bengaluru and led by the passionate  Sharad Sharma and his band of merry evangelists, the iSPIRT and ProductNation initiatives of the product group championed by former NASSCOM stalwart Avinash Raghava, the very successful Knowledge Management and Intellectual Property movement led by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the huge deals flows seen from product wannabes for funding by the Indian Angel Network all point to a renewed surge of enthusiasm for a “Made in India” wave that will sweep the industry forward and unleash a tsunami of success for many young entrepreneurs.

However there is no case for a simplistic polarization between services and product companies and there is certainly no basis for the argument that IT services firms will decline and give way to product firms. Even five years ago, when we had postulated that the industry would grow to a three hundred billion dollar level by 2020, the canvas was painted in many colours – on-premise and cloud based services, new platforms and frameworks, accelerators and shrink wrapped and embedded products. The boundaries are blurring and most of us in services have embraced IP creation as a necessary part of all our vertical solutions. At Zensar we have built a compelling “Digital Enterprise” strategy that leads our clients from systems of record through the wonderland of Cloud, Mobility, Social Media and Analytics to true systems of engagement. This strategy is delivered through an eco-system of product partners who have focused point solutions for vertical and horizontal engagement. The day is not far when all services firms will attempt to garner over thirty percent of their revenues from systems integration and carry a cohort of product partners into new markets.

This is not to say the product companies cannot succeed on their own steam. On the contrary, there is a strong sense of self-belief in the new generation of product entrepreneurs in our country even as some of the global product majors are beginning to consider themselves as services companies. A forthcoming CII Knowledge Management conference will showcase small companies in India that can provide worthy solutions that push the frontiers of knowledge, for organisations in all user domains and as well as technology savvy services organisations. A revolution is in the making in this country and the march of the product brigade will lead this revolution !

Towards a glorious product nation!

The biggest success of the IT industry in the country has also been its biggest challenge. The phenomenal rise of the Software services industry led by global leaders like TCS Cognizant, Infosys and Wipro and smaller firms like HCL, Mindtree, Zensar and Hexaware in hot pursuit has put India in pole position in the global IT services industry. Driven by NASSCOM with visionary leadership and full support from industry stalwarts, the services industry really gathered momentum towards the end of the last century and has never looked back since.

However many other industry segments have struggled to emerge from the shadow of the spectacularly successful services sector. Business Process Outsourcing looked like a rising star for some time followed by Engineering Services, Media and Animation and other sub-sectors but could not match the rise or the stature of IT Services. The Products industry too has had many good starts, but in a manner similar to India’s cricket openers these days, have spluttered too fast and too frequently. Barring a few successes like i-Flex, Tally and some products that germinated within the comfort of a services company, the product story from India has just not done justice to the energy enthusiasm and incredible talent that lies in this country.

There are many green shoots emerging in the hitherto parched product landscape that give us all hope that the story is destined to change and move towards a happy ending with a more focused approach to developing a new eco-system for the product industry. In the last few years, outstanding leadership of the product forum in NASSCOM and the very successful product conferences in Bengaluru have demonstrated the high energy that flows through the veins of the product entrepreneurs today. The opportunities too abound with the ubiquitous spread of the internet and cloud computing enabling “made in India” products to quickly expand their availability globally and Software as a Service enabling new methods of consumption and commercial relationships.

However mere enthusiasm does not create a product nation and there needs to be concerted efforts to build a sustained focus on the products industry. There is a need to work with this fledgling sector from the early stages of creating programs in Universities to build a product mindset to developing incubation centres and a more vibrant angel network that will enable thousands of start-ups to bloom. Since significant Government and corporate support for Indian products will also be needed akin to the support given in China to the local industry, serious efforts will be needed to educate the bureaucracy in Delhi on the very specific needs of the product companies so that enabling policies and programs are created and funded by Government.

The opportunity for the products industry to be a hundred billion dollars strong by the time India turns seventy-five in 2022 is very real but we will need to bring all the players together and build a strong platform to propel the industry into the stratosphere of global success!