Sustaining India’s IT Exports Growth: Why Products are the Way?

Going by its 12th five year plan projections, the Indian government expects that the IT/ITES exports from the country would reach $130 billion by FY 2016-17, up from $69 billion in FY 2011-12. That is a CAGR of 13.6%.

How realistic is it?
The Planning Commission’s (it  has got those figures from IT ministry which in turn would have consulted with the industry before suggesting it) projection is obviously based on the past trends. Between 2002-07, IT exports from India grew by a CAGR of 32.6%. In the next five years, between 2007-12, the IT exports registered a CAGR of 17.2%. Purely going by those number, a 13.6% growth does not seem too unrealistic for the period 2012-17.

But that does not give the real picture. While the government has its own five-year plan periods, and all its numbers are synchronized to those blocks of periods, the industries do not necessarily work that way, least of it, an exports industry.

Indian IT services exports industry had its distinctive growth periods. The period between 2003-04 to 2007-08, was the high growth period when, on an average, the exports grew 30% year on year, growing by a whopping 37.2% in 2004-05. Of course, the industry was much smaller.

The new phase began in 2008-09. From that year onwards, the industry has grown between 5-19%. In short, the growth of FY 2007-08, which belonged to another era, skews the figure for the five year period that the government has taken—2007-08 to  2011-12. A better idea, hence, would be to compare with the CAGR of the four year period 2008-09, which was 14.2%.

On a much bigger scale, is is possible to replicate that kind of growth, with business as usual. The current year growth is not likely to be more than 10-11%, considering that the top companies have grown by 9% in the first nine months. If the first year of the block shows a growth of 10%, it will be panglossian to believe that the exports will grow by 13.6% in the five year period.

That is, if we go on doing business as usual. The 12th Plan document also does not mention any new initiatives in this area that would make one hopeful, unlike in case of semiconductor and electronic design segments, where a lot of new initiatives are listed.

So, how do we sustain the growth? It is difficult to believe that changing a tax structure here or duty structure there for IT/ITES exports would help the industry grow. We need to look at comppletely new areas/new dynamics to make the industry growth accelerate.

I believe engineering services and software products are two such areas which have potential to drive the next phase of growth for Indian IT. Here are the reasons why I bet on these two

  1. Both these areas are not really completely new areas for Indian IT. There are some leve of action already and the world has noticed the ability of Indians in both these areas
  2. The opportunity and scope available to expand is immense. Hence, the growth will be sustainable for some time
  3. There are passionate people and organizations trying to furher the cause of both these segments.

With a little help from government in terms of incentives and promotion, these two segments, I believe, can drive the growth for the industry in the medium term.

This year’s budget could be a great beginning. The government could well begin by announcing some concrete incentives for encouraging creation of software products from India. Here are some of the ideas that are worth exploring (in the area of software products).

  • Creating direct tax incentives for companies engaged in creating software products
  • Incentivizing government department, agencies and private companies in India to buy made-in-India products through a mix of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives
  • Creating product-only SEZs
  • Instituting awards and honors for software products made in India
  • Encouraging software companies to create products for solving e-governnce problems in the country
  • Creating a comprehensive policy statement to encourage creation of Intellectual Property in computing/information sciences in India