Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reverse outsourcing takes off as rising costs hit Indian IT firms

Indian IT firms that thrived on the outsourcing boom in the West are themselves headed offshore, from Malaysia to Mexico, to escape the double sting of surging salaries and a rising rupee.

Tata Consultancy, Infosys, Wipro, Satyam and smaller companies are stepping up acquisitions and opening more facilities closer to US and European clients to cut costs -- the reason why work was farmed out to India in the first place.

Salaries of software professionals rose 18.7 percent in 2007, a survey showed Tuesday, while the rupee has gained almost 10 percent this year to near 10-year highs against the dollar.

That's eroding the cost advantage once enjoyed by the 50 billion dollar information technology industry, which bills two-thirds of sales in dollars but whose expenses are almost all incurred in rupees.

IT firms are "off-shoring" work to time zones and locations nearer their clients in a reversal of the trend that made Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, the favourite back-office of the world's biggest companies.

Bangalore also gave the English language a new slang verb: being "bangalored" in the US meant a person had lost his job because it had been handed to an IT company in India that would do it for a fraction of the cost.

The term looks set to lose its pejorative punch as the same IT industry, which employs 1.63 million people at home, creates and sustains thousands of jobs abroad.

This week Wipro opened a facility in the Mexican city of Monterrey to service American and European clients and Satyam launched a software centre in MSC Malaysia, a government-designated high-tech zone.

"In the past, we viewed off-shoring as India-centric, but we do not do it any more," said Satyam founder B. Ramalinga Raju, who on Monday opened the centre to support business in the US, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

"We look at off-shoring as delivering through high-quality workforce in lower-cost countries," he said.

Hyderabad-based Satyam has hired 300 mostly-Malaysian IT engineers to man the facility, whose workforce will rise to 2,000 in four years to cater to clients such as GlaxoSmithKline, one of its top 10 customers.

Malaysia was chosen because of its "competitive cost environment," said Raju, whose company is distributing work to locations where "it makes the most business sense."