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The story of India's 3 IT biggies
Subir Roy | January 28, 2006
There were three chickens which all laid eggs, says Hrish Bijoor, brand consultant, weaving an allegorical tale. One was shy, one was honest and one was a chicken with hype. All laid an egg each, ordinary looking, whose product quality was identical, say 100. The first made a noise of two decibels, so very few heard of it and came to see it. But with those who did come, it scored 98 plus.
The second was the honest chicken. Its product quality was 100, it made a noise about being 100. Everybody came expecting 100, got 100. The end result was even or neutral, neither positive nor negative. The third chicken, whose egg was of quality 100, made a noise that it was 400, everybody came expecting 400, but got 100, that is minus 300.
If you have not guessed it yet, the first chicken is Tata Consultancy Services, the second is Wipro, and the third is Infosys - the three leading lights of the Indian software industry. They, more than anything else, have put Indian skills on the global map and gained India greater global respectability than it has ever had in its modern history.
The three, by now household names among middle class Indians, represent a fine conundrum. They offer near-identical services of near-identical quality and there is little to distinguish them in the way they meet customer requirements.
But they are so different -- in age, pedigree and history of growth. Not unexpectedly, in an attempt to differentiate themselves they have followed vastly different marketing strategies and sought to makes themselves into distinctive brands.
TCS is the grandfather of them all. But fascinatingly, "it has been the best-kept secret in the Indian software industry," says Ramanujam Sridhar, marketing expert and CEO of Brand-Comm.
Until it was listed in 2004, TCS cared little about getting itself publicly known and concentrated on its customers. From all accounts it has done a fine job within its chosen focus. It grabbed customers when they were up for grabs but what is more, not only managed to hang onto them but created a relationship it has leveraged to win some of the biggest recent deals.
TCS earlier didn't have a theme, recalls Phaneesh Murthy, CEO of iGate and former Infosys highflier. Its attitude to customers was, 'We will do the work on any model you desire'. It was a leader in size but low in prices. But times are changing. Now the company is becoming more fussy about price and the kind of work it will do. Says Avinash Vashistha, managing director of offshoring consultancy neoIT, "It has been very aggressive in the last year and has put the right people forward. The IPO has made it hungry for the right things. TCS is stable and trustworthy. It has great expertise, a lot to offer and is not charging all that it can."
TCS's current marketing pitch marries its heritage and current hunger for deals. It sees its brand as made up of two parts, says Phiroz Vadrevala, executive vice president. One is the overarching Tata brand that projects trust, integrity, ability to deliver and fairness to all stakeholders.
The second is TCS as the pioneer Indian IT brand. There is some hyperbole in his statement that TCS is "using global expertise to build India by executing nationally oriented projects that are critical as they touch people's lives. The aim is to go global while continuing to serve the country."
But TCS has an unequalled national record. It has executed critical national projects like IT, enabling the NSE, NSDL, SBI (core banking solution), union finance ministry, and department of company affairs. Most recently, it has made a proposal for an IT solution for the national employment guarantee programme, aimed at fighting leakages through the use of IT, and is implementing a pilot for it in two Andhra Pradesh districts.
The other old-timer among the three biggies is Wipro. It was originally into hardware, then systems development and eventually into software. Wipro's IT software story got going in a big way from the mid-nineties when marketing gave support to sales, recalls Jessie Paul, chief marketing officer, Wipro Technologies.
From 1999 onwards, public relations, analyst relations and the website became important and marketing communication secured a role, but the exercise was still sales driven. Branding was still not a conscious function and played no role in marketing. Those were the days of the runup to Y2K and so selling was not really an issue.
In 2001, the need for a brand, and that too a global brand, was realised. This was because the sales pitch had to be increasingly made to the CIO and CEO of firms. Fortunately for Wipro, this exercise had already been done by Sombit Sengupta, strategy and brand consultant. In the late nineties, Wipro came to possess its now famous logo of the rainbow coloured sunflower and the legend "Applying Thought".
The branding exercise changed the company and focused it around IT. The slogan also fitted in nicely and in fact grew out of Wipro's grasp of technology.
Wipro has been driven by technological evolution, triggered by the departure of IBM from India. Its entry into IT services was through R&D services from the mid-eighties. Conventional marketing didn't have much of a role in this. Most of the marketing was done by posing as a peer to the client by saying, 'We also do research'.
Wipro, says Bijoor, has a carefully leveraged image, its orientation is global, pursuing best practices like Six Sigma, an image that has grown out of the Wipro-GE partnership. But it has not tomtommed itself. "The focus of the company emerges from Premji's persona - 'I could be a billionaire but I am this'. The company is showcased in his non-showcased manner. The brand has been spun out well and its mix of people also fits in with it. The misfit persona was Vivek Paul who appeared to be overshadowing Premji."
And thereby hangs a tale. The elevation of Vivek Paul to vice-chairman of Wipro marked a watershed. The company was becoming global and its employee profile was changing. Paul was both a product and architect of the change. Recalls Phaneesh Murthy, from being a company offering engineering services for products, with Paul it became more business applications development oriented.
Then came acquisitions like AMS and Nervewire. This transition from product engineering to business applications is marked by revenues from the former going down from around 55 per cent to a little over 30. Earlier it had hardly any customers in the financial applications space. The changes under Vivek Paul widened and opened the market for the company.
Now the company seems in wait-and-watch mode. After the departure of Vivek Paul, Wipro has gone in for a bit of soul-searching. Says an insider, "We are conducting a study to understand our own pedigree, why we are here and how to distinguish ourselves." Preliminary findings indicate that Wipro believes itself to be a company with high integrity, but not innovation.
Internally, it is seen as made up of good followers, but not having the cutting edge. The exercise is still on but a change in thinking has taken place. "I am not saying it is a revamp, but an exercise in incremental change. We started by saying we must be able to distinguish ourselves from others, but we now feel we are not bothered about others. Our aim is to define our brand and walk it."
Among the three, Infosys was the last to arrive and in chairman NR Narayana Murthy's own words, is "the new kid on the block". The defining moment for the company was the new economic policies initiated in 1991 which removed a lot of the "friction to business" that companies in India faced from the government and allowed MNCs to come into high tech areas.
For a young and small company to compete with MNCs for the right young talent, it had to be different. Narayana Murthy decided to "create a place where youngsters feel happy" and consequently "we were the first company in the software industry that adopted the campus approach. In 1992-93 we took a decision to build a campus for Rs 19 crore (Rs 190 million) when our revenue was Rs 12 crore (Rs 120 million)." Thus from that time a key marketing strategy for Infosys has been "always believe in doing unusual stuff, and thereby be in a position to secure our future and growth".
In terms of the nuts and bolts of marketing, "Right from the beginning, we realised we had to focus on selling more and more in the marketplace. That's why we hired smart people to sell in our markets in the US, Europe etc. Second, we were the first Indian company in the software industry to create a wonderful global customer meet," calling it Milan, but recently changing to Confluence so people would not get confused with the city of Milan.
As Infosys grew, it realised it had to enhance the confidence of customers, which meant enhancing the confidence of the CEOs and CFOs of your customers. So it argued, "If we get listed on a US stock exchange, and if we're seen in the Wall Street Journal, on CNBC, then they will say, oh yes, this company is here to stay because it is in their marketplace. We were the first Indian company to get listed on Nasdaq (in 1999)."
The next thing Infosys did was to start, with Wharton Business School, an initiative called the Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award to recognise entrepreneurs and organisations that have leveraged technology to transform corporations, individuals as agents of change and organisations that have transformed themselves. "We coincide this with the alumni conference at Wharton.
After 10-20 years they all become big people. It has tremendous value for Infosys." By doing unusual things "you get written about. More and more people notice you, are likely to join you, work with you, invest in your company. I have always believed you have to do the unusual stuff," affirms Narayana Murthy.
In seeking to be different, the companies have been making competing claims. Says Vandrevala, "TCS was the first Indian IT company to go global and continues to maintain this lead, being the foremost in locating its development centres around the world. It pioneered the global delivery model and was the first to offshore work to India as early as 1988-89." On the other hand Narayana Murthy says, "We were the first company to articulate the concept of the global delivery model and we marketed it well."
There is also a similarity of aims. Vandrevala says, "The challenge that TCS sees before itself is to build a brand synonymous with global brands like IBM and Accenture." But Wipro is not much different. Says Jessie Paul, "Wipro's primary vision is to become one of the world's top three brands in software services. We want to be an engineering-led brand, just as IBM is seen to be strongly into infrastructure management and Accenture in IT services consulting."
Sridhar sums it up by saying that "All three will become very big companies, all will be big brands. Infosys however has an edge as it has great clarity in its PR strategy and has a clearer position. It has worked out what it wishes to communicate and has succeeded in doing so. It has marketed itself extremely well to the media without making tall claims."
Phaneesh Murthy allows a peep into how this marketing exercise was conceived by describing Infosys as "the lotus in the marsh. In a country where business is mostly opaque, Infosys is transparent. You can build a brand from a core or context. Core means the kind of work you do, but this was no different from what the others did. So I chose context.
"One manifestation of this differentiation was to present your annual report in as many GAAPs as possible, including all kinds of information which was not relevant to customers in terms of the software you created for them, but projected a clean company."
He also answers the oft-repeated point that Infosys hypes itself quite a bit. "I cannot agree that there is excessive hype about Infosys. It has never failed to deliver on projects, so where is the hype? If Infosys does something, even if it pays Rs 2, it makes sure everyone comes to know about it. It makes a loud noise but I wouldn't call that hype." Vashistha agrees that Infosys is greater than 100, it offers impeccable service and is also the most expensive - like the Oberoi among hotels.
"When I was working in Nortel, Infosys was one of my clients. I used to say, Infosys is just hyping itself. I never bet on Infosys, but clients always liked it. I thought one day this will end, but interestingly, it has not. I would now compare Infosys to Accenture."
If all three are big and all will grow then is that the end of the matter? Says Sridhar, "There is some confusion about succession in Wipro. TCS has the best clients as well as resources. It is very successful but all three are. Size can't be a differentiator. Wipro tried to take the knowledge high ground but has not succeeded. Ultimately, you have to find a differentiator, like Apple has with iPod."
In marketing themselves, can the three more or less continue to do what they have been doing? Sombit Sengupta looks into the future and asks, "Where is the intangible premium, apart from size? In a monodirectional business commoditisation can happen very easily. The value proposition of low-cost manpower is there today but eventually value will shift to brands. Are Indian IT companies creating big business stars?
The young 19-27-year-olds all want to be stars. They can see a career for themselves in brands like GE and McKinsey. These youngsters are intellectually advanced, highly researched, job flirtatious. Do they see the Indian IT companies as brand stars where they can become rising stars? The intellectual property in these companies, which are facing global competition, is not showcased."
He adds, "When I see Wipro I see a businessman. For TCS the field is wide open. The Tatas have been around for over a hundred years. In that sense TCS is not a baby of the new economy. Bombay House has a spirit of sustaining businesses. Is Narayana Murthy like Anita Roderick of The Body Shop? Many tried to emulate The Body Shop but couldn't, and the company declined after she sold out. Narayana Murthy has created the same philosophy of integrity, corporate governance and excellence in communication as The Body Shop has by projecting a lifestyle."
He recalls that in the US, early in the twentieth century, business and innovation merged in the empires created by Edison, Bell and Ford. "The French have an expression "pensee et applique", which means think and apply, or thought and deployment. The problem with French society was that it thought too much and innovated little. Our three IT leaders are only in business. Their innovative thought process, or its results, are not very visible." Their marketing job then must just be beginning.
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