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Indian IT pros are homeward bound

Kavita Nair | December 01, 2004

Several IT company employees who quit and joined multinational firms in India are returning to the Indian companies they left.

When Rajiv Bishnoi (name changed) left Wipro Technologies in early 2003 to join the multinational Electronic Data Systems in India, he was very excited. The sheer size and scale of EDS and the opportunity to work with a start-up in India and help set up the HR base seemed too good an opportunity to let go. He returned to Wipro in September.

Why? Bishnoi claims that although exciting, his career progress in the multinational wasn't promising. "I was looking for a role change and getting back to Wipro from a long term growth perspective made a lot of sense," he says.

Today, he heads several divisions and couldn't be happier. "Being central to decision making and having a larger impact on the company globally is much more challenging," he adds.

Bishnoi isn't the only one. Executives at many IT companies are foresaking their multinational jobs to pitch their tents back home.

At i-Flex Solutions, 10 people left to join multinationals. Of these, two are already back while some more are exploring the possibility of returning, reveals a senior manager there. Of the 1,600 people who left Satyam last year, nearly 12 per cent joined multinational companies.

Today, two per cent of the employees have returned.

Wipro Technologies sources reveal that if multinationals with a presence in Bangalore poached on 50 of their employees, in the last nine months they picked up double that figure.

Avinash Vashistha, managing partner of offshore advisory and management consultant, neoIT, throws up some figures. In the last financial year, with attrition rates ranging from 10 per cent to 30 per cent, multinationals hired nearly 10,000 employees. Of these, 14,00 are said to have returned to their old jobs while many are still negotiating to return to the companies they worked for earlier.

And most of the people on the move have been working for either the business process outsourcing arms of American technology companies like Sun Microsystems, Oracle Software India, Dell Computer and Microsoft or service providers like IBM, Accenture, Keane, EDS and Hewlett Packard India.

Why are tech employees returning to their home base? In June this year, a study conducted by global IT research firm Forrester Research called "Understanding the IT services vendors' offshore approaches" alerted the industry to the reverse exodus. It said that "while the US-based vendors in India have been luring qualified staff away from their India employers," many are returning to Indian outfits to "engage in more meaningful work and to have opportunities for advancement."

Says S Padmanabhan, executive vice president, global human resource and organisational development at Tata Consultancy Services: "Today, the aura associated with working with a multinational has gone down, and new recruits are taking a much more balanced view of both Indian vendors as well as multinationals."

Adds an i-Flex Solutions manager, "Overall, the job satisfaction in the product business is much higher because of the multifarious roles that people have to perform -- product development, implementation, testing, training, pre-sales, support, etc."

Does this suggest that there are no exciting work and growth prospects in multinational outfits? Yes and no.

In the last few years, the spurt in offshore outsourcing saw multinationals ramp up their India operations. In a bid to achieve critical mass in India, a lot of the US-based vendors poached from established Indian companies. Understandably, many software professionals crossed floors, because the multinational experience would look good on their resumes and the salaries too were exciting (anywhere from a 40 per cent to a 100 per cent hike).

Says, Wipro Technologies vice president, talent engagement and development, Bijay Sahoo, "Mid-2003 did witness aggressive hiring by the multinationals. The priority obviously was to acquire talent so that companies could start running from day one." The hiring spree, which initially began with administrative personnel is now focused on software engineers with two to five years of experience.

That's because, in the IT industry, the growth curve that a software professional outlines for himself is simple. He joins as a programmer, moves on to analysis, design and then graduates to becoming a manager.

In addition, he seeks continuous exposure to multiple technologies and customer environments. "There is an aspiration to travel and get global exposure," reveals an employee who has just returned to his earlier company.

Explains the HR executive of a Bangalore-based IT company: "In terms of long term career growth prospects, onsite opportunities and stability, employees have indicated that domestic outfits offered more scope than multinationals."

According to him, for a multinational, an offshore delivery centre is just its India delivery centre with local employees. For Indian companies, similar centres are their global development centres. "Offshore outsourcing is a core competency for Indian vendors," he adds.

The Forrester report highlights just this. It said that while US-based vendors had invested millions in setting up and improving their Indian facilities, their approach to offshore outsourcing was significantly different from Indian vendors. For the global vendor, the Indian offering is a secondary component of their core business and "they did not fully seek to exploit the Indian outsourcing potential".

Or look at what J Rajagopal, who heads the healthcare practice at Tata Consultancy Services says: "With a multinational, there is no clear push for offshoring. There is loss of control to a third party and giving up control is not that easy."

It isn't that multinational companies are completely off the radar screen. There still exists a lot of cross movement from domestic companies to multinationals. "For a young impressionable graduate, working with multinational companies is still attractive," says Vipul Varma, chief executive officer of recruitment firm Focus Management Consultants. He claims that size and scale continue be the clinchers for entry level people.

But the real problem arises when employees spend a couple of years in the company. With growing aspirations, many say that job satisfaction and a clear career path are missing in the Indian arms of multinationals. Several multinational companies -- IBM, Accenture and EDS -- declined to comment on all this.

When Jaideep Sonthalia recently crossed floors, he cited job frustration as one of the reasons for the switch. He claims that the India centres of most multinationals often work on small jobs. "The model allowed no control of the entire work as it was all being distributed globally. So even if changes had to be made, the employees sitting in India were unable to do so. Not only did it lead to frustration, there was no direct customer interface. It was responsibility of the delivery manager stationed overseas," he cribs.

But why are homegrown companies back in the reckoning? For one, domestic outfits have grown by leaps and bounds. Then, they have set up offices across the world, with some listed on Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange. Also, some of the larger Indian companies have made overseas acquisitions.

Today an Infosys, TCS and Wipro are big brand names globally. "Hence the MNC tag is no longer such an overwhelming differentiator. Today's professional looks at salary package, onsite opportunities and the quality of work more than the brand," says the head of a company that has welcomed deserters.

Also, Indian companies are putting systems in place to retain talent. For example, job rotation is big at Satyam Technologies. "It helps us meet the need for variety among associates and also provides them a chance to play onsite roles. Such moves provide career tracks for the top performers," says H R Hari, senior vice president, human resources, at Satyam.

And what do these associates bring to the table on their return? Says Tanmoy Chakrabarthy, vice president and head, global government group of TCS, who was earlier with EDS: "They bring back some discipline and methodology which is much more mature in multinationals."

Still, all is not gung ho for Indian companies. According to Forrester director John McCarthy, a broader trend is at play. As the industry matures, the emphasis on cost pressures and operational and process efficiencies would rise. There is a move to a low cost distributed, low cost global delivery model. This is a network of low-cost locations integrating domain expertise, skills and project management discipline to maximise the timely delivery of IT and BPO solutions.

"The onshore vendors suffer from an inconsistent use of low cost GDM skills and the offshore vendors score poorly as their technologycentric message and cultural differences alienate business buyers," adds McCarthy.

All these issues notwithstanding, appears to be the leitmotif of one of India's fastest growing industries.

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