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Which Indian IT company is the best?

By Shobhana Subramanian
July 05, 2005 12:55 IST
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Think scale. That's the caption on Infosys' annual report. Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro would agree. All three have been growing relentlessly, cashing in on the outsourcing wave. TCS, which has been around for two decades, leads in revenues.

However, it will take a combination of a robust business model, savvy marketing skills and the ability to read the market to scale new heights. Which one has what it will take to succeed from here on?

Central nervous system
Consultants say that the scoring points for TCS are its execution skills. S Mahalingam, CFO, TCS, says, "We have an impeccable track record, having executed mission critical projects like the National Stock Exchange and also the widest range of services across domains."

Wipro, on the other hand, is seen as more of a creative workshop which is "full of energy". But industry analysts give an "excellent systems" rank to Infosys.

Says James Abraham, director, The Boston Consulting Group, "The systems and processes of Infosys are very efficient and flexible. They virtually help the company track every project by the minute. This gives them tremendous visibility and the ability to manage risk."

Performance bar





Revenues (Rs cr) 9,749 7,130 6,071
Operating profit margin (%) 27.6 32.8 29.7
One million $ clients (numbers) 214 166 157
Attrition (%) 8 10.5 15
EPS (Rs) 49.3 69 22.7
Market capitalisation (Rs cr) 64,009 62,886 53,061

Buffet Spread
The bread-and-butter business for all the three companies is the application development and maintenance services. It fetches Infosys 53 per cent of its revenues, while for Wipro it's 60 per cent.

However, for TCS it forms a larger chunk of revenues at 72.5 per cent. The rest of the business for the big three comes from package implementation, consulting, infrastructure management, BPO and other services.

The obvious risk is in banking on one line of business. Says Mohandas Pai, director and CFO, Infosys, "Without being overexposed, we have a presence across segments, though we may be relatively new to some areas such as systems integration."

Wipro's hardware heritage gives its portfolio diversity in R&D. Observes Ranjan Biswas, partner, Ernst & Young, "The R&D work that Wipro does in the telecom OEM space is a killer differentiator. It proves that the company can move up the value chain."

Lakshminarayana K R, VP, and head, treasury, Wipro, agrees. "R&D is one of our strengths, at the same time we are not over-exposed. It accounts for just a third of revenues, down from 55 per cent a couple of years ago," he says.

Bob Suh, chief technology strategist, Accenture, says that process R&D will be the future. But the others claim to be getting better. Pai claims that Infosys has demonstrated R&D skills in aeronautics and telecom embedded systems, while Mahalingam says TCS has been doing a lot of value-added work.

"We have developed several tools and have applied for international patents for a security system for wireless networks," he says.

Both TCS and Infosys have been expanding in the package implementation space, another potential growth area. Suh says this requires a strong understanding of the environment and a higher level of skills than ADM.

Here TCS is slightly better off: it gets 21 per cent of its revenues from PI while Infosys and Wipro earn 15.2 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.

But Wipro has made stronger inroads into other emerging opportunities like infrastructure management. Consultants say Wipro appears to be seeing deals in this space while Infosys and TCS appear to be covering more ground in the engineering services segment.

In April 2004, Infosys entered the consulting business. Observes Abraham, "Marrying consultancy with IT services makes for a richer package, it's great value-add and the margins should be good."

Biswas adds, "It's a good step because clients need partners who can conceptualise how markets are likely to move and how customers will think."

A year after it entered consulting, Infosys earned about 3.6 per cent of its revenues from that business.

Not bad if you consider that Wipro has been around for a while in this space and still makes about 5 per cent of its revenues through consulting. TCS too does work in this sphere, but does not report revenues separately.

Wooing the client
Industry watchers are impressed with Infosys' superior sales skills and the consistency with which it increases the size of existing accounts. In FY05, Infosys added 35 clients to its above $10 million revenue list while TCS could add only 26.

Observes a consultant, "Infosys appears to be customer-focused while Wipro appears to be more product-focused." None of them is too over-exposed to a single client except for TCS. General Electric for instance accounts for about 14 per cent of TCS's international revenues.

Says an analyst, "TCS should have pared its GE account much earlier because it's a drag on the margins."

The US still remains the biggest hunting ground for Indian firms -- the three companies have revenues of 60 per cent or more from that region. In Europe, Wipro (30 per cent revenue) leads the other two by 7-8 percentage points.

Says a consultant, "A better spread of clients helps mitigate risks in a downturn. However, it's also important to tap the right markets. In that sense, the US still offers enough opportunity."

Betting on BPO
Business Process Outsourcing is another big area of promise. Wipro has built up scale through its takeover of Spectramind which have helped revenues to grow to around $148 million (Rs 640 crore).

However, experts feel that Infosys has done better by opting for a transaction-processing model. Observes Ganesh Duvvuri, analyst, Motilal Oswal, "When call centres were in vogue, Infosys chose to set up a non-voice business. A right decision, given the low attrition in non-voice."

Meanwhile, TCS doesn't appear to have taken its BPO initiative too seriously. Despite being in the game since inception, TCS today has just around 4,000 BPO employees.

Compare that with Infosys' size of 4,000 people in just two years and around 16,000 people for Wipro.

When headcount goes up, human resources management becomes important. In this context, TCS has been able to retain its employees, it has a lower attrition than the others. Consultants say, one reason could be that TCS has more on-site work, which means more overseas stints for engineers.

Managing margins
TCS may be sending more employees abroad, but that does not help the company's margins. TCS has an onsite: offshore ratio of 61:39 compared with Infosys' 51:49. This pulls down margins as the company has to give more salaries and allowances to employees who work abroad.

Explains Mahalingam, "We do more complex and mission critical work than others which may require more engineers overseas." TCS also derives a higher proportion of revenues from fixed price contracts 52 per cent -- 31 per cent for Infosys and Wipro's 22 per cent. Says an analyst, "that should have helped improve margins but that does not seem to have happened."

Wipro's margins have suffered because of other reasons. Lakshminaraya explains, Wipro has always hired more people at the middle level resulting in higher salaries, besides higher marketing spends. Also billing rates of Wipro were lower than its peers.

Infosys margins have been the strongest at 32.8 per cent in FY05. Since rates at which companies sell their services are comparable, this means that Infosys has a better handle on costs.

The road ahead
Which of the three seems best poised to take on the world? Infosys, say most, will probably be able to drive home the advantage. Indeed, there are those who are willing to wager that Infosys might just catch up with TCS in the not too distant future.

TCS has seen phenomenal growth (it doubled its revenues between FY03 and FY05), Infosys, has grown at a faster clip than TCS in each of the past four quarters.

Says Duvvuri, "The ability to innovate and read the market, sets Infosys apart." Adds Biswas, "Infosys has the aggression and the attitude, they don't only use pricing as a go-to-market strategy but also knowledge."

There are those that believe that Wipro's appears to be strategically better-positioned because it has a more diversified model and "great people".

But Wipro could take some time before it moves into a new league. Says a consultant, "Wipro might have a slight edge in terms of the portfolio but the bet on Infosys is that even if they do something wrong, they're smart enough to figure out when to turn the ship and be able to do it quickly."

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Shobhana Subramanian

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