With the advent of automation at the heart of India’s $146-billion information technology industry, the sector’s biggest customers are starting to rethink their strategy around outsourcing and debating whether to shift some outsourcing projects onshore – a development that has the potential to make the offshoring versus onshoring debate irrelevant.
With automation having the potential of reducing costs by as much as 80% in commoditised service lines such as computer infrastructure management, customers of Indian IT are starting to initiate conversations around whether they can move more projects to onsite locations, without significantly disrupting the traditional offshoring labour arbitrage model of Indian IT in the near term.
“When you have the potential to automate certain projects, what difference does it make whether that project is onshore or offshore? It makes that debate irrelevant,” said a chief information officer of a European bank that outsources projects to one of India’s top three software firms. He requested anonymity as these discussions are private and confidential. The development, if it kicks off consistently, will signal a considerable shift for Indian IT firms such as TCSBSE -0.17 % and Infosys, which have for years thrived on the offshoring model where they built large campuses to house thousands of engineers to help bring down the cost of software development and maintenance.
“After more than a decade of achieving value through the offshore labour arbitrage model, one would think that mature organisations that have built GICs or captives, or organisations with extensive use of third-party outsourcing providers, would be at peace with the model. We expected them to move to a model of arbitrage plus automation,” said Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of outsourcing advisory Everest Group, in a blog post last week. “But the level of peace and comfort with offshore arbitrage is much less than we expected, and companies are expressing their desire to use robotics automation to repatriate their work,” he added.
The emergence of robotics automation, as has been widely reported, has the potential to disrupt the traditional “pyramid model” of Indian IT. Recognising the need to gain an edge in the battle for automation, the sector’s top companies such as TCS, US-based Cognizant and InfosysBSE 0.70 % are investing heavily on building tools and platforms that can afford large-scale cost benefits to demanding customers who are tightening technology-spending budgets with each passing year.
For instance, Infosys’ new automation platform has the potential to generate productivity improvements of about 40-50%, Infosys’ head of platforms Abdul Razack said in an interview last week. Similarly others like IPSoft’s cognitive computing system Amelia has the potential to perform routine, commoditised tasks at a fraction of the cost and time it takes a human engineer.
The fact that the cost of automating software services has come down rapidly over the years is also playing its part in this debate. “Previously, about 10-15 years ago, the cost of automation was much much higher – now that those costs have come down, you can afford to keep more projects onshore,” said Sid Pai, Asia-Pacific head at outsourcing advisory firm ISG.
To be sure, this does not mean that customers will move work away from third-party vendors such as TCS and Infosys. What is likely to happen is what is commonly referred to as “rebadging” — the process where third-party vendors take over the assets of a customer and replace personnel with their own staff, experts say.