The rise of software-as-a-service cloud delivery model poses a threat to the dominance of the homegrown software exporters as most of them lag behind the foreign companies, including IBM and Accenture in offering services to customers.
Although significant investments are currently being made by Infosys and Wipro in strengthening their cloud offerings, some of the fastest growing SaaS firms globally do not even name any of the country’s largest IT firms as their strategic partners.
“We’ve got strong partnerships with Deloitte and Accenture and IBM and increasingly, PWC and KPMG, Towers Watson and Aon Hewitt,” said Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and co-CEO of Workday, in an analyst call last month, underlining the fact none of the Indian tech giants made the list.
For now, Indian companies are catching up with the foreign IT firms, as Wipro entered into a partnership with Workday in 2011, three years after Accenture first became Workday’s global deployment partner.
“We are there but we may not be matching them (IBM, Accenture)…It requires a lot of investments. They are ahead of us,” said Satishchandra Doreswamy, chief business operations officer at Wipro. “(But) we are also picking up…we are currently building cloud business platforms.”
Software-as-a-service, in which companies pay for software based on their usage, is expected to top $22 billion through 2015, up from about $14 billion in 2012, according to research firm Gartner.
The impact of this is most visible in Indian tech giants losing out to global software exporters when it comes to migrating existing infrastructure to cloud model. One of the examples is when IBM won a 10-year, multi-billion dollar deal to provide computer infrastructure services to Dutch bank ABN Amro running on its cloud systems. As in most deals, the biggest names, including Infosys and Wipro were in the race to bag this contract.
Another wrinkle for Indian tech majors is the inability to offer IPs in cloud space which can help them bag large contracts when competing for large deals.
“We have acquired industry leading cloud intellectual properties (IPs) which help us provide our customers with a strong orchestration layer to manage diverse cloud platforms in a seamless manner,” claims Anand Sankaran, president, Infrastructure and cloud computing at privately-held Dell services.
For this reason, some analysts believe cloud could pose a long-term challenge, capping upside potential in a sector growing at 13-14% annually.
“In the long run (5-10 years), we think cloud will eat into the enterprise application services (EAS) revenues of India’s IT services companies (15-20% of total), assuming ‘ERP on cloud’ becomes a reality,” Yogesh Aggarwal, an analyst with HSBC Securities said in a report dated November 25. “In the near term, the risk is more manageable at just 5-6% of total business, as cloud companies have achieved little in terms of operating metrics.”
To be sure, some of that impact is already showing. The time-and-material model of payment, where companies pay for the effort rather than the outcome, has been dropping steadily over the past few years.
“Clients are asking for a significant sub set of the existing work to be converted into a pay for use model. This will pose significant challenges to the Indian based providers which currently utilize an FTE base model,” said Peter Bendor Samuel, CEO of outsourcing advisory firm Everest. “Its impacts are already showing in the slowing growth and the increased need for investment.”
A senior executive of Infosys acknowledges the company’s limitations, with lack of certified consultants who can help customers to move to cloud space.According to the HSBC Securities report, Accenture leads the pack among IT outsourcers, with about 3100 certified Workday consultants. Additionally, the outsourcer also has 1800 Salesforce-certified consultants. In comparison, top five Indian IT firms collectively have a little more than 2,000 Salesforce certified professionals.
Still all is not lost as some believe a recognition by the leading IT firms to increase their investment can help them battle again the likes of Accenture when it comes to winning large deals.
“The two things that they need to do is to build these strategic alliances with companies that have cloud-based products and second is to have hosting either in their own data centres in geographies where they want to provide these services or they should have tie-ups with data centres in those regions,” said Biswajeet Mahapatra, research director at Gartner.
To combat the long-term threat, companies will also have to change how their services are delivered as the lowered complexity of cloud-based solutions will reduce the need to employ armies of engineers.
“Companies will have to invest in robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, analytics tools and capabilities, business process skills, consulting talent. They will need to change the revenue model from one driven by selling just labour to one selling products and expertise weaved into those services,” Phil Fersht, CEO of advisory firm HfS Research, said.