Hiring activity has decelerated: Nasscom chief

S Ronendra Singh New Delhi | Updated on January 15, 2018

RAMAN ROY, Chairman, Nasscom

Raman Roy says the focus of H-1B talks with the US will be on the value of India’s IT as a ‘net creator’ of jobs for Americans

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) recently appointed Raman Roy as its Chairman for 2017-2018. Roy takes charge at a time when the IT industry is facing challenges such as the H-1B visa, but is also involved in exciting projects across the country as part of the Digital India programme. In his first interview with a publication after taking over charge as the Nasscom chief,Roy, founder of BPO firm Quatrro and whom Forbes dubbed as ‘Father of India Outsourcing’, shares with BusinessLine how projects such as rural BPOs are expanding with help from Nasscom members. Edited excerpts:

What are your priorities as the Chairman of the IT industry body?

Nasscom is playing a critical role in evangelising digital opportunity for the sector, and I will support the industry in facilitating skilling and re-skilling efforts through disruptive models. Building India’s innovation edge is another key priority and we plan to scale our start-ups and centre-of-excellence initiatives to the next level. I look forward to continued involvement of our members to accelerate the momentum on all initiatives. We have an array of priorities to enable Nasscom in achieving the 2020 vision for the industry, which includes showcasing the importance of global skilled-labour mobility, navigating new policy requirements and evangelising skilling and re-skilling of talent, to help continuity of business. The Nasscom leadership will also work towards further strengthening various sector councils.

What are the major challenges for the IT industry in the backdrop of the restrictive policies in the US and Europe?

The major fallout of these restrictive policies in the US and countries in Europe is that the business is being hampered. The US in itself accounts for around 60 per cent of the Indian IT industry’s export revenues — making this one of the biggest challenges on our way. However, we are working toward mitigating this problem by initiating conversations with the new US administration, and highlighting the facts that show the discriminatory nature of these policies. We are also working toward identifying and partnering with newer markets that can be built as potential business venues.

According to you, what immediate measures should the industry adopt?

As far as the H-1B visas are concerned, Nasscom will continue to engage with the US administration and legislators, both directly and through the Centre. The focus will be on highlighting the value contribution of India’s IT sector as a ‘net creator’ of jobs in the US, where it has helped American businesses by providing high-skilled IT solutions to innovate, open new markets and expand operations — creating thousands of jobs for Americans. The emergence of technologies such as Cloud, Internet of Things and automation, has created uncertainty as well as opportunity for the industry. Companies will need to transform themselves from IT services providers to digital-transformation partners and provide re-skilling opportunities for their staff to mitigate the requirement for newer skills in these emerging areas.

Though the H-1B rhetoric has been around for some time, it looks like it’s going to be a real threat this time round (like declassifying programmers from the list). What kind of financial burden do you see on IT firms, and how do you plan to address this issue?

The Indian IT sector has enough strength to withstand any headwind. In the past, too, it has shown resilience, and this time will be no different. In fact, some business leaders have already termed the current development as a blessing in disguise, pointing to the huge size of the domestic IT market and ample opportunities available in different industries and geographies that are yet to be explored. However, there is a need for skilled-labour mobility in the wake of protectionism toward outsourcing talent across different business regions.

The sharp decline in IT jobs in India is a cause for concern. What could be the intake of the industry in 2017-18?

Hiring activity has decelerated compared with previous years. While fresh hiring is either static or gently declining, it is not as if overall hiring is going down; but it is just not going to have the same pace as earlier. There has been an increase of 1.7 lakh employees in FY17, growing the overall employee base to 3.9 million. The reason behind this is that companies are focussing on productivity and automation. Having said this, there is an outlook towards requirement for newer skills and change in existing skills across job functions. This will result in more re-skilling opportunities for existing employees.

How is the 10,000 Start-ups initiative taking shape?

When we started the initiative, entrepreneurship in India was dispersed. It lacked a proper organisation that brings together key stakeholders of the ecosystem, including incubators, accelerators, angel investors, venture capitalists, support groups, mentors and technology corporations. Our vision is to foster entrepreneurship, build entrepreneurial capabilities at scale and strengthen early-stage support for tech start-ups. As we move forward in our fifth phase, we continue to script success for this initiative. Since its launch in April 2013, we’ve done about 800 events in 25 cities, which were attended by 30,000 attendees, received 17,800 applicants, and 2,934 start-ups were shortlisted. In 2016 alone, the programme received over 4,000 applications, out of which 658 start-ups were shortlisted, 130 women leaders were inducted and 300 influencers were involved in mentoring.

The mortality rate among start-ups is alarming. What does the Nasscom plan to do to improve the situation?

While the overall mortality rate is an industry pain point, the B2B sector’s mortality rate is lower than that of B2C ventures. To combat this trend, we have a Nasscom Industry Partner Program (NIPP), to foster sustained engagement between large corporates and innovative technology ventures. The programme is acting as a bridge between product start-ups and large IT-BPM (Business Process Management) companies, including multinationals such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Motorola, Sony, Allstate, Lowe’s, Accenture, Dell, Wipro, CA Technologies, UBS and Zafin. Today, these companies are collaborating with product start-ups in areas such as computer vision, human-machine interfaces, HR, gamification, bank-in-a-box, mobile payments, connected cars and in-store engagement. We need to have many such collaborations to spread entrepreneurial culture in other cities too. The government has given a flame to the Indian entrepreneurial spirit with the launch of the Start-up India plan. We are confident that this will further boost the entrepreneurial culture in other cities gradually.

The government in the recent past has opened up avenues for starting rural BPOs. Are Nasscom members participating in such projects?

Nasscom has always been a part of the rural BPO revolution. Today, rural BPOs are not just about entry-level basic work for village employees, but small-scale rural BPOs are catering to international clients and some key domestic customers, offering niche services such as email and chat-based help desk, GIS-based mapping, content creation and social-media marketing. This progress has primarily been possible due to the availability of internet and fibre optic network, which is largely attributed to the government efforts in connecting India. With our member companies skilling and training local talent across locations, we are seeing the trend of rural BPOs going forward to deliver even more complex processes. I have personally been a great advocate, and at Quatrro, we have more than 600 rural BPO workers. I believe the next generation for the BPM industry will leverage technology and take jobs to where people are, rather than migrate to the larger cities model.

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Published on April 17, 2017
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