Making Geeks EU-friendly

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Aug 28 2004, 06:30am hrs
Its the worlds biggest economy, with the largest gross domestic product, and plans to become the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. But so far, it has failed to impress Indian IT companies, consultants and graduates. Their clear preference is for the United States.

Yet the European Union (EU) has, in outsourcing alone, a potential of $180 billion. The volume of outsourcing actually taking place is currently put at around $55 billion, of which Indias share is tiny. Fact is, the EU accounts for just one-fourth of Indias total software exports of some $12 billion.

Indias new ambassador to the EU, Rajan Abhyankar, is determined to demonstrate the importance of Indias IT sector to the EU, both as a market and a source of funding for R&D. He also wants to work with IT companies in solving the problems they face in Europe.

As a first step, the ambassador, earlier this week, invited representatives of IT companies and consultants based in Belgium to meet with him and his adviser on IT and engineering matters, R R Rashmi. The large turnout reflected both the importance they attached to the meeting and a measure of curiosity, as this was the first such initiative by Indias diplomatic mission to the EU.

Initially sceptical of just how diplomats can help IT companies, Milind Kamble, Tata Consultancy Services Brussels-based regional manager, welcomed Mr Abhyankars efforts to reach out to IT professionals in Belgium. Mr Abhyankar and his team also want Indian IT companies and research institutes to team up with their counterparts in the EU to develop R&D projects, to be funded under the EUs sixth Framework Programme.

The meeting highlighted some of the differences betw-een the US and European markets. When managers of Indian IT companies in the US cold call or email the chief information officers of US companies, they have no difficulty getting a hearing. The latter, in fact, find that interacting with Indian companies enriches their knowledge, says Mr Kamble.

But when he calls Belgian companies, the initial response is: Who are you What is TCS Even leading Indian IT companies are something of an unknown entity for European companies. They are unsure that Indian companies can match their promises with performance, when they do not have concerns about data leakage. Hence, the importance of the work being undertaken by the EU-India working group on information society.

Indian firms also face a language problem when dealing with firms located in continental Europe. English may be the global language of the IT sector, but the inborn conservatism of European companies is partly reflected in the refusal of many of them to engage in long-term contracts when the working language is not their own. Hence the tendency to outsource within the EU.

Closer interaction will help both sides. A start is being made with one of the key problems facing Indian IT companies the issue of visas and work and residence permits for IT professionals and their families.

As Mr Abhyankar pointed out, each of the 25 EU countries is sovereign in these matters. He nevertheless undertook to raise the matter with the governments of the two countries to which he is accredited, Belgium and Luxembourg. He invited Indian companies facing difficulties to provide him with information.

The first meeting between Indias diplomatic mission and the countrys IT professionals ended on a practical note. Their agendas, however, are very different, as one of the participants noted. Indian companies are here to make a fast buck. Indias diplomats have a much broader agenda, one element of which is to promote greater India-EU trade and investment. Mr Abhyankar, however, believes the two agendas are complementary, and seems determined to prove it.