Bits and bats from India (Martin Healey)

Holland will take on the might of England in the World Cup in South Africa next February. Holland will undoubtedly put up a good fight, but they will inevitably be thrashed. Before I offend anyone, this is not the soccer World Cup, but cricket. I suspect that relatively few Dutch people realise that cricket is played at all in the Netherlands, yet alone that they are in the World Cup!

Every good Dutch person knows that the whole world supports soccer and thinks that cricket is a minority game only played in England. But that is not true, it is a common misconception. In fact the Australians are currently World champions, followed by South Africa. The West Indies are on a low point at the moment although they dominated the 70s and 80s; this of course is the origin of the Dutch interest. New Zealand has a strong interest and there are outposts in Africa and the Americas.
What then has all this rambling to do with IT? The answer is the impact of the Indian sub-continent. To the above list add India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now Bangladesh. This is the second most populated area of the world and they are cricket mad. An Indian cricketer has far more adulation heaped on him (there are a lot of ladies teams, but the game, like soccer, is male dominated) than Britany Spiers, Mel Gibson or Dennis Bergkamp. An international cricket match will attract a TV audience of 400 million viewers. It is not as valuable as an equivalent soccer audience, because much of it is in the low income sectors of the world, but it cannot be ignored, and is certainly not a minority sport! Nor is it without political problems, particularly the ongoing conflict Pakistan and India. The recent tour of India by England, which was very successful in the end, was threatened by fear of violence.
In addition to TV, the World Cup organisers are taking full advantage of the Internet. Unfortunately IT can do nothing to make the grounds bigger and most of the tickets for next February and March are already sold out!
India then is going to make a big impact on IT. While it has a huge and dense population, it is a sophisticated country, with a decent infrastructure. They are keen on education and are ambitious. They have not been very successful so far in manufacturing, because, like the Africans, they can't compete with the organisation and willingness to conform of the Asian countries. But they are able to organise something which needs more creativity, which will exploit the high standard of education, and that is the software industry. While India itself has a growing demand for IT expertise, it is the service industry to the rest of the world that is so fascinating.
The key to the attraction of sub contracting software development to India is the cost effectiveness created by low wages coupled to the high education standards. However this would only have provided a cheap "body shop", with the added problem of monitoring output.
The key to any contract development is a good specification. This is a two way exchange, on the developers side is a clear definition of the requirements, while on the customer's side there is something to measure. The Indian software industry came to terms with this in the beginning and has by now created an industry which has proven that it can deliver and one that is easy to work with. The net effect of this is something of a reversal of roles. Far from the Indians touting for business, the major consumers of programming capacity are actually competing for the mindset of the Indian programmers. If the core body of programmers can be wooed to one development environment in preference to another, then this could have a profound impact on customers choice of architecture, Thus Microsoft, Sun and Intel have all recently been running events in India, together with attractive bonuses, to bias developers towards .NET or SunONE. There were 7,500 attendees at a recent Microsoft seminar!
To put things into perspective there are reported to be about 500,000 programmers in India, about the same number as in the USA, generating an estimated income of $7.5 billion! But an equally interesting claim is that 70% are actually designers of software, not base level coders. Doesn't this suggest that there will be new products emanating from India to compete with Microsoft et al in the future, just as Japan emerged in the 60s in the hardware industries?

 
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.

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article 2002-09-06T00:00:00.000Z Martin Healey
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