How ‘Make in India’ Will Work for Software Products

For long, Yoga for a balanced lifestyle and Ayurveda, a formidable contender in the alternative medicine space, have been the leading spiritual products manufactured out of India. These were well supported by educational and professional institutions and a large number of voluntary participatory groups, which gave them the early momentum and a form of an industry ecosystem.

While India moved straight from the spiritual revolution to the agriculture and onto the information revolution (Toffler), it had a stop-start run with the industrial (manufacturing) revolution. Even though India is a formidable manufacturer – leading in many sectors including automobile, petroleum, steel, textile, pharmaceutical, chemical and defense industries, which are traditionally huge job creators, it has not been able to sustain this development across the distinct geographies of India. Pockets of India benefited from this economic development and local job creation, but the vast majority of the country was left wanting on both fronts. Perhaps, as a result, an estimated 50% of north India is expected to continue migration down to central India and further down to South India where most of the economically developed pockets happen to be.

The information revolution that started in India from the early to mid-nineties changed this paradigm. India was well equipped for this, thanks to:

  • being in a convenient time-zone,
  • timely government interventions with partial Rupee convertibility,
  • liberalization, and the resultant freeing up of investments in the telecom sector, which led to opening of new communication channels
  • abundant availability of English-speaking workforce

All these helped India to catapult to the center of the round-the-clock software development services model, which gave a time-to-market advantage to those overseas clients who needed to deliver products fast. This model, software services out of India, is today considered the norm. Anything tech outfits globally could not, or did not want to do in their own home countries, India has come to become a chosen hub to outsource, or locate their offices. That gave rise to an excellent career opportunity to the Indian knowledge workers who ever aspired to do well in their life. So talent was not a problem and jobs were pouring and still are. Salaries have been rising, corresponding with new demands for skills, and so are the standards of living of the workforce across the country, including the interiors. All this has helped to create a sense of confidence and has led to a sophisticated exposure to the western and eastern world.

And yet, product management hasn’t had the share of this pie that you would expect it to. This is largely because the product market does not focus on the local economy. When product development is focused on a target market in close proximity, the development is fed by product management, which keeps a close market-watch, collecting intelligence and feedback. Access to the local market to validate acceptance of the product idea and sharp product management acumen is central to the success of the product. Yet when outsourcing evolved, engineering in the home country (where the product was conceived) became the eyes, ears and brains that decided the core engineering, and the offshore engineers often did not have a chance to contribute to critical product decisions. The side effect of this is that international market often questions India’s ability to make products out of India. Once you are embedded as a part inside a sub-tier of an engineering team of the customer – whether knowingly or many times unknowingly – engineers receive filtered information, restricting their view and finally their contribution remain largely defined and task based. This has a direct impact on what can possibly help the product succeed and meet its target demographic or what choices of technology, feature or market forces can make it go belly up. Exposure to failure is a key contributor to creativity and subsequently to productivity. NASSCOM’s 10000 startups initiative is reigniting the heat in emerging India, and tapping its hunger to be creative and productive. The new government’s initiative, ‘Make in India’ is counting on producing world-class products out of India. And initiatives such as internet.org. a joint collaboration between Microsoft, Facebook and other technology vendors is expected to fuel the talent of rural India unlike ever before.

Making products in India is possible, and is very real.