Sometimes back, I was leading presentations to a group of US stakeholders on business trip to Mumbai. In between various business presentations, I had inserted slides that showed India's success in space. Visitors were amazed at India's advancement in space technologies and successful launch of Mars mission at 1/10th of NASA expedition cost. The purpose was to introduce India's technology prowess beyond what they knew about India as 'IT service provider'.
ISRO success in space technology is fascinating. Having worked in IT/ITES industry, I believe Indian IT industry can take inspiration from the success of ISRO to become a leading global technology player.
Shake-up in Indian IT Industry
Indian IT industry with 16,000 plus firms, US$ 150 billion revenue (US$ 100 billion export revenue), employing 4 million Indians and contributing >7.7% to India's GDP (Source: NASSCOM) has been shaken-up by global political uncertainties (call it Trump agenda). Near term prospects are bleak and we are staring at impending layoffs.
It should be no surprise that 25 year old industry is shaken-up by policy changes in USA which is its major customer country. Since low cost (and not innovation) has always been at the core of the business model, IT industry has been impacted by new policies which will increase costs exponentially thereby reducing competitive advantage. Indian IT industry boasts of encouraging innovation and have made some progress in developing new offerings but the fact remains that it hardly has any product which can compete globally with the likes of iPhone, Google, Windows, SAP, LinkedIn, Facebook, Whats App, Twitter and so on.
ISRO: Innovating & building Space Capabilities
Indian Space Research Organisation is part of Department of Space that reports to the Prime Minister. It employs 12,300 technical staff and has budget of INR 9,094 crores (approx. 1.4 billion USD) for 2017-18 (Source: ISRO)
ISRO has put India into an elite club of 5 nations which have mastered the cryogenic engine technology. It has long list of accolades - the recent launch of 640 tonne GSLV Mk III rocket (which has potential to take Indians into space), South Asia satellite, launch of 104 satellites in one go, Chandrayan, Mangalyan and so on.
ISRO faced several challenges since 1970s to reach this point of technology superiority. One of the major challenge was US sanctions in 1992 on getting cryogenic engine technology from Russia. However, ISROs relentless efforts finally led to development of most versatile workhorse launch vehicle PSLV using indigenous developed cryogenic engine. Other challenge was a series of failed launches before ISRO could master this technology.
Replicating ISRO success model
Why should IT industry get inspired by ISRO, a government funded organisation that operates in space technology? Answer lies in 'talent' which is key to success of IT Industry and ISRO. Both employs technical talent graduating out of same technology institutes with their base location in India.
Indian IT employs millions of talented technical staff to provide IT services to overseas customers on technologies like .Net, SAP, Java, SQL, Oracle, Hadoop, HANA and so on. None of these technologies have been pioneered by Indian IT industry. Industry expertise lies in coding and configuring systems using these technologies and provide support, development and implementation services as low cost IT service provider. This makes industry sensitive to policy changes at onsite location.
ISRO on the other hand has leveraged technical talent to develop capabilities in an extremely niche area in which only a handful of countries have superiority.
As Indian IT struggles to get over the current crisis, it should evolve itself from being an IT service provider to innovating and developing new platforms and products that have a global market. It should embrace innovation and start-up mindset to re-invent itself.
India has the right technical talent which needs to be harnessed by organisation leadership to gain technology superiority.