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Article by Mohan Babu

Why techies need to ‘think’ business

In the West, apart from speaking about coding intricacies, technologists are expected to be involved in thinking about the business problems at hand. Indian companies are now realising the need to hire and train project managers and architects who can talk the business talk, says Mohan Babu

During the past few months, articles on Indians and Indian software companies have increasingly been appearing in the mainstream American media. Whether it is talk about BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) or shipping low-cost work, India is getting a lot of favourable mention in the press. Forbes, the revered business magazine, recently carried an interesting article titled, ‘India or Bust’, so did InfoWorld, with its article titled ‘BPO bound for Bombay’. Interestingly, most of these articles talk of India as an “efficient low cost” centre, not merely a “low cost” IT service provider. However, one factor consistently mentioned in many of the articles is the lack of top-notch project managers and architects, people who can direct the work of dozens of software engineers to meet budgets and deadlines.

I can empathise with the lack of project managers that Indian high-tech firms face. This is probably because of the intense technology focus in most Indian software companies. For instance, right from the time I graduated and joined a software company in India, I was trained to think and act as a “techie”, which is fine if all I was required to do was to code in a computer language, as many other technologists working for software product companies do. However, since the bulk of Indian software exports comes from the services side, i.e. the applications systems development, it is important to start focusing on the business too. In the West, apart from speaking about the coding intricacies, technologists are expected to be involved in thinking about the business problem at hand.

Most of my peers who have worked on assignments at client locations abroad will be able to empathise with the significance of business-knowledge. This holds especially true for most of us in the field of software application development arena.

Until recently, Indian IT houses prided themselves in their technical prowess, little realising that technology alone was not going to provide core competency to their end clients. What the clients really need is a technology solution to their business problems. Indian IT houses are finally starting to realise the importance of business processes along with an appreciation of the role of technology in the smooth flow of information. At the end of the day, technology is merely the enabler, the glue that binds disparate business systems, providing for a smooth interchange between the different functional areas of business.

Case in point: When I first started working with a telecommunications giant in Colorado Springs, I hardly knew anything about telephony or telecommunications. On starting my assignment, I not only had to learn the nitty-gritty of the (IT) systems in use but also become familiar with the jargon and acronyms involved in the “telecom provisioning” industry. The system, a complex database, captured the logical circuitry in a format that would enable provisioning engineers, our users, to do their job. They queried the database to look up details of circuitry that enabled them to lay the huge “network pipes” end-to-end for their customers. During the period that I spent at the client, my team worked on a number of projects to optimise the database, add new product lines (like HDSL, DSL, etc.) and even Web-enabled the system, none of which would have been possible without a thorough understanding of the business at hand. Similar stories are repeated in hundreds of thousands of businesses in functions ranging from medical systems, insurance, banking to traffic management and even spacecraft launch management. Technologists who have an appreciation of the nuances of the unique business problem facing a particular industry have an edge over their peers who merely bring in their technical expertise.

During the past decades, Indian companies were content to be body shoppers supplying Cobol, C, C++, Java, Oracle, SAP, Peoplesoft professionals, basically coders who could be used by any organisation. Most of the time, the middle man, i.e. the integrator or solutions provider, would assemble teams of programmers, analysts, team-leads and project managers and solve the business problems of the client, in the process, pocketing a big portion of the proceeds. As Indian companies take on bigger chunks of projects, moving up the value chain, they are realising the need to hire, train, motivate and retain project managers and architects people who can talk the business talk and ensure that the techies they are leading solve the required business problems.

India has exported hundreds of thousands of techies to the US, UK and other western countries over the past decade or so, most of them with a solid technical background. Many have opted to become permanent residents of the US or UK and other countries, but still have strong ties with India. They probably started their careers working for Indian software houses and Indian work and corporate culture is not foreign to them. Along with an exposure to the workings of complex IT systems, many of them have had an opportunity to build strong business knowledge, managing and leading teams working on complex systems, solving the needs of their business users. They have also been moving up the corporate ladders. They are as comfortable working with their Indian peers as they are with their native hosts. Having made their share of cultural faux paus, they are comfortable in a cross-cultural environment. Just the kind of people that Indian IT industry needs in its endeavour to move up the value chain.

For the right price they can be hired and motivated to work for Indian technology houses wishing to execute large projects for global clients. I am happy in my job and enjoy what I do. However, at the risk of sounding crassly commercial, even I am available for hire to the right bidder. Any takers?




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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