Davies, Paul, What’s This India Business? Offshoring, Outsourcing and the Global Services Revolution

Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com

Complete with pungent anecdotes

This next decade will certainly see an extraordinary and painful reorganization of the social, cultural and economic orders, first because of the increasing free movement of labor across borders, and secondly, and much harder to manage, the free movement of work via telecommunications and information technology. Both create both new hopes and significant disruptions in the populations affected and the organizations that conduct them. Paul Davies, now MD of a consultancy for Onshore-Offshore, previously was responsible for transferring business processes to Unisys India. The fact that working for the Indian part of the organization is currently spoken of in Unisys in the USA as "joining the dark side" is a good indicator of the pain in this process.

What's This India Business? is about two things. Firstly, it unabashedly advocates offshoring as not only a given, but as a evolutionary inevitability for successful enterprises in the now and future global economy. Secondly, it is about India and its business culture, currently the outstanding example of the global trend to offshoring work in the service sector. As Davies puts it in his introduction, his book aims to help the reader "comprehend the scale of the change and what India can do for your business" and to help the reader be more on a par with the more extensive knowledge that his or her Indian counterpart is likely to have of Western business people and practices.

Davies starts with the basics of Indian economy, history and geography, what the business traveler can expect to find there. He follows this with a picture of the educational level of the people he or she will deal with. This is followed by a "primer of offshoring," spelling out which business functions are suitable for offshoring and how one can to do this as safely as possible. Given the high failure rate of outsourcing projects, this is much needed advice.

The focus then turns to India's role in the services revolution and the advantages which widespread English language competence and engineering education have given it in the IT marketplace. He answers questions about how one should approach this resource, align objectives, and structure relationships to do business together.

The second part of the book is a well-focused cultural briefing that concerns itself with what the eager entrepreneur is faced with having set foot in India. Like one who learns a foreign language to the point of being able to share humor and take pleasure in foreign company, Davies has learned to enjoy the differences and convert irritation into delight. Insights are shored by pungent anecdotes largely from the author's first-hand experiences.

That being said, whatever the author's personal successes in navigating the Indian business environment-and they appear considerable-this section tends to drift into imperially British wit, full of off-the-cuff judgments at the expense of Indian culture. While Brits may snigger at and lampoon the things that don't work or work for them in Indian culture, this is at the expense of the host culture, and appears arrogant and somewhat off-putting to this reader. One only has to think of Peter Mayle whose Year In Provence and subsequent books regale British tourists and attract settlers with while leaving a trail of resentiment locally.

Once surviving on the ground in India, it is decision time. A solid cost-benefit analysis is needed and Davies stimulates the process of preparing a business plan that fits this new environment and the particular risks it brings to the business arrangement.

Chapter 12 carefully explores the rhythm of Indian style negotiation and provides valuable insights both into the processes one may encounter and into the need to control ones impulses when entering into the local rhythm of give and take. This negotiation does not end with the decision to hire or partner with an Indian firm. The following chapters are about how to manage in order to get the results you need from the arrangement, and how to leverage the advantages your Indian collaborators can bring to you, even opening doors in the Indian market itself.

Most of us have already been consciously or unconsciously impacted by the services we receive from offshore agents of the many companies we deal with. Recently I had the occasion to ask for customer service for a crisis with my laptop software while I was working in Europe. Idled by the situation, I waited for the better part of the business day be able to connect the supplier during their posted Silicon Valley office hours-8:00AM to 6:00PM PST, only to speak to a Mumbai technical support professional on night shift. Not only did the US company try to dissimulate its offshoring activity, but it could have easily have offered better service hours to their customers given their multiple service locations.

In a final chapter on "Corporate Social Responsibility" Davies identifies some of the public relations risks and a few of ethical dimensions that offshoring is bringing about both in the home workforce as well as in the society of the offshore workforce. There are some suggestions but few solutions to the disturbing social disruptions that are now beginning to surface.

Perhaps the directness of What's This India Business? will serve not only as a handbook to offshoring to India, but as a wake-up call to reflective readers to the fact that few practical suggestions are being offered to help us cope with the social impact of what seems to the new economic offshoring imperative for Western enterprises. The energy of the new economic giants, India and China, will not be repressed. We all need better theories for managing our human planet than the worn version of Darwinian selection that seems to be capital's anachronistic mode of thinking.

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