The evolution of software industry in India, an executive perspective

Date:   Wednesday , August 29, 2007

In the ten years that Adobe has operated in India, we have witnessed a profound evolution in the software industry there - an evolution that is mirrored in the growth of our own India operations. From the earliest beginnings of piece-meal research and development projects to product management to business ownership, the scope of our India operations has grown and matured over time.

Phase one - testing and maintenance
Back in the late 90s, many U.S.-based businesses were being lured to India by the promise of access to low-cost, well-educated talent. At that time, Adobe, like many other software companies, viewed the move into India, in simple terms, as a great opportunity to grow the engineering ranks while taking advantage of the country’s immense talent pool and the relatively low cost of doing business.

The decision by one of Adobe’s highly valued engineers, Naresh Gupta, to return to India came at an opportune time for Adobe. When the company decided to leverage his return to open our India operations, Naresh and I were fully aware of the challenges. Our business plan deliberately spurned aggressive hiring and the often unrealistic expectations that go with it. We focused on conservative but calculated goals to methodically hire some of India’s top talent and then quickly achieve success.

With the required talent in place, we quickly set the team to work on supporting our broad product strategies by performing component product development and code-testing and maintenance support. Product teams throughout the company quickly grew to rely on their Indian counterparts to help drive and deliver at ambitious product development cycles in an increasingly competitive environment. Significant progress came in early 1998, when the team successfully solved a particularly challenging engineering problem that was required for the premier version of Adobe InDesign. This represented a significant win internally - building the local team’s confidence and positively impacting their reputation throughout the company.

Phase two - product development
By early 2000, the entire software industry was beginning to feel the pressures of increased competition and the accelerating pace of innovation. At the same time, perceptions of India were changing as its technology labor market matured and multiple accomplishments began to accumulate. Increasingly, the world began to view India as a promising center for product development.

Adobe shared that view and on the heels of our own success in India, we focused on building the infrastructure required to support a large and rapidly growing organization. At the same time, we began to cultivate a capable middle management. As we grew and began making larger investments into research and development, the transition from piece-meal work to product development occurred almost organically. By 2001, our Indian team had taken on full development of product lines such as Adobe Pagemaker, a move that further increased the team’s responsibilities and validated the importance of the Indian operations to Adobe’s global innovation engine.

Phase three – business ownership
The third phase of growth for the Indian software industry is the transition from product ownership to the increased responsibility and accountability that comes with business unit ownership. Business units operating from India with profit and loss responsibility represent a significant shift for the industry. That shift can create a sense of management empowerment, and business ownership and act as a huge motivating factor for the Indian software industry.

For Adobe, that transition occurred when we acquired Macromedia in 2005 and were faced with reorganizing our rapidly expanding operations. It was an opportune time to leverage our maturing Indian management team and further invest in our India operations by creating a business unit. Today, India is the home of one of Adobe’s business units as well as our largest research and development facility outside San Jose - providing product development talent for a multitude of product teams.

For many companies, assigning full responsibility for setting product and go-to-market strategies, product management and development in India represents a leap of faith. We took that leap and we continue to evolve and push the envelope daily - in our Indian operations and around the world. One thing is clear - earning a “seat at the table”, like all other Adobe business units, has created a great byproduct in that it plays an important role in our ability to attract and retain some of the best talent in India.

Phase four: bellwether for global markets
So, how does the Indian software industry continue to capitalize on the gains made during the past decade? What is the next phase of evolution? Moving forward, I see India not only as a great hub of software research and development, innovation, and business ownership but as a driver of corporate growth agendas and a place where markets are heading to. The opportunities are there to be seized.

The unique culture and technology climate found in India presents an intriguing market opportunity as a launching ground for next generation technologies. Two major growth agendas being considered by the software industry - mobility and software as a service (SaaS) - have the potential of being guided by India.

There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world today, more than three times the number of PCs, and in countries like India many consumers will never own a PC. The mobile phone will be their primary computing networked device. This opens up enormous opportunities and challenges related to publishing and content delivery, whether it’s print, graphics, video, or any other format. India offers a market paradigm for how to engage consumers with the right content at the right time in the most compelling way possible.

Offering software when and how a customer needs it, in a pay-as-you-go model, makes a lot of sense in countries like India where traditional high upfront license cost has been a barrier to adoption. It also turns the problem of software piracy on its head, because there is no need to worry about counterfeit CDs being sold on street corners. We are already starting to roll out these kinds of services worldwide, but I believe India will offer a promising test bed for how it can be effective in many other markets.

Aside from the market opportunity, the tremendous growth of SaaS opens up another opportunity for India. Globally,the supply of engineering talent with experience in programming ‘SaaS architected applications’ is in short supply and India may well turn out to be the leading source for such talent.

Beyond these areas, there are numerous other areas where India’s experimentation with platforms and business models will serve as trend-setting moves for global companies. The possibilities are virtually unlimited.

In a relatively short time, India has already had a profound effect on the global software industry. From modest beginnings of code-testing and bug fixes to new ideas and technologies, the software industry in India has evolved into a technology powerhouse to be reckoned with.