How Will the IT/BPO Industry Leaderboard Change? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On April 14, 2011

This past weekend, many people were glued to their televisions watching the 2011 Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National. As the days rolled by, the leaderboard changed in some surprising ways – the young McIlroy slid a long way from Number 1 on Day 1; Tiger Woods finally showed his old spark and stayed steadily within the top 5 throughout the game; and Charl Schwartzel jumped into the front-runner spot to take the Green Jacket.

While we now know the Masters winner, there is significant speculation on the changes in the IT services leaderboard, both today and going forward. The market is rife with questions on where Wipro and Cognizant will end up this season. The discussion on C-level changes at Infosys made a leading Indian newspaper speculate on issues it may be facing, with TCS speeding on and Cognizant being on steroids and catching up quickly. The next day, analysts said TCS would continue to outpace the other TWITCH majors as the quarterly results season starts.

We will know the answers to these questions in the next few weeks, after all companies report their numbers. But the more important long-term question is, what else will change in that leaderboard? Will we see more M&As, new entrants, or exits? And fundamentally, what will the future structure of the IT services industry be, and who will the winners be?

In a recent meeting, a CEO of an IT services company made an interesting point about there being steps at the US$500 million, $1 billion, $5 billion, and $10 billion marks, and that it is progressively challenging to get to the next level. It was clear he was thinking that some, including those in the $2+ billion scale, will struggle to reach the next level, and some will stabilize in their current or adjacent level.

The TWITCH discussion is interesting, but then there are the mid-tier IT players. We are just past the first quarter of 2011, and already three (iGate, Patni, and Headstrong) no longer exist, at least not in their original form. From all we hear or understand, several more may go before the end of 2011.

Then there are continuous speculations about pure play BPO players being shopped about. The rumor that Cognizant will take out Genpact has been around for ages. EXL is up for some action, and the market is abuzz with other speculations. As one of my colleagues recently blogged – will the Indian pure play BPO companies survive in the same shape and form past 2011 or 2012?

Net, net, here is the big picture. Some large Tier 1 players are struggling, mid-sized IT is not necessarily the best place to be, and pure play BPO companies are a vanishing tribe.

All this raises more questions: What is the future structure of the global services industry? Will Accenture, IBM, Dell, the Japanese majors, TCS and probably a few others become the super majors by 2015 or 2020, and will the rest need to find their own places under the sun? What other categories and groups of service providers will exist, and what will their characteristics be, for example, regional specialists, vertical specialists, etc.?

Irrespective of how the industry evolves, consolidation will continue, and the M&A juggernaut will roll. This business generates cash, and doesn’t require a lot to sustain it…so companies will invest in buying capabilities, assets, businesses, and people in attempts to win top spots on the leaderboard.

We certainly are headed for some interesting months ahead. Is anyone betting on who the winners will be at the end of 2011?

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