There is rising concern among the Indian service providers that their arbitrage model is about to go through a significant and abrupt change – and not to their benefit. As I look at the various factors driving their concern, I see a set of challenges that will fundamentally reshape the industry and create new winners and losers. What remains to be seen is how quickly it will happen and exactly how it will affect the providers. Here is my analysis of the situation.
What is driving providers’ concern – even fears for their business?
Challenge to FTE model. Clients want automation, and the providers fear that automation will require far fewer people to deliver services. They now want to buy software-as-a-service rather than people. It’s basically a substitution of technology for labor, which manifests itself as robotics, SaaS and cloud. Growth of the Indian ISP businesses is slowing as the customer demand now is to have a different conversation around capabilities instead of just moving the work to India for labor arbitrage.
Challenge to factory model. We’re seeing increasing commoditization of services. The Indian providers recognize that they built factories that, at the core, break work into different constituent pieces and drive that work to be done with the most junior people possible. But that actually caused commoditization. The client mindset is: “If you can segment the work like that, why not go ahead and automate it?”
Clients today want domain industry knowledge, rare skills, more capabilities on site at the client location and more intimacy from their service providers – and all four of these demands are hard to deliver in the factory model.
Challenge to profit margins. The challenge to the FTE and factory models drive providers’ fear that they won’t be able to maintain profit margins like those in the past built on labor arbitrage.
We’ve known that arbitrage wouldn’t last forever and that providers couldn’t keep extending it indefinitely. It had natural limitations. Now we see the market moving in a new direction. At Everest Group, we believe this will fundamentally reshape the industry.
Important issues in heading in the new direction
I think there are important questions around the reshaping of the Indian ISPs’ businesses.
In what way will the change manifest itself? Will the change in business models result in growth, cannibalism, or both? And to what degree? Will the change, for the most part, only affect where the new growth opportunities are? Or will it cause providers to cannibalize their existing client work?
If it just affects where new work is, it’s much easier for challengers to capture those opportunities. But it’s more difficult for incumbents to transition. For example, in automation they would need to cannibalize the existing work by reducing the number of FTEs, which also will reduce revenue. It will be difficult for incumbents to react to their existing clients’ demands in the change in direction.
There are other questions:
- How soon will the changes come?
- How will the Indian providers react?
These are unanswered questions today, but they’re very important. How quickly it happens will affect how the incumbents react. And how they react will determine whether they will succeed or whether challengers will reap the benefits of the new direction the market takes.
What do you think? Are we going to watch the implosion of the services model where it clashes in on itself and technology cannibalizes the industry, shrinks the revenue, changes the FTE model to a transaction model and shifts the terms and conditions to favor new players over old players?