The Examined Life

Where I torture reality till it confesses the truth

Indian IT Clients Are Victims of the Bangalore Bug

Why do Indian websites suck so badly compared to American websites? Not just websites – it is rare to find a software targeted at Indian users that do not suck.
When a country is famous for its exports of “X”, you’d expect that the place to visit to pick up the best and cheapest samples of X is that country. Unfortunately, whether or not you are right in your expectation depends on the nature of X. If X is an agricultural commodity, you may be wrong, because the best examples of X might get exported, leaving behind export-reject stuff. If  X is a manufactured product, you’d probably be right, because there is generally less variation in manufactured products than in products from the farm. Any improvement in quality can be quicky applied across the board, resulting in benefits for all users, including domestic ones.

IT is of course a service. Services vary quite a bit in quality. In this regard, it is more like an agricultural commodity than like a manufactured product. It is interesting to dig a bit into why IT products targeted at India turn out to be of poor quality.

One problem is the “Bangalore Bug“. Indian clients tend to offer low margins, so when they hire IT companies, they tend not to be the best in India. Even when the best are hired, it usually happens that the domestic market is a low priority for them. Indian clients tend to think that hiring a small Indian IT shop for whom you are the largest and most important client will give you better service, but it is actually difficult to say. The small IT shops tend to have poorly qualified programmers, all of whom are looking to get some experience and move to a better job where they have better “onsite opportunities”. The larger ones tend to have better qualified programmers on average, but you will not get the average programmer – you are more likely to get the guys who are on the bench, and they tend to be constantly on the look out to move to a project that will give them onsite opportunities. (They don’t necessarily want to move onsite – a career that will enable them to deal with American clients over the phone is still better for them than one where they have to deal with Indian clients.)

You’d expect that advances in Software engineering like ISO 9001 and CMM that Indian companies have adopted will reduce this problem. After all, the whole point of implementing Quality processes is to ensure consistency and nudge IT applications in the general direction of a manufactured product. But one of the ill-kept secrets of Indian IT companies is that they still depend too much on their clients to drive quality for testing, and for general goverance. What this means is that if the client asks them to follow CMM or something, they do it – the best companies do it sincerely and quite well. But if the client does not, even the best IT companies will not follow those processes as a matter of course.  In addition, some crucial pieces of the puzzle – like User Interface design, Business Analysis and Process Mapping still tend to be driven by the client.

Now, application development is a two-way street. If clients do not communicate requirements clearly, do not read specifications developed by their vendors, change things at the last minute and do not do user acceptance testing once the software is developed, there is no point blaming the vendor. Clients in general are notorious for doing these things, but Indian clients are worse than average in this regard. One reason for this is that the client’s IT department suffers much more from the Bangalore bug than the software companies do. In the US, a job in the IT department is a respectable career. In India, the talent tends to migrate to software companies or to IT departments abroad. More importantly, American companies tend to have a lot of experience managing software applications since at least the 60s. In India, really senior folks who understand IT and can make a case for an IT strategy are often hard to find. All these things mean that clients tend to have a lackadaisical attitude to application development, underestimate the costs involved, expect too much from their vendors and underestimate the extent to which their own involvement would be required. The typical mistake is to budget for a one-shot development effort and not for maintenance, bug fixes or for future enhancements. Often, a software project for an Indian company is underfunded, badly speced out, does not have clear exit criteria,  results in a badly developed product and ends in acrimony. When it is deployed and the bugs and user feedback come out, there is no budget and no enthusiasm for using it to improve the application.

The final and most important reason, of course is that Indian clients do not care too much about quality. If a software bug leads to user annoyance and support calls, American companies fix it. An Indian company will probably not even measure the extent of the problem, and even if they measure it, I suspect that they will find it cheaper to throw money at a manual workaround than pay a software developer to fix it. This, I suspect, is both because labour is cheaper in India and also because the software developed is so badly snafued.

Obviously, not all of this is true of all companies, and much of this is likely to have been truer in the past than it is now – I suspect that Indian companies have become more aware of the importance of IT, and the all-round rise in salaries means that a career in the IT department of an Indian company is much more fulfilling now than it was a few years back. But I also suspect that some things have not changed – software companies still don’t care too much about Indian clients, and the clients still do not caree too much for their users. What do you folks think?

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33 Comments

  1. Quality processes can be followed only when something is repeatable. I guess application development does not fall under that category and requires creativity. Whereas solution development or maintenance can be considered repeatable.
    Moreover, Indian software companies work on deskilling model, which is why we are good in servicing and maintenance and are bad in product development.

  2. “More importantly, American companies tend to have a lot of experience managing software applications since at least the 60s.”

    This applies to the clients as well. The clients in the US have that much experience in laying out their requirements, budget-ing for acceptance testing, maintenance etc. Probably their experience has taught them that fixing bugs is a better long-term strategy than to work-around them. Hence, they demand higher quality from the IT vendor.

  3. The other issue with Indian websites I have is the number of advertisements. When I open a newspaper website, for instance, I am bombarded with popups, floating ads that fill up the whole screen and blinking ads in every corner of the screen. It gets to the point where I actually cannot click on a news article without waiting a few minutes for the floating ad to disappear, or closing it first. And when I click on another news report, another floating ad pops up.

    I have just started avoiding the websites which are the worst offenders. And I clean my PC of cookies every time I visit one of these websites. It’s like I need to cleanse my computer or detox it.

  4. ~A, in that sentence I was referring to clients wonly.

    Lekhni, true. I’d file that under “They hate their users”!

  5. You covered all bases. Good overview. I think in the end it boils down to the difference between a rich economy and a poor one.

  6. How about, “Mature businesses and immature ones”?

  7. that is an excellent blog post. some random comments:

    a)i’ve often thought of it. on many occassions the website that is designed is heavy on flash, for a bandwidth starved nation like ours, this is plain dumb. ideas like css, accessibility go out of the window.

    b)i’m an NRI who has dealt extensively with banking/brokerage websites in the US and this spring ive’ spent considerable amount of time on indian websites and i can’t seem to understand why they are so damn crappy.

    c)clearly the stuff behind IT-”fying” anything is a secondary thought. the fact that they are IT-fying it is more important than the actual IT that has been provided.

    d)also, as you mention, the VENDORCLIENT feedback does seem to be broken. labor is cheap, why fix it when its broken? “chalta hai”.

    e)just yesterday i saw an ad for http://www.camsonline.com/ on india today. it was an ad for portfolio management. when i went to the website my jaw dropped. what a complete piece of crap!

    HN

  8. HN,

    Camsonline does manage portfolios but I think it isn’t targeting the retail consumers. It already has tie-ups with SBI and HDFC mutual funds (the two funds where I’ve invested in; I get all my monthly statements and fund related emails from camsonline only — each of them totally suck), so may be it is spending some extra cash on useless internet advertising.

    Ravikiran,

    You covered all the bases, but I think you missed the actual ‘users’ part of the application/final product. In India, most of the users of the product aren’t interested in investing time and efforts to learn the product, especially those at the lower levels; they might as well use Excel sheets to manage their work. Also, A high attrition rate at the middle management level and poor documentation practices, result in shifting goal posts problem for the IT departments.

  9. How about, “Mature businesses and immature ones”?

    I agree. Just different perspectives about the same thing.

    Potato, potato!

  10. May I point out one exception:
    http://www.cleartrip.com/

    Also, Lekhni’s comment on advertising is bang on target. It’s the same with Indian news channels where there’s your little tickertape thingy, a flash-in flash-out headline just above it, then a tab to one corner…not to mention the insets and logo!

    In general, we’re much more tolerant of intrusive ads and I think the companies take advantage of that.

  11. Your “X” analogy itself is flawed. India is famous (if at all) for “IT services”. IT services includes invisible stuff such as tech support, documentation, network management software, financial software, SAP implementation, billing software, integration etc. And in these areas, Indian companies have achieved big time success.

    And these IT services have nothing to do with website development. To assume that Indian websites are made by Indian IT services companies is as silly as expecting that facebook.com is designed by Accenture, or that flickr was designed by IBM.

    IT services and website development only look similar (to you) because both are loosely associated with computers. But look deeper, and they might be as far apart as coal mining and modeling. To expect that a competency in one leads to quality in another is meaningless.

    India has great IT services and terrible website development services. There is no contradiction in that.

  12. True, but I wasn’t talking only of website *design* – as in aesthetic and usability design. I was talking of functionality, robustness, etc. Just to give an example – I transfered some funds from my bank account to sharekhan. It got transfered from HDFC, but wasn’t reflecting in my sharekhan account. So I have to call them and have them trace it. This has happened 2-3 times… and I am sure that even if the problem is unavoidable, it should be trivial to write a batch job that does a reconciliation of mismatched fund transfers. Instead they rely on me calling them up, wasting my time, wasting the time of the call centre flunkey and the person who is supposed to do a manual correction.

  13. SG,

    I agree that websites and TV channels are testing the limits of the user’s tolerance for intrusive ads. But when it gets to the point that it hurts usability, aren’t they hurting themselves?

    Besides, once users reach the limit of tolerance and go away, it’s very hard to get them back.

    When it gets to the point where I have to click on an ad just to make it go away, because it hovers over the news report for whole minutes (and there is no close button) it gets ridiculous. I do not go to a newspaper’s website to watch their ads.

    Now, I block most ads with NoScript and Adblock, or avoid sites that are the worst offenders.

    Or while watching cricket, I found Star cricket so filled with ads I switched to CBN.

    I wish these companies realize how completely counterproductive their advertising policy is…

  14. Well, i guess this would hold for quite a few websites.. honestly, in some cases i’m thankful they have a website which is usable! btw, dont know if you have read this but this – http://www.zoho.com – definitely does not look like a shoddy indian website! the zoho writer tool is far ahead of google docs and such like. Amazing!

  15. Well, i guess this would hold for quite a few websites.. honestly, in some cases i’m just thankful they have a website which is usable! btw, dont know if you have read this but this – http://www.zoho.com – definitely does not look like a shoddy indian website! the zoho writer tool is far ahead of google docs and such like. Amazing!

  16. I always want to read Hindustan Times. But the last time I loaded their homepage (many months ago) there was this ad that was covering up the whole page and just wouldn’t go away. I kept trying again and again but it wouldn’t go away. This had happened before. So finally I gave up trying to get on that website.

    To be fair even in the US not all bank/financial websites display transactions instantaneously. How big is the userbase for such websites in India? I believe it is small. So it probably doesn’t justify the cost in improving them.

    I think Indian companies are behind in the learning curve. Of course, they could easily avoid the mistakes made by corporations in the US and Europe if they hired good consultants (which I believe was ravikiran’s point in his online magazine.) But again, the cost comes into the picture.

  17. Excellent post! Another thing to consider, even among the CMM certified companies (I worked for one), they do it to get business from American clients not because they want to be better. It shows.

  18. Well said. Indian companies lack a lot when it comes to quality only because Indian clients don’t care about it. Best examples are majority of the Internet startups in India.
    On the other hand our programmers (not all of course) lack innovative thinking, they do what they are told to do without their own inputs. But when they apply for a job they claim in their cover letter that ‘I do have my individual inputs in every project I do…’ and some more bull crap. I think its the education system that plays an important part here,for e.g. universities abroad have stringent rules forplagiarism but in India it doesn’t even exist. Student just copy each others assignments, journals etc and submit for grading. So this is one of the many reasons of bad innovative thinking in Indian crowd. Still lets hope we get some good material out of the lot.

  19. The working conditions of IT Professionals in India is indeed very pathetic… anyone who has had an onsite opportunity would agree with me on this… The problem basically rests with in us… Since we are the youth we don’t prefer democratic motions and don’t get into protests… I guess no one knew that there was a IT/BPO Union in India, and they are now presenting our case against longer working hours… We need to bring our voice to the minister for Communication and Information Technology, Mr. A. Raja… and even to the prime minister… Have a look at this article in the facebook group

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=114896115224411

    read thru it and if you feel you should be a part of it join and participate in the revolution Voice of India (For greater India)… We need to spread the message…

  20. You wrote this article back in 2008 – Do feel it still holds true today in 2011?

  21. It is becoming less and less true – see Flipkart, for example. I am glad for that!

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  23. Thats absolutely correct what you have written over here, as the matter of fact is its all about the level of professionalism that differentiates between Indian work culture as compared to the foreign counterparts.

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