Over a year back I had written a post postulating that Indian IT clients are victims of the Bangalore bug. It was generally received positively. A couple of commenters had suggested two sites that could pe possible exceptions to the rule.
Of these, Cleartrip is the better candidate for an exception to the rule. Its usability is excellent and ever since I have been introduced to it, it has become my preferred choice for booking all travel tickets. But is it really an exception? To figure this out, we must understand how the problem comes about in the first place. I could summarize my post by saying that Indian IT clients suffer from the Bangalore Bug in that they do not get all these three factors for success at one place:
- Technical Skills
- Business Skills
It is easy to get two out of three. During the dotcom boom, lots of folks with either only technical skills or only business skills managed to get money to create a business. They burnt money much before they could acquire the skills they lacked. Or they did have both technical and business skills, but the burn rate during the dotcom era was so much that they burnt all their money anyway. In any case, now the typical Indian web site or application is run by folks who understand business, have enough money to run the business, but do not know enough about technology to demand or get good quality software from their developers. Of course, I’d expect that things have changed vastly since the dotcom era and IT knowledge of business folks and business knowledge of IT folks must have improved, as must have the ability and willingness to spend money. So, it is not surprising if we do find applications or sites that are exceptions to the rule. The folks behind Cleartrip are obviously good at technology. If they know the travel business well enough and if they have enough money and a sound enough plan to make money, I will concede that they are indeed an exception to the rule.
Zoho is not an exception to the rule. I don’t doubt the awesomeness of Zoho. But the rule applied specifically to Indian IT clients. Zoho competes for Western customers, and the dynamics are different. Also, Zoho is a product, not a customized service for Indian clients. The point of the post was that when you export a standardized product to discerning markets abroad, your local customers benefit from the improvement in quality, whereas when you export a customized service, your local customers lose out because the best quality gets exported and the worst stays. But Zoho’s example (and the example of ERP products earlier in my career) suggests to Indian customers that they are better off buying a standardized software product made for foreign customers even if it doesn’t fit their requirements exactly, than go for custom development. Another reason is that you will get those products for cheap – after all, additional copies cost nothing.
One would have hoped that another conduit by which quality improvements reach India is through MNC IT clients. The hope is that they would transfer their processes and skills at IT product evaluation from their parent companies. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. I have used the Standard Chartered and Citibank India sites, and they seem to have done a sterling job of insulating their Indian operations from any best practices they follow in New York or London. And don’t even get me started on Franklin Templeton. (Have you traced the 25K I paid you guys?)