Recently, I was in Panjim speaking at a forum organized by Goa Chamber of Commerce & industry on the BPO opportunity, and whether and how Goa can tap it. What surprised me most was that even in this tiny state, known more for its picturesque beaches and spirited (no pun intended) lifestyle, the awareness level about the opportunity is quite good and the excitement, true to the Goan spirit, is even more. In fact, even the chairman of Infotech Council, who inaugurated the event, announced that Goa would soon have its own IT policy, and the state government would do anything required to bring this business to the state. I even had to speak on the efforts made by other state governments, while cautioning that just policy making would not attract
And Goa is not an exception.
Now, how often have you heard “the state government would do anything required” commitment from state governments? If you are a head, operations at an Indian BPO company, you would have heard this promise at least from more than one ministers and/or IT secretaries. In fact, the post of IT secretary has become one of the most coveted in many states today.
Compare this to a couple of years back, when there was just one Vivek Kulkarni, that most of us knew.
Promises made by governments is nothing new in India. What is new, is that in most cases, these promises are being kept. The state governments are really working hard to get the investors to their respective states. What 50 years of industry had not been able to do, and what five years of IT industry had only been able to do to a limited extent, the BPO industry has managed to do in less than five years. The reason is not hard to understand–the generation of employment, far faster than in any other industry. In the tenure of the same government, cynics say. But I do not see anything wrong in that expectation.
Democracy is about “reasonable, sustainable” populism. I am sure you agree with me that the growth in BPO is reasonable to expect and is very much sustainable.
Two states whose efforts have really impressed me are West Bengal and Kerala–both with track records of a heavy leftist leaning. In fact, the leftists are actually the ruling party in West Bengal. These state governments have done almost anything possible in their hands to help BPO companies. Unfortunately, even today not any major investment has gone there. Both the states are still looking for a true anchor investor. This despite the fact that Kochi emerged as the best location by a Nasscom study.
However, there are two related but distinct things that these states have lacked.
One, of course, is the image of a cooperative state machinery, something that can be built over a period of time. Without that, the best of policy documents would remain just that–documents.
However, what it must be preceded by is some truly high-profile marketing. I emphasize on high profile. Otherwise, in terms of marketing efforts, Kerala has been one state that has probably put in the maximum effort, from participating as well as organizing events, to making individual presentations to companies. So has West Bengal. In fact, the only state that has been able to sell in a true US style marketing is Andhra Pradesh. And has got some results.
What is high profile? Well, I am not an expert on marketing but what we notice is big media publicity, big sponsorships, et al.
However, one thumb rule–usually, the success of marketing initiative is directly proportional to the level of position that the champion marketer holds. Like, in Andhra’s case, it is Chandrababu Naidu himself.
What do BPO companies do? Of course, they can wait for the states to do that. But it would be worthwhile now for the big companies to act a little proactively and take up–may be jointly–in developing a new location. If infrastructure is there, and quality manpower is there, the rest can be managed. Including the immediate concern of most operation heads–to convince middle-level managers to move to a class-B location. In some cases–like Goa, for example–it would not be such a difficult task.