Big boys, garage, startups and software codes (Chapter 7 of “The long revolution”)

In chapter 7 “Big boys, garage, startups and software codes” is perhaps the most fascinating chapter as it documents the Indian software story and the risk of Silicon Valley of India, namely, Bangalore along with the iconic company Infosys. It is interesting observation to link Kishanagarh in Rajasthan (the place of Narendra Patni of “Patni Computer Systems”) to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Narendra working with Lexis-Nexis to “key in” data in India and publishing in USA through his company Data Conversion Inc (DCI) is the first instance of “off shoring”. InterestinglyDCI was punching five mile of paper tape every day!

Narendra starting Patni Computer Systems initially to sell Data General Minicomputers (and later software development for apparel manufacture with a huge contact for $500,000) was a
turning point in the Indian software story. PCS hired a team of software engineers; one among them was Narayana Murthy who later decided to quit and start Infosys. Interestingly, the earlier break for Infosys was also an apparel manufacturing company Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA). Infosys even had a joint venture with KSA doing 1989-1995. The book carefully documents the initial loan sanctioned by KSIIDC (Karnataka State Industrial Investment and Development Corporation) that gave the much needed “oxygen” for Infosys; the company moved from Pune to Bangalore to service the auto component manufacturer MICO (now Bosch India). The initial difficult days (with draconian laws like FERA), poor response to Infosys IPO, Narayana Murthy getting elected as NASSCOM Presidentin 1993 and the development of the global delivery model of Infosys are well documented. 

The TCS story goes to its root – Lalit Kanodia writing a project report to Tatas to set up a data processing unit during his PhD at MIT, and joining Tata group along with Nitin Patel and Ashok Malhotra of MIT to set up the Tata Computer Center. Early success with bank applications and Bombay Municipal Corporation were critical for TCS. The decisive days of F C Kohli joining TCS from Tata Electric and the firm’s early
success with Burroughs are well documented.  The enormous difficulty of early years – for example, MRTP (Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices) imposition on TCS resulted in 3 year delay in getting their computer – will be an eye opener for the younger generation of IT professionals in India. Ramadorai (the current CEO of TCS) was one of the first to be sent to run the New York office. TCS alone accounted for 60% of the $ 4 million of software export from India in the year 1980!

The often-ignored story of Softek is documented next; perhaps the only company that focused on system software –

  • compilers and operating systems. Many Indian software companies that include
  • Mastek promoted by Ashank Desai
  • FutureSoft promoted by Ramani (the CEO having an interesting encounter with the Registrar of companies who refused to register a company name with Laboratory – the original name suggested for FutureSoft beingAdvanced Software Laboratory) focusing on technology – digital communications
  • IIS started by Anurag Srivastava
  • NIIT promoted by Rajendra Pawar in training
  • Citigroup software that eventually became iFlex in 2000

led to an explosion of software companies in the nineties – with exports growing from Rs 10 Crores to Rs 100
Crores over the 80’s.

(My Book Review will be posted over the next 10 days (starting March 28, 2009) – a chapter a day for each of the ten chapters!)

Book Review

Sharma Dinesh, “The Long Revolution”, The birth and growth of India’s IT industry”, Harper Collins (Dec 2008)

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