Rishad Premji said Nasscom wants to be a more divergent body & encompasses startups

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Wipro board member and chief strategy officer Rishad Premji has just been elected chairman of IT industry body Nasscom for 2018-19. Keshav Murugesh, group chief executive officer of WNS Global Services, will soon be vice chairman. The two take over at a time once the $150-billion Indian IT industry is going right on through challenging times because it tries to navigate the newest digital technologies which are changing every business across the world. Premji spoke to TOI right after his appointment, on the industry body’s priorities. Excerpts:

What’re your strategic imperatives as chairman of Nasscom?

We exist to serve our 2,500-odd members and ensure we’re meeting their needs and helping them prosper. Today we sit certainly at the cusp of lots of change – the transformation that’s happening digitally in the technology space – concerning how can we ensure we can give a platform for companies to leverage these opportunities. The big focus for all of us as an industry body is the development of skills and digital talent. In the very first phase of the programme, you want to reskill and upskill as much as 2 million who will have a way to participate and create value in the newest areas.
Two, how can we ensure we can attract an infinitely more diverse body of members than we had in the past. Whenever you consider Nasscom in the late 90s, it began as a human anatomy to service IT services companies. How can we become relevant for newer stakeholders is a question that’s becoming very critical—be it the startup community, captives, engineering houses, SMEs and consumer companies. If it is the startup community, how can we ensure that we are addressing the matter of angel tax.
Third, how can we bring the very best of breed capabilities leveraging the open innovation ecosystem and bringing those capabilities into Nasscom.

How well is Indian IT equipped to manage newer technologies, to become, as some call it, super system integrators?

I want to qualify that — I presume you’re talking about a number of the Indian firms. The stark reality is Nasscom represents 2,500 members, most of them are MNCs and many are driving change at scale. The opportunities are limitless and there is a huge focus on a number of the newer areas by enabling companies with the best skills and developing the best digital tech capabilities as there is a worldwide dearth with this talent. Many projects also require closer co-location and collaboration with customers. Our member firms are increasingly hiring from campuses and creating a cadre locally of leaders. We’re in the early stages of transformation and the opportunities it presents is tremendous as much customers are still experimenting and in a proof-of-concept mode.

How is Nasscom tackling the American sentiment against offshoring?

It’s important to mention that legislatively nothing has changed. There has been some action administratively, but legislatively nothing has changed. Two, it’s important to identify there is an authentic shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) talent globally, and certainly also in the US. If you read a number of the statistics from the Department of Labor, there is a lack of 2 million people out which 50% could be computer and IT-related. It’s important to separate your lives the sentiment from the fact. The truth is we would be consuming significantly less than 20,000 visas in the industry that employs 7 million people in the US. So, we’re talking about 20,000 people on visas per year. Additionally, it is vital that you understand that the industry works together with 75% of the Fortune 500 companies. We’d unique value for making these customers competitive and helping them transfer to new products and services. It’s important to ensure the mobility of talent given the shortage of talent. Otherwise, it’ll squeeze the competitiveness, growth, and opportunities for a number of these enterprises creating value when it comes to jobs and helping the economy grow. We’re following a systematic agenda by talking to researchers, academia, media to make sure we’re a presenting a balanced, unbiased and fact-based view of what is happening.

This is actually the third year in a row once the growth will soon be in single digits for Indian IT. A for long was growing at good double-digit rates. Do you think it’s possible to get back to double-digit growth in the near term?

If you’re talking specifically in regards to the Indian IT services companies, there are always a couple factors – one there is a foundation effect over time. If you look at the industry that grew at 30% in the early 2000s, which was a function of size and scale as well. I think we’re still in many ways at the early stages of opportunities and pick up on the transformation and on the digital side will generate huge opportunities. A will bounce back to double-digit growth and I cannot predict a time, but there is an chance for us to obtain there.

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