How Indian IT Firms can ‘Crack’ the China Market

China has become the world’s largest economy. Consequently, it is also one of the world’s largest markets for IT and IT-enabled services. While Indian IT service providers have a large presence in western markets (for example, the Americas provide 60% of Infosys revenues), their presence in China is negligible. Why? This question has troubled the top managements of these firms for many years. Based on the views presented in the recent article, it seems that managers are still far away from finding all the answers to this riddle.

The Indian IT industry, which has of late been eyeing the Chinese market, will have to sweat to gain entry here, a top Infosys official has said.

via China IT market a hard nut to crack for Indian companies: Infosys China CEO Rangarajan Vellamore – Economic Times.

 

It is often said that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. IT service providers from India seem to be stuck in a time-warp – a bubble of their own making. The challenges they face in the China market are not replicas of the hurdles Indian firms overcame when they entered the US or European markets. These are unique challenges, which call for a unique approach. Entering China requires a China-specific strategy and anything less does not do justice to the potential revenue growth possible from the world’s largest economy. Below are a few challenges that have not been identified in the above article, and some ideas by which these can be turned into opportunities.

English: China, Shanghai

English: China, Shanghai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language Barriers: Historically, the Indian IT services industry was able to grow in the US and other western markets due to the language advantage – client facing personnel were able to communicate effectively in English. In contrast, China’s market has significant language barriers and a working to excellent knowledge of Mandarin is essential. To overcome these barriers, Indian firms should have ‘localized’ client facing personnel who will be able to understand client problems and deliver feasible solutions.

Price-Arbitrage Disadvantage: Another key advantage that Indian service firms have historically had is the low cost of labor in India. However, compared to China, there is no real price advantage of India based software engineers. Once coordination and communication costs are taken into account, it might actually be cheaper to hire talent locally. Many Indian firms have been attempting to do so (for example, Infosys runs a development center in Shanghai), but complain that they are unable to get high quality talent. The reason is not the unavailability of talent – rather, Indian firms are not employers of choice and hence fail to attract the best people.

Reputation Barriers: The challenge is not that Indian IT firms do not enjoy any brand recall in China. Indian firms have to actually overcome a negative reputation. Low costs are associated with a perception for bad quality work. To overcome the reputation barrier (in context of both potential clients and potential employees), firms should use a counter-intuitive approach. Use their success stories with F500 companies as a basis for a premium positioning.

No Guanxi: Doing business in Greater China is heavily dependent upon the ability to leverage personalized networks of influence, or Guanxi. Indian firms need to hire business development managers and top management who bring not only business acumen, but contextual information and guanxi on board.

Services versus Solutions: It is believed the size of the US IT market as a percentage of its economy is larger than the ‘perceived’ size of the China market. This has been explained by the following logic:

“In terms of purchasing power parity, the US will have a revenue productivity of two-and-a-half times compared to China. …It translates the market size by less than two-and-a-half times,”

In line with this argument, it can also be said that the potential productivity gains from IT in China are much more than the potential gains in the US market. Therefore contrary to the ‘common perception’, the IT market in China is not oversaturated a-la the US. However, unlike their US counterparts, firms in China may not be actively soliciting IT services as many are unaware or more likely, unconvinced of the potential benefits. The size of the potential market is huge; the size of the market (of addressable) that is actively looking for an IT service provider is small.

Indian IT firms can penetrate the market by offering solutions, not services. This is not a market where sales personnel cannot passively wait for a RFP (request for proposal) to be floated by a possible client. An active sales approach is required. By the same logic given above, the gains per dollar of IT investment in China would be more than the gains per dollar of IT investment and thus easier for IT service firms to create business cases and deliver value.

In a nutshell, to crack the China market, Indian IT service providers should re-position themselves as premium players who offer a value-for-money proposition to F500 firms. They hire local talent for business development and client facing roles that are well versed in the nuance of business (and guanxi) in China. Finally, instead of waiting to answer requests for proposals, firms should actively solicit business and focus on growing the market by offering solutions.

The New World Order: China, US, India

The Financial Times is reporting that China is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy in 2014. India, is now the world’s third largest economy.

These numbers are based on Purchasing Power Parity calculations done by the International Comparison Program of the World Bank. Considered to be the authoritative source for global GDP figures, the first round was conducted in 2005. Results of the second round, in which country GDPs were calculated for 2011, were released today.

The International Comparison Program (ICP) is a worldwide statistical partnership to collect comparative price data and compile detailed expenditure values of countries’ gross domestic products (GDP), and to estimate purchasing power parities (PPPs) of the world’s economies. Using PPPs instead of market exchange rates to convert currencies makes it possible to compare the output of economies and the welfare of their inhabitants in real terms (that is, controlling for differences in price levels).

via ICP 2011: International Comparison Program.

 

The summary report, available here, states that India’s GDP in 2011 was $5.75 trillion, China’s was $13.5 trillion and the US was $15.52 trillion.  In the period 2005-2011, China and India’s economies doubled in size as a percentage of US GDP. China’s GDP grew from 43% to 87% of the size of the US economy, while India went from 19% to 37%.  Based on economic growth estimates for the period 2011-2014, it is expected that the China will overtake the US this year.

 

World's Largest Economies

A surprising finding of the ICP is that India has one of the lowest price level indexes in the world. Or in other words, India has some of the lowest priced goods & services in the world. [This is something the average Indian will find hard to digest due to the double digit inflation witnessed over the past decade!]. Unsurprisingly, India ranks 127 in per capita GDP.

 

World Economies as a percentage of US Economy

The iPhone trails in China (too)

Samsung SGH-i400 smartphone

Image via Wikipedia

Close on the heels of a report that suggests that Apple is loosing the smartphone battle in India, Gartner reports that the iPhone has less than a third of the marketshare of Samsung in the much bigger smartphone market of China.

as Apple tries to build on its 7.5 percent share of the country’s smartphone sales. Samsung controlled 24.3 percent of the market for phones that can play videos and games, according to Gartner Inc.

 

When one considers that China is projected to become the world’s largest smartphone market next year, this should be a cause of worry.

Succeeding in China is important for Apple as shipments of smartphones in the country are projected to jump 52 percent this year to 137 million units, overtaking the U.S. for the first time as the world’s biggest market.

 

While analysts suggest that Apple’s low market share is due to its exclusive partnerships with the smaller two of three major carriers, this does not take into account the price differential between Samsung’s Android based offerings and the iPhone. One could expect that the reasons why the iPhone doesn’t rule in India also hold true in China.

Apple’s partnerships with China’s second- and third-largest carriers give it access to about 34 percent of the nation’s 988 million mobile users, while Samsung targeted the whole market.

 

As I wrote a six months ago, demographics alone can give Apple $68 billion in additional sales from emerging markets – but this is just the tip of the iceberg!

 

In the next 3 years, 400 million people are expected to buy cellphones in India alone. If Apple can get a large chunk of these consumers onto its ecosystem, the future cross-sell and up-sell opportunities will be immense.  There lie considerable riches at the bottom of the pyramid.

Moral of the story – The Exploitation of existing certainties has a potential $68 billion upside, but this pales in comparison to the potential of the Exploration of new opportunities. An ambidextrous approach could see Apple revenues grow many fold!

 

Read more at IPhone Fails to Gain China Share as Samsung Lead Triples: Tech – Bloomberg.

Homegrown Social Media in China

China is home to 500 million internet users, who spend 2.7 hours a day online. The Great Firewall of China blocks several western social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WordPress. This has resulted in the mega-success of several homegrown alternatives. The below infographic by GPlus provides details about user motivations, comparative digital consumption habits and lists the most successful Chinese social media sites.

 

INFOGRAPHIC: A Social Media Revolution - China's Answer to Social Networking

Image via GPlus

See the original image at INFOGRAPHIC: A Social Media Revolution – China’s Answer to Social Networking | GPlus.com.

Predicting when China’s economy will become numero uno

The Economist has shared a great interactive chart using which one can predict when the Chinese economy will overtake the US. As per the IMF, this will occur in 2016 on purchasing power parity basis. Using the relative growth rates of the two economies, the difference in inflation (the GDP deflator) and the appreciation of the Yuan against the dollar, the Economist’s tool gives a target of 2018.

Read more at Becoming number one | The Economist.

 

The interactive chart is at

http://media.economist.com/sites/default/files/media/2010InfoG/Interactive/China_US_GDP_Dec18/main.swf