[AI] Open source is here to stay

renuka warriar erenuka at gmail.com
Wed Jul 4 08:18:45 EDT 2007

The Hindu News Update Service

News Update Service
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 : 1400 Hrs

Open source is here to stay

D. Murali/C. Ramesh

Chennai, July 4: ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy that delivers custom applications and helps organisations drive agility and create software, is increasing
the quantum of work done out of India. A company that has been in the software business for 14 years, it is also active on the open source front.

Mr Roy Singham, founder and Chairman of ThoughtWorks, who was in India recently, spoke to Business Line on the company's plans for India, the importance
of open source and the challenges of retaining talent. Excerpts:

ThoughtWorks has been in the software business for 14 years. What do you do to remain relevant?

To stay relevant in the software scenario, we need to do three things: hire extraordinary people who like to work collaboratively, who view self- and collective
improvement as a lifetime journey, create a culture that rewards such behaviour and create a business model that supports this.

High-end consulting and software engineering have allowed us to attract high-end talent and to award customers the benefit of innovation.

Many people are still sceptical about the power of open source to change the way software is developed, delivered and maintained. What is your take?

Open source is here to stay and has already begun to commoditise what I call the lower-level stack of software. Over time, we will see more of it across
all the stack levels. Right now we have already seen open source move from operating system to being more middleware-focused, and even some international
business software being open sourced.

I think it that we will have both open source and closed source software in the foreseeable future and that there will be some penetration into the business

However, I don't think open source will just wipe out all commercial closed source software as we know it - so in that sense there is a middle world. But
I do think that the willingness to accept open source as part of the software development process will continue to increase.

Attrition is your worst enemy. What are you doing to keep it at bay? Specifically, how are you countering the challenge of retaining talent in India?

Retention is currently the biggest challenge, although inside India we have a low attrition rate compared to industry standards, which means we are already
in one of the best positions in India and globally.

Culture, interesting work and effective leadership are the primary reasons that keep people - people must buy into the vision of the firm, seek each other's
values and continue to find work interesting.

We also try to find people whose primary personal motivation is individual excellence in competing against themselves, not those whose main purpose in life
is maximisation of career earnings. The person who is motivated by intellectual curiosity and practice will do well and last a long time.

What prompted the move to do work out of India? Are you here only because it saves dollars or is it also the lure of world-class talent?

Our offices in India are primarily because the concentration of the growing talent of people who are passionate, knowledgeable, highly educated, disciplined
and curious.

The majority of those people are now being found in India; there is a decline in the available talent pool in the West, due to economic and social reasons.

The excess of talent in India and China is just there - the level of education, the curiosity, the books they read, their drive and passion for excellence.these
are characteristics of the modern software industry in India.

What is the Indian operations' contribution to the overall topline and bottomline?

India accounts for nearly 10 per cent of our topline. Our bottomline is managed at a corporate level. We primarily manage our bottomline at a global level
and there are individual country targets.

So, the primary driver for our India operations is access to talent and the fact that India allows us to do work from one office, which massively increases
the productivity of our staff.

You serve clients from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and India. What is the need for such a distributed strategy?

The advantages of the strategy is the customisation across major players, which means you get the benefits of a small firm with the innovation network that
we have because of open source.

Our innovation and distribution helps bring not only world-class talent to solve any client problems. It's hard to manage, it's costly (more that 30 per
cent of ThoughtWorkers have worked outside their home country) - however, the advantages are extremely strong. The innovation culture, the latest tools
and the mindshare help us propagate new techniques.

Do you grab as many clients as you can handle or do you work with a select group of clients? What percentage of your clients have come back to work with

We do not go for the jugular and get as many clients as we possibly can. We look for clients who possibly meet our strategic needs and our value systems
and we align and work with them. Because we are quality-driven, what we are happy with is a 20-25 per cent growth rate, which is of course low in India.

A majority of our clients do come back to work with us, but some clients doing specialised projects could end up with projects that we are unable to work
for. However, among larger companies, probably more than 50 per cent do come back to work with us.

It is believed that the US is losing its pre-eminent status as the driver of innovation and technology, especially with the rise of India and China. Do
you agree?

The US is clearly losing its pre-eminent status as the driver of innovation. Innovation is becoming more global. Scandinavian countries in general are rated
highest in most categories by many reports.

It's also obvious that India and China are entering the innovation game, and the West falsely believes that they have a monopoly over innovation and that
both India and China bring only low-cost production to the table. Nothing is farther from the truth.

In 10 years in many fields, India and China will start moving further up the chain; we have seen it and have already moved to split innovation across countries.
I think the idea of sourcing innovation is wrong. Innovation will happen globally, and that's why we are a global firm.

Do you work with Indian clients? How do you add business value to their operations?

We have begun to work with Indian clients; often these are segments of divisions inside of India's global firms. Also, we have begun to work with some smaller
firms. Our processes and methodologies improve the quality and speed of software delivered, regardless of countries, so it actually does not make any difference.

We add business value by the implementation of our processes regardless of where they are. We look to acquiring more Indian clients, because we think that
India is going to explode along with China in the domestic software business and we want to be part of that upswing.

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