What I learned at NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2015
As a journalist, I’ve been attending the NASSCOM India Leadership forum (NILF) for many years. I have fond memories of the early editions with the late Dewang Mehta exuding his charm and suave, and with enthusiastic audiences holding on to his every word. After filing our stories in the media room, we’d later unwind at the fashion show, which was conducted by the National Institute of Fashion Design, and at the networking after-party. But with the passing away of Dewangji, the event gradually began to lose fizz. NASSCOM saw a series of changes at the top. And each Chairman and President left his own unique mark on this illustrious institution. However, I did see a big change at this year’s event.
Before I go on, let’s not forget that NASSCOM has done some extremely commendable work for the India IT-BPM and services industry.
To quote figures from a NASSCOM press release: The IT industry in India contributes 9.5% to the national GDP, by far the highest among industries. It is also the largest employer in the sector, and created 3.5 million jobs; it employs 2,30,000 people every year. More than 1.2 million IT-BPM workers are women, so the industry is an ardent promoter of diversity. And it holds the largest share in total services exports revenue, in excess of 38 percent. It is a leading global sourcing destination with a global market share of 55 percent. There are over 3,100 startup companies here, making India the fourth largest startup hub in the world. And India attracts PE/VC investment, which has grown 53% year-on-year, amounting to USD 6 billion in investment.
In the early days, the late Dewangji ran from pillar to post lobbying for the causes of the industry. and he was once rebuked though not discouraged: a government babu told him, “You industry is smaller than the bucket industry in India!”
I distinctly remember NASSCOM talking about industry targets of $50 billion within a period of 8 – 10 years. That was in the 90s. Today, we can achieve $50 billion much sooner! Aggregate industry revenues for 2015 are estimated to grow at 13 percent at $146 billion. The export revenue is expected to grow at 13 percent to reach $100 billion revenues. After factoring in currency shifts and economic challenges (to the tune of 0.8 percent), growth is estimated to be 12.3 percent.
The IT industry has won deep respect from the Indian government. Globally, India is considered the leading IT outsourcing destination. And India’s IT success story has been written about in books like The World is Flat authored by Thomas Friedman.
That said, I would now like to tell you about my experiences at NILF this year. As journalists, our NILF experience begins with a press conference a day before the NASSCOM show. It is called the NASSCOM Strategic Review. A report is released and the media is briefed about the industry’s performance during the year. The NASSCOM executive committee members also offer their guidance for the next financial year. And you can read my report about this briefing here.
This year I saw a marked improvement in various areas. Great speakers, big brands, good content, and world-class event management/production. I also noticed many international visitors.
This year NASSCOM introduced the Digital Experience Zone, which showcases the latest products and technologies from NASSCOM members. I think this was a highlight of the event. And it was nice talking to some of the startups about their innovations. Perhaps NASSCOM could build on this a bit more and with the help of Mr. Ravi Gururaj and his team from NASSCOM 10,000 Startups (they have a separate show in October called the NASSCOM Product Enclave).
We also saw some new and fresh content at NILF 2015. For one, there was an interesting presentation by Team Indus, which bagged the Google Lunar Xprize of $1 million. These guys are going to put a rover on the moon for a fraction of what it would cost NASA. And Atul Nishar, Chairman, Hexaware did a superb job interviewing actress Vidya Balan at the close of the event. The audience members could have asked Vidya some better questions, and spared her some embarrassment.
It was also a great idea to have Ms. Aruna Jayanti (Capgemini) as Program Chair for NILF. Though I secretly wished that Ms. Jayanti had moderated more sessions at NILF.
And, of course, we can’t forget lively speakers like Mr. Rajiv Bajaj, who entertains and enthralls us every year at NILF. We never tire of listening to Mr. Bajaj’s intelligent witticisms!
The lead speakers were introduced with their names flashing with a burst of animation and sound from the gigantic LED screen and the array loudspeakers. In fact, Ms. Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, Cisco remarked: “This is the most dramatic introduction I have ever experienced!”
There were a few technical glitches too. For instance, Ken Segall, Former Creative Director, Apple struggled to get his presentation running, much to the amusement of the audience (accompanied by witty commentary from moderator, Rajan Anandan, MD Google India). Ironically, that session was titled, “How to be ahead of disruptions!”
Well, I’ll let my own set of photos tell you the rest of the story. I have posted my NASSCOM event photos in the Photo Gallery section on this site. Please have a look.
Before I sign off, I must mention some grouses, and I hope the NASSCOM team will take it well. For one, I had requested for a couple of interviews with the speakers, but ended up chasing the speakers myself (watch this site for the NASSCOM interviews in the month of March 2015). In earlier times, these were pre-arranged and confirmed ahead of the event.
NASSCOM could also improve on crowd management. There were too may people this time, and the jostling and shoving in the pre-function area could have been avoided. I am told that there were 1,600 visitors. The Grand Hyatt with its numerous conference rooms can only accommodate a finite number — we need to know what that number is, and limit the number of registrations accordingly.
Well, I look forward to the next edition of NILF and I’m hoping the IT industry achieves its targets as we close our financial year at the end of March 2015.