Almost everywhere you go in India, you see apparent chaos. The streets are jammed with Mercedes-Benzes and 1950s-era cars and trucks competing with bicycles, three-wheel vehicles and carts pulled by horses and oxen. People honk their car horns incessantly, as if they can really influence the confusing flow of traffic. Everybody stops to let cows cross the road. Masses of destitute people live in abominable roadside huts and tents. There's a scarcity of basics such as clean water. Bazaars spring up without notice. Crowds of people are everywhere, many of them waiting for buses or walking. In parts of India, it seems that the population increases faster than the food supply.
And then you have the Indian software industry. Recent data reveals that of the top two dozen or so software development facilities rated at Level 5 - the highest level on the 1-to-5 process maturity scale established by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University - 11 are in India. (One is in Japan, and the rest of the majority are in the US.) The 11 Indian firms include US-owned subsidiaries Motorola India Electronics and IBM Global Services India, and local companies Satyam Computer Services, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro Infotech.
In 1990, Motorola officials were interested in creating a Japanese-style software factory within the company. (To make up for a shortage of programming talent, Japan had taken to standardising around best-practice development methods and encouraging reusability and high quality-control techniques. NEC, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Hitachi made impressive gains this way in productivity and quality.) When it proved difficult to get US managers interested in the idea of a software "factory", Motorola decided to try a "clean sheet" approach in India. The result was Motorola India, which now has more than 500 software engineers as well as an SEI Level 5 rating. India's largest software company (also an SEI Level 5) Tata Consultancy, has used Japan's software factories as a key input for its facilities, especially for recent Y2K work.
Like their US counterparts, Australian developers and software vendors are discovering the Indian software heaven fast. Last year, Sydney-based xIBA I-Business Architects partnered with Indian-based Infosys in the development and delivery of e-business solutions. xIBA moved its software development to India, with the expectation that they will benefit from Infosys' developers' expertise and lower labour costs.
More recently, Queensland financial software house Technology One decided to build an R&D centre in India, signing up Kale Consultants as distributor of its products, as well as a developer that will work with Technology One's Application Development Framework (ADF) on the delivery of new products.
However chaotic the rest of India may seem, India's engineers are world-class. According to data collected by Deependra Moitra, general manager of Lucent Technologies India, the country's software industry generated some $US5.5 billion last year for the nation's economy, and that figure is growing at an annual rate of 50 per cent, up from a mere $20 million in 1989. India exported software to 86 countries last year (mainly the US and Europe), giving India the World Bank rating as number one outsourcer of software development in the US.
In the 1980s, Japanese software factories developed great process capabilities, but never moved much beyond mainframe systems for the domestic market. In the 1990s, Australian software developers built a reputation as exemplary innovators in new technological fields such as Java and smartcard development. But, even if Indian software engineers never invent new products or standards, India's software companies have already made invaluable contributions to the country's reputation that could make India the epicentre of software activities for the next few years.
"Made in India" is a sign of quality - at least in the software industry, and for Australian developers this should be the sign to partner with Indian software companies, set up software facilities there and study how India has made progress so quickly in software quality.