iSPIRT: Why India’s New Software Think Tank Will Struggle To Make A Big Impact

 

Thirty software product members of NASSCOM, the industry association for the IT BPO sector in India, announced that they would form a group to expand the software ecosystem in India: the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table, or iSPIRT. The key driver behind this development appears to be NASSCOM’s limited focus on software product companies in India. iSPIRT plans to:

  • Convert ideas into policy proposals to take to government stakeholders
  • Enable product startups to discuss issues through a dedicated platform (productnation.in)
  • Create awareness for the adoption of software products within the Indian SMB sector
  • Work with NASSCOM and other industry associations to provide a platform for product start-ups

I view this development as an interesting and timely move. Today, the pressure of meeting business expectations demands that end user firms harness more creative software capabilities wherever they can find them. Nevertheless, it will not be easy for iSPIRT to make an impact on the industry, for several reasons:

  • Lack of recognition from the government will limit the group’s role influencing policies. iSPIRT is not recognized by any of the government or industry associations, which will limit its role in influencing tax- or policy-related issues.
  • No clear leader and part-time involvement from governing council members will make the group less effective. iSPIRT will not have a president or a leader to become the voice for the group. Also, all of the governing council members of iSPIRT have full-time jobs and will have limited time to actively undertake and promote the group’s activities.
  • The lack of a business model for running the group presents long-term challenges. iSPIRT will be supported primarily by grants and contributions from its member companies. I believe that this kind of a model works well for NGOs, where business objectives are not the drivers. It will be a multi-year journey for iSPIRT to become an influential think tank in India — and for that it needs to adopt a more sustainable and pragmatic business model.
  • NASSCOM’s restructuring could make iSPIRT’s role insignificant. Recently, NASSCOM appointed a committee, headed by Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, to make recommendations on how to make NASSCOM more relevant given the changing IT environment. If NASSCOM’s restructuring makes a positive impact on product companies, iSPIRT’s role could be marginalized.

Software product companies constitute slightly more than 21% of NASSCOM’s membership portfolio (300 product companies out of a total of 1,400 members), and NASSCOM can’t ignore the interests of that large a segment of its membership. I believe this development will push NASSCOM to adopt a more proactive approach toward the domestic market and focus more on smaller organizations in India.

What’s your view on iSPIRT? Do you think it can find a way forward? Will it merge or integrate with NASSCOM at a later stage?

Comments

Different Perspective

Manish, I am a part of Nasscom Product Conclave, also a core team member of Nasscom-IP4Biz ...both focus on helping Indian Product Comapnies...and have also known many people who are now part of iSpirt.

I think its not a question of either/or, rather its about the cause of "Indian Product Story" which with no doubt is the future and everyone knows that and the more initiatives we have for the cause its better. But I believe complimentary effort and collaboration will rather do more good.

Already Nasscom and iSpirt have clarified that there is no competition between the two, rather they are complimentary and will be working together for the cause. The hype was more a media creation.

The volunteer model was tried for Product Conclave and is now the largest volunteer lead event in India (may be globally) so there is no doubt about the same working for iSpirt or Nasscom in future also. At nasscom IP4Biz also we use the same model.

I think, in short term it will create a healthy push for the cause and in future we may also see collaborative effort among the two bodies.

Re: Different Perspective new

Hi Sumeet, Thanks for your comments. I have clearly highlighted the formation of iSPIRT as an interesting and timely move and no where it's mentioned that they are in competition. Rather, iSPIRT plans to work with NASSCOM and other industry associations. Today, the pressure of meeting business expectations demands that end user firms harness more creative software capabilities wherever they can find them which provides potential opportunities to product organizations. Nevertheless, considering the model that iSPIRT has adopted I am not fully convinced how strongly would it work in the long run than creating a short term impression. Hope this helps.

Response to your blog...

Hey Manish, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on iSPIRT. I have worked with Nasscom for almost a decade and now I'm a full time Fellow with iSPIRT....sharing my views. You got to attend the Product Conclave event to feel the energy of the Product eco-system and what volunteers can put together!. MY responses after >>:

Lack of recognition from the government will limit the group’s role influencing policies.iSPIRT is not recognized by any of the government or industry associations, which will limit its role in influencing tax- or policy-related issues.

>>iSPIRT is a think tank and NASSCOM is a trade body. Both have a place in the ecosystem. If you look at US and UK, think tanks and trade bodies are always separate organizations. They have different DNAs. Yet, they are synergistic with each other. If iSPIRT is successful, it'll make NASSCOM even more successful. And a restructured NASSCOM that's focused on Products will make iSPIRT work more useful to the product industry.

No clear leader and part-time involvement from governing council members will make the group less effective. iSPIRT will not have a president or a leader to become the voice for the group. Also, all of the governing council members of iSPIRT have full-time jobs and will have limited time to actively undertake and promote the group’s activities.

>>This is the thinking that got Microsoft to ignore Linux till it was too late. Or for Encyclopedia Britannica to ignore Wikipedia till it was too late. It is now accepted that open-source inspired volunteer communities produce better outcomes than traditional organizational forms. This is particularly true for think tanks.

The lack of a business model for running the group presents long-term challenges.iSPIRT will be supported primarily by grants and contributions from its member companies. I believe that this kind of a model works well for NGOs, where business objectives are not the drivers. It will be a multi-year journey for iSPIRT to become an influential think tank in India — and for that it needs to adopt a more sustainable and pragmatic business model.

>>iSPIRT is not starved for money. In fact we are not taking any more donations. We have a long waiting list of donors.

NASSCOM’s restructuring could make iSPIRT’s role insignificant. Recently, NASSCOM appointed a committee, headed by Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, to make recommendations on how to make NASSCOM more relevant given the changing IT environment. If NASSCOM’s restructuring makes a positive impact on product companies, iSPIRT’s role could be marginalized.

>>Not true. Strong iSPIRT and strong NASSCOM Products Forum is like 1+1=3. A think tank can never replace a tradebody and vice-versa. Nobody questions the role of think tanks like Kaufman Foundation, AEI or Heritage Foundation in US despite having strong tade bodies. Both have their own place in the ecosystem.

Manish: Having been involved

Manish:

Having been involved in product and services companies in India since 1994, and having participated heavily in NASSCOM-Emerge's effort in getting together a think-tank for emerging companies, I think the time for an organization like iSPIRT has come. We realized that although NASSCOM was committed to nurturing younger companies, there are only so many hours in a day you can spend on an association and when they do it is only natural for them to be aware of and focus on issues regarding services companies, since that's where the whole thing came from. After all, NASSCOM itself formed at a time when there were only three or four services companies to speak of and very small when it got started. Indian software product companies are mushrooming and for the first time we have experienced people leaving large IT shops and IT organizations inside Indian companies to take a shot at product companies. It is very wise to form something that focuses on issues and problems confronting small product companies - Space, Angel Monies, Venture capital, conserving money when there is no revenue, scaling sales, etc. All of them are very different for a product company! Great idea and timing, if you ask me!

regards
Nari

I'm confused. On the one

I'm confused. On the one hand, iSPIRT, seems to be the result of at least product companies feeling under served by Nasscom. On the other hand, the promoters seem to be saying that hey, we're happy with Nasscom, there's no problem.

Um, then why the different branding and the hoopla? After all, Nasscom has accommodated special interest groups like BPO and ESO in specialized forums before and they have product initiatives going.

So let's go with the assumption that some product guys are really considering their options. And why not? With all its attempts to represent different interest groups, Nasscom is still an outsourcing-offshoring service providers' body -- be it ITO, BPO or ESO.

But product companies have completely different wants and needs -- their big concerns are not visa hassles or the backlash to offshoring.

As you say in your post, interesting development. I am curious to see how this develops.

Memberships in multiple organizations...

I fail to understand why this is such a complex subject! There are companies that are members of both NASSCOM and the Cellular Operator Association of India. There are companies that are both members of FICCI and NASSCOM. They all represent different aspects of advocacy that their members want to put forward. It does not mean that they are out to displace each other but that they have circumscribed what issues they deal with and what is outside the core interests of their members. It does not mean that a FICCI sponsored event will be boycotted by members of NASSCOM!