Sir Terry Matthews asks one question when he meets CEOs of technology companies: “How much business did you do in India last quarter?”
Matthews, chairman of tech giant Mitel as well as Wesley Clover International, an investment management and holding company increasingly focused on supporting foreign ICT ventures, expects the answer will be zero or close to it. His follow-up question: “What are you doing to change that?”
The Welsh-Canadian business magnate gives such companies a launching pad in India through TaraSpan Inc., a company he has been involved with since 2007. Launched in 2005 by company CEO Mike Manson and India trade expert Raj Narula, TaraSpan helps firms build critical inroads into India through its local presence, services and market expertise It helps firms build critical inroads into the country through its local presence, services and market expertise.
“There are 1.2 billion people in India; it is one of the essential growth markets available to companies today,” explains Matthews, TaraSpan’s chairman.
Manson adds, “Eight or 10 years ago the question I would get was: ‘Why should I care about India?’ I think people today understand the opportunity there. Now the question tends to be: ‘How do I do business in India?’”
TaraSpan: Bringing Canadian tech to India
The answer is to partner with trusted companies with a strong local presence and know-how to enable market entry. India has much to offer as a market destination, Manson says, including many emerging global ICT powerhouses to partner with, a wealth of engineering talent for product development and global support. There’s a “perfect storm brewing” in the country around social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies, he says, noting that TaraSpan works with Canadian technology companies in these four areas to bring Canadian solutions and products to India’s enterprise market.
An ability to integrate systems solutions, bundling Canadian technology products with local market offerings, is a key determinant of success for companies, says Manson. “Many Indian enterprises have never seen solutions like this,” he says, noting that Canadians must also be prepared to adapt their value proposition and pricing to India’s low-cost high-volume market needs. “You can’t expect India to adapt to you.”
Karna Gupta, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), says that while the “ITC opportunity is huge in India,” a product or service has to “solve a local business problem” to be accepted there. Companies must be innovative, with staying power, he says, as well as building relationships and adopting an Indian cost structure, which means developing products marketable at competitive prices.
ITAC offers Canadian companies a variety of ways to explore the Indian market. Beyond providing webinars and information that helps companies prepare for India, ITAC also leads trade missions there. These are organized in partnership with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada (EDC) and private sector partners such as TaraSpan. Gupta says ITAC’s January 2015 trade mission to India and a similar venture planned for this fall include “curated” sessions with senior-level decision makers at major India-based firms. For example, Reliance Jio, the mobility communications division of Reliance Industries, was set up during the last mission.
Gupta, a former senior executive at Comverse Technologies, with an operation with 800 employees in India specializing in telecommunications products and services, says that particular opportunities for Canadian tech firms there span a range of sectors. They include cybersecurity, health-care IT, mobile communications, financial transaction management and myriad government services. “It’s an emerging country; every aspect of life is becoming modernized,” he explains.
Expect the unexpected in India
While India’s market opportunities are substantial, Canadian tech firms have to “understand how India ticks,” and should expect the unexpected, Manson says. For example, a company that has fought hard and arrived at a good contract may find that its customer wants to renegotiate or change the contract terms three months later. “There’s a level of frustration that comes about if you don’t have the local presence and the local expertise,” he comments.
Matthews says that as he invests in entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world, “I am passionate about having these companies take a similarly global market perspective.” He views India as an important part of that. “We’re seeing barriers come down to doing business there,” he adds. “It’s definitely the best time for a SME technology company to be looking at India.”