Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Mumbai Journal: IRIS's Swaminathan as the Template for the Future of Indian Content Leadership

When I signed up to speak at the Infovision 2007 conference in Mumbai last month I found myself back in touch with S. Swaminathan, the CEO and founder of IRIS, one of the leading Indian technology services providers supporting the global content industry. I have come to know Swaminathan fairly well through our business discussions at major conferences in the past few years, so I was more than grateful when he offered me a driver for my short but memorable tour of Mumbai. After several hours of puttering around some of the local sites I met up with Swaminathan for lunch at the historic Taj Mahal Hotel down by the Gateway to India waterfront arch.

Swaminathan cuts the prototypical figure of content entrepreneurs in today's India: energetically brilliant, eloquent, well-versed in the ways of European and American markets and cultures yet thoroughly Indian. He is keenly aware of how far India has come through global outsourcing but also aware of its potential to become a global leader in content services innovation in its own right. This is reflected somewhat in IRIS' own market footprint. Long known for quality outsourcing services supporting the financial information industry, IRIS is also very active in developing key information delivery services for India's stock markets. Where in the U.S. institutions are just beginning to tinker with delivering corporate financial reports to the government in the XBRL industry standard format IRIS has been instrumental in getting XBRL adopted and implemented as a financial reporting standard throughout India.

It is this combination of global markets awareness in combination with the rapid transformation of their domestic content markets that is most intriguing to me about India today. Certainly there have been some Indian companies which have broken out of the outsourcing profile to bring full-blown content technology products to global markets, but many of these did so in part because there were so few opportunities at the time to develop significant product offerings domestically. As India's media and business information markets begin to take off in their own right, there is a growing surge of home-grown content services which are maturing quite rapidly from the relatively primitive efforts of just a couple of years ago - though still with rough edges at times. The Rediff portal is an interesting example of the limits and potential of India's broadening online culture. Reasonably up to date in its feature set compared to Western media portals, things get interesting when you turn to its search engine, which offers searching in both English and a number of India's more than 100 languages and dialects.

This confluence of global awareness, innovation, media savvy and multilingual domestic culture that is perhaps India's strongest suit for becoming a leader in global content markets. Certainly search engines such as in China's Baidu portal offer more overall sophistication than Rediff at this point and Europeans have been able to develop multilingual services with an English language overlay but in neither of these instances do you have an outlook on one's own nation as such a stew of multilingual multiculturalism powered by such a strong technology presence. If India can get its own content services thoroughly up to snuff while at the same time developing expertise on global markets via outsourcing, how far are we from the day when it becomes a global leader via its own content services? Things do not always move swiftly and according to plan in this highly complex nation, but I can see the outlines of a new source of global content entrepreneurship emerging from India over the next few years that is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows in the content industry. My thanks again to Swaminathan for being such a gracious host, it was such a pleasure to experience Indian hospitality through his sincere courtesy.
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