The Problem With "Chindia"

The World Is Not Flat. There. I've said it.

Personally, I've been itching to say that since 2005, when Thomas Friedman published the best-selling business tome that's been lugged around in briefcases, read in business class, and collected dust on the nightstands of executives worldwide ever since. (Side note: Any time an author turns an Indian vendor's sales pitch into a business mantra that is then swallowed whole by much of the Fortune 1000, I'm going to be a bit skeptical. Besides, wasn't Friedman a little late to the Indian outsourcing party, anyway?)

It's not that I don't believe in globalization. Globalization isn't something you have to believe in. It just is.

But it continues to amaze me the amount of irrational exuberance that's surrounds the topic. Sure, Friedman's book may have hinted at some of the complexity involved. But more often than not, when you hear an executive referencing the best-seller, it's not because he wants to engage you in a detailed discussion about the relative merits of globalization. It's more like, "The world is flat. Why don't you cut costs and send that work to India?" or "We gotta be in China. Why? The world is flat."

I'm exaggerating for effect. Mostly.

But the lack of nuance that exists, particularly in the coverage of the global IT services market (read: offshoring), is downright scary.

The big topic these days is "Chindia" -- that apparently irresistible combination of China and India. BusinessWeek recently published an article on "The Exponential Power of 'Chindia'" which said, "We are witnessing new joint ventures between Indian IT service firms and their Chinese counterparts, early illustrations of how a formidable Chindia economy could develop. Indian firms bring to the table world-class software expertise and leadership in global markets. Chinese partners have legions of capable, low-cost employees and greater know-how with clients in Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries where English is less prevalent." Gartner says everyone needs to have a "Chindia strategy" ""The bilateral economy of China and India is in its infancy, but new momentum suggests a powerful relationship is building, said Gartner VP Partha Iyengar. "China-India – Chindia' – enterprises will have access to complementary skills and resources and, in turn, will have the potential to lead many global markets."

True enough, there have been numerous joint ventures and other back-and-forth between Indian IT service firms and their Chinese counterparts. Once talk in the outsourcing industry turned to the idea that China was the Next Big Thing in technology services, the tier one Indian providers, to varying extents, put stakes in the ground almost instantly.

And it's no secret that this global expansion and integration is not limited to the powerhouses of China and India. How about Mexina (Mexico + China)? Indentina (India + Argentina)? The Ameribbean (I think you get the idea)?

It's all happening.

The sheer amount of activity is dizzying. Infosys is the big recruiter on campus, not at the Indian Institute of Technology, but at Kings College London, University College London and Warwick University. Satyam added a development center in Australia. Wipro's in Atlanta. Genpact is banging the drum about Mexico. Accenture says its new hot spot is Latin America. IBM is such a large presence in India (53,000 employees and counting), it's now the local market leader there. And, If you follow the IT services press releases the way I try to, you know I could go on... and on... and on...

The prevailing wisdom surrounding all this cross-border, often transcontinental hiring and acquiring and partnering and expanding seems to be that it represents a fulfillment of the promise of globalization. That, for IT leaders, we've arrived at a place where, as Ben Worthen of the Wall Street Journal writes, "finding an outsourcing provider is no longer an issue of choosing an Indian company or an American one. They can all do the work anywhere."

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