The week gone by has seen a battle of wits (and tweets as well) between one city and another. Bengaluru, a city which has emerged to be the lead global outsourcing hub of the world in terms of the IT and BPM industry, has had tweet attacks of its own. K T Rama Rao, the ever-effusive IT Minister of Telangana, started it all with a quick-repartee invite to a complainant on Twitter who spoke about every woe the roads and hard-infrastructure of Bengaluru brings to its residents and startups. KTR invited startups to come to Hyderabad and erase every woe in a jiffy. I would have done it if I were KTR.
And this started a battle of words between political personas and ‘city passionistas’ equally. Bengaluru boasted its size and flaunted its IT-six-pack, and Hyderabad spoke of its ease-of-living and ease-of-commuting as well. Chennai pitched in a wee bit late to join the party and repartee of words. At the end of it all, what started as a comparison of the hardware of a city went on to compare the software ethos as well, with the ‘IT-man’, ‘political-man’ and ‘agenda-driven-man’ of every kind, fishing in troubled waters of community-versus-community issues that seem to dog Karnataka now and then. Like every other debate, even this one landed up in the chaos of the political dustbin.
The week gone by therefore ended with the top three IT-centric cities of Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai flaunting their competitive musculature for all to see, discuss and debate. Bengaluru rose to the occasion, with its CM Basavaraj Bommai putting up a spirited defence for the city, even promising the best of roads to fall into place by the month of May 2022.
When I look at the debate (still ongoing), I find that there is truth and lies equally surrounding it. The truth remains in the fact that the IT ecosystem put into place in Bengaluru and Karnataka, nearly three decades ago, still remains robust. The city has moved on from its early forays in the space of a pure body-shopping mindset to much more. The early medical transcription startups of Bengaluru have today morphed into the high value-added KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) segment, displaying a continuous improvement and spirit of innovation. Today, the city operates in segments that are totally at the cutting edge of what the world wants. The startup ecosystem, which continues to attract billions of dollars, and the very fact that Bengaluru houses 47% of all unicorn startups to date, is a pure and undisputed measure of its success and business model. Add to it the 4.8 million full-time employees and the robust IT exports revenue of an estimated `2.3 lakh crore, and you have the answer on a piece of paper. Numbers you can’t dispute.
The truth also does lie in the fact that the city in the second position will always fight harder. And in this case, the city is Hyderabad. Its 0.6 million IT and BPM employees are not a number to be taken lightly. Hyderabad positions itself to be a clear and competitive alternative to the city of Bengaluru, as it reaches a saturation point in terms of its urban infrastructure management. All business cities have a habit of going bust, if not managed properly with a continuously changing plan of action.
Every pitch for a prospective client offers the option of being housed in any Indian city. The city that wins is the one that has the best perception of being managed well, is housed in a calm political environment and that offers the best to its employees in terms of standard of living. As the world gets more and more politically correct, the last dimension will start weighing more and more. And this is a truth as well. A city must take care of its hard and soft infrastructure to be considered a still-running city.
Cities that aspire to house global businesses must therefore not only sound global, but look global as well. The dream and desire is to look good in terms of physical infrastructure and look equally good in terms of the soft infrastructure issues of an ecosystem that supports a calm and predictable environment to function in. The elixir for a good business environment is a predictable one to function. No sudden moves. No sudden ‘jhatkas’. No sudden upheavals of any kind, political, economic, social, religious or cultural. Just as long as our business-cities are able to offer this, every city will survive and do exceedingly well in its stated mission of earning for itself a name, revenue, image and the profits that all this brings.
Of the three cities in the IT battlefront, every one of them has to focus and develop a complete core focus on one piece of the business ahead. Hyderabad already has a leadership position in the space of bioinformatics. The open spaces are indeed the realms of AI, IoT-oriented leadership and of course the offer of digital public goods for a world audience, rather than just that big overt current focus of two-thirds of our IT-services business on the US market. A perennial point of discomfort to many IT-facing businesses in India.
As cities fight, it is important for firms that are housed in these key cities to focus on the business dimension alone. It is important not to denigrate one city at the cost of another. It is important not to fish in the murky ponds of religious differences, divides and communal politics of every shade. If not, just as we have “communal-politics” as a phrase to smirk upon, we shall invent an all-new one that has “communal-business” as its focus. Our politicians and political leadership in particular need to understand this well. There is no point in cutting our IT-nose to spite our IT-face. The costs are big.
And that is the truth. What then of the lies? Oh! There are just too many. Just no point in writing about them. Leave alone allowing them to occupy the bandwidth of our minds. Lies must go where they deserve to go. Into the dustbin of lies. I know it’s a very big one.
Brand Guru and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults