CHENNAI, India — The sari-clad graphics designer knows nothing about American football. But there she was, putting the finishing touches on an automobile dealership ad tied to the kickoff of the NFL season for a New York newspaper.
She goes by only one name, Vijayalakshmi, and she is the face of the new global worker. She and her colleagues at 2AdPro Media Solutions, a two-year-old start-up, create ads for scores of U.S. newspapers at assembly-line speed in this steamy, sun-beaten coastal city that aims to be a global publishing hub.
Across India, a new, sophisticated outsourcing industry is emerging, one that requires skills well beyond those needed for traditional call-centers. And it extends well beyond publishing work.
"Anything that can be outsourced is being outsourced today in India," said Rajdeep Sahrawat, vice president of Nasscom, or the National Association of Software Service Companies, an Indian software industry trade organization that closely monitors trends in outsourcing.
The emergence of this new outsourcing industry is a cause for anxiety among some American workers. The liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute said as many as 18 percent of all California jobs — mostly white-collar work — are candidates for offshoring.
The labor-backed California Fair Trade Coalition said virtually any job that uses a computer could be outsourced, and it argues that U.S. trade laws should be changed to make it more difficult for companies to send work overseas.
Imelda Abarca, director of the coalition, said the Internet increasingly enables near-seamless outsourcing of professional work to India, China, Eastern Europe and other regions, putting more and more high-paying American jobs at risk. "Those countries have large and rapidly growing pools of talented people with much lower incomes than people with similar skills in the United States."
But some experts say the threat to high-end American jobs is overstated.
India remains "an undergraduate factory," said Raffiq Dossani, a Stanford University researcher who studies higher education in the South Asian country. "This limits the kind of work that can be outsourced to India."
Whatever its ultimate impact, this next-generation of offshore work — some call it KPO for "knowledge process outsourcing'’ — is drawing business from across professional sectors in the United States. These new companies link the legions of highly trained graduates that India’s vast college system produces every year to U.S. companies eager to cut costs.
"A majority of Americans are not even aware of the type of high-end work being done in India — tax filing preparations, medical diagnoses, legal work, financial portfolio analysis." said Pervez Sikora, a former U.S. newspaper executive who is now chief operating officer for 2AdPro Media Solutions. "The types of services being offered here are mind-boggling."
While these highly skilled professionals currently represent only a thin slice of India’s 2 million tech and business outsourcing workers, their ranks are growing rapidly, industry experts say. Nasscom’s Sahrawat said the category is too recent for his organization to track. But Sikora, who said he’s been approached by Silicon Valley companies that want to outsource their marketing work, believes this new type of outsourcing will eventually grow to a multibillion-dollar industry.
"There is a talent pool in India beyond engineering," said Vani Kola, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is managing director of Santa Clara-based NEA-IndoUS Ventures, which invests in high-end outsourcing companies in India. "And this talent pool has never been tapped."
Increasingly, Western companies must turn to countries like India, where 50 percent of the population is under 25, added Kola, now based in Bangalore. "The world’s workforce will come from these countries because they have the masses. They are going to fill the gaps. Knowledge process outsourcing will change the role Indians play in the global economy."
Kola sees growth in many directions. "Disney and DreamWorks have large animation studios in India," she noted. ‘’Nobody is saying create the movie concept here, but part of the process is being done here."
One company Kola backs is PreMedia Global, a start-up that provides research, writing and editing services to publishers of U.S. textbooks. In two-and-a-half-years, PreMedia has grown from a brother-and-sister operation to a company with 900 employees, 600 of whom are based in Chennai.
Initially, the siblings considered launching a call-center operation, said co-founder Kapil Viswanathan, who studied engineering at Stanford University. However, they quickly saw that the nature of outsourcing was changing.
"High-end, knowledge-based services — that’s where the growth is coming from," he said. "We think this is just the tip of the iceberg."
In short order, Viswanathan and his sister lined up clients that produce textbooks for schools across the United States, including California.
"A publisher gives us the detail of the content — what they submitted to each state — and says, ‘You guys develop this into a book," he said. "It could be math, it could be science, it could be reading."
Not everything is easily transferred to India, though.
Employees at 2AdPro receive regular training in American culture, from Thanksgiving Day to the popularity of Harley-Davidson. Nevertheless, glitches occur, such as using a photo of a dancer from India for an ad calling for an American Indian, or placing a Philadelphia Eagles football player in an ad associated with bitter rival the Miami Dolphins.
"You get push back from some people, ‘Those ads from India, they don’t look right,’" said Austin Ryan, vice president of production for Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher and a 2AdPro client.
Two years ago, it was a tough sell to convince newspaper executives that someone sitting halfway across the globe could produce ads that are accurate and on-time, said Todd Brownrout, chief marketing officer at 2AdPro, which expects to expand from 350 employees to 1,000 next year. Now, he added, "We are getting multiple inquires a day."
Sanjiv Gupta, chief executive of Hyderabad-based Pressmart, which provides Internet technology services to publications, argues this outsourcing model can be applied to editorial content. "It’s outsourcing of creativity," he said.
Appert and others, though, think that day will never come. No amount of cultural sensitivity classes can compensate for direct understanding of local news, they say.
While debate continues over just which American jobs may be vulnerable to outsourcing, executives like 2AdPro’s Sikora acknowledge that the new global economic order is forcing Americans to reposition their careers.
"People have to understand how jobs are changing and start re-inventing themselves,'’ he said. "No one will be able to stop this now."
Source : http://www.mercurynews.com/