By Bob Scheier
Throughout my career, I’ve always felt that anything I learned from a job or customer engagement – good, bad or negative – left me with knowledge that nobody can ever take away. I got to thinking about this as I’ve visited the Latin American global delivery centers of Indian-based global services firms. They face a daunting task every day, delivering consistent, high-quality customer experience from multiple time zones and cultures.
This includes training Latin American employees and managers in best practices the Indian firms have developed over the years in everything from mortgage processing to recruiting and training. This knowledge will stay with the local staff forever, whether they keep working for a global firm or leave to start their own companies.
Their Indian employers, for their part, are learning what it takes to succeed in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. They are also picking up some management techniques rooted in Latin American cultures that can serve them well.
Just like the “Silk Road” that carried silk from China for European gold, silver, fine glassware, wine, carpets, and jewels, this global trade in ideas, processes and disciplines is having profound and long-lasting changes in both the Indian and Latin American cultures.
From India: Best Practices
India’s most obvious intellectual property “exports” to Latin America include experience and skills maintaining and enhancing legacy business applications. (The lack of North American skills to update mainframe code to accommodate the year 2000 was the launching point for many Indian-based service providers.)
The Indian-based firms are also good at codifying their experience with customers the years in a form easily usable in other engagements. These “frameworks” may describe, in great detail, anything from how to test a mobile application to cleaning data. They include not only detailed lists of required steps, but in many cases proprietary software that automates key steps along the way or enhance popular business applications such as SAP. In some cases, this experience has been codified in systems such as Tata Consultancy Services’ Integrated Quality Management System, which contains workflow tools to help ensure every employee does what they should – and someone can check to be sure they did it.
While it veers into cliché to Latin America a more “creative” or “visual” culture than India’s, most of the Indian global service managers who make it to Latin America got there because of their process, not their graphic-arts, skills. The local work force can help leaven those with different artistic as well as communication styles.
In short, when it comes to standard processes – developing them, cataloguing them, refining them, implementing them, tracking them – Indian-based service providers are hard to beat. Indian global services employers also bring to Latin America a work ethic and a culture of accountability that is missing in patronage-ridden governments (in either India or Latin America.)
LatAm Exports: Openness, Creativity
In one of my first visits to a Mexico delivery center, I asked a manager if the Mexican work ethic matched that of Indians. She told me yes, but with an important difference: An Indian programmer will quickly agree to an impossible deadline, work furiously to achieve it, but fail. A Mexican worker, on the other hand, would tell the supervisor up-front the schedule was impossible and look for a way to adjust the schedule or get more help. With the Mexican approach, the supervisor knows up-front the initial deadline won’t work and can work around it.
This more open communication style can work better than the Indian style in a range of work situations, especially those that require interaction with North American customers who are used to telling it (and hearing it) like it is. These include agile application development, with its rapid, iterative development cycles with close communication between developers and users. It’s also important for consulting engagements where the customer wants the service provider to suggest changes based on their work with other customers. Those are just the type of higher-end engagements Indian players are looking for.
Finally, Latin American employees can help Indian-based service providers understand the cultural nuances of fast-growing markets such as Mexico and Brazil in which they’re hoping to grow. This local understanding includes everything from what color palettes work best in Web interfaces to which images to use (or avoid) in marketing around local holidays. While it veers into cliché to Latin America a more “creative” or “visual” culture than India’s, most of the Indian global service managers who make it to Latin America got there because of their process, not their graphic-arts, skills. The local work force can help leaven those with different artistic as well as communication styles.
Work in Progress
Just as in physical trade routes, there are tensions and strains to deal with. Indian firms must work hard to integrate with their local work forces, with some do with family days and joint holiday celebrations. Some also offer promising local staff the opportunity to work in other Latin American countries to develop the flexibility and cross-cultural awareness so critical to global delivery. Latin American societies, for their part, need to deliver students with the needed technical skills, English proficiency and work ethic to meet the needs of the global market.
In the end, it is this new generation of cross-cultural managers – shifting between Spanish and Hindi, rigid frameworks and agile social app development – who will both drive and benefit from this service-driven global trade in ideas.
Bob Scheier is the Editor of Global Delivery Report, where this commentary first appeared