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Should India too worry about jobs?
By Vikas Bajaj
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 15 - 11 - 2009

American economists and policy makers are not alone in worrying about where jobs will come from in the future. So is the leader of one of India's biggest technology services companies.
S. Gopalakrishnan, the chief executive of Infosys, told me earlier on Wednesday that he worried that over the next 20 years to 30 years, smarter computers and increased automation could do away with many of the back-office jobs that companies have moved to his country to take advantage of lower labor costs and greater economies of scale.
He recalled the example of an outsourcing deal his company took on to enter orders into an electronic system for a customer. When the contract started, Infosys put 300 people on the job, but after a short while it dropped that to just 100 people, even though the workers were processing more orders, faster and more efficiently.
What happened? I asked.
He said that a greater percentage of the orders were now being submitted electronically by the customer's customers. In other cases previously separate computer systems were connected to each other, so more orders were flowing electronically with no human intervention. And finally, he said, Infosys itself had found ways to streamline its processes so that it needed fewer people to complete the work. He declined to name the client for which the work was being done.
“Some of this will happen; it's inevitable,” he said at Infosys's sprawling training center in Mysore, where the company is hosting the TEDIndia conference this week. But citing a recent column in The New York Times by Richard Dooling, the author, he added that his bigger concern was that “as machines become smarter, they become more powerful.”
This may not pose an immediate challenge, but he said it did raise worrisome questions for countries like India, where a job entering orders into a computer system pays well relative to other semiskilled, white-collar jobs, and can help a worker support several family members. Nasscom, the association of Indian software and technology companies, estimates that slightly fewer than one million people work in business-process outsourcing jobs.
“As a computer professional it doesn't concern me,” he said. “But as a CEO and a business leader, it does concern me because we as human beings adapt to change very slowly, and technology seems to be accelerating in its evolution and change.”
He cited the example of people employed by media companies in the United States as an example. As more people get news in electronic media, employment in print media suffers. There may be some offsetting gains in employment in new media but it likely will not make up for all the job losses.
“We will see it every day in newspapers,” he said. “Big change is happening.”
Thankfully for the workers here at Infosys and others who hope to get a back office job at an Indian firm, business here is still growing, albeit at a much slower pace than in recent years.


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