India’s largest private education provider, the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT), sees about 25% of its global profits come out of China thanks to a strong demand for IT professionals to work in business process outsourcing (BPO). NIIT’s President Prakash Menon believes China’s IT professionals will be a success if they can think outside the box.
Q: What is NIIT doing in China?
A: In 1997, we came to China and started a relationship with the Ministry of Education in Shanghai. We thought the country needed IT education. University education wasn’t geared towards IT – it was more generic. Then there were these small institutions, millions of them, offering short courses that didn’t help students because you can’t become a professional off a five-day program. So we created global software talent.
Q: What do you do?
A: We train people from six to 60 years old in 34 countries. We also train people who have completed 12 years of formal education and would like a career in IT, including about half a million working professionals. But mostly we train Fortune 500 companies. We have 2.5 million students doing courses with us online. We train about 4 million students a year.
Q: Do the Chinese use the same concept-application approach as Westerners?
A: In China, students don’t understand the concept-application approach. Teachers state a problem and they give a solution while teaching. So it is a problem-solution, problem-solution approach. When the student starts working and sees a similar problem, then the execution is absolutely first-class. But if the problem is different, then the student needs help. We started with a concept-application kind of approach in China and it was a dead end. So we had to mix and match the methods.
Q: How is the growth of the BPO industry affecting your business?
A: It’s only recently that the Chinese government started looking not only at software outsourcing but also business process outsourcing. They have a 10, 100 and 1,000 story: 10 cities, 100 multinationals and 1,000 Chinese companies. So, it is becoming very big. Now, we have companies like Genpact, Accenture and HP setting up BPOs in China. It will become big because the Chinese are very process-oriented. Once you define the process they are able to execute brilliantly.
Q: What will be the challenges?
A: BPO has two parts to it. One is voice, such as call centers. I don’t think call centers will work in China for the international market because the English skills are lacking. But the other non-voice part – credit cards, paperwork – that kind of English the Chinese know. Once you define the process, Chinese execute in a way in which we could really learn from.