Davos Special: How Britain can build a 'special relationship' with India

Infosys' Head of Europe argues that Britain and India need to collaborate more closely on technology and talent if we want to boost bilateral trade.

by BG Srinivas
Last Updated: 27 Jan 2011
At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, one of the main themes is how we, as nations, can collaborate and help grow each others’ economies in such troubled times. And one popular topic of conversation has been the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India last year, when he announced plans to develop a ‘special relationship’ between the UK and India. This received mixed reviews. Some said the idea was to remove concerns of any curbs on IT outsourcing to Indian firms by UK government agencies. Others believed the plan was to fight for the coveted title of ‘Partner of Choice’, since in investment terms, the UK currently lags behind the USA and Singapore in India.

But the real reason was clear: Cameron’s intent was purely economic, as the PM himself openly stated. Bilateral trade currently stands at £11.5bn per year between the two countries. So it makes business sense for both nations to develop a relationship that will help both parties achieve their aggressive economic growth plans. India’s GDP is worth $1,217bn; its economy grew by 8.9% in the third quarter of 2010, three times the speed of the UK’s.

Technology is underpinning this progress. It has enabled businesses to connect and consequently create a global economy; and it will continue to help economies grow. India has utilised the technology available to support foreign businesses in their local economies, so they can operate in a sustainable and stable environment. By maintaining this approach, and having a two-way relationship, India and the UK can benefit from each other.

By adopting best practices and processes, including an effective knowledge transfer programme, the two countries can work together to achieve operational efficiencies and become more competitive in industries such as retail, banking and utilities. For example, the Indian retail sector is worth around £227bn and is forecast to grow to £352bn by 2014; so it has plenty to offer UK retailers in terms of experience and knowledge. As the fourth largest investor in the UK, India also exploits its technology capabilities to work remotely with UK companies, helping them expand their businesses and become more competitive in Europe and across the globe. In turn, this helps the near-200 Indian IT companies to be part of the growth story in emerging markets.

An economy also depends on having a steady stream of well-educated, talented individuals who can support today’s requirements and develop tomorrow’s. And India has invested heavily in re-skilling talent. For example, Infosys invests heavily in ICT education within Indian schools – with a particular emphasis on women, to create a more equal society. It also collaborates with 300 colleges across India to improve their curricula.  The Infosys Foundation also works on rural, healthcare, arts and education programmes, to give the less fortunate the opportunity to be a part of the future economy. By 2020, India will add an additional 110m people to its workforce.

We must continue to build the relationship between India and the UK. Business councils such as NASSCOM and the Confederation of Indian Industry (which is chaired by the Indian High Commissioner) encourage business interaction, help to build awareness of initiatives, and enable organisations to access a pool of talented individuals. Indian technology companies, in particular, work closely with UK businesses on research and development initiatives, to encourage economic growth through innovation.

Mr Cameron’s visit last summer was the trigger for what we hope will be frequent exchanges between the two nations. Both countries must now work hard to put a mechanism in place to measure the economic progress made – or the relationship will fail to achieve what it set out to do.

BG Srinivas is Head of Europe for Indian IT services company Infosys.
Strategy Misc

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