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Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Venkat Viswanathan, CEO of LatentView Analytics (Part 8)

Posted on Monday, Jan 28th 2013

Sramana Mitra: The only issue there is you would need people who can learn in that mode. That means you would need a high-end set of people already.

Venkat Viswanathan: I agree. There is no getting away from the quality of people issue. The only aspect that has been a revelation for me is that we underestimate how big a country India is in terms of sheer number of people.

SM: If you grow from 100 to 200 and from 200 to 400, it won’t be much of an issue. But when you look at the problem of growing from 10,000 to 20,000, that is when you are going to see that this [approach] is not going to scale. Even in a very large country like India, English is still an issue. Only a small percentage of Indians can truly grasp the English being spoken in an MIT lecture and can fully understand what is being said.

VV: A lot of that is changing. If you look at the use of English-language-based social networks, India is number two. Take LinkedIn, Facebook, or other English-language-based networks.

SM: But that is basic English. There is a big difference between rambling on social media and interpreting an MIT professor’s lecture.

VV: What I can tell you is this: If you look at the employment pool of India, we are 1.3 billion people. I’m sure there are around 600 million people in the workforce. Out of those 600 million, we probably employ fewer than two or three million people in IT.

SM: I believe right now there are about five million people working in IT in India.

VV: Even if you say it is 10 million, there are 600 million people working.

SM: But most of these 10 million people don’t speak very good English. They don’t have to communicate in English. But your kind of job involves communication in English. You will see there is a chasm to cross just in that. Communicating in English with meaningful stuff – I am talking about high-end business consulting communication – that skill is very low in India. You haven’t thought about it from the scale point of view. You are right now; you are doing 200-person to 400-person jumps, and you will be following for a while. But when this crosses to the next level of scaling, that is when all of this is going to start to hit the limits.

Yes, we take pride that India is an English-speaking country and we have done very well, but when you actually get to the real gaps of the problem, it is not so easy. The same happens with China. They can come up with a certain basic level of English, but getting to the level of English at which you and I are communicating right now, this is accomplished in the elite education systems of India and China. Today, this kind of communication exists at the elite level, and that is the end of it.

VV: Maybe I can raise two things at this point, which alleviate the problem. They do not solve it, but they can help with the problem. One is that we have, even if on a small scale, a lot of people who moved back from the U.S. People who went to grammar and secondary school in India, and then for their higher education they went to the U.S, worked there for a few years, and then somewhere in the past five to ten years decided to go back to India. We ended up hiring them.  This is a constant stream of people whom we met and hire, who are essentially bringing the cross-cultural story as well. They understand how the international markets work, how business is done there, and also the language. This is a useful source and addition to the talent pool.

Number two, and this is very interesting: There is now a pool of people from other parts of the world who want to come to India and work here. In fact, our own marketing is done by someone who is an American. She lives in Chennai and works with us. She went to school in Brooklyn and she is now living in India.

SM: I don’t think that necessarily alleviates the scaling problem we are talking about, but it is a trend. If you look at the U.K., for instance, if you want to hire talent from abroad, the U.K. has tremendous unemployment. The U.K. happens to be a culture where people are often comfortable to go work abroad; America is not. Americans do not like to go abroad to work. Europeans, especially the U.K., are much more amenable to go work abroad. They have good communication skills, good education, and a lack of jobs. If that is an avenue you want to pursue, I would suggest you hire from the U.K.

VV: We are already meeting universities in the U.S. We were at Harvard about two months ago – we were part of the big data summit – and we met a bunch of students. We were trying to understand how the system works before we start hiring people from there. The intent is obviously not to be dependent on one pool of talent. There are these high-impact roles within our business, which grab elements of business articulation, insights, and engagement. This is something that is already available in the U.S. That is the part we should focus on and consider one of the portfolio mixes for us to hire from.

SM: As long as you are operating in the 200-person or 400-person level, this is not going to be a problem that is going to plague you that much. But once you become a large company that is hiring tens of thousands of people, it is when this is going to be an issue. That number of people is not as easy to train as training a few people programing in Java or something similar.

VV: I agree with most of that assessment. I have the same apprehension that you have about the future, but we will see once we get there.

SM: I think there are opportunities. This is where the white spaces are in terms of doing educational ventures that focus on developing this talent pool in a meaningful way. That addresses all the points that we discussed – the communication scales, the business scales, the technical skills, and so on. All of those create analytics professionals who can deal with business analyst roles. These are going to be high-paid jobs.

VV: I agree with that assessment.

SM: It was great talking to you, Venkat. Let’s stay in touch.

VV: It was great talking with you, too. Thank you so much for your time. It is very interesting to see all the perspectives you bring and the questions you ask. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.

This segment is part 8 in the series : Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Venkat Viswanathan, CEO of LatentView Analytics
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