由于利润率急剧下降，物流系统日益复杂，目前这种依托于服务的产业模式可能会不断丧失吸引力。比如，William Blair & Co.投资公司的分析师巴文•苏瑞称，Infosys公司如果要维持现在的增长率，在未来五年内，它必须将自己的招聘规模扩大5倍，即每年招聘10万名新员工。苏瑞说：“招聘、培训并管理如此庞大的员工队伍的难度超乎想象，几乎是不可能完成的任务。”
因此，开发传统产品很快成了这个行业的发展目标，此举能让各大公司收入增长，同时却无须大批招人，又大批外派。太平洋证券公司（Pacific Securities）的分析师纳比尔•艾瑟莎称，实现这种“非线性”（non-linearity）的收入增长无异于找到了可以重新焕发生机的“不老泉”（fountain of youth）。但是，这些公司服务型文化根深蒂固，想依靠生产产品来再现辉煌，颇值得怀疑。Infosys公司的银行业应用软件Finacle算是其中翘楚。此外，这些公司还开发了一些细分市场的应用软件产品，如Wipro公司的一款无线设备。即便是较老式的网络也能运行这款设备，远程监控病人的情况，这算是软件公司与既有客户联合开发的产品的范例。然而，除了这些产品之外，像样的例子寥寥无几。
上周，塔塔咨询服务公司（Tata Consulting Services）的首席执行官称，公司正在谋求全球范围内的收购。但是，Infosys公司日益显著的扩张态势更值得关注。该公司此前曾在竞购中败在更为咄咄逼人的竞争对手手下。最近，公司任命了一位曾掌管印度最大的私有银行的人士担任董事长，这样的履历堪称强化收购的理想行业背景。这一任命被业内视为“一朝被蛇咬十年怕井绳”的典型反应。实际上，本月早些时候，业界就有传闻，称Infosys公司即将以7.5亿美元的价格收购汤姆森路透(Thomson Reuters)公司旗下的保健分公司。此外，上周五的报道还称它也是商业信息分析服务商Core Logic公司的潜在收购者。
Y2K wasn't all bad. The millennial hysteria surrounding the dreaded glitch pushed the Indian IT industry onto the world stage, its armies of low-cost technical labor ideally suited to checking endless lines of potentially bad code. Giants Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant took the boost and, over the next decade, cemented their positions as go-to service providers for companies around the world. The industry saw export revenue climb roughly tenfold to an expected $68 billion in the coming year. Infosys even sparked Thomas Friedman's influential "flat world" argument.
But now, the industry finds itself fast approaching another crucial juncture, possibly its most significant in more than a decade. Indian wage inflation is the highest in Asia; salaries have posted double-digit gains over much of the last decade. Increasing competition from low-wage countries like the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Latin America is putting more pressure on pricing. At the same time, expensive and complex software deployments are quickly losing ground to lighter, far less lucrative models. Setting up Salesforce.com (CRM), for example, doesn't bring in what a Siebel implementation from Oracle (ORCL) would. Simply put, the industry faces changes similar to the ones it helped launch a decade ago.
The current services-based model is likely to keep losing appeal as margins crumble and logistics become increasingly complex. Infosys (INFY), for example, would have to quintuple recruiting to 100,000 new employees a year within five years to sustain current growth rates, according to William Blair & Co. analyst Bhavan Suri. "Recruiting, training and managing this many people is an incredibly hard and almost unmanageable task," Suri says.
In order to evade the coming crunch, the industry is pinning its hopes on being able to tack from services to products. The jump will be difficult and there are few results to show so far. As far as products are concerned, it has two options: build them or buy them.
Developing traditional products that allow companies to grow revenue without bringing in and renting out new headcount is quickly becoming the goal for the industry. Getting to this "non-linearity" of revenue would be akin to the fountain of youth, according to Nabil Elsheshai, an analyst at Pacific Securities. That companies with services cultures will flourish in creating products is questionable, though. Infosys' banking application Finacle is one standout.
There have been some niche applications too, like a Wipro (WIT) wireless device that can be used to monitor patients remotely even over older networks, an example of a product created in conjunction with an existing client. Aside from these, however, examples are few and far between.
Buying could trump building from scratch. A vast stockpile of cash helps; Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant (CTSH) have amassed $8.6 billion between them. What's more, cash accounts for about 12% of the total market cap for all three, rivaling the proportion of US internet companies like Yahoo (YHOO) and eBay (EBAY). Indian companies have signaled a willingness to buy overseas before. But the appetite for bigger deals may be on the rise.
Last week, the CEO of Tata Consulting Services said the company was looking to make purchases around the world. But it's the increased aggressiveness on the part of Infosys that could prove more noteworthy. Seen as gun-shy for having lost deals to more aggressive competitors before, the company's recently appointed chairman previously ran India's biggest private bank -- a good background for deal-making. Indeed, reports swirled earlier in the month that Infosys was close to buying the healthcare arm of Thomson Reuters (TRI) for as much as $750 million. On Friday, the company was also cited as a potential acquirer for business analytics company Core Logic.
What's missing? Concrete action. The Indian IT industry has been facing fundamental changes for years. Now, rumors and speculation are swirling more than usual, as the industry's cash hoard puts it in a position to make bold bets. So far, few such bets have been placed. A wave of big acquisitions could indeed mark the turning point, much the way Y2K did many years ago.