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Press about Auriga

Mar 1, 2004

A conversation with Bart Higgins: Outsourcing insider

The Journal of New England Technology "Mass High Tech"

Bart Higgins has a rare view on global outsourcing.

He describes that view as from the cowcatcher of the outsourcing train, first to India and now to Russia. One could say he’s an outsourcing insider.

A native of suburban Connecticut, Higgins recalls collecting coins in Unicef donation cups to help feed starving children of India. Decades later, he was the first American selling outsourcing services for Infosys Technologies, one of the largest Indian outsourcing providers, for which he was honored with the company’s 2001 Chairman’s Award. For those outside the sales loop, that means he sold a whole lot of Indian technology services to American companies.

Put in another perspective, when Higgins joined Infosys seven years ago, the company had $60 million in revenue. This year it’s expected to be around $1 billion.

“It’s incredibly fast growth,” he says. “And to deliver higher quality software at the end is pretty amazing.”

Quality is what Higgins likes to emphasize. Unlike naysayers who describe outsourcing to India as based solely on cheap labor, his experience tells him the technology coming from the top Indian tech houses are at “a much higher level of quality” than many U.S. Fortune 500 development teams.

“I think we should give due credit to the business accomplishments of the Indian industry,” he says. “I think it’s an innovation in the global economy.”

He compares that technological-economic shift to the auto industry of the 1980s, when foreign car manufacturers captured a good piece of the U.S. market, not just because of price but also because of quality.

“I think the same thing is happening in services, particular high tech services,” he says. “It’s an experimental en- vironment, whether we like it or not. Is it good or bad for the United States? Who knows?”

One thing Higgins does know is that it’s profitable. Enough for him to retire from Infosys at age 54. But a year later he concurred with his wife, Charlene, that he should return to selling outsourcing tech services.

This time to Russia.

Do svidaniya New Delhi. Zdravstvuite Moscow.

Now senior account executive for Amherst, N.H.’s Auriga Inc., Higgins is hoping to do for Russia what he did for India.

Is it harder to sell Russia than India?

“Yeah, because it’s Brand India,” he says. “If I passed a competitor coming out the door of the same company I was going (to sell) into, I was happy, because I was selling India first, then the company. They’ve got Brand India. Right now, there’s not Brand Russia, but we’re working on that.”

How is Higgins selling Russia compared with India?

He acknowledges that Russia isn’t ready to develop for Fortune 500 companies but says he thinks it is better at building operating systems, databases, software, firmware for cell phones and medical devices, all for smaller companies. The Indian market’s forte, he adds, is “mostly focused on generic services to large companies.” The Russian market on the other hand is “more complex in its pure technology.”

India is also working with the Carnegie Mellon capability maturity model (CMM) tool, Higgins says, and the companies are “tremendously managed.” Russia’s tech outsourcing industry is “a lot” smaller but is catching up with India in the use of CMM. And one need only look at the Russian space program to see their technology capabilities, he suggests.

Different time zones can be a liability or an advantage, Higgins has noticed, adding that Canada, while it shares U.S. time zones, “doesn’t have the innovation.” As for the U.S. traders, Higgins finds that Yankee customers are “satisfied with too little,” and can get a whole lot more out of their offshore partners for the same cost.

“You can learn to be a better customer,” he says.

As an example, he says small startups can use outsourcing firms to rein them in as they develop products and businesses.

“They’ll say, ‘Here’s an area beyond which you should not go.’ That’s one example of being a better customer. Don’t just be satisfied with how much less it costs an hour.”

He also reminds that America continues to lead the pack.

“We’re still the ones inventing what the world wants to buy,” he says. “Offshore companies don’t understand the markets. If they did, they would’ve taken advantage of them years ago.”

Finally, with outsourcing a political issue during a campaign year, Higgins says America should be careful not to “mess up” the current model. And how could that happen?

“Trying to outlaw it,” he warns. “I just hope whatever is done is done wisely. Right now we are the primary consumer of this, and that gives us the advantage.”

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