Narendra Patni, Indian IT's forgotten pioneer | columns | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Mar 27, 2017-Monday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

Narendra Patni, Indian IT's forgotten pioneer

columns Updated: Jun 09, 2014 14:08 IST
N Madhavan

Elsewhere in Hindustan Times, Ramachandra Guha has paid tributes to Morarji Desai as a the forgotten Gujarati chief minister, contrasting it with the rise of Narendra Modi.

Perhaps that is a clue to salute another Narendra, in a similar light. Narendra Patni, who died last week in the US aged 71, can be called as a pioneer at the least, and possibly the trendsetter, in information technology outsourcing.

The engineer educated in what is now IIT, Roorkee and later in the prestigeous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) founded Patni Computer Systems (PCS) in 1972, and hired three people who left his company to start Infosys, which became India's first company to list on the Nasdaq. NR Narayana Murthy, S Gopalakrishnan and Nandan Nilekani are now household names in urban India, but Patni is not. Murthy last week paid tributes to Patni, calling him a "brilliant leader".

The technology industry, like history in general, is full of ifs and buts. There are people who seed history, but there are others who go on to make it.

It was Tim Berners-Lee who invented the Internet browser in 1990. But three years later, Marc Andreesen created the browser that went on to become Netscape and ushered in the Internet boom in the 1990s. It was Apple that invented the trendy home computer with Macintosh but Microsoft and IBM stole his thunder by proliferating its usage in the "IBM-PC" series of personal omputers. It was Sabeer Bhatia's Hotmail that ushered in the free Web e-mail in 1996, but its name is a thin flake of memory for those starting their journey with Gmail.

Likewise, it was Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) under Faqir Chand Kohli that ushered in the rise of Indian software programmers through what was called "body shopping" of engineers shipped to the US, but now known more honourably as "onsite services" for clients.

Patni started outsourced software services in the US and then developed a back-end in India, which is now known as "offshore services" --something TCS also perfected in the 1970s. While TCS and Infosys arguably deserve credit as organisations, Patni's role as a fellow pioneer is undeniable.

Patni Computer Systems, which fell a victim to a feud between Narendra and his brothers, was eventually acquired by iGATE Corp. If only Patni had made Murthy & Co his business partners instead of employees, perhaps the history of Indian IT would have been different.