Immigration reform may spur software robotics

A clampdown on visa use by offshore firms may prompt creative responses

The Senate immigration bill's H-1B restrictions have clearly upset Indian firms. But sometimes being in a tough spot can prompt new ways of approaching problems. One firm is implementing software robots.

Infosys recently announced a partnership with IPsoft, a New York-based provider of autonomic IT services. It is a move that may have deeper implications in these times.

The autonomic tools that IPsoft makes bring software robotic automation and machine learning to routine IT services functions, such as service desks, operations, and infrastructure management. In other words, work that people are now providing can be done instead by a software machine.

Infosys says that IPsoft tools can "reduce human intervention."

More colorfully, Chandrashekar Kakal, global head of Infosys's business IT services, told the Times of India, that "what robotics did for the auto assembly line, we are now doing for the IT engineering line."

James Slaby, a research director of HFS Research who has been following the use of autonomics closely, wrote in a recent report about the partnership that it may help Infosys "reap fatter margins by augmenting and replacing expensive, human IT support engineers with cheaper, more accurate, efficient automated processes," as well as improving service delivery.

If the Senate immigration bill is adopted as is, Indian IT firms will likely have to cut backend costs to remain competitive.

The Senate bill will may force offshore firms to increase the size of their North American workforces. One key provision limits visa workers to 50% of an employer's workforce. Since offshore firms may have 70% to 90% of their U.S. workforces on visas, the law could prompt more local hiring and acquisitions to boost U.S. employment.

Som Mittal, the president of Nasscom, India's large trade group, characterized various elements of the bill in a recent opinion piece in the Business Standard, as "bigoted," "discriminatory" and "draconian."

He was referencing one provision preventing visa holders from working at third-party client sites. "It's almost like saying, 'you can hire an architect to design your house, but he/she cannot work at the house location," he wrote.

Autonomic software tools can be used by anyone, and in that respect they pose a threat to offshore firms as well as being a potential cost-reducer.

What these tools are doing, said Slaby, "is making this kind of automation a lot less complicated and expensive to do, so much less so that it's actually cheaper than having, say, an Indian body shop do it, with none of the political, compliance, and other complications of sending the work offshore."

IPSoft has focused on autonomics for IT services, and Slaby estimates in his report that nearly all the Level 1 support issues can be solved by IPsoft's "virtual engineers." Infosys, which employs nearly 160,000 people, plans to train 5,000 in autonomics, and intends to deliver proof-of-concepts to its customers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, will continue to work on its immigration bill. The committee has not moved, to date, to reduce any the requirements affecting offshore firms. It will consider a series of amendments this week, which may ease some restrictions.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

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