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By Jeff St. John

Wipro: IT Outsourcing Meets the Smart Grid

There’s a pretty short list of IT services giants that are making a big name for themselves in the smart grid -- think IBM, Capgemini, Accenture (NYSE:ACN), Logica and the like. Wipro (NYSE:WIT), India’s IT outsourcing giant, wants to add its name to that list.

It would appear to have a claim to the title. Wipro has utility projects underway in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, ranging from bread-and-butter enterprise asset management and smart meter integration projects to building and selling smart meters into the European market and designing and building solar farms in India.

It’s had U.K. utility National Grid as a client of its asset management services for more than a decade, and is building a private utility cloud for the utility’s OnStream gas and electric metering subsidiary. In the United States, Wipro is helping utilities deliver energy usage data to customer smartphones and iPads, Subbi Lakshmanan, vice president of industry practices for Wipro’s energy, natural resources and utilities business unit, told me in an interview last month.

On the renewable energy front, the Bangalore-based IT giant is managing massive solar power plants in India and in the U.S. Southwest, according to Anand Padmanabhan, senior VP at Wipro’s utility unit. It’s also working on cloud computing models to deliver solar power management services, whether for solar farms or distributed solar rooftops, he said.

These kinds of projects -- particularly its cloud computing platform efforts -- would appear to put Wipro in competition with the big boys of smart grid IT. Indeed, Wipro has been winning deals in head-to-head competition against the likes of IBM, Capgemini and Accenture, Padmanabhan said -- and it’s not just because Wipro’s services are cheaper.

“It’s not just a story of India offshoring because it’s cost-effective,” he said. “Smart grid isn’t really about funds -- it’s about implementations and getting it right the first time.”

On that front, Wipro can point to some experience. Utility and energy projects now make up about 13.5 percent of the company’s business, up from about eight percent last year, and that business is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent or so, he noted.

That’s significant, considering that parent company Wipro Limited has 131,000 employees and clients across 54 countries and reported profits of $265 million on $1.9 billion in revenues in the most recent quarter ended Sept. 30.

Still, there’s little doubt that Wipro -- along with Indian IT competitors such as Infosys (NYSE:INFY), HCL and TCS -- is hoping that its cost-competitive positions can help the company gain market share in smart grid IT along with its broader enterprise IT work.

Wipro started targeting the green IT sector in a big way a few years ago, and has been pitching the value of “outsourcing smart grid” services at conferences over the last year. Projects includes smart meter integration for utilities in Nevada and Arizona and customer care and billing for Australian retail utilities like TruEnergy, among others.

This integration work also touches a laundry list of smart grid partners. In Australia, Wipro is helping utility Origin Energy integrate Tendril Networks' demand response software into back-office software from SAP, for example. Its work for U.S. utility UGI involves integrating Oracle financial databases, and Wipro is also building a gateway for Oracle’s meter data management platform, Lakshmanan said.

Wipro doesn’t build meter data management software to compete with the likes of Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), Aclara, Ecologic Analytics and eMeter (now being bought by Siemens). But it does have a line of business unusual for its IT-based competitors, Lakshmanan noted: “We’re also a hardware company,” building PCs and servers for Indian markets, as well as meters that it’s now selling into Europe under another brand.

Lakshmanan wouldn’t give many more details about Wipro’s smart meter work, though he did say the company was interested in developing systems that could meet the technical specifications of some of Europe’s larger planned rollouts, such as France’s planned 35 million smart meter deployment.

It will be interesting to see how Wipro applies its expertise to its home market. India’s smart grid market is projected to hit $1.9 billion by 2015, according to research firm Zpryme. Smart meters that can serve remote rural areas and protect against power theft in urban areas will be important -- and they’ll need to be cheaper than the smart meters being installed in the U.S. and Europe.

Beyond that, India wants to add more and more green power to a grid that’s already struggling to deliver electricity to the majority of its citizens. IT outsourcing giant Infosys has a huge report on how IT can serve India’s smart grid needs (PDF).

In particular, India could be a proving ground for distributed power generation and microgrid systems that can leapfrog ahead of inadequate central power delivery systems, much like cellphone service has leaped ahead of wireline telephone service there.