The top 10 Chinese outsourcing providers employ a total of 85,000 people. That may sound like a lot, but it's a small number in the world of global outsourcing.
India has a number of outsourcing companies far larger than the combined total of China's 10 leading outsourcing firms. India's Tata Consultancy Services , for instance, employs 187,000 people alone.
But China's IT outsourcing firms are in a good position to grow, according to outsourcing consultancy TPI.
"What's interesting, and perhaps coincidental, is that the size of the leading Chinese providers today by employee and revenue [counts] is roughly equivalent to the size of the leading providers in India a decade ago," said Michael Rehkopf, a partner and director at TPI during a conference call about the outsourcing market.
A decade ago, Indian providers accounted for less than 1% of the outsourcing market; today they have about 20% of the market by contract value. Contracts were $1.5 billion 10 years ago and about $18 billion today, which represents a 32% annual growth rate, said Rehkopf.
Many of the major Indian providers count on business from U.S. customers for more than 50% of their revenue, a path that China-based firms may not need to follow.
John Keppel, TPI president, believes the Chinese firms won't need to rely as much on the U.S. for work. They have a substantial domestic market to tap, and the large economies of nearby countries, Japan and Korea, to do business in as well.
But what could hurt China's outsourcing growth is increasing competition from other nations and intellectual property protection issues, said Rehkopf.
Caveats aside, Rehkopf said he won't be surprised to see "Chinese service providers take off quickly and dramatically in the decade ahead."
China's outsourcing firms have been turning to Wall Street to raise cash.
For instance, ISoftStone Holdings, a company with about 10,000 employees, held an initial public offering in December. Last year two other Chinese firms went public as well, HiSoft Technology International and Camelot Information Systems. All three are on TPI's list of top 10 outsourcers.
The Chinese employment market is influenced by the country's vast number of engineering graduates, more than 300,000 annually. One company, Bleum Inc., seeks to hire new Chinese graduates who score an IQ of 140 on the company's test.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS 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 email@example.com.