The most eye-opening personnel decision in the services industry this year has been the appointment of Vishal Sikka as Infosys CEO. I recently spent some time with Vishal and his executive team, along with some of the HfS crew, and we quickly noticed a marked uptick in their feverish enthusiasm for their business. Not only that – they seemed happy.
Was this really the same Infosys that was fighting to rediscover its mojo, or has it now got it back – in Vishal? Indeed they seem to – and at the heart of it is the infectious passion, energy and insightful curiosity of their new CEO. The one who personally ensured the bar stayed open for a few extra hours so he could spend more time just relaxing with his staff. But now we’re almost 6 months in, surely the honeymoon is over? It seems not, so let’s hear more from Vishal himself…
Phil Fersht (CEO, HfS Research): Good afternoon Vishal – and delighted you’re happy to talk to our HfS readers… so what do you think of your new firm?
Vishal Sikka (CEO, Infosys): There’s an incredible amount of energy, and an incredible amount of passion. Yet in many ways, I get the sense that we lost some confidence along the way, and part of the job I see at hand is to restore that. To a certain degree, that loss of confidence is something that affects us broadly in the services industry in India…following orders and doing what we’re told to do, rather than thinking about and finding problems.
Another thing that strikes me is the company’s massive scale. We have multiple delivery centers, such as in Pune and Bangalore, each with more than 25,000 people.
A third aspect of which I’m incredibly proud is Infosys’ emphasis on education. People see us as an outsourcing company, or a services company, or an application development company. But in reality, learning and education are at the heart of the company. On my first day on the job, I visited our university in Mysore, and learned that we can put together a world-class training program for essentially anything under the sun in less than three months. And we can then immediately, simultaneously train 16,000 people in-person and through online education. That’s an amazing asset.
Also, while most don’t realize this, Infosys does an incredible amount of design work and writes tons of code for commercial products such as major airplane parts, and machines for the oil and gas, automotive, and other industries.
Finally, one of the most extraordinary things about the company is our beautiful and energy efficient campuses. The ones in Silicon Valley have nothing on ours. You can see on YouTube or Google how gorgeous they are, with man made water wells and lakes. They are like huge cities, and we treat them like that. What you won’t see unless you visit is that our incredible infrastructure team has built the world’s highest rated sustainable building in Hyderabad. In the summertime, Hyderabad gets up to 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit), but we don’t use any air conditioning. Instead, we cool the walls, and thus the air, with water, as that is the most efficient cooling method.
Phil: What do you think Infosys’ biggest challenge will be in 2015?
Vishal:Transforming ourselves culturally and operationally into a company driven by innovation, driven by delivering much more value add, more innovative services…what Prof. Mashelkar in India used to say, doing more with less for more. That requires a very serious change in mindset, in our offerings, and in our operational processes. It will be difficult, but we have to do it. And the good news is that we are already starting to see signs of success in using that approach.
Phil: There’s a big theme about the positioning around software at this event. Can you give us a bit more of your thinking around that and where you’d like to take it?
Vishal: We actually live in a software-defined world, in every industry and in every walk of life. But while the word software has somehow become associated with products, this is not the point. Infosys is a services company, and will remain a services company. The entire point of the economy around us is the “As-a-Service Economy“. And erstwhile product companies are looking to become services companies. So for us become a product company would completely miss the point. Our goal is to stay a services company and deliver, however we want to deliver more and more value using software, using IP, using reusability of components and capabilities across engagements. That is exceedingly important, and transformational. We do have many software assets, such as our Finacle banking suite and AssistEdge for customer service. But those software packages or products are surrounded by services.
Phil: There’s a very different mindset between a traditional software business and a traditional services business, Vishal, which you should know better than anyone with your SAP history. How are you going to approach that with Infosys? Are you going to try and find a meeting in the middle of these mindsets and cultures?
Vishal: Yes, we will be a services company that uses more and more software. Most other services-type industries have evolved into that. Think about healthcare. If you go to Stanford Hospital, you have a surgeon with a great context provided to him or her by Stanford. If the same surgeon showed up somewhere else, say in Kenya or India, it is still the same person but the surrounding context is completely different. On a recent flight back from China I watched the movie “Chef,” about a Michelin-star chef who ends up in a food truck. Again, it’s still the same person with the same capabilities, but in a different context. I think that the context we put around our people can be great amplifiers, can be great enablers for them to deliver tremendous non-linear value. Yet the mechanism of value is the service and the person who provides the service. So, it is not that we have become a product company, but more and more a high value delivering services company.
Phil: Let’s talk a little more about your idea of “Design Thinking”. You talked about thousands being trained on it. How far do you plan to take that?
Vishal: I’d like to take it as far as it can go, Phil. The whole exercise is about getting people to think openly about why a certain thing is not there. Customers come and tell me that they want this, they want advice from us on what they are doing and how they can do it better. They ask if we see something in their processes that can be done better. I recently spoke with a customer who asked about completely touch free invoicing. While he was focusing on the fact that his company has 40 percent touch free invoices, I said the real question was about the remaining 60 percent.
The reality is that companies don’t know what their problems are. It’s our job to be innovative and more open to helping our customers find and identify problems. And to become more confident that while we don’t know what tomorrow’s great problem or opportunity is going to be, we will help our customers find it. And then, of course, once we find it, our education, our knowledge, and our background gives us the tools to solve it. We’ll go after it and solve it together. Design thinking really is about that. In the 1950’s, when Polya wrote his book on problem solving, problem solving was the big deal in education. Now, I think it’s problem finding.
Phil: So Vishal… you’ve been ordained the emperor of the IT services business for one week. What the one big change would you make?
Vishal: Get the company, and the industry, to focus more on innovation. Today, most businesses see a tremendous disruption, a transformation, happening to their industry, to their company. They are interested in solving tomorrow’s problems, and that requires us to be problem finders, not just problem solvers. That requires us to become people who can help companies become innovative and relevant. My strong desire is to get the IT services industry out of this downward spiral of progressively lowering cost, jamming people into the supply chain faster and faster from worse and worse colleges, and shoving them into projects faster and faster. This is the wrong direction. Instead, doing more with less for more is a much better idea. That’s what I would love to do.
Phil: Vishal Sikka – thanks for your time today – and look forward to hearing from you in 2015.
(Vishal Sikka was appointed CEO of Infosys in June, 2014 – his bio can be accessed here)