Wipro needs a bold and differentiated strategy to elevate its middling market position post-Premji

We all remember when Jack Nicklaus played his last Masters, and when Sir Alex Ferguson managed his last game for Manchester United. These guys were godfathers of their trades, not unlike Azim Premji has been for IT services, the man who oversaw a firm which diversified from diapers and vegetable oil into one of the largest IT services firms in the world. However, when they retired, they left a legacy that enabled many to follow in their footsteps (albeit noone has come close yet). Premji’s legacy, which forever is written into the annals of IT services folklore, is still unfinished, which may be a good thing for his successors… there is still a lot of work to do to get Wipro to the place Premji always envisaged. 

The current market situation facing Wipro’s leadership

To recap, Wipro’s Executive Chairman, Managing Director and philanthropic champion Azim Premji is retiring by end July. His son and Wipro’s Chief Strategy Officer, Rishad Premji will take over as the new executive chairman and its current CEO Abid Neemuchwala will become the new MD.

Azim Premji’s father founded Wipro in 1945, with Azim taking over in 1966 on his death. Azim led Wipro’s diversification into information technology in 1980. Today it has become one of the leading service providers in the industry and a big force within the India heritage IT service providers (lovingly called the TWITCH – TCS, Wipro, Infosys, Tech Mahindra, Cognizant, and HCL). However, Wipro has lost a bit of its cutting edge in the market. While its operating margins improved to 19.8% given the focus on the quality of revenues but overall revenue growth dropped to 2.8% YoY – the lowest growth rate of all the TWITCH service providers in 2018. It even lost its standing as the third biggest TWITCH supplier (albeit not permanently) last year to HCL.

We’ve assessed Wipro’s competitive positioning across execution, innovation, and customer experience across major markets (see summary below) and while it mostly performs commendably (ranked #5-#10 in most of our evaluations), it misses out on the Top 5 positioning in most areas of our assessment.

Only 3 of the large IT Services firms with revenues higher than US$5B grew at over 10% in calendar 2018: Accenture (14.8%), TCS (10.3%) and HCL (10.2%), this excludes Amazon Web Services. All of these have an excellent service delivery, but the stand out factor is the ability to differentiate and know themselves and their strengths – which means they market services effectively and to the right customers:


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We believe that the increased authority to the young and dynamic duo of Rishad and Abid to shape the overall business will be a boon to Wipro. Rishad has shown tremendous energy and passion for the business, especially with his recent development of Wipro Ventures, which is the most strategic innovation initiative for the firm. And Abid is a proven and seasoned leader. HFS continues to be impressed by his astuteness since his TCS days where he built a stellar BPO capability for the firm till just last year, where Abid was instrumental in getting Wipro’s largest ever engagement $1.6 billion multi-year TCV from Alight. 

The Bottom-Line: The “What” is clear, now Wipro need to focus on “why” and “how.” HFS recommends five focus areas for the newly appointed executive chairman Rishad and CEO and MD Abid

Rishad and Abid already have a strong base to drive an aggressive growth and differentiation strategy. Wipro is a respected brand, offers large scale services with 160,000 employees across the globe, and brings capabilities across emerging technologies to its clients. The “What” in terms of its 4 stated big bets (digital, cloud, cybersecurity, and engineering) makes sense but the “Why Wipro” and “How it will help clients” needs better articulation of value and Wipro’s unique point of view. Here are the five areas that Rishad and Abid should focus on:

  1. Competitive differentiation. Wipro needs to stand for something. Its recent financial results say that customers don’t understand what makes it different from all the other IT services firms – this lack of differentiation is not unique to Wipro and applies to several of its Indian-heritage competitors. If it is to thrive rather than survive, this needs to change.
  2. Digital capabilities. Wipro has seemed two-speed since the acquisition of DesignIT. It needs to integrate the whole firm around its digital message – this means building out its offer and making a splash with some strategic M&A and client acquisitions. Success in the digital long term means helping customers change their DNA – not just providing new IT. Wipro’s digital message needs to demonstrate it can help customers find new revenue streams, new business model and drive customer experience as well as harmonizing business silos (or the One Office).
  3. Change management. Digital is about enabling change – so to differentiate itself in the noisy and overcrowded digital space Wipro needs to focus on change management. It needs to demonstrate that it can manage complex change process that penetrates its clients the businesses and drives value beyond just digital adoption. Wipro’s narrative around “zero touch change” and agile cell teams is a good starting point, but it needs to embed change management in all its engagements. Rishad and Abid also have to change the internal culture and bring together all the business units and service lines to reduce internal frictions and improve internal collaboration.
  4. Fresh talent. Injecting fresh blood and energy into the firm’s leadership, under the guidance of Abid will be important. Wipro has a credible track record of retraining ground staff as well leveraging the gig economy (courtesy of Topcoder) but needs to aggressively look at revitalizing its talent base, especially near to its clients. Service providers need to be able to draw on a broader range of skills – which means a richer mix of partnerships, on and offshore talent.
  5. Integrated go-to-market. Wipro has a broad suite of capabilities across emerging technologies (Wipro Holmes AI platform, Wipro cloud services, an end-to-end IoT portfolio, and robust blockchain offering) but to differentiate itself it needs to create an integrated go-to-market across all these capabilities that solve real business problems. The strategic focus has to be on what clients want to buy versus the capabilities that it is selling. Co-innovation with its strategic clients, partnership ecosystem, and aggressively leveraging start-ups (through Wipro Ventures) will need to be core components of how it approaches the market. As one of the best application service providers, it is in a good position to help modernize these clients application portfolio as part of an integrated suite of digital capabilities focused on delivering business value.

Rishad and Abid have very large shoes to fill in with Azim Premji’s retirement, but it also represents a golden opportunity for Wipro to scale new heights. Rishad and Abid together bring the energy and a pulse on the changing market dynamics to transform the IT-services behemoth. We wish them and Wipro all the very best!

Posted in : IT Outsourcing / IT Services, Outsourcing Heros


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