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2020 Lessons & Future Success Factors: Q&A with Wipro’s Nagendra P Bandaru

 

The following is a discussion between Nagendra (Nag) P Bandaru, President, Wipro Limited – Global Business Lines-iCore, and John Willmott, NelsonHall CEO, covering lessons learned in 2020 and success factors for 2021. Nag is responsible for Infrastructure and Cloud Services, Digital Operations and Platforms, and Risk Services and Enterprise Cybersecurity – three key strategic business lines of Wipro Limited that help global clients accelerate their digital journeys. Together, these business lines generate revenues of USD 4.3 billion with an overall operation of approximately 100,000+ employees across 50 global delivery locations. He is a member of Wipro’s Executive Board, the apex leadership forum of the company. Nag is based in Plano, Texas.

JW: Nagendra, what was the most important lesson that you learned in 2020 in the face of COVID-19 and its impact on business?

Nag: What 2020 taught us was that no plans, great systems, or great processes would work in an unprecedented environment. It was a year of being resilient – of creating hope when you have no hope. For us, that was the starting point.

In a world where everything is constrained, how do you keep your operations live? Such situations often lend to the danger of overemphasizing technology, frameworks, systems, and processes while underestimating people. But, I believe that it is most important to have a resilient team. During BCP implementation in response to government-imposed lockdowns across the globe, the team’s leadership and decisive action have been the cornerstone of our success. Some of our employees were stuck at home without access to their secure office desktops. Our teams worked closely with local administrations to obtain the appropriate government permissions and ship laptops to employees’ homes ­­– often crossing inter-state borders – through ground transport. Then, we had to set up the software and security remotely and change all the dongles to direct-to-home broadband. At that time, it was about keeping things simple and working out the basics. We saw simplicity being redefined by the pandemic. In getting the basics right, the bigger stuff began to fall in place. The experience taught us to focus on the basics.  

Our global teams ensured that we moved from BCP to Business as usual within a few weeks of the lockdown, with 93% of our colleagues working securely from their homes. This proved that business resilience is about having the right talent. My leaders also emerged strong and worthy in those extremely difficult times. It is important to build future leaders whose core capability is the ability to anticipate and prevent risk. This ability to manage risk is the biggest leadership trait a company needs to be successful.

JW: The IT and BPS industry was remarkably resilient in 2020 and has a very promising outlook for 2021. What do you see as the main growth opportunities?

Nag: A good client experience comes from executing well, where the client is able to rely on the supplier’s strong delivery organization. The pandemic proved to be a challenging environment for several suppliers, and, as a result, clients were quick to change their vendors. The speed of decision-making has become much faster now, with little patience for lengthy procurement cycles. We sensed this as soon as the crisis struck. That is why, when one of our customers, a large bank in the U.S., wanted to launch a full-fledged digital solution to support thousands of small businesses and their employees under the fiscal stimulus program initiated by the U.S. government, we worked round-the-clock to deliver the application in just 48 hours. Similarly, we helped our client, a Postal Services company in the Middle East, launch a special medicine delivery service as a part of the government’s COVID response for citizens. For another client, we processed over 2.7 Mn claims in the first 3 weeks of the lockdown with nearly 100% accuracy. We were obsessed about delivery with minimal business disruption and supporting clients during their toughest time.

We now see that much of the growth is coming from vendor consolidation resulting from good execution. It rests primarily on the ability to understand the client’s critical needs when they require a tremendous amount of help. And many companies require that help now, which is why contracting decisions are being executed very, very fast. In some cases, accounts that used to take a decade to get into are now doing business in a week. Most often, the questions being asked are, “Can you do it correctly, and can you ramp up several hundred people?” If the answers are affirmative, you will get the business. Having said that, if you are unable to deliver within 15 days, you stand to lose the contract. Thus, the industry growth is also stemming from good execution.

Here, I would also note that the IT and ITES industry is recession-proof since volumes grow when client business is growing, and when there is a recession, clients undertake widespread initiatives to cut their operational costs but these initiatives are transformative in nature

There are also short-term growth engines such as the Cares Act in the US, together with regulatory changes and consolidation opportunities. Additionally, operational excellence opportunities, where customers want cost savings to readjust their cost bases to maintain their bottom lines, also offer growth.

However, the larger growth lies in business transformation, which has been a global trend even prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has forced industries and companies to accelerate tech investments. There is no denying that technology is at the core of this digital transformation. It powers both the front-end—to gain better access to markets, as well as the backend—to improve efficiency and optimize costs. Those customers who have invested in higher levels of RPA and AI or Intelligent Automation are finding out that they are in a better position to provide elasticity to their operations. Going forward, much of the growth for the industry will be led by next-generation technologies and services, including digital, cloud, data, engineering, and cybersecurity. Wipro has a massive role to play in helping businesses get onto the cloud as we have been investing in these areas for the last few years, and they are integral to our strategy.

JW: How are your delivery structures and processes changing as a result of COVID-19?

Nag: Security of data and processes has kept everyone awake. Add to that the several ransomware attacks on companies, and it’s a nightmare. The single biggest threat to companies right now is risk, which is why risk tolerance is very low. You will no longer be excused or pardoned if you do anything remotely risky. That is why we are constantly investing from a controls perspective, from a process perspective, and from a systems perspective. I’ve never experienced the importance of risk and security at this magnitude. Today, I have four teams ensuring four-eyes checks on everything we do. Yet, there is vulnerability, and we are constantly on the alert. That is the biggest thing that has changed in our lives.

Security is another reason why, I believe, the IT industry may not be able to embrace work-from-home permanently in the long term. Security will continue to remain vulnerable despite heavy investment in software and tightening of controls and processes. Therefore, I expect the future of delivery to be a distributed network from well-secured office environments of the supplier. However, this could definitely involve a shift to small offices, rather than operating from large delivery centers, thus leading to a high increase in the number of delivery locations. The future will see a “work-from-anywhere” model instead of a pure “work-from-home.”

JW: COVID-19 is also credited with a major increase in uptake of digital transformation. To what extent is this impacting your staff development programs?

Nag: The past nine months have seen unprecedented changes in the industry. There has been a big shift in the adoption of technology and its key role in making businesses resilient in the post-Covid world. While several changes were related to technology, some have been structural and are here to stay. Rapid digital transformation has created demand for new skills and flexibility. While employee wellness and safety has been our prime focus during the pandemic, we have also empowered employees to develop new skills through our robust internal upskilling initiatives. This helps build fungibility and keeps us agile. For example, there has been a major spike in loan administration volumes across both consumer and institutional loans, while other sectors such as auto claims and healthcare claims have seen considerably reduced volumes. In such situations, the fungibility of people becomes an important factor for quick ramp-up and fast delivery.

However, it is equally important to have a culture of obsession with employee experience. How we manage talent is going to be the single biggest determining factor for future success. I believe that skills and talent are at the center of that success, and the nature of education will have to evolve as we go into a very integrated disciplinary world. Earlier computing infrastructure used to be dominated by a small number of players. Today, the fragmentation in the cloud world is so immense that the large legacy fixed cost has been spread across many companies. This means that individuals will now need experience in a much wider range of technologies and software companies.

The gap between employable talent and educated talent is massive. Training is one area where budgets need to be increased across both skill-based and competency-based training. Skills requirements may change over time, but it is very important to give people experiences that enable them to develop competencies. That is why training has been the core focus of employee initiatives at Wipro. 

Automation as a theme has been there for years. We have to understand that automation is a continuous journey of converting manual processes to straight-through processing. This, too, creates opportunities for employees to move up to roles that leverage their skills.

Our customers have always valued our passion for innovation, work ethics, and culture. They expect us to be the best at execution while being a proactive force of change. In order to be passionately committed to delivering lasting value and be the trusted partner to our clients in their transformation journey, we must continuously evolve. And for that, we will continue to focus on attracting, developing, and retaining the best talent in our industry.

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