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‘Work from Anywhere’ for CX Services: Q&A with Tech Mahindra’s Ritesh Idnani

 

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic with respect to CX services, it is the changing perception of clients and providers on the pace of digital transformation and the role of frontline staff. In a conversation with Ritesh Idnani, President of Tech Mahindra, we discuss the company’s vision for what the Future of Work looks like and some of the latest trends and technologies in the CX world.

 

Ivan Kotzev (IK): COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of advanced operational models, most notably Work-At-Home (WAH). From your perspective, what is the role of WAH in the long term?

Ritesh Idnani (RI): We think ‘Work from Anywhere’ is going to be the operating model in the long term and that means, as an organization, we have to prepare ourselves for that kind of fungibility where an employee can work in any setting, whether in an office, at home, or in a virtual setup. We are starting to ready ourselves with the new operating model and ensuring that 100% of our employee base works in that direction.

We can classify our workforce going forward into 3 categories:

  • Work that, due to regulatory compliance, customer privacy, data and information security, might need to be executed in an office environment
  • Work packets that will usually be executed outside the office
  • A hybrid model where people may work some days in a physical setting and somedays in a virtual setting.

We have put together a post-COVID-19 playbook that sets the roadmap towards ‘Work from Anywhere’ and joins the dots for the work categories with the delivery formats.

IK: In this ‘Work from Anywhere’ model, is the main benefit BCP or are there additional benefits?

RI: The initial results go far beyond BCP and risk mitigation. For example, in some of our low-cost locations such as India and the Philippines, the average employee commute is 1.5 to 2 hours each way, and that creates stress and causes people to be less than fully productive. The ‘Work from Anywhere’ model offers not only increased productivity but also allows expanding the talent pool to tap into a new workforce; for example, women in India who pull out from the workforce after marriage. We have this demographic which is highly educated and highly qualified and can now continue to be part of the workforce.

As a consequence of ‘Work from Anywhere’ you could also start thinking of a crowdsourced economy. We are making efforts and initiatives to break our work even further into smaller tasks that some people can take on easily. We have acquired a company, Zen3, that does a lot on the crowdsourcing front (in IT services), and we are taking advantage of the skillsets of the workers in the gig economy to extend it to the business process side.

IK: Are you seeing an environment where we completely recruit, train, coach, and manage a workforce without ever meeting them face-to-face?

RI: We already had a few examples pre-COVID-19, but this only accelerated in the last 12 weeks. We have added new logos and expanded our existing client relationships, and a lot of these transitions have happened virtually. These range from virtual recruitment to virtual onboarding, training, to running a virtual operation. It encompasses the entire lifecycle. We have an entire suite of technology tools in support of virtual operations with no physical interaction at all. For example, with a current security services client for whom we are running a technical assisted support center, we have ramped up the transition from an incumbent vendor who was not able to deliver WAH to four global locations in the Bay Area, Fargo, ND, Philippines and India, in the past eight weeks. All this was done virtually.

IK: How are we going to address the challenge of security and what is Tech Mahindra doing here?

RI: There are solutions we have put in place to enable ‘Work from Anywhere.’ This allows us to check what the employee is working on, to see that they are logged on for a consistent period, and what kind of access they have. We do record the agent screens and review them as a part of the audit. But the business controls, access to data, etc., are done at the  Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) level so the opportunity for fraud is minimal from the outset.

In addition, we have fully redundant global VDI, multi-factor authentication, a dedicated agent operating system with encrypted connection to all work-related data, and client networks. Data always resides within the VDI environment. Further, we ensure that there is a lock-down of workstations; users cannot toggle from the VDI. We also disable printing, faxing, connectivity to any peripheral device, and also there is no ability to copy data inside the VDI and paste outside. These are just some of the measures that we have ensured to address the challenge of security.

We will have to look very closely at the local norms and regulations around this space and it is another variable in the balance as we are implementing ‘Work from Anywhere.’

IK: Will this impact Tech Mahindra’s location strategy?

RI: The current environment will create opportunities for employees, making location secondary. But at the same time, with the advent of ‘Work from Anywhere’ technology, clients will look at combinations of onshore, nearshore, offshore versus only offshore delivery. It will also result in work being done closer to the customer. I do expect from our standpoint that it will accelerate our delivery in primary geographies such as the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and Continental Europe.

The typical large campus of 5k-10k-15k people in a single location will make way for a distributed nodal system across the globe, which allows you to expand the talent pool and have a critical mass of 300-400 people in a single place. Also, reaching out to tier 2 and tier 3 cities will be a lot easier, particularly for pieces of work that can be done remotely.

IK: Do you see these changes as a push for clients to proactively drive their adoption of digital?

RI: Those companies that were already ahead on the digital maturity curve are able to withstand the impact of COVID-19 a lot better. Organizations that were slower tripped over themselves. I have seen a few examples of organizations that could not enable WAH and have lost a competitive advantage in the last quarter.

At the same time, in the last eight to 12 weeks we have accomplished two to three years of digital transformation. Clients have moved faster than they ever have, because they did not have a choice. The current environment is about market share and mind share driving the pace and urgency of clients.

IK: What are the unifying characteristics of the early adopters?

RI: Even before COVID-19, for the last three to five years the early adopters have been thinking about their customer journeys. They had a view on a frictionless experience and seamless interaction across channels. They have put in place a lot of the elements from a foundation standpoint, so that they could take advantage of newer technologies. They have been able to mature their business and engagement models a lot faster than most.

The other thing that helped the leaders is the culture and open mindset to succeed in the digital ecosystem. They recognized going digital requires an agile workforce, bias towards testing and learning, and decentralized business decision-making.

IK: What is the role of CX services providers in this digital transformation path?

RI: In multiple ways. For example, we are using resources from the recently acquired BORN agency to help increase the pace of creative commerce and content adoption. We are working with a lot of brands to deliver a direct-to-consumer play, enable brand experience from a service design standpoint, ensure a frictionless journey across channels, implement e-commerce platforms to shift their business online, and potentially create marketplaces to enable them to reach their end customers directly.

These are some of the areas where we are working closely with brands at the front-end of the cycle to improve their overall CX. Tech Mahindra’s BPS group can help them implement digital channels, revamp their process, and launch ‘Work from Anywhere.’

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