Leader Talk: In Conversation with Dr. Harsh Vinayak Senior Vice President, Intelligent Automation & Data Services, NTT DATA Services
Blog: NASSCOM Official Blog
1. Share your thoughts on India as an emerging hub of Innovation
India, for long, has been known as the land of “jugaad”. We have a penchant, because of perpetual scarcity, to devise innovative solutions. When we started the journey of IT Services a few decades ago, our business mostly comprised of staffing solutions, whose architects mostly resided at our clients in their onshore locations. We were contracted to follow these defined processes exactly. This necessitated strict process control, the famous “6 sigma” that we became so good at. While this was a necessity at that time, unfortunately it also discouraged our immense capability of “jugaad”!
However, today we have come a long way from the initial days of staff augmentation. For example, more than 65% of our business is now Outcome Based. This passes the baton of technology as well as process optimization to us as the Service Providers. The erstwhile maligned “jugaad” now becomes a necessity for continuously generating value for our clients, albeit it has now been rechristened and is cherished as “innovation” and “reimagining” and forms the bulwark of our offerings. In other words, it’s not that innovation is new to India, what has changed is the nature of IT Services business that now makes it not only feasible but an imperative to bring innovation to our clients. Not only is innovation becoming necessary to add value to our offerings, as the emerging hub of Global R&D, “Innovation” itself is fast becoming our Offering! My organization, NTT DATA is built on a culture of innovation, after all, we invest upwards of Four Billion Dollars every year on research and development and are the author of 1G all the way to 5G telecom services! We continue to explore new technologies through various global initiatives and India is now the focal point of our initiatives. In fact, the winner of this year’s NTT DATA Global Open Innovation Challenge is a start-up from India! In addition, similar to many other IT companies a large part of our Digital Innovation Engineering Centre is based out of India. I believe, India has formally arrived in the R&D Leadership circle.
- The role of Technology in driving the IT Services Landscape in India – how do you see it playing out?
IT Service, by its very definition is based on the foundation of emerging technology. However, as I mentioned above, a few decades ago, India emerged as the leader in this sector as a low-cost staffing services provider. While applauding their amazing service to our economy, it is evident that even the early Indian start-ups that are unicorns now, simply Indianized ideas that had been successful in the developed nations. Three decades ago, when I graduated from IIT Kanpur, 250 out of our class of 300, including myself, migrated to these nations that encouraged and rewarded innovative initiatives.
However, now the situation is very different! India’s offering is no more limited to low cost, low skilled labour; we are the hub of innovation, jugaad and R&D. We are pioneering new technologies that are leading Global IT Services. The newest offerings in AI/ML, Security, Healthcare, Financial Services, Insurance, Manufacturing and several other verticals are being transformed with fundamental innovative ideas originating in India by Indians – whether it be through Start-ups, Indian Tech. companies, GICs of multinationals, govt. and private Labs or universities.
Not only the R&D and Software Services Offerings, but even the Process Outsourcing Offerings are now being heavily influenced by digital technology platforms. There is hardly any significant IT/IT-enables Services deal that is merely based on labour – they are all multi-tower services where the differentiator is the innovative technology that the service provider brings to our clients. And once again the Indian arms of most of the IT Services companies are leading this IT-Services revolution; for example, more than two-thirds of NTT DATA Services Digital Platform Engineering team is based out of India.
- How is your organization supporting the youth – academic students and budding start-ups of India, and what are the plans?
NTT, with presence in over 80 countries, depends on local skilled employees and technology partnerships to serve our clients. To further this pursuit, we have numerous global and local initiatives that facilitate technology education of youths and the start-up community through technology-transfer, access to global markets and funding. In India, we have partnered with over fifty educational institutes to help develop their curriculum, make their graduates employable and ultimately provide them with hi-growth employment. Our recently concluded Open Innovation Challenge provided industry insights to promising young technology intensive companies which led to one of our Indian start-ups win the Global competition. This will open immense opportunity for these start-ups. Over the past ten years, we have developed close collaboration with key technology universities of India – IIT Delhi and now IIT Kanpur to guide and fund the innovators in their Start-up Incubators. This has resulted in main-streaming of key break-through technologies that are being employed to bring value to our clients. NTT DATA’s key mission “to partner with community to uplift society through technology innovation” runs through every engagement we have across the globe.
- What are the new technologies/models adapted by NTT DATA in the new normal. How does is contribute to the industry?
The pandemic has shown that the IT industry is in a strong position to help handle global challenges. In the last twelve months, we have developed strong expertise in understanding the trends and technologies impacting our clients and the overall business environment and with our strong R&D foundation have been leading the charge to address these opportunities in the new normal. This required cultural shift (people) and new capabilities (Technology) to transform from traditional outsourcing to innovation led Services model that impacts business outcomes. With our Enterprise Digital Platform, Nucleus© , already in an advanced stage of maturity, we were well on our way to bringing Intelligent Automation to our clients and help them tap new potentials through our Operative Insights. The pandemic hastened the adoption of these digital technologies. Now, we are leading every engagement with Automation first with our Deep Learning ANN models predicting the outcomes to an uncanny degree of accuracy. Our large Healthcare client base benefitted from our intelligent Contact Tracing Platform; while our AIOps based infrastructure automation made sure that the front-line workers and key government agencies, such as CDC, were ensured un-interrupted communications with the rest of the world. We enabled major State organizations as well as global fortune 500 companies to make the shift to remote work through our already mature comprehensive Dynamic Workforce Management Platform. As an example, when the City of New York needed to quickly pivot to on-line education, we partnered with Apple to seamlessly provision thousands of tablets overnight to underprivileged kids so that there was no break in their education.
The pandemic also changed the landscape of Customer Experience. Marketers across the globe extensively worked on their strategies, to connect well with our clients. Customer Experience has always played a pivotal role for NTT DATA and has been our key consulting service. And with an optimised MarTech we were able to deliver a redefined Digital Customer Experience. In this crisis, we felt digitally empowered like never before.
- Policy recommendations that you have specifically for the government
The Indian Government has been an ardent supporter of our industry, starting with the SEZ and STPI regulations that set-in motion the IT revolution that India leads today. In short three decades this has given rise to a $200 Billion Indian IT Industry constitutes over 8% of India’s GDP and generates over 140,000 new jobs every year. However, a sector that had a 15% YoY growth is now growing at a more sedate 2.3%. One of the reasons for this is that “the world has become flatter”, to rephrase Thomas Friedman! No longer is the promise of low cost labour the primary driver of Indian IT Services business. The pandemic further emphasized the already growing realization that regional cost advantage is often trumped by technology led advantages. Hence to maintain India’s IT industry dominance, we need to be at the fore-front of the Digital tide, with technology innovators leading our way and Indian government policies paving a smooth path for this. Digital India Initiative, Make in India and “Atmnirbhar” policies are in the right directions – they lend support to the growing technology innovation base in India and places us in an advantageous position for future growth.
These show an eagerness and a willingness at the Centre to support the IT Industry, yet these do not often translate to ground level policies. The often-contentious State legislative structure suppresses the advantages that these central policies promise. For example, Central Government was quick to realize that the new post-pandemic Normal necessitates work-from-home as the predominant mode of service delivery and it made this intent very clear by formulating policies clearing the path. However, to this day, the local SEZ’s have not been notified on procedures to allow assets and employee registration, while working from home.
Another recent contentious issue that has become onerous to our industry are local employment laws that restrict free employment of deserving candidates regardless of their domicile status. Although NTT DATA encourages any policy that generates local employment, these ultra-restrictive laws, reminiscent of the Permit-Raj will only drive our productivity backwards and hinder us from unleashing the full potential of Make in India benefits to our global clients.
NASSCOM has been very diligent in representing the IT Industry to the Indian Government which has led to significant reforms furthering our contribution to the nation. More of it is needed.
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