Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Passage to India

Bookmark and Share

As I prepare for my next trip to India in a couple of weeks time, I thought it might be a good time to republish an article I wrote after my first trip to Bangalore in 2005, it is going to be fascinating to see what has changed and how attitudes may have altered. It is also going to be interesting to see how Indian companies will continue to succeed at a time when I hear they are cutting back on their training and people investments – will I find them on the start of a slippery slope?, but for now let's just remember the first time I was there and my experiences of Wipro.

How one Indian IT company is looking to change for the future

Following his recent visit to Bangalore in India, in this article Mark McGregor shares with us some of the insights gained into the issue of where next for the Indian IT Industry. Perhaps more importantly he also finds that the issues of BPM are generating much interest and hears that the giants in India may be about to start seriously moving up the consulting food chain and leveraging the lack of BPM Professionals available in the market to gain a toe hold in more strategic consulting projects.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to make my first visit to India. After being involved in and around the fringes of IT for so many years and more latterly writing about and commentating on the risks and benefits associated with outsourcing to Asia, I guess it could be seen as something of a pilgrimage to what appears now to have become the spiritual home of IT.

The first thing that strikes you as you land in Mumbai is just how crowded the city is, but also you know you are in for a different kind of experience when you hear English being spoken all around you - in fact no-one I came across at the airport from airline personnel through to bus and taxi drivers through to Porters and cleaners did not speak English and indeed ALL the signage was in English too. So, on to my destination of Bangalore - again English everywhere, but a curious mix of East and West. Alongside the modern shopping malls and office blocks, there are many apparently run down looking buildings, I say apparent, because when you step inside these buildings you find more shops in which you find everything you would expect in any other shop in the west – just as brightly lit and laid out to the same neat attractive standards as you would expect. The only difference was the level of service, a subject that we will come back to later in the article. The thing that lets Bangalore down, as any of the locals will tell you is the road infrastructure, despite the improvements underway the slowness of the work is something that infuriates the people there.

It was interesting to note that despite the amount of work sent down to India by Western companies from all over, there was a definite lack of western faces (even in the top hotels). My hosts tell me this is not unusual, in fact they go on to say that it is very rare that American companies doing business will actually travel there to meet with their suppliers, even when signing large contracts, the British on the other hand do tend to visit on the odd occasion at least. This lack of personal interaction is a shame, for at one level they are missing out on visiting a wonderful city with a curious and eclectic mix of old and new and east and west. On another level they are failing to understand some of the cultural and services differences in India, and as we shall see this may yet be there undoing.

The purpose of my visit was to deliver the first BPMG 5 Day professional training class in India. The class was delivered in a modern purpose built training centre for what I now know to be one of the most forward looking consulting firms in the world – Wipro Technologies.

This firm having seen all the buzz around BPM and recognizing the tremendous business opportunity afforded by BPM has decided to expand its capabilities in this area. This in itself is not unusual as many vendors and consulting firms are doing just the same. Such firms are preparing their strategies, gearing up their marketing and setting out to win business with varying degrees of aggressiveness and success. But, in India they have a different approach, one which must surely start to ring alarm bells in western IT and consulting firms very soon. Their approach is to set up a BPM centre of excellence and begin the task of training their consultants, although perhaps educating is a better term – they tell me that they have looked at the market and decided that simply training staff in BPM is a bit of a "me too" approach, especially when they look at the number of successful BPMS implementation projects they have already carried out. Instead they want to educate their staff and have them become professionally accredited. Yes, they of course realize that this provides them with a key differentiator in the market, but more than that they recognize that professionally trained staff will be better able to assist their clients in achieving some of the operational and organizational transformations that they seek to obtain via BPM. The market for staff in India and in Bangalore in particular is extremely competitive and by providing further education the companies sees that it can also increase motivation and reduce staff turnover.

(To give you an idea of what is at stake when it comes to staff turnover. When the company released its quarterly figures last week, it announced that in its BPO division it had recruited an additional 2,000 staff, while at the same time acknowledging that it had also lost 2,000 staff – so it is not hard to see the "size of the prize")

The BPM CoE at Wipro consists of a core team of seasoned professionals with expertise in process management and implementation technologies (such as EAI, BI, DW and BPMS). The team through alliances has particular expertise with tools such as Ultimus and Savvion. The CoE has set some aggressive targets for itself and aims at carving a niche for Wipro's BPM services – process consultancy, package implementation and customized development, in this promising BPM market place. All that was missing was the rounding out and expanding of their wider BPM expertise and hence the reason for being there.

The class itself was somewhat different to the usual teams we train. In a class of 15, all the participants had at least one degree and most had two! Several had an MBA as well. All had already been involved in implementation projects using one or more of the leading BPMS tools. They were there to a) get professionally qualified and b) to find out how they can help their clients better manage and implement change. They all felt that the implemented systems they had been involved with could have been better if taken as part of an overall BPM strategy.

I have to say that I have never come across a group of such intelligent and smart people so willing to learn and have their existing practices and belief challenged – and as anyone that knows me will testify, if you are going to try and come at from a pure systems perspective, I will challenge you! By the end of the week they tell me they had learned a lot and found the techniques and tools to be both easy to apply and powerful in use. But, they were not the only ones that learned from the experience. I too learned a great deal, both about the IT people and approaches in India and of the underlying culture that drives these people to success.

During the course of the week the company insisted that I join the General Manager responsible for the BPM CoE, Anurag Seth for lunch to learn more about how the company sees BPM. Anurag told me "that it was seen as both a natural progression for the company as it sought ways to increase the value they can deliver for their customers and as they moved toward higher margin consulting work." He went on to explain that "Education has always been an important part of the Wipro philosophy, right from the very staff. Wherever possible we want our staff to be the best in the business and that means ensuring that the training they receive is the best we can find for them." My hosts were extremely disappointed that I was not going to be able to meet with their Chairman, Azim Premji – this was on the basis that while we were on campus who was rather tied up with the AGM and Quarterly results.

Earlier on I mentioned that I would come back to the "service culture". I think that this service centric culture, based upon providing the customer with what they need and being attentive to ensuring that the work you do is centered on creating successful customer outcomes, will provide the backbone on which Indian companies like Wipro will build their BPM success. In the West we appear to have largely forgotten that this is what successful business is all about. If you focus on these then revenue will grow, customers will remain loyal, staff will be happy and motivated and costs will be controllable. These are indeed the goals and objectives you should set when measuring the overall success of a BPM project.

The culture issue though, does not all flow in favor of the Indian and other Asian companies though. As has been seen in Japan with the car industry, Asian companies do seem to have challenges around the issues of creativity. And I am sure that the people at Wipro won't mind me sharing the fact that this was their biggest hurdle during the course of the training.

Coming back to my meeting with Anurag, I was also interested to hear that the company also saw that the BPM CoE with its professionally trained Process Consultants was also likely to add value to the companies BPO operations, as the company sought to add value to what (despite its BPO nametag) has largely been functional outsourcing – payroll, recruitment and back office functions. At least in my opinion this too has to be a step in the right direction.

At the end of the week I caught up with Bhaskar Maddala, Manager of the BPM CoE and my host for the week and asked him how he came to select this particular program for his staff, his reply was that "In addition to the BPMG visibility, their principals have a world-wide reputation as experts in the field and are known for the quality of their delivery. Therefore for a company like Wipro, so focused on quality, it was common sense to go for the best. Having joined my team for the class last week I have to say that we were not disappointed. Indeed my team were all highly impressed with the value we got and felt it was way beyond what might have been expected. If "seeing is believing" then we can now see why you have the reputation you have - it is very well deserved." Kind words indeed, he went on to add "We here at Wipro look forward to now being able to expand the training efforts and working with you to see how we might offer the training to our clients as well as our staff. We firmly believe that by better understanding the full value that true BPM – that is understanding that they will not get the true "Value of Investment" if the implementation teams fail to scale beyond the software tools and get involved at the process analysis and design level - then our consultants can better help our clients in leveraging the benefits of BPM and the capabilities that Wipro brings to them."

For my part, I of course wish my new found friends at Wipro well (having conducted their training I have a personal stake in their success!) and look forward to seeing them again in Bangalore very soon. But perhaps more importantly, it will be interesting to see how Indian companies staffed by a people whose whole culture revolves around the twin concepts of successful customer outcomes and respecting human values, can potentially change the face of BPM and how we see it.

Note: This article first appeared in July 2005 on Mark McGregor's series of articles on BPMG.org

1 comment:

Sreekumar J said...

very interesting article, thanks for sharing...