Infosys, Wipro, other big IT firms revamp culture to battle start-ups

MUMBAI: India’s oldest and most distinguished IT firms are doing what would certainly have actually been almost sacrilegious a few years ago — holding coding marathons to develop innovative fixes and deploying “commando” units to resolve clients’ IT woes within hours.

Infosys, Wipro and other Indian IT giants, which rose to prominence during the outsourcing boom in the 1990s and 2000s, have actually struggled to keep pace along with mushrooming start-ups. The rate of revenue growth has actually more than halved since 2011—12, partly due to the emerging competition.

Those young set-ups say they go beyond cookie-cutter solutions and argue that they do the job more quickly and for less. They also attract the creme de la creme of India’s engineering graduates along with their culture of bubble chairs, breakfast bars and table tennis at work, in a way that the corporate, straight—laced atmosphere of the country’s IT trail blazers struggles to.

Client demands are similarly changing in India’s $147 billion IT outsourcing industry. Major telecoms, retail and banking firms want more than an outsourced help desk, and now demand everything from help solving a server crash overnight to help building an app, industry veterans say.

“When people around you change, moving from a very process-defined model to a much more agile model, it is definitely making a dent in everyone’s thinking,” said Sanjiv Kovil, Wipro’s chief technology officer.

To deal along with this, Wipro, for example, has actually set up small “commando force” units that help get swift solutions by copying a startup environment where small teams move fast. India’s third—largest IT services provider has actually also introduced gaming-like training sessions and so—called hackathons to solve both fake and real client problems.

“It is not the wild west – there is a method to the madness. We have actually kind of defined the boundaries, but within that we have actually allowed for a lot of flexibility,” Kovil said.

Earlier this month Infosys — long known for its inflexible rules of employee decorum — did away along with a formal dress code. The company had already relaxed rules that stopped workers from accessing social networking web sites at work.

READ ALSO: Casuals in, suit—boot out at Infosys

At Tech Mahindra, associates and mid-level employees can win quizzes and contests to spend a day along with the CEO and exchange ideas, a practice that industry veterans say was impossible to imagine even a few years back.

Bearing fruit

There are some early signs the more flexible approach is yielding dividends.

Tech Mahindra said it won a contract last month to build an electric vehicle charging system for the city of Ontario, Canada, because its flatter structure had allowed the manager responsible to decide alone and move fast along with his bid.

To be sure, it is hard for large IT companies, along with an army of thousands of employees, to change overnight. Yet, steps as small as implementing a casual dress code and allowing employees to use their own tech devices mark a major cultural shift in an industry that still relies heavily on manpower to win business.

“These changes are cool. I like that they have actually finally decided that we are adults,” said one young Infosys executive who has actually spent seven years along with the firm, declining to be named.

“But the real changes are different — for example, giving smaller teams more authority, that makes more of a difference. That is happening, but slowly.”

For now, even small changes should at least help retain the sector’s traditionally fickle talent.

“(Young graduates) have actually access to overseas travel, they are spending time along with customer organisations abroad and they are looking at that culture. So they are questioning their organisations,” said Asheesh Mehra a senior Infosys employee who quit earlier this month to start his own company, Antworks.

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