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June 21, 2015

Our Potential

Posted by Dr. Vishal Sikka (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:01 PM

Lufthansa Boeing 747-8
Lufthansa Boeing 747-8

I write this onboard a beautiful Lufthansa Boeing 747-8, the latest incarnation of the magnificent plane that was born around the same time I was, and has evolved through these decades in a timeless manner (indeed when I envisioned timeless software, the 747 was one of my examples and inspirations, and that was before the 747-8!). It makes me even more proud that a brilliant team of Infoscions helped design many key parts and systems of this amazing machine, as Kent Johnson, then design chief, shared with our clients and partners at our Confluence event in April. It is International Yoga Day today, and as the PM has so eloquently stated, a great way for us to look after our health and well-being, and to bring a focus and purpose, a "yog", to our endeavors. It is also Father's day. A day to celebrate our dads, our children, and our greater responsibilities, in nurturing our children's potential and in living up to our dad's dreams for us. I am especially missing being at home today.

I'm on my way to Bangalore for our AGM, and reflecting on journeys, their beginnings and ends. Mr. Kamath, my mentor and (now former) Infosys Chairman, and a key influence in my joining Infosys, stepped down to take over as the first President of the BRICS New Development Bank. He is an amazing man, a natural leader, a unique combination of spirituality and practicality, of great vision and dreams, and great execution and discipline. As happy as I am to see him lead this great new institution for humanity, I will really miss him. And Mr. R Seshasayee took over as our chairman from him. In the last year that I've interacted with him, Sesh has become a mentor to me, a learned and balanced voice of reason, diligence, vast experience, deep rooted humanity, and of utmost integrity. I'm looking fwd to working with him. A week or so ago, the Glassdoor ratings were published, and a website/service that I didn't know existed, reported that employees had rated me one of the top 50 CEOs. And a few days before that, in Bangalore, I had an opportunity to join a gathering of 6200+ leaders of our company's delivery organization, our lifeblood, to review an important initiative we started, called Zero Distance, that aims to bring innovation to every ongoing project in the company. And it was an incredibly inspiring session, a memorable moment.

So all this got me thinking about our journeys, and especially about our people. The work we do. Our learnings and our yearnings. Our cultures that we inhabit, and create. And our potential.

"If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would astound ourselves..." -- Thomas Edison

Roughly a year ago when I was announced as the next CEO of Infosys, there was much change all around. Within the services industry there was talk of automation disrupting traditional business, and within my company it was a time of great transition; a sense of anxiety, coupled with a sense of hope and a willingness, a determination, to succeed. Shortly after getting started, in talking to the people, within Infosys, and to clients, partners, investors and others, it soon became clear that the path ahead would have to be one that is based on a dual strategy of renewing all our existing and ongoing work, with better operational excellence, automation, and innovation, combined with opening up some great new horizons, things we never did before, and helping clients usher in new paradigms in doing so. This dual idea of "Renew and New" has since taken hold, but what is most often missed, is its third dimension, the culture. The duality of Renew and New must take place within the context of a great culture.

One of my extraordinary early findings was the lack of initiative, lack of proactivity in the services industry. Not only at Infosys, but everywhere. An entire industry, by and large, (d)evolved to the idea of "doing what we are told" to the point of shutting out our own ability to think, to be creative and to innovate. As I met clients, and peered over customer surveys, this became increasingly clear. Client after client spoke of the lack of proactive innovation; while they gave us high marks for quality, delivery efficiency, responsiveness and responsibility, they were equally critical of, and longed for, our help in their innovation journeys, in helping them improve, helping them tackle their strategic and important challenges. As I got into our projects, their 'Whats' and their 'Hows', I arrived at two startling conclusions. One, was the extraordinary diversity and simply the extraordinary-ness of a lot of our projects. We work on, at any given point in time, a few tens of thousands of projects. This is the core process in the company, our lifeblood, as it were. And the projects range from the amazing to the mundane. The other was that the clients' observations were fully evident. Teams working to spec, doing what we are told, dutifully and rigorously, but almost blindly. And it was immediately clear that we needed to improve in this core function. We needed to bring innovation, deeply and fundamentally, and pervasively. We needed to bring innovation to everything we do, and each project our clients see.

"To develop a complete mind, study the science of art. Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else." -- Leonardo da Vinci

So I, along with a few key colleagues, worked with a handful of projects for a few weeks at the beginning of this year. And the result was a simple five point pattern that could bring immediate as well as fundamental improvement to any of our projects. Then we rolled this template out to a 1000 projects and their leadership, and a few weeks later, to all our projects. Ravi calls this Zero Distance, and you've likely seen this by now, on the ZD groups on Sparsh and on Yammer. This ZD initiative has become something of a movement in the meantime. Projects covering more than 68k delivery colleagues at Infosys (not including BPO, consulting and products/platform teams), that is more than 70% of our delivery strength, are participating and more than 500 client conversations relating to the improvements and innovations in their projects have already happened! This is still very early in our innovation and ZD journey, but it is really inspiring to see. And especially the confidence we start to see in our colleagues. A sense of achievement, of accomplishment, of "creative confidence" as David Kelley would say, is starting to become evident in the teams. And it is this confidence that was the missing ingredient I saw 10 months ago, the ingredient that is key to our success, our key to solving the duality of embracing automation and transcending it with our creativity. And it is this confidence that is now becoming evident. This confidence is not arrogance, or foolhardiness. It is simply a recognition that, as Steve Jobs once observed, everything we see around us was built by people who are no superior to us, no smarter than us, and therefore we too can have similar impact and influence things around us. And listening to ground reality, and continually improving, a continual humility, is a fundamental part of it.

The ZD movement is coordinated by a great team of our colleagues, and is underpinned by tools like Yammer and our portals, new ideas in crowdsourcing and collaboration, as well as by training in techniques like Design Thinking. Indeed, it is a great tribute to our amazing training capability, that we have now more than 35k colleagues who have learnt about it with the day-long or two day-long immersive Design Thinking experience. 21k+ of these are from delivery. And we are already starting to receive initial positive client feedback. Just in the last 3 weeks, several clients have told me about signs of change in the way projects are being delivered and rethought.

When I met the teams in Bangalore a couple of weeks ago, there was an amazing atmosphere. The team had identified six projects to share with everyone, and each one of these was awesome. From a team that showed how one of the best online stores on the planet could be improved with new capabilities, to a team that showed how insurance sales people could get a "cafe of offerings" for each of their customers at their fingertips, from a team that showed how one of the world's largest hi-tech aftermarket could thrive, to one that showed how one of the largest aerospace providers could get more efficient at identifying important sales related metrics and analyses. They were all amazing. And when I look thru the projects, which I do every once in a while when on a plane or when I find some free time, I see this improvement and this spirit everywhere, in every area. From engineering to maintenance, from development to support, from QA to implementation and integration, everyone is finding improvements and innovation in what they do and in how they do it.

This is a great harbinger of things to come. For sure we expect to see increased value from all this, to our clients and to us, but more importantly, by going Zero Distance, we raise the bar by which every project is measured, that we don't just do what we are told, we bring our best to it, we improve it, and this groundswell will help improve us all.

And this is crucial if we are to evolve from augmenters to amplifiers. From doing the proverbial "mess for less", to, as Prof Mashelkar said, "doing more with less for more". Instead of falling backwards towards staff augmentation and hawking resumes, towards amplification and teaching and innovation. As we evolve from an industry obsessed by command and control and a feudal mindset, towards one driven by innovation at every level and in every activity. It is not right, nor enough, to limit innovation to a chosen few. That simply divides us. Into the innovators and the non-innovators. And is a very limiting view of the world. For sure we need dedicated innovation into new paradigms and frontiers. And we are pursuing these, and many of the new frontiers are already bearing fruit. Under Abdul and Samson's leadership, our work in IAP is already resulting in substantial savings due to automation in the routine, mechanizable areas like parts of infrastructure management. And we now have more than 100 commercial IIP engagements, including many that have already produced breakthrough results. Panaya's adoption is underway, and is picking up steam. We've crossed 12 Panaya wins done by the Infosys CSG teams! Including a recent one where our IVS team brought Panaya together with IVS, taking this technology beyond change mgmt of packaged systems. Just as we imagined when we brought Panaya together with us. And Finacle and Edge continue to break new ground continually, as does Skava, in bringing IP together with our services. Similarly Design Thinking's adoption by customers continues to pick up momentum, with more than 3 dozen Design Thinking workshops already conducted, and this is increasingly becoming the technique of choice for our consulting teams to engage with clients. And speaking of consulting, we are well underway in bringing consulting as a "tip of the spear" to our clients, consulting becoming a front-runner, a leader, of our strategic conversation with clients, so that we may bring the best of Infosys to them, the full power of all that we are capable of. Whether it is any of our renewed services, or new AI solutions. Whether it is KBIT (Knowledge-based IT) as a unification and evolution path for enterprise landscapes, or our IP-led services to bear, consulting is helping to lead the way. And even in the basic activity of responding to RFPs we've brought innovation. I happened to see a team rehearsing for a client presentation recently, and it was amazing to see how they are rejuvenating a very mundane activity into a redesigned and rethought one. And all of these innovative areas will increase in adoption and will spread and impact our work. But it is the bottom-up innovation, the groundswell, that is Zero Distance, that will bring everything together in the project that manifests in all that we do for the client, and that will be the big difference.

Renew+New applies to us all. Its foundation, our culture, applies to us all. Each one of us. From the call center to the corner office, from sales and delivery to HR and training. All of us. As I look to the future, this strategy will help us innovate in and improve everything we do, and will augment that with new things we never did. But this strategy is fundamentally about people. About our potential. About our aspirations, our ability to learn, our ability to teach. Mr. Murthy always emphasized this to me. He called this learnability, one of the exemplary values of this proud son of a teacher. I, too, am the son of a teacher, and this synchrony of values is a key reason I came to Infosys. We are determined to march down this path. I am proud of the work our teams have done so far, and I am looking fwd to all that we are yet to do. As I get ready to take a nap, and look ahead to a long fruitful day ahead in Bangalore, in this beautiful machine that our teams participated in creating, I find myself hopeful of us raising our work, raising ourselves, ever closer to our astounding potential, and doing more, and helping our clients do more and be more...

(This post was first published on June 21, 2015 on the Infosys Intranet - Sparsh)


Very encouraging thoughts Vishal!

In my project team, we have already formed teams with specific focus areas to bring innovation not just to our customers but also our own work.

Your thoughts have been an inspiration and key driving factor for all of us.

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