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Vishal Sikka made Infosys a great place to work for: COO UB Pravin Rao

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Infosys had gone through two quarter of Industry leading growth  rate and has clearly come a long way from where it was prior to Vishal Shikka taking over as CEO in August last year. The person assisting Shikka through this has been the affable UB Pravin Rao, chief operating officer and a 29- year infosys veteran.
According to Vishal Sikka has pushed through significant changes, marrying the old and new infosys, and bringing a vast change in the company morale. How do you see his performance?
The speed at which he has done it is absolutely amazing. One would have expected it to take much more time. Vishal was quickly able to articulate a very clear strategy to all stakeholders — employees, investors, clients. More importantly, the strategy was not at the 60,000 ft level; he clearly articulated what the strategy means at the ground level in detail.

This ability to engage with people comes naturally to Vishal — he is a blogger and thinker. He can connect the dots, from technology to mythology. His way of engaging with the younger generation has been fantastic. He is passionate about technology, so he could connect with employees easily, be hands on, get into reviews. He could quickly make Infosys look like a great place to work for. We have also seen some elevated levels of discussions with clients because we are constantly looking at newer ways of doing things. Overall, from a mind share perspective, things have dramatically improved.

The new workforce challenge is to engage with millennials. How are you adapting to this?

We are doing our Zero Bench (engaging employees on bench) and Zero Distance (bringing innovation into every project) very differently from the past.

In Zero Distance, earlier, we would ask people to assemble in a room and line up 3-4 people to showcase innovations that had been appreciated by clients, and we would tell them to develop those further. But now it’s about creating a community, using Yammer as a collaboration tool, asking employees to come up with ideas every month, share those ideas. We have a webcast where 20,000-30,000 people participate and 8-10 projects are showcased. It’s become like a movement, rather than a mandate. Some 5,000 Zero Distance plans have been built.

There’s competition now between development cents to see who’s done more innovative projects. In Zero Bench, we created a platform and published shorter duration projects; we are using gamification techniques, and have leaderboards of people who have created and executed the maximum number of jobs. It has helped to improve the skills of those on the bench, but more importantly, has kept them really excited.

Two quarters of good performance. Is it a precursor to Infosys returning to industry leading growth rates, and to more predictable growth rates?
We are confident of achieving industry (average) growth rates next year. But from a predictability standpoint, we are still not sure because it’s a volatile world. Things are changing so dramatically. The elasticity to absorb shocks, ignore and find something else is disappearing. The industry is going through its ups and downs.

We don’t hear Infosys using the word ‘digital’ as much as peers. Some of your competitors are even beginning to break out the revenues from digital. Is it a different strategy?

Digital is very much a part of our strategy; in some sense, most of the things we do are digital. But what goes into digital is still not clear. For instance, some call cloud as digital, some don’t. We have no problem if there is a common definition of digital. As of now, not creating a separate digital segment has not hurt us. Clients are not saying that they will not give us the RFP (request for proposal to elicit bids from vendors) because we don’t have digital.

Pricing pressure continues in large deals and that puts pressure on margins. You want to achieve 30% operating margin by 2020. You think that’s achievable?

Of our 2020 targets, revenue is relatively easier to achieve; the other two metrics — revenue productivity and margins — are tougher ones. If we achieve $80,000 per employee, margins become automatically 30%. Part of it will come from automation kicking in. With machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence), the level of automation should be significantly higher In the future, and that should help in getting some productivity and margin benefit. Some of the newer stuff we are doing, such as selling services plus software, these will come with much higher margins. So margins will definitely rise.

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