While Wipro chairman Azim Premji focused on the political, social and climate risks – “the fast unfolding environmental crisis, and the acts of forces to turn this world into one filled with conflict and suspicion” – Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka dwelt on a point that he has made many times before – the threat of the Indian IT industry becoming obsolete in the absence of it innovating and failing to adopt automation.
For a globalized industry like IT services, the recent political and social developments pose huge risks. Premji said four principles would guide actions in the quest for a better world – finding a common ground, having concern and respect for others, staying connected as a society, and committing to values such as integrity and honesty. “It’s not that only people in public life can play a part, but each one of us in our own roles can make a difference, and we as a company can make a substantial difference,” Premji said in his letter.
The billionaire, who has committed half of his wealth to philanthropic activities, recalled a recent visit to a school in Sirohi in Rajasthan where a young girl asked him about his achievements. The school, supported by the Premji Foundation, serves a severely disadvantaged community. Premji said the question made him feel really happy and fulfilled.
“It is not as though this question has not been asked of me before. But that moment and the question, was suffused with the child’s genuine curiosity and pure heart, and so became a moment of great clarity and insight for me. The greatest fulfilment is in knowing that the work that we are doing at the Foundation has some role in shaping confident, thinking, caring and ethical human beings like her,” he wrote.
Sikka urged his employees to embrace automation and be innovative to survive the rapid and disruptive changes in the world of technology. He said it would be a difficult time ahead for the Indian IT industry if it continues to depend solely on cost arbitrage and work as reactive problem-solvers.
“We will not survive if we remain in the constricted space of doing as we are told…By standing still instead of moving forward decisively, we will face the brunt of the disruptive forces, as our industry has already started to see,” Sikka said.
The former SAP executive said a lot of the work that came to Infosys and to others in the IT industry can already be done with AI (artificial intelligence) systems. He noted that he was surrounded by five magazines that had AI as its cover story. “So as I think about all this…we need to harness the dual forces of automation and innovation,” he said.
Like Premji, Sikka also noted the political and social disruptions, naming in particular Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory, demonetization, terrorism and the migrant crisis. But Sikka believes the biggest disruption is the one that has been “proceeding irreversibly and unstoppably in our times, the accelerating force of technology and digitization.”