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‘Road Ahead Not Easy': Read Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka’s Letter To Employees

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Cautioning Infosys employees that the road ahead is long and not easy, company CEO Vishal Sikka has stressed the importance of automation and warned against “lackadaisical” attitude towards greater value creation.

In his New Year message to the employees, he said by achieving all that they set out to do, Infosys can be a force powering “the purposeful evolution of our world”.

“We must remember that operational excellence is an imperative for each one of us. We must focus on delivering the best solutions in the smartest, fastest way possible, and not give up or give in to weaker instincts,” Mr Sikka has said in a letter to employees.

“Often teams deliver only what is told without going beyond the given scope and with a lackadaisical attitude towards greater value creation.This can no longer be the case.”

He noted that teams have begun to understand and execute on the duality of automation and innovation and to bring value to clients “not just mechanically execute the jobs we are handed,” adding, “There is a long way to go, and the road ahead is long and not easy.”

He said “the mountains ahead are tall ones. But there is no other way but to get there and go…if we don’t, we will be made obsolete by the tidal wave of automation and technology-fuelled transformation that is almost upon us.”

“On the other hand if we do achieve all that we set out to do, we can be that one force powering the purposeful evolution of our world. A world where our AIs may make us more successful, but also more human,” he added.

Mr Sikka took over as CEO and managing director of the country’s second largest IT company in August 2014.In February, 2016, his tenure was extended by nearly two years till March 2021, saying his initiatives have helped the company move towards reclaiming its industry leadership position.

Reflecting on the year gone by, Mr Sikka said “Brexit, the American Presidential election, demonetization, cyber security, the refugee and terrorism situation were the events that seriously changed the way we viewed the world, but perhaps that biggest disruption is the one that has been proceeding irreversibly and unstoppably in our times is the accelerating force of technology and digitization”.

Suggesting that by all indications, the future promises to be even more disruptive, especially for Infosys’s business, which is impacted by the multiple factors of technological and geopolitical disruption, he said “we will not survive if we remain in the constricted space of doing as we are told, depending solely on cost-arbitrage, and working as reactive problem-solvers”.

“By standing still, instead of moving forward decisively, we will face the brunt of these disruptive forces, as our industry has already started to see. A lot of the work that came to us and to others in our industry, can already be done with Al systems,” he said.

“Our path forward is very clear – we need to harness the dual forces of automation and innovation. We must embrace automation to become more productive in the work that we do and with the resulting capacity, focus our attention upwards towards innovation, both for ourselves and our clients. The foundation for all of this is our culture, our values and especially our infrastructure for life-long learning.”

Here’s the full text of Mr Sikka’s letter to Infosys employees:

Hi Friends,

The time around the end and beginning of a year, while a passage of our own construction, offers us valuable time for reflection, introspection and resolution. Sitting here in the Singapore Airlines lounge at Changi Airport, I’ve been looking back on the strange year gone by: Brexit, the American Presidential Election, demonetization, cybersecurity, the refugee and terrorism situation, and many others. There were events that seriously changed the way we viewed the world, but perhaps that biggest disruption is the one that has been proceeding irreversibly and unstoppably in our times – the accelerating force of technology and digitization. So, it is no surprise that I am surrounded by at least 5 magazines that have AI cover stories!

By all indications, the future promises to be even more disruptive, especially for our own business, which is impacted by the multiple factors of technological and geo-political disruption. We will not survive if we remain in the constricted space of doing as we are told, depending solely on cost-arbitrage, and working as reactive problem-solvers. By “standing still” instead of moving forward decisively, we will face the brunt of these disruptive forces, as our industry has already started to see. A lot of the work that came to us and to others in our industry, can already be done with AI systems. So as I think about all this, and as I’ve said to you often, our path forward is very clear – we need to harness the dual forces of automation and innovation. We must embrace automation to become more productive in the work that we do, and with the resulting capacity, focus our attention upwards towards innovation, both for ourselves and our clients.

The foundation for all of this is our culture, our values and especially our infrastructure for life-long learning.

I am often asked, how do we do this?

On automation:

Mastering automation. We must bring it into everything we do. In addition to doing our job, we must work on building a tool that helps us do the job faster/better/cheaper.

“There is an automation for that”: Preserving the sanctity of our “human-ness” requires that we must strive to do a routine/mechanizable activity only one time, and build automation to take care of the activity the next time around.

We must see automation, and the amalgamation of our human work with automation, as an opportunity to transcend the assumptions of the present, not a threat to our future, and we must help everyone else see this as well.

We must understand Mana deeply, now deployed at 20+ clients, and learn to deliver value using it. Take the classes on Mana and machine learning on Digital Tutor and the Infosys Learning Platform. For hands-on experience on Mana 2.0, we have created a seven day course weaving in real-world examples. To create a culture of ‘Machine Learning First’, you could opt for the two-day exploratory training on machine learning, provided by ETA.

On innovation:

The Zero Distance culture of innovation, now almost two years old in the company is very encouraging. But often, it is very small in terms of the innovation delivered. And in chasing small improvements, sometimes we can miss the point of the big thing, the larger picture of potential greater value. Also, often we don’t have visibility beyond the silos that we’ve been given to work on/in by our clients, and sometimes (although we are removing this one through collaboration) even silos of our own making. Often, our clients just aren’t ready for what we bring to the table, they don’t see us as innovators. So how do we break these presumptions and live as innovators?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” He was, of course, talking about freedom. But it applies equally to us. To our freedom, from the tyranny of the mundane, of the cost-driven value delivery, our freedom to think, to innovate, to create. So as I met our teams over the last two weeks, I’ve asked them to do what I’ll ask you, first try and fly. See if you can find an opportunity to fly. Fly in this case means a total digital transformation of our clients’ business processes that we happen to be involved in. We have a select few examples that come close to “Fly”. If we can’t fly, we must run. Run here is a new process, refurbished apps. Walk is a new process, with the same apps. Crawl is with the same process, same apps, but accelerated using automation, using implementation excellence, using tools like AssistEdge, and others. And this is not limited to teams in delivery or consulting or BPO. This applies to all of us! The work our Finance and BEF teams have done in rethinking OTR is a great example of transformation; as is the work some of our AssistEdge teams did in bringing conversational interfaces to the product to completely reimagine its experience; or the work our HR team has done in identifying and nurturing talent using data science, just three great examples…

And the all-important base of learning & education:

Learnability – we will advance in automation and innovation by learning about these topics:

An immersive training capsule called “Automation – A Way of Life” is being rolled out for all fresh hires in Mysore.

An updated module on Design Thinking will also include concrete examples, and Infosys success stories.

We must remember that operational excellence is an imperative for each one of us. We must focus on delivering the best solutions in the smartest, fastest way possible, and not give up or give in to weaker instincts. Often, teams deliver only what is told, without going beyond the given scope, and with a lackadaisical attitude towards greater value creation. This can no longer be the case. Many teams that I have met recently have begun to understand and execute on the duality of automation and innovation, and to bring value to clients, not just mechanically execute the jobs we are handed. I’ve had some incredible meetings with clients from Australia to India and beyond and a very encouraging floorwalk at IBPO in Jaipur too, where we have begun seeing the effects of automation. Our clients have collectively rewarded us for this by giving us the best client survey results in over a decade, as well as in other forums. But there is a long way to go. The road ahead is long and not easy. The mountains ahead are tall ones. But there is no other way but to get there and go beyond. If we don’t, we will be made obsolete by the tidal wave of automation and technology-fuelled transformation that is almost upon us. On the other hand, if we do achieve all that we set out to do, we can be that one great force powering the purposeful evolution of our world. A world where our AIs may make us more successful, but also more human. Where our ability to learn, and to deliver the purposeful fruits of those learnings, helps us all be mode.

Let us do this, together. Wishing you a Happy New Year.

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