Interview | Pandemic accelerated global digitization: Rajesh Nambiar

‘Hyderabad fastest growing region for Cognizant,’ says the Chairman of Cognizant India

As the Chairman of Cognizant India, Rajesh Nambiar, is one of India’s top technology industry leaders, and leads India’s associates and enhances relationships with the government and key policy-making bodies. Cognizant has over 2,40,000 employees across twelve locations, based here out of its global workforce of over 3,40,000 employees, the largest ever, besides serving as the president of Cognizant’s digital business and technology globally.

With decades of experience in the tech sector, Mr Nambiar oversees and fuses technology vision, strategy, roadmap, capabilities, solutions and partnerships and domain expertise into integrated IT services for the tech behemoth, besides strengthening relationships with governments and policy-making bodies.

Prior to joining Cognizant, Rajesh worked with Ciena India, IBM and the Tata Consultancy Services. He has also served on the executive council of Nasscom, an apex trade association of Indian IT and BPO companies, and is a member of the global board of USA-India Business Council.

Speaking exclusively to Deccan Chronicle, Mr Nambiar, spoke on a plethora of issues, including the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on the tech industry, its clients globally, changing landscape of the economy, the building blocks of organisational culture and key aspects of good leadership. Excerpts:

How has the pandemic impacted business, both tech industry and its clients?

The pandemic has prompted people to deeply question their life choices, globally. This applies to not only individuals and families, but also companies and countries, organisations, societies and communities, globally. Companies have tried to understand and refine their company culture at a time when most of the work force is not even physically coming to office.

Companies are facing attrition issues which are unique. Our learning has been that people are today placing top value on organisational culture. Giving the best work environment and culture are crucial to keep people engaged in a market where the hybrid mode of working has come to stay. We have to constantly evolve to optimize this new reality.

What are the opportunities you have been able to spot and harness in this challenging confusion?

The pandemic has placed a humongous push on all clients to undertake and adopt an accelerated digital transformation of their businesses. In the last two years, companies have transformed themselves digitally in a manner that would have taken three to five more years in normal course. Businesses have realised that if they do not have digital transformation, they can’t be in business at all. So pandemic has actually helped digital transformation accelerate significantly.

Secondly, companies have understood the value of resiliency. Companies and people, who focussed only on efficiency in sourcing and offshoring, across all industries, have now placed a premium on resilience as a crucial factor in taking decisions. Today, businesses want to be not just efficient but also deeply resilient, to have the strength to withstand any unexpected shock or disruption in future. A flexible and robust technology infrastructure has become crucial for all businesses.

How has the pandemic impacted the people in the workforce?

The biggest belief within the leadership was about how important the workforce is to any business, more crucial than many other factors. This belief played out during the pandemic. It was an exceptional achievement of people, the employees spread across the country, who have shown greater tenacity working from homes, in the midst of a pandemic, themselves down with Covid at times, or having to tend to loved ones suffer.

Not all of them might be in a home with a nice desk or facilities to work, yet they transformed into a high performance virtual team with near no notice. They delivered for customers globally at the highest quality and we are grateful to them for it.

During Covid, we witnessed a strong fundamental shift in people across all levels of the organisations, where people began to take greater responsibility and rose to the occasion.

How have companies changed their approach to the workforce?

At Cognizant, we have more than doubled our associate engagement. We have enhanced our flexibility for employees while undertaking massive investments in upskilling. Our initiatives for local communities have also been augmented a lot, with helping not just employees and their families but also disadvantaged sections during the pandemic, especially the second wave.

The pandemic taught us that to become a modern, future-fit organization, a ‘people first’ approach must be taken alongside financial growth. Digital innovations have to be prioritized with a commitment to building a healthier, safer world. This means putting the health, safety and well-being of people on priority.

What is the future of IT services as you foresee?

Employees have courageously undertaken challenging work and that will remain a big strength. We are focusing on helping clients with business planning and enabling a larger digital shift for a changed economic landscape. Globally, as several analysts have predicted, there is a greater global demand for IT systems, there is great optimism but the ecosystem will remain uncertain. Clients will look at robust and resilient IT solutions that support changed business focuses.

As far as technology stack goes, clearly the technology shift we are witnessing is humungous, with a great need for artificial intelligence (AI), and hyper-personalised business offerings. There is a huge emphasis on experience, for users, clients, employees and companies will need to build them. There is redesign of enterprises with consumer experience at the centre of this transition. Cyber security is a growing area, with growing enquiries about crypto currency, Quantum computing and Meta. The transition is being refashioned by giants like Google and Amazon, building growing scaler solutions and hyper-scaler infrastructure Innovation is getting a huge boost with faster go to market strategies getting a thrust.

Companies will enhance their cloud capabilities, with easier plug in options for their vendors, partners, and employees. The ability to integrate all operations and offerings vertically will drive growth in the next few years. We are truly entering the golden age of digital existence.

Policymakers talk about the development of tier 2 and 3 cities as the next destinations for the IT industry. Is that happening? And how is the Indian market for IT maturing?

Indian tier 2 and 3 cities and towns are the fountainheads of talent. All big companies, including ours, hire in a big way. We at Cognizant are talking about several thousands of freshers. Growth will not be concentrated in the big metros for too long because of work from anywhere options.

The Indian market is critical for us and it is growing. We are working in some domains, like manufacturing, energy and BFSI, with data and analytics, cloud applications being a significant part of our work. We are engaged in mission-critical work for our clients such as data migration and cloud-enabling for a bank, or a complete SAP deployment for a retail major. But for major companies, the market does put margin pressures.

How do you as a leader with over 2.4 lakh employees look after and go about managing, communicating and interacting with people to achieve a cohesive progressive work culture and results?

Whatever the size of a workforce, one has to look at it as one big family. The first priority is to focus on the health, including mental health, and overall well-being of every single employee and continue to foster a culture of trust.

Ensuring psychological safety is crucial. For people to do phenomenal work, we must make it a tenet to create an atmosphere of no repercussions for bringing out areas that need improvements or for speaking out. This applies to all kinds of organisations. We have encouraged people to speak out and make it part of our culture.

I have candid conversations at least once a month with 15 to 20 associates, randomly chosen after a self-nomination. It’s without any agenda and just a good freewheeling conversation. I also use these interactions to spot people with an ability to solve problems.

Candid conversations help us to get to the root of issues and stay connected. Of course, most of it today is in virtual mode and we do miss direct face-to-face office collaboration significantly. But we have made up for it with digital town halls, jams, and a podcast called The Voice of Cognizant.

How significant is Hyderabad in your larger organisational story?

In Hyderabad, we already have a very huge centre. It is one of the fastest-growing centres for Cognizant. No centre grew as fast as Hyderabad, with 37 per cent of the headcount comprising of women associates.

There is a great diversity of people and business here. We are doing the best of the digital stack here and have witnessed some outstanding work. We have our largest BPO and RPO work here. In technology, we are handling digital payment solutions for investment banking. We have our centre of excellence in several areas, and our projects in AI, and automation. We are developing a major state-of-the-art lab for digital content, and we are servicing several major platinum clients and accounts from here.

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