I recently had a chance to sit down with Infosys’ CEO and his team, and they shared with me their new/renew strategy. From what I understand, it resonates with where the market is heading. This is remarkable as it addresses the vexing problems and risks service providers now face in trying to change their business to address new models, new technologies and new customer expectations. It is always easy to drink the Kool-Aid, and I am definitely experiencing a sugar high. However, the Infosys strategy is one to watch as it appears to connect all the dots in a quickly evolving marketplace.

There are a number of things I find attractive about this new/renew strategy. First is the simplicity of its messaging. It’s easy to understand where they’re coming from and that they are focusing on their customers, not on Infosys like their past strategies. That in itself is powerful for customers’ understanding of what Infosys stands for and where they are heading. And it’s also powerful for the Infosys team to be able to understand what to focus on and what not to focus on. That resonates.

The new aspect

Second, I find the direction compelling. Clearly there is much in the market that is new. New technologies and new business models are driving the market and, when combined, are extremely powerful.

Digital changes how companies interact with their customers, and there’s nothing more powerful than that. Cloud changes the speed and agility and price at which companies can move. The consumption-based and as-a-service models allow companies to align services closely with business outcomes and only pay for services as they consume them. Taken together, these new technologies and business models are very relevant to where customers are headed with their business, and these new areas are capturing the growth in the services segment.

Infosys aligning itself with this direction makes perfect sense as they move to redesign their growth and maintain their leadership position in the services industry.

The renew aspect 

This aspect of Infy’s strategy is equally powerful. There is a second set of technologies that allows providers to change the way they deliver services. I’ve blogged often about four of these technologies: automation, analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence. Providers such as Infosys are looking to harness these technologies transform their environment, lowering costs and making their existing services far more responsive than they’ve been before.

Customers are more demanding

So Infosys is tapping into the big themes in the marketplace. They’re leveraging new technologies and new models to connect the dots to new opportunities for growth. And they’re renewing their existing business by harnessing new technologies and capabilities to optimize their service delivery.

Underpinning the strategy is a sea shift in customer expectations. Enterprises are increasingly more demanding of their existing services and at the same time impatient to take advantage of new technologies and business models.

I like Infy’s new/renew strategy because I believe it is directly in concert with where we at Everest Group see the market moving – taking advantage of new technologies and rethinking how to optimize existing services. And it embraces the “old wine in old wineskins” concept I recently blogged about.

I think this strategy will position Infosys well. A word of caution: as an often-quoted lines goes, “Execution eats strategy for breakfast.” So we look forward to seeing how they execute in this marketplace.

Photo credit: Flickr

What a difference a few months with a new CEO makes. Things are different at Infosys today. When we talk with them, it’s clear that it’s a different organization than it was a few months ago because of Vishal Sikka, the new CEO. On one level, very little has changed; but on another level, there are significant changes.

Their strategy remains the same. They are leaning into the future by focusing on platforms, intellectual property and software. This is the same strategy they have used for engaging with clients for several years.

It’s the same organization, other than the new CEO. He has yet to bring a large cohort of new executives in. And the firm has the same clients and employees.

So what’s different?

Inside of Infosys, morale is clearly better. There is a renewed sense of optimism in their strategy. We observe renewed vigor and enthusiasm in talking with their clients and in the marketplace. The result is improved execution across the board, from engaging with clients to delivery. Across the board we see improved execution.

We also see a change in customers’ attitudes. They are interested in the new CEO. They are giving Infosys a second chance, and Infosys is finding doors easier to open and audiences more receptive than they were a few months ago.

The moral

Here’s the moral of the Infosys story: in the services industry where client relationships and delivery execution means everything, vision and morale matter. Those factors alone can account for improved performance.

It’s not everything, but it’s a powerful ingredient in improving performance. We look forward to seeing what Vishal Sikka will do in reshaping Infosys’ strategy, organization and people. So far we’re seeing an effective start.

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Much like Jonathan Swift proposed an outrageous, over-the-top suggestion that the Irish eat their children as a way to accommodate themselves in famine and over-population, I have a modest proposal for Infosys. It’s over the top, but it’s intended to highlight an issue.

My modest proposal is that Infosys keep its platform IP business, sell its labor arbitrage business and use the proceeds to buy IP and software and further develop it.

I understand that this sounds beyond the pale that Infosys would ever sell its arbitrage business. But think about this: they already split the company into two. They recognized that the arbitrage outsourcing business is maturing and is going to be in a mature state.

They already clearly bet the future of Infosys on its ability to jump on the next S curve in terms of IP. I say go ahead and go whole hog. In the words of the country and western song, sell the truck while it’s still running.

Why not sell it while they can get a huge premium? The Infosys arbitrage business is the jewel of the industry. Great people, great clients and extremely high-quality work. It would fetch a very high multiple. Any competitor would be proud to own it.

Infosys could then deploy its capital into its IP business. The strategy goes along with already having hired a CEO from SAP who understands products and IP, and it would free management from the complications of having to manage two business models at the same time.

My modest proposal illustrates the underlying issue that faces the offshore services industry. It contemplates the maturing of the space and the complications of jumping to a new high-growth market segment. If you want to look at other similar situations, consider IBM, which recently sold its transactional BPO and voice BPO services.

It would be a breathtaking move. But, with my apologies to Jonathan Swift, it’s certainly food for thought.

Photo credit: “Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas detail” by Charles Jervas

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Infosys made headlines recently, announcing the separation of its products, platforms and solutions (PPS) business into a subsidiary called Edgeverve Systems. It’s a bold move, but in many respects it makes sense. Here’s my take on the implications and potential net result of the spinout strategy.

As I explained in an article in The Times of India, Infosys’ PPS business — platforms, cloud products, and other digital services — are fundamentally a different kind of business than the firm’s historical labor arbitrage, skills-based business. The two models have different value propositions, selling maneuvers, adoption patterns and investment profiles.

Separating the two kinds of business allows Infosys management to keep the focus unconfused and allows Infosys to become masters of both business models. It allows them time and investment to develop its Edge series digital products in anticipation of demand, rather than focusing on revenue from the PPS business (historically only 5.2 percent of Infosys’ business).

It also allows management to continue focusing on the labor arbitrage business while revenue grows over time from the new-generation offerings of the Edgeverve subsidiary. Cognizant, TCS and other providers have demonstrated that there is still plenty of room left for growth in the labor arbitrage model. Although the growth is slowing, it is growing faster than the overall services industry.

Infosys recognizes that growth in its labor arbitrage business will be harder and not like the good old days; but at the same time, they recognize that they can do better. By separating the two business models of Infosys, Infosys acknowledges that they can and should go faster in the labor arbitrage, skills-based space. And this is coupled with a focus on going after larger transactions.

Two notable potential outcomes

If Infosys executes this spinout strategy successfully, I think it will result in better growth than they would otherwise get. The net result hopefully will be faster growth in both areas and more focused and nuanced value propositions for serving their clients.

As I said at the beginning of this blog: it’s a bold move, but it makes a lot of sense. So if it’s successful, I think it could lead the way for other service providers to separate their historical businesses and new-generation digital businesses.

In a landmark move with far-reaching implications, Infosys appointed ex-SAP CTO Dr. Vishal Sikka as its new CEO and managing director, making him the first non-founder at the helm in the firm’s 33-year history. Accompanying this change, the founders are getting out of the new chief’s way. Current CEO and co-founder SD Shibulal will leave by end of July, while NR Narayana Murthy will vacate his role as executive chairman on 14 June, continuing in a non-executive board role until 10 October to ensure a smooth transition.

The fact that Infosys engaged an executive recruiter to look for a successor reflects a dramatic shift in ethos for the firm. It represents the strategic decision to bust up a certain inward-looking culture that has come to represent Infosys. That Infosys reacted to market and customer expectations by bringing in an external technology visionary bodes well for the critical imperative to change to a customer-centric culture, rather than firm-centric. 

What Works 

The Gujarat-born Dr. Sikka holds a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence. He spearheaded the development and marketing of HANA, SAP’s flagship analytics product. His experience in these areas could give Infosys a sizable edge as service providers look to establish credentials in next-generation technology avenues such as big data, analytics, cloud, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

He seems to have been given a wide mandate, per the large-scale changes in senior management that are accompanying his appointment. This will allow him to exercise a free hand as he attempts to reshape the beleaguered company. Infosys’ long-standing strategic imperative to let the founders control the firm has been widely criticized.

He joins a long list of industry outsiders taking charge of IT majors. Louis Gerstner was unanimously credited with turning around IBM’s fortunes when he took over in 1993, after previously leading RJR Nabisco and American Express. Closer to the Indian IT services landscape, Vivek Paul, a GE-alumnus transformed Wipro, fast tracking growth from a US$150 million company in 1999 to over US$1 billion in sales in five years. Last year, Apple announced UK fashion chain Burberry’s CEO as the head of its retail and online business.

Appointing an outsider tends to bring fresh perspective to inherent legacy issues plaguing companies. Free from the baggage and expectations associated with firm veterans, Dr. Sikka can look to usher new life into Infosys. 

What May Not

Since he comes from primarily a products-driven business, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the IT services industry, which has inherently different business dynamics and challenges. The focus will be on streamlining project management, client delivery, and sales efforts. Dr. Sikka’s experience in driving sales and marketing at SAP will be a crucial asset in this regard. Being a CTO of a products-based company is an entirely different ball game than leading a global services behemoth, as product-driven businesses rely primarily on the strength of intellectual assets, while services businesses are an amalgamation of resource management, delivery, and expectations handling.

In spite of the large-scale management changes, Dr. Sikka has his work cut out as he navigates disgruntled senior management. How he soothes frayed nerves and reassures them will be essential for stability. A cultural shift he will seek to implement will revolve around Infosys’ limited risk appetite for investments. Infosys needs to invest significantly in boosting its expertise in next-generation solutions through alliances and possibly acquisitions. Although it has made some notable acquisitions such as Lodestone, the firm has generally been fairly risk-averse in exercising its significant cash pile.

The role that NRN Murthy assumes will also determine the efficacy of Dr. Sikka’s roadmap for revival. If Murthy remains strictly in a mentorship role overseeing the transition, without overriding Dr. Sikka’s strategic decisions, the sailing should be smooth. However, if those lines blur, it could create a vicious cycle of conflict, decisions embargo, and execution paralysis.

Another important but often ignored challenge of such senior-level changes is the risk of culture mismatches outweighing the business positives. Echoing Peter Drucker’s “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” bringing in a rank outsider can have controversial implications. For example, John Sculley joined Apple from PepsiCo, and during his time had long-standing disagreements with Steve Jobs due to divergent management styles and priorities, ultimately resulting in Jobs’ exit in 1985. The entry of a new top-level entrant is not easily accepted by the old guard, leaving open the possibility of wilful sabotage. Dr. Sikka will need to build bridges with senior stakeholders to avoid stepping on toes.

Swimming in Choppy Waters Ahead 

Essentially, whether or not Dr. Sikka manages to snap the once industry bellwether out of its funk will depend on his ability to make the transition from a technology visionary to an empathetic business leader combining technical expertise, client management, and people development, while maintaining the focus on innovation and thought leadership. He will try to take Infosys out its comfort zone, bridge service gaps with more nimble rivals, and ultimately reassure clients that their business is in sound hands. He needs to show that a brilliant pilot can be a swimming coach as well.

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