Process & Innovation ! Both words are easy to understand and both have a very good role to play in the industry, but can they coexist in a company..? I mean really coexist. The Indian IT industry is at the crossroads of this dilemma where each needs to decide how much should they be a “Process” company or an “Innovator”. Or both? Hmm.. Not so simple.
Ever since the Indian IT industry discovered the “Global Delivery Model” (around the end 1990’s) and the magic of “process”, they have not really looked beyond that. It simply worked! This then got extended to BPO and again this was the only mantra that worked. Learn it, box it, nail it and then ship it..
Process, Process, Process! Process orientation means that a process is made and every body is trained to follow it.. No deviation please.. We will monitor it, measure it and reward compliant behavior. Run it for a while.. and then bring in the “smart guys” who further tighten the noose on the process; the “Quality” guys, the “Lean” machine, the “6 Sigma” fanatics and from time and motion studies to technology improvements, we throttle out any inefficiencies till the process is brain dead.. but hugely efficient. There is virtue in this they say “…lower cost; ability to scale; make it geography redundant; standardize. All true! Yes.. Look, even the manufacturing industry does it.. We are on to something here. Forward Forward!”
The world responded to this single minded dedication to Process and rewarded the Indian IT industry with a large share of the world outsourcing market, all across the 10 – 15 glorious years of continuous growth and profitability. Companies like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, HCL prospered and became household global names. Employees and shareholders were so proud to be a part of this. This part of India we loved to showcase as large and growing! Agreed.
Personally, I became a fan of the ability of these companies to look at a need and box it and deliver it in record time, in a “process mapped” and efficient manner. How could a company possibly have a recruitment plan of over 25,000 people annually and map it to the kind of business that would come down the pipe? Nothing short of magic or madness. It was neither.. it was a method. Process! The King would be the one who mastered it. “..We don't need to think too much; the client tells us what to do, how to do and they (the client) in turn have subject matter experts (SME) who guide us. This is what everybody wants... We grow, they save costs.” Party time!
All Good? Hmm.. Wait a minute.. Now that India has a huge pie of the world addressable market, a lot of work gets done here and after the low hanging fruit has been eaten over the 2 decades of feasting.. Its not raining business anymore. What?? Who moved my cheese? Should we increase sales force? Reorganise?
Rethink! The clients who entrusted all that work to the IT/BPO industry now need the Outsourcing vendor on their top table, to take it to the next level of growing the client company. Truly be an Operations partner in their own destiny. Sounds lovely so far.. but hang on a minute.. “..What.. No SME from client office? No direction given? You really want us to carry “risk” and be a variable in your strategy? How? ..And who will do this internally? “Non linear” ideas anyone?” The IT think tank will work it out, it always does!
Innovation!! Of course.. We all agree that life comes a circle and finally the IT industry needs to innovate further, understand how the environment is affecting the industries, partner them to reprioritize costs and earn revenues in the changing world. A buzz happens “…Verticalisation! Yes lets get some SME’s (domain experts) in the company and increase industry knowledge and offerings. Catch the big themes; mobility, cloud, analytics, consumerisation of IT.. Did I miss something? We are all set...” But why no blast off??
Here I might err in my view, but by now the Indian IT/BPO organization has had a gene mutation. King Process just wont let go.. Lets make Innovation into a process comes the cry!! “.. Everybody think of five new ideas in the given time frame; two SME’s per idea, maybe; 15 ideas per vertical; stir well and hopefully we should have 45 innovations by month end..”. Really? Is that how this comes together?
Innovation is an elusive object, which everybody desires, but it comes only to a place which breeds an environment and bears fruit for those dreamers whose minds run free. Environment? Yes, this is a place where you get off the treadmill to dream, you mix the teams with different skills and backgrounds, you camp there because you love the place and people (not just the money), you break the hierarchy such that the mind and not your tenure is respected, you speak freely and dissent is common. It is here that great companies invest by parading successful innovators and industry greats, to come and talk about their experiences and ignite the minds of the potential innovators. The cross pollination of ideas, varied inputs and skills, the reward of creating something of value, finally drives out the “idea”. Innovation arrives gently!
The IT/BPO industry has the potential for all of this and once they get the “collective belief” that a Lab like cluster of companies and ideas should be incubated to solve problems, they will truly breed innovation. The sheer might of their infrastructure, distribution and capital raising will mitigate most risks of a start up idea. When they truly believe this, they will attract the best minds in the world to their fold and create Value and Innovation, where all prosper.
I remain a fan of the industry and watch with interest if they can make the turn to breed innovation outside and consolidate process inside.