BENGALURU: Battling to regain lost glory, Wipro and Infosys are stepping up their age-old rivalry, this time to out-innovate each other as the two Bengaluru-based software exporters invest in disruptive technologies pegged to artificial intelligence and design thinking to bring greater efficiencies for themselves and their customers.
Infosys Chief Executive Vishal Sikka, at an analyst event in Pune on Thursday, said some of his company’s rivals were imitating it and went as far as labeling their moves proverbially as “imitation is the best form of flattery”. While he did not name any rival, for veteran watchers of Bengaluru’s software scene, the company he was referring to was clear: cross-town rival Wipro, which, on its part, claims to be investing “heavily” since 2012 in building data analytics and other next-generation platforms to help customers in the retail and healthcare space to improve their businesses.
In the past few years, both Infosys and Wipro have lost quite a bit of their sheen as they struggled to adjust with changing customer demand in an uncertain global business environment, leaving Mumbai-based bigger rival Tata Consultancy Services record phenomenal numbers since 2011. The original posterboys of India’s IT sector are trying cover the ground lost – by investing in technologies that can shake up the industry by disrupting the existing order and processes that are customer-focused – and their initiatives pit them against each other more than ever in the past.
The unfazed response of Wipro to Sikka’s comments was a testimony to the increased rivalry between the two. “I can say that we have a competitive edge,” said Satishchandra Doreswamy, chief business operations officer at Wipro. “We have been investing heavily in building the next-generation platforms for over two years with a focus on AAA (automation, artificial intelligence and analytics).
Platforms such as ServiceNXT, CloudCLM have started delivering value for some of key clients,” said Doreswamy, who was hired by Chairman Azim Premji three years ago to help transform Wipro by bringing in some of these advanced technologies. Although Doreswamy declined to quantify the impact of these disruptive technologies in Wipro’s growth, he said the range of productivity improvement differed from client to client. The former TCS veteran also said Wipro had over the last 24 months seen a “20-30% efficiency improvement” in the application development, maintenance and infrastructure management space.
Sikka, ever since he took the role of the first non-founder CEO at Infosys on August 1, has outlined a strategy of “building a new Infosys” by making fresh investments in bringing machineto-machine and automation platforms to the company’s traditional approach of delivering outsourcing services to customers. Sikka, who earlier this week completed four months at the company, said in Thursday’s analyst meet that he would share more details of what it was doing in this area in April next year.
For now, Infosys is training its software engineers on design thinking – a creative and systematic approach to problem-solving by placing the user at the centre of the experience – and is also in the process of launching an online training module on artificial intelligence for its employees. Doreswamy said Wipro has already brought in the customercentric approach and its overall net promoter score – a tool to gauge customer loyalty – has improved 30 percentage points.
Some experts, including Tom Reuner of London-based IT research firm Ovum said some of the next-generation service-delivery methods are still in nascent state and IT outsourcers are coy to talk in public as the full impact is still not fully understood. “(Nonetheless) Indian providers are at the forefront of this development as part of their push on nonlinear models,” said Reuner.
“Providers like TCS or Wipro have invested significantly in proprietary tools. The key to a broader adoption of robotic process is to build out robust cognitive engines (RPA) and artificial intelligence. These will be the conduit to moving RPA to the core of service delivery backbones.” Doreswamy said the immediate target for the company remains to adopt these disruptive technologies for at least 50% of customers. He declined to share further details.
Both companies are also looking to engage with startups to get access to new technologies. Wipro, after making minority investments last year in data analytics firm Opera Solutions and machine-to-machine learning-focused Axeda – although it exited Axeda this year – is setting up a corporate venture arm to be spearheaded by Rishad Premji that will initially invest up to $100 million (Rs 619 crore) in startups. Infosys too has set aside $100 million and is actively scouting the San Francisco Bay Area to find potential startups which could help the company with the missing innovation strand.
The focus of both companies is to win back the lost glory as rivals TCS and Nasdaq-listed Cognizant consistently outpaced them, and the industry, in revenue growth. Infosys, which was once the bellwether of the country’s information technology and commanded a premium in pricing compared with rivals, has been struggling to expand revenue in the last three years – it reported below-industry growth numbers for two years and was even forced to call founder Narayana Murthy back from retirement to steer the company last year.
In the last one year, Infosys even conceded to the fact of bidding for projects at prices which the company would not have done a few years earlier. Wipro has also been reporting disappointing growth numbers. Since the appointed TK Kurien as the CEO in January 2011, Wipro’s sequential quarterly revenue growth rate has not crossed 3% since the September 2012 quarter, making analyst Viju George of JP Morgan call Wipro’s situation as “a Curate’s egg”: good in parts but it must get multiple engines firing in tandem for it to qualify as a secular pick.