India’s leading technology outsourcing firms Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd are banking on so-called design thinking and artificial intelligence (AI), respectively, to win large deals, as they struggle to raise revenue in a subdued market for information technology (IT) services.
Bengaluru-based Infosys claims that design thinking, a creative and systematic approach to problem-solving by placing the user at the centre of the experience, has helped it win five large deals. Two of these orders exceed $100 million each in annual revenue. Meanwhile, cross-city rival Wipro plans to offer its AI platform Holmes to up to a third of its 1,000-plus clients in the next 24 months, claiming that it could be an “account opener and game changer”.
“We have won five big deals, two of them are over $100 million. Just in the last six weeks,” Infosys chief executive officer Vishal Sikka said in an interview last week. “We are not just responding to requests but being proactive and bringing clients to workshops. See, RFPs (requests for proposals) are controlled by third party… But then, you can always influence the client to become a strategic partner through design thinking.”
Infosys is trying to improve the effectiveness of its sales team by incorporating elements of design thinking, Mint reported on 29 April. Sikka’s push to drive more business comes after his company’s March quarter revenue fell short of forecasts.
Wipro, under chief executive T.K. Kurien, too, has been struggling to record a double-digit revenue growth for the last four years, and is now positioning Holmes in managing helpdesks for companies.
“In the next two-four years, one of the biggest disruptions will be (an IT vendor having) an AI-platform. I believe this will be as big as the Internet disruption. Customers have exhausted their levers of enhancing productivity. So, IT vendors need something which can promise productivity,” said K.R. Sanjiv, chief technology officer of Wipro.
Wipro is pitching Holmes against International Business Machines Corp.’s cognitive supercomputer, Watson, but according to Thomas Reuner, managing director of IT outsourcing research at US-based HfS Research, Wipro’s new cognitive platform, built with open source tools, also has features of New York-based IPsoft’s humanoid programme Amelia. All these platforms claim to improve productivity by allowing IT vendors to deploy fewer engineers for repetitive manual tasks.
Experts believe these measures reflect underlying changes shaping outsourcing deals, as customers across industries press IT vendors to help them with more “transformative changes” to improve their business operations.
Measures like AI and design thinking are needed for survival, said Sid Pai, partner and president of outsourcing advisory ISG’s Asia Pacific division. “A firm with a strong digital story and the ability to invest ahead of the curve on product bets in this space (fully accepting that some of these bets will work, while others will fail) will be able to gain market share in the evolving marketplace”.
“These are necessary strategic steps to position themselves for sustained leadership in the digital era,” said Bill Huber, managing director at Alsbridge, a US-based outsourcing advisory firm. “Winning will require innovation, customer centricity and business outcomes. Vishal’s design thinking campaign clearly has this in mind.
Similarly, the investment in Holmes should help Wipro transcend process centrism and move toward more natural fast integration of business insights into every operational process”.
For this reason, both Infosys and Wipro believe these technologies should help them match the revenue growth recorded by larger rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Accenture Plc.
“It (Wipro Holmes) will be an account opener and will be one of the key solutions through which we will lead into (winning new deals),” said Sanjiv of Wipro.
However, experts believe that even after taking these measures, it will be a tall task for Infosys and Wipro to get back to Nasscom projected revenue growth of at least 12% for 2015-16 as both are struggling to record even $1 billion worth of deals in a quarter.
“For companies of their scale, they need to have to have a quarterly TCV (total contract value) of at least $1.5-2 billion. So, will these measures help them get there? Difficult. It is not like others will be just sitting and watching the game,” said the head of research at a Mumbai-based brokerage, who did not want to be named.
“It could be tricky for Holmes to jump to 25% client usage in 24 months without an established pilot programme or deep-rooted AI partner network,” said Amy McLaughlin, a research analyst at US-based Technology Business Research Inc.
Typically, pilot projects take anywhere between six and nine months before a firm outsources a large deal to an IT vendor, according to industry executives.
“In a decelerating IT services market, combined with India-centric companies’ reputation as “fast followers” as opposed to market leaders, I’m not convinced that Wipro’s Holmes platform is in position to grow at such a rapid rate,” McLaughlin said.
Some analysts, like HfS Research’s Reuner, said though initiatives such as design thinking and AI are “important sign posts for the direction of travel for both the supply and demand side”, the “efficiency of the sales engine and the access to talent” are more important.
“Many of these initiatives will enhance offerings and will help to optimize margin but won’t be sold as stand-alone offering,” said Reuner.