It was under the tutelage of Vishal Sikka that Infosys, for the very first time, had decided to declare separately its revenues from newer technologies. Going against the grain of being a conservative IT services company, Sikka encouraged his finance team to declare that 8.3% of its revenues during the first quarter of this fiscal came from internet of things (IoT), cloud, big data, analytics and cyber security. Even for the Indian IT services industry as whole, that was a new beginning. Senior executives who have been working very closely with Sikka, say that he was looking to increase the bugetary allocation for further training ever since he joined the company in August 2014. The CEO wanted Infosys to become a top notch technology firm just like SAP, where he was the CTO earlier. With him as CEO, Infosys had grown its revenues by 25% in the last three years. But with his exit, all those employees who were getting retrained on newer tech may feel a bit let down. Sikka, who always believed in the power of robotics and automation, had instructed the HR team to retrain most of his staff members, attuning them to the newer ways of the software life.
But now, the focus on new tech could go astray. As an IT services firm, Infosys has always bet on traditional tools of time & material contracts and serving the clients onsite. There is a danger that Infosys may go back to the tried and tested model of IT services, according to an executive who has been working with Infosys for over a decade in various roles. Sikka, a PhD in computer science from Stanford University, had embarked on a programme to reskill all the 1.5 lakh employees at Infosys, and an extensive schedule was drawn up to achieve this. But this is likely to be impacted, as Sikka’s knowledge of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) was key in driving this programme.
Central to this is Infosys Nia, the next-generation AI plaform for businesses. Infosys Nia converges machine learning, analytics, big data and cognitive automation powers of its first-generation AI platform called Mana and its robotic process automation solution called AssistEdge. Sikka had high hopes about Nia and had said Infosys now enjoyed a platform that could deliver new and unprecedented value to its clients. Nia is important as it has capabilities to forecast revenues, understand customer behaviour, provide the nature of products to be built and even check for compliance and fraud. “Nia takes our purposeful approach to AI,” Sikka had said. But Sikka’s exit may burn a hole in such projects.
During Q1FY18, Infosys had completed training 3,000 employees in AI. According to HfS Research, India’s $150-billion IT sector could lose more than six lakh jobs to automation by 2021. Sikka wanted Infosys to beat this threat and position itself favourably to face challenges that the next decade may throw up.
According to leading tech consultant Sid Pai, the competition will enjoy a field day if the fracas at Infosys continues. “Infosys is sure to miss Sikka in short term. But at the same time, no particular individual can set the tone for an entire industry.” Some of the former Board members feel that someone like co-founder Nandan Nilekani should come back to head the company considering his grasp on the latest technologies. But that looks like a very distant possibility as of now.