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Infosys struggles to find the Wow Factor

columns Updated: Jan 19, 2014 19:26 IST
Hindustan Times
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I had never thought that some day I would be writing about staff discontent and leadership issues on such a large scale concerning Infosys as I did last week.

But my visit to the campus and long chats with CEO SD Shibulal and the mint-new presidents, BG Srinivas and UB Pravin Rao, left me with little doubt that there is plenty of hands-on management bandwidth the company can be proud of.

Just as Bangalore’s problems have shifted from potholes to traffic jams, Infosys’ problems have changed from not believing in itself to raising expectations that create new problems. Competitors have caught up with Infosys in key areas, and the new sauce to make it sizzle is not yet ready.

After a management retreat in Mysore following quarterly results that showed that the ship had been steadied somewhat with the return of founder NR Narayana Murthy as executive chairman, Infosys is now working hard in line with a new slogan: “The market determines the price. We need to determine the cost.”

What this implies is that they have to improve productivity and add automation, for which the company plans to use software tools, or use the same code written for one client to help another (something Wipro has been doing for years quietly).

There was a time when Infosys would rather be compared with KPMG or Deloitte than a Wipro or HCL and it also spoke of doing stuff that came close to business consulting. That has come down. Part of it can be linked to the economic crisis in the West, but there is no denying that the company badly needs to get its Products, Platforms and Solutions (PPS) business off the ground. There is talk that it may be hived off as a subsidiary to give it more autonomy. My gut feel is that they may bring in a big-ticket partner to push PPS, the way HCL brought in Computer Sciences Corporation last week.

“We need the Wow Factor. PPS will be that Wow Factor,” Srinivas says. “Internally, we knew this was a 3 to 5 years’ payback thing,” Rao says.

These two men – one of whom is expected to be CEO – are what I call “service bulls” whose optimism is built on the way they please their clients. But investors often look for the X Factor or sex appeal.

If Infosys uses some of its $4 billion cash (That’s about Rs 25,000 crore)to acquire some intellectual property to give that appeal, it may be counted in the global league of big boys – where it once used to say it was.