Infosys Confluence 2015 – how to be more

SUMMARY:

Vishal Sikka, CEO gave his first US customer conference keynote. The verdict? Job done.

Vishal Sikka, CEO Infosys
Vishal Sikka, CEO Infosys

Vishal Sikka, CEO Infosys first keynote to a US audience at Infosys Confluence 2015 could have gone terribly wrong. As a person who thinks conceptually, Sikka is sometimes a long way ahead of others in the way he imagines the world of tomorrow and unless you keep up it can be a head scratching exercise. His first keynote as CEO Infosys avoided that trap and delivered the kind of assurance customers needed to hear in a way they can readily absorb.

Many industries are experiencing fundamental and structural change. Efficiency and effectiveness are but two dimensions of this as business increasingly turns towards a services model. In Sikka’s mind, that’s just a stepping stone to re-imagining applications for a better world. None of this is easy but Sikka found a way to express this that does not instill the kind of FUD which many speakers prefer as a sales tactic.

Moore’s law has proven remarkably accurate and allows us to predict with reasonable certainty what is around the corner. In fact you can say we don’t need to predict because we can already see and with that in mind it gets a lot easier to start imagining the future.

It’s obvious when expressed that way and a perspective that had escaped me.

Sikka did not shy away from the fact these changes are also impacting his own company. Instead he set out the ways in which he sees the transformation unfolding in a complex world, peppering his talk with real world use cases. But how does industry get from ‘here’ to ‘there.’

The last year, Sikka has been talking his ‘renew-new’ strategy. This keynote provided the opportunity to spell that out to a new audience. It goes like this:

Renewal is about taking what we already know and making it operationally efficient and simpler. It is a way of releasing resource to creativity for the new, the things we can imagine. It is all built on a foundation of knowledge and learning.

By way of illustration, Sikka brought Kent Johnson of Boeing on stage. Johnson is not a software engineer but someone who manages the knowledge programs inside Boeing. I will expand on his presentation in another story but in essence he pointed to the fact that some aircraft the company builds like the iconic 747, have a lifecycle of 100 years. They may come in different variants over time but the key point is that Boeing’s customers want to see a 1% improvement in cost effectiveness for every year of ownership. Achieving that requires constant renewal but without destroying the core.

It all makes perfect sense when illustrated in that fashion, and for my part I was pleased to see Infosys showing us an extreme example of how it all comes together. But what does the ‘renew’ piece mean? This is one of the most difficult areas for Infosys to navigate because it’s about investing now to save for the future. That’s a hard sell in a world that is weary of massive projects and ERP cost over-runs yet Sikka found a way to make it palatable. There are five parts which he expressed as follows:

  1. Knowledge based capture allows for learning
  2. Simplification leads to cloud
  3. Automation results in operational efficiency
  4. APIs lead to new user experiences
  5. Innovation is the pathway to new applications and new frontiers

Viewed in isolation, it would be easy to be overwhelmed but Sikka pointed out:

These five steps are not all or nothing, any one of these can be done by itself and produce value but it is something that is absolutely necessary and the time for this has already come.

Most keynotes suffer from the problem of being overly self congratulatory and sales-y. This dilutes the CEO’s vision and often leaves me feeling as though I’ve been short changed in some way. Sikka avoided that problem by getting customers like Boeing, RWE and Ricoh to talk almost exclusively about their issues.

Born to codeHis task was made easier by book ending his keynote with a main stage presentation on learning from Colin Powell the previous evening where Powell talked about some of his personal life lessons. Powell is always a good draw and he did not disappoint. How can you not smile when he says:

Losing your pistol is like losing your password only worse.

At the other end, we were introduced to Infosys Foundation USA, a nonprofit the company has initially funded to the tune of $3 million. It is aimed at bringing computer science to disadvantaged children. The foundation is headed by Sikka’s wife Vandana. For anyone thinking ‘nepotism’ there is a tradition at Infosys for the CEO’s wife to take on a CSR role.

In between, we heard Nicholas Negroponte talking about bringing learning to places where there is no connectivity and where technology has never been seen while also talking about ingestible technology that helps researchers better understand brain function.

Taken together, the keynotes are both a heady and coherent mix, well orchestrated by the Infosys team. But what did the audience think?

Afterwards, I was surprised to find that customers volunteering their perspectives and talking in animated tones. One person I know as an acquaintance and who represents a very large business said:

Can I just say that I guess many of us came into this a bit wary of what Sikka would say. It can sound like a lot of money going out the door for a vision we can’t see but I think most of us came away happy and are now willing to say – let’s do business.

That kind of unfiltered response is – how can we say – unusual.

Overall, Sikka got this just about right. He is not a natural pitcher in the traditional salesperson’s sense but has a way of connecting with people that engenders the kind of warmth and trust that helps smooth the path to dealmaking. In that sense, he delivered for an audience that could so easily have walked away both overwhelmed and worried about cost.

Now the hard work begins because for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016, it is all about delivery.

Disclosure: Infosys is a premier partner at time of writing and is a personal consulting client.