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Sikka on Infosys - the emphasis is on education

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy June 11, 2014
Newly minted Infosys CEO in waiting Vishal Sikka talked education and getting close to customers. Key requirements in the first 100 days.

via Perfect Relations Pvt. Ltd.
I have just come off the analyst call with Vishal Sikka and outgoing chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy. The call didn't reveal anything we would not have already expected but a few nuggets are worth noting.

Murthy confirmed that: "We were looking for a leader who could be transforming the company but at the same time driving the business." That suggest a significant element of business as usual. That will be difficult to sustain in the early days because Sikka is not the kind of person to hang about and, as was made clear on the call, Sikka plans to leverage his experience with joint SAP customers to discover new areas of product co-innovation.

Juggling the competing demands of non-disruptive co-innovation with the need to continue executing on a strategy put in place a year ago that was designed to streamline the company will only work if Sikka is satisfied that the existing transformations are supportive of the model he has in mind going forward.

Having said that, Sikka made repeated play of Infosys commitment to education:

"The deep focus the company and Mr Murthy has in education...improving our ability to learn will be at the heart of Infosys success. Working without disruption to the existing business, without disruption to clients."

This is precisely aligned to Sikka's own world view as a former Stanford alum with his own personal sense of the need for quality education.

But rather than jumping in with both feet, Sikka plans to spend the next seven week interregnum learning from customer and employees. Again, no surprise and one that will keep everyone happy as he settles into the CEO role.

There was always going to be a pesky question about Sikka's lack of experience in services and operations. His answer will confound some people who prefer to compartmentalize these elements:

"The distinction between products and services is blurred, aircraft engines are delivered as services. If you look at some of the breakthrough innovations delivered recently, it is best to first co-innovate with a services and project based model. I feel very comfortable in having done this at SAP."

In discussing the current management team SIkka said:

"The team I have interacted with is an amazing team. I feel extremely confident in the ability of this team to take the company to the next level. We have to think about the emerging world in terms of experience that embodies the software that is underneath [services.]

The opportunity itself is more exciting than anything that has gone before. How can we bring new elements to the equation with customers as we lay the foundations for the longer term transformation."

No-one will be surprised with that answer. Neither will they be surprised to learn that he dodged questions on how he sees the services business model emerging:

"I think it is too early to tell...but I am excited to bring more automation."

So how will Sikka drive excellence in a company that in recent times has been mired in internal issues and external delivery mess ups? We're back where we started:

"We will continue to emphasize education - that will be the single biggest differentiation and from that everything else falls into place."

My take

As someone who has enjoyed a strong relationship with Sikka, I know that education is something in which he believes very deeply and cares about with a passion unusual for a person in his position. During the last few weeks, I'm told he's been regularly seen in the halls of his alma mater. That doesn't surprise. If he is able to enthuse the leadership with that same message rather than one that thinks more about the need to body up projects with whomever face fits, then he will have set the right tone.

The business model transformation is something of a conundrum. Sikka knows perfectly well what roadblocks he can expect to come across but then Infosys has put a transformation package in place that seems to be working. Does he tinker, leave alone or apply the scalpel? It is too early to tell.

The main worry among colleagues is Sikka's lack of services organization experience of the kind Infosys delivers. I'm not so sure. Having listened to the call, heard his repeated emphasis on education and expressed confidence in the current team - which has already been winnowed - I believe the man deserves the chance to get with customers, find out what they really think now he is on another side of the enterprise model fence and then see what he does. For that, I reckon we need to wait 100 days.

My personal view is that he absolutely must have the strongest line one leaders in whom he can place trust they will deliver in a quiet and ordered manner. This is a very different challenge to that which he had in his last role where there was a safety net in place. This time, he's flying solo.

In the meantime, I was pleasantly surprised to hear quiet confidence of the kind we have come to expect of a man who for all his qualities and faults, still has that sense of wonder at what software can achieve.

Images credit: via Perfect Relations Pvt. Ltd.

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