Wipro Digital head talks transformation, inside and out

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 23, 2016
For a prognosis of Wipro's Appirio acquisition , we check out Wipro Digital's progress after acquiring Designit last year and its approach to transformation

Avinish Rao, global business head, Wipro Digital
Avinish Rao, Wipro

In light of Wipro's current acquisition of Appirio to boost its cloud market presence, it's instructive to consider what's going at Wipro Digital. Set up to chase after digital business, the unit was bolstered by the acquisition of Denmark-based global strategic design agency Designit in July last year for €85 million ($93m).

That acquisition has been instrumental in helping to change mindsets across the Wipro organization, says Avinash Rao, global business head of Wipro Digital, who I spoke to just over a week ago. Wipro's existing model of delivering IT services "needed to be reinvented for it to be more relevant," he says, with less emphasis on the technology and more on the outcome that customers experience.

Our mandate is not just to focus on building Wipro Digital as a business, but it is also about being a transformative influence and a catalyst for the wider Wipro in itself. In the past, Wipro was so technology and engineering led.

One of the big influences we've really been able to come in and provide is through [the Designit] acquisition. They have roughly 440 colleagues and they're in 12 offices around the world.

What we've been able to come in and help with that particular complementary capability is to get everybody within Wipro to start appreciating the fact that it is, always, not technology first. It is experience first, and technology follows.

Internal change management

Getting colleagues to focus on customer outcomes has required a lot of investment in internal change management, reskilling and retooling at Wipro, he adds:

While this might seem like quite an intuitive thing, it takes a whole different mindset for people to understand that the starting point of their projects has not got to be business requirements or IT specifications, it's got to be an understanding of why they're doing it from an end customer lens.

Therefore an ability to recalibrate talent to understand and be able to appreciate customer narratives that precede the business requirement is a huge transformative undertaking.

It's not a matter of simply adopting more agile project methodologies, he says, but also changing the way people collaborate to achieve results.

It's not just about switching from waterfall projects to agile. It is really about adopting a new way of working which is about collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams — strategists, designers and technologists — it's about being able to listen to a lot of fast feedback loop, which we are doing with a whole lot of investment in digital integration, digital delivery etcetera.

There's a whole amount of focus we've had in reshaping mindsets, reshaping our methods, recalibrating skills and capabilities to our digital academy and therefore being able to engage with clients on a much more relevant basis.

End-to-end transformation

Customers themselves also need to learn new ways of working if their digital projects are to be successful. A few years ago, digital typically meant one-off technology implementations or a small team somewhere charged with pioneering a digital approach. The problem with such initiatives is that they're only skin-deep and sooner or later run up against less responsive systems and processes in the rest of the organization. Rao says:

There is no point in building a highway to a dirt road. There is no point in having a super-slick front-end if the back end experience and the legacy systems are really not able to deliver fulfillment excellence that meets the front-end experience.

Enterprises are now starting to realize that going digital requires end-to-end transformation across the organization, he says.

What we're now starting to see is that the main thrust of our engagements are much more enterprise-wide transformation versus just one-off emergent projects in themselves.

While digital is the catalyst, the transformation is much broader in scope.

We tend not to use the phrase digital transformation, we just call it transformation. It's really about helping them be much more relevant in today's digital era.

Getting started

But finding the right path is a challenge for many organizations, he notes.

People understand the why and the what, the how is probably the most difficult. How do I really collapse a lot of those organization silos? How do I bring together teams who really understand both the front office and the back office? What sort of metrics do I use to be able to transform them, rather than doing back-office simplification or workflow optimization?

Clients have a lot of questions, how do we go about this? Their inability to solve their own organization's cultural issues is probably the biggest reason why they are still not able to make a real commitment all the time to enterprise-scale transformation.

The trick is to start small with a project that can show an impact — so long as the project has sufficient resources, autonomy and executive backing. Practical results speak louder than buzzwords, says Rao.

We are a great believer that digital is about doing not talking.

What we try and do is show this in action. It might be in a small microcosm of the entire enterprise. It is really about picking the right part of the enterprise.

One example is the highly compressed 'In24' workshops that Wipro Digital runs for individual clients, or as industry demonstrators, which go from problem to prototype solution in two 12-hour sessions.

What we find is, putting people into a highly compressed timeline and being able to innovate at speed, they typically come out with a whole bunch of ideas about where else they might use these sorts of multi-disciplinary methods to solve customer problems.

The executive sponsors are often line-of-business leaders who own a P&L, and sometimes a chief digital officer. CIOs are increasingly coming forward too, he says.

Definitely there is a sense that in 2016, the CIOs are coming to the party. There are a bunch of CIOs who are getting far more progressive and understanding that they will not be relevant any more if they don't show the internal stakeholders and internal customers that they are there to serve the end customers. That creates a big change in terms of their mindset because now they are really responsible for breaking down a lot of the business/IT silos and being much more forward thinking in terms of how they engage in this new way of working.

My take

This is a very level-headed perspective on digital transformation from Rao, demonstrating that Wipro Digital understands its mission and its implications. Whether that's enough to fulfil the original ambition of seeing the digital business become one of the firm's top three service lines by fiscal 2018 remains to be seen. The unit's revenues are not broken out in the company's financial statements, and although several significant customer wins are cited in the company's Q2 earnings release (PDF), which came out on Friday, there's probably some distance still to cover before that ambitious goal can be achieved.

Nevertheless, the handling of Designit augurs well for Appirio's continued autonomy within the Wipro empire. The design consultancy has contributed to some important customer wins, while still retaining significant independence. Reviews by employees published on Glassdoor make it clear that Wipro has not interfered in the agency's day-to-day operations.

Meanwhile, Rao's comments make it clear that Wipro has used the Designit acquisition as a catalyst to inject significant change into its established working practices. If Appirio is allowed to bring similar changes to Wipro, then the optimism demonstrated around this latest acquisition may prove amply justified.

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