Hybridizing The Future
Date: Thursday , March 04, 2010
"LET’S DROP THE CONTRACT if they tell you something different from what we’ve said.” This is what Sajan Pillai, the Chief Operating Officer of U.S. Technology Resources (USTRI), tells every prospective customer who comes to evaluate their company before signing on the dotted line. He asks them to pick 15 to 20 people at their development centers at random and speak to them about the company before striking the deal.
With operations spreading from the “Big Apple” of New York to Trivandrum in “God’s own Country” of Kerala, diversifying into Europe and Malaysia, USTRI employs a hybrid global sourcing and delivery model, providing IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services through state-of-the-art facilities. Seven years into providing pragmatic IT solutions for Fortune 500 companies and other customers, USTRI combines U.S-based senior resources coalescing it with cost, scale and quality advantages for off shore operations. Says Satendra M. (Dan) Gupta, the CEO of USTRI, “For U.S. Technology Resources, excellence is a journey, not a destination. A Life committed to excellence is worth living, as it is the ecstasy of growth.”
The Big Five feel
With a singular focus of setting new standards in the outsourcing and delivery arena, USTRI has leveraged a ‘hybrid’ global sourcing and delivery model. The model uses high-end domestic resources to manage initiatives from the customer’s side, while the delivery services are led by experienced off shore experts using high standard communication methodologies.
Primarily into IT services, which is their core line of business, USTRI has spread its tentacles into the BPO and Infrastructure Management Services as well. Pillai, explains that the Hybrid model that has been adapted to all its service verticals stands nonpareil with USTRI deploying executive managements both onsite and offshore. Says Pillai, “The business and technical requirements of customers are taken care of by our project managers and architects who work onsite. They bridge the gap between the customers and the offshore development centers where our senior project leaders, software engineers and test engineers design the products.” Combining technology and domain expertise, coalescing it with cost quality and scale advantage of a traditional offshore service provider is where they create customer value and provide a Big Five feel.
USTRI’s Centers of Excellence deploy pragmatic IT solutions for customers to understand their most crucial business objectives. With emphasized focus on specific disciplines like Microsoft, .NET, Java / J2EE, testing and quality control, the company leverages into industry-leading expertise, improving competency in the current technologies and develops a knowledge foundation for the latest technological trends and methodologies.
The Customer Intimacy Model
Commitment beyond contract is the buzzword in USTRI. Working on a win - win strategy where everyone contributes and wins, USTRI strongly follows this virtue of humility. Pillai explains that his teams observe industry trends and provide the customers with the best practices available. “According to this principle, every team reports to me what they did beyond the contract of the customer. It is about where they suggested new ideas for the customer and where did they plug loopholes in the business beyond their sphere,” says Pillai. This power of humility has helped them enhance their relationships within the organization as well as with customers.
Pooling in the right level of people and making the right investments has aided USTRI to focus on quality relationships with customers. One of the commonly echoed songs that one can hear from USTRI’s customers is, ‘We were amazed to see analysts from U.S. Technology speaking the same language as we do and knowing exactly what we require. They have always been focusing on providing value to our business right from the beginning!’ Pillai says exuberantly, “We are not about closing 20 customers or 20 new prospects every quarter. We are about growing well, wide and deep.”
Thinking minds have constant irritants that facilitate them to innovate. Some believe outsourcing innovation methods could affect the motivation levels of people. Pillai however says that the R and D centers of USTRI are equipped with the latest of technology that offers the appropriate tools to customers for product innovations, technology evaluations and integration stuff, therein leveraging the customers’ capability to think strategically and innovate. “Rather, we enable them to innovate,” he says.
Pillai reminisces a paradigm. This was when Costco, a consumer durables and electronics showroom company based in the U.S. was looking for a vendor to prototype their product in the au courant Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) domain. Many of the top tier companies in the field had turned down the proposal. But USTRI took up the challenge. They built a lab exclusively for Costco to prototype the technology. Costco was bowled over and USTRI caught them just in time to expand their customer platform. Says Don Burdick, senior vice-President, IS, Costco, ““During our 5+ year’s relationship, USTRI has become a strategic partner and Costco’s preferred IT service provider, edging out distinguished competitors…”.
Looking back, USTRI entered the market, focusing on the Dotcom companies that had begun to make a niche for themselves. However, they soon realized that focusing just on these companies wasn’t a sustainable business and shifted their focus to the Fortune 500. Targeting off-center cities like Trivandrum to set up their offshore development center in India, and simultaneously in the U.S, USTRI spread open its wings in 1999. “The quality of talent has been tremendous in these locations and has propelled us to where we are,” says Pillai. The management realized that hiring people who were less knowledgeable than them would curb their growth. “We hire people who are bigger than us, so that they hire people bigger than them, and eventually we become a company of giants,” Pillai exudes the company’s culture. A humanistic approach has found him running a company with an attrition level less than 10 percent!
USTRI entered the market silently, investing in customer relationships for long-term strategic partnerships that became an inherent cultural aspect. “Acquiring standards alone is not the key. You need to have a cultural framework to keep your employees motivated,” says Pillai. Employees across USTRI have the values of humanity, integrity and humility imbibed in them. In fact, that has helped the company absorb nearly a dozen CIOs from other companies into their culture-centric world. And it’s not just hiring these top managers who understand the pain points of customers, having seen the grass on the other side earlier, but retaining them in the company for long is an achievement that can be kudoed. Pillai is enthusiastic about the fact that these top-level managers have been championing their company. “It’s been a successful pattern for us. They are not just people who do sales, but they actually roll up their sleeves to do work on the core competency of the company.”
USTRI faced stiff competition for every contract right from the beginning. However by 2003-04, they had reached a point wherein they were always ranked among top 3 vendors in the evaluation process for big deals from Fortune 1000 companies. Pillai credits his top-level managers for this success. It has been the result of their thorough understanding of the overall IT operations, that includes financial management, project management, product management and people management, all rolled into one. These executives have been capable of developing relations with customers over and over again. “They show up at the sites everyday, monitor the work, understand it and bring it back to the IT operations,” says a proud Pillai.
How valuable are they?
It took King Lear (of Shakespeare’s fame) a lifetime to realize self-abasement as the true virtue of humanity. USTRI was born with the hallmark of humility, integrity and humbleness. If pride reflects praise, humility absorbs it appreciatively and passes it on to others – this is the hallmark of every employee of USTRI. With the employees realizing the enormous benefits of humility both on the personal and societal levels, and thus inculcating it into their culture, USTRI has rocketed to glorious heights in just seven years.
The company runs on the ground principle of doing what they want to do by transforming lives of people both inside the company and the community they operate in. They follow the jargon that the quality of people decides the lifetime of a services business. Advocating this golden rule, USTRI encourages “USsociates” (that’s how the employees of USTRI are known), to form autonomous work groups, making strategic decisions to achieve targeted goals.
This humane perception has created a dedicated and highly motivated group of 4,000 and odd USsociates. USTRI has a unique wing of seven socially relevant groups named after colors. Each employee is expected to join one of these groups that are involved in some kind of social activity. In fact employees are evaluated on their achievements through these social activities for appraisals. Value managers, who assess USsociates, halo the culture-driven organization.
“Tremendous passion among employees will find customers talking affably of the passion of the people here,” says Pillai. He attributes the success of USTRI to the competent people working in harmony. In fact, it has been this high level of culture and commitment that has crowned USTRI as the fastest company to be assessed at CMM Level 5, and the first to be assessed at CMMi level 5 and PCMM level 5 for global operations. Such fortes have benefited them and their from these certifications and practices.
A niche panorama of the service industry
The Y2K bug had smitten everyone in the IT industry world over. Global development triggered global sourcing. Mature customers with greater demands confronted the big daddies in the consulting and off - shoring companies in the new millennium. The entire industry was growing, rather say bloating. The question that surfaces to the mind now is whether all the companies were growing at the same pace? “Well,” says Pillai, “The next two—three years will find a bifurcation. The true winners in the race will separate from the channel.” The success rate, he believes, can be judged by the customer intimacy that each company has maintained through its journey.
“Fundamental changes are happening. Customers today demand more focus on their accounts, on the quality of personnel they work with both at the consulting level and the peer level,” says Pillai. With outsourcing service crossing seas and 24/7 operations in vogue, there has been a rising demand for resource bases.
Niche sharing and revenue sharing are expected to form integral parts of contracts; fixed price, time and material aspects would take one step back. This is where USTRI is trying to make a difference. Adopting the Mergers and Acquisitions strategy, they are concentrating on establishing a geographic strength and improve their service portfolio geographically. With a steady growth of 100 percent and targeting to become a billion dollar company by 2010, USTRI is making strides in growing inorganically.
The University Challenge
Coupled with the merger and acquisitions strategy is the Corporate University culture of USTRI. The company establishes a ‘university’ for every major client. Every employee of USTRI deployed for a particular client’s project is mandated to go through this university. In this way, the employees of USTRI working on the client’s account learn the business of the client inside out. “This has been such a successful model that several clients have set up their own ‘universities’ to help their employees understand their business,” informs Pillai.
And any person who enters this field is mandated to go through this round of assessment. “People are absorbed not primarily because they know the technology pieces but because they understand our focus on building client relationship,” says Pillai. This Customer Intimacy Model is something several companies are planning to leverage internally. Breaking down the business processes of customers and creating animation movies on them are some of USTRI’s highly appreciated innovations by customers.
Starting off from ground zero, USsites went out into the field to get their first set of customers. Today, they are a happy lot with the select clients that they have. Having 500 or 5000 customers isn’t their forte. They follow the tenets of a strong and highly scalable relationship—management model. When investing in relationships, it’s about quality and healthy margins. “While we educated the CIOs about the benefit of working with a company like us, we were very blessed to have absolutely incredible reference from customers,” says Pillai. Most of their customers become evangelists of the organization because they know what the company is doing.
“Outrageous margins on customers would curb our investments in the right customers,” explains Pillai, who finds the healthy 15 percent margin that they operate in when compared to the 28 percent that their Indian competitors do.
With 75 of the Fortune 500 companies decorating their customer-list, spread over multiple geographies, Pillai sees little risk in USTRI’s bandwagon. “We want to get to a billion dollars with 75 customers. And they are Fortune 500 companies. This is a significant ratio.” The enhanced credibility of the IT services companies, with their increasing capability of global delivery, USTRI sure seems to be at the helm of this progress. A member of the Comcraft group, they have been traveling across seas to reach new horizons.