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June - 2009 - issue > Management
Recession An Opportunity
Rakesh Kaul
Thursday, June 11, 2009
It has been a roller coaster ride, which we don’t know when it all will end. With each passing day, the ride seems to be getting more complex and clueless. However, the good part is, if there really is any, that we are not alone in this. The impact has been really hard and most of the industries under the sun are equally impacted by it. While we have read and heard about the various challenges that a recessionary economy presents, I want to emphasize on the various opportunities that this recession has presented to us.

In my opinion, recession presents a four-way opportunity to IT and ITeS sectors. These are: * Leadership
* Capability enhancement
* Improve efficiency through internal tools and processes
* Service offering rationalization Let me attempt to explain what I mean by this….

Good times need good leaders so that good times may prolong. Not so good times need better leaders so that good times can return soon. Bad times need exceptional leaders, to not only work towards getting the good times back but also, more importantly, to ensure that organizations survive through the bad times without breaking the bank. In general, since the inception of the IT industry, especially in India, barring the dotcom bust, we have seen plenty of good times.

This leads me to believe that we have had good leaders that have helped us to maintain status quo; but do we have exceptional leaders? Most of us have been trying to manage growth in the last few years and are not focused too much on the expectations we have of an exceptional leader. Many times, people just grew to certain positions because the opportunities were more than the talent available, and they somehow tried to manage the moment. Now that the times are not good, we have an opportunity to find and groom those exceptional leaders that we have always wanted. These times present us a unique opportunity to build on our leadership talent. It allows us to distinguish between the existing managerial and leadership strengths without necessarily having to go through the appraisal and evaluation route. It also allows us to hire and invest on the right talent. At Corbus, we have used this opportunity to hire good leaders and then shape them for the future. Good leadership, as we know it now, will not only be able to deliver when times are hard but would be able to exceed themselves when good times return.

Capability Enhancement
Our endeavor in the past has been to utilize our best talent in their expertise areas to ensure that we continue to provide quality solutions to the customers repeatedly. Due to deadline and work pressures, we haven’t been able to provide time and energy to help this talent enhance or even expand their skill base. With the slowdown, we are now able to take a break and look at the skill base of our talent.

It has also provided us an opportunity to take a look and plan our workforce for the future areas of growth. Organizations have to put a comprehensive development plan in place for the best talent to help them expand their technology and domain skills. Many of them can look at cross training themselves as every technical resource knows that the usual life cycle of a technology or platform is 5-7 yrs and they need to be multi-skilled to be successful. As budgets are being frozen and even reduced now, this is the best time to invest in training our resources and have our training budgets retained, while most of the other budgets are rationalized and even slashed. It is also a time when the horizon of employee mentoring process can be expanded. When things were going great, mentoring always seemed to take a back seat. But today, its need and importance is being felt by all of us. We have refocused on this process element, not only to help employees develop as individuals but also to handle the stress and pressure that the recessionary economy brings with it.

Improve Efficiency through Internal Tools and Processes
Efficiency has always been a key contributor to organization growth and profitability. However, with business booming and IT companies being perennially short of manpower, efficiency definition has been ‘getting more work done by less people’. And that, by the way, is true, but ‘how?’ is the question I want to address here.

In general terms, it has been usually through burning the midnight oil. With increase in bench size, pressure on staff rationalization is immense. But, staff rationalization beyond a percentage is not really an answer, for the simple reason that we need to keep the organization in a ready state always as we work towards turning around these times. At Corbus, we have had a conscious decision to bring innovative thoughts on developing a host of internal tools that can remove a lot of manual activities. Some of these were built as standalone tools and some as extensions to platforms that we acquired. We now have a specific group that is working nearly full time to integrate these standalone tools, which itself is expected to bring in more efficiency on the hardware and software resource front. Additionally, we are looking at automating some of the other manual processes.

On the process front, we are able to look at our set of processes critically to evaluate what can we do differently that would help us increase the efficiency and thus enhance the end product. An example is that while we are ISO 9001: 2000 and CMMI level 5, we have been evaluating some latest lean software development and testing methodologies that will allow us to reduce the cycle time significantly without impacting the quality of the product.

Service Offering Rationalization
Let me illustrate this with an example. Over the past nine years, we have built a strong e-commerce presence in the marketplace and relationships with some key e-commerce platforms. The majority of this work is driven by the tools rather than the domain. While we had a strong team, it was structured in terms of tools and platforms expertise like ATG, Interwoven, and Sharepoint. This was fundamentally due to the large project base in these technologies in the industry.

However, we have always known and believed that there are synergies in these technologies, which we need to explore as an organization. And I believe that it is reflected in the industry as well. There are ample opportunities within the organizations today to synergize, and many are working actively on them. The combined team can now look at providing e-commerce solutions to the business scenario rather than suggesting a tool or platform solution. We can now look at the tools as the means to implement the solution rather than being the solution in themselves. Additionally, it can work as a motivator for our teams as they get exposure to other tools in the same domain. This, strategically, could be a significant go-to-market strategy improvement.

To summarize, this is not a comprehensive agenda by any means. These are only my thoughts on how we can look at the glass as half-full. Obviously much more is needed to fill the glass. There are many more innovations that are needed to ride and win over these times. We have just made a beginning.

Author is Vice President of Global IT Services,Corbus
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