Tata Consultancy Services' UK head: "We don't churn people"

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TCS UK and Ireland country head Shankar Narayanan

The UK and Ireland country head of the Indian IT services giant Tata Consultancy Services sat down with Computerworld UK to chat about its start to the year, including the details of a major deal with Marks and Spencer

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Indian IT services giant Tata Consultancy Services has had a good start to the year, signing some major deals and seeing its stock price hit an all-time high.

Commenting on a strong Q3 showing in January, CEO Rajesh Gopinathan said: "We wrapped 2017 with a strong performance in the December quarter, marked by the signing of industry-defining deals, robust client metrics and broad-based demand across industry verticals." Gopinathan is approaching his one- year anniversary in the role.

Some of those deals occurred here on UK soil, including a new contract with supermarket chain Marks and Spencer, which included the outsourcing of 250 tech jobs to Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) under TUPE rules.

Speaking to Computerworld UK from the TCS London office, Shankar Narayanan, country head for UK and Ireland said: "We are very pleased with the start of the year and some of these wins have been as a result of a sustained focus on these customers for the last several years. Some of these are new, some are an expansion of relationships."

Narayanan said that these strong results come off the back of a sustained long-term strategy: "It's a services business at the end of the day so as long as we listen and learn from our customers and learn from our mistakes - and we do make mistakes - but when we do it's about how we learn from them and overcome difficult challenges and how we respond and help through those challenges, not through a contractual perspective but a relationship perspective, those behaviours make a difference.

"You can find contractors on the market. For us the focus is long-term relationships with customers like M&S and British Airways and we believe that we have to invest in our workforce.

"Usually that is one of the differentiators they see, that we don't churn people out of our relationships."

Marks and Spencer

As part of that M&S deal TCS takes on the moniker of being the 'principal technology partner' for the retailer, bringing existing relationships between M&S with Fujitsu, which managed on-site IT support, and Sapient, which supported its online platform, to a close.

"So M&S and TCS is consolidating the work that has been done with many different vendors and trying to remove the overheads as a result of that and taking them through an agile journey," Narayanan said.

The new relationship is "about keeping pace with the kind of technology changes that happen outside with digital, internet of things, mobile," he said. "The pace of change is so fast, so how do we restructure the internal organisation in order to keep up with that pace of change? That requires the business and IT coming closer together and removing the complexity that can come with having multiple vendors."

Read next: Marks & Spencer bridges gap between old and new IT with hybrid cloud strategy

Neither Narayanan nor M&S would be drawn into specifics at this point in proceedings.

"It is early days, but given our contextual knowledge of M&S over the past ten years we have identified a set of opportunities and we are putting the business cases together," Narayanan said. "We do have sight of what those transformational opportunities are to accelerate their journey into the space. As and when we deliver those we will make you aware."

A spokesperson at Marks and Spencer confirmed that TCS will oversee point-of-sale, the web platform, management of infrastructure and new projects, and oversee relations with specialist suppliers.

TCS recently completed a successful project with another UK supermarket giant: Asda.

As outlined by TCS: "Asda saw an opportunity to redefine value retailing and empower customers by allowing them to collect and return products purchased from third-party retailers, at Asda stores. Asda also wanted to provide a convenient way for consumers to track their parcels online while driving footfalls to the stores. At the time, none of Asda's competitors offered a service of this nature."

The 'ToYou' service involved integrating order management, parcel tracking and contact-centre systems. TCS also helped consolidate the data involved to providing reports on parcel tracking, sales and finance. Finally a mobile app was developed for Asda employees to be able to manage receipt of parcels and putaway more efficiently.

Narayanan admits that TCS has had success in some sectors here in the UK - retail and financial services specifically - but has historically lagged behind in others, such as the public sector.

"We still have a lot of market share to go after," he said. "So those are areas where we will be focusing. Putting the right set of people in place and asking what we need to do differently to find the sweet spots there and outsmart the competition."

Outsourcing jobs

In terms of the staffing at Marks and Spencer, Narayanan naturally wants to position the move in a positive light.

"I think the key thing is about jobs and job losses," he said. "I think outsourcing is there in every sector and it is a question of how we act as a responsible employer, are we offering jobs and value in the local marketplace?"

The country head reiterated that TCS doesn't plan on "flushing out" the workforce at M&S and that "a lot of the people at M&S have grown their career over five or so years and they associate themselves and take pride in being an M&S employee as much as a TCS employee.

"They built up their own in-house IT to drive innovation and they figure out that's not the best thing because we can offer greater roles and careers and can attract better technology talent to allow M&S to do what they are good at, which is retail at the end of the day."

Narayanan admits that it won't be painless though. "There is a lot more to be done within M&S," he said.

"What we will be doing is to repurpose all of these roles into being savvy in the new sets of technologies required, whether that is mobile, artificial intelligence, data, analytics. So we will be investing in repurposing both staff on this side and staff coming over from M&S and third parties, so there is a slightly different makeup of the staffing, but 99 percent will continue."

TCS has been on a large-scale re-training drive itself over the past few years, launching digital classrooms to help staff of all levels retrain while on the move in new technology areas like mobile development, analytics and industry verticals like retail and financial services. TCS hired an additional 33,380 people in the 2017 financial year alone, and is looking to boost its graduate intake here in the UK by five times.

Speaking about this retraining project Narayanan said: "If you rely on the talent that needs to be recruited every time then we cannot move fast enough, so what we have been able to do is get our people to take advantage of these investments we have been making and be able to repurpose people."

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