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How Indian IT is keeping lights on for global businesses

The scale of transitioning work from office to home is staggering for Indian IT.

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2020, 07.03 PM IST
(This story originally appeared in on Mar 24, 2020)
TCS is said to be shipping nearly 6,000 laptops to employees every day to enable them to work from home (WFH). The numbers are up from 1,000 a day about 10 days ago. The company, which has some 4.5 lakh employees, has now enabled work from home for 85% of staff in India. The scale of transitioning work from office to home is staggering for Indian IT. A lot of it is work that cannot stop. There’s also lots of work that simply cannot be moved to employee homes, either because of security concerns, or because the workloads are too heavy to be dependent on uncertain residential broadband connections. Indian IT supports mission-critical systems that run banks, healthcare, insurance, utilities and stock exchanges.

Keshav Murugesh, group CEO of outsourcing solutions provider WNS, says services delivered to regulated entities, such as banks and financial institutions, have extremely sensitive data that clients are wary of being accessed from employees’ homes given the security, privacy and regulatory obligations. “Additionally, the performance of a home-based internet connection is not as good as a corporate-provisioned network in terms of latency, which restricts certain processes that are bandwidth-intensive and/ or require a high quality of service to be delivered from homes,” he says.

A top executive of one of the leading Indian IT companies, which did not want to be named, notes that large Indian and global corporations have entrusted their critical applications, networks, and infrastructure to Indian IT. “As part of our contractual obligations, we are expected to provide these services out of some approved facilities (these typically have access to client networks). If we are moving things outside the approved facility, there are implications for secure connections. Without approval, it’s a breach of contract,” he says. His company is looking at ways they can connect to the client systems and networks remotely without any security compromise.

Jimit Arora, who leads USbased advisory Everest Group’s IT services research practice, says even if devices (PCs) were available, users need dedicated, high-speed bandwidth, VPN access, multi-factor authentication. These, he says, will not be available to all delivery resources. Everest says data centre support, production support (the highest levels of L2 and L3 support for IT systems and applications), network operations centre, and security operations centre are activities where clients are unwilling to permit any WFH. Then there are areas where clients are reluctantly allowing WFH, including areas like business & accounting processes, procurement processes, application development and L1 production support.

A CXO of an IT firm, who did not want to be named, says that for every customer, they have mapped 6-7 scenarios for business continuity and are reaching out to them to seek permission for what they found reasonable. Everest’s Arora notes Accenture’s position that 60% of its work can be delivered remotely; beyond that, office presence is needed because clients have specific security and data privacy needs. Wipro said in a statement it’s working towards enabling all employees to work from home barring skeletal essential staff who may be required to be present in the offices. Phil Fersht, CEO of HfS Research, says keeping enterprise clients’ critical support services functioning is becoming the biggest challenge ever faced by India’s IT industry as it tackles this health crisis.

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