Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Pandemic will push firms to digital business models: Cognizant Tech CEO

Cloud adoption will accelerate, data modernisation will be prioritised as businesses are now entering the world of mobile, virtual and personal solutions, says Brian Humphries, CEO, Cognizant Technology Solutions

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Apr 29, 2020 04:36:22 PM IST
Updated: Apr 29, 2020 05:42:31 PM IST

Pandemic will push firms to digital business models: Cognizant Tech CEO  Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Just as Y2K served as an inflection point for the IT services industry, businesses are now going through another period of significant change and opportunity, says Cognizant’s Humphries, in an interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

Q. Beyond the immediate challenges due to the spread of the pandemic, what might be the medium-term opportunities for companies such as Cognizant?
Thanks to accelerating momentum in January and February and the heroics of our associates in March when faced with challenges of Covid-19, I’m delighted that Cognizant delivered against its commitments in Q1. I have been inundated with client recognition of the amazing work of our team around the world.  As our industry gets through initial fulfilment challenges, our attention remains on the health and safety of our associates, but now also turns to industry demand. I believe the implications of this pandemic will lead to clients accelerating their shift to digital business models. Digital channels in every industry, including retail, education and healthcare, will increase in relevance. Remote access to work will be made stronger and more secure. Major IT trends such as core modernisation and cloud adoption will accelerate―all of which will make our strategy more relevant than ever.

Q. The CMD of Hindustan Unilever recently said that Covid-19 could be another Y2K kind of opportunity for Indian IT. Do you agree? Why?
Just as Y2K served as an inflection point for the IT services industry, I believe we are now living through another period of significant change and opportunity. 

This pandemic is creating new rules and a new normal. Clients will look to companies addressing universal needs. In the short-term, clients are reviewing everything, from solutions to bolster their liquidity, to modern workplace solutions, to omni-channel and e-commerce enablement. We will see an acceleration to industry-aligned solutions, such as virtualised claims adjudication and virtualised medicine. Virtual agile—a methodology of software development that is iterative and offers flexibility and speed—will be embraced at scale. Cloud adoption will accelerate. Data modernisation will be prioritised. In short, we are now entering the world of mobile, virtual and personal solutions.

Q. What kind of existing and new services will see increased demand?
It remains early to tell, but I believe cloud adoption will accelerate, offering flexibility, automation, security and resilience. As the world becomes more virtual, data modernisation and personalisation will be embraced. Digital marketing and omni-channel will accelerate. Industry-aligned solutions in everything from life sciences, healthcare, banking, retail and education will boom. Public sector opportunities will meaningfully scale in light of new societal norms. Smart buildings will take off. There will be opportunities for captive takeovers.

Q. What steps can Indian IT companies take to show that they are resilient?
Resilience is, in part, a function of the trust companies have built over the years with clients, associates and society at large. This pandemic brings human, economic, operational, and societal challenges, all of which need to be responded to. Frequent and transparent communication with all stakeholders is essential as well. 

The top priority in dealing with this crisis must be to protect the health and safety of all employees while maintaining business continuity for clients and supporting our communities. We invested in a 25 percent salary increase for employees at associate level and below in India and the Philippines in April.

Q. What changes will the IT companies have to make in the way they operate to win in the post-Covid19 world?
Client-centricity will become more important than ever. More broadly, business continuity planning will take on a whole new meaning. A “work anywhere” culture will emerge. Teams will need to be fully virtual and empowered to collaborate, innovate and deliver efficiently across the world to solve clients’ challenges. And IT companies’ capabilities and offerings will need to be focused on enabling clients to remodel their traditional technology platforms and operate as fully digital businesses.   

Q. How will the pandemic affect hiring in the IT and ITES sectors?
Cognizant is committed to growth and plans to honour the more-than 20,000 campus offers it has made. While 2020 macro demand will be dampened by this crisis, our momentum in the early part of Q1 speaks to how well clients have embraced our strategy and our renewed urgency and client centricity.