IT cos find enabling ‘work from home’ challenging

Rajesh Kurup/Venkatesh Ganesh Mumbai | Updated on March 27, 2020

Not just a matter of providing laptops; client concurrence, data security, are key concerns

Indian IT firms have the best technologies and human talent at their disposal, but still find it difficult to offer work from home (WFH) option to their employees due to the critical nature of the work.

Outsourcing contracts with clients mandate that (outsourcing) services would be provided from a mutually agreed location, ensuring secure connectivity and, most importantly, concurrence from clients to handle price-sensitive information.

What started out as “support” or “back office” work has evolved into what could be termed as an extended enterprise. This, in turn, has resulted in teams working from various States and countries.

Going beyond providing laptop

“Indian IT companies are working with top-notch global majors, who have entrusted to us to maintain and support their critical applications, networks, infrastructure, and business operations. In that sense, the services we are providing to them are essential and enables our clients to provide their services without interruptions,” a senior industry veteran told BusinessLine.

“Some of them are critical, some of them are non-critical but all of them are essential to the well-being of our clients and economy at large. Secondly, as part of the contract, we are expected to provide these services out of certain approved facilities, either from their own offices or from our facilities which conform to certain security protocols,” he added, adding this makes the facility an extended enterprise of the client.

In short, for IT companies, enabling WFH doesn’t simply mean providing employees with a laptop or desktop. The perils start from ensuring the quality of connectivity, ensuring home networks are safe, putting in place a monitoring mechanism and seeking customers’ “concurrence”, among others.

Employee safety counts

Cognizant CEO Brian Humphries, in an email to employees, said: “Our Crisis Management and Business Continuity teams have been working round-the-clock to make this possible. As a result, in the past few weeks, we have enabled the majority of our offshore delivery teams to work from home by provisioning new laptops and encrypting desktops and moving them to your homes, as well as by enabling the use of BYOD (bring your own device), providing additional bandwidth connectivity and air cards — all with the appropriate client permissions and security protocols.” Similar views have been expressed by others like TCS CEO and MD, Rajesh Gopinathan.

“The industry is on mission mode to enable employees work from home and sensitising them on the importance of social distancing. That is our top priority," added another senior executive.

“Employee wellness and safety are paramount for the industry and extensive measures are being taken to provide a safe and secure workplace for the employees who need to come to work to deliver these critical operations,” Keshav Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Global Services, told BusinessLine.

However, with technology strongly embedded in every facet of our lives, the IT-ITeS sector also plays a key role in powering essential services like healthcare, finance, telecom networks, etc. Most of these critical services cannot be processed outside the highly secure work premises. “Any disruption to these services will have a serious impact on millions of lives,” said Murugesh, who is also the Nasscom Chairman.

Reputational risk

Even as work from home was evangelised as the cool thing to do, on the ground, it is a very different story. According to Appnomics Chief Executive Officer Nitin Kumar, none of the IT firms are prepared to enable remote work for the majority of their employees. “At present, 25-35 per cent of a large workforce is geared to work remotely. No enterprise is ready to work 100 per cent remotely,” he said.

Further, the industry has to guard against reputational risk in case of data leakage. The WFH model has several upsides, but it takes time for ‘new normals’ to take hold. At this inflection point, leaders must help navigate uncharted waters for which data security is a challenge, according to Sameer Garde, President, Cisco India and SAARC. Finally, there is also the element of added cost. “There is a cost increase element if you want the workforce to completely work from remote locations,” said Kumar.

Published on March 27, 2020

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