Tech may be taking away jobs, but it is creating many more of them: ULCC Group CEO Raveendran Kasthuri

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on November 06, 2019

Raveendran Kasthuri, ex-IBMer and Group CEO of ULCC. Photo: Special Arrangement   -  Special Arrangement

There is no need to raise an alarm over loss of jobs from induction of existing technology, because even more jobs are being created in its wake, says Raveendran Kasthuri, ex-IBMer and Group CEO of the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCC), based in Kozhikode, Kerala.

Started as a cooperative society by labourers, ULCC has now grown to become one of the largest workers’ cooperatives in Asia, at a time when, back home, cooperatives have come under the regulatory scanner for many reasons.

Disruptive but recreating

As Group CEO, Kasthuri also looks after UL technology Solutions (ULTS), which was established in 2011 to maintain a balance between traditional and modern technologies.

It offers a unique mix of traditional values and modern technological insights in its services and helps to formulate and implement comprehensive solutions for clients.

ULTS describes itself as a cooperative corporate, with a focus on technology verticals such as Geographic Information System (GIS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics.

Technology is changing everywhere, says Kasthuri in a conversation with BusinessLine. With recession, companies want to reduce jobs. But this can happen only when facilitated by, what else, even more technology. This is where disruptive technologies such as IoT, Blockchain, AI and analytics come into play.

“So a recession, as we call it, and loss of jobs do not affect us. Because we’re focused on disruptive technologies. So, it boils down basically to the chicken-or-egg analogy.

Companies planning to cut down jobs must implement new technology to facilitate it. And here too, they don’t want to spend much either,” he says, adding that they would continue to look for destinations such as India to get it done cost-effectively.

Hence Kasthuri's confidence that the ongoing recession/slowdown would not have too much of an impact.

Of course, it can hit traditional IT jobs because those jobs are disappearing fast, such as in infrastructure management systems, where a lot of people used to work.

Automated processes

Most of the work here is now automated. Companies don’t need many people there now. “I can say this from my own experience when I was managing a leading telecom company,” says Kasthuri. “We had 1,600 people to look only at servers and data centres when I started. When I left, we had reduced them to merely 150! This is three years ago.”

“And that is the rate of reduction happening in traditional IT and infrastructure management jobs. These are partly attributed to the advent of disruptive technologies,” he adds.

As overall in-charge of products and operations at IBM in India, Kasthuri managed 55,000 employees and used to hire 2,000 people a month.

The problem today is really the baggage of yesterday, he says. Start everyday from zilch, and it becomes a new day, says Kasthuri.“This is what I try to do everyday and tell others, too. Some days are good, some bad. But its all in the game.”

This applies tellingly to today’s new generation unlike at any time in the past. “New technologies are available. But we don’t have a system to groom them, to shape them.

That’s where ULTS is trying to make a small difference. As a society, we’re all focused on how to create jobs. What we’re thinking is that how young people can get the best jobs of the world,” says Kasthuri.

Inter-connected nature

“Not just some jobs. There are some traditional areas that we’ve focused on. Then there are others which are called disruptive technologies – IoT, blockchain, AI and machine learning. Significantly, all these are very inter-connected. As in, one leads to the other. Its not just by chance, there’s a really good design out there,” he says.

“Because all devices that we use are generating data every microsecond. There’s so much data coming in from interactions between machine to machine, machine to human, machine to device” he says. These data needs to be protected, and this is where the blockchain comes in. If you don’t get this data leak-proof, safe and secure, there’s huge risk, says Kasthuri.

Without blockchain, IoT cannot grow. Because IoT creates only data. If that data is not protected, nobody will have anything to do with IoT as well.

Now, to get any value out of this data, you need machine learning, AI and analytics. Otherwise, data is passive, useless.

“So I tell people not to treat these technologies as different things. One does not exist without the other, doesn’t have any relevance,” explains Kasthuri. “Fortunately for us, there are eight million jobs identified across the globe in these three technologies alone — AI, IoT and blockchain – by year 2025.”

The biggest issue — and therein lies the biggest opportunity — is that there are no eight million hands available to man these jobs; India, and to some extent, China, can help bridge this gap, he says.

India not prepared yet

“In India, the system is such that it is not capable of producing even one million jobs. We simply don’t have the system. In our own little way, we’re trying to create that system here through which we can get people ready for these jobs,” says Kasthuri.

Intensive on-boarding

ULTS takes fresh graduates in and puts them through a one-year programme. Three months of very intensive basic training are followed by many months of advanced training.

When they’re ready, ULTS onboards them with live projects, so that by the end of the year, they’re strong professionals in these areas.

ULTS absorbs them as well. “This year, we’re planning to take 150 people. Already 80 have joined. And they’re undergoing training. We’re now around 400-plus people in all, at this point.”

“We were around 130 when I took over last year. We added another 280 this year. By March, we hope to be around 700 or 800 and by next year we’ll be close to around 2,000 people.”

ULTS goes to the campuses and gives a test. Those who do well are called for an interview, based on which selection takes place. It wants to make them ready for the globe; so they’ve to be diverse in thinking and outlook. This is sought to be ensured by limiting 50 per cent of the intake from Kerala and the rest from outside.

It does a lot of lateral hiring from across India from centres such as Kolkata, Delhi, and Bengaluru. These are external hires or laterals. It goes to campuses for others, but has restricted this to South India – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala – this year.

"We went to 27 campuses and have identified 170 people. In fact, their joining ratio is high. Normally, if you offer jobs to 100 people in campuses, typically you get 70 to 80.

“We offered it to around 170 people; we’re expecting at least 150 to join. They’re ULTS employees from the word go.”

Published on November 06, 2019

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