Since the pandemic hit us, over 90 per cent of the 4.4 million IT-BPM (business process management) workforce has been working from home as the IT industry is committed to both business continuity and employee safety.

The crisis has taught us many valuable lessons. For an industry that has always focussed on providing world-class office facilities to the employees, the tremendous advantages of remote working during the crisis have been an eye-opener. It wasn’t just about increased flexibility and productivity, which we saw across every sector of the industry. It was about the possibilities of employees working from small towns across India, as long as they had good connectivity.

It was about women and people with disabilities being able to participate more than before. It was about building stronger communities virtually. Every leader I spoke to, agreed that they were spending a lot more time listening and interacting with employees than they had ever done before, thanks to the virtual platforms.

Sure there were challenges. A key one was about the mental health and wellness of employees. It was about each employee’s ability to manage work from home without encroaching upon family’s space. Even at its best, it cannot fully replace teams coming together in person to build strong organisations and culture.

NASSCOM started a Future of Work taskforce with leaders from across the industry, to define the changes needed to build a new work model that will allow us to leverage the best of both the physical and virtual worlds. What was clear is that remote working is here to stay and the future had to be about a hybrid work model where companies had the flexibility to decide who worked from home and who was needed in campus depending on type of work.

It was also clear that figuring out the right mix and balance would impact competitive advantage of companies. Businesses that get the formula right would be able to strengthen their ability to attract better talent, drive productivity improvements across the organisation and build higher trust in their customers better than their competition.

However, there was one key spoke in the wheel. The OSP (Other Service Providers) regime made it extremely onerous for the industry to implement remote working. Yes, we had a temporary relaxation till end of the year, but we needed a long-term solution if we were going to build the future of our industry on it. A joint NASSCOM and DOT taskforce did extensive work to come out with a set of recommended changes to the OSP terms that could give Indian IT the reassurance needed for long-term planning and a tremendous edge to reinvent their business.

So it was indeed a dream come true when the Prime Minister announced the changes to the OSP regulation and made it clear that the government had decided to completely re-haul the OSP terms and conditions. This is the kind of reform needed in India for exponential gains.

The liberalisation of the OSP terms will enable a new paradigm for Indian IT with key focus on:

Significant ease of doing business: The OSP reform has done away with several onerous processes at one shot. Non-voice processes have been kept out of the OSP definition. Even for voice-based OSPs, there are no registration or reporting requirement. OSPs can have EPABX outside their OSP centre (say, cloud).

International OSPs are allowed to have their EPABX at foreign location. OSPs with multiple centres can obtain Internet connection at a centralised location and access it at other centres using leased circuit/multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) VPN. All the requirements such as deposit of bank guarantees, requirement for static IPs, frequent reporting obligations, publication of network diagram, penal provisions, etc., have been removed.

The opportunity to reinvent: With ‘work from anywhere’ the new reality, companies can build out the hybrid models to not just improve productivity but also disrupt status quo business models and re-imagine capabilities and scope. The OSP reform will give our industry the ability to shape the future differently, and hopefully every CEO will use it to the fullest to change India’s IT-BPM landscape.

Disruption of talent as we knew it: In the past, talent needed to be present in campus and that limited our search to either the cities we were in or to people who were willing to travel. Now, we can go where the talent is. This will see creation of jobs in smaller cities and towns of India. And imagine the impact it can have on these communities. The ripple effect of work from anywhere is much bigger than just convenience. Another benefit is the boost it will give to the gig economy as people will have the flexibility to do more in this new structure.

The industry has been one of the most strong champions of diversity and equal opportunity. In a hybrid work model we believe we can get more women, people with disabilities, etc., to join the workforce that before. Companies need to use the opportunity to the fullest to create a more diverse workforce.

The reform will also strengthen future investments prospects into India. A lot of companies that were thinking of broadbasing their investments or build a China-plus strategy were considering India but were concerned with the uncertainty around remote work. The reform will give tremendous reassurance to the companies about India’s intent to strengthen its position as the most preferred tech hub in the world.

The OSP reform is a game changer. It’s not just about ease of doing business and remote work, it’s about re-imaging business models, scope, talent and competitive advantage.

A few challenges still persist. The SEZ rules and the new labour codes need to explicitly recognise long term remote work for the Indian industry to fully leverage its potential. Given the strong top-down commitment to make India a leading super power in the digital age, these changes, it is believed, will be made. But we must move fast and not lose momentum.

The OSP reform has sent a strong signal that India will not shy from these bold reforms. And the timing could not be better.

The writer is President, NASSCOM