How a Salem tech firm is raising the productivity bar

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on February 26, 2020

Competing to excel Micro outfits within the company are vying for a prize of ₹10 lakh

The town, known for its steel and textiles, is showing the way in upskilling tech workers

At a swank tech centre in Salem, in a quaint conference room that is designed a bit like an attic — this nearly hidden room has to be accessed by a spiral staircase and has large windows with picturesque views of the hills that surround the town — a weekly review meeting of teams is in progress.

But this is not the usual type of team or meeting. Gathered here are employees of Vee Technologies, a firm that does remote coding for healthcare outfits in the US. The staff has been divided into micro companies that go by rather zany names, like Mirchi Miracles, Hawk Eye, Avengers, Techie Tribe, and so on.

These micro companies are in the race for a grand prize of ₹10 lakh that their organisation has set aside for the winners. The team that comes up with the best ideas to improve productivity and quality standards at Vee Technologies walks away with the money. “We have divided our India operations into 137 micro companies of 15 members each. The challenge before them is to look at the way work is done in each department — HR, Marcomm, Quality, Admin and Learning and Development — and come up with ways to improve processes,” says Chocko Valliappa, CEO and MD of Vee Technologies.

As you sit through the session and listen to the employees — most of them in their first jobs — you realise this is a gamified approach to giving all employees exposure to all the functions in an organisation while, at the same time, empowering them with the skills to meet the new demands of work.

Says Kavya from Team Artisan: “We are gaining cross-functional expertise, something that we had never expected at our level.”

There is healthy competition between the teams as there are weekly leader boards plotting respective positions.

One of the teams that is currently in 35th spot assures Chocko that it will climb the ladder soon. Metrics for evaluating the micro companies include things like how many of their ideas are implemented in the organisation, what impact they make, and so on.

In the old industrial era days, Salem in Tamil Nadu was known for its steel, textiles and silver anklets. Today, this town is becoming a skilling hub, with the Sona group showing the way. The group runs a large number of educational institutions in the city as well as a learning and development organisation called Sona Yukti that skills youth in various areas — from IT and ITES, to textiles and medical coding.

But it’s the innovative upskilling initiative at Vee Technologies — a Sona group company — that catches one’s attention.

Making America healthy

The work that the Vee Technologies tech centre at Salem does is aimed at making America healthy, says Valliappa. Here, remote coders pore over reams of data on the state of health of American citizens and try and plot the risk of the population to specific diseases. “We try and find out who is likely to fall sick, so that they can be advised to take preventive tests and the disease does not reach a stage that needs surgical intervention,” explains Valliappa. Working in tandem with hospitals and insurance companies, the medicare plan incentivises people to stay healthy as the plan is inverted. If you don’t go to hospital, you make money.

Vee Technologies works with six of the top 20 hospitals in the US, helping them process insurance claims. The company also has e-learning and e-governance solutions as well. It has done Aadhar for seven per cent of India, says Valliappa.

But healthcare is the biggest offering, with 3,000 of its 5,000 employees engaged in medical coding.

Why Salem?

After operating two centres in Bangalore and one in Chennai, it was natural for Vee Technologies to extend to Salem as the group had a large footprint in the town. The talent supply chain can get closed neatly here with the group’s educational institutions, especially the Sona College of Technology, providing engineers, while Sona Yukti provides necessary skilling in life sciences.

Ramya Srinivasan, Learning & Development facilitator at Vee Technologies, says that, in terms of productivity, the Salem centre has been beating its counterparts in Bangalore and Chennai. “They are unbelievably focussed,” she says.

Ask the young employees — average age is mid 20s — why they choose to work in Salem rather than the big cities, and most say it’s because they want to stay close to their families. “Besides we don’t have commuting problems, like our peers in Bangalore, and have a stress-free life here,” says Sakthivel, with a grin.

Just a year-and-a-half old, the Vee Technologies centre at Salem can rival the swankiest of Silicon Valley-style tech workplaces. The large halls where the coders sit — or studios, as Valliappa refers to them — have floor-length windows with stunning views of surrounding hills. Solar energy powers the workplace and, between each studio, there are gardens that the employees themselves have planted. And there’s a funky cafeteria with orange chairs that invites employee engagement.

“When we were designing the centre I did crib about the costs, but my architect convinced me that by spending just six per cent more on these elements, I would add 25 per cent more to employee engagement,” says Valliappa. Today, he is grateful for that piece of advice.

Published on February 27, 2020

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