FEW DISPLAY THE clarity of thought that Rajesh Gopinathan does. Sitting in his office at Fort in Mumbai, the chief executive officer and managing director of Tata Consultancy Services, spoke about a time when the company struggled to convince the world that India could do programming. Today, the Indian IT industry has a global standing, and TCS is the country's biggest IT company. “We were convincing the clients to ship us the machines so that we could code on them,” says Gopinathan, 47. He attributes the success to F.C. Kohli, the architect of TCS, and those who had the conviction to do it back in the 1960s and 70s. “That perspective should never be lost that it was sheer will, vision and conviction that got it going,” he says.
That spirit of entrepreneurialism is in the DNA of TCS. “We are able to convince clients that it is not about what we are currently doing, the real thrill is in doing what we are not doing,” says Gopinathan. “And that has been the success. You can call it entrepreneurialism.” Also, despite going through various phases of technological evolution, certain things remain unchanged at TCS. One of them is developing own capabilities and avoiding inorganic growth. “That is one big cultural trait, and it comes out in many ways,” says Gopinathan. “Entrepreneurialism is one way of thinking about it; innovation is another, because you are constantly trying to do something new.”
While most companies start off doing small things, TCS started with big projects. “We cut our teeth and gained our credibility by doing very complex projects—large stock exchange system development, depositories, and large banking systems,” says Gopinathan. “A big one was for a Swiss depository. We did a cross-border transaction settlement system. We also built the stock exchange in Johannesburg. These were all very engineering-centric, heavy-lifting projects.”
During the Y2K crisis, TCS realised that it was not very complex and needed just a straightforward solution. “So, we brought our project management skills, our tools focus, our automation capability to a very standardised problem, and completely reimagined how it can be done,” says Gopinathan.
TCS introduced the concept of software factories. “When we shifted focus to high-volume, and brought industrial thinking to it, we were able to address a much larger opportunities space and massively scale,” he says. “We were able to scale because we did not just go after the volume; we brought process and quality and system engineering thinking to the problem.”
In the post Y2K phase, TCS’s service portfolio kept on expanding. This was followed by an era when the company systematically showed that the engineering centric, system-based thinking approach could lend itself to all projects. Back in the day, TCS had a group called e-business, which rapidly proliferated across industry segments. It went through a phase of being not only custom developers but also system integrators and product implementors. Later, while doing IT projects, it realised that the infrastructure on which IT ran was being managed by a few very large companies, and they were not doing a very good job. So, TCS started infrastructure management as a service, and then expanded into business process services operations.
“Banking was a large domain; we expanded into providing trade settlement as a service,” says Gopinathan. “We expanded first across the spectrum of technology, then we expanded downwards and upwards. That took us through the latter half of the last decade and into the early part of this decade. Now, the new thing is digital, as we go through another transformation on the technology side. We have been pivoting into it beautifully. Today, digital is growing at more than 30 per cent. Last year, we grew at 25 per cent. This year, ending March, we grew at 32 per cent.”
TCS has executed large-scale projects all over the world. In India, most of the big national-level projects have been done by the company—be it the National Stock Exchange, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Depository, RBI’s RTGS System or the Passport Seva Kendras. “By now, I think people who have visited Passport Seva Kendras have seen the transformation,” says Gopinathan. “That’s what technology can do.”