The Economic Times, May 25, 2016
Infosys on ‘design thinking’ treadmill to get its top gear acclimatised with latest technology
It’s not just the 194,000-odd employees at India’s second largest software exporter who are being put through the paces.
In what would mark the first such instance in India’s $160-billion IT industry, board members at Infosys are now being trained and brought up to speed with “design thinking” -an industry parlance that refers to the practice of solving traditional tech problems using newer, different and innovative methods.
Board members at top companies across the world, especially in the technology industry, routinely go through training sessions to help them keep pace with the rapid changes across the technology landscape.
However, this would mark the first known instance in India’s tech industry where a company is proactively aligning the board with the vision of the company’s top management, as part of a broader strategy to bring about a cultural shift at a traditional outsourcing company where coders and engineers have been content with following orders of customers, without asking questions. The design thinking exercise is one of the cornerstones of CEO Vishal Sikka’s broader strategy for the company and he has actively pushed executives and employees at the company to embrace the exercise. To execute this strategy, Sikka has even sought help from external mentors such as computer science pioneer and legend Alan Kay, who over the past two years has held sessions with company executives and employees.
Infosys chairman R Seshasayee said the decision to train the board on design thinking was taken recently during the last financial year.
“The adoption of Design Thinking at Infosys has been very encouraging, and we can see the enthusiasm and energy with which employees are adopting this philosophy. The Infosys board was keen to embrace this approach that is getting deeply ingrained into the company’s DNA. We introduced the entire board to these concepts during the year and I have found the application of its principles in our course of business very refreshing and impactful,” said Infosys chairman R Seshasayee in an email to ET.
According to Infosys’ latest annual report, at least six board members including chairman R Seshasayee, board veteran and former Cornell University professor Jeffrey S Lehman, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Bank of Baroda chairman Ravi Venkatesan have all gone through what the company calls “immersion sessions” where they have been trained on design thinking. Each of these board members have gone through ex tensive sessions on design thinking that lasted for at least 3.5 hours, according to the annual report.
A person directly familiar with Sikka’s thinking said that the board has also been put through immersive sessions on areas such as Artificial Intelligence and that Sikka is actively trying to “acquaint the board with concepts around design thinking as he looks to unleash newer, more executable ideas at the board level.”
Infosys has already trained over 80,000 employees on design thinking and hopes to cover the entire company in the near term, according to its latest annual report.
The design thinking exercise comes at a time when Infosys is starting to show signs of a major turnaround in its fortunes and increasingly resembling its former bellwether self, having trumped top-tier rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro for four consecutive quarters.
“Putting the board through design thinking is a must. Design thinking is the equivalent of Six Sigma for this generation. Until the boards understand what’s required to build for empathy and to understand the innovation process, they can not relate to the work required to deliver on innovation,” said Ray Wang, founder of enterprise research firm Constellation Research.
“Training the entire company including the leadership team on design thinking represents more than anything else a change in mindset for Infosys.However, Infosys needs to push change management in equal measure as training alone only gets you so far,” said Tom Reuner, managing director at HfS Research.