A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to moderate a session where two leaders discussed some of the pertinent questions on our minds during these COVID times. Cormac Watters, President and Head of International at Infor, and Sankar Venkataraman, VP & Global Head, Cloud Enterprise Platforms at Wipro participated in this insightful discussion.
Cormac opened by talking about Infor shutting down all their offices worldwide with all of their 17,000 employees working from home. Sankar spoke about how Wipro had done the same for its employees. From a business perspective, certain sectors like Retail had a much deeper impact. A few customers had to stop their transformation programs, with a few others even furloughing their employees. Most are very cautious about the next steps and re-evaluating their IT strategies given the uncertainties.
Both Infor and Wipro leaders concurred that their customers had adapted to remote working quite well. One example that Cormac shared was of an animal feed company, with operations in over 21 countries that had “gone live across 21 countries just last weekend. Who would have thought we could do that by working remotely?” Customers are also noticing that the long travel times and conference room pilots are not required. However, this also means keeping applications as close to standard as possible.
Sankar explained that across 60% of Wipro’s business that is application support, we have always been working from offshore. But now even the transformational projects are heading towards distributed agile and Wipro has implemented that for many of its customers through collaborative tools. He also echoed Cormac’s views on customers adopting pre-defined, pre-configured SaaS applications and moving away from customizations.
Products & Services Specific to the Current Situation
Cormac talked about the four themes that Infor is working on – helping the world get back to work, providing a clean and safe environment, regaining visibility of the supply chain, and managing IT services. He cited examples of how Infor WFM is helping factories that are reopening in China with varied shift patterns, and how facilities management companies are deploying tools to educate people on basic things like putting on and removing PPE.
Sankar talked about the supply chain command center that is available to customers who want to alter their procurement or distribution processes within 48 hours. He also complimented Cormac on Infor’s GT Nexus platform, which provides immense flexibility to make tweaks to any supply chain.
In a similar vein, Wipro has also set up an HCM command center where any changes to pay structures can be done very quickly. This is turning into more of a necessity as more and more customers are adapting to different talent acquisition models like contract hiring.
Most Impacted Industries
The leaders agreed on Retail, Airlines, Automobile, and Hospitality industries being the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sankar observed that Manufacturing is opening up slowly in the Middle East, but is still not fully up and running in Europe and this may take time. He also suggested slower traction in the Energy sector, although the Utilities business is seeing signs of growth.
Cormac noted that while the Healthcare industry is under duress, even the Pharmaceutical industry has had to ensure extreme efficiency, considering the fact that non-COVID patients and ailments can’t be forgotten.
Sankar opined that Medical Devices is an industry that’s being really overworked right now, and Wipro & Infor can possibly use Infor’s solution for this vertical to help customers in this domain.
Changes in the Competitive Landscape
Infor was fully acquired by Koch Industries recently, which puts it in a very cash-rich position and without any short-term pressure. It competes with SAP and Oracle, who have seen some challenges with the former losing one of its co-CEOs and the latter having to do a lot of equity management.
Like other cash-rich companies, both Wipro and Infor are keenly looking at the dynamics of the smaller players to enrich their own offerings through acquisitions. Wipro is also offering its customers deferred payment options for bundled products and services with some of its partners. Using this, customers can continue their transformation journeys without worrying about cash-flow management.
Predictions Related to a Restoration of Normalcy
I quizzed the leaders on their predictions of how long the COVID situation will continue. While no one has seen the future, both agreed that this seems to be the new normal. They do fear a second wave coming in sometime around the winter of 2020, which Cormac termed as a W-shaped recovery (referring to the V, U, or L-shaped recovery that economists talk about). Sankar hypothesized that the recovery might vary geographically, with some countries recovering much sooner than others, but whoever does, will have to be extremely self-sufficient to change the buying and distribution patterns.
IT Advice for Businesses
The key piece of advice that leaders have for all companies is to accelerate cloud adoption, and go digital as soon as possible. Sankar noted that for large enterprises that are already invested heavily in legacy IT systems, this may seem difficult, but most of them are already getting used to remote ways of working. They would also need to push for automation, particularly on application support. Mid-market companies need to do this as the first priority. And as this is going to be done at an unprecedented pace in the market, there will be a scarcity of resources like skills, network bandwidth, and financial resources.
Cormac called out that with cloud, and to continuously reap the benefits of innovations, companies also need to focus on being as close to the standard as possible. Both leaders concurred that Infor’s strategy of having products that are apt to the verticals that they are built for include the last-mile functionality and therefore, are well suited in such cases.
CSR Contributions of Wipro and Infor
Cormac talked about supporting hospitals, who are Infor’s customers, by making the supply chain visible, via asset tracking, and other solutions during the COVID times. He also expressed that Infor found that monies are better spent through their own employees across the world who are making an impact at the local level, rather than simply giving it away to charitable organizations. He quoted examples of Infor employees working with local schools in India and helping to deliver food in China.
Sankar spoke about Wipro’s efforts in keeping the offices and kitchens open that helped in feeding the community, along with their contributions to government through the Azim Premji foundation.