CIO Strategy and CIO Priorities 2021

What are top Chief Information Officer strategies and priorities for 2021? Abhijit Mazumder, the CIO of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a company with 448,000 employees, shares his CIO agenda and business goals for the upcoming year.


Oct 16, 2020

What are top Chief Information Officer strategies and priorities for 2021? Abhijit Mazumder, the CIO of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a company with 448,000 employees, shares his CIO agenda and business goals for the upcoming year.

TCS is a leading global IT services, consulting and business solutions with US $22 billion in revenue and more than 448,000+ consultants in 46 countries. In his current role as CIO, Abhijit Mazumder is responsible for Strategy &Technology operations of TCS Corporate IT and driving successful digital transformation on pillars of Agile, Cloud, Automation, ML & AI.


This transcript was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Strategic CIO imperatives for 2021

Michael Krigsman: We're discussing chief information officer strategy for 2021 with Abhijit Mazumder. He's the CIO of TCS with 450,000 employees.

Abhijit Mazumder: Tata Consultancy Services, TCS as we are more commonly known, is about 50 years old. We are an IT services company, which means the large Fortune 500 organizations outsource their IT work to us. We are headquartered in Mumbai, India, and we have 450,000-plus associates in about 52 countries.

We work for a huge number of global customers and our footprint today is truly global. We are in North America. We are in Latin America, which is a very large business for us, U.K. and Ireland. We are in Europe, Asia Pacific, Japan, and China. And, of course, we are significantly here in India.

We also provide products and platforms to some of our customers. My role here is to look after the technology strategy and operations for our corporate IT, which takes care of, as I said, all of our associates, all of our customers, and all of our stakeholders.

Michael Krigsman: Now, a quick thank you to Productiv, a SaaS management platform that unlocks the power hidden in your SaaS applications to bring you higher ROI, better team collaboration, and lower license costs.

Abhijit, we're talking about CIO strategy. As you think about the coming six months into next year, what are the key strategic issues that are on your mind or that you look at?

Abhijit Mazumder: I'm sure everybody's context is slightly different than mine. We are a company which is growing very fast. We are a little over $22 billion in size right now and we are growing significantly fast over the last few years.

The key strategic imperatives for us are:

  • Ensure that we bring in more technology to have our business scale up more effectively.
  • Helping our associates become more productive.
  • Being able to acquire talent more quickly.

Doing so, we:

  • Ensure that all of our processes, all of our operations are secure and safe because we also manage a lot of our customers' data.
  • Our infrastructure is really scalable and resilient.

Those are my strategic imperatives for 2021.

The global health crisis

Michael Krigsman: Well, clearly, these are going to be issues we talk about now. Let's begin with the current global health crisis. Tell us about the transitions and tell us about what the impact has been on TCS, your employees, your stakeholders with 450,000 associates. That's just an enormous group of people.

Abhijit Mazumder: The pandemic, or the health crisis, kind of caught us a little ahead of our planning process. We have a fairly large operation in China. We were looking at what was happening in China very keenly and we were trying to learn from it.

Our expectation was that probably we will have to start taking adequate measures by end of March, early April timeframe where the crisis will probably come and hit India. Unfortunately for us, the pandemic hit India about two, two and a half weeks in advance of our timeline, which meant we had to accelerate all our planning by that time. We were, for a few weeks, trying to keep up with that unexpected advancement of a timeline.

What we really did was, we had what we call these large delivery centers. These are huge facilities. Some of them can house 20,000 to 25,000 people at the same time. These are mini-cities, kind of, where you have everything. People come here, work, and then go back the end of their working time.

We are to empty these delivery centers. We have to ensure that people go and work from their homes. Many moved back from the cities where they were operating from to their native places.

While they were doing so, we needed to ensure that they are equipped with the right equipment, they are equipped with the right technologies so that they can continue to provide services to our customers because our customers are global banks. Our customers are global utilities.

Our customers are those hospitals, those healthcare facilities that needed to continue to provide services. The emergency services that are being provided were being enabled by us and, therefore, we needed to ensure that all our associates can continue to deliver those well.

Over a period of three days, we could really move and enable our associate base, almost 90+% of our associate base, to start working from wherever they were at that point in time. There was a lockdown in India. There were lockdowns in many places across the world. That was a major, major technology challenge that we had to work from in the early days of the health crisis.

Since then, we have done many things. We have leveraged our expertise to scale-up many of our operations. Many new applications have been built to take care of the unique situation. A lot of changes needed to be made to our financial systems, definitely our healthcare HR systems, systems that support our associates' wellbeing, and also scale up the collaboration platforms that we are using. That has been the challenge ever since.

I think it took us about three months to stabilize it. While we were doing that, we also needed to make sure that all these operations are secure because, as you can understand, our associates are working with our customers' financials, people's money. When they were working at the office, we ensured that they are working in a very secure environment. While they're working from home, the same security envelope can be extended to their home, to their personal devices, as they are working. That's what we did.

Business process transformation decisions

Michael Krigsman: Can you drill down a little bit and tell us, as you were analyzing the processes that had to change, how did you prioritize? How did you decide where to begin first, given the fact that everything was changing? Maybe everything wasn't changing but core pieces were. How did you dissect that?

Abhijit Mazumder: The first thing that we decided was, whatever we do, we needed to make sure that our associates, our employees—some of them were stranded at different parts of the world. Some of them were at their native. Some of them were obviously in cities that they were based out of—wherever they were, they stayed safe, they stayed healthy. That was our priority number one and we needed to make sure that all our policies, all the things that we do, we have to do by making sure that our people stay safe and stay healthy. That was priority number one.

As soon as we have assured that, the second thing that we needed to ensure was that our customers' work cannot be disrupted. Banks cannot be disrupted. Utilities' work cannot be disrupted. The hospitals' work cannot be disrupted. Even the entertainment companies' work cannot be disrupted because you are at home. You need your entertainment.

Therefore, customers' ongoing operations needed to be safeguarded and ensured that we continue to provide the same services. That was our policy number two.

The third thing that we made sure that we do was that we looked at literally every part of our processes. We looked at our HR processes. We looked at our financial processes.

We looked at our customer-facing processes to ensure that these two aspects are first addressed. Then whatever changes that we needed to do to our systems, we did that. That was how we tried to prioritize the work that we did.

Michael Krigsman: What was the hardest part? I'm sure there were many, many different challenges, but can you isolate something that said, "This seems almost impossible to me," and then how did you address it?

Abhijit Mazumder: When we were told that nearly 450,000 people are not going to come to the office tomorrow, but you need to ensure that our customers' work needs to continue, we just didn't know in a few hours what we would do to make that happen. We literally went into a continuous conversation at the executive level, at the operations level, and different ideas that were brought up. Sometimes they were discarded.

As I said, for about 18 hours, we had no clue what we would do. Then slowly consensus emerged and we got our teams to get together and start writing together pieces of code while we were moving our equipment with the transporter's help. We were getting permissions from the government, from every small locality.

Every day seemed like an impossible task. Every day, we put targets out there and we just thought this target would be impossible to meet and somehow, I would say, 80% to 85% of the days, we met our targets. Every bit was difficult.

Michael Krigsman: When you're making these decisions, you're confronted with this, and you're trying to sort it out, who's involved in the decision-making process?

Abhijit Mazumder: We created a leadership pool, a team of 50, 60 executors who would use our collaboration platform and would be coming together, having conversations, or having chat messages on an ongoing basis to try to figure out what are the possible options out there. We would create small groups out of these 50, 60 people who would be given specific tasks, so we had all our geography leadership, all our business leadership, all our operational leadership, all our technology leadership as part of this group of 50, 60 who are our executors.

We had our head of security. We had our head of compliance. We had our legal team there and CEO downwards. Our CEO is very hands-on. We are a company where everybody has kind of grown up from being a trainee all the way to the topmost level, so our executive team is almost everybody is hands-on, so we all work together. We kept on having these conversations and slowly, we emerged with the decisions to address some of these key challenges.

Lessons for managing disruption and change

Michael Krigsman: Could you identify several lessons, key lessons that you learned along the way for managing this type of rapid disruption and change?

Abhijit Mazumder: I think there are four key things that we learned out of it. Number one is, involve the entire leadership team early. Even if somebody is not affected today, involve them in the decision-making process.

Secondly, it is very, very critical to communicate to your global associate base. We ensured that communication channels to everybody was established very rapidly. If a decision was taken, we had created information, dissemination, and kind of call trees we made so that, within hours, the information could be reached to the lowest individual out there in the field trying to figure out what needs to be done.

Involve all parts of the leadership. Have the communication and collaboration processes in place. Have – what is the most sacrosanct piece. As we said, taking care of people is the most sacrosanct piece and you cannot violate that.

Customer operations must continue. That was the second, so such policy decisions, having those policy decisions, and taking all your processes, or when you're revising all your processes, aligning to those policy decisions is very critical.

The fourth and foremost was talking to or communicating with all the stakeholders. We spoke with our customers in the morning. We spoke with our customers in the afternoon. We spoke with our customers late at night.

We spoke with all our service providers, all our vendors, again in the morning, in the afternoon, in the night. We were, at some point of time, almost continuously talking to everybody.

I think those are the four key lessons: Communicate, collaborate, ensure that your major policy decisions are based on your principles, and make them stick.

The last point is, we made decisions or we made policies to make local decisions be made locally. Let's say there were some operations being done out of a region in India. We had created a local team who had the policy guidance, who would take their own decisions and, once or twice a day, they would come back and report, "This is how we need to handle it," and that really worked. Local decision-making, I would say, is the last point that we learned out of it.

Michael Krigsman: Very interesting. You established very clear principles and priorities. You created policies that supported those underlying principles. Then you communicated a lot, in summary.

Abhijit Mazumder: Communicated a lot, yes.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Arsalan Khan on Twitter. Arsalan asks, "Were there areas of your business that showed more demand from your clients due to the health crisis, whether it was the cloud, business process reengineering, or anything else, any other areas?"

Abhijit Mazumder: All parts of our business, but excessive customer demand. We have just come out of a quarter that has been really turned a blockbuster quarter. We have never had a quarter like that before because our demand from all the industry verticals that we serve, all types of customers we serve, and all types of services that we provide. Be it our product services, be it our business process services, be it our operational services that we provide, all are in extremely high demand from our customers.

Michael Krigsman: Was that caused by the pandemic? What was the reason for that?

Abhijit Mazumder: I think there are two or three things that have caused this surge in demand. Number one is, we were with our customers. We were with our customers when they were low. We didn't ask them questions. "Will you pay us money for the work we are doing?"

We said, "Let us first make sure that you sustain your operations. You survive." We built that relationship when we gave them that confidence that they can depend on us. I think that's one thing that the customers are coming back to us for because we were with them when it was a really low time for them.

The second reason is, we have been looking at the trends, the trends of technology adoption. For the last few years, we have been investing heavily in these new technologies and these new services that we've heard that the customers would need. What this health crisis has done is really accelerate the digitalization of a lot of these processes.

As I keep saying, a lot of our customer needs were broken. I spoke to a CIO of a very large manufacturing firm in the very early days of the pandemic. He came and said, "Many of the things that we never thought can be done outside of factory premises are being done from home."

There were many such myths that were broken across the industries, which meant many of our customers needed the support, the transformation, the digital transformation of their processes. That's what we do for our customers. Therefore, our services have been in extremely high demand.

The third thing I think is, much of what we do, we have built an image of trustworthiness. We are trustworthy and we believe that our customers know that. When there is a crisis, if you go back and look ten years back on the global financial crisis, that's exactly. We see the exact same trend.

Whenever there is a crisis, the customers have always come to us because they can trust us to do the right thing for them. I think those are the things that have really allowed us to grow.

How to build business resiliency

Michael Krigsman: Abhijit, one of the key themes that I'm hearing from you is this idea of resiliency. That kind of underlies some of the things, many of the things you've been talking about. Maybe talk to us about resiliency and adaptability. That seems really important here.

Abhijit Mazumder: The fact that we had realized some time that, as a business, we need to have a purpose. While we have a purpose, it is important that our operations are extremely resilient.

Many of the things that we have invested in historically, our technologies where we decided to be agile, we are one of the first enterprise agile organization and that's an initiative that is driven by our CEO, Rajesh Gopinathan himself. We decided that we would be an enterprise agile organization by 2020 and we believe we reached that goal about a year in advance. It was just about time where the health crisis hit us.

The second thing is, we decided that we would be a cloud-first company, which means every technology that we deploy would be on the cloud. We decided it not because there was a global health crisis. We decided it a few years back because we realize that moving our technology operations to the cloud meant that we would get extreme resiliency.

It is not a single cloud setup, so we are today working with multiple cloud providers to ensure that even among the cloud providers, there is redundancy and, therefore, we can move from one to the other if there is a spike in demand or somebody is having issues.

The third thing that we realized is adaptability is very critical for us. Therefore, we need to make sure everything that we build is extremely configurable.

One of the key reasons why we could very quickly switch our operations from development centered only kind of operations to work from home operations. In less than a couple of weeks, all our processes were transformed. All we needed to do was we needed to change the configuration of different pieces of software that we had built over a period of time.

That configurability of our solutions that we built, it needed us to invest more in building our solutions when we were building them. But when the crisis really hit us, it really, really helped us. As I said, in a couple of weeks, we could reconfigure our processes.

We do our quarter-end and publish our financial results in the first ten days of the next month. Even during the peak of the healthcare crisis, we could complete our financials in two days and we did our quarterly results. We were prepared for our quarterly results in the fifth day of the next month and we were completely compliant to all the changes in the rules and the policies and the taxation that was done by that time, which was possible because every piece of what we did in our financial systems, in our HR systems were all configurative and we needed to do this configurability. That gave us the adaptability that we needed and that really helped us.

Productivity vs. efficiency

Michael Krigsman: You use the term taxation department. I wonder. When you think about resilience, building in resilience, and building in that kind of adaptability, is it almost like an added cost or tax on efficiency and productivity, or do you see it differently than that?

Abhijit Mazumder: I don't see it as a tax. It is like this. Maybe the designing took a bit more time. Developing the system took a bit more time. But as we all know, writing code is only 10% of the work. Designing the solution is only another 10% of the work. The rest of the 80% is when we really use it and that's where the value comes from.

Instead of 10%, if we had done even 10% more, which is 20%, in the larger scheme of things, that's a very, very small number but it gives you extreme adaptability. I really do not see this as a tax. I really see it as investment for the future. Because we invested in that future and because the future is always unknown, so we invested in it, that gave us a tremendous advantage, which is truly a competitive advantage, as you can see.

Michael Krigsman: There's not just a single-minded focus on efficiency but you're overlaying the resiliency, the adaptability, and innovation sort of in this, can we call it, investment mix?

Abhijit Mazumder: Absolutely. The way I look at it is, where does my investment dollar really go? I can invest in improving my own operations' productivity or I can invest in building in that resiliency, which may mean I am not super, super productive. I may be able to squeeze another 5% out of my operations, but my operations is a very small part of TCS's overall operating cost. If that gives a significant business benefit, that's the multiplied effect of that additional investment.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter. Ankit Jain says, "How were we planning to use AI to manage identity threats in security?" so the role of AI in security.

Abhijit Mazumder: One of the key things that we have been investing in the last few years and we will see this investment increase significantly as we go forward is the investment in AI and machine learning algorithms and technologies. We are deploying AI for already of our operations, not just security. I just wanted to make that clear.

Specifically to AI, we are deploying AI in security to find out exceptions, to find out if there are anomalies in data. As you can understand with 450,000 people doing transactions many, many times a day, we generate huge volumes of data which our security software need to search through on a daily basis. This is literally terabytes of data on a daily basis.

We are using different AI products and AI solutions to do anomaly detection and that's one of the use cases. There are many such use cases that we are working towards. But anomaly detection is one of the key things that we work really deeply and it has helped us identify potential threats early on is all I can say.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. You can see I prioritize the questions from Twitter over my own. Very often the questions, as you can tell, are very insightful. They're good questions. We have a question from Krishna Chaitanya. He asks, "How has this pandemic changed the attrition rate?" I'm not sure what he's referring to specifically. Maybe employee attrition. I'm not sure.

Abhijit Mazumder: TCS has one of the lowest attrition rates in the IT services industry. Fortunately for us, our attrition rate has actually dropped even below the normal threshold, which is the lowest in the industry, to even lower levels this quarter. I think people are choosing to stay with us during this crisis is all I can say.

The future work, technology, and customer experience

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Rajneesh Gupta. He wants to know what is the roadmap to the future of how technology will change in the coming few years. What I'd like to do is redirect that to the future of work, relations with customers, and the changes that you see coming up. We'll come back to specifics about technology a little bit later. Let's talk about changes to work and customer relationships, customer expectations, things like that.

Abhijit Mazumder: See, our customers are, as I said, global organizations and we are seeing a rapid adoption of technology by most of our customers. We are seeing them adopt a lot of cloud, of course. Everybody is talking about cloud, but a huge amount of AI and ML work is also being done. I think that is going to fundamentally change many of the business processes in many of our customers, as well as for us. That's the future that we are looking at.

We are seeing an emergence of new business processes as some of the networking technology improves. 5G, for example, is being looked at as something that would fundamentally change the way a lot of businesses work.

The leverage of IoT will significantly increase because of 5G, is our expectation, and that would change the supply chain. That would change healthcare. That would change a lot of businesses. You need to track a lot of different items. I would say the next generation of mobility, which drives user experience using augmented real user experience, using essentially conversational systems, and I think those are technologies that would fundamentally change the way we do things in the future, our work in the future.

For me specifically, I think one of the key areas of focus for me is to look at how I can change the employee experience. The employee experience is as critical for us as customer experience.

We have been focusing on enhancing and improving customer experience. Our customers have been doing that. We have been doing that. But the employee experience is something that I am focused on and that's going to leverage all these technologies that we spoke about.

It's going to leverage AI a lot. It's going to leverage 5G a lot. It's going to leverage augmented reality, maybe virtual reality. I don't know yet. Those are the areas that I'm seeing things happen and for us to invest in.

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like this emphasis on customer experience, and let's include employee experience in that, is central to your thinking going forward.

Abhijit Mazumder: Yes. At the end of the day, we all exist because of our customers. If the customers did not exist, there is no reason for us to exist.

The customer has to have the right experience of the services that we provide to them. It's really critical in a competitive landscape because, all things being equal, the customer will choose where he gets the best customer experience. Therefore, it is extremely critical.

The same with the employees. We are in the knowledge industry, which means our real competitive advantage is our employees. Therefore, the employee experience is equally important for us.

Michael Krigsman: Rahul Punjabi asks, "What will be the major focus areas for CIOs over the next few years as we emerge from the pandemic?"

Abhijit Mazumder: There are three areas that are going to be extremely important. One of the things that I see, while it is not that much true for TCS, I have been in business and I was moved into IT because TCS thought IT was very, very strategic and, therefore, they moved me from business to IT.

In many customer situations, the CIO's role typically has been extremely technology-focused. However, if I see in my conversations with my peers in the last few months and maybe the last couple of years, to be precise, we are seeing that the CIO is becoming more and more an advisor to the CEOs and to the boards for many issues that normally would not involve the CIOs.

I think that is a very critical direction which all the CIOs have to take seriously; how to advise the technology aspects of their business to the other CXOs and to their boards. They have to advise on the aspects of privacy and security.

Data privacy and data security is extremely important. They have to advise them about the emerging new technologies, especially AI. AI becomes very, very important because it becomes extremely important.

I think, lastly, the thing that becomes important is how to really change the engagement model with your customer. One of the key things that this global health crisis has taught us is many businesses are changing their customer engagement model. It is becoming more and more digital and more and more technology-dependent. That's one of the key areas where the CIOs have to invest in the future or focus on in the future.

Michael Krigsman: Can you elaborate on that, the idea of the CIO needing to change the customer engagement model? That's interesting.

Abhijit Mazumder: I'll just take an example of, let's say, a retailer. The smaller retailers, the large retailers, everybody looks at Amazon and sees how Amazon has transformed their industry.

If you really look at it, it is Shopify who is really making the transformation of the retail industry over the last few quarters. I think that is a very interesting trend, which means there is a company which is enabling the retail industry to transform itself on how they engage, how the retainer engages with this customer. That's an example of change, of how your business model will fundamentally change because you adopted Shopify's technology to compete with one of your industry disruptors, which is Amazon in this particular case.

Michael Krigsman: What's the lesson for CIOs?

Abhijit Mazumder: First and fundamental lesson for the CIO is, you have to know how your business runs, how your business makes money, and how your business is fundamentally changing. Who is your competitor? Who is your business's competitor? What innovations are they bringing to compete with you? Therefore, what should you do? How should you transform your business with the leverage of technology to compete against them? I think that is the key learning that I take away from these things.

Michael Krigsman: We have yet another question from Twitter, another interesting one. Thanks, everybody, for your questions. These are great. What is the effort and experience required to become the CIO of a company like TCS?

Abhijit Mazumder: I was in sales and I have been working as a consultant to many of my customers over a very long period of time. I have been essentially complaining and saying, we advise our customers about this and that. We can probably do similar things in-house. At some point, I was told, "You complain too much, so you go fix this." Maybe that.

Michael Krigsman: Dipen Chhadwa says, "Mr. Mazumder, do you believe that bring your own device (BYOD) policies should be adopted by corporates and by the business?

Abhijit Mazumder: You ask a general question and the answer is always, "It depends." It depends on what business you are in. It depends in what your customers' requirements are. It depends on how you actually do your work.

There are many, many situations where bring your own device makes absolute sense because it's your device that you can control. I can just create a virtual terminal for you that you can use to do your work. Once your work is done, you can switch it off and it's gone.

There are situations where you deal with somebody else's data or you deal with your own organization's data, which is extremely confidential or it has data privacy issues. Therefore, we need to ensure that you don't keep that data with you. Therefore, we need to have much more stricter control on the device that you use to do the work. Therefore, maybe BYOD is not right for you at that point.

It really depends on the context you are using it. In many cases, it makes a lot of sense. In some cases, it doesn't.

Michael Krigsman: During the pandemic, how difficult is it to get more business, and what are the major technologies that enable a company like TCS to increase its business during this difficult time?

Abhijit Mazumder: I don't want to belittle the work that our sales folks have done over the last few months to get the business that is out there. I think what really worked for us is we engaged. We stayed with our customers.

We worked with them to identify what challenges they were facing and help them solve it then and there rather than pushing a contract in front of them. "First sign this contract and then we will do the work for you." I think that attitude of solving your problem first really helps and that has helped us gain a lot of business.

Chief Information Officer priorities for 2021

Michael Krigsman: As we finish up, as you look forward, can you quickly summarize the things that come to you, top of mind, for your priorities over the next year into 2021?

Abhijit Mazumder: We have been running a lot of small sprints in the initial days of the global health crisis. However, we need to keep in mind that this is a marathon. This is a marathon that have to run and we need to do it in an agile way, which means I am more prone to create a quarterly plan rather than a yearly plan, going forward, because things will change and things will change very rapidly.

My priorities will probably change quarter on quarter depending on how the business is moving, how the economy is doing, how everything else is going on in the world. all of them impact my business. I think that is my first lesson.

The second thing is the larger technology trends are here to stay, which means we need to understand that we need to invest a lot more in technology than we have done historically. That is true for any kind of organization wherever you are in the world.

We need to invest more in technology to be competitive. We need to invest more in technology just to ensure that our employees' experience improves, that their data is safe and secure, our customers' data is safe and secure, and we can adapt as things change. That means investment in skills and talent, and we need to do that as well. I think that is an extremely critical learning that I have.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. With that, we are out of time. A huge thank you to Abhijit Mazumder, the CIO of TCS. Abhijit, thank you very much for taking your time to be with us today.

Everybody, thank you for watching, especially the folks who asked such great questions. Before you go, please, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website. I promise you it's worthwhile doing that.

Thank you, everybody. Have a great week. Go to We have amazing shows coming up, and we'll see you again next time. Take care.

Published Date: Oct 16, 2020

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 674