Priority is to shift 90% of over 4-mn workforce to WFH model: Debjani Ghosh

Topics Coronavirus | Nasscom | Lockdown

One of the things we have asked the government for now is dongles, laptops, chargers. These have to be classified as essentials for work from home to happen”
As the global Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life, India's $191-billion information technology (IT) services industry and tech start-ups have reworked their business models siginificantly. Debjani Ghosh, president of industry body Nasscom (National Association of Software and Service Companies), discusses the way forward, in a conversation with 
Neha Alawadhi. Edited excerpts:

How are IT-BPM companies coping with the situation?

For IT/ITeS (information technology enabled services) and BPM (business process management) companies the biggest priority is shifting almost 90 per cent of its 4.36 million workforce to a work-from-home model. In a big country like India, everything is not going to work properly from day one, but things have been moving fast. Mission critical services — like banking, hospitals, which require a lot of on-ground support, and a lot of security — cannot take data out and work from home, even though these are less than 5 per cent of the work force.

We are ensuring we take right care of these people with social distancing and sanitisation in the campuses, which is critical.

What are some of the main issues as more and more firms work from home?

The critical piece we now have to think about is connectivity, as most companies will work from home fully in the coming weeks. How much will our networks withstand? Will they allow the  kind of work we do, which in most cases cannot afford latency. Also, power supply is going to become a critical issue.

The extension of a lot of schemes is also a priority, like the SEZ scheme ending on March 30. We had a meeting with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal to bring that up. We will need extension of these schemes for at least six months, so business doesn't stop and get impacted. 

My biggest request to the government is to reassure the world that our IT industry is very resilient, very adaptive, we're changing fast and will not let our customers down.

What are the key issues facing start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs)?

With start-ups and SMEs, its really about liquidity. We have to ensure that the government or large companies, everyone who owes money to SMEs pay up. This is the time when start-ups can become really useful. They're innovative and can find solutions quickly. Now is the time to buy from start-ups. Please don't ask them to do trials, buy from them, invest in them.

One of the things we have asked the government for now is dongles, laptops, chargers. These have to be classified as essentials for work from home to happen. We need these to get delivered to ensure business continuity.

What is the Nasscom Taskforce that is being planned for Covid-19?

We’ve been hearing of so many companies working on different solutions like ventilators, working on something that will help track quarantine patients, etc, but all these efforts have been disjointed. So, there are two things we are doing. One, creating a directory of people and companies working on Covid-19 solutions, which will be accessible to anyone who may need it — resident welfare associations, government, anyone. 

Two, Nivruti (Rai, Intel India country head) is leading a taskforce and members will now vote on what areas to take up — containment, tracking, testing, recovery. Once we identify the topics, we will maybe break it up into smaller groups. The members are more than 30-35 companies including Intel, TCS, Accenture, Wipro, SAP, AWS, Tech Mahindra and a lot of more big and small companies.

How are clients looking at the situation?

They are also in the same boat, having to figure out how to work from home and the impact on businesses. They know that the one thing that will take them through this is the use of technology. So, the expectations from us are only going up in terms of our ability to continue our services as we work from home.

As an industry, we got together and said that first priority has to be safety of our people. We have to figure out how do we keep our client's businesses up and running while keeping our people safe.

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