We’re back in India once more, this time visiting Bangalore where we catch up with Subramanya C, better known as Subbu, the Global Chief Technology Officer at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS). With many of their clients coming from the healthcare sector, it was interesting to hear Subbu talk about the measures HGS have put in place to support these customers during the Covid19 crisis – and the impact this situation has had on him personally.
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Martyn Riddle: Hello and welcome to In Conversation with a series of podcasts from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX, and customer engagement industry in the Asia-Pacific region. During this series, we want to find out what the customer service organisations are doing during these challenging times and try and discover what it is that drives the leaders in this space and what makes them tick. My name is Martyn Riddle, and as well as being your host for the series, I’m also Verint’s Vice President of Marketing for the region.
For this episode of the Verint podcast, we’re once again in India and heading to Bangalore. As we’ve discussed previously, India is a country that initially appeared to have escaped the worst of the initial impact of coronavirus but unfortunately is now battling the spread of the illness across the nation. With a population of approximately 1.4 billion, that is a huge challenge and one that is no doubt creating its own unique circumstances for the country’s businesses.
Our guest today is a senior executive in one of India’s top BPOs, having been with the organisation for 20 years. I’m sure he has seen many changes to the industry; none more so than right now in the middle of the pandemic, especially with his company’s range of healthcare clients. From HGS, it is my great pleasure to welcome their Global Chief Technology Officer Subramanya C, or Subbu to his friends and hopefully I’m one of them. Subbu, welcome. Namaste.
Subramanya C: Thank you very much. Namaste, Martyn.
Martyn: Subbu, I mentioned there in the introduction that HGS has a range of healthcare clients. Perhaps you could give our listeners some more information on HGS as an organisation and the services that you provide, not only to the healthcare sector but across many other industries.
Subbu: Sure. We’ll do that, Martyn. The name is Hinduja Global Solutions, called as HGS. It’s a global leader in business process management and optimising the customer experience life cycle, because this is very, very important for anybody to survive in this industry. HGS has been making its clients more competitive every day. True to our mission statement what we have in the organisation, we want to make our clients more competitive. We have a globally local approach because we need to be globally local for our clients, for our employees and for everything to really deliver services to our customers.
There are over 38,000 plus people in our company. We have over 61 delivery centres across the globe, present in seven countries and working with world’s leading brands. Our business combines a lot in terms of technology-powered services in automation, analytics, and digital with domain expertise which is very, very key for this area on back-office processing, contact centres and HRO solutions. We deliver a lot of transformational impact to all our clients. That’s the key for us.
As you said rightly, Martyn, we have huge amount of business on healthcare, to say just a glimpse of it, we have 17,500 plus healthcare professionals supporting critical interactions from proposal building, on to a care management. Everything is what we do manage for our healthcare clients. We have for all the points which I mentioned in terms of automation, analytics, digital, et cetera, we have over 900 digital experts, and we have huge amount of data scientists who work on various skills and various tools and technologies to support our clients.
Martyn: That’s a very expensive introduction. Thank you so much for that. That’s great. India, I mentioned earlier on, initially looked to have escaped the worst of the coronovirus situation but unfortunately is now severely impacted with many regions in lockdown and apparently the virus still was spreading rampantly. I’m interested in, when did you and HGS become aware that COVID-19 was going to have an impact on the delivery of your services?
Subbu: Martyn, it’s a very valid point. All of us are really fighting and surviving the battle of COVID. This is rampant, as you rightly said, across the globe. Till the medicine is found, I think the countries will really continue to struggle this. There is enough of measures which are really being done by various governments and various politicians and various geographies collaborating for this. But while typically to say, we heard about it, seven days, typically what we call in your Indian parlance, which you opened up the statement, woh saat dinin Hindi, that is the first seven days, we really realized that there’s no way that we will be able to make people to come to office.
Employees’ safety is very, very key; at the same time, business continuity to our client is very key. So, we created a task force, all of us jumped in, a huge amount of collaboration was done.
All of us decided that, okay, let’s try to call it and then say, “Let’s make working from home” and then go back to the clients and say that, can we start working with them? To say, “Okay, let’s start discussing the various architecture, what we need to sign off, how can we really get things to make work for home and how can we work on the regulatory framework of some of the geographies?” Because in a country like India, we have a regulatory framework, which is with Department of Telecommunication, trying to state that very clearly for us, we cannot make the agents to connect from home until we have some amount of licences being given by the telecom authorities. So, we all represented.
Quickly, the government and the NASSCOM which is one of the bodies here, supported us pretty very well. We all went to the government. They approved it, and in the first initial seven days itself, we were able to massively send across right from the logistics of managing the desktops being dispatched home, to the internet connectivity being provisioned at home and various sort of Wi-Fi connectivities which is available.
All this was possible because of the great knowledge base the organisations had, and especially with us, we had a huge amount of people in terms of having connectivity which was there in some areas, connectivity not being there in some areas. With the distribution which we have globally, we need to get all this data.
What we did, like the statement what I said, we made it globally local. We had a huge amount of communication, communication, over-communication done with all our leaders trying to give, making them have decisions done at the right point of time. Make the dispatches of the desktops back to the home. Making them understand that how critical it is for us to really work with some of our healthcare clients. Taking a sign-off from some of our healthcare clients to say that, okay, we need to have some compensatory controls which we need to give because the data is going to be visible from home, so people have to take control of all this.
We had to take sign-off from the employees on the data which they will be accessing. Check on the environment, a declaration on the environment, bringing compensatory controlling measures for the employees. All this we did. Good for us is basically we are in the technology, media and in healthcare sector. We are not much in the travel, tourism, hospitality sector, which got really affected and the volumes really went down. But for us, these were the initial days, which we did. We are pride to say that with the collaboration what we had with our partner ecosystem and with our internal organisations, we didn’t have the silos. We were able to break the silos, work in collaboration with all the departments.
It could be a procurement, getting us a desktop or a licence or our partner community. It could be any of the partners who really worked with us to get us the initial licences, the devices, all to be given to us, which we were able to dispatch it to the home of the agents and make them connected and work safely, which is our key motive, and service our clients at all point of time. I think this is what we were able to achieve. Today, we can pridely say we are over 95% of the people who are able to work from home. That’s how we have done.
Martyn: I’d love to come back to the technology shortly if I can do. Again, you mentioned the focus on the healthcare, and I’m keen to learn a bit more about what that meant for your operations and your staff and your clients. I understand that empathy is a very important component of the HGS culture, both for your staff and your customers. I’m guessing this must’ve provided its own set of challenges during this crisis.
Subbu: You’re absolutely right. Empathy is very, very key. Safety of our employees is very, very key. Their families and community is the top priority. At the same time, we need to comply with the government directives. We need to have a safe working environment. We need to create social distancing. All these were taken care. At the same time, we went back to our clients and stated that this is how we are going to really make things work.
The clients also came back very positive and said that we understand and we appreciate the type of concerns and the type of empathy what you have for all your employees and for your customers. For our clients also, they were so happy that we were able to quickly turn around and ramp the people to really work from wherever they are and get the services going on. None of the customers really got affected because of this. I can pridely say again, because the clients were also understanding, it’s the end clients also understand, my customers/clients also understand the situation.
All of them came back and said that, yes, there could be some impact on the services in the initial few days, because they are used to a norm of working in the office but now, they’re trying to work from home where there could be challenges with internet connections, et cetera, and there could be some amount of environment challenges. At the same time, we are having some people who may want to continue to work from office. We still managed all this. We ensured that our offices were completely fumigated because there are some customers who say that, no, we may not allow. So, we had to cater to those customers also. We ensured that we are completely pandemic-free, offices are maintained, hygienic measures were taken care, fumigation was done, sanitisation in common areas in facilities and transport because in some of the countries, we also provide transportation to people. So, we had to ensure the facilities and transportation also are taken care, vehicles are completely sanitised and fumigated and sensitisation to the employees, which are very, very important to us because we ensure that every employee takes care of themselves and their surroundings and their colleagues and friends.
A huge amount of work was done, and this communication was not only from the team lead level. This is across the company, across the levels. It was done at various levels and employees and their families really welcomed this. More so, customers, as I said earlier, were very, very happy with the way we reacted to the situation and managed
Martyn: We’ve touched upon technology briefly, and I’m guessing as Chief Technology Officer, is perhaps an area that’s particularly important to you and I’m wondering if there’s been any particular technologies that have helped you during this crisis. I understand that speech analytics, for example, has a growing importance, giving HGS the ability to quickly identify areas of required focus. Are you able to talk a little bit about that?
Subbu: Sure. Speech analytics is what you brought out. I will bring that to a basic infrastructure to everything. A lot of organisations are prepared for business continuity for working between countries. Every customer used to really have a BCP plan and they used to have a drill. Everything was being tested. However, this is a BCP which is of a different kind, which you had not really tried out. We required the clients also do a lot of changes in his own technology. What I mean, one, he needs to give a sign-off. Two, he needs to also enable a few of the applications which could work over a web or some may be a thick client. So, we need to manage those technologies also.
Wherever possible, first thing, we had made all the employees to get connected very securely. One, as I said, safely they are taken care. Two, the connectivity to my data centre or to my clients’ data centre needs to be securely connected. One, we were able to connect it through VPN. Two, we had multi-factor authentications done so that we don’t really get into any challenges. Three, we had regular monitoring. The same tools and techniques were extended to the employees while they were working from home.
We were able to collaborate with them very easily using various audio-video conferencing tools, various chat tools, messaging tools, and hosting a lot of data which is in a secured environment, in a cloud, which is accessible only to those employees with those multi-factor authentication. While all this was being done, certainly it’s important that we use technology and automation to make this happen. We’ve entered multiple analytics platforms, we continued to enhance on those and we were able to give seamless service to our clients on all the calls which were happening, whether it is from working from home or from office.
Thanks to Verint, we were able to ensure even that screen recording are done for the agents who are sitting and working from home, because what would people normally think on a contact centre if you try to do a screen recording, there’s going to be a huge amount of bandwidth which gets consumed.
There was excellent collaboration with Verint’s team, with the R&D team, with the product development team and the partner who worked with us with Verint, was able to get us enabled to ensure that screen recordings are also happening during this COVID time and are available for our quality supervisors and for the analytics platform to evaluate and give the right information from the data which is collected and make our customers more satisfied.
Martyn: I think you’ve preempted my next question which was actually going to be how are you managing to ensure that the same high quality delivery of service still takes place whilst a lot of your staff are working remotely. I think you’ve kind of addressed that, but–
Subbu: You know what? I can certainly say we have not seen much of productivity loss because of an employee not being able to deliver. Yes, there could be times where initially while we started off with some amount of internet bandwidth challenges, et cetera, but the employees who are with HGS have walked an extra mile. They have ensured, they have worked extra hours. People know in Bangalore, typically the commute time is so huge, because employees spend huge amount of time in commuting to the office.
Trust me, even those times are being leveraged by the employees and trying to say, “We are able to work from home. We are able to give better flexibility.” They are able to spend some time with their family. At the same time, they are saying that, yes, I think I can really have a little flexible hours, I’ll be able to meet up my productivity numbers and exceed.
Martyn: That’s interesting to hear how your employees are adapting to the situation. Do you feel also that there’s been perhaps a change in expectations by clients and by the end consumers?
Subbu: You’re right. The initial days, the clients adjusted and stated that, yes, I understand, it’s a force majeure, we’ll start working. That becomes now, “Okay, that’s fine. We are able to see productivity not really getting affected. People are continuing to be happy. You will have lower attrition. You have your own family time. You have your time to deliver productivity. So, we are fine with these norms, and if there is a way that we can split our volume between maybe 60/40, 70/30, let’s try to do it. Whenever the situation comes to normal, you can think of having it and then come back how you want to work.” Those are type of discussions which we are trying to see, which is encouraging.
Martyn: With that in mind, is there anything that you would perhaps do differently with hindsights and then looking forward, what does the immediate future look like?
Subbu: We were able to really come up. One, because of the knowledge base what we had and the speed of reacting to what the situation came up. We have made that as a norm now. Speed was always there within the company, and we need to get it executed because why do they really come back? Because of the quality of service what we can deliver, with speed, with safety, with security. If you really look at, these were already a DNA in the organisation.
Now, we are accelerating this, and we are making this as norm and trying to say to the client, “This is how we were speaking. We had done it partially, and we are on a hybrid infrastructure. We will continue to do this. We will continue to collaborate with our partner ecosystem which is very, very key. And people will come back and say that, to what degree you will be able to make your remote workforce to work on?” It’s absolutely open for customers, because if customer comes back and says that, make more and more of this, we are open for it. Are we learning and are we enhancing in this? Absolutely yes. We are trying to say, “Is there a way that I’ll be able to extend my corporate network to home?”
We are working with service providers, like I said, with a partner ecosystem, trying to tell and trying to build in a consistent bandwidth, like if you really have an internet bandwidth, you need consistency. You don’t want to really have a break. You don’t want the call to get disconnected. Is there a way that they will be able to extend your MPLS, which used to be extended to the office? Is there a way that you can extend it to the home? Such are the discussions which we are talking to service providers to ensure those are implemented.
And trying to tell them, “Okay, how much can we be on cloud, how much can we be on-prem, and how will we be able to expand between the two? How can we have a management framework and how will we have a governance structure between all this? This is how we will be able to work on a normal stretch.”
Martyn: I think unfortunately the bandwidth issues are throwing a few gremlins into work today. We’re getting a few glitches on the line now and again. But you’ve been at HGS for 20 years. You’re one of the founders I understand. I’m interested to hear what impact the situation has had on you as a leader.
Subbu: One thing very pridely to say, I have my team who really collaborated with me. I just was absolutely orchestrating this because it requires a lot of decision-making. One, loyalty to the organisation and the organisation the way it gives you delegation of powers, which is very, very important. At the times where you need to make a decision, if you have a huge amount of positive deposits inside the company, it will be good for us to really withdraw as and when we want.
At the same time, me being in the company for 20 years, the industry ecosystem has integrated with me and interacted with me so much, they know, a call from Subbu make things happen. They give me a call, I get it executed, my team members, because it’s a hats off to all my team members and all my IT warriors inside my company who almost work 24/7. Of course, I had to be awake to really meet up with all these people and ensure the decisions are done. Our phones were absolutely on. Even otherwise, our phones are on. Now, it was always ringing. It was just on call over call over call.
The only different thing which I can really say is, yes, we were not in office, we were at home. So, the family also tries to have the plus and minus of it. They used to also hear all the discussions what we really do, and they were a party to it, and they were trying to say, “Good, that at least we are all on the same dining table and we are able to have dinner at least for 15-20 minutes together.” I think these were good things what we have. And as I said, not only me, my own peer level people and my boss who has also been in this company for over 17 years has supported us in making us enable this business to deliver what it is today even in this pandemic time.
Martyn: That’s you as a professional leader and you just touched upon this briefly there, the family situation, I was wondering what it meant for you personally, apart from your family sharing the dining table when they’re hearing what their dad is doing for work. What else has it meant for you at a personal level?
Subbu: See, one, I always derive satisfaction, Martyn, in being occupied. That’s how I have been, as a DNA for me, and me being a hardcore technologist and a strategist for technology, all my 30 years of experience has been in this. I am not in most of my podcasts which I have spoken quite some time ago also, I am not a 30,000 feet CIO. I am a sub-zero feet CIO/CTO where I get into the data centre, get into addressing the challenges, work with the teams, trying to look at how things can be done differently, how things can be done better. “That’s how professional he is,” right?
Personally, also it’s important that I spend time with family. I used to do a lot of travel; because of my style of being in touch with customer and partner ecosystem, I do a lot of travel and having servicing our customers, being with the customers also to understand what is that which we can do. My travelling has totally cut down, which is good. For the company, good amount of G&A cost is saved.
For me, the huge amount of travelling, traffic time, getting stuck in airports, getting in between the flights, layover times, all that is gone. I’m happily working from home. Just one comfort of internet connection and the laptop and the mic being there, I’m absolutely able to do things on. Just get into video call, conference calls, make things run. This is also if you really look at, a good amount of delegation which I can do.
Whenever I try to get some time over the weekend, off late after the things got settled down, I love hearing music because in India, you would have really heard, like you said, Martyn, there is a huge amount of music, things which are there. We’re all music lovers. I hear a lot of music, and I do some amount of reading to speak up and learn about technology. I try to do some amount of strategy based on whatever I try to read on and spend time with the family.
Martyn: I want to go back on that travel if I can just very briefly. You mentioned the airport delays, the flying, all that kind of stress and hassle, you almost sounded as though you were relieved not to be living that life, but hey Subbu, just between me and you, we’re here, we’re friends. You miss that a little bit, don’t you?
Subbu: Trust me, you know what? Because you will not exactly know, you are missing the face-to-face. Whatever you have, your best of your teleconference and you video conferences, you need to have sometimes the touch and feel. I think that’s absolutely missing.
We’re just waiting for things to get better, things to get safe, and we definitely want to go back, have the pulse of the customers, spend time with the customer, dine with the customers, dine with our own employees, and also have travel with the family quickly because my sons were saying, “Dad, we are almost a year since we have really gone on our holiday, so we need to really jump on.” I said, “Guys, I understand but let’s wait for the pandemic to get over and let’s get on, take a flight and go around.”
Martyn: I’m perhaps a little strange. I’m missing the smell of avgas.
Martyn: I’m missing the taste of airline food, perhaps [laughs]. You talked earlier about the Indian music. I was wondering if there has been a particular piece of music that keeps you sane during this madness?
Subbu: Yes, the music to my ears is all our Vedic chants which I do, all the Bhagavad Gitas what I really hear. This is what I do for me to really have peace on myself. When I get a few minutes without the calls being there, with typically the musics which are there on various websites on Bhagavad Gita and other things, I listen to those music, and I listen to some instrumental musics, and I also listen to some regional music which I can really say more of South Indian flavour. It’s a combination of all these three is what I do.
Martyn: You’re channelling the power of Ganesh to make you into a happier spirited person.
Subbu: Exactly, sir. You said it very rightly, Martyn.
Martyn: That’s good to hear.
Subbu: everything works.
Martyn: How about a book. You talked about you enjoying some books and films or TV. Anything, in particular that’s keeping you occupied?
Subbu: Oh, yes. In fact, TV has been a tough challenge because I’ll not be able to sit and watch out it, but when I get over the weekend, I pick up a few good, the regional serials which I do have, which are some detective type of serials which I really look into. In fact, I can say I just finished the book of Rich Dad Poor Dad. That’s one of the books which my sons had given. I really completed that by reading in between times which I had.
Martyn: Which side did you come out? Were you the rich dad or were you the poor dad?
Subbu: [laughs] I’ll leave it to my sons to really say. God has given me everything what I want.
Martyn: We can’t get any further than that. Subramanya C, Global Chief Technology Officer at HGS. I really enjoyed chatting to you today on Verint podcast. Thank you for joining us. I wish you, your family, your colleagues all the very best for a safe and happy future. Thank you, sir.
Subbu: Thank you, Martyn. Thank you for your time. I’m sure we will have a safe and a great future ahead. Thank you.
In conversation with . . . is a series of podcasts from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX and customer engagement industry across the Asia Pacific region.