July 2008

Canada calling

Akhilesh Tripathi, who heads TCS’s operations in Canada, talks about spreading roots in a business environment where you are what you deliver

Akhilesh TtripathiCanada is distinct from the US and Akhilesh Tripathi has a fine understanding of this not-always recognized fact. As country manager, TCS Canada, Mr Tripathi heads a business that stands separate from its big brother to the south, and there is a lot to be said about that reality.

Mr Tripathi’s primary responsibility with TCS Canada is expanding the organization’s business footprint in an emerging market, but there’s more to it than that, and it includes building relationships with industry, government, academia and the social sector. In this interview with Christabelle Noronha, the 12-year TCS veteran — who lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife and son — spreads the good word about operating in a country that came late to the outsourcing party.

Could you tell us how TCS’s Canada operations have evolved?
There is an emotional value attached to TCS’s presence in Canada. In 1948, FC Kohli did his undergrad studies in Canada and in 2007 he got his honorary doctorate from Queens (his second in Canada after Waterloo University). We had friends here even before beginning operations in 1993. A second factor that helped us is that Canada is a commonwealth country; the legal setup, the ways of doing business, the manner in which people behave — all of these are easy to relate to. The third advantage for us is our proximity to TCS’s largest market, which is North America.

We started operations back in 1993-94 with Nortel. This was interesting because Nortel started working with us in advanced technological areas at a time when outsourcing was unheard of in these parts. The second inflection point happened when the Canadian Depository for Securities began looking for a global partner to help it with solutions for clearing and settlement; it floated a global bid which we won. That’s the time we opened our office in Toronto; we now have sales offices in Montreal and Calgary, a presence in Vancouver and Ottawa and development centers in Mississauga and Montreal.

TCS now has some 2,000 people supporting our business in Canada. About half of them are physically present in Canada while the rest are involved in servicing Canadian customers from our global locations, largely out of India. We have done well in the banking sector, in insurance and in telecom. We also have a footprint in the provincial government, in manufacturing and a few other verticals. Business has been good; if you look at aggregated growth over the last three years it has been roughly 100 per cent year on year.

What about the energy segment?
Energy is a big market and a focus area for us, as is utilities. Canada is one of the first countries in the world to implement what are known as smart-metering initiatives, the latest in terms of technology and environment friendliness and with a system that allows users to streamline their consumption patterns.

How do you view the market here?
First of all, Canada is experiencing the benefits of globalization. It has been a bit late in adopting global practices, specifically in the context of outsourcing, but the value of the dollar has given the country an economic reason to pursue this aggressively. Second, there is a skill gap that exists in this marketplace. Enrolment in the mathematics and science streams is not as high as it should be, which translates into a greater demand that needs to be fulfilled. This can be accomplished by service providers with the capability to deliver value. The third aspect is that the market does not have many players like us, organizations with a track record of executing projects on time while realising all objectives. It’s a market where vendor maturity to bring benefits of globalization to clients has not been too pronounced.

What’s the difference between TCS in Canada and in the US? Do you have a lot of competition?
The Canadian market is different from that in the US. It’s easy to mistake Canada as the 51st American state, but that’s not the reality; this is very much a Commonwealth country. You’ll find a lot of similarities with the UK, for example, or Europe. Relationships have a lot more value. Perseverance rewards well. It’s a well-integrated society and market; it doesn’t punish you or look at you differently because of where you come from.

Is the economic recession in the US affecting your business in Canada?
There are two sides to this. Given the strong dollar, we believe demand should improve. Given the commodity and energy prices— where Canada is so rich — we think demand should improve. At the same time, we have seen cautionary measures creeping in because things are not going well south of the border. Canada is not affected directly, but there is an indirect effect due to the fall in stock prices and cost-control factors. The US is Canada’s largest trading partner, so there will be a reaction to what goes on there, but there hasn’t been any softening of the economy as such.

How strong is the brand awareness that TCS enjoys?
It’s growing, and it’s a continuous exercise. We are much better known where the markets are sizeable enough, in greater Toronto, for instance. We have embarked on a campaign — experience certainty — that features the Canadian Depository as a customer. We are visible in forums and industry bodies across Canada. Additionally, we are active in the academic and government segments.

What exactly are you doing with academia?
We engage with students and faculty through various initiatives, we are hiring people from academia in various roles at TCS, and we are doing collaborative research in many areas.

Do you have any business alliances here?
We work closely with SAP and Microsoft, among others. These are our primary partners and we work with them to create opportunities and provide services to customers.

What percentage of TCS’s employees in Canada are locals?
Our development center has some 150 people, of which about 50 are locals.

What are your focus areas going forward?
We have significant room to grow and win new customers, given that we started looking at Canada as a consolidated market only in 2005. It’s a large enough market for us to multiply our customer base. We have done well in banking and insurance and we will continue to solidify our position there. In addition, we are confident of our growth in energy, resources, utilities, healthcare and retail. 

How supportive is the government to businesses such as TCS Canada?
The government knows our role and has been extremely supportive. They recognize the skill gap that exists and the challenges that need to be faced. It also understands that there is a lot of interest in doing work with India and increasing bilateral trade (the Commonwealth factor). There is a lot of respect in Canada for the Tata brand.