November 2010 | Sujata Agrawal and Sangeeta Menon

Consulting with certainty

John Lenzen, the Chicago-based global head of marketing at Tata Consultancy Services discusses the company’s journey through the North American space with Sujata Agrawal and Sangeeta Menon

Breaking into the North American market has been a journey wrought with challenges, unexpected opportunities and tremendous learning experiences for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In this freewheeling interview, John Lenzen, global head of marketing at TCS, tells about the company’s metamorphosis into an international brand and the ethos that differentiates TCS on global shores.

The challenges of creating an IT brand
The big IT companies and brands, like Accenture (which grew out of Andersen), IBM, HP, EDS, IBM, Computer Science Corp and the like – have been around for a long time in the international market. They are recognized brands, who have established strong relationships with customers over many years.

While TCS has been around for over 40 years, it’s really only in the last 10 years that we have had the footprint to call ourselves truly ‘international’. In that sense we have been a late entrant to this space. So we were trying to rapidly play catch-up to establish a brand in an already pretty established space.

The IT industry in general has become more and more mature. Customer expectations are very high; it’s a very sophisticated market now. These aspects are great challenges for us in terms of establishing a brand. As you get bigger and bigger, you do a lot more things. So how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? Think about IBM and Accenture. What is their differentiation? It is the brand. And that’s the challenge for us. We’ve gotten big enough, but we haven’t really cut through to establish ourselves.

The good news is that we have grown to the point where we are within close distance of moving to a global or international space. Till a few years ago, we were still very much on the periphery; there was a clear distinction between the traditional multinationals and the Indian players. But we are now moving up into that [global] category. The perception of the Indian IT industry has also changed. IBM has the second-largest IT workforce in India; Accenture has a significant number of people in India. In one sense they are looking more like us than probably we are going to look like them. And that’s a great thing for us.

Now that we are in the global space, we need to act like a global brand. We have to either match our competitors’ brand spends or be more creative and focused to try and cut through.

We really see the differentiation less in what we provide as opposed to how we provide it — how we deliver our offerings and how we partner with our clients. Because what really matters is that the clients are comfortable with us, and that they believe we are reliable, trustworthy and treat their business as an extension of our own.

One of the key things we found out during the downturn is that the bond with our clients grew stronger because we were willing to stand by them. We were ready to take a risk, and stay with them to do whatever it took to keep things going and ride it out with them. That wasn’t a strategic decision; it was a natural part of the way TCS does business.

Our promise
We developed a tagline ‘Experience Certainty’ in 2007 because we are a company that delivers results with certainty. The foundational aspect of that positioning was really about delivering excellence, in terms of our superior processes, systems and people; and our ability to consistently drive quality, timeliness and compliance. That’s what customers know and like us for.

Where our competitors still could not treat technology as a science or a discipline, we were well ahead in terms of getting SEI compliance and making sure that we were fully process-driven as were certain other Indian companies. So it really shook up the industry.

Some of the multinationals are now building more rigor into their processes, and are adopting some of the practices and principles of rigor that Indian companies were known for. This is good for the industry, but the downside for us is that our competitor differentiator (of being a driver of quality) is diminishing.

So we are now looking at taking that idea of certainty and expanding it – looking at what does it really mean to the client. It’s about delivering the project on time and within budget; but it’s also about the softer aspects such as risk-sharing, collaboration, responsiveness, bringing new ideas, being proactive – all these qualities are the extension of the idea of certainty.

TCS in North America
TCS started business with setting up a relationship with Burroughs in 1973-74. In the first 15 years, we had big clients like Amex and GE. However, we were growing quietly, and had a lean regional management.

The turning point, I think, was the global resource demand driven by a combination of the ERP phenomenon (wherein companies sought to consolidate systems), Year 2000 remediation and the Internet drive. To be honest, we didn’t get a big share of that work initially, but it gave us the opportunity to prove ourselves, to learn, to apply, to build up our capabilities, and to (dispel) whatever suspicion clients had about doing IT work in India.

This resource crunch of the late 90sproved good for us. The timing was perfect. Another contributor was the economic downturn of 2000-01; you’d think it would cripple us, but it did just the opposite. It gave us that much more opportunity and clients gave us much more work. After that we mastered quality, we scaled up and proved ourselves.

And we’ve been expanding on that in the last five-six years. India Inc became a big brand in the US market. In 2005-06 while there was the outsourcing paranoia, the model was so effective and so embedded in many companies that it was tough to turn back.

Attracting young talent
The brand is huge now. If you are an IT professional and you get an opportunity at TCS, it’s considered a big thing. So there is definitely awareness. Indian companies are generally perceived differently from home-grown players. In the US, the Tata brand is now more-well known than 10 years ago – the developments at Tata Motors with Jaguar Land Rover and Nano were reported widely in the media. But the challenges still are how do you get people to know you, how do you make them feel comfortable, how do you convince them that we are competitive in terms of our compensation and benefits?

Sponsorships as building blocks
Sponsorship is one big way to build awareness about the TCS brand. We have zeroed in on health as a great platform to engage with the local communities. Through our sponsorship of various programs, we associate with the city, the local community and oftentimes support a local charity. It also gives our employees an opportunity to engage with the community. We sponsor the Mumbai, Boston, Chicago and New York marathons. This year, we’re also associating with the American Diabetes Association – fitness is the key to managing diabetes and we are very keen to spread this message among our customers and employees.

What I’d like to see going forward with these and other sponsorships is some kind of an association with technology. We’ve done some work with Ferrari. The way we can cut through is if we can bring in some king of technology – say, customer-facing applications, tracking applications, race preparation, etc.