Infosys, the Indian technology services and consulting giant, has put the wheels in motion to hire and train thousands of US workers in emerging technologies. In May, the company announced an ambitious plan to hire 10,000 Americans over the next two years, and to establish a network of four Technology and Innovation hubs in the US, beginning with one in Indianapolis, Indiana. Infosys subsequently announced that the second such hub will be established in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In a wide-ranging interview with Site Selection, Infosys President and Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ravi Kumar shed light on the reasons behind the US expansion, and disclosed that the company’s plans are potentially more ambitious than previously outlined. Kumar spoke with Site Selection Senior Editor Gary Daughters.
How does your company’s planned expansion in the US align strategically with its growing emphasis on artificial intelligence?
Ravi Kumar: Here is how we’re looking at the company’s planned expansion in the US. The world of technology services is becoming very dichotomous. On one side of the spectrum, where you run, maintain and manage applications, that side of the spectrum is going through extreme embrace of automation and extreme offshoring. There is a completely distinct other side of the spectrum where you have new technologies which are being used to digitize processes and to manage data to create new revenue generation powered by technology. That part of the spectrum is moving to agile workspaces, co-creating and co-innovating with clients and being closer to them. You have an evolution of being closer to the client, where you can actually work, co-create and jointly innovate with clients, and those are the technology hubs we are building in the United States.
We are probably going to have five Technology and Innovation Hubs in the US, and they will be built based on three broad principles: client clusters, large academic ecosystems and good support of the government around us. The reason why the academic ecosystem is very important is because we strongly believe that there isn’t enough talent available in these new digital areas. To leverage the academic ecosystem and to build these future talent pools is the reason why the academic ecosystem is very important in our evaluation and criteria of selecting these centers.
“We are probably going to have five Technology and Innovation Hubs in the US, and they will be built based on three broad principles: client clusters, large academic ecosystems and good support of the government around us.”
Your public releases on the topic have stated that you would be establishing four Technology and Innovation Hubs. Did you say the number is actually five?
Ravi Kumar: Four is a firm number. We could potentially do five, because we’re very excited about this plan. Four for sure, and if it really works well, we might actually end up with five.
Some analysts have found it noteworthy that the first of the Technology and Innovation Hubs is being located in Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence. To what if any extent are your plans influenced by protectionist rumblings out of Washington?
Ravi Kumar: While it might look like it is coinciding with potential regulatory changes, we have been trying to develop this model for the past two years, and now we’re taking it to scale. We reached out to multiple states in the US. The speed with which the Indiana government worked with us was the reason why Indiana became our first Technology and Innovation Hub. I went and met with the Indiana government in April. Within a week’s time they visited India. They gave us the commitment that they want to support this endeavor. And in less than four to five weeks, the government was so agile, so fast and so prompt in dealing with all our needs that we decided on it. Our first batch of campus hires are being trained at Purdue University. We are excited about the academic ecosystem in Indiana. A lot of technology companies are using Indiana as their Midwest hub.
“The speed with which the Indiana government worked with us was the reason why Indiana became our first Technology and Innovation Hub.”
The second hub we launched in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July. Raleigh is one of the most fascinating places because of the Research Triangle and the number of companies that are thriving on innovation. It has a large number of startups — Wake County has 550-plus startups — so one of the things we’re really excited about is the ability to work alongside them. Like Indiana, North Carolina is a big cluster for our clients. We already have thousands of employees working in North Carolina today, so it’s an existing cluster of employees and clients for us. It’s a big financial services hub. It’s a very diverse set of clients. And the most important thing, again, is the academic ecosystem, which is probably one of the best in the country.
Indian IT firms have been accused of displacing US workers by flying in foreigners on temporary visas to service US clients. Does the US expansion signal that your staffing policies are evolving?
Ravi Kumar: The 10,000 people we want to hire are net new talent in the United States. We will always depend on global talent, but we will depend on global talent to supplement what we build here. Creating net new talent in the US will not happen by just hiring experienced talent that is already available in the market. There simply isn’t enough. Our aim is creating net new talent, and creating the enablement and training infrastructure that will support some of this new talent to enter the production workforce. We are already in motion on our plan of hiring 10,000 workers. The first employees who have come on board are trained on university campuses with faculty from Infosys, sometimes combined with faculty from our university partners. This model will evolve. Unlike in India where we have a dedicated training facility ourselves, the university system in the US is so mature and so rich. The US is a huge potential talent pool, which needs to be converted into an actual workforce, and that’s the attempt that we are making now.
“Our aim is creating net new talent, and creating the enablement and training infrastructure which will support some of this new talent to enter the production workforce. We are already in motion on our plan of hiring 10,000 workers.”
Have the other sites for your new US operations been identified yet?
Ravi Kumar: Not yet. We are evaluating the other two, and potentially three.
Can you say which areas are being evaluated?
Ravi Kumar: We’re not putting that in the public domain. We are evaluating all potential areas where our client clusters are, where our potential client clusters are going to be and where the academic ecosystem is good. We want to cover the US very well. It’s still a work in progress.
With one location in Indiana and another in North Carolina, might we expect a presence in the western US and maybe one in the Northeast?
Ravi Kumar: We do have customers on the West Coast. We have customers spread all over the US. What is interesting is that customers also are looking at places where the talent is pooling. So even our customers are going through this evolution. It’s early to say whether we will have one in the West or the Northeast, but we will ensure that the four or five we actually build can cover our client clusters.
Where are your client clusters heaviest?
Ravi Kumar: They are very distributed, so that’s the complication. We have clients on the West Coast, we have clients in the South, in the East, and quite a few clients in the Midwest. We are also opening new accounts. Every quarter we open a new set of clients. So we won’t be biased just by the customers we have but also by customers we might potentially have.
Are you confident you can find enough American workers to staff positions in artificial intelligence, cloud and machine learning?
Ravi Kumar: That’s an interesting question. These are all new areas. They’re so new that you will not find experienced talent right on the spot as you need it. The best way to build skills in that space is to take capabilities from different areas and repurpose them to some of these contemporary areas. We are one of the first companies in the world that de-mystified the idea that you need to be a computer science engineer to be part of the technology services world. The way technology is evolving is that you will have to hire from the liberal arts and humanities because the future is not just going to be just about building systems. So, our hiring patterns over the past few quarters have changed from a narrow set of skills to a broad range of skills. As long as you have the aptitude to work in technology, we will train and cultivate the culture needed for a prospective employee to be part of the technological revolution.
“… our hiring patterns over the past few quarters have changed from a narrow set of skills to a broad range of skills. As long as you have the aptitude to work in technology, we will train and cultivate the culture needed for a prospective employee to be part of the technological revolution.”
Do you see other companies employing that model?
Ravi Kumar: I would say we coined this first, and others have started evolving that way. But how many providers have actually stood up and said ‘We are going to hire thousands of campus graduates," as we are in the US? We were the first to do so. We have to make the investment up front, so that we can create net new talent. What choices do we have? We don’t have enough talent. How do we build it? We have to build it organically. I think this is the right thing for our clients, it’s the right thing for the future of this company, and it’s the right thing for the future of skills in the United States. Every year we will be going to schools in the United States to create net new talent.
Is there something uniquely attractive about US graduates and US workers?
Ravi Kumar: I think “learnability,” as we call it. Learnability is a very important aspect in the technology space. Technology is evolving so fast that you want the talent that comes in to come with the attitude to learn. That is a trait that graduates in the US are very good at. Another thing, which I think is apt for the current millennium, is the ability to find problems. The future is going to be about problem finding, not problem solving. In terms of the graduates we’ve hired, I think that matters implicitly in their mindsets. Our clients are expecting us to find problems for them. I think solving problems will become much easier with AI and machine learning and all the computing capacity and the speed at which computing capacity is becoming cheaper. Problem finding will be the future of technology consulting.
Infosys recently announced that it will relocate the company’s chief financial officer to the US. What city will the CFO work from, and can you elaborate on the reasons for the move?
Ravi Kumar: We are bringing more strength into our markets, especially our biggest markets, and the United States is our biggest market. We have the CEO of the company here. I’m here. The chief financial officer being here will help us to make quicker decisions, be closer to clients, help us in transitioning to this new talent model I’ve spoken about. So, the more leadership that’s in the market, the more leadership that’s close to where the action is. I’m not sure which city he will be in. That should evolve in the next few weeks.
Will you be leasing space for your operations or constructing new facilities?
Ravi Kumar: At this point in time we are leasing in Indiana, and we’re looking for leased space in North Carolina. Will that be a permanent thing, or are we going to construct our own centers? I think it’s too early to comment on it. At this point of time we need to get the business moving. Our campuses in India are very fascinating. They are islands of excellence, some of the best corporate campuses I’ve seen in my professional life. Are we going to replicate something like that? It’s really too early to comment on it.
How do you assess the US business and regulatory environment under the Trump administration?
Ravi Kumar: The only thing we have focused on is clients. We are really not worried about anything else other than to be at the forefront of innovation and to drive the transformational journey of our clients.
But do you expect President Trump to tighten the US visa system, as he has threatened to do?
Ravi Kumar: We have gone ahead and made our plans irrespective of whichever way the regulatory framework is going to go. We’re going to go ahead and do this. We are not as worried which way the regulatory will go. Our focus has been to make this model one which our clients can embrace.