Developing the art of the Possible in Digital Transformation

Interview

Prabal Datta

There is an area of Danube-Ipoly National Park, north of Budapest, now known as “Tata Forest.” The 200 oak saplings were planted by TCS volunteers to help promote the country’s biodiversity and raise environmental awareness. The woodland is also a long-term reminder of the 20th anniversary of the opening on Tata Consultancy Services in Hungary, celebrated this year.

“We believe in a better future; therefore, we wanted to help the local communities and support sustainability: that is the reason we have been working with the national park for the last 10 years,” says Prabal Datta, who has been CEO of TCS Hungary for six years and with the company’s Indian parent organization for 31.

“This plantation will last for a long time for future generations. Twenty years down the line, people will be able to enjoy Tata Forest, experience its green impact and biodiversity. A visit to Tata Forest would be a memory to mark our 20th anniversary landmark and what we built ages ago. It also lessens our ecological impact and is in line with our priorities in off-setting our carbon footprint,” Datta notes.

TCS Hungary has undoubtedly developed enormously since its office opened 20 years ago as the Indian giant’s first European Delivery Center.

“Now, TCS Hungary is the hub of our European delivery network; we have come so far since 2001, when we had 14 or 15 engineers working with one customer, developing IT solutions,” Datta says of those early days. The total headcount now numbers 2,700, spread across three buildings in the same office development close to the Danube.

“Today, we offer more than 40 digital transformation services: we are not a backoffice for TCS. We are one of its global digital delivery centers. We have 80 customers worldwide, the majority are from Europe, and provide services in 30 different languages.” The workforce itself is drawn from over 99 different nationalities, Datta explains.

Put simply, TCS has become a high-end IT services company, using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the cloud to deliver digital transformation that enhances customer experiences and prepares firms for a better future.

Today’s roster of services includes digital technology solutions, cognitive financial, data analytics, pharma, and clinical research services. The latter explains an interesting quirk.

“We have 40 doctors on our payroll, which is a little unusual as we are not a healthcare provider,” Datta says with a laugh. The doctors provide medical knowledge and input into the design of services for customers in the pharma sector. The aim is to streamline and standardize patient safety and so-called “adverse event” reporting to regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and others across the globe. It is an example of TCS using its contextual knowledge and digital skills to help save lives.

Future Talent?

Given the rapid growth across all measures – customers served, services offered, and staff employed – is Datta concerned about securing talent for the future in a country at close to full employment? “Yes,” is the short answer, though it is more nuanced than that in full.

“The talent is the single most important factor in our continued success and growth, but skills are also key factors; we give the possibility to our employees to grow and realize their potential,” says Datta. That second part is significant. The CEO makes the point that he already has a treasure trove of 2,700 talents; he says it is the duty of the company to provide existing staff with the skills and training to do jobs that did not exist a few years ago, or to change career path, should they want to.

This becomes a virtuous circle: staff with new skills are more valuable and capable of taking on more challenging, exciting roles. That makes it easier both to retain associates and to attract new talents.

“There is a lot of focus on digital technology, but you don’t have to be a computer science graduate to get that knowledge; we can provide it through training too. I am not a programmer, but I have been working in this field for many years; it is something you can learn,” Datta insists.

Training for the future is not restricted to current employees. TCS has developed a flagship digital education program called GoIT. “The idea is to make sure kids have creative thinking, problem-solving minds in future.”

It is a holistic approach that embraces everything from extra-curricular competitions to ensuring high school educators, who may have trained before the fourth industrial revolution got going, have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to teach what is needed.

Around 30 TCS volunteers have also become ambassadors to help pass the knowledge along, and TCS is also working with NGOs to amplify the reach of GoIT.

“Design thinking is a way of how to present, how to build solution. We want it to spread like the coronavirus, but in a positive way!”

Hybrid Working

And talking of COVID, TCS has evolved into a hybrid working model, although Datta stresses that the offices remained open throughout the pandemic for those who wanted to come into work, observing all the health protocols, of course.

“The pandemic was very hectic, particularly at the start. We had to create what we call a Secure Borderless Work Spaces (SBWS) for those working from home to ensure the safety of our employees and the services we provide our customers were not compromised. We also had to make sure our clients were comfortable with the new situation, and it sat well with their protocols.”

The learnings from the pandemic show the way forward, Datta says, with the hybrid model TCS now operates clearly the future trend. “Some jobs need social interaction; some people want to come into the office, others work effectively remote, so we understand the needs and handle this in a flexible way: we are using a mix of operating models.”

One important consideration has been the need to look after the mental health and level of company engagement of those working predominately from home. While they might be spared the daily commute, the “boundaries between work and home can become blurred,” as Datta puts it.

“We have a 24/7 health hotline for our remote working associates offering counseling, and we use the technology to keep in touch. Connection points have increased across the board. The technology has been there to do this for a while; the pandemic taught us the art of the possible.”

Datta was a short-listed runner-up in the BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Awards for the second time running on September 24 this year. Does he think it might be a case of third time’s a charm in 2022?

“I feel very fortunate to have been nominated twice. I am an outsider, a real expat; I’m not even from this continent! If I am nominated again, it would be an honor.” He sees his nomination as a recognition of the work of the TCS Hungary team. “As leaders, we can only be as successful as our team, and we win and lose together,” he concludes.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 19, 2021.

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