He will recover much stronger: Rao

Bangalore: Chief Operating Officer of Infosy UB Pravin Rao, the newly elected chairman of IT industry body Nasscom, takes over at a time when the industry is perhaps facing its greatest challenges: getting 4 million people to work effectively from home. and a dramatic global slowdown. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with TOI:

What are the immediate challenges for the IT industry from the consequences of Covid-19?

The immediate challenge is dealing with the Covid-19 situation. The Indian IT industry has reacted well and in no time. We have allowed many people to work from home (WFH). Obviously, a small percentage of people cannot work from home due to the nature of the work, the sensitivity of the data, and those who work at NOC (Network Operations Center). The government has stated that IT and ITeS are essential services, allowing us to send assets to employees' homes, as well as allowing a small percentage to travel and work. Customer feedback is positive and they appreciate the speed at which we have acted and the endurance we have shown. The priority is to stabilize the business and then focus on relaxing the lock in a responsible and gradual manner.

What percentage of the work has been transferred to the employees' homes? Is there a setback from customers?

I would say more than 85%, and the number varies from company to company. Before the situation, the WFH would be between 10% and 20%. Bringing that to 80% is a testament to the fact that we've been able to talk to customers and convince them about best practices that the industry has always followed.

Many multinational companies have made a 90-day promise without layoff. We have not seen Indian IT companies doing something like this.

I remember reading in the media, Wipro and Tech Mahindra said they will honor the offers they have made. Each company will see it. Many of the big companies can take it for a while anyway. During the 2008 slowdown, I don't think this industry has laid off people.

Some IT/ITeS companies have required licenses without pay. We have seen small BPM companies laying off people in no time. What is Nasscom's message to the 4 million people in IT/ITeS?

Nasscom recognizes that some companies have the means to navigate uncertainties, while smaller companies and smaller BPM companies are struggling, and if the situation spreads they will be challenged. The best impact Nasscom can have is to work with the government to provide a stimulus package that in turn minimizes the impact.

What is the action plan once the blockage is relieved?

We plan to do it gradually. A very small percentage to start and in the first fortnight and gradually increase over the next 3-4 weeks. We want to behave responsibly, maintain social distance while traveling to the office and to work. We are also doing scenario planning: how do you evacuate employees if someone is affected?

Do you think this is turning out to be worse than it was during the 2008-09 recession?

At this stage, we are busy dealing with the pandemic and ensuring business continuity. Employee safety is our priority. Nasscom will speak to various companies to gain perspective, and that's a few weeks away. We are part of the global economy and there is some data on the general slowdown in GDP. Any impact on global growth will also have an impact on the industry. But in the long run, the model is very resistant. It will also be an opportunity for companies to take advantage of technology to create differentiation. Covid-19 is the turning point to accelerate the shift to digital and workplace transformation. We will recover strongly.