Will automation take away IT jobs? Here's what WNS Group CEO Keshav Murugesh has to say

By Neha Alawadhi

Neha Alawadhi Moneycontrol News

The IT industry in India has witnessed numerous concerns over the past year, including worries about automation leading to major job cuts. Addressing some of these issues, in a conversation with Moneycontrol, WNS Group CEO Keshav Murugesh spoke about the changing nature of the IT and business process management (BPM) industries, evolving skill profiles and how cyber security is the next big opportunity for the sector. Headquartered in Mumbai, the BPM company WNS Global Services serves a wide range of clients in sectors such as banking and financial services, insurance, aviation, manufacturing, education and utilities.

Excerpts:

Q: How has the BPM sector performed this year?

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A: In this age of automation, AI, machine learning, what we have done is we  have incorporated all these disruptive models in our delivery models to serve our customers, and have actually expanded the market. So while people thought that all traditional business will fall off the cliff and all BPM companies will go down, actually what we have been able to demonstrate, is that our offering will become so impressive and so interesting to clients, that new areas, which they never outsourced before, are all coming to us.

Q: What are these areas?

A: Every area. If you look at the big growth that is taking place, it is not just happening in India alone. Delivery (at WNS) is taking place in 12 other countries as well. We operate from 13 counties, 35,000 employees, 52 delivery centres. Therefore, work that earlier clients felt was very strategically done, and they couldn’t outsource, with the transition from BPO to BPM, they have the comfort now that we have far better quality people who understand business domains extremely well, who understand automation and technology really well.

The biggest disruption is happening on their customer end (for our clients).

Q: What kind of disruptions are traditional industries seeing?

A: With banks, it was the traditional banks, today we are telling customers that your new competition is not your traditional competition. It could be any one of the digital actors- it could be the payment banks, it could be an Amazon, or PayPal of the future. It could be Airbnb going into this. Because if someone has all your data, like Facebook- 40-50 million or 2 billion people - they can do anything with that data.

Therefore, we are saying we need to focus on our competitors, we need to focus on the market front and on the transition from our existing models to the new models. That is where WNS makes such a big impact. We are the first company that has gone end to end vertically aligned, so our people understand clients’ businesses probably better than they do.

If you look at it enabling our employees, we have created digital universities and domain based universities as a result of which our people look for not BPO careers, but banking careers, insurance careers, with a very strong domain focus.

Q: What role are emerging technologies playing in the sector, and does the growing talk of artificial intelligence mean that there will be fewer jobs?

A: We are leveraging technologies like never before. I was probably the first CEO who spoke about non linear growth models, as a result of this and leveraging more technologies we are building more trust with customers.

We have guided for a growth in excess of 20 percent his year but headcount will not grow at the same pace. It will be at a much slower pace, maybe 12 or 13 percent. It is still growth, and that still augurs well for the industry. It means we have started going into areas that customers did not outsource before.

Nasscom has cautious optimism for the industry as a whole, but BPM industry has been growing much faster. You will see as Indian IT has evolved and re invested and re skilled itself, potential for growth is much higher.

Q: What is the big theme that you see this year? 

A: It will be a combination of many things- it will be better use of intelligent automation, whether it is robotics process automation, or automation in any form, intelligent automation - the coming together of people, technology, automated robots, and end to end process control is going to be a big change. This change will happen in terms of how people are being skilled in order to meet the needs of tomorrow or the demands of tomorrow.

Another theme will be true global delivery. Growth is going to come globally, and not just from one country and India is going to be expanding its shores beyond India into every one of these other countries.

Q: I wanted to also ask you about data protection. Now that GDPR is going to kick in later this year, India is also mulling its own data protection policy. Are these good or bad for the BPM business?

A: It is all going to be positive. If you look at it, the industry and Nasscom, last year we created the consumer interest protection task force report under my chairmanship. We have to come up with new standards and new thinking and advice the government to make sure that any fly by night operators who are trying to take advantage of the traditional IT and BPM industry by running shady businesses is taken care of immediately.

Now we will go to phase 2 of getting in implemented through the govt and  state governments and things like that.

On GDPR, it’s a new standard and from our perspective, we have to comply with new standards. All geographies are introducing new thinking around protecting borders. Everyone is doing that, especially with virtual borders. We are delivering from all those countries so it doesn’t impact us. Now IT also is doing the same thing.

Q: Where do you see a big opportunity for the industry going forward?

A: I think the cybersecurity space is offering itself as a USD 100 billion new opportunity for India. You will see 100 million Indians using digital devices very soon, across the globe it will become over penetrated. Because of this you will see more risk taking place and therefore the opportunity for you to introduce more offerings.