Tata Consultancy Services is realigning its China strategy to capitalise on opportunities in a market that is among the most dynamic, demanding and discerning in the world
Global reach, standout talent and finely honed expertise have been the qualities Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has banked on to become an IT powerhouse. Another characteristic sustaining it on the road to success has been perseverance, and this is evident with the company’s operations in China.
TCS got off the blocks early with its China play, setting up base in the country in 2002. The beginning was promising and it got better in 2005, when the national government invited the company to build a global offshoring base on its soil. Since then TCS has spent time and effort to establish its credentials and get entrenched in a market that is among the most dynamic, demanding and discerning in the world.
TCS has been tenacious and persistent in the face of complex business conditions, and it has made significant headway. It was the first Indian IT enterprise to enter what was, and remains, a mammoth space for software and information services. With its headquarters in Beijing, TCS now has global delivery centres in Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Dalian. It offers technology, software development and consulting services in nine different languages. Importantly, 99% of its associates are Chinese nationals.
The company has steadily expanded its multinational client base in China. It has deepened the engagement with domestic customers and has used market proximity to find business in the Asia Pacific region. It has looked beyond its core strengths of banking and financial services, manufacturing, retail and telecom. The first-mover advantage has paid off.
The China strategy for TCS so far has been focused on three factors: supporting its multinational clients as they expanded in the country, working with leading local brands and making the country a base to service customers in Japan, South Korea, etc. It has found the sweet spot with global clients and in securing business in the wider region, but the domestic market has remained somewhat elusive.
“This country has some unique attributes,” explains Suneet Puri, an industry veteran who took over recently as head of TCS China.“The largest chunk of requirements is from state-owned companies and they have their own IT departments. We, therefore, must provide the services and solutions that these companies cannot access or create on their own. That means making optimal use of the global know-how and technologies that TCS has developed.”
A change in approach is on the anvil. “We are revisiting our strategy to make sure we identify the gaps and take steps to deliver the solutions our customers require,” says Mr Puri. “For us, it’s about getting our value proposition right; it’s about getting our product and service mix right. Traditional services that may not have worked too well, particularly in the face of local competition, are being recalibrated. We are trying to find a market niche and we are here for the long haul.”
There is a general perception that access is a constraint in China, a highly competitive place where local players have a leg up, and where it’s not easy for international and Indian players to build traction given the closed nature of the market. Shivaji Bose, who has spent nearly two decades in China, is not buying any such contention.
“Access is not the issue,” says the director for human resources at TCS China. “The crux of the matter is delivering new-age services and solutions that will interest the audience out there. The idea when we commenced operations here was that with India way ahead in IT consultancy services and China similarly impressive in hardware, TCS could be a bridge between the two. The journey from there on has been interesting and we have had successes, primarily in banking services. We are now concentrating on making progress in the manufacturing sector, which is picking up, and in transportation.”
“It’s not that we are going to go after every industry,” adds Mr Puri. “Banking and financial services is a serious capability for TCS and we are continually investing in that. In manufacturing we want to boost our reach. As for the domestic business, we have made structural changes in the organisation and we now have a dedicated team to address the segment.”
The global clients component in its business spread has been a winner for TCS, especially in banking and financial services. “We are working with several international banks to help them strengthen their processes and implement new systems,” says Mr Puri. “Second, we have plenty of consulting engagements and we have to be fast and cost-efficient with these. Everybody wants to be digitally enabled, which means projects in analytics and big data. Additionally, we are identifying best practices from here that can be taken to our global clients.”
TCS has explored the collaborations route to get ahead in China. It has technology alliance partners and has tied up with Tata Communications for data centres. “There are specific areas where we need partners,” adds Mr Puri. “For instance, we seek out vendor support when we handle back-office operations for companies.”
Human resources and employee relationships fall in a sphere where TCS can be legitimately proud of its achievements. “The learning has been terrific,” says Mr Bose. “There’s a misconception that language is a problem, but we have not really had to face this. Our people are bilingual and we have training programmes to help those who need assistance.”
The service industry is still a fledgling one in China, where the majority of the workforce is associated with product enterprises. “That’s how it has been,” explains Mr Bose, “so you sometimes come up against the notion that working in a services company is akin to working in the hospitality industry. It’s a mindset that is changing gradually. Overall, the engineers we have come across here are on par with their global peers. They may be short on international exposure, but they are as good as anybody. The Chinese are very warm and wonderful to work with; you just have to get the relationships right.”
TCS has a host of partnerships with academia and with good reason. “Our raw material is people, hence academic partnerships are critical,” says Mr Puri. “We run the TCS university programme in China, where we have collaborated with 20-odd institutions. We bring in potential employees for internships and many of them join the organisation. It’s always fun, and easier, to work with young talent.”
Education is a priority for TCS with its corporate social responsibility agenda and there’s also health and environmental causes. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is receiving much attention this year. “We want to have one project that has an impact on lives and that’s why we are looking at STEM education,” says Mr Puri. In the health sphere, TCS supports the ‘operation smile’ programme for cleft-lip corrections.
TCS has high hopes that its China experience will garner greater rewards sooner rather than later. “China has a huge potential that TCS aims to tap moving forward,” says Mr Puri. “Our recent organisational restructuring will enable us to do exactly that. Not many people in China are aware of the might of Tata. We can do wonders if we are able to address the requirements of this market as a group.”