Believe in the Island of Innovation: This is HCL’s vision for Sri Lanka

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In June 2020, the Indian multinational HCL Technologies announced it’d begin operations in Sri Lanka. Currently, it plans to invest $10 million in Sri Lanka while hiring 5,000 professionals and school leavers, over a period of 3 – 5 years. To better understand the potential HCL sees in Sri Lanka and the impact of its investment locally, we sat down with Corporate Vice President at HCL, Srimathi Shivashankar to learn more. 

Understanding HCL 

Today, HCL is a multinational giant reporting annual revenues surpassing $9.9 billion. It has over 150,000 employees from 150+ nationalities operating across 49 countries. With 80+ engineering labs, 100+ client development centers and centers of excellence, HCL is widely recognized as a leader by analyst firms in diverse domains. Much like Google, Apple, Dell, and other tech giants, HCL too began as a humble garage startup. 

In 1976, Chairman and Founder of HCL, Shiv Nadar and a group of his colleagues, resigned from their comfortable jobs at Delhi Cloth Mills. Believing in the potential of the microprocessor, they had a dream of manufacturing computers locally in India. Just one year later, HCL designed and launched India’s first 8C microcomputer. A feat they accomplished just months apart from Apple and 3 years ahead of IBM

Reflecting on this history, Srimathisaid, “Unlike many of our competitors, HCL hails from an engineering R&D background. We got into IT services and infrastructure management much later. Today, we’re the world’s #3 IT services company and a pioneer in infrastructure management serving Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies. We never lost that competitive spirit from our earliest days manufacturing computers.”  

In 1980, HCL first ventured into the international market by expanding into Singapore and selling computer hardware. Since then, the company has expanded its global footprint forming numerous alliances. This ecosystem of alliances consists of  approximately 150 companies. Each operates in various technology areas with whom HCL has formed go-to-market alliances, partnerships for niche technologies and specific customer requirements. 

A notable example is Microsoft with whom HCL has a relationship of over 15 years driving individual productivity and enterprise value. Recently, HCL also launched a dedicated Microsoft Business Unit, which is located at the famed Redwood Campus. Other alliances include with IBM from whom HCL acquired $3 billion worth of IP’s, Xerox with whom HCL has jointly developed several patented products, Cisco, Google Cloud, SAP and several others. 

The Mode 1-2-3 strategy

HCL Technologies | Ideapreneurship
The impact of HCL’s Mode 1-2-3 strategy (Image credits: HCL Technologies)

With these partnerships, HCL has expanded its operations into several industries. Today, you’ll find the multinational involved in every aspect of IT. From the development of applications to managing cloud infrastructure to building semiconductors. That too across a variety of industries such as aerospace, healthcare, financial services, energy to name a few. It possesses an end to end digital technology portfolio to enable the digital transformation of businesses. To help better visualize HCL’s massive global operations, understanding its Mode 1-2-3 strategy is a starting point.

With the Mode 1-2-3 strategy, each of HCL’s services falls under 3 distinct categories. Under Mode 1 the focus is towards core services in the areas of applications, infrastructure, DPO and Engineering. In doing so, strengthening them to bring about a transform of their clients’ business and IT landscape. With Mode 2 the focus is on next-generation services to build future-ready platforms through emerging technologies. The goal is to realize high acceleration and high growth business opportunities. Finally, Mode 3 is all about products & platforms, looking towards the future and strengthening ecosystems through collaboration. 

Explaining this strategy, Srimathi said, “At HCL, we can meet the needs of our customers end-to-end. From consultancy to identify solutions, we’re able to develop applications and robust platforms to meet their needs. All the while, supporting their IT environments by maintaining the necessary infrastructure. We can even assist our clients in serving their customers better through our DPO services.” 

“The strategy also offers great opportunities for growth to our employees. Let’s assume an individual in Sri Lanka joins as a Java developer building and integrating database systems. They would operate under Mode 1. As new projects come in, we’d help them realize this potential by helping them gain the skills needed to transition to Mode 2. With their growth, we offer them room to execute ideas generating value to customers. Thereby allowing them to eventually transition to Mode 3 where they’d overlook an entire product or platform. So our strategy at HCL allows us to offer equal opportunities for growth to our employees while future-proofing the businesses of our clients,” added Srimathi. 

The culture of Ideapreneurship™ within HCL

A unique trait of HCL as a company is its belief to go beyond the contract for its customers. This belief is deeply ingrained into its culture. It takes the form of a unique concept called Ideapreneurship™. Explaining the basic definition, Srimathi said, “An ideapreneur  is a person that not only offers ideas but also knows how to translate that into real value.” Within HCL you’ll find several processes designed to facilitate this unique concept. 

It all starts with an HCL employee coming up with an idea. One they believe will help generate value for customers. “Level doesn’t matter. They can be an entry-level employee or a group manager. We listen to everyone’s ideas,” adds Srimathi. They can then submit this idea to HCL’s value portal, which is akin to an internal social network. 

Enabling collaboration across a global workforce

HCL Technologies | Ideapreneurship
The HCL Value Portal serves as a digital collaboration space where its ideapreneurs can submit and collaborate with others irrespective of where they may be located (Image credits: AteamIndia)

Once submitted to the value portal, the idea is validated and refined with the support of other HCL employees. On the surface, this may look simple. But HCL has a global workforce operating in 49 countries. Enabling collaboration across so many time zones and cultures is no easy task. Hence, the value portal serves as a digital collaboration space, where employees HCL can work together on ideas, irrespective of where they are located. 

Being a central part of the Ideapreneurship™ process, the value portal enables global collaboration, to help nurture great ideas. That means an HCL employee within Sri Lanka can post an idea onto the value portal. Having seen the idea, others located in the US and India can agree to collaborate on the idea. Once refined, it’s then presented to the client who is located in Germany. 

Translating ideas into value for customers

If the customer approves it, then the employees are given the resources to develop a prototype and freedom to execute the idea. It should be noted that the idea will be owned by the employees. Hence, if it’s a novel idea, HCL has a programme to file patents and reward employees for their contributions. Known as the Intellectual Property monetization (IPM) programme, it rewards employees when patents are filed and again when it’s granted. Since 2015, the programme has filed 200 patents by HCL’s ideapreneurs. 

At its core, the Ideapreneurship™ culture is all about nurturing ideas that create value for customers. The most recent example Srimathi shared took place in the healthcare sector. Today, it’s clear to anyone that the sector faces the heaviest of challenges in combating the coronavirus. Seeing this, HCL invested in several ideas by its employees to utilize technology in helping their customers overcome a number of these challenges. 

“We believe it is front-line employees who are directly working with our customers that can offer the best ideas that generate value. They’re working and managing the issues of customers every day. So they’ll know best on how to generate value instead of an R&D team in some corner.

Offering global career opportunities for the next generation 

HCL Technologies | Ideapreneurship
As part of its commitment to offer opportunities to school leavers, HCL has partnered with ESOFT to launch a skills development programme that includes on-the-job training followed by full-time employment (Image credits: ESOFT)

A core aspect of HCL’s vision in Sri Lanka is to offer opportunities for school leavers after finishing their A/Ls to join the IT industry. The multinational tech giant has already partnered with ESOFT to introduce a work-integrated higher education programme. Known as the ESOFT – HCL skilling programme, it combines a typical HND programme with on-the-job training at HCL, which is followed by full-time employment. 

The programme of 9 months of classroom training followed by a 3 months apprenticeship at HCL. During the apprenticeship, accepted candidates will be working on real projects while being paid a monthly stipend. At the end of the programme, HCL offers employment with a career path that promises a managerial position in 10 years. Candidates can also continue their higher education with up to 3 years being funded by HCL. 

“We want to hire and train many A/L students in Sri Lanka. HCL has already committed to funding their higher education and partnered with ESOFT to launch a work integrated higher education programme. The programme is open to students from all backgrounds even those hailing from a non STEM background. We’re looking forward to working with other universities in Sri Lanka to expand this initiative as we’ve done in India with the HCL TechBee initiative,” said Srimathi describing the vision of the programme. 

Returning to HCLs culture of Ideapreneurship™, Srimathi adds, “A crucial quality of an ideapreneur is the ability to adapt to change. This requires embracing the idea of continuous learning.” This is why HCL invests heavily in the education of its employees. Much of these efforts are focused not only in teaching technical skills like coding but also towards fostering creativity. Allowing HCL employees to both visualize and build innovative solutions to the challenges its customers face.

An example of these efforts by HCL to help its employees grow is its mentoring system. When a new employee joins, a senior will act as a guide in helping them adjust to the Ideapreneurship™ culture within HCL. On top of this, the multinational also conducts several workshops towards developing entrepreneurial skills. Looking towards Sri Lanka with optimism, Srimathi said, “I believe Sri Lanka will have many ideapreneurs.” 

The promise HCL sees in Sri Lanka

Over the coming years, HCL plans to hire 5,000 employees locally. A number that would be a mix of school leavers, graduates, and professionals. They would be in high-tech roles such as software developers, support analysts, quality assurance engineers, platform architects, etc. Currently operating an interim office at World Trade Center in Colombo, HCL plans to move into Orion City in September. 

Down the line, the multinational hopes to open a campus in Sri Lanka as well. Believing in the potential of Sri Lanka’s talented IT workforce, HCL believes it will greatly help increase business confidence. In closing, Srimathi said, “We’ve come to Sri Lanka with the strong belief there’s great talent in the country. The Sri Lanka IT industry has a great culture of innovation. Right now, HCL in Sri Lanka is very much a startup as we take our first steps in Sri Lanka. We have an open invitation for anyone looking forward to working with us on this journey of growth in Sri Lanka.”  

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