About 5 months ago, I took a new role in IBM as the Senior Partner for IBM services for our relationship with American Express. Since then, I have been busy getting to know the leadership team at my client , as well as my own team in AZ, NY and FL . The relationship between our two companies is 105 years old and thriving !
After being on the saddle for my first full quarter, the next logical step was to visit the Amex leadership team in India, as well as my own team spread across Bangalore , Delhi , Pune and Kolkata . So I jumped on a plane and headed east.
Qatar Airways rocks
I have flown almost every imaginable combo of airlines to get to India in my life . After a couple of million air miles, I have very little joy left for flying. But Qatar showed me that flying can still be fun. Comfort , safety , food , service, timeliness , beautiful lounge – there is nothing I could ask more of . How I wish American Airways learned all this from Qatar !
On the domestic front in India, I flew Jet airways , Air India and Indigo . Jet was amazing and came very close to Qatar . Air India surprisingly wasn’t too bad like my past experience. Indigo – the only good thing I can say about them is that they were on time.
I saw what digital transformation at scale looks like
One of the biggest problems flying in to India used to be the long immigration and customs lines in the airports and multiple forms to fill . And this time – there were no forms to fill and from flight to picking up my bag from baggage claim to getting into the cab (which I booked in the prepaid counter on my way out) barely took 10 minutes . The whole experience was smooth and frictionless – and the cabbies generally use google maps on their smart phones to find their way . Cabbies also take mobile payments !
The domestic checkin process still has room for improvement – especially in the older airports like Pune . Delhi , Bangalore and Kolkata etc are all quite impressive airports and of international standards.
Lot of faces from the past !
In every city I visited, there were old friends to catchup . I hadn’t met many of them for as long as 25 years in some cases ! It was tiring to take 15 flights in 10 days – but these reunions totally made up for it.
Nandu and Rajesh – both live in US – and we hadn’t met in 22 years and finally caught up over hot filter coffee 🙂
My engineering college class mates Vinod ( he is a real rocket scientist) , Regin and Renjith ( Both entrepreneurs)
My dear friend from high school Sojan, who lives in Netherlands, but happened to be visiting his folks in India . Only took 20 years for this reunion 🙂
Nikhil , with whom I worked shoulder to shoulder on SAP projects – including a particularly great one in Dresden. Almost ten years since we last met in San Jose
There are five of us from the same engineering class in IBM . Hemant is one – and was so great to run into him in our Pune office
I had recruited Vikas to our SAP team in 2002 . Our families were very close and were neighbors. Pure serendipity that let us meet in Pune since he had just moved there from UK
This young lady Amrita – my wife’s young cousin – was a little girl when I last met her , which was on my wedding day . I still can’t think she is all grown up now and a busy professional
No trip to Bangalore is complete without a beer with my two buddies Maheshan and Arvind . They were my most trusted colleagues in one of the best teams I had the honor to lead and we have been friends for more than ten years. I still remember the day I recruited Arvind from SAP Labs to IBM 🙂
And thanks to Ajith, a number of our engineering college class mates had a mini reunion in Bangalore in a pub . It was amazing to catchup with each other after a couple of decades
Indian IT services are evolving fast
Indian IT services scene grew into its current status based on two things – the factory model that FC Kohli and TCS team started , and cost arbitrage with other high cost geographies. Those days are over – now what I see here is that two other dimensions are where India differentiates . One is talent and the other is intellectual property . This is heartening for me to see – and seriously makes me think of taking a tour of duty to work in India for a few years .
On the flip side – the growth of IT services in the big metros is not sustainable. It can take two hours to travel 5KM in Bangalore for example . We need to solve this quickly !
My gang !
I couldn’t be more thrilled ! Super smart peeps – and so dedicated to making our client successful . Several of them have spent 15+ years serving the same client and know their business cold .
Plenty of IP is being generated from our India team and the highlight of the trip was to geek out with them on ML , Cloud native development and so on . Not only is the IP great – it’s amazing to see how much importance is given to immersive experiences in the client centers . Absolutely world class
One thing that captured my attention quickly in this trip is the number of women in the workforce . I think at entry level – perhaps more than half the incoming employees are women .
I spoke with several colleagues about this and generally got the impression that while there is definitely some women who drop off the tech field when they start a family , there are still more women who build a career in technology compared to what we typically see in US . I first hand know several senior women leaders in IBM India as well as in Amex India . I did hear that the ratio is not as even outside the big metros – but definitely got the impression that India is on the right side of diversity and inclusion in tech and that is awesome !
Guests are still Gods in India !
A core tenet of Indian philosophy is “Aditi Devo Bhava” which translates to “guests are Gods” .
I had a traditional Kerala Sadya at a restaurant on the last day of this trip . The lady who served me called me son , and she nearly was in tears when I told her I can’t have four types of payasam . My cab driver in Kolkata called me and woke me up at 2.45 AM for a 4.40 AM flight because he felt it’s his duty that I have a stress free experience while I was his client . The chef in the hotel in Pune sent me filter coffee when he heard me speak Tamil on phone – and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I am from Kerala and not Tamilnadu 🙂 . The list goes on and on .
That’s a level of customer service I don’t often see elsewhere as I trot around the globe . It has completely changed my view on what world class customer service feels like. And to think this happened in the analog world without customer surveys !
I am leaving back to US with my heart full of gratitude – and I will be back !