The scale of transitioning work from office to home is staggering for Indian IT. A lot of it is work that cannot stop. There’s also lots of work that simply cannot be moved to employee homes, either because of security concerns, or because the workloads are too heavy to be dependent on uncertain residential broadband connections. Indian IT supports mission-critical systems that run banks, healthcare, insurance, utilities and stock exchanges.
Keshav Murugesh, group CEO of outsourcing solutions provider WNS, says services delivered to regulated entities, such as banks and financial institutions, have extremely sensitive data that clients are wary of being accessed from employees’ homes given the security, privacy and regulatory obligations. “Additionally, the performance of a home-based internet connection is not as good as a corporate provisioned network in terms of latency, which restricts certain processes that are bandwidth intensive and/or require a high quality of service to be delivered from homes,” he says.
Banks and financial institutions constitute 30-40% of many leading IT service providers’ revenue.
A top executive of one of the leading Indian IT companies, who did not want to be named, notes that large Indian and global corporations have entrusted their critical applications, networks, and infrastructure to Indian IT. “As part of our contractual obligations, we are expected to provide these services out of some approved facilities (these typically have access to client networks). If we are moving things outside the approved facility, there are implications for secure connections. Without approval, it’s a breach of contract,” he says. His company is looking at ways they can connect to the client systems and networks remotely without any security compromise.
WiFi networks, he says, are good for downloading information, but the services they offer require uploading information. “We are putting together a monitoring mechanism to look at bandwidth, the response time latency, to ensure it’s not a pain to work from home,” he says.
Jimit Arora, who leads US-based advisory Everest Group’s IT services research practice, says even if devices (PCs) were available, users need dedicated, high-speed bandwidth, VPN access, multi-factor authentication. These, he says, will not be available to all delivery resources.
But the biggest challenge in WFH, he says, is contractual clauses. “This (coronavirus crisis) represents a typical force majeure event, given that there is now mandated work from home requirements. Clients and suppliers need to prepare for missed service level agreements,” he says.
Everest says data centre support, production support (the highest levels of L2 and L3 support for IT systems and applications), network operations centre, and security operations centre are activities where clients are unwilling to permit any WFH.
Then there are areas where clients are reluctantly allowing WFH, including areas like business & accounting processes, procurement processes, application development and L1 production support.
A CXO of an IT firm, who did not want to be named, says that for every customer, they have mapped 6-7 scenarios for business continuity and are reaching out to them to seek permission for what they found reasonable. “Every action that we are taking now is a compromise on the contractual obligation. But we are beefing up our security processes and monitoring mechanisms,” he says.
Everest’s Arora notes Accenture’s position that 60% of its work can be delivered remotely; beyond that, office presence is needed because clients have specific security and data privacy needs. Wipro said in a statement it’s working towards enabling all employees to work from home barring skeletal essential staff who may be required to be present in the offices. “In cases, where employees do not have the necessary infrastructure, we have procured additional laptops/desktops with essential infrastructure and connectivity to enable them to work from home in the current situation,” it said.
Phil Fersht, CEO of US-based HfS Research, says keeping enterprise clients’ critical support services functioning is becoming the biggest challenge ever faced by India’s IT industry as it tackles this health crisis. “They have to operate on an immediate short-term footing to keep the lights on for enterprise clients, with a medium-term focus on surviving the next few weeks with the right emergency provisions in place to keep staff healthy and a financial fall-back to keep the wheels on the track as we go through these very painful motions,” he says.