July 11, 2008

Learnings from My Infosys Internship

(Note: This following article is part of the report that I submitted as requirement for my Action Consultancy. I posted my notes in a previous blog post.)

In the 1968, The Beatles went to India to learn the ways of Indian mysticism and what came out of that experience was the “White Album”—the LP that stretched the Beatles’ musical range the same way “Sgt. Pepper” did for them two years earlier. For The Beatles, the trip to India meant evolution.

Forty years later, I go to India for my Action Consultancy (AC) and experienced things that had a similar effect on The Beatles—I learned about new things in business and culture, and my worldview expanded dramatically.

What did I learn from my Action Consultancy stint? I could classify my learnings into four main areas: (1) Infosys as an organization, (2) Indian bureaucracy, (3) innovation in the enterprise and (4) international culture.

Infosys as an Organization
For starters, I learned about the company I worked with—Infosys Technologies, Ltd. Prior to going to India, I did not know much about Infosys. I knew about it from one of the cases we had and that was it—Infosys was an Indian company that grew along with India’s IT boom in the 1990’s.  But after going though with my AC, Infosys was more than just a company we discussed in the case room. I learned about its history, business units and values hands-on and I also got to know what the company was all about.

Infosys is one of India’s well-respected companies because the Indian people see Infosys’ success story as a national success story— people’s lives improved as Infosys grew. Its longest serving CEO, N.R. Narayana Murthy, is an admired public figure, more like a likable version of Bill Gates of Microsoft. Indians saw working for Infosys a big deal— I heard of a joke that once a store owner knew a customer was working for Infosys, he’s raise the prices by 25%. It was that much of a deal to the Indians.

Speaking of employees, the Infoscions (as the Infosys employees would call themselves) are very competent bunch who are very open to collaboration. I observed how evident the peaks and valleys of work is in Infosys—people are generally in a relaxed mode (as demonstrated by the number of people lounging in the food courts and the ubiquitous CafĂ© Coffee Day) but have no qualms in putting in hours and hours during crunch time. The people I was able to work with could get quite overly meticulous about certain matters but they are also very open to asking for help from others. They also take pride in being affiliated with Infosys and consider themselves well taken care of by the company.

However, Infosys high reputation still primarily stayed where it started—in India. Outside of the subcontinent, Infosys is seen solely as an Indian phenomenon. I seriously believe that this is the reason the company has advocated the importance of being more “global” as it grows. In my stay in the Infosys headquarters in Bangalore, I saw the tremendous effort the company is making in trumpeting the “Flat World” (from Thomas L. Friedman’s book “The World is Flat”) as a means to instill a global mindset to its employees and highlight the importance of being a global company, rather than an Indian company.

I also think that the campuses scattered around 13 cities in India are signs that Infosys wants to prove something to the world. The campuses (termed as Development Centers or DC’s) are places that seem to be larger than life. I was able to visit two campuses (the HQ in Bangalore and Mysore) they were just awesome. I personally think the Mysore DC is the corporate version of Disneyland, with buildings drawing inspiration from the Parthenon to a Spanish villa to a modern glass orb. If the DC’s are meant to impress clients, I think they will get the job done. But a city planner or an architect may have differing opinions about the DC’s.

Infosys stands out in India because it is situated in an irony—the DC’s are well-maintained, clean, and complete with landscaping, but take a step outside the gates and you will see the opposite. I often wonder how the organization deals with India and all its flaws of poverty, government inefficiency, and poor infrastructure.

Indian Bureaucracy
I experienced first hand how bureaucratic India is in processing my papers at the Foreigners Registration Office.  The person who helped me get my papers done was a hard-worker who had to slug it out with the Indian bureaucracy. I guess people here are already used to the molasses-like movement of government agencies and red tape. I observed that people give a big fuss about semantics and have mindset that is more inclined to hamper the movement of documents than to facilitate it.

To a certain extent, Infosys is not completely spared from this bureaucratic mindset.  The company plays the bureaucracy game with the government, the banks and even suffering from certain inefficiencies internally.  Perhaps Infosys has grown too big for its own good on some of its units.

Innovation in the Enterprise
My project provided me with new insights on innovation and how to manage it in a very big organization like Infosys.

When I came to Infosys, I though my project was a totally new initiative that the folks from the Innovation Lab cooked up. But only after one meeting, I learned that the company had started to systematize its innovation processes, but fragmented into different units. The project’s grand vision is to integrate all the innovation activities into one universal platform for all business units.

This enterprise-level way of innovating is truly challenging for an enterprise like Infosys because of the sheer size of the company. To illustrate, imagine a very good idea from the Facilities unit that could be very useful for Finance. Someone from Facilities will field the idea into the Innovation platform and someone from Marketing will take notice and link the idea to the people in Finance, with or without going through the traditional brainstorming process. On paper, it’s a wonder, but the real challenge lies in the implementation.

Another key issue is the aspect of Intellectual Property (IP). Given that good ideas and very good ideas will be floating around the organization, who gets credit? Also, this presents another challenge of patenting and commercialization. The idea of exploiting ideas brought about by massive collaboration would have to go through some deal of moderation and filtering, as well as organizational processes to make it work. But I still believe that IT will be playing a key role in making the innovating the whole innovation process itself, as Infosys is betting.

International Culture
I thought that I already have a good exposure to foreign culture with my interaction with my classmates in AIM for eight months, but I truly appreciated how “big” and diverse the world is with my stint in Infosys.

Apart from my exposure to Indian culture by living in Bangalore for two months, I also got to meet other international students who are part of Infosys’ InStep Internship program. I met undergraduate and graduate students from China, France, Germany, Morocco, Vietnam, South Korea and the United States, to mention a few and the interactions with them had been very, very enriching.

I was able to build friendships and connections with them and know more about their respective cultures beyond the stereotypes media has been perpetuating. The same way, I guess I was able to debunk some of the stereotypes about Filipinos my co-interns carried before. (I found out that people are generally surprised I could communicate very well in English.) I also was inspired to be more of a ”person to the world” by learning new languages, appreciating sites and locations, and being more tolerant of things different to me. As far as the “feel-good” aspect of the AC goes, I found it in the relationships I forged with the people in InStep.

Work culture in Infosys is very different from the rosy situation I experienced outside. Indians are pretty direct and would come of as mean if people didn’t know them. I also observed they argue a lot during meetings. But thing I liked about working with Indians is the fact that they are very open to ideas and are open to listening to suggestions from all sources, even interns. I felt pretty lost in my first couple of weeks but fortunately, the coordinators of the InStep program are very friendly and accommodating and they were able to guide me in my transition.

Conclusion   
In my MBA studies so far, I have found my Action Consultancy stint one of the most fulfilling and enriching experiences.  I got to know new cultures, learned about big business and applied the skills and knowledge I have learned inside the case room. I would say that my eight months in dealing with my classmates and discussing classes helped me perform very well in my AC project.

The Beatles sang new songs after their sojourn in India in the 1960’s. Forty years later, I also find myself singing a different tune after my Action Consultancy stint in India.

2 comments:

Soraya said...

Hi,

Did you experience the phenomenon of "Indian time" when dealing with Infosys' Team Instep?

I was told I would receive my offer letter in "a day or two" (quite non-commital). It's been a week and haven't received anything.

May I ask how long it took for you to receive your offer letter, please? I'm not sure if I'm being overly impatient.

Hope to get a response.

Thank you,
Soraya (South Africa)

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