We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new environment.

Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings

Much of our success, not just that of Infosys but of the entire IT services industry, has been built on the opportunity we saw two decades ago to perform technical jobs across multiple locations in a ‘flat world’, without loss in quality, and with improved economics. This global delivery model has made solving known IT problems more convenient and efficient for clients. But, over the years, the task of problem-finding — idea generation and the proactive exploration and experimentation needed to find new avenues of value creation — has taken a backseat in our industry. In recent times, the rapid improvement in practical applications for artificial intelligence (AI) has all but ensured that, in the near future, people will no longer be employed to solve well-defined problems that can be easily automated. In today’s competitive environment, businesses need more than the on-quality, on-time, and on-budget value that the delivery of IT services has traditionally brought them.

Now is the time for Infosys, and the entire IT industry, to move into the next phase of our collective evolution. The opportunity we see before us is to lead that change. We can become that next-generation software and services partner to our clients, helping them do not only the things they know how to do — and doing it cheaper, but also enabling them to do the things they cannot do at all today. We need to become the partner that plays a pivotal role at the core of their business, one that impacts the success of their unique and differentiated strategy by bringing to bear innovation at speed, and at scale.

The Zero Distance initiative has provided us with that new approach to building the ideas-based culture we need.

The Zero Distance initiative has provided us with that new approach to building the ideas-based culture we need. As a result of this program, each person in the organization can find a deeper sense of purpose in his or her job, and is motivated to realize that purpose. As a result, innovation has become an integral component of their job description. To make this approach work, we are first working on freeing our people from the complexities that some of our processes, policies and systems impose, and on releasing them from the monotony of routine manual tasks that can be automated.

Our employee satisfaction survey has always served to point us towards the opportunities for change that are likely to make the greatest difference to people’s productivity and their experience at work. Evolving it from an annual exercise to one that is conducted every quarter is helping us gain greater empathy for the real needs of our people. The result has been a renewal in the way we work, and the way we conduct 50+ of our most frequent, cross-functional activities. This effort has improved our proposal workflows, project management frameworks and travel-related procedures, while bringing automation tools to our sales force and predictive health monitoring to our projects. In tandem with this renewal, Process++, the program launched more than a year ago to reimagine our systems landscape and drive breakthrough efficiencies, is serving to aggressively unify several functions that were previously in silos across the organization.

Much of this improvement has been made possible by looking outside of our own context. We have sought to benchmark each of our processes against not just the best in our industry, but also the best in the world. After all, this is the kind of diligence that we bring to the work we do for our clients — a roster of the world’s best companies.

Thus has begun our journey to improve, and to improve the way we improve. Today, our efforts have translated into cycle-time reduction of around 45% for key cross-functional processes, and human effort reduction of around 30% that can be repurposed into creating bandwidth for higher value work that is more relevant to our clients.

To further drive cost and productivity advantages, we have also been working to automate the delivery of our IT services through a people + software model. Bringing automation beyond L1 and L2, to the more complex L3 support in IT operations, to test automation, to our knowledge-curating frameworks, and to robotic process automation (RPA), is where we have focused these efforts.

Our first-generation AI platform, which is now subsumed within our next-gen AI platform called Infosys NiaTM, has made a big part of this possible. In parallel with improving our own productivity with Infosys Nia, we are leveraging its capabilities to drive intelligent, high value, next-generation automation for our clients. It is enabling their systems to automate tasks and perform predictions that were traditionally done by skilled people. In HR automation, infrastructure monitoring, anomaly detection, and support for contract management and fraud investigation, Infosys Nia is amplifying our own IT services and fueling a massive re-engineering of systems and processes around the world.

While automation of well-defined cognitive tasks, many performed by humans today, has become feasible with AI, the ability to bring creativity and innovation into finding and solving the most significant unknown problems will remain firmly outside the domain of automation for the conceivable future. However, automation helps to create bandwidth for our people to engage in innovation, which begins with effective problem articulation and culminates in new ideas coming to life. In order to realize this opportunity, we need to help our people embrace problem-finding as a methodology, as a process to explore new avenues of value creation in very practical and agile ways. That is why we have invested in Design Thinking and have now trained more than 1,35,000 employees — unprecedented in any industry and a key aspect of our strategy to empower everybody at Infosys to be an innovator.

This, along with other aspects of learning — as a continuous, lifelong process — is what really powers our journey of automation and innovation. In addition to Design Thinking, we are accelerating our training efforts around DevOps and Agile. Over 50% of our project managers and more than 15,000 of our employees are training in these capabilities. We also continue to focus on expanding the core competence of every trainee we welcome to Infosys. They are now required to train in at least three programming languages before they are deemed fit to contribute to mainstream delivery.

These — Automation, Innovation and Education — then constitute the three-part formula, which I believe will elevate Infosys to be the next-generation services company. It is the way for us to renew ourselves, and at the same time, venture into new horizons. It is the only way forward for us — and in fact, for many of our clients, partners and even competitors in the industry : To find ways for humans and machines to cooperate, and amplify human abilities to release people from the toil of well-defined, commoditized and repetitive work, in favor of more innovative, creative and valuable work, which pushes all of us forward.

It is, as Norbert Wiener might say, the only way to make human use of human beings.