Global Assembly

Tata Consultancy connects employees in 35 countries using voice over IP.

In late 2003, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.’s CEO, S. Ramadorai, had a simple but ambitious goal for the Mumbai, India-based company: Improve communication and collaboration among all employees.

It wouldn’t be an easy task. With nearly 80,000 employees in 35 countries, Ramadorai wanted to see more real-time collaboration and information sharing among workers in different time zones who come from disparate cultures and whose clients are in different vertical industries.

Even though TCS’s CEO was a key supporter of the project, “the biggest challenge for me was to show my business peers the overall benefits of the project,” says Chief Technology Officer K. Ananth Krishnan. Development began in 2004, but the biggest payoffs wouldn’t be visible until mid-2005, says Krishnan. “So it was a leap of faith for our senior leadership team” to buy into the project, he adds. “I had to sell this pretty much on my own reputation.”

The initiative, known as Project Infinity, involves a multitude of technologies — including IBM’s Sametime, QuickPlace and Lotus Domino collaboration tools — but the key component is a global voice-over-IP telephony network provided by Avaya Inc.

The VoIP network serves as the backbone for the collaboration push. With it, TCS technologists who support customers in vertical industries such as retail, energy and financial services can share and reuse common code “snippets,” says Krishnan.

The VoIP network has also enabled TCS to reduce its travel and telephony costs, because the system supports videoconferencing among associates in far-flung offices. In fact, over the past year, TCS has reduced its domestic and international travel costs by 40% while slashing its telecommunications costs by 60%.

Still, getting employees to use the VoIP network and achieving those savings wasn’t easy. For instance, when TCS’s IT organization first began promoting the idea of using videoconferencing to connect with colleagues, some employees insisted that they needed to travel to discuss business or project issues in depth, and others said they were concerned that some problems couldn’t be resolved via video, says Anuva Pardesi, head of branding for TCS’s innovation group.

“We told them as part of their travel requests that it was mandatory for them to explain why videoconferencing wouldn’t be enough to satisfy their requirements,” says Pardesi. “So consequently, we were able to track costs on travel and improve usage of videoconferencing.” It helped that TCS’s CFO, S. Mahalingam, stood firmly behind the mandate to justify travel, she says.

Project Infinity team leaders also expected that once IP-based phones came out, adoption rates “would take off,” says Christopher Hudson, a principal consultant who ran the TCS project management office. But as it turned out, many employees didn’t want to abandon their existing phones, he adds.

To help encourage adoption of the VoIP telephony network, including the IP-based phones, Pardesi and other project members put together marketing campaigns to explain why using the new phones was easier, faster and cheaper than using traditional phones, which typically require a code to be entered before an employee can access an outside line, she says.

The campaigns included a “user of the month” contest, spotlighting the employee who racked up the most IP phone minutes for a particular period.

Pardesi and her group also came up with a contest for employees to name the VoIP network. The winner was awarded 5,000 rupees (about $113 U.S.), says Pardesi.

There was some initial excitement among users about the VoIP network, “but it didn’t peak,” says Pardesi. “So we had to go back to the drawing board to determine how to sustain interest. We realized we needed to get this message out very clearly and to repeat this message consistently until it caught on.”

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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