EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Getting Leaner and Meaner: Q&A With Patni CFO Surjeet Singh

As the recession deepens and spreads across the globe, people have been asking themselves variations of the same questions: Can my company survive the recession? Can my industry? My home town?

Global outsourcers are no different. It might seem that this industry would have a degree of immunity from recessionary forces: After all, companies use outsourcers to cut costs and perform tasks that are not core to their operations. To a certain extent, that remains true. However, outsourcing industry dynamics have changed since the last recession. Outsourcers now perform far more sophisticated tasks for their clients than they did eight years ago.

Based in Mumbai, India, Patni is a poster child for this new generation of outsourcers. It provides IT services, product engineering services, business process and customer service outsourcing, as well as infrastructure management. It counts State Farm, Motorola, Coca-Cola and Fidelity among its clients.

Not surprisingly, outsourcing industry executives — including Patni CFO Surjeet Singh — are wondering whether these changes could make them more vulnerable to the global economic downturn.

E-Commerce Times: One of India’s former stars in the outsourcing community — Satyam, of course — has turned out to be the perpetrator of a stunning financial fraud. Do you think the outsourcing industry is going to experience a backlash from the case, especially now, as firms are re-evaluating all sorts of decisions?

Surjeet Singh:

We all condemn what happened with Satyam — it was a terrible deception. That said, we believe it is an isolated case, something that could have happened in any industry, in any country. In general, these cases are more the exception than the rule. Also, CFOs need to play a stronger role in protecting shareholders and investors; auditors, as well, play a key role.

ECT: The recession that started in the U.S. is now, by most accounts, viewed as global. How do you think it will impact the Indian offshoring industry? By that I mean, do you think you will get more business from companies looking to cut costs? Or do you think you will lose business, especially some of the more expensive, value-add operations that many firms have begun offering on an outsourced basis?

Singh:

To answer that, first we have to look at how it has evolved over the last few years. Since 2001 or 2002, the Indian offshoring industry has significantly remade itself. We have established ourselves as mainstream business partners with global Fortune 500 customers. We engage in strategic decision-making with them; we are as significant as suppliers or customers. Whereas eight to 10 years ago, we were still seen as low-cost, low value-add providers.

ECT: What you are saying is that companies like Patni have become too important to their clients for them to cut back on your services or cycle out of them completely?

Singh:

I think we — meaning the industry — have become integral parts of Fortune 500 companies’ operations and supply chains. We have moved up the corporate value chain, in other words.

ECT: But that still leaves you vulnerable to the recession — even more so, in fact, as more companies go out of business.

Singh:

Certainly, we are seeing evidence of the downturn here. It has become more global faster than previous downturns, and it is pervasive across many industries. Yes, we were bound to be impacted. But what I meant is that our value proposition is different than it was during the last global recession in 2000, and companies will be reacting differently regarding their outsourcing activities.

ECT: How does that factor into firms’ decisions about outsourcing in the current environment?

Singh:

We are seeing companies take longer to make decisions about our services because they are more complex and focus on adding value as well cutting costs.

ECT: Ten years ago, outsourcing simple services to India and elsewhere — call centers, for instance, or data entry — was the low-hanging fruit for the outsourcing industry. By now, most firms have already done this or considered it, primarily for cost-cutting reasons. Do you see a new wave of business coming from companies that may have discarded this option before but now need to cut costs?

Singh:

Yes, I do think we will see that — if we haven’t already. Companies are doing what they have to to get leaner and meaner in their cost structures.

ECT: Which will have the greater impact on the outsourcing industry: more firms turning to outsourcing for low-cost services, or clients taking longer to make a decision about the more expensive, value-add services outsourcers also offer?

Singh:

That is a hard question to answer. Some initiatives are being put on hold — there is no doubt about it. And equally as certain, some firms are getting new business as part of their cost-cutting measures. If I had to pick one, I would say while it is too early to talk numbers, there is a clear thematic global push to cut costs — and that translates into more outsourcing.

ECT: Do you see areas of growth in the near term, beyond firms seeking new ways to cut costs?

Singh:

I think we will see more penetration in the Asian markets. Some countries have not traditionally used outsourcers in this part of the world, and I think that will change. I also think there will be deeper penetration in existing accounts, as firms that were using outsourcing for value-add activities will also use them for more cost-cutting measures and vice-versa.

For instance, we are seeing customers that have set up their own captive centers overseas to leverage low-cost considerations — basically, they moved certain activities to new locations but kept their management in-house — beginning to outsource the management of those operations. They are realizing that the overall total cost of ownership is not as competitive as they initially thought, and they are re-evaluating those decisions — handing them over to outsourcers as long-term contracts. In fact, I think that trend will accelerate, as companies become more focused on costs as the recession continues.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

LinuxInsider Channels

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Nasuni Founder Andres Rodriguez: Object Storage Offers More Cloud Benefits, Lower Cost

Object storage in the cloud is one of the significant options for organizations looking for a more efficient solution to their growing digital and cloud transformation needs. Its search capabilities and unlimited scaling make object storage ideal for unstructured data.

Nasuni, a cloud storage company headquartered in Boston, focuses on taking advantage of cloud properties — unlimited capacity, scalability, global access, and resiliency — to create a cloud-native enterprise file system.

Spearheading a built-from-the-ground-up goal, Nasuni CTO and Founder Andres Rodriguez, launched his company’s technology to replace traditional network-attached storage (NAS) and file server silos. His approach consolidates all of an enterprise’s global files. It does this in expandable cloud object storage that can be centrally managed via a web browser.

“Customers can deploy virtual appliances at their offices, and they will cache the most recent version of the working set of files locally to provide excellent performance. Changes are uploaded regularly to immutable, gold copies in the cloud, and then synchronized globally,” Rodriguez told TechNewsWorld.

These appliances do not have to be in a data center or office. More than 80 percent of his customers deploy them as virtual machines. The technology eliminates the need for complex legacy file backup and disaster recovery infrastructure.

“Data protection is built into our file system. It happens automatically. Additionally, our file system is built on extremely efficient snapshots, so if and when IT needs to restore data, it only takes a few minutes, even for very large data sets,” he explained.

Building Upon Previous Roots

Rodriguez had worked as CTO at a large media outlet where he oversaw massive digitalization of the company’s archives. Seeing the promise of object storage, in 2003 he founded Archivas, which built the first enterprise-class cloud storage system based on his object storage methods.

Andres Rodriguez, Founder & CTO, Nasuni
Nasuni Founder & CTO Andres Rodriguez

He saw firsthand the storage problems that companies faced as they digitized massive content archives. He founded to solve those problems by taking advantage of object storage, which was still nascent technology at that time.

“Object storage is an extremely efficient, fast medium for storing fixed data that does not change much. So, it is ideal for storing media,” Rodriguez said.

Archivas enabled customers to build large arrays, creating a sort of early private cloud. Ultimately, of course, when the public cloud emerged, much of its storage infrastructure was built on object storage.

“So, in a very real way, Archivas was a cloud storage pioneer,” he noted.

Hitachi Data Systems later bought Archivas. Rodriguez then founded Nasuni. The company’s expanded technology makes it easy to collaborate on files across continents thanks to its high-speed file synchronization and global file locking capabilities.

“All this additional functionality comes at half the total cost of traditional file storage,” Rodriguez said.

Object Storage 101

Object storage is a newer concept compared to block storage. Block storage, traditionally used on storage devices such as hard drives over a network, stores data in fixed-size chunks called blocks. A single block only stores a portion of the data. The remaining data chunks attach to other blocks.

The application makes requests to find the correct address of all the blocks on the storage device. No metadata is associated with blocks, and the requested address is the only identifying part of a block.

This structure provides fast performance when the application and storage are local. But this process can cause increased latency the further apart they are.

Object storage, on the other hand, bundles customizable metadata tags and a unique identifier to form objects. These objects, in turn, are stored with no limit to how many objects are stored for that file. This makes object storage much easier to scale out.

Success Story

Nasuni on March 24 announced a $60 million equity investment by new investor Sixth Street Growth. This is the fourth round of financing for Nasuni over the last five years, during which it has raised a total of $148 million.

I spoke further with Rodriquez about his journey to found Nasuni and the company’s offerings.

TechNewsWorld: How did you get from Archivas to founding Nasuni?

Andres Rodriguez: After Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) acquired Archivas in 2007, I spent a year there overseeing the integration. It was clear the cloud was the future of IT infrastructure. I already did extensive work with object storage at Archivas, and the cloud was in many ways Archivas on an exponentially grander scale.

We saw a tremendous opportunity to leverage snapshotting technology and the scale of object storage to build a cloud-native file system. We built in all the advantages of the cloud, but with the performance of a local NAS.

How does Nasuni handle digitalization in business storage?

Rodriguez: We enable it! We accelerate digital and cloud transformations by managing one of the more difficult pieces of the puzzle. Files are by far the largest and fastest-growing segment of a company’s data, and the last piece to shift to the cloud.

We store files, make them easily accessible across the globe, enable cross-continent collaboration, and provide automatic data protection. Also, because all that file data is already stored in the cloud, it is easy to connect that data to cloud services like AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics tools. This makes the file data even more valuable.

How are the services Archivas provided different from what Nasuni offers?

Rodriguez: Archivas was a large piece of storage equipment designed to store massive amounts of media. Nasuni, on the other hand, is a cloud-native subscription service that provides a global enterprise file system that helps companies shrink their physical infrastructure footprint.

Both store data and are built on object storage. But they are aimed at very different use cases.

What obstacles does digitalization present to enterprises?

Rodriguez: Cloud is an enormous element of digitalization. The vast majority of enterprise IT infrastructure will eventually move to the cloud. One of the biggest obstacles to cloud migration is understanding the difference between cloud-native and cloud-washed systems.

Many vendors have simply taken storage products that were designed for on-premises deployments and retooled them for the cloud. The end result is often the worst of both worlds. They force companies to shift to the cloud while relying on technology that was engineered for a physical data center.

How does Nasumi’s cloud storage solution work?

Rodriguez: Our cloud-native file system, UniFS, stores the gold copy of each file in the cloud of the customers’ choice. We have partnerships with AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Customers could also deploy Nasuni to work with a private cloud as the back end.

The working set of file data is stored on local virtual appliances or virtual appliances deployed in a nearby cloud to provide strong performance. Changes to data are uploaded to the gold copy in the cloud as highly efficient storage snapshots. It is then easy to roll back to any copy at any point in time.

Customers can take a snapshot of the entire file system as often as every few minutes. Snapshots are stored in object storage as read-only data, so the data is protected against ransomware attacks. And customers can roll back to any previous version of an individual file or the entire file share at any time. It only takes minutes to do so, which provides near-instant recovery capability.

Where do you see this technology headed in the short term?

Rodriguez: Nasuni is positioned to become the standard file system for the global enterprise. Nasuni continues to add additional capabilities to our file system. For instance, last year, we made it very simple to connect data to cloud services such as AI and advanced analytics tools.

We also introduced Global File Acceleration, which automatically propagates new file data across appliances for faster collaboration. Global users sharing files gain the very fastest access to new data that they need most. So much more in the works, too, as we have made tremendous investments in engineering and technology development. 

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories
More by Jack M. Germain
More in Enterprise
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Remote Work Transformation Calls for Prioritizing Employee Tech Choices

Image Credit: Lenovo

The global remote work revolution the pandemic caused has accelerated and reinforced the need for companies to prioritize the employee experience. This necessity includes providing tech equipment and consumer products from select retailers via a “choose your own device” (CYOD) reimbursement program.

That is the view from two top suppliers of computers and other electronic devices. Lenovo-Intel research found that a solid majority (72 percent) of employees feel that their employers need to focus more on listening to workers to get clarity on their tech needs. That response ranks in the top three things companies should do to improve the employee experience. 

The Lenovo and Intel study, “Empowering Employees Through Technology Can Supercharge Returns,” is now one year old. But companies still face the ongoing challenges of outfitting their remote workforce with the technical tools they need to work away from the physical office productively, suggested Stefan Engel, Lenovo’s vice president and general manager of Visuals Business.

TechNewsWorld discussed the implications of remote workers’ technical support needs with Engel, who sits in the catbird’s seat in seeing how employers are responding to the realities of the high-tech survey.

TechNewsWorld: How is the shift in meeting employees’ WFH priorities impacting companies?

Stefan Engel: The remote work revolution has put employees more in control of their work technology devices than ever before. We found that improving the employee experience, starting with the tech they provide to employees, is more important than previously anticipated.

Both IT departments and employees agree that satisfaction with their work technology has a direct impact on improving employee satisfaction.

This shift has certainly propelled monitor design forward to becoming the center of communication, interacting with all kinds of devices, not just PCs and laptops, but also mobile phones and gaming consoles, basically anything that can benefit from a fully-actualized visual experience.

How widespread is the remote working demand?

Engel: I saw a recent Gartner survey that noted about one in 10 companies that planned to reopen their offices in the third quarter of 2021 have now pushed back their reopening date to sometime in the fourth quarter.

According to Lenovo’s own customer surveys, 90 percent of businesses plan to keep a hybrid model in place where at least some of the workforce is remote. Workers have grown accustomed to flexibility over the last 19 months and have shown that productivity can be maintained regardless of location.

That increased productivity brings new levels of screen time both day and night. Modern modular technology has become key to keeping employees satisfied with their tech options by allowing for personalization.

Modular options include ergonomic stands that lift, tilt, pivot, and swivel to let workers customize their home setup to best suit their needs, or monitor webcams designed for hybrid work with features like a smart traffic light showing colleagues or family members when a user is “busy” in a conference call.

Is this WFH movement driving new purchases or just moving equipment to the workers’ locations?

Engel: From the same survey Lenovo conducted with Intel, 84 percent of employers are upgrading devices, software, and services as part of employee engagement initiatives to improve team engagement and satisfaction.

The pandemic placed greater emphasis on employees using an at-home monitor to expand the screen real estate of their laptop, making their set-up more productive for working with data and graphics.

This resulted in a large uptick of PC monitor shipments in 2021 according to IDC and other industry researchers. Monitor technology is evolving rapidly. Employers should think about replacement after approximately three years to keep work productivity at high levels. It is also worth it for talent retention according to several employee satisfaction studies.

What other tech concerns did the survey indicate?

Engel: Half of employees still say they are frustrated with their PC hardware and software experience. It is evident that technologies are instrumental in driving employee productivity and engagement. Part of what is making this work is the adoption of video calling and collaboration software.

remote employee working on notebook

Image Credit: Lenovo


Potential exists to bridge these two groups and improve employee experience and satisfaction by making new up-to-date purchases, refreshing cycles, and remotely integrating hardware and software.

For example, an upgraded external monitor that supports high refresh rates and is connected to your PC can leverage the enhanced color performance of HDR 10 brought to life by the latest Windows 11 OS experience — certainly an improvement to your day in front of a screen.

What impact on data security does the remote workforce pose?

Engel: Data security and the feeling of still having control with employees working primarily outside of an office are top of mind for IT decision-makers when considering digital transformation solutions.

Malicious attacks targeting businesses moving their critical functions to the cloud are on the rise, as are attempts to exploit human vulnerabilities via phishing and ransomware, which have increased 11 percent and six percent respectively in 2021, according to Verizon.

Besides security software, one way employers can protect their remote workers is by encouraging them to use their physical shutter when not on camera as an added protection to user privacy.

A new feature I really love is the presence detection sensor that detects if a human being is in front of the monitor. If not, it goes to sleep mode to ensure privacy from prying eyes as well as potentially reducing your home’s power bill.

What other options are employers providing to remote staff?

Engel: As we near the second year of primarily remote work, employers are encouraging their staff to design their at-home workspace smarter than before; where they can easily switch between their workstation and laptop with a single keyboard and mouse combination for a more intuitive user experience.

We have seen several models used to equip/update the workplace at home around the world, all of which are better than companies just leaving their remote employees high and dry.

Here are a few examples:

  • Full free choice: The company reimburses employees fully, often with a max cap per item;
  • Flat amount reimbursement: This approach often leads to the user choosing a standard monitor that skimps on important features, like natural low blue light, in an effort to save money;
  • Preferred list offered: Companies provide a short list of approved monitors that employees may purchase to be eligible for reimbursement, which is a win-win because it caters to the employee’s needs while ensuring that the company is considering the impacts of a healthy work environment;
  • Delivering equipment: Companies make the selection and ship the monitor to the employee’s home.

What equipment baseline do remote workers need?

Engel: Day-to-day remote collaboration requires tailored technology that can improve video calls and even large online meetings, meet the unique needs of businesses, individuals or classrooms, and keep IT costs manageable.

Our user insights point to advancements in flexible modular tech, including enabled high-definition cameras and better device privacy and manageability. Our users also want monitors that feature high-performance displays, ergonomic capabilities, one-cable docking solution, easier video collaboration, smart software management applications, and built-in natural low blue light technology.

What are the priorities that ITDMs want for strategic IT integration?

Engel: IT decision-makers can better improve employee engagement and business outcomes by realigning investments, focusing on PC devices, and involving employees in technology decisions.

Create employee investment in your company’s digital transformation. Listening to employee feedback can go a long way towards establishing the hybrid security, software, and device framework with which IT decision-makers are tasked.

One thing that is different now is that the responsibility for meeting rooms or collaboration spaces in offices and conference centers moved from the care of facilities management to the IT department due to all the smarter technology and influx of high-tech devices. I predict this will soon become the standard for most offices.

How can OEMs address this remote technology divide?

Engel: OEMs must recognize the new realities employees face with remote work and provide technology that can not only help boost and maintain productivity at home, but also keep their work from home space minimal and organized. Organizations can improve employee experience by providing a choice in flexible with mobile and modular technology that adapts to employees’ working style from no matter where they choose to work.

Any final thoughts on how remote working is changing employer options?

Engel: I was struck by one of the study’s takeaways for IT decision-makers. It advises IT to also prioritize tech investments that focus on stated employee needs, such as building a strong ecosystem of PC devices, data security, and exploring easy-to-use collaboration tools.

In large organizations, it is common to have employee advocates working behind the scenes making sure that the long-term health and well-being of employees is factored into any equipment purchases. But this same level of compromise happens less often at smaller companies, or when people are left to buy equipment on their own as part of a company reimbursement program.

I think it is important for IT decision makers, employees, and managers to consider an issue that is just below the surface of all these connected devices. That is blue light emissions from digital displays.

Companies are starting to ask the right questions on behalf of their employees, but much more education is needed to make eye health part of the broader conversation when considering new equipment purchases.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by Jack M. Germain
More in IT Leadership