When Rohan Murty joined Infosys Technologies in June last year, with father N R Narayana Murthy’s return as executive chief, the move triggered a lot of speculation, including whether it was to groom him as the next chief executive officer.
The rumours proved unfounded when Vishal Sikka was appointed CEO and he left the company with his father.
Murty, in an interview with Business Standard, reveals, for the first time, his mandate at Infosys (how to measure individual productivity) and why he believes it could transform the entire software services sector.
During the two-hour conversation, he also talked about the reasons he decided to accompany his father to the company the latter had co-founded and his own future plans.
What were you working on, in the time you were at Infosys?
I was given two mandates -- to work on individual productivity and to drive automation.
While focusing on individual productivity was my dad’s suggestion, automation was mine.
My father and I had often discussed about individual productivity from a computer science perspective, and I would explain why it is such a hard problem.
Automation, as I come from a background where you ask why technology isn’t doing more.
When I was a PhD student, we would work on problems where three of us wrote 100,000 or 200,000 lines of code.
So, I’m not used to a world where 200,000 lines of code are written by 2,000 people.
But even that is linked to productivity, and that’s what my father wanted me to focus on.
Why is measuring individual productivity so important?
I think it forms the very basis for reorganising the entire labour force in this sector.
Today, it’s like flying blind.
In my limited opinion -- and I don’t want to sound like an expert -- it’s like what Lord Kelvin said: That which you cannot measure, you cannot improve.
If you can’t measure, where will you improve things for your clients? How you see software delivery also changes.
Right now, how do I scientifically determine how many software engineers can solve a problem and how do I, then, pick exactly which person I need to solve this problem?
In what other ways would it benefit the software services sector?
From a manager’s perspective, you now know who are the laggards, middle or average persons and who are the high performers.
And, a manager should be graded on how much he is pushing his people at the bottom to improve their productivity.
How I’d do training would also change.
If you’re investing so much in training, my whole argument is you should now do targeted training, particularly if someone has low productivity.
This is not to penalise anybody or create a witch-hunt.
Those who don’t want to be measured will make silly claims.
But people talk about revenue per employee when they talk of productivity. . .
This might not be the best analogy but what we are trying to do is to say you don’t just want to know the final speed of your car.
You also want to know which component of the car is contributing to which aspect of the friction or the burn or the speed.
Then, I will know which part I have to improve.
So, saying the end-to-end metric of revenue per employee is important but that alone is not enough.
You take the example of any company which says that my revenue per employee is ‘X’.
Your next question would be, why isn’t it higher, and where is the inefficiency?
Can people answer that today? No, for you don’t know where it lies.
How was this rolled out at Infosys?
When I came to Infosys, Sunil Gupta had joined as head of quality.
We pushed a lot of ideas out and got a lot of pilots done.
In fact, we started with application maintenance in information technology infrastructure management services because there the unit of work is a ticket.
You get a ticket and you resolve a ticket. So, we would try to measure the complexity of tickets and for the first time we could, at an individual level, say this is the kind of output this person is producing.
Or if somebody is not producing output, the manager could find what could be done to make things better.
It was fantastic.
Was there any friction when you introduced this?
No, at least not in the projects we deployed. I’m not at liberty to say too much about what happened at Infosys but the last I heard, there were 10,000 employees enrolled in the programme.
If these guys (Infosys) have dropped the ball after I left, it will be a real tragedy.
You don’t know whether they are continuing with it?
I’m (now) a regular shareholder; I don’t have any more information. I don’t know and don’t ask, deliberately.
Did you, to some extent, resolve the problem at Infosys?
It would be false to claim that we solved it.
But we had a start. We built a couple of models and started doing pilots. Many people started enrolling and we started scaling them.
So, I would say that in one year, we might have crossed some 20 per cent of the way.
But this is a hard computer science problem and it would have taken time and you have to push it.
If at Infosys they push it the way I am saying, they will transform their entire workforce, for the better.
If they don’t, maybe some other company will do it!
Have you ever thought that you could have joined Infosys like any other professional, instead of as executive assistant to your father, a role which was even coterminous to his stay in the company?
Joining at Infosys was never part of my plan, nor my father’s. My father was fairly reluctant to return.
He was retired, playing with my sister’s kids.
The only reason I came was because my father told me he wanted to do something and he wanted somebody who could bring a different perspective.
I am not claiming I am a genius or anything; there are much smarter people within this industry and outside.
But, he said, ‘I want somebody from outside who will not believe everything that is inside’.
He wanted me to contribute towards sorting out two or three things that would fundamentally and technically alter the DNA of the company.
So, I agreed to be there as long as he was there.
Also, if my father was 58, and not 68, I would not have come.
And, he would not have even asked me.
I have built a whole different world for myself elsewhere.
Would you ever consider becoming part of this (IT services) sector?
Who knows? (laughs) I might, you never know. But I don’t mean this company (Infosys).
The moment I say Infosys, tomorrow you would say -- he does not rule out coming back, ‘prodigal son’, ‘return of the prince’, all sorts of things!
I am really disappointed with a lot of the things that have been written and said (about me).
But, then, let’s call a spade a spade. I don’t want to take names but in many other companies in India, people far younger than me have been put into all kinds of positions, without any qualifications.
But where was the vociferousness then?
Did you discuss your work at Infosys with (new CEO) Vishal Sikka before you left?
I briefed Vishal on everything I did, in great detail. I told him the three important things that I think I have done.
(Whether to continue those) is his prerogative, his call.
Image: Rohan Murty; Photograph: Rediff Archives