We talked to Partap K Aggarwal, founder, and CEO at IDS Infotech, about business process management and software solutions, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Partap K Aggarwal: This last year has been different, to say the least, for all humanity. But I count my blessings, given my family and I have made the most of what we had. We took the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. We all have been fortunate enough to enjoy good health, continuing to take all possible precautions during these pandemic times. The same goes for our extended family as we remain focused on our work teams’ health and safety, enabling them to work from home and provide the necessary infrastructure to support our clients with full efficiency.
When the entire world was hit by the pandemic, humanity had to go under lockdown. The first priority was to ensure the safety and health of our people across all locations. The other challenge was to continue serving our clients without disrupting our services. Lastly, we were to understand the new market dynamics under these conditions so that we could plan the backend.
With total chaos all around, being a company that has also believed in sharing, we worked closely with local authorities and associations to provide support to those who needed it the most. We regularly contributed to the Chief Minister’s Fund, Mohali Industry Association, Rotary, and Red Cross.
One of the few offsets was how I could not meet up with my daughter here during the lockdown, spend time with my growing first grandchild or visit my son in the US as was planned earlier. Nonetheless, it was a great feeling to become grandparents again, and we enjoyed both the babies over video calls! We have increased manifold connecting to Clients, employees, and other stakeholders with empathy to understand the impact of the crisis on their environment and to offer support to them. It has forced us to seek silver linings in our business models and has propelled new offerings and engagement models.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded IDS Infotech.
Partap K Aggarwal: I was fortunate that I got the opportunity to work with army officers in India very early in my career. This experience helped me build a strong foundation of work principles and ethics in my very first job. At the outset, I must stress the importance for every youngster of working with members from defense forces in their early career. Perseverance and relentless effort to get to your goal were the key lessons of 3 years of my first job.
Even though I had doubts about making a career in IT, and about being honest, I wasn’t the best programmer out there, I still made a choice of leaving my secured job with the central government body (Defence-led outfit) to join an unknown start-up company in California, USA to generate happiness and possible success.
Returning from the US to my hometown, Chandigarh, in 1987 to raise my children with my parents was an unusual decision in those times. I had made another choice, and little did I know how this would change the course of my future life.
I was fortunate to connect with an emerging IT company at that time – Wipro. I started my entrepreneurial journey as a value-added reseller for Wipro in the Chandigarh, Punjab region. It gave me a huge learning opportunity about the emerging tailwinds for IT in our country. I immediately signed up with NIIT Limited to bring education to the masses in the region. Both these ventures succeeded enough for me to decide to live in India permanently.
In 1989, I partnered with a leading industrialist to lead and build an enterprise which we named Inde Dutch Systems India Limited (renamed later to IDS Infotech Limited). I could very well see with my mind’s eye what is possible in this enterprise, and I could join the vast IT needs of the world with possible service from India. I could see more and more Indians going for better IT education and coming out, seeking employment over the forthcoming years. I could see the pipes between west and Indian enterprises widening and becoming cost-effective. I was experiencing a transforming India and higher and higher acceptance of Indian software engineers globally. Connecting these dots, I could imagine at that time what now is proven.
How does IDS Infotech innovate?
Partap K Aggarwal: Innovation does not happen by chance. It comes through the strategic initiative of our company, where we often cannibalize our own services before anyone else disrupts them. Next is to analyze innovation megatrends as this helps to ascertain the overall impact on the industry. Finally, identify gaps that can be filled through innovation.
Since inception, we have constantly been transforming ourselves and have pioneered several practices from India for worldwide clients – one of the first three companies in the country to provide Medical transcription services; the first company outside the US to provide real-time medical scribing services to name a few. Our workflows have become increasingly cost-effective over these years because of some innovative initiatives taken by our business leaders.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Partap K Aggarwal: IDS has withstood these difficult times with the support of our people and has come out strongly once again to continue serving our worldwide clients. Early on during the pandemic, we had re-calibrated our investments in hiring, Capex, and travels to align with the precise needs of our clients besides cutting wasteful expenses.
With IDS being a 100% export-oriented company witnessing the majority of its revenue coming from the US, the Pandemic affected our business real hard for the first 2 quarters of the current financial year 2020-21. Not only were volumes hit hard during the first 3 months, cash flows for the first 2 quarters we also adversely affected. Our receivable cycle got increased from 60 days to 90+ days in the first half of 20-21, which affected our planned expansion.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Partap K Aggarwal: Covid-19 has disrupted the way organizations were operating. A blended model of working from home plus working from the office has emerged as a new norm, especially in IT service companies like IDS. The entire performance management has shifted from effort-based assessment to outcome-based rating, a new paradigm in management. The entire employee engagement focus is now on the mental wellness of the employees who are operating from their homes in a different work environment.
Despite getting adversely affected by the pandemic in the first half of the current financial year owing to low volumes and stressed cash flow, the company decided to continue to pay salaries to the employees without suggesting any pay cuts/deductions.
There are few lessons learned during Pandemic, such as :
- Having adequate Cash reserves is critical in adapting to crises
- Automation & Digitisation as per Customers requirement
- Building an augmented workforce strategy
- Agility is a key in crisis
- Keep reinventing with new opportunities
- Have second thoughts on developing unnecessary infrastructure
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Partap K Aggarwal: The last year was a challenging one for most of us, and to claim that it was all a smooth ride for us would be incorrect. What helped us through are the strong business relationships that we have created with our customers over the years. How we see a business opportunity is not a one-time engagement but instead a long-term win-win relationship where we add value for each other. Every year, we create a balanced scorecard for each client where we evaluate their requirements, both – met and unmet, and revise our value propositions in line with their needs to offer service excellence since our progress is nothing but a subset of their success.
During the crisis last year, the role of trust and empathy in business relationships has only magnified. It is important to have a personalized touch with the clients, having meaningful discussions on areas of mutual interests to create a sense of familiarity despite the cultural differences. We initiated a CEO connect program, wherein I personally connected with the management team of our clients on a regular basis over a series of video calls.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Partap K Aggarwal: To a very limited extent, such as deduction in rates of TDS, deferment of deposit of GST for the month of March 20 by 15 days, etc.
Your final thoughts?
Partap K Aggarwal: This eventful year has left the entire world in a state of uncertainty. We need to understand that our clients, as well as employees, are impacted by this Pandemic. Trust and empathy are the currencies of this new norm, and we need to imbibe these virtues in every way we are serving our clients and engaging with our team members. We are fortunate that the entire industry is accepting digital working with great acceleration, giving us a huge opportunity to ramp up our business. We need to build capabilities to leverage this opportunity by investing in re-skilling our large workforce, agile hiring, empathetic engagement, re-do our workflows for enhanced efficiencies and build the new business model with sustainability and our planet’s health at its core.
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