Continuous Learning.. Can-Do Attitude - Mr. Shankar Srinivasan, CPO, Congnizant

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Continuous Learning.. Can-Do Attitude - Mr. Shankar Srinivasan, CPO, Congnizant

Post  ramreddy on Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:34 am



Q.What services does Cognizant, as one of the major company in IT sector provide in terms of business and also as an employment generator?
A.We are a leading provider of custom Information Technology (IT) consulting and technology services and outsourcing services. Our customers are primarily Global 2000 companies located in North America, Europe and Asia. Our core competencies include Technology Consulting, Complex Systems Development and Integration, Enterprise Software Package Implementation and Maintenance, Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence and Analytics, Application Testing, Application Maintenance, Infrastructure Management, and Business and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (BPO and KPO). We tailor our services to specific industries, and utilize an integrated global sourcing model. This seamless global sourcing model combines technical and account management teams located on-site at the customer location and at dedicated near-shore and offshore development and delivery centers located primarily in India, China, the United States, Argentina, Hungary and the Philippines.
Our business is organized and managed primarily around our four vertically-oriented business segments:
1. Financial Services (Capital Markets, Banking, Insurance)
2. Healthcare (Healthcare, Life Sciences)
3. Manufacturing, Retail & Logistics
4. Others (Include Communications, Media and Information Services, and High Technology)
Many companies today face intense competitive pressure and rapidly changing market dynamics, driven by such factors as changes in the economy, government regulations, globalization, virtualization and other technology innovations. In response to these challenges, many companies are focused on improving efficiencies, enhancing effectiveness and driving innovation to favorably impact both the bottom-line and top-line. In order to achieve these goals, companies are focusing on a number of services, such as:
1. Business and IT alignment;
2. IT application and infrastructure optimization;
3. Business and Knowledge Process effectiveness and efficiency;
4. Advanced custom systems development;
5. Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics;
6. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP);
7. Customer Relationship Management (CRM);
8. Supply Chain Management;
9. Enterprise 2.0 business models and technology solutions;
10. Service-Oriented Architectures, Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing; and
11. Engineering and Manufacturing solutions
These solutions facilitate faster, more responsive and lower-cost business operations. However, their development, integration and on-going maintenance present major challenges and require a large number of highly skilled professionals trained in many diverse technologies and specialized industries. In addition, companies also require additional technical resources to maintain, enhance and re-engineer their core legacy IT systems and to address application maintenance projects. Increasingly, companies are relying on custom IT solutions providers, such as us, to provide these services.
Additionally, in order to respond effectively to a changing and challenging business environment, IT departments of many companies have focused increasingly on improving returns on IT investments, lowering costs and accelerating the delivery of new systems and solutions. To accomplish these objectives, many IT departments have shifted all or a portion of their IT development, integration and maintenance requirements to outside service providers operating with global sourcing models.
Global demand for high quality, lower cost IT services from outside providers has created a significant opportunity for IT service providers that can successfully leverage the benefits of, and address the challenges in using, a global talent pool. The effective use of personnel from across the globe can offer a variety of benefits, including lower costs, faster delivery of new IT solutions and innovations in vertical solutions, processes and technologies. Certain countries, particularly India and China, have large talent pools of highly qualified technical professionals who can provide high quality IT and business and knowledge process outsourcing services at a lower cost. India is a leader in IT services, and is regarded as having one of the largest and highest quality pools of talent in the world.

Q.What is the employee strength of Cognizant and its future growth potential?
A.As of June 30, 2010, Cognizant’s global headcount was 88,700. As a policy, we do not provide any hiring guidance. However, Cognizant will continue to hire aggressively based on business need.

Q.Did the hiring by software companies pick up in the present scenario of global recovery and how are the hiring trends from your company for the next one year?
A.While hiring has indeed picked up across the IT services industry, Cognizant continued to hire aggressively throughout the downturn based on business need. We saw the economic slowdown as an opportunity to attract as much good talent as we could to further differentiate Cognizant in the marketplace, while sustaining our industry-leading growth rate. Towards this end, we invested in people to gain an unfair share from the talent marketplace, as evidenced in the strong hiring through much of 2009. Across our business, we attracted some exceptional people from campuses and from the lateral market. In the last one year alone, Cognizant organically added a net of approximately 24,600 associates. We ended the June-ended quarter with 88,700 employees globally. For full year 2010, we continue to expect industry-leading revenue growth, based on current conditions and client indications, we have increased our guidance for revenue to at least $4.46 billion. This represents growth of at least 36%. As a policy, we do not provide any hiring guidance. However, like in the past, Cognizant will continue to hire aggressively based on business need.

Q.What are the various job profiles found sounding in Cognizant for Engineering graduates?
A.We recruit engineering graduates for roles in application development and maintenance, program delivery, R&D, network support, security, testing, engineering design, and so on.

Q.How will be the career growth and learning scope for employees in Cognizant?
A.By growing the fastest among the top-tier IT companies in India for the last several years, Cognizant has been able to not only attract the best talent, but also provide exciting and rapid career progression opportunities. Because we are growing so much faster, that growth creates opportunities for our employees. As you grow faster, you can promote more people and I think one thing that our employees are seeing is that they can have a faster career path at Cognizant because of our faster growth. This makes Cognizant an attractive career proposition for professionals. We are very focused on making sure we have great career paths for our employees. Even at the peak of the downturn, we continued to share the rewards of our industry-leading growth with our employees by way of increments, bonuses and promotions in recognition of their contribution towards our growth.
Cognizant Academy, our internal learning centre, takes care of the learning needs of the entire organization globally. Cognizant’s investment in training covers a broad gamut—in-classroom training, multi-mode training (video-based training, eLearning, satellite-based learning), participation in seminars, workshops and events, and so on. This includes training conducted internally by Cognizant’s Subject Matter Experts and covers the training needs of a broad base of our employees such as entry-level recruits, technologists, project delivery and management associates, leadership teams, sales and development teams, and relationship management teams. Training programs, which usually result in certifications for the participants, address a broad spectrum of technology, soft skills, cross-cultural, personality development, language, management development and role-enablement interventions that help employees to play their roles more effectively or take on bigger roles in the organization.
As a policy, Cognizant imparts 14-week entry-level training to all its fresh recruits. Apart from technical skills, this training also covers quality and process management, project management, communication and presentation skills, team dynamics, business etiquette, cross-cultural adaptability and other subjects. An extension of this entry-level training is our “Dovetail” program, which builds upon the theme of our ELT program over an expanded span of 12 months. It helps our hires transition from “training” to “learning”. During this program, they consolidate their competencies by reflecting upon all that they have learnt as part of their training and relating that to practical business. The idea is to give them an opportunity to apply concepts they have learnt in the classroom.
Proficiency in any skill depends on Talent, Attitude, Skill and Knowledge, a set of attributes we refer to as TASK. Of these four, the first, which in our context means the ability to think through problems, analyze them and give solutions, is inherent in an individual. The others can be taught. Training interventions are indeed necessary to address the gaps left by our examination system based on “recall” rather than “application”. It is indeed possible to learn on the job. However, the learning curve can be reduced substantially through relevant training programs.

Q.Can you describe the hiring process Cognizant follows for employing freshers and as well as candidates with experience?
A.“Hire for attitude and train for skills” is what we strongly focus on while recruiting engineers from T-Schools. Apart from testing the students on their technical skills, we lay a lot of emphasis on communication skills—both verbal and written. Some of the other key criteria include flexibility in attitude and approach to work across technologies, disciplines and locations.
Cognizant is an equal opportunity employer and we also believe in the will to work. We want the associates to stay, not because “they have to”, but because “they want to”. Leaving behind the norms of general industry practice, Cognizant does not enforce any kind of service agreements or bonds with its associates. Associates can work with us as long as they prefer to.
Cognizant hires fresh graduates either through campus recruitment [before the students graduate] or off-campus or combined campus recruitment. As for experienced graduates, we use several recruitment channels such as job fairs/walk-in interviews, recruiters, employee referrals, online recruitment, return-to-India campaigns, finishing school-driven recruitment, in-campus recruitment and recruitment through media advertisements. Interestingly, our employee referral program has been among our most effective recruitment channels and has helped us shorten the due diligence process, retain the organizational culture and get the best people with the right skills and experience in relatively shorter time.


Q.How does the company assess the candidate’s strength and weakness during the interview?
A.At Cognizant, we select recruits based on various aptitude and technical tests, followed by personal interviews conducted by experienced professionals. The aptitude test assesses the numerical, quantitative and verbal aptitude of the candidates, while the technical interview assesses a candidate’s knowledge of particular domain or subject. Once a candidate qualifies for the next round, another interview is conducted to find out whether the candidate has the appetite to learn, the ability to work in teams, soft skills, cross-cultural adaptability, flexibility, and open-mindedness. The final interview also helps the company assess whether a specific candidate is the right cultural fit for the company. These candidates are not project-ready at the time of recruitment. In order to be deployed for projects, their theoretical learning needs to be made coherent with practical application. Our focused training programs help them become project-ready.
Q.Do you prefer the candidate to work independently or in a team?
A.While candidates have to be capable of owning up and performing their job responsibilities independently, they ought to have the skills required to function seamlessly and effectively in a team. As an organization that has over 88,700 employees hailing from different countries and cultures, and spread across five continents, Cognizant places a high premium on team skills.
Q.How do you prefer hiring freshers, whether by going to the campuses or through a common call in the form of an advertisement?
A.The hallmark of Cognizant’s campus program is our high-touch relationship with top-tier colleges and universities. “Going beyond recruitments” has been the campus philosophy of Cognizant. We believe in establishing long-term relationships with the academia, and do not believe in a one-time placement-driven interaction. To us, recruitments are only a culmination of all our campus-related efforts and believe in establishing long-term partnerships with the academia, managing multiple initiatives to strengthen this symbiotic relationship.
We are committed to providing meaningful industry-academia linkages for mutual benefit through measures such as formulating the curriculum and syllabi in several universities, initiating faculty development programs on latest trends in technology/business, getting the alumni to act as campus ambassadors and spend some time in the campus sharing experiences, sponsoring key activities, and so on.
Cognizant has contributed to developing the curriculum for MS, M.Tech and MCA programs in several universities, and often conducts faculty development programs across engineering campuses on the latest trends in technology, architecture, software models and processes. Through such initiatives, Cognizant helps students to gain deep knowledge on key software concepts before they actually join the company. Cognizant is in regular touch with the students and their faculty through a slew of innovative channels, ranging from a campus newsletter called “C2C” to an annual talent development event like TalHunt.
Advertisements are used only for recruiting niche and specialized skills.

Q.What are the parameters you take into consideration while choosing colleges for campus hiring?

A.At Cognizant, we believe in recruiting from wherever the best of the best talent resides. In keeping with this philosophy, we visit premier institutions all over India. We have an accreditation process to assess and rate an institution before visiting it for recruitment. We have a graded point system to measure and rate a college based on various parameters. Apart from student feedback, these include technical lab and computer lab infrastructure, the quality of the teaching staff, student-to-teacher ratio, papers presented, performance of their alumni in Cognizant, campus placement record, and so on. Following the accreditation process, we organize various communication and employability workshops in the short-listed colleges before visiting them for recruitment. The brand equity of a college, a product of strong performance on the aforementioned parameters, ensures that it attracts the best-of-breed students from all across the country, sometimes from outside the country as well. While good talent is spread across all campuses, students are drawn to campuses based on their brand equity. The profile of these students therefore varies based on the institution and its brand equity.

Q.What are the present cutting-edge technologies on which the students can concentrate to improve their employability?
A.Today, IT careers are much more than mere coding skills. Companies like Cognizant provide solutions to business problems leveraging technology rather than mere technology capability. As a result, employees are now expected to specialize early in Technology, Industry (Domain), Program/Project Management or Consulting. As companies grow up the value chain, employees are required to understand the working of various industries or domains such as manufacturing, banking, insurance and healthcare. They are required to marry domain knowledge with technological excellence. The demand for good talent continues to exist. We see continued demand for talent in business consulting and domain-intensive roles, apart from niche and new technologies. We also see sustained demand for offshoring services such as IT Infrastructure Management and BPO functions. Going by the current demand for skills, generic IT (competencies in J2EE, .NET, Mainframes, and so on), ITIS, BPO, Data Warehousing & Business Intelligence, Analytics, and Testing are among the key opportunities today.

Q.How can fresh Engineering graduate identify the best job profile for himself?

A.To identify the best job profile for oneself, a student should know his/her own passion, strengths and attitude. Self assessment, as the first step in getting to know oneself, what one wants, and so on, is necessary. One must do it to help oneself identify essential information for the career plan. It is important to establish what makes one tick, what it is that one wants from life and career, what one’s weaknesses are and how to improve on them, what one’s strengths are that can be used in marketing, how one can contribute to the work environment, how one can contribute to society as a whole, what one’s role is, in what type of work one will be happy and can excel. Fortunately the Internet makes it possible to get several personality and skills tests. Today, professional agencies also offer various tools to help a student identify the best job. In addition, one must speak to friends and family members to find out how they see you and what they perceive as your strong and weak points, what type of work they think you will fit in and more.

Q.Does the present education system, particularly Engineering, match the industry requirement? What can be done to improve the system?
A.As one of the largest recruiters from the campuses, our experience has been that fresh talent just out of the college is not always employable and industry-ready. Therefore, the single most important long-term challenge is to ensure sustained availability of employable talent. Often, the students coming out of Indian institutes are technically proficient, but lack behavioral prerequisites such as communication, presentation, confidence, and other soft skills.
There is a gap between the industry and the academic sector. To bridge this gap, companies need to work closely with students and several bodies such as the educational institutions, government, privately-run finishing schools, etc. Companies have taken several initiatives to set up training infrastructure on their own. They are also working with universities and colleges to create curriculum, training and content that are relevant to the needs of the industry. This needs to be broad-based.
Companies can help in defining the curriculum and also share their methodologies to make the curriculum relevant to the needs of the industry. Students can be provided with 2-3 months of intensive training with significant emphasis on developing behavioral, communication and team-oriented skills in addition to building an ability to synthesize their technical and analytical skills with industry-standard tools, methodologies and frameworks.
The students can be screened based on their academic performance, problem-solving skills and ability to learn. Each participant should spend more than 80% of the time in “learning by doing” than in classroom sessions. College programs should equip the learners with behavioral competence, process orientation and industry exposure by way of guidance, coaching and mentoring. In other words, learning programs should be based on applying knowledge and focusing on how the industry works.
The long-term steps that are needed include much higher government investment in education, major education reforms, and better compensation and research grants for teachers/researchers. The solution lies in developing good faculty in large numbers and creating capacity that will help produce more and more good engineers, professionals, graduates, technicians, and so on.


Q.What is your advice to non-Computer Science students aspiring for a career in the software industry?
A.All they need is a will to succeed, a perennial source of energy and unrelenting dynamism. Potential recruits, irrespective of the academic discipline they come from, must constantly seek an answer to the question, “How can I become employable?” It is, of course, important to be skilled. But what is equally important is to be “employable”.
With a significant growth in outsourcing of business processes, the IT industry has started attracting a number of professionals from varied — and not just technical — backgrounds. For example, Cognizant, as part of its KPO practice, works on a wide range of higher-end activities, such as alternative fund accounting and equity research in financial services; clinical data management, credentialing, pharmacovigilance and business analytics in healthcare; and fraud detection and subrogation in credit cards. These activities have necessitated us to recruit doctors, pharmacists, pharmacologists, lawyers, chartered accountants, statisticians, supply chain specialists and management graduates who bring in the required subject matter expertise.
Today, IT careers are much more than mere coding skills. Companies like Cognizant provide solutions to business problems leveraging technology rather than mere technology capability. As a result, employees are now expected to specialize early in Technology, Industry (Domain), Program/Project Management or Consulting. As companies grow up the value chain, employees are required to understand the working of various industries or domains such as manufacturing, banking, insurance and healthcare. They are required to marry domain knowledge with technological excellence.
The right combination of consistent academic scores, sound knowledge of subject fundamentals and good communication and interpersonal skills can pave the path to a rewarding IT career. It is important to develop behavioral skills, communication and presentation skills, team dynamics, business etiquette, cross-cultural adaptability, and so on. Continuous learning, flexibility and a can-do attitude are clear plus points in today’s environment.

ramreddy

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