Wipro in biggest automation push since launch of Holmes AI platform

Wipro is appointing individual leaders in each of the six industry-serving segments and five solution-offering verticals to reduce mundane maintenance work


Wipro CEO Abidali Neemuchwala. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Wipro CEO Abidali Neemuchwala. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Bengaluru: Wipro Ltd, which launched its artificial intelligence (AI) platform Holmes 18 months ago, is now making its biggest push to embrace automation by allowing more of its managers to identify work which will not require engineers in each of the over 20,000 projects currently underway.

This “bold” development, according to one executive who did not want to be identified will mean Wipro doesn’t just save on costs (thereby arresting falling profitability), but fundamentally alters the traditional model of deploying armies of engineers to undertake maintenance work.

To be sure, that could also mean that its current workforce needs to learn new technology skills swiftly to stay relevant.

Wipro is in the process of appointing individual leaders in each of the six industry-serving segments (which the company calls strategic business units) and five solution offering verticals or practices, who will be entrusted with the job of automating mundane maintenance work.

Until now, Wipro’s chief technology officer K.R. Sanjiv, in consultation with various segment heads used to decide which projects could use Holmes. Wipro’s two larger rivals, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) and Infosys Ltd, too have a similar centralized division that oversees the adoption of their respective intelligent automation platforms, Ignio and Mana. This explains why these companies, which employ hundreds of thousands of engineers, have embraced automation only in tiny pockets.

At Wipro, this will now change.

“We announced internally in this quarter that we will have a more federated structure than running it from a central unit, which will further increase the pace (of adoption),” Abidali Neemuchwala, chief executive officer of Wipro said last month.

Hyper-automation is one of the central pillars of Neemuchwala’s vision of making Wipro a $15 billion firm by 2020 with an operating margin of 23%. Wipro ended the year to March with $7.35 billion in revenue and 20.5% profitability.

“Wipro is consolidating all its automation assets and capabilities under the Holmes brand and significantly increasing its investment in hyper-automation. Going forward, every strategic business unit, service line and delivery unit will have dedicated leaders for Holmes,” said a spokesperson for Wipro. “They will be responsible for adoption of the existing capability and ideation of new use cases.”

In the first six months of the current financial year, Wipro claims to have freed and redeployed over 4,300 employees in newer areas of work, on account of automation.

The management’s decision to decentralize decision-making means Wipro could look to automate work of close to 10,000 engineers by the end of the financial year, according to a second executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We are well ahead of our plan for the financial year. (But) we will not be able to provide information beyond what has so far been disclosed publicly,” said the spokesperson.

Experts are encouraged by the management’s decision.

“Aligned with a market maturation around the broad notion of Intelligent Automation, Wipro is changing gears in the way it is engaging with stakeholders,” said Thomas Reuner, the managing director at IT outsourcing advisory, HfS Research.

“Each of these Holmes leaders will be evaluated on the work they can automate. All of them will have individual targets,” said the second executive. “Until now, much of the work (that has been automated) is what is maintenance or L0 type. Hopefully, as we push automation, more L1 or L2 (higher order) work in areas such as application development or even software writing can be automated.”

Wipro’s aggressive push towards embracing automation comes at a time when automation platforms and cloud computing are threatening to erase the labour arbitrage enjoyed by Indian IT vendors.

Still, Wipro, which has focused on “demonstrating robust delivery and learning the lessons from the early deployments” of its AI platform, will now, much like its peers, “demonstrate that it can manage the transition from labour arbitration to automation in profitable manner”, said Reuner.

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