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Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Infosys to tie-up with online education firms

Tie-ups with Udacity, edX and Coursera a bid to help employees gain an understanding of artificial intelligence-powered technology

Bengaluru: Infosys Ltd is tying up with three of the world’s most recognizable e-learning firms—Udacity Inc., Coursera Inc. and edX Inc.—in a bid to help its 194,000-odd employees wrap their heads around newer artificial intelligence-powered technologies.

The move comes at a time when India’s second-largest software services exporter looks to gets its current talent pool to work on more ambitious projects.

Infosys, led by its first non-founder chief executive Vishal Sikka, is also looking to quicken the pace at which it embraces artificial intelligence (AI) and automation-linked productivity measures.

“When we look at needs of tomorrow, we have to partner. And so we have partnered with these three education companies," Sikka had said, while briefing analysts about these tie-ups at an annual sales event in San Francisco last month.

Offering online courses in technology areas is the latest in a string of measures Infosys has taken under Sikka to ready its workforce for the future, and in turn cater better to clients—ranging from Citigroup Inc. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The Bengaluru-based IT firm has also invested in improving its software writing capabilities through investments in hi-tech start-ups and built its own proprietary software for an automation platform.

The potential deal with the online education firms could also help Infosys gain an edge over rivals in the country’s $150-billion outsourcing sector.

So far, industry leader Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) and smaller rival Wipro Ltd have relied on their internal training courses to educate their workforce. Together, TCS, Infosys and Wipro generated over $33.4 billion in revenue and employed 720,799 people, as of March 2016.

The planned partnerships also show Sikka’s ability to repeatedly tap his network in the Silicon Valley and former employer SAP AG to revive 35-year-old Infosys.

Sikka, who studied with Coursera founder Daphne Koller at Stanford University, has had discussions with her. He has also spoken with Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun.

Infosys will sign an agreement with the online education firms in the coming weeks.

A spokeswoman for Infosys confirmed the development but declined to share details. Emails sent to edX and Coursera on Saturday went unanswered.

A spokesman for Udacity confirmed the partnership, but declined to give more details on the tie-up.

Sikka, who took the helm of Infosys in August 2014, often discusses ideas with his mentor Alan Kay, the legendary computer science professor who, while working at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center in Silicon Valley in the 1970s, is credited with designing the Dynabook—the basis for all modern-day tablets and laptops.

Sikka has also tapped external advisors such as Dina Bitton, author of TPC benchmark; Erin Liman, a Palo Alto-based design thinker, and Stanford professor Ashish Goel to work on various initiatives, including improving Infosys’s ability to make pitches to clients and implement the user-centric approach of Design Thinking. Sikka has also been joined by 13 former SAP executives in senior roles (vice-president and above) at Infosys.

Some experts believe that this change in approach by Infosys, a firm set up by N.R. Narayana Murthy and six friends in 1981, is heartening.

“A significant shortcoming of Infosys in the past was being overly insular and generally not open to good ideas and advice from industry experts outside of the company," said Rod Bourgeois, the founder of US-based DeepDive Equity Research.

Infosys is looking at Udacity’s nanodegree programmes for its entry-level graduates and planning a pilot-based project though which some learning courses offered by Coursera can be made available to its existing workforce.

Infosys expects its partnership with Udacity to act as a filter when it hires graduates and help many of its existing employees to learn new technologies faster, according to a company executive, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak with the media.

Until now, Infosys used to make its new hires go through a classroom training programme (lasting up to six months) at its Mysuru facility. Soon, it’ll expect the graduates it hires to successfully complete a self-learning training module offered by Udacity before they go to Mysuru.

The learning modules, which Infosys will pay for, will be in the area of data visualization or languages such as Swift and Ruby.

Typically, Udacity offers these nanodegree 12-month courses for 9,800 a month in India.

Once an engineer knows the basics in either data analytics or machine-learning or web engineering, Infosys will be able to make them work on these projects faster than it can currently do. Similarly, some of Coursera’s offerings in data analytics could prove very helpful to Infoscians when they take on projects in that area. This saves the trainers at Infosys from having to organize a class on that topic for the entire workforce.

“Vishal is aggressively trying to change the culture of Infosys, as he sees that at the core to leading the market in the digital era," said Bill Huber, managing director at Alsbridge Inc., a US-based outsourcing advisory.

Huber said since a majority of Infosys’s existing workforce was not hired or trained in skill sets based on analytics or AI models, the current management at the firm is looking to partner with e-learning firms.

“So while existing platforms are good, in Vishal’s view, they are not enough to drive change at the speed that he would like. He is looking at accelerants to convert the highest possible percentage of his staff to new ways of doing business, including using AI, big data and analytics and other sources of innovation, and concurrently to hire and train new recruits to these new paradigms out of the gate," said Huber.

edX is a non-profit education firm founded by scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Udacity and Coursera make money from online users who take their courses. All the three e-learning firms started in 2012 and since then have evolved to pose the biggest disruptor to Ivy League schools. The e-learning firms have been tapping any opportunity to bridge the yawning gap faced by corporate entities and educational institutions.

Earlier this year, Gurgaon-based employability assessment firm Aspiring Minds found that over 80% of engineering graduates in the country continue to be unemployable.

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