The techie with a knack for breakthrough innovations

Tags: News
The script could not have been any better: A Silicon Valley elite returning to play saviour to the industry pioneer that put India on the global IT map in the first place. What makes it more interesting is that Vishal Sikka happens to be a global Indian, known as a breakthrough man in IT innovation.

The IT industry veteran enters Infosys as its first non-founder CEO at a point when the company is desperately in need of an inspiring leader. India’s second largest IT company by revenues has been in the news for the past several months for all the wrong reasons: loss of business from existing clients, lower earnings guidance, exodus of senior-level leaders and dampened investor confidence and employee morale.

The company has roped in Sikka as a trump card, seeking to silence the rumour mills, boost staff spirits and reverse its fortunes in the market. “Sikka will bring in loads of money,” Infosys executive chairman Narayana Murthy, who is also one of its founders, said in a lighter vein at Thursday’s news conference to announce the appointment, but not without the excitement and the nuance was not lost on industry watchers.

After successive management overhauls that Infosys and Murthy himself tried to stem the slide, they hope Sikka will bring in the much-needed Midas touch and provide stability to the organisational structure.

Better known as the father of HANA (high performance analytic appliance), one of the fasted-selling SAP products that completely changed the fortunes of the company, Sikka was an executive board member of the German multinational software corporation till May 4, when he quit abruptly citing personal reasons and triggering speculations that his next destination could be India.

He had joined SAP in 2002 to head the advanced technology group responsible for strategic innovative projects. By 2007, he was the first CTO of the company and later elevated as a member of the executive board in 2010 with a tenure till December 31, 2017.

Sikka was responsible for all SAP products and innovation, including database, application platform and middleware, collaboration, business analytics and search platforms. He is the author of Timeless Software that elaborates the SAP architecture and innovation strategy.

Born in Vadodara, Sikka studied computer science and engineering at Maharaja Sayajiarao University in the same city and then proceeded to Syracuse University for an MS in computer science. He holds a doctorate from Stanford University in the same stream with specialisation in artificial intelligence, automated reasoning, programming languages and models, and data management and search systems.

His first job was with Xerox research at Palo Alto Labs, but he left that position quickly to start his own company, iBrain, along with his brother, which was later acquired by PatternRX,. His second startup was acquired by Peregrine Systems, where Sikka worked as vice-president for platform technologies after the acquisition before moving on to SAP. “He is a great leadership choice to drive transformational growth,” said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon and an independent director on the Infosys board.

Industry analysts are equally excited.

Partha Iyengar, country manager for research at Gartner India, said Sikka’s entry was extremely important for Infosys, as it ended the uncertainty that was haunting the company. “The new CEO will have to move very quickly to first calm the three key stakeholders — employees, customers and the investors, in that order,” he said.

The appointment accentuates an emerging trend of global Indians returning to head large Indian organisations with global presence. “Sikka brings in an interesting combination of global leadership, product innovation experience and Indian roots,” said Moorthy Uppaluri, chief executive officer of Randstad India.

Though he will be the first non-founder professional CEO at Infosys, the challenges will not be very different from what the earlier managements had faced.

For long, Indian IT services majors have been trying to create a non-linear revenue model, and global product companies have been enhancing their services business. Uppaluri said he would be anxious to see how well Sikka can steer an industry pioneer like Infosys in terms of innovation and take it to the next level.

Iyengar insists that Infosys cannot afford to lose more resources, especially at senior levels. “Sikka will have to establish credibility with those stakeholders, again, in a fairly short period and energise them over the medium to long term. The medium-term strategy will have to be fairly close to the knitting of the IT services industry – anything else will again create a level of confusion and uncertainty. Sikka will also have to become a visible standard bearer for the brand, something that the Indian IT services industry still needs at the level of maturity they have achieved,” he said.


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