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Covid impact shows that work can be done remotely: Rishad Premji

Indian technology industry has a “big opportunity” despite global macroeconomic challenges, said Rishad Premji, chairman of IT services firm Wipro, on Wednesday as he spoke about how Covid-19 had changed work.

“My confidence is driven by two things: the rapid pace of digitisation across the world, and the shift in the mindset of stakeholders who engage with us as an industry,” said Premji in Bengaluru while addressing industry leaders and civil servants at the Invest Karnataka 2022, the state’s Global Investors Meet (GIM).

Businesses are using technology for customers and employees: a trend marked by the shift to cloud computing and leverage of data.

“This was a big opportunity before the pandemic and Covid has only accelerated it,” said Premji.

India’s IT growth would not have been possible without the government’s support, which ranged from the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) decades earlier and declaring the IT sector an emergency service in 2020 when the pandemic struck.

The second step allowed companies to work seamlessly in the last two years.

Global spending on technology is set to double in the coming years, he said.

“We will build a plan along with industry and government to set us up for the next 25 years as we continue to ascend and continue to gain leadership on the global stage,” said Premji.

“The technology industry and I look forward to working with all of you.”

Businesses came to India for the cost and stayed for the quality. That practice continues but the conversation now is about finding and accessing the best talent in a digital economy.

“And India is where this talent is,” said Premji.

“Our challenge is to find this talent and to leverage it to fulfill the demand.”

Premji said that the IT industry has high attrition as companies are chasing the same pool of talent.

To address this one needs to find new locations and fresh sources of talent.

“Covid has shown us that the work can be done remotely and at scale,” said Premji.

“This will make it easier to widen the talent pool, especially women and people with disabilities who will benefit from the flexibility of remote work.”

India has a large number of skilled young workers and engineers, but instead of going to where the talent is the industry forces it to migrate to big cities.

This puts a huge strain on infrastructure in cities, pushing up the cost of living and hurting the environment.

“I deeply applaud the efforts of the government of Karnataka in setting up new technology clusters in our Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities as part of the Karnataka digital economy mission,” said Premji.

He said the other initiative that the industry needs to put its mind behind is reskilling. Five years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced Nasscom’s Future Skills platform.

Its aim initially was to upskill 40 lakh IT employees and prospective job seekers in eight emerging technologies that could drive IT jobs in the future.

These technologies include artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotic process automation, Internet of Things, big data analytics, 3D printing, cloud computing, and social and mobile.

“We need more such initiatives to rapidly build up that digital talent pool,” said Premji.

Industry can and will invest in more near-term technologies of public and private industries.

But Premji said there is a need to invest in long-term and in-depth research to continue to develop new emerging technologies.

In 1996, Wipro shifted its base to Bengaluru.

Its software exports at the time were mere $72 million and the technology boom in India hadn’t started.

Now Wipro has become one of the largest IT services companies in the world, with more than 260,000 employees in over 66 countries.

Premji said Wipro’s story in many ways is the story of India’s IT industry.

In the last three decades, the IT industry has grown significantly.

Today, the industry contributes nearly 8 per cent of India’s GDP (gross domestic product) compared to less than one per cent thirty years ago.

Karnataka contributes nearly one-fourth of the share the IT exports.

“India’s role has grown in these last 30 years, from a low-cost offering destination to a true technology and business partner to every business in the world today,” said Premji.

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