January 2016 | Nithin Rao

'We learn a lot from this market'

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has had a presence in Singapore for close to three decades. In 2001, the company reaffirmed its commitment to the island nation by setting up its regional headquarters in Singapore to service the APAC market. Today, TCS APAC contributes to 10 percent of TCS’s revenues and operates from 15 centres across 12 major economies in the region.

Girish Ramachandran, president, TCS APAC, speaks to Nithin Rao about the importance of being in Singapore and how the company plans to deepen its relationship with the market.

How has the TCS journey in Singapore evolved over the years?
TCS has been here for 27 years now. In the initial years we looked at Singapore as a local country market, but that approach changed as our business — and, indeed, Singapore — evolved. Today, our entire Asia Pacific management team sits in Singapore; this is a large market for us, contributing 10 percent to our revenues. All of this is managed from Singapore.

We are not just a service provider in the Singapore market. We have set up a delivery centre to service our customers across Asia Pacific here. In May 2015 we also opened a 1,000-person centre of excellence to service our banking and financial services customers from Singapore. We have more than 1,500 people working in Singapore. 

How important is Singapore to TCS’s operations? What unique opportunities does this market offer?
There are tremendous opportunities here. The fact that we set up our Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore reflects its strengths: the connectivity this country offers to all markets, the simplified tax structure, the fiscal structure available here and the availability of skills. Singapore has good universities, an excellent port and it provides connectivity to India and the rest of Asia. It also has a transparent environment to do business.

Many of our global customers have their regional headquarters in Singapore and we need to be here to service them. Singapore has a strong banking sector and allows us an opportunity to offer the best of our capabilities to some of the biggest names in the industry. Singapore is also a logistics and aviation hub and we work with well-known companies in these businesses, too.

With the country placing great emphasis on quality and innovation, we are in a position to constantly improve our services and create efficient solutions for our customers from various industries. Since these solutions are built to suit a highly sophisticated market, we can easily take them to equally or less evolved markets elsewhere. Last year, for example, we co-developed a product with Singapore Airlines for their cabin crew. The fact that they are so ahead of the curve enables us to sell the same to airlines around the world. So we are not just looking at building something for this market, but also at what is strong here and then taking that to other markets.

Strategic partnerships are a crucial part of what TCS does in Singapore. How do these partnerships work?
We work with companies and institutions. For instance, the SMU-TCS iCity Lab is focused on research and development on cloud-based IT solutions for intelligent cities. We have been able to take concepts of what we’ve learned here and apply it to other markets.

We are also focusing on the healthcare space. With SMU we have built a service that touches the healthcare of Singapore’s elderly population. We have worked on the ‘internet of things’. We have placed devices in about 150 homes for the elderly in Singapore to keep track of their daily movement and activities. This data is useful in analysing and tracking the health of these elderly people.

What do you see as the challenges, from the TCS perspective, of doing business in Singapore?
The only challenge is that while Singapore has an abundance of highly-skilled talent emerging in the IT sector, we need people with generic skills. This is not readily available here. It will remain a challenge, especially in a competitive market.  

How do you see TCS in Singapore and APAC in the years ahead?
From a long-term point of view, we would like more university collaborations to be able to do high-technology work, which we can then take to other markets. We learn a lot from this market. We are able to work with the ecosystem and build partnerships.

The ASEAN market offers not only a great opportunity for TCS to build our business, but also the availability of talent to service other markets. We are present in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand today. We have created a large centre in the Philippines with over 4,000 employees from the local market. These markets are growing very fast and this is a unique opportunity for TCS.

This interview is part of a special report on Tata group's presence in the ASEAN region, featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Overview: Foothold in ASEAN
'Singapore is the nodal country for ASEAN', KV Rao, resident director for ASEAN, Tata Sons
'We want to encourage global innovation', Vinod Kumar, managing director and CEO, Tata Communications
'NatSteel will focus on sustainable profitability', Ashish Anupam, president and CEO of NatSteel Holdings
'Singapore is pivotal to our ASEAN growth', Anish Raghunandan, vice president, East and South Asia, Tata Technologies
'Singapore is a key market for us', J Niranjan, CEO, Tata Capital Pte
'This year looks set to be a record year', PV Balasubramaniam, CEO, York Transport Equipment (Asia)
'An asset-light strategy is our preferred path', Dinesh Shastri, managing director, Tata NYK Shipping Pte
'We will consolidate our business here', Alfred Egli, head, minerals vertical, Tata International Singapore Pte
'Our opex costs are industry benchmarks', SS Varma, vice president, operations, Trust Energy Resources Pte