April 2021 | 1604 words | 6-minute read
Warren Harris, CEO, Tata Technologies, explains how the company evolved to adapt to the new normal in 2020, and how it is invested in 'Engineering a Better World'.
How has Covid-19 affected the businesses you serve?
For a time in 2020, the world stopped driving and flying — two sectors that make up more than 80 percent of our business. In automotive, the pandemic had a swift and severe impact. Symptoms included a disruption in export of Chinese parts, large scale manufacturing interruptions across Europe, and the closure of assembly plants in the United States. This put enormous pressure on many of our customers who were already coping with a downshift in global demand. Our revenues dropped precipitously in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, as customers short-closed projects.
How did you revise your strategy in response to the challenges imposed by the pandemic?
At the outset of the pandemic, we mobilised a three-phase response to Covid-19. Our immediate priorities were protecting our employees, maintaining business continuity, aligning cost with revenue, and stabilising cashflows and liquidity. We enabled work-from-home for more than 8,000 employees around the world and invested in reskilling and health and welfare initiatives.
The second phase was predicated upon accelerating strategic change. During this phase, we emphasised structural changes to our operating model and building capabilities. The efforts helped. In the second quarter of this year, we grew revenues by 25 percent and saw improvements in our operating profit and liquidity position, as also in our net promotor scores.
The third phase was aligned with preparing the organisation for the rebound. This included focusing the sales teams on the right deals and pushing in-demand offerings.
"The company is committed to rebalancing its portfolio of service offerings to align with the requirements of customers post Covid-19."
How did the company deal with workplace challenges through the Covid-enforced lockdown?
We formed a crisis team to ensure business continuity. Employees were asked to download a Covid app to monitor infection rates globally. We also launched virtual ‘health and well-being’ classes for employees who were unable to exercise and/or suffered from stress.
For Tata Technologies, the ‘new normal’ is not yet fully defined as most of our employees are still working from home. However, we expect to establish a balance between virtual and in-office work schedules. Adaptions to the physical workspace along with flexible work schedules are likely to be encouraged.
Tell us about the areas that the company plans to invest in.
The company is committed to rebalancing its portfolio of service offerings to align with the requirements of customers post Covid-19. With the acceleration of digital, new technology enabled approaches will create growth for us. We hope to transform the effectiveness of our talent supply chain and service delivery approach by embracing digital in a pervasive way.
Cost pressures will force companies to consider outsourcing. We’re investing heavily in ensuring that our business development teams are equipped with the commercial skills required to architect such transactions.
What does the Power of 8 platform bring to customers?
Covid-19 containment measures led to the closure of car showrooms in many countries. This created the need for an effective online purchase process. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) don’t offer an end-to-end online sales channel that optimises the purchase process.
To meet this need, we developed a platform with a suite of 8 modular solutions. The suite includes Sales for customer engagement and 360° demo and test ride; Dealer for vehicle retail and after sales, as well as warranty and claims; Relations for product info and OEM collaboration, appointment and feedback; Workshop for repair order and estimation, invoicing and delivery; Track for vehicle movement tracking and notification, along with updates on service data for customer; Intelligence for KPIs (key performance indicators) of key functions and advance analytics dashboard; Commerce for online selling platform; and Customer relationship management for dynamic campaigns, feedback and omnichannel customer engagement.
What does your partnership with the state of Karnataka entail?
In November 2020, Tata Technologies entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Government of Karnataka to upgrade 150 government-owned Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) across the state. This project, the first of its kind in India, seeks to set a benchmark for technical upgradation of ITIs.
Our goal is to bring in qualitative improvements in the field of industrial training and education, and align with the anticipated requirements of the manufacturing industry. Our proprietary eLearning platform, i GET IT, is ready, along with technology assets that we’ve mobilised from 20 industry partners. The physical infrastructure is currently getting ready, and we will begin the commissioning of each centre in the first quarter of the next fiscal year. The agreement is for 10 years and will require the support of a 300-person service team.
What are your plans for the e-mobility Software Engineering Centre setup by Tata Technologies in Bengaluru?
Electro mobility involves the use of electric powertrain technologies, in-vehicle information, communication technologies and connected infrastructure to enable the electric propulsion of vehicles and fleets. We have partnered with GKN Ltd, a world leading automotive supplier, to build a new centre in Bengaluru; the centre will combine our experience in electrical and embedded electronics with GKN’s e-powertrain technology to develop next-generation components and sub-systems to the rapidly expanding electric vehicle market. Through this partnership, Tata Technologies reaffirms its position as India’s leading engineering services company to the automotive industry.
"In India, we continue our flagship Ready Engineer programme that has improved the employability of more than 2000 engineers since 2011."
Traditionally, Tata Technologies has had expertise in mechanical engineering. How is the company helping its workforce to upskill?
As digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence reshape the industries that we serve, we will need skilled people and capabilities to stay relevant. To address this challenge, we have developed a granular map of how technology will change the skill requirements for our three primary industry verticals of automotive, aerospace and industrial heavy equipment.
Are you exploiting synergies with any other Tata companies?
We have partnered with TCS to deliver a next-generation Product Lifecycle Management solution for a tier-1 automotive company. We have also partnered with Tata Autocomp Systems and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to combine our engineering capabilities with their manufacturing footprint to deliver joint ‘design and build’ solutions for the automotive and aerospace customers, respectively.
Tata Technologies looks forward to ‘Engineering a Better World’. How is the company seeking to improve the community?
In India, we continue our flagship Ready Engineer programme that has improved the employability of more than 2000 engineers since 2011. We helped 300 disadvantaged women to study engineering through a partnership with the Lila Poonawalla Foundation.
"We are investing heavily in intellectual property, skills and capabilities in this sector (electric vehicle) in anticipation of an accelerated shift to alternative propulsion systems in the next decade."
Recently we partnered with Sahapedia, an Indian non-profit, to develop an online heritage map of Pune’s cultural and natural resources. In the US, we were awarded the Tata North America Sustainability Award for our decision to move our headquarters to downtown Detroit and for the support we provide to local homeless children. The award cited that “these initiatives have shown commitment to goals including ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives, gender equality, resilient infrastructure, reducing inequality, safe cities, sustainable consumption, and combating climate change.”
What contribution is Tata Technologies making to the e-vehicle industry?
The electric vehicle market has been our focus area for over 10 years. In 2012, we revealed our electric MObility concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This concept vehicle profiled our light-weight body engineering capabilities together with our battery and electric vehicle integration capabilities. In 2016, we partnered with a Chinese start-up called NIO to develop their first all-electric, 7-seater full-sized sport utility vehicle (SUV). That start-up now has a market cap of ~$90 billion, above the likes of General Motors and Daimler, as a result of the success of NIO ES8 SUV and their follow-on vehicles that we’ve helped develop. In 2019, we showcased our innovative Electric Vehicle Module platform at the Shanghai International Automotive Show, and last year we announced our eMobility software partnership with GKN.
We are investing heavily in intellectual property, skills and capabilities in this sector in anticipation of an accelerated shift to alternative propulsion systems in the next decade.
How do you ensure continuous learning for yourself?
I’m an avid reader and a student of the industries that Tata Technologies serves. I maintain a network of friends and colleagues from academia and the business world and leverage their knowledge and expertise when required. I still maintain regular contact with my ‘Living Group’ from my time at Harvard Business School in 2011. This team of seven senior executives from the aerospace, mental health, power, beverage, telecom, and investment banking industries continues to inform my thinking on multiple topics.
You have been a part of Tata Technologies and its preceding companies for over 30 years. How fulfilling has the association been?
It’s been a great privilege. I started my career with a boutique automotive design firm in London in 1988. Since then, I’ve been an entrepreneur and owner — I was part of a team that bought the company in 1992 — I took the company public with a listing on the London Stock Exchange and ultimately sold the organisation in 2005 to what has now become Tata Technologies.
At Tata Technologies, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute towards building a company that is now recognised by Zinnov, a global strategy and management consulting firm, as 1st among all India-based Automotive ER&D (engineering and R&D) engineering service providers.
I’m part of a group whose values I identify with. I’ve worked all over the world. Even though I’ve retained my British passport, I’ve been embraced by India and America as if I were a native. I am fortunate beyond words!
What are your interests outside work?
I’m a runner. I try to run between 15 and 20 miles a week. I also read voraciously and collect wine.