I had to pinch myself. Was I on a call with a long-global company like Shell or Unilever? The American on the call was describing their Hungarian center. The conversation at one point drifted to Princess Maxima. Not surprising given one of the participants on the call was Dutch, another Argentinean.
But the call was not with Shell – it was with executives from Cognizant.
The same Cognizant which is the youngest member of the leading offshore firms I had called SWITCH just 3 years ago. Most of them liked to talk about “global delivery” even when the majority of their resources were India based.
How did it become so global, so quickly?
The Argentinean, Cristian Arguello was describing the Buenos Aires delivery center he runs and contrasted the experience to that at his previous employer, EDS. The Dutchman, Fred Janssen was describing Cognizant’s opportunities in Western Europe, having recently joined them to head local marketing after years working with global software companies like Adobe, IBM and PeopleSoft. Alan Alper, the American was describing how the Budapest location had grown rapidly in the few months it has been opened. As Argentina offered a “nearshore” option to the N. American customer base, Hungary did something similar for European operations of multi-nationals.
But I kept going back to – Indian firms are supposed to have cultural issues as they expand around the world. What makes Cognizant’s secret sauce?
Three ingredients they explained:
a) “Born Global”
I have written about the phenomenon of “micro-nationals” on this blog. – tiny companies with executives and reach in multiple countries. Cognizant must have been the first micro-national before the term was coined. Born as a division of Dun and Bradstreet in New Jersey, it encouraged a young executive, born in Kenya to explore the opportunity India offered in software development. But his experiences growing up in 10 other countries with a father in the foreign service allowed for comfort in many other locales. That young executive, now CEO, has ensured the company made globalization part of its DNA. The company ethos is “we were born global”
b) Global clients and partners
Cognizant may just be 14 years old, but it builds on much more globally experienced customers like Kimberly-Clark, which sells its consumer products in 150 and has operations in 37 countries and was the charter customer in Argentina and AstraZeneca, with pharma R&D in 8 and manufacturing in 20 countries as charter client in Hungary. It is leveraging feet in many European cities with an alliance with T-Systems. (the Services division of Deutsche Telecom)
c) “Cognizant 2.0”
C2, as it is called in short, is the firm’s investment in an integrated set of work management tools, process flows, methods and knowledge bases. Unstructured “folksonomy” – blogs, wikis, communities - combined with structured, taxonomy based knowledge bases and methodologies. While many service firms have the latter, Cognizant additionally started leveraging unstructured, “social computing” tools 2 years ago, and it has allowed for more seamless integration around the world. Sukumar, the Chief Knowledge Officer and one of the architects of C2, wrote about another global experience – his “reverse immigration” – in a guest column for this blog a while ago.
Don’t get me wrong. It took years to hone the India delivery – optimized 25/75 onshore/offshore mix, the hand-offs of units of work to India and back, the recruiting challenges in an overheated labor market etc. So now, you add a 3rd, 4th, may be 5th country in the labor supply chain? More visa issues, more tower of babel?
Global delivery is gradually become truly global. Everyone will struggle with it. But a firm “born global” has a better shot at making it work.