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Vishal Sikka says Infosys trying to retrain employees displaced by automation

Infosys Chief Executive Officer Vishal Sikka said his company was not overwhelmed by the problem of automation and that it is trying to retrain its staff displaced by automation.

Sikka was responding to a question on ‘what happened to the 11,000 employees’ displaced by automation at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Dalian in China. Just days ago, the company said in its annual report that it ‘released’ 11,000 employees in the year ended March 2017 by using intelligent software to take over their functions.

Sikka did not give details of how many of these 11,000 employees could be retrained and retained. He also did not give a direct answer to the question of whether more Infosys employees will be impacted going forward.

“At Infosys, we get to see the effects of this earlier than others do. Our ability to put people into new, growing areas is quite good. So, we can.. we just have to find the right spot, match the talent and so forth,” Sikka told Channel News Asia.

After giving the optimistic take, he went on to express caution in his follow-on comments, saying that the impact of automation can be quite challenging in some cases.

“Of course, it sounds difficult when you think about this. You know, if you have a truck driver in his fifties (impacted by smart trucks), how do you teach them software? This is not going to be easy, and society will have to kick in and have to create mechanisms of retraining and tiding people over while they are retraining themselves,” he said.

He also said there was no question of ‘whether’ to introduce automation software.

“There’s no way around. The march of technology is inevitable. We cannot stop this. We have to learn to do this. The AI (artificial intelligence) software, the autonomous driving software, these are not falling from the skies. It’s not like there are gods sitting up there saying, hey, here’s AI software. These are all people writing the software.”

So far, only Wipro and Infosys have revealed the exact number of employees impacted by automation in their offices.

In April, Wipro said it had managed to free up 12,000 employee roles in the last nine months of the financial year ended March 2017.

The two companies employ close to 400,000 people in India.

Other firms, such as Tata Consultancy Services, which employs around 300,000 people, and Cognizant Technology Services, which employs around 200,000 people in India, are also aggressively rolling out automation software to cut costs and remain relevant in the changing technological landscape.

Outsourcing companies, which used to rely on low-cost technical labor from India to gain an edge over their competitors from elsewhere, have in recent years come face to face with competition from new-age start-up companies that use artificial intelligence software to undercut their prices.

To be able to offer competitive prices and retain contracts, outsourcing companies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro have been forced to resort to similar technologies that reduce the requirement for human labor.

As they do this, some of the workers displaced by the ‘bots’ are redeployed in areas that are not threatened by automation — such as social media.

Those that cannot be retrained are being asked to go, though companies do not like to reveal details of how many such employees are being ‘written off’. Among those impacted the most are ‘project managers’ — people who have been with these companies for five years or more and have been promoted to managerial roles.

Speaking at the annual confluence of the Indian IT industry in Mumbai this year, Capgemini India’s Chief Executive Officer Srinivas Kandula said most of those displaced by automation cannot be moved to other functions. “It is a challenging task and I tend to believe that 60-65 per cent of them are just not trainable,” he said.

The developments has led to unhappiness and dissatisfaction among employees, some of whom have resorted to local labor courts to retain their jobs.

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