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Zero Bench, a move by Infosys Chief Executive Vishal Sikka to get engineers on the bench to come up with ideas for problems, is helping the company engage them better and beginning to provide solutions to customers. Infosys, India’s second largest software exporter, has around 8,500 workers on the bench — engineers who are in between projects and are not billed for customers. Since its launch in 2015, the zero bench programme has generated over 40,000 ideas. “Zero Bench is our AWS and is our Uber,” said Sikka delivering the keynote at the Infosys Confluence 2017, the flagship thought leadership summit in San Francisco. "It has become a cultural movement and basically accepted way of working at Infosys. We have 15,000 thousand ideas that the teams have come up with across the 9,500 master projects that are going on in the company and 2,000 implementations have already been done." Amazon Web Services, which started as a pilot to rent out data centre space to host applications, is now an independent business that generated $12 billion in revenue last year. Uber’s asset light on-demand cab hailing model has disrupted the industry globally, making it the most valuable private company in the world. Sikka, the first non-founder at the helm of Infosys, believes the zero bench and zero distance programmes help engineers to pitch ideas for projects in a marketplace that has transformed the IT services firm “The interesting irony is that youngsters are usually the ones who are on the bench. They are on the bench because they do not have experience and they do not have experience because they are on the bench. This (Zero Bench) has become a great mechanism,” said Sikka. Infosys had employee utilisation of 83 per cent and at any point has 8,500 people on its bench. At the end of March, Infosys employed 200,364 people. India’s IT services sector is undergoing its worst period in close to a decade. There is pressure on traditional IT services, where customers used to outsource maintenance and application development. Automation is creeping in at the low end of the outsourcing business.
At the same time, companies that built a $110 billion services export sector see the game has shifted from cost arbitrage to solving customers’ problems. Protectionism by developed countries has only added to the problem.Sikka, who has been warning the Indian IT industry of these shifts and the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, says generating ideas from employees who engage with customers could be a game saver. “Amplifying of our abilities is the answer to the skills question. Automation is going to make us more innovative. If problem solving is done by machines, problem finding will be the human frontier,” Sikka said. “The duality of automation is innovation. And innovation in (IT) services is innovation at the grassroots. In 95 per cent of our projects, there is some zero distance idea or the other and in fact we reached this within a year of launching this platform. Zero Bench is the mechanism that fuels that,” he said. It has become a cultural movement and basically accepted the way of working at Infosys. We have 15,000 ideas that have come up across 9,500 master projects and 2,000 implementations have already been done,” he said. “IT services companies will look to leverage people on the bench in two key areas: emerging technologies such as cloud, AI and robotic process automation, and bringing in efficiencies in existing projects. However, they are actually trying to create a parking lot for people,” said Rajesh Gupta, vice-president at research firm ISG.