Getting to know the athlete inside Atos

|December 5, 2016 0
The tracks have changed. Outsourcing steeple-chases are not enough. Mega-event pelotons, HPC pole-jumps and canoes lowered by the likes of AWS have changed the game into a Multi-thon. Atos is still running furiously though. How?

Pratima H

INDIA: Olympics and Atos are now words uttered in the same breath – And not just by people standing in IT alleys. This should be quite an accomplishment in an industry that is reeling under the impacts of many sudden changes happening simultaneously. The gold of multi-year, multi-million contracts in outsourcing industry has been reduced to a bronze and the demise of cost/labor arbitrage has added pace to that reverse-alchemy (not to forget the imminent concerns that US political topography would bring on). The silver lining of cloud has also been smudged with the entry of purists like AWS strutting in the same league as some well-entrenched outsourcing behemoths. High-stature IT failures have kept industry majors on their toes on one hand. Open hardware is shaking out the server pedestal on the other side. And acquisitions have become as unpredictable and dramatic as a treacly soap opera.

Shouldn’t all this make Atos stop and catch a breath? Or is it doing just that when taking a bend in the road?

Let’s ask Ursula Morgenstern, Global Head of Consulting & Systems Integration at Atos, if the game has become more brutal or more fun? And also exactly how this outsourcing specialist manages to handle the scale, scope and the most out-of-control imperatives when being the IT beam of an event as singular and as colossal as Olympics?

How has Atos re-invented itself in the wake of new industry shifts? What does/would its portfolio look like? How relevant would India be for these new strategy levers?

In the last three years, we have achieved a significant growth in revenues as well as in market capitalisation. For the next three years we are going to accelerate new focus areas: cognitive computing, HPC (High-Performance Computing), Hybrid Cloud with Canopy, and HANA solutions.

India’s role is two-pronged. We are not just an offshore centre here as others and that part is turning into an advantage now. We are building solutions in India and in all the pillar-areas mentioned above. Atos India begun its journey as an offshore centre, and will now play a pivotal role in 3rd wave of IT as India is fast embracing new age technologies including IoT, AI and Robotics. Atos India is transforming itself as a key hub and Centre of Innovation. We already have COEs (Centres of Excellence) that are now building more scale and depth.

Does it bother you that the industry has undergone so many upheavals? IP has elbowed out labor arbitrage. Pre-integrated platforms (HP Helion, Cognizant 360, Infosys CEH etc.) are in. Hybrid Cloud is usurping what outsourcing contracts fed on. Players like AWS are in the same top 5 lists as the likes of IBM, Accenture etc. How much disruption is the industry ready for?

I agree that the industry is being disrupted. Pure labor arbitrage is also being impacted as what’s more important today is providing clients with solutions that allow them to deal with technology complexity better. We started as early as three to four years back to embrace this change. We have partnered with the likes of EMC, VMware and Canopy, an orchestrated hybrid cloud, is a key offering (incidentally, it’s a product that saw a lot of product engineering and development happening in India).

Hence, IP definitely matters and we are building competency centres in regions like India, thus, making it a story way beyond labor arbitrage. India’s role is not from a cost perspective but from a product-depth angle and an expertise edge. India is helping with IP, cloud migration tools, accelerators etc. So, yes, there is a clear shift from yesteryear arbitrage or plain application development to tomorrow’s competence.

The bets being made on pre-integrated platforms face a new threat from public cloud players’ de-commoditisation strides or from Open Compute’s influx. Do you agree?

We are helping our clients orchestrate on any technology, be it an AWS, Azure or something else. Canopy helps with a lot of options and we are focusing on enabling clients transform without any additional costs, no matter what technology they pick. We are embracing these changes and not fighting it – unlike our competition. We use Open Source, associate with Cloud Foundry and overall; we have not seen any negative impact the way most of our competitors have.

Can you help us interpret the slew of IT failures that public sector has been witnessing so much and the consequential rise of contract reviews with some big names in the industry?

In my previous role in the UK, I have seen the public sector close hand. The sector usually has a big scope and unique requirements that makes the development parts complex. The risk of IT failures can decrease if organizations can do the project in smaller chunks. In the UK, there is this growing recognition also underway that the sector should improve purchasing expertise and contract management. The challenges are a lot but business transformation in this sector is becoming more agile so risk of failure would be low.

How similar is Olympics to handling huge-scale project management that you usually do in other industries?

I have had the pleasure of working in the UK and experiencing the game. In the whole set-up of an IT contract as a system integrator, we are responsible to support IOC technology for delivering core systems. This entails many things like delivering results in less than half-a-second or the entire gamut of games’ management, data points, accreditations, integration of Telco providers etc. What makes it fascinating is that we don’t have much contact with the partners or players like Telcos.

Nonetheless, IT and venue has to be ready ahead of the games. The timing and other deliverables are set in stone, almost, and in advance. In what we do, what stands out is project delivery, process methodology and program management.

How often or early do you undertake testing?

We spend considerable time on knowledge transfer in the team. In the last six months, we have ramped up from 300 to 3000 people and enhanced tools, methods and processed for the games. One cannot introduce a new technology until it is well-structured and merged. This time we also tested in the cloud. Private cloud is emerging in a strong way in the sports realm. IT is often the last function allowed inside the venue and that leaves only a few weeks to test. Cloud helps navigate issues like electricity availability or time constraints with a virtual image ready and on.

Security and events have a very crucial equation. Where does Atos’s own security play align here? How important is simulation here?

We have acquired some security solutions and we also have defence-industry expertise. We have security centres across the globe. Security has always been paramount with reference to Olympics. What we are doing now with such major events is predictive security and we are working with IoT partners also.

The next wave is going to be about one’s ability to predict security attacks instead of merely reacting well. In this context only, we have launched a unique European program on Quantum computing too. It is a reality that is not ten years away but just a few years away.

How crucial or relevant is HPC for what you are aiming ahead? Where and how do acquisitions like XEROX ITO or Dell’s Perot Systems fall in place?

HPC is making a real difference and we have started to change traditional outsourcing portfolio to areas like SAP HANA with hardware that can support it. We are uniquely positioned in this market. Xerox ITO gives us a strong presence in new markets with new clients and we are excited about North US region after this. It also brought in more employees and acquisitions are helping us scale, in new regions including India.

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