The fourth industrial revolution has a dehumanising ring to it. But its technological upheavals are people-driven. From ideation, development, deployment and consumption or usage, it’s all about people. Tech companies like Nasdaq listed Virtusa Corp are at the leading edge of the fourth industrial revolution. Virtusa’s origins out of a garage in Sri Lanka are well known. The company is credited with showcasing Sri Lankan coding talent to the world. The $1.25 billion revenue company employs over 20,000 people at 55 offices across 22 countries.
Its primary markets are North America, Europe and Asia. Virtusa provides digital business strategy, digital engineering and IT related services and solutions to a global clientele across several industries. More than half of Virtusa’s revenue is from global banking clients. It helps banks cut costs by reducing IT clutter and integrating their platforms to meet complex regulatory requirements and reduce compliance costs. Virtusa also specialises in developing digital mobile banking platforms. Around a fourth of digital banking in the U.S. relies on code written by Virtusa engineers across the world. Chandi Dharmaratne’s role at Virtusa occupies her with building an enabling environment, to foster continuous growth and empower teams to stay relevant through upskilling and cross-skilling opportunities.
“Our focus is on driving results for our clients. We do that in some unique ways using new tools, techniques, accelerators and agile engineering teams. To achieve this, we foster a culture of continuous innovation that rewards behaviours that propel an organisation forward, faster,” says Dharmaratne. She heads HR for Sri Lanka and Virtusa’s global TMT (transportation, manufacturing and high-tech) segment.
“HR is a game-changing enabler for tech industry growth. The discipline is transforming itself from a transaction-execution function into a valued consultative partnership that brings innovative solutions to business leaders at all levels.”
Her focus is to build a talent pool that can deliver innovative solutions to Virtusa’s clients. “We have a team of industry and technical experts with a proven track record of delivering better results for our clients,” Dharmaratne says. Attracting, motivating and retaining talent is a challenge for any business, compounded by a younger generation of people entering the workforce. How to engage and inspire them is a puzzle Virtusa has cracked.
Among its many initiatives around people engagement, Virtusa has built a gamification platform to motivate staff and encourage positive behaviours across the business. It uses AI-powered leaderboards to reset and outpace performance benchmarks. “This creates a culture of cooperative disruption,” Dharmaratne says. Innovation is everyone’s business at Virtusa. The company has an ecosystem that allows anyone from anywhere in the world to contribute to problem solving. Members of other teams often assist a team writing code for a specific client’s need. Retaining talent is another challenge that occupies Dharmaratne’s focus. Virtusa was one of the pioneers of the tech industry in Sri Lanka, but the island now hosts the development centres of several global tech firms.
They’re all competing for limited available talent. Sri Lankan universities are not producing enough tech graduates to meet demand. Understanding employee pain points and sources of joy is critical for Virtusa. A recent company-wide engagement survey asked employees to rate how the organisation faired in seven key areas: prospects, development, engagement, trust, life, relationships and rewards. “The survey gave us a view of our strengths and areas of improvement for every geography and business unit. The findings were compared, against the company’s benchmarks. Focus groups will convert these insights into actionable outcomes. The intention is to improve engagement and development continuously.”
Apart from her role at Virtusa, Dharmaratne is a board member of the tech industry body SLASSCOM. There, she heads the HR strategy for Sri Lanka’s tech industry. SLASSCOM comprises over 200 tech companies that generate 90% of Sri Lanka’s IT and BPM export revenue. “The industry body has ambitious growth targets for the industry. By 2022, it proposes to raise export revenue to $5 billion, generate 200,000 direct jobs and create 1,000 startups. Building the talent pool is central to achieving these goals,” Dharmaratne says.
The tech industry comprises over 300 companies with a workforce of over 80,000 people, growing 20% annually. Export earnings were estimated at $1.2 billion in 2018. The number of startups reached 400 in 2019. SLASSCOM is positioning Sri Lanka globally as the ‘Island of Ingenuity’ and the gateway to Asia, to attract global tech firms and startups. Sri Lanka has several global companies with significant investment here and AT Kearney has ranked it among the top 15 outsourcing destinations in the world. Besides, SLASSCOM is leading a drive to position Colombo as a destination for small and medium enterprises to access high-quality talent.
The annual output of tech grads will have to increase substantially to meet the demands of a $5 billion industry. To grow the talent pool, SLASSCOM has a programme that allows university students to switch to computer sciences, which is now gaining traction. It conducts two regular industry-wide surveys in collaboration with PwC that shed critical insights about the scope of the talent crunch problem. The Employability Skills Survey sheds insight into how tech graduates can become more marketable and how the talent pipeline can be expanded, Dharmaratne says.
The annual survey tracks compensation and benefits across the industry. SLASSCOM also tracks hot skills in the industry and identifies any gaps. “HR is a game-changing enabler for tech industry growth. The discipline is transforming itself from a transaction-execution function into a valued consultative partnership that brings innovative solutions to business leaders at all levels,” Dharmaratne says.