TECH CAMPUSES: Software’s Green Revolution

Walking through the re cently inaugurated Infosys City in
Bangalore, one would admire the planning and pains taken to make it a complete
“home away from home” experience. It’s not the buildings and
infrastructure that make the “infocity” impressive, but the endeavor
to create communities by planning for the smallest possible requirements of the
employees. Comments Phaneesh Murthy, senior VP, sales and marketing, Infosys,
“I am spending more time in India these days and the ambience at Infosys
City is probably the reason.”

Some of the world’s largest corporations are tales of
garage-to-riches entrepreneurs who have also created the right
“ambience” for their employees. They have created communities and seen
their businesses grow. Billion-dollar revenues and astronomical rise of the
stock prices were only part of the success story. They needed more than the
thousands of man-years of experience or cutting-edge technologies. Behind the
spirit of entrepreneurship–be it HP, Dell or Cisco–has been the uncanny
ability of the management to continuously create outstanding employees and
communities of excellence within the organization.

These companies, many of which had humble beginnings, have
today grown to become the industry’s vanguards. They have been led by the
visionaries with the ability to look into every detail that gives growth an
opportunity. Usually, at the heart of it all is also the technology campus. A
physical infrastructure built with care and forethought, which provides the
right environment for learning and overall development of the employees. As NR
Narayana Murthy, chairman and CEO, Infosys Technologies, puts it, “Our idea
of the technology campus was to create a home away from home where employees are
enthusiastic to come to work and learn.”

Today, it has become a global trend to have a campus with all
the facilities within, to create the right working environment for the
employees. Gyms, tennis courts, billiards tables, cafeterias, swimming pools,
canteens, creches, facilities for audio or video conferencing and leased line
connectivity are part of the environment called technology campus; no longer
pieces in isolation to be looked at in awe. With these, companies develop
“centers of excellence” with the right ambience and frame of mind.
Microsoft has the world’s largest product campus Oracle and CA have been able
to give their employees a sense of liberation by creating the right ambience in
their campuses. This has been one accepted reason for the global brand they are
now. Microsoft follows the R&R approach–refreshment and resources. At
Microsoft, “time out” is encouraged for shooting a few hops, going for
a jog or just enjoying the scenery. The idea is to give employees a homely
feeling. Agrees Narayana Murthy, “We want our employees to have a sense of
belonging when they enter the campus.”

The trend is catching up in India too. Infosys created a
campus, which is considered the world’s largest for IT services. Infosys’
management carefully evaluated the type of environment required to create India’s
best software company. It then studied examples of companies such as Microsoft
and CA before coming up with its own concept and architecture. Details like
groups of people, relaxation and building structure were taken to plan the
Infocity. Says Murthy, “We looked at a study and found that if you have up
to 300 people in a group, there is closer bonding, interaction is better and
identification with the team is higher.”

Hence, the 19 blocks within the sprawling 44-acre Infosys
campus accommodate smaller groups who go to form centers of excellence in
technology and domain areas.

Reviving learning

Infosys is not the only company that set up a campus. Other
Indian companies, exposed to state-of-the-art facilities outside India, are also
in the process of creating and offering similar work environments to their
employees. “We have Ashok Korwar from IIM Ahmedabad, who has taken a
one-year sabbatical to help us design our exclusive training project called the
Naalanda,” states Arun Jain, CMD, Polaris Software. “Naalanda is
symbolic of the ancient civilization of learning that we are attempting to set
up.” The company, recently set up its software development facility at
Navaloor called “The Foundation” about 20 km off Chennai. It is
creating “the best suited environment for learning”. The campus will
come up in Turapakkam on an eight-acre land, including a residential complex.
Again, like Infosys, the interest has been directly from the top management.
“I have personally looked into models such as Infosys, TCS and other global
examples like Microsoft and Motorola, before trying to chart out the type of
structure and the training that we want to impart to our employees,”
explains Korwar.

Some companies are looking at innovative models such as a
dedicated training center on the lines of Motorola University or Unilever’s
Four Acres in London. Others like TCS are using their technology campuses to
integrate and build intelligent software development facilities. They would also
enhance the overall productivity of work, which were scattered in five to six
offices in different cities. “The primary objective was to give the
employees a space to dream in an intensely creative and competitive field,”
says S Mahalingam, executive VP, TCS. “Besides, the software engineers who
are exposed to an international work culture and infrastructure begin to expect
the same at home. And the constant attempt to relate to the overseas environment
has been a considering factor.” TCS’ infrastructure at Sholinganallur,
about 20 km off Chennai, has been done with the endeavor to address the physical
and emotional needs of the software engineers. “Every person has a
workstation designed to give lot of privacy. Yet, the office is open for
informal interactions,” he adds.

The building has 20 engineering blocks, each block with a
capacity of 50 seats. Each block or module is self-contained and independent of
the remaining building but at the same time integrated with the entire building.
This concept of independent modules enables creation of physical security in
terms of entry and exit access. This is controlled by a fully-automated access
control system. The access cards allow entry into specific modules. Each module
has its own dedicated uninterrupted power supply system and dedicated controls
for air-conditioning.

While Polaris has its structure built on the floating
architecture, the TCS model has floating columns, an innovative structural
design that ensures that the visual contact is never impaired by construction of
units on separate floors. This is a user-defined building where each unit has
been designed with specific requirements in mind, thereby ridding the building
of anonymous spaces. The totally networked, two-storied building is
electronically connected through a campus-wide video-casting and audio address
system.

Many companies in India resort to specialization by taking up
one software development center for a particular technology area. This is also a
model followed by those companies that have a dedicated facility with an
architectural forethought and innovation. For example, TCS inducts fresh
recruits at the tech park in Trivandrum, where it has its entire training wing.
Specialized technology upgrades is done at its software factory in Chennai and
in its Sholinganallur facility.

Government in tech parks

Similar to such a concept of individual facilities designed
by companies, are the tech parks being set up by state governments and private
players. Some of these are Hyderabad’s Hi-Tech City, Chennai’s Tidel Park
and ITPL at Bangalore. "This is an easy and convenient way to set up
world-class infrastructure and not bother about the creation of a physical
infrastructure. It would also help avoid duplication of efforts in getting
services such as communication link, power, water and other such basic
requirements," says Suresh Kamath, a programmer at Hi-Tech City. Many of
these parks are government initiatives, which means fundamental requirements for
the IT industry are easily met.

However, for the bigger companies, the flavor is still
technology campus. Comments Mahalingam, "Having a space in a technology
park is a compromise. For instance, if I want to have a huge communication pipe
at my development center, ensuring total privacy, security and good ambience,
then the best way to do it is to have it in my own building." Such centers
of excellence by individual companies is a duplication of efforts and resources.
And the ability of a company to give the best environment and infrastructure for
its team of software professionals is something notable.

Companies that have already set up their own dedicated
development facilities are now looking at models used worldwide and are trying
to bring in the best features possible. "We have studied the examples of
centers such as the Motorola University and Unilever’s Four Acres and are
trying to see if we can work out the self-revenue generating mechanism and
profit center model that these centers have employed," states Korwar.

However, before they adopt higher plans, these companies are
not leaving any stone unturned in planning their technology campuses. The
smallest of details are being thought out. For instance at the Infosys City, the
steam escaping from the air conditioners and power supply equipment are
channelized into tubes that take the steam into the kitchen for cooking Idlis
for the employees. Water is recycled through a sewage treatment plant that is
used for gardening and flushing purposes at The Foundation. Similarly, the
development modules are inspired by ancient thinkers, mathematicians and
physicians whose names adorn the rooms in each of these modules at The
Foundation. Aryabhatta, Susruta, Bhaskara, Baudhayana, Adi Sankara and Kabir are
a few names.

Identifiable advantages are yet to come out from setting up
such facilities. Although a direct measure of the advantages is not possible,
the companies have benefited in many ways. To start with, high employee morale
and pride in working for a company with such a facility. "Productivity
increased significantly and the number of absentees reduced largely. More
importantly, clients feel comfortable working with an environment that is not
isolated from their own," says Mahalingam. Agrees Korwar, "We are not
here to evaluate and the tangible benefits in setting up such institutions. What
is required is a vision and the wanting to create something that will have
benefits in the long run. The Naalanda project is at this moment a lot of
investment and we do not know how it is going to impact our business."

Whatever model the companies resort to, the awareness that
the employees need an infrastructure on par with their global counterparts,
including technological and other infrastructure, is something the software
companies have come to live with. In the long run, these centers of excellence
and the continuous initiatives by companies to enhance their employees’ sense
of belonging will be the key to India’s vision of becoming an IT super power.

AKILA SUBRAMANIAM in
Chennai  with inputs from Yograj Varma in Bangalore

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