Finding the right vendor partner for your IT organization: HCL

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a number of IT vendors such as HCL, Fujitsu, Oracle, and Dell. This has been some time coming, but over the next few weeks I am taking the opportunity to summarize the overall perceptions I have received from these vendors when evaluating them from a CIO perspective - i.e. as a potential partner for your IT organization and your business. Today I'll tackle HCL, and will move onto the other vendors throughout January. The goal of these blog posts is to give an overall perception of the vendors - something that we don't particularly capture so well in a Wave or vendor analysis where we are focusing on one particular capability of a large vendor. I am trying to capture the "culture" or "style" of the vendor, as this is something that is hard to include in a Forrester Wave, but it IS something that makes a significant difference to the partnership in the longer term.

HCL. A company that is comfortable in its own skin.

That is the way I would summarize HCL. They are a company that know where they have come from and know where they are now, and have a pretty good idea that in five years time they will be nothing like they were or are. They don't know what that future is, but they know they have to put the capabilities in place to ensure the organization can effectively morph into that future form in order to achieve longer term success. Employees First, Customers Second is the first step on this pathway, but it is only that. It will not shape the company that HCL is tomorrow, but it will probably provide the groundwork and internal culture to allow the smoother change.

Confident. Capable.

Their is a definite aura of confidence coming from HCL at the moment. Not arrogance, but confidence in knowing that what they are doing is making an impact on their own company and their customers. At the HCL Analyst event in Boston in December 2010, HCL's CEO Vineet Nayar did what I have never seen ANY IT vendor do. He let a broad range of IT analysts loose on a panel of about 8-10 of their CIO customers with NO HCL hand holding or editing. In fact all HCL staff were ordered out of the room. This was a chance for analysts to ask the sort of questions that may be difficult to ask in front of the vendors, or sometimes difficult for the client to answer honestly. This session was not on the agenda and was as much a surprise to the customers as it was to the HCL staff. It takes confidence and a certain amount of chutzpah to undertake such an activity without knowing exactly what will be said. Let's face it - the fact that they had about 15 or so customers at the analyst event in the first place is great. I have been to analyst days for MAJOR vendors and they have not had a single customer presenting or available for discussions.

And what was said? There were the typical account management issues (every company has good and bad account managers - but my experience has led me to believe that HCL has had some bigger challenges over the years). But in general HCL wasn't the sort of vendor that would bid for anything. They played to their strengths and would not bid if they did not have the capability. The only time they did such in the panel's experience was when they were asked to build a capability by the client - and even then they didn't automatically say yes - they only built it after determining if there was a broader opportunity for that service. At the same time the panel felt the capabilities of the HCL teams were good - and sometimes even great - they delivered as expected and required, and had the flexibility to change as necessary. All up the activity gave the impression of a company that knew what it was good at and focused on just doing that and doing it well.

Another point to note is that they realize that every market has its own quirks and requirements. They are not taking a global approach to every geography or economy, but are tailoring both their services and the way in which they are delivered to each market they play in.

Challenges for HCL

Vineet said in his opening presentation that HCL is not good at PPTs (i.e. PowerPoint presentations). A truer word has ne'er been spoke... The term "busy" does not do the slides justice. These powerpoint decks were like Times Square on steroids. I can only imagine that HCL loses a lot of business opportunities within the first 15 minutes of their pitch if any of their proposal slide decks look anything like what was presented to analysts. If a picture says a thousand words, HCL has bypassed any visuals and gone straight to the thousand words.

But more seriously, they have stated their own challenge. It is to move from offering total IT outsourcing, to business aligned IT, to business transactions. They believe it will take six quarters to get this right.  Their perceived difference is innovation around aligning services to the business. However they are not alone with this perception - and at present their links into the business are not as deep as they need to be in order to know when they are innovating or when their innovations drive real business value within their customers. At the moment many of their customers manage this element of the relationship, so HCL needs to move deeper into their customers, providing not only the technical layer, but helping with the business analysis and translation of needs to requirements. 

In Summary

If you are looking for an IT services partner that can provide a broad range of services, responds well to direction and brings the economies of an offshore provider, you could do much worse than HCL. With a good account manager you can expect that they will expose the value of HCL to you - albeit through lobotomy producing powerpoint presentations. I suggest you ignore the slides and listen to the messages. Unlike many of the other Indian-based IT services providers, they do not typically go after smaller deals in order to chip away at their competitors bit by bit. They have restructured the firm to be able to focus on and deliver both large and small IT services deals and their win rate on the large deals over the last few years has been impressive.This is a firm that gets IT and how it can help your achieve your goals. They are technically capable, and have focused a lot of energy on reducing the time to value for your company.  

Next week I'll shift gears to software providers and focus on Oracle (after my recent trip to Oracle OpenWorld Asia in Beijing). If you have any feedback or thoughts on HCL I'd be interested to hear them - please post them below, or if you want to keep them confidential please email them directly to me here.

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