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Journal turgid's Journal: Left HCL 4

In September last year, Xerox transferred me to HCL as part of a "partnership" which was really just a run-of-the-mill outsourcing arrangement.

There has been quite a bit of reporting on the deal on the Internet since it was publicly announced last May/June (2011) so I won't bore you with all the details. Needless to say, Xerox cut its Engineering budget substantially in 2011 (having become a service company after acquiring ACS) and needed a way to get more work done for less money, so it hired HCL, one of the top Indian IT and Engineering outsourcing companies.

At the time, Xerox employed 3600 full-time permanent engineers and it transferred 600 of us to HCL. Wim and Mark told us that this would be an exciting opportunity for us to find new ways of working more efficiently, that we'd get thousands of extra new colleagues to help us and that there would be great new opportunities working (on contract) for other non-Xerox customers.

You can pick your jaw up off the floor now.

What really happened was just what you'd expect. The new company told us in meetings that we'd be "empowered" and that we'd have to do more with less (especially time) so we'd have to become much more efficient, but not to worry since they were experts at it.

I've been "empowered" in the past, and it was PHB-speak for a disorganised free-for-all. I mentioned that to embarrassed silence in the meetings.

We were told by HCL a very different story: that as much of the work as possible would be offshored to the cheaper staff in India and that they'd try to find new work for "other customers" in exciting vertical markets such as "aerospace" for us. "Aerospace" kept being bandied about by PHBs to try to make us interested. I believe Aerospace is all about paperwork and "compliance." Still, it's better than having your house repossessed by the bank.

The outsourcing affected five sites (three in the USA, one in the UK and one in the Netherlands). Meanwhile, over in Wilsonville, Orgeon, some Xerox manufacturing staff were asked to take cuts to their pay and conditions.

There were a substantial number of contract staff (technical specialists) and agency staff (e.g. test auditors) employed by Xerox. During the outsourcing activities none of them received a single official communication from either side about what was going on.

A lot of CVs went on the job boards and a lot of recruiters were quite astounded and asked what on earth was going on at Xerox...

Just before the transfer, Xerox cut back our redundancy terms and conditions to not much above Statutory Minimum and then offered a Voluntary Redundancy package. HCL told us that this was to show us that we were valued because they didn't want people to leave! Of course, the experienced staff (in their 50s) who were also getting a bad deal on their pensions, took the VR anyway. Away went much institutional knowledge and a lot of current work in progress, which set things back months.

The Scrum system proved to be a very accurate gauge of staff morale. After the transition had been announced, nothing was delivered during the next 2-week iteration. To give existing management their due, they took notice and the pep-talks started.

As time went on, HCL's plans for the site and the staff kept changing. Meanwhile they started to send over Indian staff for Knowledge Transfer (KT).

HCL had sold themselves to Xerox as having the world's most modern management, having passionate and empowered staff, and having been involved in huge, important projects for the biggest companies in the world, including Microsoft, HP and Boeing (for whom they might have done wonderful job on the Dreamliner if the scurrilous rumors are to be believed). Their CEO, Vineet Nayar also once stated that American graduates are unemployable and listed a bunch of dubious reasons, which you can google. (Let's use "American" here to mean "Western" for the sake of this discussion).

Now, being a contracting company, HCL wants to keep costs to a minimum to be able to make as much profit as possible from its customers. So, not only does it expect its staff (who are "empowered") to work long hours away from home for months at a time, it employs mainly recent graduates and other people with very limited professional experience. They tend to stay with the company for a few months to a couple of years at a time and hop jobs to get salary rises. What's great about working for HCL is that they get to travel to the West and work on prestigious projects for all the big brand names, and build up an impressive portfolio of experience in a short period of time.

The result of this for the companies that contract out to HCL is, that they get young, inexperienced temporary staff who maybe stay on the project for 3 months, after which they are replaced by more new, inexperience staff...

This is exactly what happened. HCL tells its customers that it can transfer knowledge from the acquired experts, who have maybe worked on something for 10 or 20 years in large, experienced teams (10+ people), using one or two young Indians at a time for a few weeks. After all, Westerners are "unemployable" whereas HCL staff are passionate and empowered.

Can you see the problem?

This is how Indians get a bad name.

The Indian Engineers are not stupid and they are not ignorant. The ones that we see are young and inexperienced and are working under deluded stick-wielding PHBs (non-technical managers living in fantasy-land who have no understanding of the projects they're involved with) who are asking them to do person-years worth of work in a foreign country, away from their families for months at a time on pitiful expenses (barely able to afford any accommodation) on systems they are totally unfamiliar with to cuckoo-land deadlines.

There were even instances of a single person being sent over to learn an entire project in three months, going back to India and being assigned to a different project for a different customer. The work went offshore and nothing happened because no one knew how to do it.

A while back, Ursula said in an interview that Engineering was now a commodity that could be bought in when required on the open market. That's fine if you don't need any continuity of knowledge of your projects and products in your staff and the Engineering you need doing is very simple (very shallow learning curves). Multifunction office products with 20 years of history are a completely different kettle of fish (but Xerox seems to be getting out of that business anyway).

Meanwhile, she's trying to tell youngsters to study to become Engineers...

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Left HCL

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  • I'm not surprised. Thanks for the update. You have something new at hand, I assume?
    • by turgid ( 580780 )

      You have something new at hand, I assume?

      Yes, thanks, and it's much more interesting :-)

      I just heard today that another two experienced staff members resigned (including a team leader) and that almost all of the test staff (who were employed through a "temping agency") were sacked and replaced by staff in India.

      What are the others to do? Are they supposed to smile and carry on as if nothing has happened?

  • So, if this offshoring exercise was doomed, what have you got to worry about? However inconvenient it is to move jobs, you remain a highly-skilled professional with useful skills. It would be far worse for you in the long term if the transition had been a roaring success - all the jobs would swiftly follow.

    So look on the bright side :-)

    • by turgid ( 580780 )

      I'm safe for now, but a lot of my former colleagues are not.

      It's sad that a lot of once-great companies are run this way, by people out of touch with reality, I think that everyone should know what really happens in these situations.

      I had many younger (and not so much younger) colleagues who believed the propaganda that both sides fed them, and have maybe left it a little late to look for new jobs. Some still believe that they have a future there.

      This is no way to run a business. It can only end in disaster

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