With more than 400,000 associates in 46 countries, Tata Consultancy Services has no shortage of talent. But in 2016, with digital transformation and industry disruption taking hold, Tata’s leadership recognized that the company’s workforce needed a way to learn valuable digital skills.
To do so, TCS needed to overhaul its learning and development approach, which was individualized and haphazard, as well as slow and inefficient. So it set about revamping its learning platform using a microservices-based architecture to provide curated content and externally certified courses and to integrate seamlessly with learning applications such as Lynda, Skillsoft and Safari — all on one platform to meet learners’ demands at scale.
Reskilling at scale
“‘There’s no such thing as legacy people, only legacy technologies,’” says Ashley Fernandes, head of digital talent development programs at TCS, quoting then TCS CEO and current TATA Group Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran. “Our strategy has always been attracting the best talent globally, reskilling and transforming them to foster innovation and build a results-oriented, high performance culture. The difference this time was the scale at which this needed to be done and how we were using technology to democratize the talent development process at large.”
Catering to the learning needs of the more than 436,000 employees across the globe was a significant challenge, as was encouraging every associate to adopt it.
“We needed to leverage our people’s existing knowledge about the industry and their customer, and then reskill them to ensure they could deliver on the customer’s goals for digital transformation,” he says.
To do that, TCS developed the Group Learning Initiative, which includes an integrated learning platform using cloud-native design patterns. The platform, which focuses on cloud, DevOps, AI and machine learning skills, was built with a primary focus on user experience, exponential scalability, fault resistance, comprehensive analytics, elastic capacity and the ability to continuously respond to changes, says Abhijit Mazumder, CIO at TCS. Learn4Life has earned TCS a FutureEdge 50 Award for applications of emerging technologies.
“One of the biggest challenges was that these digital skills were really new, and the lessons and labs couldn’t always be delivered in person,” Mazumder says. “We had to create and generate and deliver this content any place, any time, on any device and break up the pieces in bite-sized chunks so that we could deliver that on-demand for our people’s schedules.”
The platform includes virtual labs and hands-on learning that enables associates to write code and execute it, from any device. “There’s a lot of experiential learning using real examples,” he says.
The solution is unique in the industry not just for its size and scale, but because it integrates with so many external certification courses and learning applications, too, says Fernandes. In addition to Lynda, Skillsoft and Safari, content from Udemy, Fresco Play and Magzter is also available, he says.
Fostering a learning culture
In addition to embedded lab environments and traditional online courses, the gamified, mobile-first upskilling platform includes hackathons, assessments, agile coding challenges, quizzes, connections with subject matter experts and bootcamps to help associates move into consulting roles, says Mazumder. The solution also uses MVP-approach case studies and leverages AI and natural language processing via bots to deliver learning products and services, he says.
“We wanted to make learning ‘addictive,’ so to speak, to fulfill our objectives of making our employees want to come back to the platform and learn more and more,” Mazumder says. “It is incredibly customizable so that each person can tailor it to the kinds of things they want to learn as well as how they learn best.”
The initiative measures associates’ progress using an in-house algorithm that measures the breadth and depth of associates’ skills to gauge their readiness to be deployed on projects, Mazumder says.
All told, more than 21,000 courses have been created for Learn4Life, leveraging the knowledge of more than 6,500 subject matter experts, Mazumder says. The platform also hosts around 60 hands-on lab environments. “We now have reached about 315,000 of our associates, with about 2.2 million digital competencies achieved, which is an average of seven digital skills per person,” he says. “We’ve also helped transform several thousand people into consultants.”
TCS’s scoring rubric, known as the T-Factor, measures associates’ skills against an ideal “T-shaped Digital-DevOps Ninja” that is in huge demand, Mazumder says. This helps TCS spot its best talent, which it can then deploy as consultants on critical projects. Thanks to the platform, TCS can now fulfill a significant portion of digital talent demand through internal skilling efforts, relying minimally on external hiring and contracting only for new niche skills regionally, he says.
“This type of project isn’t for the faint of heart,” Mazumder says. “It has to come from the top down. Ideally, the CIO should be driving this. It has to be a mandate across the entire organization because you need acceptance of the fact that it’s not just about the skills, but about a culture change to one that embraces continual learning and growth.”
“We see a lot of up-and-coming companies trying to do this,” he adds, “but we’re fifty years old, as a company. If we can take this on and make this change, anyone can. You have to have the confidence and the drive to get there.”