April 2001 | Christabelle Noronha

Jewel in the TCS crown

Having hit the ground running, the Tata Consultancy Services offshore development centre at Shollinganallur is doing cutting-edge work in the info-tech domain

About 20km from Chennai, in the town of Shollinganallur, sits an architectural marvel of modern India. Impressive as it is from the outside, what goes on inside the imposing red-brick structure is even more so. A mere two years after being established, the TCS Shollinganallur offshore development centre is setting the benchmark for the info-tech industry while reaching levels of excellence that make it one of the company’s finest centres.

The Shollinganallur centre secured the coveted SEI-CMM Level 5 rating -- an industry assessment given only to masters of the IT universe -- just eight months after being set up. That achievement only befits the quality and spread of the facility that houses the centre. Designed by American architect Frank Glynn, the state-of-the-art building covers an area of 1,60,000 sq ft and has an opaque arch on the roof that filters in enough sunlight to make artificial lighting redundant.

Inside is where the action is: more than 1,300 professionals engaged in executing a wide array of projects and offering solutions to customers. These include Fortune 100 names like Target, Time, HSBC and. KLM, as well as Indian powerhouses such as the Reserve Bank. Interaction with clients like these -- and there are over 40 of them -- is facilitated through exclusive ‘relationship centres’.

The centre has a modular structure with self-contained engineering modules, each with the capability of accommodating 50 workstations. Every one of the modules has its own development and conference facilities, LAN and entry cards (to guarantee data and physical security), and a 20 KW UPS to ensure power stability. Given the total seating capacity over several such engineering modules, the centre takes great care to ensure confidentiality and safety of customer data.

Also on the menu are learning centres with facilities for computer-based training (CBT); visual learning and up-linking for distance learning; high-speed telecommunication links to enable desktop video-conferencing; and virtual LAN and project-level servers to guarantee confidentiality. Another interesting feature is a 150-seat auditorium that is connected to the centre by cable.

A recent acquisition is a Z-series IBM mainframe, the first of its kind in the Asean and South Asian region, which was activated on May 4 after a formal function. In addition to a robust and resilient communication infrastructure, TCS also has a frame relay network link to the MCI Plaza, New York, which serves as a link for American sites to connect to the Chennai division.

Recreational facilities for employees include a 5,100 sq ft sports complex with a gymnasium, a squash court, two tennis courts, a volleyball court and place enough for numerous indoor games. There is also a learning centre where employees are encouraged to enhance their skills by using the 600 CBT titles available in areas like Microsoft technologies, Java, C++ and others.

srinivasanThe Shollinganallur centre was inaugurated on March 25, 1999, by Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata. Eight months and a number of assessments later it was judged as operating at the SEI-CMM Level 5. A large group of people -- 700 in all then -- had come a long way in a short time. Says A Srinivasan, the manager of the centre: "It was tough because we had a diversified clientele, various kinds of projects, applications, platforms, excellence groups, support groups and, above all, an unmatched pace of growth."

The icing on the cake was the praise that came from Ron Radice of Software Technology Transition, the key appraiser for the SEI-CMM standard, who said during his assessment that the centre was the "benchmark of the IT industry".

Sustaining Level 5 is, apparently, tougher than getting there. "From the time we achieved it we have been introducing a lot of processes to be able to sustain the practice," says Srinivasan. "We are now introducing our staff to the People CMM Level 3 practice, which talks about career planning, training and other individual requirements." The TCS learning operation is, he adds, an incessant cycle of acquiring knowledge, sustaining that knowledge and upgrading it continuously.

The framework of the existing TCS quality management system (QMS) was the backbone for CMM. Adequate processes were already available for the KPAs till Level 3. Additionally, there were inbuilt provisions for defect prevention and other Level 4 and Level 5 KPAs. Thus, in creating the framework for CMM the centre had to make extra efforts to fine-tune certain areas in Level 4 and Level 5 processes only.

It is only at Level 5 that process management, technology change management and defect prevention get priority, and SEI-CMM requires things to be in place to facilitate this activity cycle. Plenty of collective effort has gone into achieving Level 5. Once structures are in place, which should happen within a two-year time span, this effort is expected to become part of the thinking process.

Today the company has standard processes and procedures that have stood the test of time and are constantly and continually refined to adapt to new situations. Likewise, after all the TCS centres have attained Level 5 -- 13 centres are presently assessed at Level 5 and Shollinganallur was the fourth -- the benefits of institutionalisation will be felt. Says chief executive officer S Ramadorai: "The company expects it to happen in another year or two."