Cognizant Global Experiment in the Collaborosphere Pays Off

As many of you know, I spent the first half of my career in the IT space tracking the IT services sector. The business of large-scale systems integrators and outsourcers wasn’t always thrilling, but boy-oh-boy, did those firms rake in the big bucks. Contracts weren’t even worth mentioning if they didn’t register in the hundreds of millions. At one point in the “megadeal” market for IT outsourcing, a contract would have to be in the billions to earn that designation.


I often wonder how my old friends in the SI/Outsourcer space are doing, and if in fact, any are adopting 2.0 technologies or practices internally or recommending them to their large customer bases. So, it was a pleasant surprise to reconnect with an old friend, Alan Alper, who is now working for another old friend, Malcolm Frank, both now at Cognizant— a large-scale integrator/outsourcer.

It turns out Cognizant is making productive use of 2.0 technologies and practices, and has realized some identifiable business results already. The company began an initiative about two years ago called, “Cognizant 2.0.” Essentially, the Cognizant 2.0 platform is a combination knowledge management/project workflow tool that incorporates 2.0 technology to leverage the combined intelligence and skills across Cognizant’s entire 60K workforce. What’s interesting about Cognizant 2.0 is that employees use the same tools they’re used to using in the workplace: Microsoft Project, Office, SharePoint, as well as their ERP systems. The platform integrates these enterprise “native” tools into a unique view that crosses time zones and geographic boundaries to glue the company’s expertise together. Dashboards now monitor critical project tasks and provide project teams with detailed, real-time access to workflow activities, information, targets, and deliverables. Internal blogging for the company has produced some surprising results. It grew essentially organically within the company as a means of communication and sharing and now includes non-related work content such as discussing charitable causes, movies reviews, weather, photography, and affinity-based professional interests.


Cognizant estimates the new collaborative platform improves project cycle times on average about 20%. With more than a third (37%) of the company’s application development projects running through the platform, it encompasses over 4,000 projects at what will soon span more than 600 customers. One of the greatest gains has been a 70% productivity improvement for project managers who formerly used the company’s previous project management tool. About 20% of the workforce (over 10K), including the company CEO Francisco d’Souza, are blogging internally on the platform with over 3-5 million page views a month.

Customer satisfaction numbers for Cognizant have always been high (near 90% in recent years), but the advantages of working collaboratively and socially has given Cognizant a distinctive advantage vis-a-vis its competitors in a hotly contested space. In essence, the company has moved from “labor arbitrage” to what it now refers to as “intellectual arbitrage.” The Cognizant example is an excellent one that truly demonstrates business advantage to a large enterprise. The company intends on extending the platform to include suppliers and customers in upcoming releases.

If I had to point out a deficiency for Cognizant 2.0, like its enterprise software components, it’s not sexy. It could use a trendy 2.0 UI/UX makeover to make it more appealing to users. But considering most of Cognizant’s workforce is comfortable with plain-old-vanilla enterprise software for everyday use, there is probably no urgent need to doll up the platform. Moreover, as Cognizant is a public company with nearly $3B in revenue and an $8B market cap, the company’s priorities might well be more focused on business results than design awards. I give it a thumbs up for innovation, adoption, and an impressive approach to integrating the old with the new– which is what I’d hope to see from a world-class systems integrator.

Reality Check 2.0

Over the past month, I’ve been wrestling with blogger’s block. A number of items have kept me from blogging, but the key agitator is the current economic crisis. I’ve attended conferences; I’ve participated in discussions on social media; I continue to Yammer and Twitter, but in the back of my mind a blaring alarm is sounding off. It seems so many in the 2.0 community (who still have a job or have clients) is either in denial or is missing the bleak macro picture here.

This weekend I was watching the Sunday morning news roundups, Former Secretary of State James Baker, speaking on “Meet the Press” reiterated what we’ve been hearing for weeks now, “…it is very serious. It’s far worse than the downturn that we saw back in the 1987 when we had a stock market collapse when I was Treasury secretary. That one was much less broad and severe, but even that took us two years to come out of.”

Now, no disrespect to my late GenX and GenY readers and friends, but Boomers have some experience here that may prove helpful. Those of us who were engaged in the technology workforce in the late 80s and early 90s had to move fast to help our customers cut costs and work smarter. For me, that meant the birth of Business Process Reengineering and Outsourcing. For others, it meant the birth of Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP. Now, you could argue whether any or all of these initiatives actually delivered the results intended, but the fact remains: lots of software developers and consultants made a huge market in downtime adversity.

This recession/depression is poised to eclipse any downturn we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As I canvas the Enterprise 2.0 landscape, I find myself wondering: what is our killer economic crisis app/movement? Twitter? Facebook? Will we save the U.S auto industry by social networking?


I can assure you, there will be no Federal bail outs for 2.0 startups. Some startups will stretch their life expectancy with VC funds, but at the end of the day, it’s show time. How will you help your customers and future customers grow or at least sustain their business through this economic downturn?

The Enterprise 2.0 Advisory Board is convening in an online forum to discuss themes for this year’s conference. The conversation quickly migrated beyond the soft benefits of social collaboration to the hard, measurable benefits businesses need when navigating through tough times.

Mike Gotta of analyst firm Burton Group contributed this remark:

“Some of the phrases I keep hearing: 1. Efficiency (cost containment/avoidance, streamlining, etc.) 2. Execution (all-things-lean, process refinement) 3. Effectiveness (process and people performance, measurable productivity) 4. Rationalization (of budgets, of projects, of platforms) 5. Governance and metrics to support the above. Operations (run the business) and investment to protect top/bottom line engines (grow the business) are still ok – transformation unless it maps into some of the above areas is more discretionary – a good strategist will not cut to the bone… but overall – it’s a run/grow the business more than transformation. Business transformation (at least in my head) is more than just changing a process. Anything “soft” is getting a hard look – sure – some savvy execs will keep a portfolio perspective and still invest in some long-term areas and not slash things to the point that when the economy rights itself they are strategically behind but they (1) may not have any choice and (2) may not get broad agreement from their peers.”

Even Stowe Boyd, who coined the term “social tools” back in 1999 had this to say:

I am one of the biggest advocates for ‘social’ in the world, but I think it is too limiting for E2.0, and perhaps off message in the econolyptic times we are in.

I think the right theme is something more around ‘making the web work for business’—some blendo idea that allows E2.0 to mean
a/ the adoption of web tools and culture within the enterprise,
b/ the use of the web to better connect the enterprise to the greater world, and
c/ most specifically, the use of web 2.0 IT principles to reinvent enterprise IT, (like cloud computing, AJAX, web services, and so on).

The bottom line is: focus on the bottom line. We are collaborating for survival.

Update 12/01/08:  McAfee blogs on ideas for saving Big Auto.

Happy Birthday, Ross

Ross Perot

At the risk of alienating (confusing?) all my friends on Facebook and in the blogosphere… I’m taking a public moment to wish Ross Perot a Happy Birthday. If it were not for him, I would not have enjoyed the 20+ excellent years I have had in the technology business. I joined EDS as a young writer in 1986. Perot meant a great deal to the early employees of EDS. I will always have a place in my heart for him and his first management team.

Fun with Outsourcing…

Saw this on an outsourcing discussion group and had to share…  They’re talking about outsourcing architectural drawings to India.

Re: Paris??
so which projects you do can you send me a detail list in email so that we can mutually understand and exchange some projects..
Reply From: CB
Date: Nov/17/06 – 20:05 (GMT)
Re: Paris??
Here is our project list.
2.)Paris surrounding areas

We would love to mutually understand and exchange but we have outsourced the
projects that were outsourced to us to an outsourcer who outsourced them to
another outsourcer who uses an exporter. It may take weeks to figure out
where Paris is.

We also may have difficulties in exchanging checks as we have sent our
checks to a Nigerian bank. We are trying to unlock the funds of the dearly
departed Mr. Smith. We have been assured that we will be rewarded kindly
for our help in the process by freeing 10 million dollars in funds from the
Smith estate.

Sorry we can not be of help now.

It’s Friday!!!!!

¡Ay, caramba! Blogging is work.

I’ve been posting on the new ZDNet blog. They tell me it’s live, but there’s a glitch in the technology that is preventing it from showing up in the blog roll. You can view it here. I’m very interested in off-beat IT Services stories, so please email me (susanATitservicesadvisoryDOTcom) with any interesting ideas.

Are We Eating Our Dead? Again?

During web 1.0, I was a skeptic and pretty vocal about it. Before my research was finished, I presented in Atlanta (12/99) when market caps were high for the digital apostles I was tracking. Most of the presentation was tongue and cheek, but is somewhat prescient looking at it today. I wrote this column for Phil Wainewright’s site which was also published as an op-ed in Computerworld for the user community. When the back-breaking, risky 300-page market research report on what I called the “e-services” market was published in April 2000, I joined one of these start-ups myself. You see, through the course of doing the research, I became a believer too. I fell in love with the first Internet revolution and its massive societal-changing promise. Of course, like most companies in that first run up, the start-up crashed. I felt like I, in particular, should have known better than to have fallen for such an idealistic infatuation.

I read with interest Michelle Manafy’s editorial in eContent. This is the second time I’ve heard the Soylent Green, “It’s made of people!” reference in the web 2.0 crowd. This time it gets attributed to Ross Mayfield. I know when I have said, “It’s the people, stupid.” I’m not talking about cannibalism and annihilation; I’m talking about liberation. I’m not talking about overpopulation; I’m talking about a billion Internet users– sharing and doing. Interestingly enough, the tagline for our 2000 start-up was a question– “what happens when everyone’s connected to everything?” Less death. More rebirth.

So, maybe we should start considering a different indie flick? or maybe something more mainstream, if the mission is to turn perception positive on Enterprise 2.0, eh? Manafy’s a great writer and her community is extremely important to the new office generation. For instance, I just received the best presentation (a 100-slide deck) I’ve ever seen on web 2.0 yesterday. It didn’t come from Dion Hinchcliffe; it wasn’t something I found on techcrunch or wasn’t even something I could have gotten my hands on privately as an Enterprise Irregular. It came to me from Molecular, a consulting firm part of the Isobar network of Interactive Agencies. And oh, the reason I was reading Manafy is because Shiv Singh (Avenue A|Razorfish) referred to it in his blog.

Manafy writes:

Web 2.0 inside the firewall isn’t all work and no play, though. Singh has suggested to clients that there are fun ways to use the interactive processes for “prediction markets,” which harness group intelligence. For example, if a company has six ad campaigns under consideration, they can create a space where employees can “trade shares” on the ideas. “Then execs can see the activity that happens around an idea,” he says.

While Web 2.0 may or may not live up to its press, nobody can scoff at the ability of its underlying technologies to enable some of the Internet’s founding principles. As Singh says, “Collectivism is very big.”

Referencing the slide above… Now, one film we might consider could be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The “throw out your dead” scene, in particular, is working for me. I was chatting with Cognizant’s Malcolm Frank Friday who is not dead (“Yes you are! No I’m not!”), and he was telling me that, in fact, Bob Gett, Gordon Brooks, and few others from web 1.0 are back in the Internet or IT services game. Of course, Jerry Greenberg has found Internet religion again. So maybe the Holy Grail is attainable in web 2.0. I’m not skeptical this time ’round. And it’s really early.

Incidentally, for all ITSinsiders who haven’t heard yet. the weirdest development for those with long memories, is last week’s announcement that Jim Sims was named to EDS’ board of directors. Can someone send that cart to Dallas? 🙂