Lalit Dhingra, president of NIIT Technologies Inc.‘s U.S. operations, keeps a sharp eye out for superior customer service. He recently was pleased when he took a prospective client out to lunch. Upon entering an Atlanta restaurant he was greeted by an enthusiastic hostess with a cheery, “Welcome Mr. Dhingra.”
“I liked that,” he told Global Atlanta during a recent interview in his office in Sandy Springs, not just because it was nice to be recognized, but also because he had not given his name to the restaurant.
“They must have traced my name through the telephone number I used to make the reservation. That’s the way the world is going,” he acknowledged, saying that he was pleased to see his potential client was impressed. “Maybe he thought I owned the place,” he joked while cracking a slight smile.
With a practiced commitment to enhancing customer service, Mr. Dhingra has led NIIT Technologies’ growth in the U.S. since 2006 when he took over as president of its operations.
He first arrived in 1997 as a vice president of software services, recalling that he belonged to “a two man army” in an office in Dunwoody. Now he oversees 1,000 employees with offices in Augusta, Ga., Dallas, Philadelphia, and Monmouth Junction, N.J., in addition to the 200 or so employees in the Atlanta office.
He credits his firm’s growth by “staying ahead of the curve.” For instance, when Indian programmers came to the U.S. to help manage the overhyped Y2K computer bug crisis, NIIT Technologies already was mining its selected industry verticals.
Today those verticals on which his company is focused are financial services and insurance, travel, airlines and media properties. “We didn’t get into Y2K and have always looked at the upcoming technology revolutions and doing things nobody else was doing,” he said. “So when everyone else was dealing with Y2K, we were looking at e-commerce.”
NIIT Technologies is part of the larger NIIT Group, established in 1981 in Greater Noida, outside of Delhi, India. Although it is separate from the educational side of the group, its ties provided some of the talent in its early years. The group as a whole now has more than 6,000 employees in India alone.
Mr. Dhingra prides himself on locating the software solutions and business process management talent that his company needs. That’s one reason he likes Atlanta, which he has seen develop as a breeding ground for IT companies.
“There is phenomenal talent coming out of the institutions here,” he said of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and others. “We as an organization can use talent in robotics, automation and computer interactions.”
He even mentioned a new course at Georgia Tech concerning human computing engineering that explores the interactions humans have with computers over the course of their entire lives.
While Atlanta has attracted other Indian IT companies such as Wipro Ltd. and Infosys Ltd. which along with NIIT have moved up the value chain from merely implementing solutions to helping design systems and provide advice on their development, the competition now includes “the IBMs and the Accentures,” he said.
His response has been “to keep our heads down and do the work” with enhancing customer service across the board. By doing the work, he explained he means developing in-depth knowledge of a client’s activities and creating a framework that can be tailored to other clients in the same field providing accelerated turnaround times.
The work ethic has paid off. While NIIT Technologies’ global revenue in 2016 was $430 million, the U.S. portion accounted for 48 percent, or $206.4 million, more than double what the U.S. operations brought in in 2008.
Instead of just mastering the IT, he said that there must be an understanding of the business context. For instance, it is this broad background in each vertical that enables NIIT Technologies to build and maintain websites for airlines, integrate their kiosks and develop their mobile apps in record time.
And it’s not just the technical ability to build the website or the latest technological service, it’s an understanding that reaches back into its awareness of the entire process involved in airline ticketing, he said.
He spoke proudly of NIIT’s work with a local limousine company. “We helped transform their business,” he said. “They now have the sort of iPad and iPhone connectivity similar to that of Uber riders. The same way that Uber placed its application on the Web, we did for them.”
For insurance companies, NIIT Technologies has developed customer service interfaces and helped insurers rapidly launch new products. In the hospitality sector, it has a wide range of hotel clients across the country that demand extensive services to keep up with visitors and suppliers.
A growing business for NIIT is its role in media. While it has developed call centers in the U.S. to deal with circulation and subscriptions, its analytical work for Augusta-based Morris Communications Company LCC is in India.
While it made sense for Morris to outsource some of its ad creation and circulation work, Mr. Dhingra stressed that his company “is not selling India.”
“We are selling the capabilities we have across the globe,” he said. “If you want to get it done here, we’ll get it done here. If you want to get it done in India, we’ll do it there. If you want to get it done in the Philippines, we’ll go there.”
“The idea is not just about the cost factor,” he added. “The idea is about the skill factor,” which he said had resulted in stable relationships. “We haven’t lost a customer in the last 20 years,” he added.
In view of his company’s success in the U.S., he remains positive about the country. “I’m very bullish on the U.S.,” he said. “It has a strong base and a strong market, and I feel that there still are checks and balances in place.”
His optimism has been channeled into blog postings in which he imparts the lessons that he has learned along the way including some inward looking, “hard-won insights.”
The blogs also include management tips such as the benefits of diverse leadership teams. “Diversity is more than a moral imperative,” he says. “It’s a business imperative based on evidence that companies with diverse boards and leaders outperform their peers over time.”
Still able to work 14-15 hours a day, he has no intention of retiring in the near term as long as his mind and body are up to the task. But he has a team of seven vice presidents on which he counts to continue building the company that he no longer considers just an American company, but rather a “global IT solutions company.”