Ananth Krishnan believes it’s time more Canadian IT firms were closer to his company

For years Canada has had a vigorous – if sometimes cash-starved – IT startup community that grows and shrinks with the economy.

Now one of the world’s biggest IT firms is taking a closer look.

Ananth Krishnan, the chief technology officer for India’s Tata Consultancy Services, was here last week meeting with university incubators in Calgary, Waterloo, Ont. and Toronto to see how it can expand its presence here.

“I must say I was impressed and we’re looking at planting our flag here,” he said in an interview.

In particular, he wants to bring Canada into Tata’s Co-Innovation Network (dubbed COIN), which partners with incubators, venture capital companies, academic institutions, established IT companies and customers to spark ideas Tata might share bringing to market.

COIN already has ties to institutions in India, the U.S., Israel, Australia and New Zealand.

Tata evaluate what companies are doing, in some ways shape their thinking in terms of encouraging them towards enterprise solutions with the goal of possibly partnering with them on a project it is working on. There are some 700 companies in Tata’s database, he said. At any point in time it is working we work with about 25 of them.

Canadian firms aren’t unknown, he added – about five make the trip to India to talk to his company, and it has informal relationships with a number of universities here.

Why the increased interest now? “We’re starting to supplement our database with interesting companies from Canada and a few of them look quite promising,” Krishnan said. “Now we’re in the process of integrating them into our larger solutions, and I hope to have some useful outcome both for us and them in the next few months.”

Tata Consultancy Services is a US$13 billion division of the sprawling Tata Group, which is involved in everything from making cars (it now owns Jaguar and Land Rover), steel, and beverages to running a global telecommunications network.

Krishnan holds masters degrees in computer science and physics from the Indian Institute of Technology. His job includes talking to customers for services ideas as well as heading TCS’ IT research and development.

Also during the interview Krishnan talked about what he has gleaned from years of talking to Canadian CIOs. As in most countries, he said, IT managers here face a triangle of conflicting needs: overseeing operations (including simplifying infrastructure, improving resilience, moving to cloud and streamlining application portfolio to manage costs);  helping business units deploy and realize the full potential of technology (such as mobility, cloud computing and the Internet of Things); and ensuring the organization is compliant with regulations to reduce risk.

Many Canadian companies do well on meeting compliance needs he said, but “on the first two I see a lot of opportunities for doing more …On the simplification agenda I think there is tremendous opportunity to look very hard at not only the IT landscape but the business landscape IT supports.” On the bussienss side there are “huge” opportunities in mobile, SaaS, mobile and analytics – and not in isolation but in combination with each other to create transformational opportunies to re-imagine the business

“These are things I don’t see enough of when I talk to CIOs and senior leadership. There’s the intent that this worth doing, but in some sense the agenda gets crowded out”

Finally, he talked about the need for CIOs/IT managers to work closer with lines of business. The more consumer-facing the business, the more IT plays a role in sales, marketing and customer experience, he pointed out. “So the IT department and the CIO have to be there” when executives are talking.

At the operational level, IT has to have a wider view of what’s going on in the enterprise, the co-called BusDevOps, where business units, developers and IT operations work in teams. He admitted that this model can be difficult.

One way IT and business can work closer is through social media for collaboration, he said.

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