The IT/ITES industry has transformed India over the last couple of decades. The sector’s contribution to the GDP has increased from a mere 1.2% in FY1998 to 9.5% in FY2015. It accounted for revenues of US$146.5 billion in FY15. It has been the primary driving force of the rising stature of the Indian economy and the arrival of the Indian juggernaut on the global scene. The sector directly and indirectly employs millions across urban India. Cyber hubs and clusters dot the urban landscape in most major Indian cities with hundreds of thousands of individuals working in each cluster.
While smart buildings on par with global standards exist in each of these clusters, the development of urban infrastructure hasn’t really kept pace. A common sight is that of thousands of private cabs and buses ferrying the tens of thousands of employees in and out of offices, at all times of the day. In the absence of a reliable, safe and convenient public transport system, the industry has created their own transport facilities. And, although successive governments have made sincere efforts in this direction – we do see the development of road infrastructure as well as the introduction of mass rapid transport system in most major Indian cities – but these will take a long time to fully develop and replace the employee transport services run by most major corporates.
Employee transport is one of the key enablers that allowed the IT/ITES industry to develop in India. It has developed into an industry that accounts for an estimated turnover of around US$2 billion each year. Few people in the industry actually fully realise the complexities associated with this gigantic task.
Most large BPO operations have anywhere between 10 and 15,000 transport users. That, to me, is roughly the size of a division in the Indian army. Moving a division entails the movement of 15-20000 troops and it is a colossal logistics operation with months of planning, coordination with multiple authorities using trains, planes and automobiles. In most large IT/ITES companies, as many employees as in the army’s division are moved twice a day, and, at times, across multiple cities, providing a secure, convenient and timely commute.
It is not just managing this herculean daily effort for transport managers. They are also involved in managing extremely divergent expectations of the management, the employees, the service providers and the transport team, all put together. The main priorities for the management are the cost of employee transportation, maximising seat utilisation, safety and security of employees, on-time arrival of vehicles and strict adherence to all compliances. While users desire home pick-up and drop, and a system that offers flexibility while being safe and comfortable with the shortest commuting time. Transport service providers, the delivery partners, ensure that this mammoth operation runs seamlessly. As most providers invest substantially in the operations, it is critical that they have long-term contracts and have timely payments to enable smooth operations. And with employee transport being one of the biggest overheads for companies, management expectations is that transport managers continually work towards reducing costs, while employees hope that their daily commute is made comfortable and convenient.
In the last decade or so, there have been significant changes in the environment we operate in. The landscape has changed in most of our cities and it has added to the challenges we operate in.
With increased growth and rapid urbanisation, the increase in traffic during peak hours has increased commuting times as well as raised serious environmental concerns. This is especially true in and around the tech clusters that dot our cities.
Urbanisation has also increased the size of cities, with satellite towns fast becoming a part of the metropolis. As a result, companies’ hiring zones are getting bigger, thereby expanding the area of operations for the transport team. And while the emergence of metro lines has been a welcome relief, they are still fairly limited in their reach, have last-mile connectivity concerns and are too crowded during peak hours to be an apt alternative yet. However, quite a few companies are using the metro and other public transport modes to do away with some of their daytime transport operations.
Adopting better solutions
The future for the industry’s transport facilities is the need to adopt a more collaborative approach.
• Shift timings would need to be staggered as some companies have done in few cyber cities to reduce peak time build-ups.
• Companies should encourage private operators to introduce shuttle services to tech clusters that provide a commuting option and fill in the void caused by the lack of a sound public transport system.
• More importantly, this would reduce traffic jams and resulting pollution.
• And finally, companies should look at using public transport, whenever possible and convenient.
These initiatives will not only save cost but also help our environment in a BIG way.