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A Canadian Tech Dream

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala IT bandwagon is actively involved in tapping bigger arenas of opportunities from across the globe, drawing worldwide attention and thereby transforming the ecosystem into a technology hub teeming with talent and skills. Technology and real estate majors, who have already set up their shops in God’s Own Country, were drawn by this

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala IT bandwagon is actively involved in tapping bigger arenas of opportunities from across the globe, drawing worldwide attention and thereby transforming the ecosystem into a technology hub teeming with talent and skills. Technology and real estate majors, who have already set up their shops in God’s Own Country, were drawn by this pulsating spirit. After Nissan Digital, H&R Block and Taurus Investment Holdings, Canada-based financial services company Teranet has also come to the State’s capital with an eye on the trained talents in Kerala.

The inflow of global IT majors stands uninhibited with the entry of Teranet in to Kerala. The company which is one of the major financial services providers in Canada hopes to bank on the skilled IT talent of Kerala to expand operations of its development centre TeraServ in Technopark. In an exclusive interview with Fariba Rawhani, Chief Information Officer, Teranet, technopolis explores the company’s grand plans for God’s Own Country

The arrival of yet another IT multinational company to Kerala is quite reassuring for the ecosystem. The trend, which started during the latter half of 2017, is now gathering momentum. Taking this into consideration, the representatives of Group of Technology Companies (GTech) have recently reminded the Kerala Government of the possible consequences of any laxity on its part in putting in place world-class public infrastructure in Thiruvananthapuram and pointed out how that might affect the arrival of international companies. However, such apprehensions have not in any way discouraged global companies from investing here yet. Teranet is one of the largest financial services providers in Canada operating in the core domain of land registry flow services and transactions.

When Teranet bought Collateral Management Solutions (CMS), another Canadian company, it inherited an offshore development centre (ODC) of the company named Finastra, located in Thiruvananthapuram and a small group of its employees. Prior to the purchase of CMS, Teranet’s management was not much aware of the Kerala capital and its huge potential. Elgin Farewell, CEO & President, Teranet, following the purchase, made it a point to retain all the employees of the newly-acquired company. However, that left the management grappling with a curious problem: the apprehension among the employees whether all of them will be asked to move to Canada. That’s when the ball started rolling in favour of Kerala. “We realised that the bunch of talent we have in Thiruvananthapuram is really competitive and the emerging IT ecosystem in Kerala is world-class,” says Fariba Rawhani, CIO, Teranet, in an exclusive interview with technopolis.

Following the closure of CMS purchase procedures, Teranet expedited the process of opening a technology development centre in Thiruvananthapuram. The centre named TeraServ was inaugurated by Nicole Girard, Consul General of Canada in India, on March 28. The company currently has an employee strength of 45, which will soon be increased to 75.

Fariba and her team are counting on local talent to further expand their presence in the city. In a bid to offer the best workplace experience, the management hired local talent for designing and building their 10,000-sq. ft. office at Pamba building in Technopark. The office ambience envisioned by Teranet’s management is a living space model which encourages employees to adopt work practices that are healthy and productive.

Teranet is entirely owned by OMERS Infrastructure, one of Canada’s defined pension trusts with assets worth over $97 billion. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

What does Teranet hold for the Kerala’s IT ecosystem in future?

Teranet is making real progress in areas which need to be built on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). I am really hopeful that our centre for RPA will be located in Thiruvananthapuram. We will soon be introducing RPA in a couple of divisions. We really don’t have that skill set in our team based in Canada. If we get inputs from Thiruvananthapuram, we may be able to set it up here.

Another thing I have in mind is that it is important to have a global footprint. We do have a Canadian team and now we will soon send work to the offshore centre in Thiruvananthapuram. But I would like to see different centres of expertise. Maybe Kerala’s capital can host our centre of expertise for RPA or centre of expertise for Machine Learning (ML). So, that would make the centre here a more integral part of the whole organisation rather than doing just some work for Canada.

I also hope that, in the long run, we can offer other types of IT works and expand our operations into database and infrastructure management.

What is the nature of work at TeraServ?

It is going to be a technology centre. It will be the centre for development, quality assurance and architecture. To deploy all the tools we have here, we are moving extensively towards devOps so the developers get much better tools. Right now we deem it to be a technology centre. But you never know. We could expand our operations here because we have a lot of extra work coming. As of now, we want to increase the team strength here to 75 because the incoming work is beyond the capacity of our team in Canada.

What were the perks you saw in Kerala as an off-shore destination?

When I first came to Kerala, I did not have previous knowledge of the place. Many years ago, as part of my work, I collaborated with a company in India which was a great experience for me. So in that way, I was aware that India is great in terms of abundance of talents and highly-qualified workforce as well. Our workforce in Canada hails from diverse ethnic backgrounds, mainly from Eastern Europe, Asia and South East Asia. One thing I knew was that India provided amazing technology training. And then I came to know about Kerala as a State which is very committed to nurturing highly educated people and creating meaningful jobs for them.

So even before I met our new team of employees, I was sure that they must be of high calibre. And they are not going to be just another team which adds to our existing workforce in Canada but a team with its own merit that’s contributing towards our larger goals. What I like about Kerala’s IT sector is that there is a conscious effort to create a lot of opportunities. And that gives us the choice to diversify our workforce by inducting more talent from Kerala.

Teranet offers registry services of land records and enables seamless land transactions in Canada. Would the company be looking into entering the same domain in India too?

The company has not made any decision regarding that as of now. But it isn’t going to be complicated. But our business of enabling registry services for land record keeping and land transactions has been very Canada-centric and for the company, most of the client footprints are from Canada.

Land registry services are of interest to the key decision makers who we met in Kerala. We understand that India is keen on digitising land records and putting in place digital transactions of land records. We have had discussions in this regard and the officials in Kerala showed interest in the subject. They were keen to know how our domain expertise could be utilised to make it possible. However, we have not taken any decision in this regard because our recent trip to Kerala was not on those premises. But we are definitely going to discuss it. We do understand that it is a serious matter in India that needs urgent attention.

I have spent a lot of time working for financial services industries. I remember how difficult it was to even finish financial transactions through banks. Now all that has changed and information has become more secure because there are centralised systems to safeguard it. So, I think land records and transactions are an interesting field and it is linked to even human rights because all people are entitled to owning properties. Technology can help one own property and facilitate its transfer from one person to another. Since it is all digitised, registration happens in a matter of a few hours. Unless land records are digitised, and technology facilitating registrations and seamless transactions are developed, the whole process will get delayed.

And I am hopeful that it will happen.

What would be the key talents that the development centre would be looking to hire?

Right now it is going to be .NET-based work structure. That’s because the division we recently acquired has systems mostly based on .NET. But we also need Java and Angular skill sets in TeraServ. We understand that these specialisations are already a part of the standard academic syllabus in Kerala.

Certain job roles would be in the domain of coding, quality assurance, project management and even general IT management. We are going to have a dedicated Java team and for that too, we need to hire managers and scrum masters. As far as the tools they are going to use, we ensure that our IT employees will have access to all new tools. We will teach our new employees advanced development skills. But I am sure it will not be a big deal because universities here are really good. All they need to have is a very good understanding of modern practices.

Would the company be hiring fresh graduates?

We are definitely looking forward to hire fresh graduates. Even in Canada, it is important to hire fresh graduates. The organisation will also offer internship opportunities. It will be helpful in knowing the people who are going to work for us in future. I believe, in every organisation, there should be internship opportunities and room for hiring new graduates. It helps the senior employees to move on and take more serious responsibilities.

The State Government is keen on bringing in more infrastructure and IT investments to Kerala. Will OMERS Infrastructure make further investments in Kerala?

I cannot comment on that on behalf of OMERS Infrastructure. But what I can tell you is that Teranet as an IT company is very much committed to Kerala. As the CIO of the company, I am going to view Kerala as a wonderful place for future expansions and I am definitely going to promote it among my colleagues and other CIOs in Canada.

What was the motivation behind building the living space model of office?

We have built a company and as the CIO, I wanted it to have a global footprint. In terms of technology delivery, most of the work has been happening in Canada. We purchased the new company, Collateral Management Systems (CMS), and we inherited a small group of its employees in Thiruvananthapuram from a Technopark-based company. We were actively looking for global expansion and that’s when we got the team here. We have heard great things about Kerala. We discussed internally whether to shift the group to Canada or start a new facility in Kerala. That issue was settled once we decided to open the centre here.

Once we made up our minds, we started looking for office locations and finally zeroed-in on Technopark. Of course, we are very pleased to be at Technopark.

When it came to the design aspect of the office, we thought why we can’t create an ambience that is fully employee-centric and technologically attractive. So, we considered some design companies and our objective was to create a healthy workspace that is conducive for collaboration. The designers we hired in Kerala came up with some great concepts and we plan to replicate the same for our employees back in Canada.

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