January 2016 | Sangeeta Menon

'Singapore is pivotal to our ASEAN growth'

The Tata Technologies story in Singapore is rendered unique by the fact that this Tata company actually originated in the island nation. It started its journey as Tata-Elxsi Pte in 1981, before assuming its current avatar as Tata Technologies in 1994.

Headquartered in Singapore, Tata Technologies is among the leading engineering services providers in the world. Anish Raghunandan, vice president for East and South Asia for Tata Technologies, traces the company’s journey in the region so far and discusses the way forward in an interview with Sangeeta Menon.

Tata Technologies is a leading supplier to industries such as automotive, aerospace and construction. Which of these finds the most traction in Singapore and ASEAN?
The core focus for Tata Technologies is product development and enabling manufacturers, suppliers and end customers derive value out of the product throughout its life cycle. We combine domain knowledge, cross-industry best practice leverage and technology platforms to provide our customers with a value proposition that improves efficiency, keeps costs under control and reduces time to market.

In the ASEAN region, our primary focus is on Singapore and Thailand, with different industry sectors leading our charge in both of these countries. Singapore is one of Asia’s largest and most comprehensive maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hubs in the world. Just between the Singapore Airlines and Singapore Technologies groups, the industry is valued upwards of $10 billion and employs over 15,000 people (skilled jobs) in the sector. Tata Technologies is focused on providing a range of solutions to the aviation sector, ranging from integrating multiple systems that govern an airline’s operations to introducing tools and systems to reduce time on ground and improve engineering efficiencies in MRO.

In Thailand, one of the fastest developing markets in the world, the automotive sector is the main focus area for Tata Technologies. We employ over 100 Thai engineers in Bangkok, engaged in delivering programs to global automotive OEMs based in the UK and China.

Is there a plan to use Singapore as a hub to explore new markets in ASEAN? 
In 2014, Tata Technologies took a decision to grow business in the entire South and East Asian markets, including China, Japan and South Korea. The Singapore operation of Tata Technologies is pivotal to this growth plan. Our engineering and process knowledge, subject matter expertise and drive to establish long-term relationships are the key elements we bank on to create a prominent standing in the market. We are looking to double our business year-on-year for the next two financial years to ensure the region contributes to over 10 percent of our revenues in the services segment.

Our solutions are tailored to the requirements of the customer business process. For example, markets like Singapore would have a lot of customers falling in the third and fourth buckets; Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia fall into the second and third buckets, whereas Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar fall in the first and second buckets.

With the manufacturing story moving from the West to the East, how do you see business evolving at Tata Technologies?
Tata Technologies is a key partner to manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace and industrial machinery sectors. The East and South Asian countries employ over 100 million people in the manufacturing sectors. The company has always been involved with organisations that target a low-cost manufacturing base. The key change, however, is not that manufacturing is shifting from West to East, but that consumption is shifting from West to East. This shift is not so much in manufacturing as in the engineering and technology adoption aspects.

How do you see Tata Technologies benefitting from Singapore’s recent thrust on innovation? 
Being an organisation that combines domain expertise with process understanding, technology competence and delivery models, Tata Technologies has been a key partner to companies that would like to aspire and innovate. We have also invested in our own innovation lab in collaboration with academicians from Japan and other parts of the region to encourage a fundamental engineering thought process.

What are your expectations of Tata Technologies in Singapore in the coming days?
As a market, we expect to engage at the engineering and technology levels with customers in the aerospace and industrial engineering sectors. With initiatives like digital manufacturing, factory of the future, process harmonisation and increased automation, we expect to leverage a lot of our existing knowhow to be a key partner in the journey to achieve business ambitions.

Singapore will continue to be a hub to drive our business in the East and South Asian markets and extend further into the Pacific region. Driving non-linear business growth, while embracing local cultures, people and customers would be Tata Technologies’ endeavour for the years  to come.

This interview is part of a special report on Tata group's presence in the ASEAN region, featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Overview: Foothold in ASEAN
'Singapore is the nodal country for ASEAN', KV Rao, resident director for ASEAN, Tata Sons
'We want to encourage global innovation', Vinod Kumar, managing director and CEO, Tata Communications
'We learn a lot from this market', Girish Ramachandran, president, TCS APAC
'NatSteel will focus on sustainable profitability', Ashish Anupam, president and CEO of NatSteel Holdings
'Singapore is a key market for us', J Niranjan, CEO, Tata Capital Pte
'This year looks set to be a record year', PV Balasubramaniam, CEO, York Transport Equipment (Asia)
'An asset-light strategy is our preferred path', Dinesh Shastri, managing director, Tata NYK Shipping Pte
'We will consolidate our business here', Alfred Egli, head, minerals vertical, Tata International Singapore Pte
'Our opex costs are industry benchmarks', SS Varma, vice president, operations, Trust Energy Resources Pte