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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 14:12 GMT
Indian summer beckons for insurers
By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Many of Diligenta's staff have yet to have feel any Indian influences

As fears grow about the effect of globalisation on the UK's white-collar workers, one Indian company has bucked the trend by bringing some outsourcing back to Britain.

However, despite the size of the deal and its importance to the local workforce, it seems to have gone by largely unnoticed.

India's Tata Consultancy Services is a global company with ambitions to expand in Europe, and part of the giant Tata Group which is bidding to buy steel company Corus.

TCS is already India's largest outsourcing company, with a workforce of 80,000 that is increasing by 30% per year.

Last year it paid $1bn (500m) to acquire the shrinking life-assurance operations of Pearl Group, one of the largest ever Indian investments in the UK.

But few people in Peterborough seem to have heard of it.

Global company

Certainly the Asian taxi driver taking me from the station was impressed when he realised that the firm was now running a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operation in his home town.

"TCS are a very big company," he gasped.

So it would seem, although in Peterborough the name more commonly bandied about is Diligenta, the title of TCS's UK arm, which also has designs on taking its place on the world stage.

Since April, Diligenta has been running Pearl Group's IT facility, leasing the UK firm's 23-acre premises at Lynch Wood, but retaining most of the existing workforce.

Pearl stopped selling life-insurance polices a few years ago but still needs to maintain its existing agreements, which is where Diligenta came in.

As well as taking care of this business for Pearl, the company is also looking for more business outsourcing contracts from other organisations, planning to broaden out from just the insurance industry.

Gradual influence

Diligenta's Lynch Wood headquarters are a blend of marbled, low-vaulted ceilings and grand, wooden staircases that lead on to slightly bland open plan offices in the traditional Western style.

The tapestries in the foyer are surprisingly more Egyptian than Indian.

When you're in a new country it's not always easy to find the right kind of food but there are some reasonably okay Indian restaurants here.
Suresh Menon, Diligenta

Diligenta's chief executive is David Power, who says that although the influence of the company's Indian owners has yet to be really felt by the staff, that will gradually change.

Currently about 1,000 people work on the site and there are some 50 information technology (IT) staff from TCS who have come over from India.

"We will do some staff training as to the cultural differences between Indian and British working practices," Mr Power explains.

"For example, the way Indian managers relate to the staff is different to UK managers.

"Indians use imperative language, direct language. In the UK we say 'Do you mind?'" he says.

"When someone from the UK is talking to a senior Indian manager it's so easy for them to take offence, but it's just a different way of doing things.

"We need to prepare our staff for that. It seems sensible to get Indians to come in and do that sort of training."

Victor France, Diligenta's Business Development Director, adds that the staff would benefit from a greater understanding of India's religious practices and beliefs.

Breaking bread

Diligenta is also aware that other, often more mundane, differences will need to be addressed.

Upon mention of the canteen - where there really is such a thing as a free lunch because employees do not pay for meals - Mr Power looks thoughtful.

"Well, we already do have curries on the menu and we could look at expanding the catering if necessary."

Diligenta says it has already introduced a greater number of green salads to the company's menus because many of the Indian staff are strictly vegetarian.

Suresh Menon
Suresh Menon has come over from India to work in Peterborough

And while there are some quintessentially British paintings hanging on the office wall, there is as yet nothing to betray the company's Indian owners.

"We might ship a few of these out to India and get some of their artwork over here," says Mr Power, nodding towards a large and colourful carving.

One of the Indians who has come over to work in Peterborough is Suresh Menon, who has moved to Britain with his wife and child.

"It's been good, and a different experience for me because I've not spent much time in the UK before," he says.

"When you're in a new country it's not always easy to find the right kind of food but there are some reasonably okay Indian restaurants here.

"The way we do things back home is very different but I'm not advocating one over the other.

"No matter where you're from, people working in IT speak the same language. A bug is a bug is a bug. There's an international language of IT."

Job fears

Stephen Dilks has worked for the Pearl Group, and now for Diligenta, for the past 16 years.

He explains that the companies had tried to make any shift as seamless as possible.

"Pearl did a lot to prepare the staff, to explain that this was the future, that business was dwindling and we needed to make some pretty significant changes," Mr Dilks says.

David Power
David Power says his staff will be taught about Indian management

"The staff were quite prepared for the work to be outsourced but not to an Indian company. People were worried."

Mr Dilks adds that the main fear for much of the workforce was that jobs would go overseas.

"But Pearl made it clear that was not going to be the case," he says.

"It's been quite a light touch at the moment, we haven't seen a huge, huge, Indian presence.

"As for the future of potential cultural differences between us, I don't know," he explains.

"The transition was a bit of a non-event, apart from David Power standing in the reception popping champagne corks and a few banners.

"But I do think that for Diligenta to have an Anglicised face for business will help them open doors."

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