Digital Transformation – what is the buzz?

Over the past couple of years, with more focus on efficient ways of working, lots of buzz being seen around Digital Transformation (DT).  Lots of job opportunities exist in this space, asking for relevant experience, and this short overview just would give one the confidence you have done enough or bits and pieces, that fits under the enterprise DT umbrella.

    Lots of innovations and technological advances that have been happening around our environment over the past decade or so, each with tremendous potential, are all being integrated under one umbrella of Digital Transformation, a must have in any Vision statement of companies worldwide, an end-to-end goal to realize and a tool to smartly compete and go ahead in engaging and delighting customers.

  According to HBR and Salesforce, DT is a new mantra of using DIGITAL technology to increase customer experience, better and improve existing business processes or invent new ones, create more efficient, automated processes to bring about a new WoW (Way of Working) and a total operational change within the company. Although it may be one person who may be tasked with this DT journey inside any corporate, it is the joint and cohesive effort of all stakeholders to create a new way of doing things more apt for the even changing market requirements and business conditions, which in turn results in awesome customer experiences.

 There are three main ingredients behind any Digital Transformation:

(i)             (Digital) technology that is data centric, and is about “modernizing the legacy”

(ii)           Business Processes – ‘automating the repeated tasks’ and ‘simplifying the flow’.

(iii)         Customer experience – delivered real time, to create better business value

    Much to the popular perception, the IT department does not solely own this transformation. Their ability to drive changes depends on the business unit’s willingness to adapt newer technology to deliver better value to their customers. Although this enterprise transformation is pivoted around IT per say (IT team headed by a CIO with a CDO and a PMO office), the positive changes would be seen only with the business units it would cater and hence they need to champion this effort end-to-end to realize tremendous gains with the full sponsorship of the top leadership team. This eventually leads to a data driven decision making across the organization and more fruitful culture evolving that stitches this belief and trust together.   I am always of the belief that culture is a derivative effect of how things get done within the company and this acts as a glue fabric that makes effective team work with an end purpose in mind. After all this transformation, or as the transformation is bearing fruit, you would also realize a subtle change to a drastic change by within the company on the ways of working.  

     What are the new digital technologies that make DT happen? To name a few buzzwords doing the rounds presently,  we have Internet of Things (IOT), analytics and business intelligence, Machine learning and Artificial intelligence (ML and AI), Automation (RPA), Cloud (be it private, public or hybrid), Augmented and Virtual reality AR/VR(a much needed enhancement to how manufacturing, education and healthcare does things now), Blockchain, Big Data warehouses and data lakes, Edge computing, etc One must be able to use most of these technologies, join them through a flow chart flow and see how the entire company can benefit from using them to deliver better business value.

   Changing legacy systems within any organizations is never easy. If it is not broken, why fix or change? There can be a lot of criticalities and complexities involved in changing any infrastructure and systems, which has to be understood and approved, after which there has to be a roadmap that introduces changes in phases till the entire benefits gets reaped.   It is not about adding a new incremental change, but about a total revamp of existing to something newer and scalable that delivers better results and offer flexibility.

   With remote work slated to be the norm going forward due to this pandemic, transporting oneself for group meetings, account for logging-in and clocking work hours, sharing designs as a method of development, educational experiences of students, etc would all be something we would look forward to through VR/AR.  With Bring your Own Devices (BYOD) and smart phones and tablets getting into the computing space and not only restricted to communication, cyber security would be a concentration area for corporates to work so that no disruption occurs in their operations.   Manufacturing floors are monitored remotely from elsewhere, thanks to many sensors attached there and video cameras fitted across, which has led to lesser downtimes and higher manufactured volumes within corporates.

   All these digital technologies are centred around the new ways of generating and receiving data from many sources, in large volumes, at a great speed and verifying the truthfulness of these data to derive good intelligence from them.    Big Data and Analytics, and Business Intelligence, have been the fulcrum of many banking and healthcare companies now for the past few years in realizing how data can be interpreted to offer better services to their customers and patients. It is no more the classic databases but rather the newer data lakes and warehouses which contain not only the structured data but also the unstructured data like text, images, video from which actions are being taken real-time (like chat boxes for customer support, and tele medicine for administering remote surgeries and health consulting, or object detection in autonomous vehicles).   If you have the entire organization taking decisions based on true data, I guess a significant transformation has been brought in place.

  Processes, ‘the needed evil’ in many companies, deliver a consistent way of doing things and they get updated regularly to make them more efficient. You must be able to connect various activities happening in various teams together to make something of value, and this is possible only with established processes within the organizations. Radically re-engineering existing processes, and automating repeatable tasks (RPA – Robotic Process Automation) are happening, benefiting both Time to Market (TTM) and better efficiencies.   Given the COVID pandemic lessons, it is imperative for companies to think about remote work as a permanent option (not all work of course, can be done remotely – lab support and manufacturing for example needs to be at the work place) and start changing human resources policies and processes accordingly.

 No business would get sucked into any change, the primary premise of any transformation and hence it is imperative to quantify the before and after with a significant business value that looks rational and real.  This business value can be quantifiable with increasing productivity or efficiency, increased revenue numbers, good customer scores, and better TTM, to name a few and any or all of these would certainly invoke interest to any sane business leader. As long as you have satisfied customers (first) and delighted customers (next), one can get an edge over any competition and this can just translate to better $ numbers. Customer experience starts from time you got them hooked, to engaging them throughout your combined journey to meeting all commitments with high quality consistently.       

   Stitching the technologies, data driven approach, efficient processes and better customer experience effectively is a test for the resilience for many companies and doing this together as a whole team would be the mission that makes this transformation happen.  Choosing the right technology for every problem and integrating them all as a whole needs a good technical team to be the backbone for this transformation.  Most companies fail because they do not have right talent to make the transformation happen, or they do not invest much in their own people. The only way to can get the entire organization to buy into this transformation is to show proof through smaller gains in phases and including all of them to be part of this journey.

  In conclusion, anybody who is into such IT transformation is accountable for the technology transformation of all the systems of the organization to support growth of the business and increase operational efficiencies. A senior role like the CIO is to champion and drive organizational and technological changes by building and maintaining strong relationships with all the appropriate business teams, thus partnering with them to serve their customers better in a more agile manner. 

   With proper collaboration with the entire organization, they should be able to identify solutions, prioritize roadmaps and deliver to commitments, with all the stakeholders in the loop.   It means modernizing the IT infrastructure to support good user experience, automate repeatable processes, and at the same time keeping security and scalability as a critical feature that cannot be compromised. Through AI powered Bots, aim to get maximum contactless sales and service for the organization, and create unbelievable user experience by maximizing real-time decisions (for example through awesome APIs and microservices, any organization can drive their e-commerce business along with a stable logistics backend).  

    Drive a culture within the organization that makes data drive all the decisions.    One should be on top of innovations by conducting business digitally and experimenting with the changing digital trends and audience preferences.

 The author comes with 25+ yrs of experience and is an active consultant and a trainer, an information seeker, and a yoga enthusiast.

Numbers never lie but Liars use numbers

As my friend Chandroo says ” Numbers never lie but liars use numbers”. This is what present media does, wanting us readers to form an opinion based on what they want to write or sell – they all have a bias and they present adequate data to validate the bias. They will never report the other side that does NOT sell. Unfortunate to see us always getting opinionated just reading one side of any story.

Unfortunately, it is the same formula that works in corporate world as well – the guy or gal who presents his or her agenda and backs it up with biased data to support it usually gets to fulfill the agenda. (s)He will not expand too much on the downside but tries selling the upside. Great if it benefits, but bad if it derails the organization.

Biases always drains one’s emotion and makes one look bad as enough homework is not done to see both sides of the story. Politicians play on those emotions, stock trading relies on these emotions, not on actual data.

Disruptive forces in Education system

The education delivery at the school and colleges is going through some disruptive changes globally, thanks to COVID. This semi or complete overhaul was long coming, and we better use this opportunity to sharpen newer ways to deliver education by enabling technology and Internet.
A few thoughts:
– no more big schools with many classrooms – a good lab infrastructure, a few class rooms with good media capability with a huge exam hall, some vocational training rooms, administration rooms and a big playground is what one should have going forward.
– no more standard time for education – may be a shift system, each shift catering to a bunch of classes to be the norm
– Hybrid system to begin with – definitely possible in all metros of any developing countries as well, where students come to school twice a week and other three days have virtual classrooms. Very similar to how the future workplace would look like.
– a great digital library membership for all students – get all reading materials online
– Skill based training – incorporate vocational courses like carpentry, automotive repairing, electrical technicians etc. from middle or high school. All Do It Yourself sort of programs – DIY
– Exam systems to be totally changed – constant evaluation through the year. Work out the ‘cheating part’ to deliver intermediate exams and tests online and have final tests and exams at school. Make the exams open ended so that students get to apply what they learnt. This is the time to enable this.
– Evaluation tests replacing all competitive tests across the country (esp. India) for Engineering, Medical, Law, Applied science, Management or any other profession which is good for both government and private colleges admission. Takes away the stress from the students. This has to be enabled so that private colleges do not impose more tests for admissions
– Admission to central universities first and then state government colleges and only then to private colleges – this should be sequence so that private colleges do not try to fleece the students to join early before they get better colleges later. Very rampant, misused and waste of hard earned money of parents. During the competitive evaluation, have students give 10 preferences of where they want to get admissions – both government and private.
– enable all teachers to be able to deliver education online in a consistent form.
– Have core subjects and one or two electives that students can choose from middle school.
– Promote home schooling and issue guidelines for the same
No more big campuses, much lesser stress, hybrid physical-virtual classes, constant evaluation through the year, and admissions streamlined. This can be done even starting 2022.

Ethical Hiring

There is an adage ” If you are an experienced professional, it is whom you know and not what you know that lands you a job”. I have got friends who had worked with me in yesteryears who have more belief in me than myself on me. Interestingly such good buddies do refer me to interesting opportunities that they feel I would fit in(sometimes I may not have that confidence honestly), mostly due to my soft skills and leadership skills.
But the way most of the hiring works at the senior level is someone gets selected and then the job gets advertised to fill statistics unfortunately. And the highest filter takes place at the recruiter’s end (wrongfully called as ‘talent’ acquisition folks) – and these filters do not have a clue most of the time as to what the job really entails, but they send their pre-selected lists to the hiring manager who disposes off the profiles accordingly.
When these recruiters call, first you can very well say that after 10 minutes into the conversation, they are just having a small talk because it came through a ‘referral’ internally that they cannot bypass. They seem to be so disinterested in listening to you. After the usual few minutes, as you know, they would close the call with “we will get back to you”. Then nothing happens.
For senior roles, you need to check what the candidate brings in to the table and what value he adds rather than fitting exactly to the description and ticking the skills against the profile. Have a holistic view – you can still reject on some mandated criteria
I had a certain experience recently of an interesting opportunity that this head recruiter calls because someone internally had pushed my profile. I was on a vaccination week for my mom and myself and I had informed I would be available the next day at a particular time. He agrees, no call comes, I followed up and no response comes and two weeks later, I called up my referral to see what is happening and the referral tells me that the head recruiter had called me many times and sent many messages and no response came from my end and hence he had informed that I was not interested. No calls or messages ever happened. Such is the ethics. Do I even want to trust this company anymore? Usually such behavioral pattern gets established by the senior team and this trickles down. The message this recruiter just gave me is to avoid this company at any cost. If this is the experience I have now, even if something positive happens, I would not trust anything that they would say – this speaks a lot about the company and its management itself.
We keep having such discussions with my ex colleagues, and almost everyone have the same experience many times over. Best hiring takes place when the actual hiring manager and his team filters the candidates and chooses whom to call and not have recruiters send him the profiles that they select – yes, the volumes would be high but your people are good investment if you are serious.

Ability to Performance

Sridharan Madhusudhanan (Joint Secretary, MEA, Govt of India) said: “Performance and capacity are two different things. It is fair others judge our performance and not capacity. But we make the mistake of taking that performance judgement as a judgement of our capacity. As a result, we stagnate, deteriorate, and sometimes, we give up.  Capacity can be nurtured, developed, and turned into performance”

     Here he has tried to make some relationship between the two words – capacity and performance. I wanted to elaborate on this by adding three more words and first offering their meaning and then try to find some meaningful relationship between them.

Ability: “Possession of the means or skill to do something, or natural talent or acquired skill or proficiency in a particular area”

Capability: “Power or ability to do something, in short ,capacity”

(Human) Capacity: “Your ability to do something, or the amount of it that you are able to do, in short, your capability”

Potential: “Having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future”

Performance: “A series of behaviour to accomplish specific results or objectives, or the ability to perform consistently at our best in the environment within which we are operating at that moment’”

     You would have heard the corporate term MBO – ‘Management by Objectives’. How many of you are privileged to have a documented set of objectives before you start a quarter or a year to clearly understand and accept that you are supposed to achieve for your team or group or company?  Also, an acronym called KRI – “Key Results Indicator”, have you been given your KRIs before to start a time period of work?  Mostly the CEOs are given targets to achieve and are supported and reviewed by the board of directors.   If the objectives are SMART and KRIs clear and bought off by both parties (you and company), then you can be assessed on your performance against it.  Only Performance can be measured through metrics, your ability can be evaluated by tests or other means, but your capacity or capability cannot be either evaluated or measured. Your capability should manifest itself in your performance. You are always judged by impact, not by the intent by which you do things.

     For a CEO, the Board of Directors of any profit-making organization would not say (usually, unless there has been a recession year) maintain the same revenue or profits – they would give a target (ex. 20% year over year – YoY) to achieve. Meaning you are not evaluated next year by what you are doing this year – you are usually pushed to the next level, they know you have the “potential” and you have “greater capability” and hence they can expect more from you. This is how promotions in an ideal world should be given as well, the performer (employee) should be performing at his next career level over a period of time consistently for him to be elevated to the next level. For a CEO to perform well YoY, he needs to have a highly-performing team with him- he needs to select his team well to achieve his goals.  Same way sprinters like Usain Bolt always are looking at pushing themselves to gain that microsecond to perform better because they believe (and we believe) they have the potential to do so. One cannot sit on your laurels for a long time- one should be constantly improving by getting the right opportunities and performing well in it.   As your performance increases, the expectation also increases – either by the company or by the spectators of any game. This is a vicious cycle – once your curve goes from a linear or an exponential rising one to a flat one, it is time to quit.

     Almost all government establishments have a stupid criterion of AGE for job promotions which is ridiculous (Time in Job, I have seen many private companies also have this criterion) – by spending an amount of time in a particular job, you are automatically destined for promotion to the next level – whether you even achieved or “able” to perform at the present level is irrelevant.

   When you are selected for something (be it a job or a sport), it is already determined by the selectors that you have the required ‘ability’ – this is the basic minimum needed to get your foot in. Just because you have the ability, does not mean you have the capability to do something – meaning, the skills are there, but not being used properly to achieve something useful. There could be many reasons for the same – your boss, your team, your surroundings, your work ethics, changes in family equations etc.   You are seen to perform in different environments equally well.  Great engineers do not automatically become good leaders. Great batters or bowlers do not become good coaches. This is why we see lots of domestic talent in cricket being wasted when they start playing at the international level – they simply cannot perform.    IPL wonder kids become international laughing matter. By constant training, capability or human capacity can be developed and extended – that is why pacers go to MRF foundation to get better, to increase their capability and the NCA for improving their fitness levels.

   So, the basic acceptance criterion is your ability. Once in, you need to constantly and consistently improve your capacity to perform better and better, and with that the expectations of you also increases and your potential value also increases, thus pushing you to increase your capability to deliver results.

COVID the 2nd wave 2021

“Soaring April to a Souring May”

The second wave of the deadly COVID looms
As the medical infrastructure is in a state of gloom

Our doctors and nurses are days together stuck to their hospital rooms
To even help the morons without masks who would be admitted soon

This time the annual quota is not filled in Heaven it seems
As every household there is a big loss with lots of screams

Scary enough to see our near and close ones become less
As we ponder, we being the root cause for this bad mess

Antigens, RTPCR, CT Thorax and ambulances are all what we hear
As we see this pandemic growing in leaps taking away our dear

No government globally were planned in any corner of this sphere
As we saw many a professional career disappear

Many were affected very severe to be finally packed in a gear
As this virus year has made Nature give us a reminding souvenir

Henceforth let us be sincere to the environment and revere
As we all need to collectively persevere in here

Three types of BUSY people

In your professional life (and many a times in your personal life) you would meet three sets of people:
(i) Really Busy: These are the folks who thing attending every meeting is important although his or her inputs cares for less, their ego is high and correlates with power they think they have, zero time management skills, cannot prioritize properly, do not spend time even with team members, mostly operate on control and direct basis etc.
(ii) Acting Busy: These are the most insecure folks who think that if you do not act busy, you are considered unimportant. So, they would pull all excuses to not have time with you – very hollow thinkers, very jealous of colleagues, just exist because they are there at that place.. unfortunately, I would say 75% of the folks you see would belong here
(iii) Busy but..: These are the best folks you need to work with. A boss or colleague who spends time with you, gives priority to you and the team, remembers your name or face and what you do and what you did, very secure in their position and collaborative, their expertise irreplaceable, excellent in working with people and guiding them. and able to prioritize the right work. These are the folks who gets mentioned in separate posts by Individuals as a role model. Very rare but they do exist.

How to give a professional reference?

Giving a professional reference to anyone whom you worked with should be identical to giving an eulogy for someone dead – it must be heaped with praises and specific events to highlight the best thing the person has done. Same rule applies for the retirement speech for anyone as well. Never give a reference to anyone whom you have not worked with long enough to highlight their strength and achievements and be very specific about what you say. Keep the language simple (not verbose) and talk about impact. Be good on what you write and keep it crisp and short.