Setting the path
Enterprise is investing billions, even trillions, of dollars into digital transformation initiatives. The reasons for doing so are clear: cutting-edge and connected technology, improved customer experience, company-wide efficiencies, better market penetration and enhanced profitability, to name just a few.
But the unpalatable truth is that most digital transformation projects fail, with a recent McKinsey report finding that 70% of initiatives do not produce the expected results or return. It is a sobering statistic that represents vast sums of expenditure.
Mindtree has made a name for itself as one of the enablers of digital implementation and transformation services from ideation to execution. Its Head of Digital for Europe, Anshuman Singh, works with some of the world’s leading FMGC (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies, many of which are Fortune 500 organisations, and has a wealth of experience in delivering digital transformation initiatives across consulting, design and development of customer experience, and data and analytics.
In short, he is uniquely placed to discuss the roadblocks to successfully implementing digital strategy. “Technology is seen as a cost centre activity, something that you have to do to stay in the business, or that can be leveraged to transform your business. For many companies, money is an issue because their margins fluctuate, very few are an Amazon that can continue to funnel funds into constantly innovating,” Singh tells Digital Bulletin.
“Once the issue of money is resolved the question then becomes how technology can truly transform the work you do as a business? And that also requires a complete rethink of your business model, as opposed to just running an e-commerce exercise, or a cloud initiator in isolation. A company has to truly think how technology can distort the industry they work in.
“So, you need capital and an attitude shift in terms of how you implement and use the technology at your disposal, and then you need the smarts and knowhow to properly execute the plan.”
That knowhow is proving a sticking point at a time when technology is evolving at breakneck speed, against a backdrop of a skills gap that must surely rank as one of business’ greatest challenges.
“The pace of change that technology has driven in the last four, five years is dramatically different to anything we’ve seen before, even compared with the late 90s and early 00s. If you look at most of the senior management in any company, chances are that the appreciation they have built for technology was based on a version that existed many moons ago. If you don’t understand what is possible to build with technology, chances are that you’re not able to harness it well,” says Singh.
Business has to also fundamentally rethink why it is implanting digital strategies, according to Singh, as he believes many companies are unwittingly positioning themselves in a race to the bottom. He gives the examples of hotel bookings, taxis and travel agents as industry sectors that are “pulling the value out of their business models”, with consumers laughing all the way to the bank. A huge recalibration is apparently in order.
“In order to counter this, you need to completely rethink how you will compete in the digital area, really think through about what is your digital business model, not necessarily the business model itself. That is going to require a completely different set of skills, because it needs an appreciation of what is a new technology set.
“If you’re not able to do that, you cannot then define a vision for the company. And if you’re not able to do that soon, your profit margin will keep depleting to a point you won’t be able to come back from.”
Singh gives an example that he says encapsulates the scale of the change of thinking that businesses need to undertake to truly transform their businesses, leveraging the potential of emerging technology.
“At a recent AI conference a gentleman was talking about how he is using computer vision to boost readings to an MRI scan. There are four parts to an MRI scan, and the first thing they do is that they figure out which quadrant belonged to which part of the human heart. Once that is done, you can colour code the scan to determine which part of the heart it is. Suddenly, from a black and white scan, it becomes a two-colour scan.
“Because all these scans are taken over a time series, you can join the time series and you can figure out what volume of blood the human heart is pumping, and figure out what the volume is. One of the main reasons we have such huge backlogs in healthcare is because, while you can speed up everything else, the technician who takes a scan has to interpret what they are seeing and make a judgement. But just by doing this, you have now reduced the level of skill required to interpret an MRI scan.
“Imagine you were running an MRI interpretation centre in the NHS. You can do it by hiring 200 MRI technicians, highly skilled, who you will never find. Or you can look at adapting the power of technology like this and find lower skilled people whose value is in the bulk of the job. It’s same business, very different models. It shows that if you don’t fully comprehend the technology, you can never figure it out how it’ll disrupt your business, and can never articulate what skills you might need.”
One way companies can engender this change management is to successfully train and skill employees so that they are comfortable working on and with emerging technologies. Singh says there is a three-pronged approach that should pay dividends. Firstly, companies should acknowledge and utilise early spotters who want to work with new technologies; secondly, devise a career path for them or risk losing them to more forward-thinking businesses. Thirdly, they should ensure that the training staff are given can be used directly within the business.
“Companies should be thinking about how they are going to respond to the big challenge that digital will bring, and align their training strategy to that. There is no point in sending employees on training courses in an area such as blockchain, for example, if there is no applicable use for it in the company, it will just lead to frustration. Skill your people in areas you have real use for.”
It is a case of practice what you preach for Mindtree, says Singh, pointing out that even technology companies can themselves fall behind the curve. “Training and reskilling our own team is really high on our agenda, we have to ensure that our staff are comfortable with and knowledgeable about the next set of important technologies.”
Staying with Mindtree, Singh says that being born a “digital native” – the company was established in 2000 – has given it an edge when it comes to working with enterprises to implement effective digital strategies.
“We were born in the heyday of the dot com boom,” he says. “Because of that we have always wanted to deliver meaningful technology solutions or strategies that help both business but also society as a whole. The dot com era laid the foundation for us as a technology business, and a lot of our strengths have really come to the fore in recent years. We’re working with some really interesting customers and deploying our expertise back into the industry.”
On a national level, India has established itself as one of the dominant IT outsourcing locations in the world, with all of the industry’s main players maintaining a significant base within the country, forming an important component of ‘India Inc’.
“Companies that are considered American-German companies actually host a huge amount of their technology here and vast workforces. What that does is it helps almost every other large company, especially those working in the technology industries. And I’m not talking about technology services company, but companies that use technology services companies, so the likes of Unilever, TomTom and international banks. What this does is that it helps you build a phenomenal knowledge pool and experience within the country.”
Looking to the next 12 months, Singh says that Mindtree will be heavily focused on transforming customer experiences, which he says is an area moving rapidly.
“The customer experience transformation is rooted in what is AI, so you will find AI embedded in all our sets of their customer experience management. It is enabled by a number of factors, so we’re not just thinking about a website and a mobile app, but also about how we ensure the customer experience is immersive. To rethink the customer experience is going to involve artificial intelligence, whether it’s machine learning, computer origin, or deep learning. That’s an area that is going to really evolve in the next two to three years.”