The future of work: On the digital transformation journey

With more and more organisations using digital technologies to transform business processes, what does the future of work look like? At the Mumbai leg of the roundtables hosted by ServiceNow and organized by Jicara Media, a panel of experts from leading companies came together to discuss their digital transformation journeys. The insightful discussion led to the conclusion that the key to driving better outcomes at work lies with the people.

Peter Doherty, Principal Solutions Consultant, APJ ServiceNow began the session by talking about a survey his company had conducted. The 1100 people surveyed were asked what they would trade to do more meaningful work, or work that had a direct outcome or an outcome that drove something.

Over three quarters of the respondents said they would prefer to sit in peak hour traffic in their car than have to get in touch with IT or work with HR, because it is such a painful experience.

That’s why organizations felt the need for digital transformation, to change the way people work for the better.

Change is the only constant

Dinesh Kumar Shrimali, Head, Governance Risk & Compliance IT, UPL Ltd, explained that, as an agrochemicals company, his mission is to take care of farmers’ needs and sort out their issues and problems. “As far as digital transformation is concerned, it works both ways. Internally it means the company tries to use tools such as automation to reduce paperwork. Externally, we work to help farmers.” Shrimali added that the company uses drones, satellites, and remote sensing to help farmers prevent pests from destroying crops and maximize their yields.

The journey is fraught with challenges. “Agriculture is an old industry,” said Shrimali. “There is resistance from the people on the ground who don’t really want change. We have to conduct trainings, provide incentives on adaptation. Human resources takes care of that.”

Nitin Agarwal, Group CIO and CDO, Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd had a slightly different take on the subject of digital transformation.

“A lot of companies view digital transformation as a method by which an entire process is digitized. My personal view is, that is not digital transformation. That is merely digitizing a process.”

Agarwal explained that digital transformation, to him, is rethinking a process which then becomes digital-enabled.

To do this, Agarwal said, Edelweiss has taken a three-pronged approach. “We look at making fundamental and architectural changes at three layers – workplace, infrastructure and data transformation. By dividing the journey into three building blocks, the processes are impacted in the right way and this translates into easy wins for the people involved.”

Milind Labhe, Channels, Cards & Payments Function Head, Product Development Group, IDFC FIRST Bank, said that his organization was established in 2015 and was automation-friendly from the very beginning. “Releases, approvals that we see, incident management, problem management, everything is automated. Tools & processes are in place. We have an IT Governance team managing this — it runs like a well-oiled machine. This helps in faster detection and rectification of problems, which has direct impact on customer experience,” he explained.

Kamal Shah, CIO, LTI Infotech, said the company began by looking at individual processes, and digitizing and standardizing each in order to make a change. “But we learned the hard way. We did a massive overhaul, changing the platform and the infrastructure. Now we are looking at digitizing operations at the front office. We have realized that at the heart of it, it ends up being the three Is – intelligent systems, infrastructure security, integration; and every set of activities should be facilitated by insights.”

Dilip Panjwani, CISO, LTI Infotech added, “My role is to stitch out the security around the whole target so that business moves in the right pace without any hindrance.” Kunal Dhingra, Head, IT Infrastructure for the same company reflected that IT is no longer a support function. “If IT does not work, the company will shut down.”

According to Mukesh Jain, Vice President & Head of Data & Insights Technology, Capgemini Technology Services India Ltd, digital transformation consists of three things. “The tools and processes that the people use, upgrading people’s skills and educating the customers by showcasing the new capabilities.”

Pratim Tare, AVP – Technology, Fullerton India Credit Company Ltd said that digital transformation is challenging given his organization’s client base. “Our work is in rural, internal areas. The culture and the way they use technology in these regions is possibly 10 years behind what we see in cities. People still rely on making a call to a helpdesk and are not aware of what tools can do for them. I am still looking for better ideas to help put everything in place.”

Rajgopal Nayak, Head – Business Application & PMO, Marico Ltd said that in his company, digital transformation is viewed as digitization of processes rather than transformation as a business stream. “In terms of digital businesses, we have advanced a lot. There are ecommerce platforms for instance. With respect to digitization of processes, there is an active initiative, primarily with accounts payable and initiatives such as RPA bots to transform other activities.”

Driving successful business outcomes

What is the best way for organizations to integrate their processes and drive outcomes so that work becomes more meaningful? According to Doherty, trivial tasks should be removed or certain processes should be automated so that people are freed up to do their jobs better. “Give them the tools and drive their outcomes,” said Doherty.

Labhe explained that his bank is looking at automation mainly for internal usage. “Automation would mean an increase in efficiency and reduction in costs, time, and error rates. We are already on that journey. For the internal customers we have done automation in the area of customer acquisition, KYC, workflow management, testing and many other areas. On the external side, our focus is to give omnichannel customer experience, frictionless banking & payments, contextual banking and personalized services by way of automation.” He added that regulatory and compliance-related requirements have to be kept in mind while doing automation in certain areas.

Agarwal agreed. “When one is working with service providers and partners, one needs to be careful. Service providers need to be sensitive to these sort of situations as regulators such as SEBI are exacting and often timelines can be tough.”

The panelists agreed that orchestrating data, processes and people pose significant challenges in the digital transformation journey. “It is not easy to do away with these challenges,” says Agarwal. “Various businesses have found that systems are in different places. And the businesses are of a different age in terms of maturity.”

Baby steps

Shah said that his organization has tried to tackle digital transformation over a series of small steps. “We managed to kill the different applications and bring it to a common suite. We tried integrating and providing a common identity. We provided a common platform for people to vent. That was very important.”

Agarwal added, “In our case, one business group head said ‘enough is enough – I want to see a single system for whatever people are reporting, whether sales or customer.’ Just that one objective brought the entire division to rethink their processes and systems. So it started more as a business objective, rather than digital transformation.”

Shrimali had a similar story. “We sell our chemicals around the world in some 120 countries. We have IT teams in 20 countries. We wanted one MIS. We got all the tickets and built a dashboard around it. We have everything on that one dashboard and people mapped on it. We had a case study where we wanted to save time and that is how it happened. You figure out the root cause and build a story around it.”

While the workplace is changing with the influx of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, the panelists all agreed that it all boiled down to insights from employees which drove better outcomes at work.

Said Agarwal, who opined that the future of workplace will be defined by consumer tech, said, “Your user is also a customer and he expects the same level from the enterprise. Digital transformation is everything that we do in the organization. Not just one person or a process. The organization needs to understand it at large. From the lowest level to the topmost person.”

Doherty concluded “I spend a lot of time having strategic conversations at the operational delivery level. It is all about transforming experiences of people within IT. It’s not about pretty pixels but an outcome that needs to be delivered.”

Doherty ended the session with a quote from British billionaire Richard Branson to illustrate his point. In the words of Branson, if you treat your employees well, they will treat your customers well and your customers will be happy. Once organizations realize that people are key, they will have decoded the secret to successful digital transformation at work.