Towards a workplace revolution

Bengaluru roundtable

At a roundtable in Bengaluru hosted by ServiceNow and organized by Jicara Media, a panel of senior IT leaders deliberated on the secret to successfully driving digital transformation at work. After a spirited discussion, the leaders concluded with the view that employee satisfaction and a good customer experience are key to a successful digital transformation journey.

Peter Doherty, Principal Solutions Consultant, APJ ServiceNow, who hosted the roundtable, opened the session by describing a recent survey ServiceNow had conducted with approximately 1100 respondents, who were asked what they would trade to do more meaningful work.

“By meaningful work,” Doherty explained, “we meant things that had a direct outcome or an outcome that drove something. Over three quarters of people 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 are going through digital transformation, to change the way people work for the better.” Doherty then quoted British billionaire Richard Branson, who said if you treat your employees well, they will treat your customers well and your customers will be happy.

Technology at your fingertips

For Hegde Subbarao, CTO, GMR Group, the digital transformation journey was relatively easy thanks to his previous job at Indian dairy firm Amul. Subbarao, no stranger to using technology to transform the workplace, began a workplace revolution by transforming Amul’s traditional milk collection system. The new Automatic Milk Collection System (AMCS) changed the way milk was collected from 15,000 dairy societies and delivered to the consumer base through a 600,000 plus retail network. Subbarao worked together with his team to stitch all the processes seamlessly by creating an integrated IT dashboard much like the “cockpit in an airplane.” At GMR Group, he applied this expertise to automating airports and highways.

“GMR infrastructure developers should have the project status at their fingertips,” explained Subbarao. “We created a collaborative portal. The integrated project delivery model, as we called it, put the owner, architect and constructor on the same page. This new 5D virtual model allowed people to see the way the construction was being planned, and things could be rectified immediately if there was a mismatch. This solved a major problem: with Indians being big on the concept of Vastu, a kind of geomancy that laid down principles for design and layout, people would previously demolish things if it wasn’t according to Vastu norms”.

The case for digital transformation

“We have 22,000 people across 85 locations, 30 IT guys in corporate running the entire show. Our business strategy is to acquire 6 or 7 companies every year. We have acquired nearly 100 companies in the last few years. When we acquire the company, the integration that we have to do from an IT point of view is quite daunting.”

For Chinmoy Sil, IT Director, Ametek Instruments India, one of the obstacles to digital transformation is employee mindset. “We’re a manufacturing company, we have employees who have worked for 40-45 years. When we ask them to try something, they are often busy or simply do not have the inclination. How then do we improve or enrich the users’ perspective from the IT point of view?”

Sil added that IT integration poses a significant challenge given Ametek’s size and business model.

In the case of Rajib Kundu, Associate VP – Enterprise IT Service Delivery, Mphasis, integration was the way forward. He began his transformation journey with a helpdesk that he set up for the company in 2015. After struggling with a team of 48 people and a staggering 33,000 tickets per month, he decided to integrate various platforms – from service delivery, infrastructure application, ITSM, event management tools to automation. Thus, he was able to bring his ticket numbers down substantially. Now, with a chatbot and some speech-to-text conversion software, he aims for a zero helpdesk soon.

“Digital transformation is applicable for everybody,” noted Ramakrishnan Sudarshanam, Divisional Vice President – IT, United Breweries Limited. “Our journey started in the last 3-4 years. We used radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) to track our kegs, which was our first digital intervention for business process transformation. We have also digitised our entire sensory evaluation for beer tasting… we asked our tasting panel to type the results into the phone, which consolidated and analysed the data.”

For B Ganesh Shenoy, CFO & VP – IT, MTR Foods Private Limited, digital transformation is about empowering the entire enterprise. “Being from the food sector, a brick-and-mortar manufacturing business, our digital transformation journey began in 2003,” he said.

Earlier, finance used to be the repository of all data and this led to a crisis of faith in the organization. We felt there was a dire need to put the analytics in the user’s hands rather than a top-down kind of push.

Then, the user becomes empowered to take those decisions. We designed dashboards for every function. KPIs became business-linked across the functions, working towards a common business goal. This intervention of analytics really drove the business forward and made sure people worked in teams to get a common goal. There were no functional silos.”

Rahul Joshi, Head of Content, Jicara Media, who was moderating the session, added, “The greater transparency we have, the more you learn from consumer experience. At some point, enterprise software looks like assembly code, it’s just not user friendly at all. When we talk of transformation of the workplace, this is what we mean. It’s not just in terms of devices, but about the fundamental approach to how the workplace sits in the office.”

Analyzing data for better consumer experience

All the panelists agreed that one of the fundamental issues that digital transformation can address is the existing disconnect between the organization and the consumers.

 “If you do not engage with consumer directly and do not address his needs, you will actually be less of a differentiated brand. The differentiation comes though consumer engagement or consumer assessment of the products,” said B Ganesh Shenoy. “Front end will have to look at sales trends and consumer demands and give a forecast. In all our chasing of internal efficiencies, we have forgotten the consumer. Our existing consumer who perhaps if you engage with better, the stickiness can be much more. We are missing out on that opportunity”.

Automation versus jobs?

At which point Pramod Deshpande, Senior VP – Digital Solutions, MFX Services – Quess Company prophesied. “In the insurance industry where I work, we have only data, we don’t have anything tangible. The basic product is based on data.

New technologies such as blockchain are going to change things for our industry – if you have a common registry which is working without human intervention, why do you need an insurance industry?

“We are looking at a future where entire claims department may shut down, many HR depts may shut down.”

“This brings us to the automation versus jobs debate which had its origins some 500 years ago,” said Joshi. “I think Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will be infused into the workplace not in a threatening but promising way.”

Sudarshanam agreed, “Change is the only constant. I don’t think we are looking at job losses in future but there will be different expectations from the job so people will need to be trained differently.”

Doherty concluded, “The people that underpin the digital transformation are the employees – the ones doing the menial jobs, asking their employers to give them the ability to be more productive. Once the employers do that, there will be the same amount of passion in transforming.”