Leader Talk: Interview with Rahul Kanodia – Vice Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Datamatics Global Services ltd.

Jul 10, 2019 1:06:43 PM

1.Please tell us about the ways in which emerging tech is helping you in your business – particularly AI.
Technology is moving at a very fast pace.  AI, mobility, cloud, robotics, AR/VR and advanced analytics are the top 6 emerging technologies. Out of the 6, AI   sits atop all of these, leverages Big Data to render smarter solutions – whether it’s document management, analyzing content or pattern detection using genomics. We at Datamatics, through our intelligent technology solutions in the AI, AR/VR, RPA and Mobility space and in-depth domain expertise enable clients to derive tangible outcomes. For instance

  • We have helped a leading bank in US to automatically digitize, summarize and classify over 30 million documents within 42 days. Improved accuracy by 87% and reduced operational expenditure by 50%.
  • We have helped a leading insurance company predict policy lapsation for a life, which helped them achieve 93.8% precision in predicting the ‘late renewals’ and ‘no renewals’

AI has a lot of opportunities when it comes to solving the problems. Has expected to grow in a way solutions are getting delivered and will get delivered in future.  We are quite pleased the way our digital business is shaping up.
The industry is still in the early stages of digital transformation.

2. How are you placed on talent? What kind of initiatives do you run to ensure talent stays relevant?
The next generation of school and college students are really tech-savvy, much more so than what was seen even in the recent past. Those in branches like computer science, mathematics, and engineering are quite comfortable with what we call “cutting-edge” technology. Its people with 8 – 10 years of experience or more who have worked considerably with legacy systems, need to catch-up. It’s a rather challenging task as time is not on our side.

STEM progressing to STEAM is a great idea at a philosophical level, but as a society are we doing enough to sensitize the Liberal Arts students that a career awaits them in the IT industry? The short answer is, “No”. Creativity is an area where humans have a clear advantage over AI – at least right now. In an analytical world dominated by the “Quants guys” we have to prepare ourselves to develop newer models where the Liberal Arts guys can work alongside to bring in new skill-sets and add value. Right now, there’s a credibility gap and it may take some time to bridge it. For instance, if you speak to a bunch of Art students, will you be able to convince them of the opportunities beyond their traditional and time-tested paths. It may be a very difficult exercise.

The element of UX design or UI is extremely powerful. Look at all Apple products and you will know what I am talking about. A very high degree of creativity is required to get the man-machine interface right. It’s a very powerful idea and universities will have to push it real hard.

In talent, we are doing well. We have an adequate number of people trained in emerging tech. Our Data Labs and Design Studio deserves a special mention here. Overall, we have approximately 10500 people out of which 20% would directly be working in deep tech. By no means do I claim we have reached an optimum talent mix but we are working hard to improve by leaps and bounds.

3. How do you nurture innovation within your organization? 
Our Data Lab is the centre for innovation. Corporate budget is allocated accordingly. In addition, business units have budgets allocated for innovation as well. They have to come up with a solution that either enhance customers’ experience or increases productivity or reduce costs, or delivers a faster time-to-market or simply, all of these. There’s an overriding pressure to raise the bar. The budgets are well monitored to assess the kind of impacts being created through innovation.

4. Your thoughts on data privacy. Areas where India are lacking and what should be done to address them? You may want to draw parallels from other countries.
Data is growing exponentially. Data privacy is the most recent phenomena. Our team is sensitized about GDPR. We have ensured that the right kind of training has been imparted, and with periodic updates. We take data security with utmost seriousness.

Now coming back to the bigger picture – India. Indian users aren’t as sensitive about data privacy as their western counterparts are right now. Perhaps, it’s a cultural thing that our idea of privacy invasion is a lot more relaxed. Data privacy is a relatively newer concept in India and is expected to eventually evolve.

We are in the midst of a data explosion. It will only get bigger. Sensitization on data privacy will have to begin at an early stage – even in schools and colleges. If you look at the young people on social media, they simply aren’t judicious about what they share. In turn, they often end up even violating other people’s privacy as well.

5. Shared learning – have you been able to break the silos? If yes, how? 
Though we all believe in the philosophy of “one company” or one vision, at a philosophical level but typically what happens with time is that entities get fragmented. This is my general observation and not specific to the organization. Fragmentation is undesirable but inevitable.

At Datamatics, we have tried to nurture a culture of shared learning. We have introduced learning platforms for different teams and have always encouraged knowledge dissemination. Again, I don’t claim that we have reached a perfect state, and information does continue to sit in silos. But we are trying hard and leaving no stones unturned.

6. Your leadership mantra and pivots for future? 
The definition of leadership has undergone a sea change. My mantra of leadership is about Directed Autonomy where teams are free to execute within the boundary of direction set by the leader. A clear departure from the traditional strait-jacketed approach. This creates great momentum and hastens the speed of execution as people get empowered.

Here the leader is the follower or “servant” to the followers. The leader’s job is to serve the team after setting the right direction.

Naturally, this approach is greatly advantageous and helps in pivoting fast.   Our pivots: AI, shifting from legacy to products, Robotic testing – to name a few.

The world is changing at a pace faster than what we could have possibly imagined.

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