It’s been a tough 12 months for most organizations. Yet, despite historic levels of adversity, pressure, and pain wrought by the global pandemic, most IT departments appear poised to increase spending the rest of the year in anticipation of businesses recovering and finally returning to normal.
Part of what’s driving investment is a newfound appreciation for what Chief Information Officers(CIOs) can do. Since March 2020, many CIOs have managed to tackle the huge and seemingly impossible task of enabling entirely remote and distributed workforces in a matter of weeks while keeping other critical IT systems humming along. Now, after beating the odds and learning valuable lessons along the way, CIOs are poised to do even more in 2021.
Abhijit Mazumder, vice president and CIO at Tata Consultancy Services (Tata), a $22 billion multinational IT services firm, is one leader who had to rise to the various challenges during this health crisis. In the early days, he had the Herculean task of ensuring all of Tata’s 450,000 associates could still do their jobs – without missing a step – as they began working from home offices around the globe.
The first priority, Mazumder tells Industry Analyst Michael Krigsman in a recent podcast, was ensuring the health and welfare of these employees or, as his company calls them, “associates.” So, even before focusing on the technical ins-and-outs of remote work, Job #1 was to reevaluate company policies and procedures to make sure the company was doing all it could to help employees stay safe in their personal and professional lives.
Next, Mazumder’s team turned to providing associates the equipment and back-end network support they would need to continue serving Tata’s customers as reliably and securely as possible. That meant deploying whatever computers, routers, and infrastructure would be needed to support banks, hospitals, utilities, and other client heroes during these most difficult times.
The final priority, Mazumder says, was conducting an honest appraisal of operational processes to make certain everything was up-to-snuff. No department was spared. Everything from human resources to finance and customer service was scrutinized. If changes needed to be made, they were made.
Mazumder says these decisions didn’t come about in a vacuum. Rather, after learning its 450,000 associates would have to go remote, Tata formed a tiger team of more than 50 leaders from around the company to determine the company’s technology direction. .
Despite having some of Tata’s top minds involved, it was a pressure-packed process with no guarantee of success.
“[In the] first 18 hours, we had no clue what we would do,” Mazumder admits, “We kept having these conversations and slowly we emerged with the decisions to address our key challenges.” Strategies were identified. Equipment started moving. Developers began writing code for new applications. In fairly short order, the company was able to scale operations for the new normal.
“Every day seemed like an impossible task,” Mazumder recalls. “We put targets out there that we thought were impossible, but 80 to 85% of the time, we met them.”
Since then, Mazumder says Tata has succeeded, despite a challenging economic climate, because of the decisions and actions it took during those earliest pandemic days. Indeed, Tata recently reported the strongest third-quarter growth it has seen in nine years. Remarkably, it also reported strong demand in most vertical markets it serves.
“I think there were two or three things that caused this surge in demand,” says Mazumder. “Number one is we were with our customers when they were low. We didn’t ask them questions like, “Will you pay us money for the work we are doing?’ we said, ‘Let us first make sure that you sustain your operations. That you survive.’
“The second reason was that we have been looking at the trends of technology adoption. For the last few years, we have been investing heavily in these new technologies and services that we’ve heard customers would need. What this health crisis has done, is it’s really accelerated the digitalization of a lot of processes [where this technology became relevant].”
Mazumder says many myths about remote work not being feasible have been broken in the last year. Companies came to realize they needed to step-up digital transformation efforts to not only stay afloat but prepare for a future in which 75% of the U.S. workforce could be doing their jobs remotely by 2025. Tata has benefited by delivering services supporting companies as they digitally align to this trend.
Another factor helping the consultancy has been its use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to automate and improve operational efficiency, especially with respect to cybersecurity.
“We are deploying AI in security to find exceptions or anomalies in data,” Mazumder explains. “As you can understand, with 450,000 [associates] doing transactions many times a day, we generate huge volumes of data, which our security software needs to search through on a daily basis. This is literally terabytes of data. So, we use different AI products and solutions to [automate] anomaly detection.”
Mazumder says, while many firms still obsess about cloud computing, the future of work and how companies operate is more likely to be shaped by newer technologies, such as AI, ML, and 5G wireless.
“I think [newer technologies are]going to fundamentally change many of the business processes for our customers as well as for us,” he says. “That's the future that we are looking at.”
In the end, Mazumder says CIOs need to think about the types of customer and employee experiences needed at any particular points in time before making technology decisions. It’s only common sense.
“At the end of the day, we all exist because of our customers,” he says. “The same with employees. We are in the knowledge industry, which means our real competitive advantage is our employees. Therefore, the employee experience must be equally important for us.”
Focusing on customer and employee experiences enables CIOs to drive innovation that matters to the business as opposed to technologies that simply keep the lights on, Mazumder says. As such, it increases their value to the organization and makes them useful voices at top decision-making tables.
“The CIO is becoming more of an advisor to CEOs and boards on many issues that normally would not involve [them],” he says. “That is a critical direction that all CIOs must take seriously – providing advice about the technology aspects of the business to CxOs and their boards. CIOs need to be able to advise boards about privacy and security. About emerging new technologies, especially AI, and changing customer engagement models.”
Mazumder says the bottom line is it’s important CIOs know how their business runs, makes money, and is fundamentally changing. It’s critical they understand the competitive landscape, and what innovations their rivals might use to displace their companies.
The key learning every CIO should take to heart after one year with COVID-19 workplace changes is , CIOs must stand strong in their position tellingl senior leadership how to leverage technology to remain competitive.
This article is adapted from a podcast interview Industry Analyst Michael Krigsman conducted with Tata Consultancy Services’ Abhijit Mazumder for CXO Talk.
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