Virtualize people processes while enhancing engagement: In the wake of the pandemic, several organizations are re-designing traditional recruiting, onboarding, development, and group collaboration processes with digital solutions.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ranjit Tinaikar, CEO and Board Member, Ness Digital Engineering.
Ranjit has over 20 years of experience in the technology services sector with a track record of driving turnaround growth in the global businesses he has managed. As Chief Executive Officer and Board Director of Ness Digital Engineering, Ranjit is leading a reputed firm in product engineering to accelerate growth by serving customers on their digital transformation journeys.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am a software engineer by trade, and technology has always been a common theme in the different roles I’ve held. Still, my career has taken many turns on the way to becoming CEO of Ness Digital Engineering. Working in different positions and different environments has been a great privilege. Each opportunity has given me valuable lessons that I have tried to bring to my role at Ness. I started as a software engineer at Citibank. Later, I pursued a doctoral theses social networks that provided me a unique sociological perspective on adopting technology innovations. Then, as a business consultant with McKinsey in the US and Asia, I learned how to adapt to new markets where business practices are quite different. Working across diverse markets and cultures prepared me to lead global data services businesses at Thomson Reuters and Fitch. In these roles, I learned to balance the demands of day-to-day operations with long-term strategic goals. These are lessons that I can leverage as CEO of Ness during a time of tremendous growth and potential for the company. I’ve been lucky to have opportunities to help bring transformative initiatives to the forefront of different industries at the early stages of their development. I find myself fortunate to be once again part of a team bringing innovation to the ground floor, as the pandemic has accelerated the need for the kind of digital transformation that Ness delivers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was a young consultant at McKinsey when Louis Gerstner was COO of IBM. I ended up giving a presentation to him and IBM’s senior leadership. I had thought the presentation itself went well, but my biggest blunder was that I gave the presentation with an HP laptop! It was an embarrassing moment for me at the time, but it taught me to not only focus on the quality of the service you provide but also treating the client’s business as if it was yours. I didn’t make the same mistake twice after that. If you’re going to buy the American Express CEO lunch, don’t forget to use an American Express credit card.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I grew up in India in relatively humble circumstances. We weren’t particularly well off, but despite all the challenges, there was one thing that my parents never compromised on — the quality of education and the passion to excel at it. When I migrated to the USA as a graduate student on a scholarship, my education was the only asset that I had — thanks to my parents. Without this foundation of a strong education, I couldn’t have reached where I am. The only way I can pay this debt I owe my parents is to pay it forward to my children.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As someone who has had the misfortune of experiencing the traffic and public transportation for a commute between New York and New Jersey, I found the biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Carrow to be fascinating. It really shaped my understanding of New York City’s infrastructure and its relationship to power at the local and state level. Robert Moses started as a purist — an idealist who wanted to reform corrupt civil services. He fails at this and realizes that he needs to wield power to achieve his vision. However, somewhere along the journey to his vision, power became the end and not the means. Over time power made him stop listening to the voices of those who disagreed with him. In Moses’ case, his preference to favor automobiles over public transportation, even though public transportation would have been more effective, has had a lasting detrimental impact on the city. Perhaps the biggest obligation for a leader is to have the will and courage to listen and accept ideas even when they are not consistent with the way he/she thinks. Listening to those who disagree with your views is even more important when you wield power.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Ness started over twenty years ago to help customers transition into the 21st century. We knew that the economy was moving towards modernization rapidly, and our innovative team was best prepared to facilitate customer growth into digital marketplaces. When I took over Ness, the most immediate need was to determine priorities for the company — whether that was growth, profitability, long-term stability or short-term prospecting. In the end, none of that mattered as much as bringing Ness back to its roots and building an authentic company centered around the product engineering that is at the core of the company’s DNA. Our goal has always been to develop and integrate software products and digital platforms, offering digital advisory through scaled engineering services that put our customers ahead of the competition. Innovation is at the core of what we do, and every enterprise in any industry needs to prioritize innovation in order to grow and be successful. We are always trying to anticipate the next technological challenge in financial services, manufacturing, media, and entertainment, and how Ness can leverage cutting-edge technology — from data analytics to AI/ML to cloud platforms to 5G — to solve these challenges. We strive to be the best full lifecycle digital engineering firm there is, and this has effectively made us the best and only pure-play engineering firm at this large scale.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge disruption for the economy and society globally. It allowed Ness to explore many areas of innovation in the way we conduct our business and new solutions for our customers. We have virtualized our people processes right from recruiting, to onboarding, to day-to-day work. In fact, we are now exploring work-from-anywhere practices to access talent in locations that we would otherwise not hire in. Our customers are also a lot more open to this work-from-anywhere concept.
Our solutions are touching the day-to-day lives of people in many ways. If you have used contactless payments for transits in Europe, there is a good chance that we built the embedded software. If you stay at major hotel chains, the underlying video streaming solution was likely built by us. Some of the well-known SaaS platforms in banking, entertainment, and education today partner with us to engineer their products. One of the most fulfilling solutions we have developed is an AI-driven imaging solution for improving the productivity of dosimetrists in cancer treatment. By taking advantage of the technologies available to us, we’re able to make platforms and products that will completely transform experiences. One interesting project we’re working on is the digital transformation of a theme park. The platform we’re building will provide guests with an improved experience and increase the efficiency and productivity of the park’s facilities. It’s an exciting new challenge for us, and it’s something we’ll be working on for a few years.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation is often understood to be about change with new technologies. Clearly, the recent maturation of cloud, data, and analytics technologies is a necessary ingredient. However, the fundamental component of digital transformation is a disruption in the way customers and suppliers engage with a business. This requires businesses to radically rethink their existing products, channels, and services. It redraws the traditional boundaries between customers, suppliers, and adjacent organizations that create new digital ecosystems like media-content-entertainment and retail-payments-logistics.
Digital technology allows the flexibility to integrate and harness information and capabilities trapped across the siloes in an enterprise, its suppliers, its distributors, and adjacent support businesses to transform the customer experience. Consider the customer journey to buying a car. The auto dealership is only one part of that experience. The customer journey is much more — researching and comparing prices through information aggregators, designing custom car packages, auto financing, registering and titling the vehicle, and post-purchase maintenance, and selling it in the used car market. Today many of these traditional siloes in the customer journey are being disrupted by the power of digital technology with digital platforms that integrate several activities in the auto customer’s journey in buying, using, and selling the car. It disrupts existing businesses in the value chain and creates new business models in this emerging digital ecosystem of auto-financing advertising.
The rate at which companies are integrating digital technologies into all facets of their businesses has only skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic because it demanded sophisticated solutions to maintain business as usual, let alone pursue growth. Financial, cultural, commercial and talent barriers to digital transformation are being broken down as more businesses make their transitions. My advice for companies is that the next year presents a window of opportunity to transform their business. A few will leapfrog ahead, leveraging the momentum of change the pandemic has created.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
The question of digital transformation isn’t if; it’s when. And you know it is time when digital attackers are disrupting your business. However, the best time to start a digital transformation journey is before the pain of disruption threatens the existence of your business like the OTT (Over-the-top) media business has traditional cable TV, or the online retailers have put large, established retailers into bankruptcy. There are significant barriers to entry for certain businesses, like regulations (e.g., rating services), IP (e.g., pharmaceuticals), or brand loyalty. But even in these businesses, digital disruption is often around the corner, and proactively planning for it is imperative.
For example, banking institutions are some of the companies in greatest need of digital transformation. They provide an essential service for society and have been doing so throughout modern history, meaning many operate on systems built decades ago. These systems still work, but the adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” doesn’t apply here. Eventually, customers’ expectations for financial institutions will outgrow the capabilities of the systems in place. Digital transformation will help banking institutions bring their current customers the new products and services they expect and the ability to target new customers with expanded service and product offerings. The longer institutions wait to overhaul their systems, the harder it will be to adapt. While I have only spoken about banks, these principles apply to all companies — it’s always better to be on the cutting edge than to play catch up.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
Digital transformation can fundamentally transform the relationship between you, your customer, and your supply chain. For example, Ness works with a large turbine manufacturer, which sells all over the world. This customer came to us and said that the maintenance cost for these turbines is extremely high for customers because of the resulting downtime. We fitted the turbines with IoT devices, which track and monitor small issues like cracks and relay information back to the database. Predictive maintenance reduces downtime and enables our customers to deliver value-added services that can be monetized over time. The company could sell its predictive maintenance data for more revenue. Such that they have now expanded their traditional physical product revenue for a turbine into an information service revenue.
Similarly, we have transformed the video streaming platform of traditional Cable TV providers to compete with OTT, designed contactless payment systems to transform the transit experience, transformed the in-store experience for a major retailer. The list is long but what makes me particularly proud is that these transformations benefit people’s lives in their everyday experiences worldwide.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
There are four significant barriers to digital transformation — financial, cultural, commercial, and talent. Companies must fully commit to digital transformation for it to be worthwhile, requiring a willingness to work around these barriers.
In some cases, an investment in digital transformation might exceed a company’s annual budgeting cycle, so it is important to create capital and manage investments. It will also force a culture shift — companies will have to adapt how they interact with customers and suppliers. This adjustment can pose commercial risks, as customers and suppliers need to be carefully managed during this shift in culture to avoid any disruptions. Because digital transformation is something new, companies will find that employees prepared for digital transformation work differently than the legacy IT departments that organizations are used to. These barriers have become less of a challenge in the last ten years as more companies complete digital transformation. I expect they will soon become negligible for companies compared to the benefits of digital transformation.
The real challenge to digital transformation is that it is a necessity, but it is not a foregone conclusion. Companies must evaluate their risk and reward — I see that decision as a simple one.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Digital transformation is about tapping the potential to transform the business model using the power of new digital technologies. There are at least five ways:
- Inform products for new revenue streams or services: A large manufacturer of turbines leveraged IoT-sourced performance and maintenance data to create proactive maintenance support. In fact, they don’t sell just the physical product anymore. In the future, an increasing portion of their revenue streams would be product information services.
- Transform customer engagement: A major theme park is transforming the customer experience while visiting its parks by combining customer location, preferences, and availability of rides to optimize the usage of rides and shorten queuing waits for customers.
- Virtualize people processes while enhancing engagement: In the wake of the pandemic, several organizations are re-designing traditional recruiting, onboarding, development, and group collaboration processes with digital solutions. The use of Slack and Microsoft Teams has not only accelerated during the pandemic, but several solution providers are now developing new technology-enabled employee engagement solutions that will become standard practices even after the pandemic is behind us.
- Re-define supply chain boundaries: A large retailer optimized inventory management by creating what they call a “virtual aisle.” Allowing purchases to be sourced from multiple warehouses or stores eliminates the traditional boundaries between online and offline retailing.
- Create new digital ecosystems: An automotive technology provider is helping auto dealerships expand their customer and supplier relationships beyond the dealership by building digital platforms that seamlessly integrate across the customer’s entire journey from pre-sales (web research, social media) to purchase (dealership inventory, auto-lending, registration, insurance) to post-sales service (aftermarket parts, servicing).
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Listening closely to what customers say they want and then surfacing what they really need is the core competence of any culture of innovation. These customers may be internal or external, and innovations could be around internal processes or commercial products. Listening is not a solo sport — it takes a team to surface latent needs. If you unite your team around providing stand-out solutions for your customers, your team will eventually begin creating solutions for problems that your customers have not yet surfaced. At Ness, we have competency centers, innovation labs, internal hackathons, new solution investments and enable people and financial processes to accelerate internal and external innovation. In fact, in our account reviews, we spend more time discussing what new ideas we can take to clients than revenue and profit details.
Often the necessity of innovation is considered a self-evident truth. Innovation is not always necessary or even good for a company when that company’s revenue depends on the old way of doing things. Innovation can cannibalize these revenues. They need innovation only if an attacker threatens with a credible and substitute product. Innovation is a great opportunity for attackers but a risk for incumbents. Finding the right pace and level of time, effort, and money that any organization puts into innovation is the secret sauce to making commercially successful innovations.
For companies to have a culture of innovation, it’s important to encourage risk-taking. As a company, you need to commit to permitting your employees to take risks and fail without being made into scapegoats. Take those failures and learn from them. Hire talent that is self-driven and willing to take risks. Leadership needs to inspire these driven employees and create opportunities for them to create and play in their roles.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the things I remembered when I joined Ness at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was the Stockdale paradox: “You must never lose faith in what you believe in, but that’s doesn’t mean you should lose the discipline of confronting the brutal facts of your reality.” This idea reminds me of the mental preparedness and toughness needed to deal with hardship.
When I started at Ness, I took inspiration from that, although as a paradox, it sounds like a contradiction. Ness was underperforming where we knew we could outstrip the competition. The pandemic made things only more challenging. We needed to acknowledge our shortcomings and at the same time have faith in our core DNA around product engineering. This took a lot of commitment, diligence, and hard work, but the faith in our abilities that our team demonstrated has made us grow 2x what we have grown last few years despite the pandemic.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Ness is always publishing insights and resources on our website, Ness.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!