Discipline and Iteration — The findings gathered in Trianz’ Global Transformation Surveys helped us quickly identify a leader persona at the heart of successful Digital Transformations. We call this leader a ‘Methodical Innovator’ because they are constantly monitoring, measuring results, and refining their approach. The hallmark of the Methodical Innovator is that they’re constantly transforming ahead of the business, not as a result of it. But don’t worry — you don’t need to be born a Methodical Innovator. With time and practice, the key traits can be learned by any leader.
Sri Manchala is the CEO of Trianz, a highly specialized digital-transformation services firm headquartered in Silicon Valley and serving clients globally. He is the author of Crossing the Digital Fault Line: 10 Rules of Highly Successful Leaders in Digitalization (www.digitalfaultline.com).
Manchala shares data-driven insights on transformations and adaptive business leadership based on his two and a half decades in the technology industry, and leadership experience in the military and as a CEO. Manchala is a graduate of the National Defense Academy, an elite training academy for India’s Armed Forces officers, where he served in the infantry and Parachute Regiment (Special Forces). He is also an alumnus of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, where he is now a corporate advisory board member.
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 graduate of the National Defense Academy, which is an elite training academy for India’s Armed Forces officers. I served as an officer in the infantry and Parachute Regiment (Special Forces), which taught me a lot about the discipline and rigor needed to succeed not only in business, but also in life. When I transitioned into a corporate career, I began to realize the importance of business education and technology. And so I went to the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, where I studied international business and strategy.
As for my corporate experience, I started with a short stint at Asian Paints, India’s largest paint and chemical manufacturer. After my MBA, I joined KPMG Consulting in the firm’s Silicon Valley office, which paved the path for a life in the tech industry. I then joined Cisco Systems in the Information Technology division prior to founding Trianz in 2001.
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?
There are none that come to mind.
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?
Yes, you are absolutely right. When I decided to transition into a corporate career, I was helped by a gentleman by the name of Arvind Kumar in getting an opportunity that was a total departure from what I did in the military. That year at Asian Paints reoriented me completely.
Dr. Richard Drobnick, then Vice Provost of USC, and Dr. Jack Lewis, who headed the international business department, played an important role in my going to Marshall and my overall growth from there.
Since I started Trianz, our board members, Ron Oehm, Dr. Al Rao, and Dr. Bhambri, played an important role in shaping the vision, the strategic thinking, and our values at Trianz.
Behind all this of course is my family — especially my wife, Laxmi, who has been an incredible source of support as I moved from one adventure to another.
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?
There are several that come to mind. The two that stick out to me are relevant to this conversation given the very challenging, strange, and uncertain times the world (and businesses) are currently going through. The first is The Grapes of Wrath which, as you know, is set during the Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. The resilience and tenacity of the characters stand out unlike any other story I’ve read.
The second is a movie on General George S. Patton in which actor George C. Scott brings to life one of the greatest military leaders the world has ever known and one whom I deeply admire. The film highlights a good leader’s qualities, methods, values and, above all, the importance of leading by example in times of uncertainty.
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?
When Trianz was founded in 2001, the internet was exploding, and my vision was to build an operations transformation practice that focused on the transition from strategy to execution and achieving business outcomes in a predictable way. We had to be the best in what we did. And so, I incorporated many concepts from my military experience — mission orientation, the method for executing client initiatives, and predictive service delivery. That, in turn, shaped the employee values at Trianz where we look for very smart, hardworking, yet humble talent. Above all of this is a social purpose and responsibility that Trianz takes very seriously.
Those dimensions- the outcome-oriented strategy and execution services; the method; the human fabric and the culture have made us very adaptive and resilient. Our entire business has tipped over into the digital transformation realm; we’ve created pioneering service delivery models and have been named #1 in delivering business impact by our clients; we’ve been resilient throughout Covid taking care of not just employees but also their families. In addition, we’ve added two dozen clients and over a thousand new employees this year without having physically met any of them.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
In 2018, we launched a series of global surveys on digital transformation- executives from over 5,000 companies participated in it. The data and findings transformed our services portfolio, our approaches, our organizational models, talent development, our client and internal culture.
Two themes that emerged out of the Trianz DT research was the scope of disruption and how it affects employees. I spent more time analyzing the data to identify why only 7% of companies were succeeding in transforming pre-Covid. It came down to the persona and the technique that leaders in these companies followed. I felt it was important to share these learnings and it eventually took the shape of a book called Crossing the Digital Faultline- 10 Rules of Highly Successful Digital Leaders. I’m grateful to ForbesBooks for publishing it and I hope it helps executives transition and become powerful digital leaders.
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 has become a “catch-all” phrase today. Unfortunately, marketers, technologists, consultants and opinion makers have molded it to fit their offerings. However, as a result, they’ve created a huge amount of complexity around what should be a relatively simple concept.
My definition is this: Digital Transformation is the reimagination of products and services from a customer point of view and the reinvention of the company’s value chain to deliver consistent and digitally-connected experiences to all stakeholders involved.
The two connotations of transformation that emerge are ‘rethinking value propositions for customers’ (i.e., reinventing products and services for a digital world) which calls for R&D, Marketing, Sales and Services to develop a unified view of emerging customer needs and preferences. The second connotation is to reinvent the operations of the company to deliver on that value proposition or use digital technologies to render better experiences or find efficiencies.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
The decision to transform isn’t something that can be postponed. How customers in every global industry see value, prioritize what they spend on, how they buy, and how they replace those products/services can be disruptive. And so, if you haven’t started the process, there’s a chance it might be too late. Every company in virtually every industry /sector faces threats to their very existence, and we predict that up to 30% of them — irrespective of their size or resources — will not survive this decade.
Besides disruptors within one’s own industry, the biggest threat comes from the high-tech industry. Tech sells technology to consumers and businesses alike while staying very closely connected with customers by monitoring their behaviors and shaping their products and services accordingly. In addition, the high-tech industry finds ways to solve human problems. In the final stage, they begin to step out and transform into global conglomerates. That is how a book company has become the world’s largest retailer AND technology company; that is how personal computer company has become a giant in communications AND entertainment. But this encroachment comes at the expense of incumbents. Therefore, no business is immune to these dramatic, foundational, and deeply intertwined shifts powered by technology. Transformation is a must.
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.
All the work Trianz does is now in the digital transformation realm. So, we help them develop strategies to reinvent business models, products and services. We implement the underlying technologies such as digital applications, data and analytics, the cloud, and cybersecurity in which these new models run. Our clients rate us #1 in terms of helping them transform and sustain operations — undisrupted during Covid.
Let me give you some project-level specific examples: we helped one of the world’s largest fast-food companies transform their franchisee experience, their performance and their infrastructure operations. Results showed improvement in experiences, retention, top-line performance and efficiency.
A few years ago, we deployed massive financial gateways that drive transactions for one of the top 3 credit card brands. In the process, we took a service that was somewhat unpredictable delivering a few hundred million transactions to over a billion transactions per year with nearly zero down-time.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
There have been various waves of technology that have arrived over the past two decades. The first wave is sometimes referred to as SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud). Then, as these technologies converged and became interwoven, the second wave was created. That wave is called digital disruption.
Now, digitalization means different things to different companies. More than 50% or so have primarily invested in the development of websites and portals. Our research shows that about 39% of the remainder are more advanced and reinventing their value chains. But only 7% of the group we call “digital champions” have transitioned into a state where they define their futures independent from their pasts based on data they’ve gathered on everything from their operations to — most importantly -their customers.
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.
I think it’s important to remember that digital transformation is not a destination — it is a continuous and interactive state achieved via a function of four elements. I will offer a fifth:
- Leadership IQ and Decision Making in the Digital Era — This is where leaders establish vision, priorities and concepts. The digital IQ of your leaders is the single most important factor in which every other factor in your digital journey is dependent upon, so it must be prioritized. It’s people, not technology, that power Digital Transformation.
- Product and Service Portfolio Transformation — In this stage, teams begin the innovation of business models, products or services and business processes, based on data. For most companies, benchmarking is the ideal place to start identifying your digital maturity and gaps. Benchmarking also leads to understanding how to fill the gaps, and the right priorities to affect the change that’s needed.
- Value Chain Transformation — Here business and IT teams (ideally) collaborate in bringing innovations (new products, services, and processes) to life. This is where customer experiences are also reinvented. When the teams start addressing the priorities and implementing change, the iterative cycles of transformation must continue with great oversight and rigor. Objective evaluation of outcomes and superior decision-making in this stage can determine success or failure.
- Organization, Talent and Cultural Transformation — Our research identified that the #1 reason for failures in Digital Transformation is a major disconnect between business and IT. Smart CIOs and other executives address the business IT disconnect through a number of tactics designed to raise the business IQ of their technical teams, and the digital IQ of the business teams. But they must also find ways to work together seamlessly. This is a fulsome transformation that I have written about quite a bit.
- Discipline and Iteration — The findings gathered in Trianz’ Global Transformation Surveys helped us quickly identify a leader persona at the heart of successful Digital Transformations. We call this leader a ‘Methodical Innovator’ because they are constantly monitoring, measuring results, and refining their approach. The hallmark of the Methodical Innovator is that they’re constantly transforming ahead of the business, not as a result of it. But don’t worry — you don’t need to be born a Methodical Innovator. With time and practice, the key traits can be learned by any leader.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
One of the 10 Rules of Leadership in Crossing the Digital Faultline is “Technology does not ensure success in digital transformations — people do.” The point behind this rule is that leaders need to invest enormously in their existing talent- in outlining visions clearly, in communicating regularly, in identifying training and development needs and supporting them closely in the initial phases. It is also important to tolerate initial failures in favor of learning and teaching lessons.
This sets the tone for an open, transparent and collaborative culture. Along the way, leaders must push for out-of-the-box thinking and innovation by encouraging it and rewarding innovators. As teams go through a few iterations and begin succeeding, their confidence levels increase.
In later stages, innovation can be systematically incorporated into transformation with specific teams, activities, and frameworks that cover various aspects of transformations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Rome was not built in a day” encapsulates my view that digital leaders must persist for years until results begin to show. I’ve seen many companies try to push forward too fast without much thought; not just with their products and services, but also with their entire operating value chain and organizational structures.
Despite all the seismic shifts and uncertainties I’ve witnessed over the years, “Rome was not built in a day” has served as a reminder to remain calm, understand the opportunities and problems, pivot as necessary, lead by example, but also trust your teams. Scoring initial success and developing momentum takes time, patience, and perseverance.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I invite interested readers to visit www.digitalfaultline.com. They can go through the short online assessment that helps them understand their persona vs. the Methodical Innovator. They can additionally order a copy of Crossing the Digital Faultline, which is available Amazon.com. Also, I am always happy deliver keynote programs and tailored workshops designed to give leaders the data-driven insights and experiences necessary for conquering the Digital Faultline.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!