It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.
– Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1532)
This column has featured CEOs, CIOs, CTOs but never a Chief Transformation Officer, so naturally we were very excited. Much intrigued, our first question to him was about his unique designation and whether it involved a combination of many roles such as those of Chief Executives, CIOs and Strategists. He agreed.
He explained that earlier in his career at Bank of America – a more than couple of century-old behemoth, he had led transformational change which was massive in its scope and complexity. In those four years, he had donned many hats – that of a coach, leader, trainer front-ending at times and also playing the supporting role when situation demanded. In his own words: “there was absolutely no role left that I did not do.”
This inevitably proved that there’s no one size fits all formula to achieve transformation. The evolving reality needs the right thinking and guidance. This is what made him chose the role of a Transformation Officer at Altimetrik, where he enables several leading enterprises across industries with their transformation journeys.
Org Transformation – a Primer
When organizations are required to transform, the technology induced disruption is only one part. Arguably, the larger issue is about changing mindsets. Culture sets in, often painstakingly, and sometimes without direct interventions of leaders. Perhaps that’s why it is most resistant to change. This of course, is a general observation and the transformative journey per se, is a unique experience.
So we asked him the minimum time that’s required before things start moving. He emphasized yet again, about the glorious uncertainties, size, and such others. Insofar, straitjacketing may not be ideal, but a 12-month window may reasonably be expected, before change is discernible. In process, a lot of people would be made to feel uncomfortable so it was imperative to have the strong backing of top management, including the board members. Enemies would also be made because transformation often involves “making more money with less people” – taking a simplistic view of things. Traditionally, power within organizations has been measured by budget size and the span of control. A metrics, which is often turned on its head when companies decide to transform. Jobs get automated, control makes way (even reluctantly) for influence as all divisions align to a shared vision. A siloed approach is among the first casualties.
Often, it is expected of long-serving executives to take a sudden departure from paths they have tread for many decades – which helped shape their careers. To be able to give it up requires a high degree of selflessness.
The Company’s Motto – Simplify Technology to Amplify Possibilities
There’s a slew of advanced technologies available in the market. But at Altimetrik, the focus is on spending more time solving the client’s problem than working disproportionately on the mechanics of technology. He emphatically referred this approach to be a “Product Engineering” mindset, instead of a Project Management one. This entails a “customer-driven” solution in which the customer is always engaged with and is an integral part of the solution being worked out. He says, “We believe in taking the customer along.”
The solutions / answers sought are often work-in-process and not readily available. “Keep testing as you go along”, he adds. “There is no space for walled gardens and we have to foster an environment which encourages experimentation.” Not all initiatives will yield the desired results but that is when organizational culture matters – accepting failures, learning from those and moving forward. Modern organizations that we have come to admire – Google, Amazon for e.g. – are proponents of this thought process.
Platformized Approach of Altimetrik – What’s So Special?
Arguably, a project-oriented mindset stops at creating ‘happiness’ for the client. A platformized approach goes a step further to ask – the core components / utilities that have been built in process. It looks at creating re-usable components / assets, as it goes along. Akin to a Lego block, says Nair. After the core platform is built, the stack keeps improving on maturity as new components get added. This way, developers do not have to start from scratch always and can leverage assets that have been built earlier.
He gave the example of two clients – in healthcare & financial services. The healthcare company was besieged with very high inventory. Altimetrik was engaged to optimize their inventory holding and impact working capital positively. Which it did, most effectively. As they went along, enhancing the entire hospital experience also fell upon them. A platformized approach helped tremendously in adding value through components which had already been built.
In this methodology, team members will have to be incentivized so that this model can be made sustainable. In addition to solving the customer’s problem, it also takes into account the contribution made to the core platform.
On Deep-tech – Opportunities
The core technology here is Analytics. Data, he says, is money. The humongous amount of data generated will have to be harnessed to draw insights. We have to know how to leverage this to our advantage. “We can and need to play the leadership role here”, says Nair, emphatically retorting on India’s future in Analytics when we asked. Once again, he cited the examples of globally admired companies, the likes of Facebook, Amazon, which have all been able to leverage data to architect their incredible growth stories.
Analytics will also have to be real-time. He gave the example of smart cars. If the car is about to hit a pothole, there’s no time to make connection with a cloud-based solution. Analytics, inside the car should be intelligent & responsive enough to send out alerts and help take preventive action.
The leader has to lay out a good story – one that is credible and rewarding at the same time. Moreover, the opportunities will have to be in the present working environment, real-time and in-line with business. Learning has to be contextualized, else, it would be like watching a movie – a departure from reality. Though, he was all praises for some of the online courses that are available but without setting the right context, he believes, impact will be limited.
On fostering a Culture of Innovation
Innovation is the building block of transformation and must have for sustained leadership. To foster a Product Engineering mindset, we need a culture which encourages continuous learning. Once the core platform is created, reusable components will have to be created in a continued manner using every project as a vehicle to build-on. To foster this culture and help create the company’s assets, is everyone’s job.
Leadership Mantra That He Swears By
“I work for my people, to remove roadblocks and enable growth.”