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‘Bringing people to the core of digital transformation’

By Rishad Premji, Chief Strategy Officer & Member of the Board, Wipro Limited
and Chairman, NASSCOM

Jeff Bezos recently told a gathering of all Amazon employees that the demise of Amazon is inevitable. He said large companies, and Amazon certainly fits the definition of large, tend to have life spans that run for thirty odd years, not a hundred. He said Amazon could actually go bankrupt someday! Ironically, the occasion was the bankruptcy of Sears, a storied American retailer which filed for bankruptcy last month, thanks, in part, to Amazon eroding the traditional retail business model.

Never known to pull his punches, Jeff’s point was just not about humility, he also wanted Amazon employees to know that they could postpone the company’s inevitable demise by focusing on the customer, not on themselves. Beyond that unusual rallying cry, the message is an acknowledgment of how the digital era has unleashed the crushing competitive pressures in every industry. If it can happen to Amazon, who indeed, can afford to be complacent?

Digital strategies have the mindshare in most C-suites. The big questions are, is the mindshare always translating into the commitment in investments and reinvention of culture that companies need? How far have we come in the last few years and where can we expect to go in 2019, and beyond?

In the last couple of years, Digital leaders in key industries have started coming of age, especially in showing maturity about calibrating their Digital ambitions. Digital leaders recognize and balance today’s constraints around culture, talent, collaboration and change management to truly drive long term transformational goals.

Leaders have begun to define starting points pragmatically – do you start with transforming customer experience or employee experience? For example, in high touch service industries, you can’t really draw the line between the two, so leaders are adopting a holistic approach to internal productivity and customer delight.

Leaders are also getting better at recognizing and setting appropriate success metrics for Digital initiatives. But they need to learn not to confuse today’s incremental with tomorrow’s transformational goals. Investments which are pitched to improve the current business performance, by improving customer experience and loyalty or reducing costs should not crowd out the transformative-but -riskier bets that create new sources of revenue in the future, by monetizing data and platforms or entering entirely new markets.

It is interesting to note that availability of budgets is no longer cited as a barrier, but availability of talent and transformation of culture remain real challenges. Large established enterprises are struggling to parachute the latest tech skills into their existing teams or inject start-up spirit into their culture.

The talent and culture challenge is manifold – from scanning, curating and adopting new technologies into their environment, to creating safe-to-fail spaces for business model experiments. In these battles, talent will be the final differentiator, not capital. The partnerships route to fast track innovation can address some of these – start-up ecosystems and crowdsourcing are just a few examples of strategies that ensure your digital roadmap stays on track, and the absence of talent doesn’t spoil the party.  Collaboration with partners who have the vision and commitment to Digital success visionary partnerships derives from the same spirit that Jeff Bezos exhorts his employees to embrace, of focusing on customers rather than on ourselves. And in many ways, it’s the best bet leaders have against the dynamic landscape that is Digital.

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