NASSCOM staff writer in conversation with Manish Tandon, CEO, CSS Corp.
- Thank you Mr. Tandon for agreeing to do this interview, and to initiate the conversation, would you please tell us about your journey at CSS Corp?
Before I joined CSS Corp, I spent more than two decades at Infosys. Do I qualify to be considered an industry veteran (chuckles)? In comparison, my journey here has only been 15 months – and counting!
When the opportunity at CSS Corp came about, I grabbed it with both hands. I recognized it had a great delivery engine and a fantastic client base already, working with many innovators in high-tech, telecom, retail and to some extent in banking. The company also had a lot of people strength, in terms of attitudes, capabilities, and technical depth. That’s what really excited me about CSS Corp.
Being not too big and also not too small has really helped in a lot of ways. We’ve been able to implement a lot of transformation without causing a lot of disruption. We’ve made really meaningful investments where we see expanding markets and emerging opportunities. We’ve been making sure we stay focused on helping our clients generate revenue and enhance customer engagement strategies, by digital technologies, particularly AI and automation.
As an organization, we work closely with business decision makers who are responsible for the customer experience and revenue generation mandate. Increasingly we see CXOs are looking for business models and solutions that generate superior and guaranteed business outcomes instead of project outcomes.
- Please share with us your insights on talent and particularly the org culture that prevails at CSS Corp.
I am building a workforce that is diversified, vibrant, and passionate about customer success. We really focus on finding people with strong attitude, because everything else can be taught afterwards. The profiles and skill base of our new hires are diverse but the workforce is bound together by the need to deliver in an integrated manner with a strong emphasis on customer success outcomes.
Being ‘customer obsessed’ defines our culture and is something I am very committed to, so it’s something we’re looking for as soon as we onboard employees. A ‘customer-obsessive’ behavior is then enabled by a deep understanding of technology – an attribute which mid-level project managers have to be mindful at all times.
There is tremendous talent available in India, but to fit them suitably in specific models, companies have to invest substantially in training & re-skilling. This is true for recruits from very large organizations as well. Undoubtedly, they bring in a high degree of maturity but the “unlearning” process afterwards is crucial. Whether it is the introduction of MOOCs-based curriculum for employees or even hosting subject matter experts to enable free interchange of ideas and knowledge dissemination, it’s always about being agile and communicative. CSS Corp has bagged the NASSCOM Digital Skills Award for 2017, which strengthens our belief that we must be doing the right things.
- Your thoughts please, on the kind of investments made in digital; especially on data-driven insights, data security and the likes.
In our quest to be seen as futuristic, the term “digital” tends to be loosely defined in the industry. At CSS Corp, we focus on those services within digital that drive revenue creation for our customers.
Our investment in digital has been substantial, especially in solutions around voice-based enablers (like Alexa) which are developing into the next frontier. Our own AI platform, Yodaa, has won global awards and is most impressive in providing customer intelligence.
We leverage data effectively to glean deeper insights, especially for the larger clients on an on-going basis. One of our clients in the pharma sector has seen tremendous benefits by leveraging the insights – not taking names here and you will appreciate why. Moreover, we are using data mining and advanced analytics tools internally as well, to optimize operations.
Data security is a primary concern of the industry today as attacks get increasingly more complex and sophisticated. Security tools are struggling to keep pace because of the overwhelming speed at which this space is evolving. It is unlikely that we will ever get to a situation where the threat to data security can be reduced to nil.
- Your thoughts on automation & modernizing and simplifying complex Infrastructure ecosystems?
Automation has become a big thing. It’s not the first time that mankind has experienced disruption of this magnitude. The invention of the wheel and the pulley had a resounding and everlasting impact on us, and reduced the dependence on physical labour. This time, innovation is reducing our intellectual labour too, through AI-based automation. Certainly, it’s making people sit up and take notice of this disruption!
The cloud-based platforms have brought in a paradigm shift and it can only get bigger with time. Cloud-based migration from on-premise software is a strategic imperative as service providers scurry to join the bandwagon. Our cloud-based platform, Contelli, has been recognized by Gartner as a prominent contributor in this space.
- Skilling for the future – how do you ensure that people are future ready?
I am very clear that my intent here is to build careers and not only create jobs. Rapid evolution in the industry is bringing about tremendous opportunities for talent but continuous learning is required. I am 49, but I still manage to carve out time every week for learning something new. I know otherwise I will stagnate! This desire for learning has to come from within.
I have particularly enjoyed working with millennials and their contribution is indeed praiseworthy. I find them particularly open to embracing change and to better ways of doing things. In the earlier generations, there was a scarcity – salary levels were low and opportunities fewer at the start of one’s career. This bred a different kind of hunger at that time which pushed us to move up in life. In comparison, the millennials don’t experience that kind of pressure today. Their minds are freer to focus on innovation and higher cognitive thinking. And, of course, being conversant with cutting-edge technology comes as a bonus.
- On working collaboratively, what has been your experience – especially with the startups?
The landscape is changing so quickly that collaboration is no longer an option but an imperative. Yesterday’s rock stars are today’s rocks. To survive, our industry needs to work on eliminating silos and creating outcome and value-based contracts.
CSS Corp works extensively with startups. Some of our largest clients were at that stage once and relationships were established right in the beginning, so roots run deep. We are also aware that the failure rate of startups is high, but that fact alone has never been a deterrent. This community brings in niche capabilities (especially in AI) and we have been able to leverage these very effectively over a period of time.
- On business pivots and your leadership mantra?
Gone are the days when one could choose a technology, specialize in it and work on it for years. The new mantra is to come out of our shells and be open to continuous and lifelong learning. Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest, but actually it was the survival of the most adaptable of the species.
1. Invest in yourself – sustain a continual learning ability
2. Build strong customer engagements. Work proactively with customers to help them increase revenue
3. Re-imagine customer engagements through new technologies like AI, automation and analytics
Finally, my all-season mantra is to build a brand that imbibes and promotes the idea of “customer obsession.”
Want to read the other interviews in the series? See them with leader talk