In an interview with CIO Axis, Divy Shrivastava, Co-Founder & CEO, Nineleaps, sees a bright future for digital automation in India and identifies the bottlenecks preventing the businesses from achieving digital transformation.
Q. How will emerging technologies like machine learning/artificial intelligence, Big Data, IOT, Augmented Reality, Analytics etc will change the fabric of IT organizations?
Divy Shrivastava: The new technologies coming in like Machine Learning, Big Data etc will have a significant impact on IT organizations. The impact would be felt in several areas, like skill requirements, business understanding, team structure, and pricing.
The skill requirements are changing quite dramatically in the IT industry. From a skill perspective you need to constantly update yourself in a very rapidly changing environment, also people need to become more all-rounded, that means they need to know a lot more around what they just do, like nuances of deployment, and running things in production. For both, the organizations and individuals, the right skilling is very important, and we need to look at this on a continuous basis.
The team structures have changed and are continuously evolving, the structures of the past, that is large teams and linear workflows (development, testing and deployment), are not able to sustain with the future demands. The teams are becoming smaller and more diverse with all skill-sets being present in a team. This poses some challenges like How you train new team members? How do you ensure technical growth of your team members? Also with smaller teams it is important that communication and interpersonal skills of members are strong, this ensures a high performing team.
Understanding of business is more critical today than it has been in traditional IT, you need a deep understanding of process to be able to interpret the data, which is at the heart of the new technologies. Also, you need to apply models that take business into account. And previously you were able to have a business person among 20-30 team members, now with shrinking team sizes you need a member that understands business for every 6-8 team members. Organizations will have to ramp-up the capabilities quickly and they are hard to build or acquire.
The new technologies and the expectations that they bring in, also warrants a re-look at the pricing or the way we price our offerings. The pricing traditionally has been time and skills based, that worked well when IT was tasked with bringing in operational efficiency, but with ML/AI, Analytics and a lot of new technologies IT organizations can create and build new business lines, or create a competitive advantage, these are more value driven outcomes. Also a traditional time based pricing does not offer the right incentives for the team. Moving to a value based pricing can help, in attracting the right talent to the table, also de-risks the project from an organizations point-of-view, and align the incentives in the right manner.
Q. How do you see the future of digital automation in India? What are the bottlenecks that are preventing the businesses from achieving digital transformation?
Divy Shrivastava: The future of digital automation is very bright in India. Going by industry or domain would give a better picture, since it varies by industry or domains. In some areas we are exceeding expectations, looking at digital payments for example. In financial services, retail, education and supply chain there is substantial investments and /or policy support. These areas have seen and will see rapid digital growth in all areas. Another area that would pick-up and is mobility domain, especially urban mobility, we have already seen the big guys like Uber and Ola, but now a lot of funding is going to self-drive and electric vehicles, also as more cities get metros we should see more innovative solutions, under smart cities some funding would be towards mobility solutions from the local and state governments as well. One area where there is rapid automation is the customer service, and customer support departments, we have some first movers but we would see many more implementations of chat bots and robotic process automation (RPA) in this area.
Key bottlenecks that exist for business from achieving digital transformation are executive sponsorship, investments and finding the right talent or partner.
Achieving digital transformation would require strong executive sponsorship and a very committed senior management. Transforming any business requires strong leadership and in case of digital transformation, the leadership needs to understand the impact of technology, have a business justification to it and be committed to see it through. To put digital transformation on the agenda of top management is not easy, in a lot of industries it would not have a business impact or it does not align with the company’s strategy.
Digital transformation would also require considerable investment from the organization over a long term period. Finding the investment is not easy, being able to build a robust business case, outlining the value being delivered is critical to secure the required funding. And if you see investment for chat bots etc, has been easy to come since the value can be easily justified, a chat bot can reduce the support staff requirements by ‘x’ percent. And even if there is a business case the company might not be able to make the investment due to business situations.
Another large bottleneck is to find the right talent or partner for your digital journey, the digital transformation you would have to re-skill a large part of your workforce, but you will have to inject some external talent or get a partner on-board that can act as a seed to the transformation journey. Finding the people with the right experience in digital has been a consistent bottleneck.
Q. What are the key challenges you faced in software development market?
Divy Shrivastava: The primary challenge is finding the right talent. What I mean with that is the number of people with the required skill-set, we are an industry that is heavily reliant on people. To grow and meet the demands of customer and cater to the work that exists the primary challenge that we are facing is getting the number of people with the right skill-set and this is at all levels.
The job roles and expectations have also evolved, along with the breadth of knowledge required. Today, we expect developers to be full-stack; they need to know development, testing, deployment, and have the ability to understand nuances of business as well. These used to be very separate roles just a few years back. The need for a broader skill-set is due to reduced time to market, and faster response times that are needed by the businesses today. Another significant shift is the systems are very interconnected now, the teams are becoming smaller, but the need for collaboration is much higher, this requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
That said on a lot of fronts things are very good, the policy framework and tax structures for IT has been stable and predictable, there is a robust demand for our services, infrastructure has improved over the years be it power or internet speeds, we have very good data centres and now even the global cloud providers are in India. The banking and funding support has been good, we have been able to secure funds, also we have benefitted from schemes like CGTMSE, that have helped us scale.
Q. What is the vision of Nineleaps? What makes you a cut above the rest in the highly competitive tech startup space?
Divy Shrivastava: Vision of Nineleaps is “To be a trusted partner to our clients in relentlessly delivering technological innovations to accelerate business growth.”
We wish to help our customers build cutting edge next generation products that can help their business scale and cater to more and more end users with reliability. This also entails building applications that can respond quickly to market requirements (or changes).
We are a product engineering company that has been able to carve out a niche for itself in the sectors we operate in. Over the years we have been successful in gaining the right technological know-how and an in-depth understanding of the digital ecosystem to partner brands. We help them in not just strategizing but also in executing their digital transition from their existing legacy systems to a more efficient and contemporary digital avatar. We realised early on that only when you have an in-depth understanding of the whole ecosystem of technology, will you be able to properly leverage all aspects, like the cloud, or capitalize on open source or ensure that the solution is properly integrated with other businesses. We have a proven expertise in the tech side of the business.
We also specialize in visualizing the consumer’s digital journey for our clients and help brands to connect with their customers better. This we do by co-creating digital solutions that are relevant and scalable. So, not only do we arrive at the core idea, but also help execute it for them. That way we have an edge over our competition as we have worked with several big clients over the years and realized that while doing digital transformation projects you need a small, focused, cross-functional teams that can do faster releases and can improvise and adapt quickly. We have a lot of experience in doing that. We help our clients with faster go-to-market time and also help them scale up their digital capabilities to enhance efficiencies.
Q. How is business doing for you so far? What are your future plans?
Divy Shrivastava: We have done well so far, we have been able to grow our team to around 400 members. We have several marquee customers that have trusted us with their critical projects time and again, we have established a trusted long-term relationship with them. We have a diverse spread of new age technology skills that we have built expertise in including big data, machine learning and advanced analytics. As an organization, through our customers, we have seen technology problems at scale and the complexity associated with them, that gives us a unique experience and expertise that a lot of organizations need. Through our projects we have established a good know-how in three key sectors like retail, mobility and healthcare.
The future we plan to expand our team here in Bangalore by about 200 more people (in the next year). We are looking to grow more in our existing customer accounts, we would also focus on adding a couple of more customers in the coming year. We also plan to have a permanent presence in the US, that would bring us closer to some of customers. In terms of technology, we are constantly evolving and we are looking forward to more ML/AI, Big Data and Advanced Analytics work in the next year. We are in the right domains, that have a lot of exciting work for us, we would focus on these domains (retail, mobility and healthcare), we are also open to other interesting works.