Adapt to the Change

Nischal Gupta is among the bellwether technology executives transitioning from the technology first world of Enterprise tech to a business first world of digital transformation. He is the CTO for Sterlite Technologies, a data networks innovator, driving end-to-end hyper-scale data network solutions beyond tomorrow.

Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL) is one of the few companies to host the role of a Chief Transformation Officer and the thought behind it, is the fact that the business problems cannot be solved by merely throwing technology onto these problems.

Please tell us about your organization.

STL is a global data networks innovator driving end-to-end hyper-scale data network solutions. We drive innovation in network solutions for 4 key global customer segments: telcos, cloud companies, large enterprise and citizen networks.

Please tell us about your role at STL.

STL is one of the few companies to host the role of Chief Transformation Officer and this is a deliberate attempt to have the CTxO focus on ‘business first’ and not get lost into the world of solutioning.

The CTxO mindset is to always think about transforming business by first being able to relate to the business problems and then focus on the ‘how’ part of it. Also, the ‘how’ part of it is not solved today by just throwing solutions and tech at it. The transformation charter is centered on the pivots which matter the most in this organization given the current context. The role covers Strategy Execution, Program Management, Process Design, Transformation, Data Science, Data Management and IT Products and Platforms. Having these verticals under one umbrella brings in cross-functional ability to handle the problem statements in STL when it comes to handling business scale, complexity, ambiguity, repeatability, interplay across its Business Units, speed of execution and mass orchestration around the global landscape of STL.

What are the innovations you have embarked on at STL?

We started in May 2017 at ground zero with a charter for the transformation team. The charter has helped us to take the right foot forward in our journey. This involved first principle thinking, the organizational design, the roles & responsibilities, skill matrix and clearly defining what we want to achieve over the next few years by breaking the transformation journey into ‘foundational’, ‘scalable’ and ‘moon-shot’ blocks. Over the years we have leveraged technologies such as Microsoft EPM, SAP ERP, Signavio BPMS, Google DMS, Tableau BI Engine and other solutions and internal development and organic product architecture to create our business execution platform. It helps us to have a single view of the complex projects we execute. We have implemented end to end integrated business planning (IBP) into our Connectivity Solutions group. We have also invested in a Procure to pay platform, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), organic L&D toolkits like a STL specific project management certification program (SPMC) for our employees. We have also undertaken fun innovations such as an interactive bot for HR policies and a B’Day bot which sends personalized birthday wishes to the employees. An innovative organic product called ‘fist bump' that enables peer to peer recognition and dings , leading to a quarterly ‘fist bump’ karma score in an effort to break hierarchies. Other engagement platforms include, Decision Session, Working Sessions to support cross-functional working, agile decision making and Business Hours to allow our employees to openly engage with our group CEO without any bureaucracy gates.

How to mitigate the risk of digital transformation false starts?

Before I answer this, I have a very personal view on this and that is the fact that transformation is largely non-digital. Transformation is done internally and there are limits to what external consultants can do. Transformation needs someone who understands the culture and sentiment of the people within the company. In the transformation journey, context and continuity is more important than the content. It's important to work on a first principles approach and author a charter of transformation, use some industry process frameworks such as APQC or if you have one to check completeness. You can break every transformational journey into foundational blocks, scalable blocks and moon shots. Remember to put in a non-negotiable focus on the foundational blocks while their RoI may not be evident in the short term. Don’t work on moon-shots if you have a weak foundation. Around 70% of your transformational journey is about culture shifts and not about technology shifts / adoption.

What are the emerging technologies you track and follow with interest?

I have a keen interest in some non-technological transformation frameworks such as OKRs, Balanced scorecards, agile working models because most of the organizations fail in translating strategy into goals into what it means in terms of bandwidth of talent needed to accomplish these goals. For example, are you assigning the right people to the most critical problem? How to break organizational hierarchies? On the tech side, I am also interested in 3D printing, Augmented Reality (AR) , Machine Learning (ML) and much of this is being explored and used into our day to day business operations in STL.

Tell us about the Information security journey of your organization, the benefits realized, and lessons learnt so far.

STL has grown multiple folds over the last few years and hence our information security posture has been evolving. We have been very prudent to strike a balance between agility and controls while our cloud posture has increased significantly in the last 2 years from 16% to almost 90%. At the same time, our end-user base has also increased with STL growing. Our Infosec posture has been around the following principles; minimize the threat landscape proactively to nullify service disruption, protect STL brand, have customers and all trade partners understand that they are working with a very data secure organization, improved visibility and timely intervention. With this we are successfully able to predict and prevent Ransomware issues (Cryptowall and Rocky ransomware), advance malicious behaviour scripts and malicious intent ware on our production systems. Also, we can prevent installation of low credibility third party applications by our users and take care of corporate website vulnerabilities (protected by our web application firewall).

What were the immediate benefits realized from the cloud uptake thus far?

The immediate benefits from cloud uptake is the ability to scale up and ramp down the complex IT landscape ‘on demand’ and business need. We are able to deploy the same homogenous user experience. We are able to drive agility, scalability and optimal cost of ownership - not to forget the multi-cloud strategy of STL which helps us promote interoperability between best of breed products and platforms. We have some very complex projects in Network Services being run on true cloud platforms which would not have been possible otherwise and the architecture of most of these platforms have been designed organically by STL and are the intellectual property of STL.

What’s the one thing you will advise your peers across industries on transformation?

Please do work on first principles while designing the transformation roadmap, keep the approach simple and logical and work with the right talent – don’t compromise. Always know the levers of transformation that will work for your company. Every organization has a different transformation recipe. The transformation levers at STL are data, talent, technology and process design

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