Startups can make a meal of big businesses in the new tech frontier

By Dipti Nair|1st Dec 2016
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What are global companies doing different in their digital transformation journey to stay relevant? CEOs deliberate.

It is most likely that when you wake up one morning in 2025, you will be met with the headline: 'Accenture and Bosch Extinct'. The global behemoths, which are at the forefront of a new digitally connected world, may disappear like the dinosaurs of the past.

CEO Conclave: (right to left)
CEO Conclave at BengaluruITE.biz
“For all you know, a startup could well eat your lunch,”

said Krishnakumar Natarajan, Executive Chairman, Mindtree, baiting a few top CEOs, including those of Accenture and Bosch, at the CEO Conclave, ‘Define the next: New frontiers in technology and business’ at the BengaluruITE.biz that concluded yesterday.

As businesses increasingly confront a VUCA world, where there is a high sense of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, an important question that begs to be asked is how they are strategising to stay relevant in this new world. In this era of digital transformation, business models are being turned over their heads — the world’s largest transportation or hospitality companies are those with zero assets. Think Uber and AirBnB.

Do CXOs feel fearful that their jobs will no longer be valid? In the future, will scale and brand no longer matter? And what are global companies doing different in their digital transformation journey to stay relevant? These were some of the existential questions that the CEO panel fielded, in turn providing new insights and learnings for others.

Natarajan, who deftly steered the conversation through the alleys of self-doubts and challenges that global businesses encounter, was joined on the panel by Rekha Menon, Chairman and Managing Director of Accenture in India; Vijay Ratnaparkhe, Managing Director, Bosch; Sreekanth Arimanithaya, Managing Director, CSC India and Global Lead- Workforce Management, CSC; and P Nagaraju, CGM, Karnataka Telecom Circle, BSNL.

Disruption, disruption, disruption.

“If we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else will,” said Ratnaparkhe, adding that by 2020, gadgets will be digitally connected to each other, and your Bosch microwave oven will actually bake you a cake. All you will need to do is give it instructions from your smartphone, sitting in your office miles away.

Rekha Menon
Rekha Menon

As Menon put it, “Before we think of changing client mindsets, we need to change ourselves,” and that involves arming the teams with the right skill sets and training.

Interestingly, she pointed out that there are encouraging examples of customers adopting digital transformation. A mining client, which had existed in the old world, is disrupting itself by putting its entire infrastructure on cloud. “It is interesting to see how they are doing capital efficiency in their location using data analytics,” she said.

But what does all this talk of digital transformation really mean to people like you and me? Ratnaparkhe gave a striking example of how this works. He said,

“When I was in Berlin recently, it was heartwarming to see that not only OEMs and companies like Bosch, but the city mayor and citizens participate in the new world order, building communities using digitisation.”

You pick up an electric car and after your work is done, park it where you get off. “Now the question is, who charges the car? Students pick up these cars and take it to a charging station. They get credits to use the car for free. This is a cue on how to build communities using technology,” added Ratnaparkhe.

Impact of automation on workforce

According to Arimanithaya, this presents a unique opportunity to develop Tier II cities in India. “By 2025, 100 million jobs will be replaced by robots. CSC plans to roll out 100–1,000 robots in India this year,” he said. Reportedly, Vinod Khosla had said 80 percent of people in the infrastructure management workforce will lose their jobs.

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This impact of automation and AI on the workforce is a crucial dialogue to have, and Arimanithaya’s suggestion to look at cities other than the metros could take the sting off this fact.

Yet, for global companies, the fact remains that disruption is coming quick and fast from non-traditional industries. For example, Uber is using its traditional cab-hailing platform connecting nurses to pharmacies for vaccination requests. “Today, it is all about the art of the possible,” said Menon.

It boils down to who is creating more value. “At some point in time, there was some person who replaced the horse with the car and created value. Today, we are seeing the car being available when we want to drive without owning one; that is the creation of value,” added Ratnaparkhe.

The audience at the CEO Conclave
The audience at the CEO Conclave

Talking about value, Natarajan took advantage of his moderator’s chair to ask the panelists — tongue firmly in cheek —

“With all these changes, your jobs will be lost too. How will you hold on to it?”

“I am hoping that it will then give me more time to play golf, but having said that, I will stay relevant,” said Menon.

“At CSC, I hold a dual role — one on the tech side and another on the workforce. Technology converges very fast, but human minds need not. So I will focus on human minds to converge,” shared Arimanithaya.

“I will remain on a digital journey and see how I can help Bosch digitise itself,” said Ratnaparkhe, while Nagaraju said he would become a consultant in the communications domain.

Answering his own question, Natarajan said he will opt out of the workforce and retire. But for those who will choose to run with the changes, digital transformation presents many new avenues and opportunities.

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