India is a warehouse of problems that need digital solutions - Sarv Saravanan of Dell-EMC
Digital transformation, among many things, is about predicting client needs and serving them transparently.
Sarv Saravanan is not your usual C-Suite leader. His past is formidable, his story nothing short of coming up against all odds. When he graduated from engineering college in the late eighties, he did not know a word of English, but quickly realised that in a globalised world, he needed it to make a difference.
By early 2000, he was a top corporate leader setting up technology centres for the likes of Microsoft. From Microsoft he went to set up EMC, the storage giant, in India. Now part of the Dell-EMC merged entity, Sarv takes care of the Centre of Excellence as General Manager and Senior VP.
He spends his time mentoring startups, and golfing on the side. Edited excerpts of an interview.
YourStory: Post the merger between Dell and EMC, what has changed for the company? How does the business operate?
Sarv Saravanan: September 2016 was when the merger happened, and the parent company is Dell Technologies. In that, we have Dell, which is the traditional consumer business, Dell-EMC is the enterprise business, and we have several strategic businesses. These are brands called VMWare, Virtustream, RSA, SecureWorks, Dell Boomi, among several other companies. I take care of the product development, research and development and service delivery from India for Dell EMC.
YS: What are your thoughts on digital transformation, which seems to be the narrative of every small business?
SS: Every business has to go digital and there is no doubt about that. There is no argument today that a business has to be digital or not. Software is very important in all industries. But, there are questions to ask when you go digital. The first question could be could be are you always on and available.
The second one could be, are you predicting opportunities, thirdly are you innovating with agility, fourthly are you personalising your experience for customers, and finally are you offering transparency. If you achieve these five things digitally, then you are a digital business. We did a survey 18 months ago, and only 20 percent of businesses are digital. Not many are ready to embark on that journey.
It is because they have legacy systems. For digital transformation you need to think it through, you need talent and then you have a budget to completely move in the digital direction. Companies need not be technologically savvy for the sake of it. It is about outcomes. You need to understand your customer and predict opportunity.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can personalise service for customers. Analytics is combining structured and unstructured data to understand the customer. Large customers have direct conversations with us to understand how to transform. We provide the right infrastructure for current workloads and future workloads, which is being cloud native. That’s what IT transformation is about - how do you transform IT to be digital ready.
Does it have the characteristics of the cloud and is it a software defined business. The second is security transformation, because users are coming from across the world. The third is managing a mobile workforce digitally, which is work force transformation. Digital transformation is the pinnacle of all this.
YS: Are startups disrupting digital transformation and should EMC latch on to startups?
SS: In the survey we did, we met 4,000 companies across 18 countries. Around 70 percent of them said they are worried that startups can disrupt them. This is because startups tend to be nimble and are digital first. Look at the growth of Paytm, it is like a digital bank.
Startups have a level playing field today, and are competing with larger business. Take a look at Now Floats; it is an SEO business for small businesses. If you look at their business they have more than a lakh small businesses that are non-urban customers and the company’s growth has been phenomenal. There is no doubt that startups are making an impact.
As far as engagement goes, we do not follow the accelerator approach. We meet startups in different forums and we are members of iSpirit, which we all know engages with startups. We have been talking to companies to building solutions around smart cities. It is a big area of interest for us.
We want to give such companies go to market and technical advice. AI and ML are great technologies of the future, there will be more insights and make industries efficient. I deeply engage with startups.
YS: What is the quality of startups in this country?
SS: There have been interesting B2B companies that are cropping up and the investor community is going after them. There are quality startups, by quality I mean those that are solving enterprise grade problems. There is this startup called Belong, which uses AI and ML for talent management. I meet several of them and I see great ideas coming from India. We also have our own internal innovation programme.
YS: What are your thoughts on the education system to push innovation and talent shortage?
SS: We do not have good engineers in AI and full-stack technology development. The education system has not kept up with the demand in the industry. The blame is not entirely on education. The question that people should ask is what enterprises are doing to make people employable and be up to speed.
There are so many things one can build digitally, one of things is how we can build and give back to industry. We are creating a cloud healthcare platform that will reach several people and we are piloting this in Andhra Pradesh.
Life is about continuous learning. I went to a rural college and did not speak a sentence of English. I got my first job in Coimbatore as a lecturer in Computer Science. Those days, education paid better than industry.
When I took that job, I realised I had to teach in English. I learnt soft skills, and software skills in parallel. This is what made me give back to entrepreneurs today. Learning is so much easier today because of the sheer access of information on your fingertips. I am very positive about India and India is a warehouse of problems which need digital solutions.