Visionaries, explorers, and watchers - Infosys COO explains how businesses approach digital transformation


UB Pravin Rao, who has been with Infosys for 32 years, speaks on how Infosys aims to be a global leader in managing insights with technology, why he sees the cloud as a journey, and how their AI plaform Nia can help make an impact. 

Pravin Rao joined Infosys when it was a startup in 1986, and has, over his 32-year career, seen the highs and lows of this Rs 70,522 crore company. The chief operating officer was also the interim CEO for a brief period in 2017, and led the company through its tumultuous times from late 2016 to mid-2017.

Known to be close to the founders, Pravin spoke to YourStory on how Infosys is looking to be a global leader in managing insights with technology. He also spoke about the opportunities in modernising legacy, and what he believes will make Infosys an industry leading IT services company globally. Edited excerpts of the interview:

UB Pravin Rao

YourStory: Digital transformation is many things; what does it mean to Infosys?

Pravin Rao: From our perspective, digital transformation is about changing the core, and amplifying experience. True digital transformation is beyond experience, and is much more than just having a website. We have come up with a digital framework that has five dimensions. The first one is crafting experiences, where our clients can serve their customers and consumers well.

The second one is to leverage data for meaningful insights. The third is to create new innovative operating models for businesses, and the fourth to modernise legacy and move workloads to the cloud. Finally, the last one is cyber security.

So, if you look at it, it is a full-stack experience. It is about re-imagining business models, and refactoring talent for the modern digital approach. Digital by itself does not mean anything unless you approach it this way.

YS: The cloud has won the game, but you say it is still a journey. Why?

PR: Hybrid cloud is a reality, and no one questions it. But, it is still a journey. Some clients are visionary, and they are ahead of the cloud. Any transformation involves the cloud, and migrating legacy to new workloads is happening at a faster rate. You will have examples across verticals, and we conducted a survey to see this transformation.

Infosys recently categorised companies as visionaries, explorers, and watchers, and we had some great findings. Around 22 percent were visionaries, 50 percent were explorers, and the rest were watchers.

Visionaries have a holistic view of transformation and are looking at a prism of maximising insights. They will derive a lot of benefits digitally. The explorers are looking at creating experiences, while the watchers are looking at digital transformation from an efficiency bucket, and are yet to make a move.

This spectrum of behaviour is across verticals, but we find retail and telecom more innovative. These are consumer-driven industries, and therefore, use disruptive technologies first. Customers are expecting more from them, thanks to consumerisation of IT. Most of the innovation is happening in the consumer world, and that’s what enterprises are getting into. Telecom is getting disrupted in a massive way, and the industry is facing severe competition from OTT companies, so they have to re-invent their business model. They are finally leveraging data for more insights.

Explorers and watchers often still use legacy tech. But, you will be surprised that even visionaries are in old tech. However, they have been able to move workloads to data analytics and newer technologies, and also use the cloud. They are modernising their IT to get full benefits with insights.

You can get insights with data, and deploy analytics. If your legacy system is not prepared to extract data well, then it is not going to transform their business.

Watchers have to move fast and have to transform soon. Look at legacy led retailers who are shutting stores rapidly. The impact of Netflix, Amazon, and Google is huge. It is a great opportunity for us to work with them to transform.

YS: Digital-first companies manage their own IT, and are challenging legacy companies. How can Infosys help them with artificial intelligence platform Nia to make an impact?

PR: Business models are changing fast today. For example, Uber, Airbnb, and the sharing economy have redefined business. These are companies that license software, and manage their own IT. But there are so many old companies that do not have these capabilities, and that’s where we come in.

Take our platform Nia, which is a horizontal platform that provides cognitive capabilities. Horizontal capabilities are going away, and will be dominated by a few platforms like Microsoft while Google will dominate the AI engine. Our strategy is to build something on top of this, and not create our own platform.

We intend to build business apps on these, and these apps can be around fraud detection and procurement, for example. We don’t want to build hundreds of business apps; we want to focus on apps with great use cases for our clients. It is about stickiness and repeatability. Nia will function on industry leading platforms. We will focus on business insight, which is very important for clients.

Nia has helped in incident management in databases. Autonomous ways of approaching business is the future; you don’t need armies of people managing incidents. Nia can work in any place that generates data.

In the retail space, we have come up with “consumer genome”. It begins when a consumer consents to share data with retailers. When we discover that data, we build systems to personalise offers. There are many opportunities. Take banks for example; today, increasingly, companies are using AI at the customer and enterprise level to do KYC and credit cheques. AI helps you look at customer delinquency and fraud detection across multiple data points.

YS: How do you protect customer identity for your clients when data protection laws are being passed by every government?

PR: Data can be used only when consumer gives his consent. The consumer may not know how we arrive at insights, but we are not going to violate their privacy. Today, policies and companies are ensuring that customers are protected. There is a trade-off when it comes to data. Consumers get benefits with personalisation. They are the beneficiaries. The irony in the world today is the world has severe data regulations. Yes, we have to protect data. However, when I am providing tools to protect consumer data from being misused, the end user does not want to share data. On one hand they want us to secure data, but they don’t want us to deploy tools to protect their data. The benefits of data for personalisation will be lost because of this.

YS: Your thoughts on modern BPOs, Blockchain, and startups?

PR: The traditional BPO era is over. All BPO will now be automated. It will be more about platforms. You host data, provide insights, and innovate with technology. Combine process efficiency with technology. Solutions will be industry specific.

Blockchain is a framework that everyone is experimenting with, and will be used in any situation where there are multiple players. However, Blockchain will take some time for adoption.

Infosys actively looks at startups; we love those in the insights space, in cloud-based applications, and are interested in startups in the cyber security area too. What we have, however, not seen in India are those in the experience side where technologies can amplify insights. We are looking at those who are disruptive.

I personally meet startups at Nasscom whenever I have time. We had created an innovation fund to invest in startups. But, at that time, we realised Indian startups were in the B2C space. We love B2B startups and would love to look at the new ones making an impact in the market.


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