Exclusive Interview with Senior Vice-President & Global Delivery Head at Polestar Solutions

Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, the Senior Vice-President & Global Delivery Head at Polestar Solutions and Ex. Director, Deloitte India visited NSB Campus for an interaction with our students. The coordinating team of Initium magazine (An inhouse NSB magazine) interviewed the intellectual resource person in brief on the topic of AI technology, digitalization and the future of businesses.

Here we are sharing the complete interview session in this blog post and we assume all the people reading out there do make use of the same to gain understanding of the industry.

Team Initium: According to you, what is the first thing students must know about technology?

Lakshmi Narayan: The perception about technology is that just because we are all part of the IT world. IT revolution in India, so all of us look at technology as something that we need to code. It's more technical in nature. That's what we understand, but we never realized the role of technology in the market today. Technology has become an enabler for a lot of businesses and technology is solving a lot of problems. Wanting one perspective, which every one of us should be an engineer or data management graduate be immediately for that matter, the perception that people should develop is that, this technology is there to solve business problems. Depending on the problem, you choose the right technology to solve it. Yes, of course, technical engineers are always there to fix it for you, but the first important perspective is how to solve problems with it.

Team Initium: Do you think technology is a dominating factor for a successful business?

Lakshmi Narayan: Yes I would say, this is a debatable topic, I mean the very first question my Professor used to ask 11-12 years back - "Does technology drive business or business drives technology". So that's a very popular debate and we always used to say that technology drives business, But one thing which I have realized from my consulting experiences is that it is always the business need which drives technology. But of course, Technology has started playing a bigger role in business decision-making today. With the kind of world we are living in where everything is uncertain, volatile, so sometimes you need a bit of technology to help you to assist you in the right decisions. So technology from that point of view has started becoming a dominant force. In helping organizations to reduce the cost, increase the revenue, as well as be a competitive edge over all the other players in the market. To give you a simple example- for the last 15 years I have been banking with HDFC Bank that was from my first salary account but today I am thinking of moving to Kotak Mahindra because Kotak is enabling me with all the tools, they have used technology as an edge, as a player. Their app is good, so is their website. I need not visit the branch at all, everything can be done on my mobile. So that convenience, technology could enable it and that is acting as an edge for Kotak today. So that's what, I see it as a dominant force in the market.

Team Initium: The amount of digitization that should have happened in the span of five years happened in a few months. Your take on the statement?

Lakshmi Narayan: : That goes to the popular joke right, who enables the digital marketing transformation- is it your CEO, CTO, or the COVID 19. COVID 19 is the answer. A lot of organizations were thinking about moving to digital or using digital technology for their organizations but they did not take the step right yet. The people who took the first step are the ones who are able to survive today during the covid times. Be it remote working of the employees or catering to the customers who could not come to the branch or who could not come to the store. Today the organizations use technology as a competitive edge, earlier adopters to covid are the ones reaping the benefits, and people who were lacking behind at that part of time are realizing the benefits of digital by looking at their competitors. Now they are taking the first steps and as you rightly mentioned - what could not have been achieved for 5 years we are able to achieve in a few months now.

Team Initium: Given the impact that COVID has on business. Do you think integrating technology with business is the new ambition?

Lakshmi Narayan: : It was just extending it to the class. today business without technology is becoming a challenging thing. And of course, a lot of startups are becoming successful. Take any startup that has become successful. In the last two or three years, you will realize that technology has played a big role in the way they're running their operations. They are running their business, by integrating everything with technological data. So definitely though new businesses that are coming up, the new business models are evolving with the technology. The businesses, which will not pick up technology are the ones that are lacking, which are destroying their models. So keep on changing with technology. That's what is the mantra for the new-age businesses and they should follow.

Team Initium: What do you think are some of the misconceptions of this technology?

Lakshmi Narayan: : I will go back to the first answer. So one technology means technical- need not be. And the second thing, technology with respect to problem-solving will take away jobs. That's another misconception, which has to be understood. Technology solves a lot of problems. And the third one has on the other side, don't fall for the bait that I have to adopt technology and am under pressure to adopt technology just because others are doing it. I'll go back to the foundational logic, which I have told for one of the questions is like It’s the business need, which drives technology. I'll go with a simple example, maybe a tea shop right outside the campus. What is the technology that he may need, at the max he may need a wallet or a QR code for it? So that's what is the technology for him. He doesn't need cloud or AI or anything that is bigger, just because we're talking about it, everyone talks about it. He need not adopt that. So is there a need for people to adopt technology instead of problems that can be solved with technology? That is the first question which companies and businesses should answer then comes the role of technology and solving it. First identification of the problem. Because the problem today is people are going in the reverse direction in the organizations, many businesses, they try to look at it like, okay, I have the technology and how can I use it in my company, that's the thought process. Instead, the question should be like, what are the pain areas that they, to solve those period pain areas how can they use technology? So that's the way the organizations should think. And that's a popular misconception in the market now. So people should start thinking in the right direction.

Team Initium: What are the areas and techniques that budding managers should look into?

Lakshmi Narayan: : If I have to be honest, I would say that it's more like a Udupi menu card, I can give you 10 technologies, which people should focus on like analytics, big data, artificial intelligence, under that machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, NLP, all these areas, and then mobility, cloud, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotic process automation, and blockchain.

These are all the digital technologies, which are adopted by organizations across different areas. So maybe those technologies would play out. My suggestion for the product managers should be like a domain plus technology. That's the focus that they should have. So if they are choosing finance as a specialization, as a budding manager, my suggestion is, can you use, can you study blockchain along with finance. If you're choosing HR, can you study HR plus big data plus AI, how it can solve products? So look at technology as a kind of specialization along with the goal, which is what is going to make them differentiated in the market. So that's something they should look at.

And I also always tell this as a mentor, read at least a Wikipedia page of all these technologies to begin and answer the basic questions, five W one H for every technology. What is technology? Why is this technology used in the market? How is it used? So answer all of these questions and then cover the depth of one. In consulting, we say, this cover the breadth of all and depth of one, I mean, it's more like this Jack of all trades master of none is something we always say, I will say, master of one. So be the Jack of all technologies, but master of one, that's what is really differentiating in the market, even in the core management space.

Team Initium: Importance of AI for business

Lakshmi Narayan: : AI is the new electricity. AI is going to change the way of the people, change the organizations that are functioning, change the operating models of the businesses. AI is going to create purpose in the market. It has already started doing it. Now the point is, have you seen the wave or not, are you part of the wave or not, as a business. If you have not, you need to pick it up quickly and start looking at how AI can help you out. What are the pain areas you have you can plan and bring in different areas of AI and start solving the problems? The paradigm shift which we were just talking about in the session, it’s more about moving away from conventional algorithmic thinking to prediction thinking. Where you use probabilistic models to solve the problems. Today 80% of the problems which could not be solved earlier through algorithmic thinking are getting solved with the help of AI. So definitely this is the new style of solving problems in the business. So businesses should take AI seriously to survive. I wouldn't even say to shine but to survive they have to do it.

Team Initium: Future of AI and technology for the business

Lakshmi Narayan: : Differently. Great. I would especially say that AI is going to be the foundation for most of the other technologies, look at it in this way. AI it's not an independent technology or any digital technology for that matter. So, compared to the conventional technologies, all the digital technologies that we talk about exist in the form of an ecosystem that is data or AI plus operations technology, AI plus, augmented reality. So you try to look at the combination of technologies to solve bigger problems. As the most popular example of this case is the digital twin, which is being occupied in many organizations today. It's more about predictive maintenance where you try to bring IoT plus cloud plus AI to solve it. So it's a combination of technologies. So AI is the engine for these. So organizations should look at it as an engine used with other technologies to empower them. So AI as a feature is a necessity in the future.