Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Komal Jain on High Tech EvolutionApril 02, 2020
Komal Jain, Vice President and High Tech Industry Lead at Infosys, discusses how anticipating and embracing change, and recruiting the right talent will allow high tech industries to continually reinvent themselves and stay relevant in today’s evolving marketplace.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“In the high tech world, the disruptors of yesterday are getting disrupted today.”
- Komal Jain
You work with global high tech companies evolving through disruptive change. Is there one whose story seems especially relevant?
Jeff explains Komal’s background and experience.
How did you get started in tech?
What is it about tech that excites you?
Going back to your startup days, what's the one memory you can pull from there that was most interesting or thrilling?
For these tech companies, what is the major problem they have to address?
Komal and Jeff talk about the success of tech company Avnet.
What lessons have you gotten from their senior executives on [Avnet’s] journey?
As you think about tech companies, what's unique about them? Do they actually experiment more than others?
High tech companies put out some really cool products. Are they cool internally, themselves?
How has the dependence on China influenced the growth of the tech industry?
Let's look at the product itself. Everyone is enamored with software, but there are still factories that make stuff, that make physical goods. What's the factory of the future look like for high tech?
You can never implement a big change before the thing you were trying to do is no longer relevant. How do executives deal with that in tech?
Tech firms have traditionally been business to business, or B2B. What are the most important implications as they transition to B2C models, or businesses to consumer?
We hear the phrase digitally native a lot, but what does that really mean? How are tech firms embracing it?
What is a common misconception about the high tech industry that most people don't know?
What three things can you leave executives with that they can follow to succeed in their own disruptions?
Who's been a major influence for you?
What online resources can you recommend to listeners? Any books or any insights?
How can people find you online?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Komal Jain, you work with global high tech companies evolving through disruptive change. Is there one whose story seems especially relevant?
Komal Jain: Jeff, in the high tech world, the disruptors of yesterday are getting disrupted today. And if you look at the semicon high chain, Intel pretty much dominated that space. They're the ones who disrupted the ones before that, and they completely missed the mobile revolution. They got disrupted by the Qualcomms and the Nvidias of the world, that just creamed that market. Now very recently, Nvidias and Qualcomms are getting disrupted themselves, because the hyperscalers like the Google and the AWS are coming up with their own chips to fuel the next revolution, which is around cloud.
Komal Jain: So, there's a constant disruption that high tech sees. If you look at the other segment, which is the enterprise software segment, that itself is undergoing disruption, right? You heard about the on-prem softwares, the biggies like the Oracle, the SFPs, and Microsoft, they are getting disrupted, because of the shift to cloud, and software as a service.
Komal Jain: So you see Adobe, the Salesforce, and the likes, really making the software industry undergo a change. So, that's really what makes the shift in the high tech world.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And evolution of high tech is what we'll be exploring in today's conversation. Welcome to the Knowledge Institute Podcast, where we talk with thought leaders on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute, and today, we're here with Komal Jain. Komal is Vice President and High Tech Industry Lead at Infosys, a leading digital services and consulting firm.
Jeff Kavanaugh: During his 20-plus years at Infosys, Komal has hailed a progressively growing combination of delivery, sales, and leadership roles, providing him a 360-degree view and perspective of the tech industry. Komal's formal training includes an MBA from the Institute of Management and a bachelor's degree in technology from the National Institute of Technology in Kurukshetra, India. Komal, thanks for joining us.
Komal Jain: Absolutely. Pleasure to be here.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How did you get started in tech?
Komal Jain: Growing up, I was always fascinated by technology. I was always curious about how it made wonderful things happen. I grew up in a small town in Northern part of India, and in my high school, we had these special rooms for keeping personal computers where no desks could go in. And when we had exposure to personal computers, I was really amazed by how it can make wonderful things happen, and I was hooked. This was in early 90s when Fortran and DOS were still the predominant languages. During the 90s, I also got exposure to a lot of cool stuff happening, what you call now as the internet revolution. We saw companies like Yahoo, AltaVista, and Netscape really shaping a whole new industry.
Komal Jain: And during the way early part of my career, I was the founding member of a startup. So I really have seen high tech evolving through its various spaces, and that has always kept me fascinated about how it is driving changes, and not for its own industry, but also for many other industries around it.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is it about tech that excites you?
Komal Jain: Electronic industry was... electronic engineering was a major for me. And when I look at the technology industry, it really shapes each and every other industry.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Going back to your startup days, what's the one memory you can pull from there that was most interesting or thrilling?
Komal Jain: So I think what is so exciting was the speed of change. These were the days during the internet revolution where you could see lot new things happening. One was obviously how Netscape and AOL really shaped the internet industry, but on the other hand, we could see totally new offshoots coming up. E-commerce was getting developed through Amazon. There was a total new field of auctions becoming all of a sudden available by the likes of eBay.
Komal Jain: And then you had Yahoo and AltaVista, which people don't remember anymore, which really shaping the search industry where information really became accessible. Now when I look at my startup years, I could see that in a startup you had to fail fast and fail cheap. We were continuing to invent and look at new models.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What was your product back then?
Komal Jain: So the product was really focusing on monetizing the new emerging e-commerce market, right? Be able to look at what Amazon was doing, be able to look at what auctions on eBay was doing, and then also look at how we can provide information across to users in a very timely fashion. Smart phones didn't exist, so the model was really about getting information on your handheld device in a very quick fashion, and they'd be able to take action based on it.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Fast forwarding to today briefly, what is the same in the problems we're trying to address, and what's really changed?
Komal Jain: If I look at it, in the high tech world today, I feel it is fundamental to each and every industry, right? Let's look at the automotive. As industry is going through major shifts, you will see the emergence of electronic vehicles. You see the emergence of ride-sharing. You also see autonomous driving. Now, but if you go underneath it, what really is happening is, it's the software and the hardware that powers this change. That's kind of fundamental to the shift that we are seeing in the automotive industry.
Komal Jain: Similarly, if you take another example of financial industry, there is technology that is really powering the efficient working of the markets. You look at accurate forecasting, accurate predictions, which really keeps the market going and being more efficient. Also in the financial sector, we see the use of technology to prevent cyber theft, to be able to look at credit scores all in real time, to be able to better service its customers.
Komal Jain: Similarly, if you look at the retail segment, we are looking at how your e-commerce giants and retailers are able to sense the demands before a consumer even knows about it. They are able to not just forecast it, but able to make meaningful recommendations, being able to service the client.
Komal Jain: And underlying all of this is the hardware and the software. So that makes the whole high tech space very fascinating. You know, in my view going forward, each industry will become a technology company.
Jeff Kavanaugh: So that's why high tech's important to everything else. Let's go back to the heart of the matter though. For these tech companies, what is the major problem they have to address?
Komal Jain: Within the high tech, each segment has its own challenges. Each segment is unique in itself, and they're trying to solve their own problem. If you look at the semicon players, the focus for them is to get the maximum computing power available with the lowest power consumption, right? That's the like of Intel, the Nvidias, the AMDs of the world. If you look at the computing majors like the HP, the Dell, Lenovos, and all that, they want to make sure that they get the latest and the greatest gear, at the lowest cost, at the fastest speed, in front of their consumers.
Komal Jain: So for them, the focus is on supply chain visibility, supply chain execution, and avoiding technology obsolescence. If you look at the software industry, which is also part of high tech, the focus is on ensuring that not only get the latest and the greatest software, but also focus on user adoption, because when they go back for the renewals, everyone is going to look at whether this technology has really use.
Komal Jain: So each segment has its own challenges. Now, what does happen at times is that nobody looks at the bigger picture, and that leaves too many of these companies missing out on some of the shifts that happen across the industry chain. And at the same time, this is one industry where legacy could be a disadvantage. You know, as Satya Nadella put it very beautifully, when he took over as the CEO of Microsoft, that this industry respects innovation, not tradition.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah, and you've actually worked with Microsoft as a big client. Given that this was so well known, what's a lesson that folks that might not have worked so deeply and closely in that environment as you, can take from the success they've had in the rebirth?
Komal Jain: I think the focus is on accepting change and embracing change. I think that kind of has been said that change is the only constant, but very few companies embrace it. And I think high tech as industry and the multiple examples we can look at, where they are the ones who are in the full front of change. They accept failures, take it as part of the success journey and make a change.
Komal Jain: In fact, I'll give you another example of a client of mine called Avnet. They are nearly a hundred year old electronic distributors.
Jeff Kavanaugh: It's hard to be more than a hundred years old in electronics, right?
Komal Jain: Yes, yes, absolutely. So, they've been around for a hundred years, and their focus was, how can they leverage all these technologies and provide a better service to the end customer? So they wanted to provide a concierge-like service to its customers across the whole ecosystem, spanning more than six million products. And we worked very closely with them to use the latest AI and machine learning technology, and build a cognitive assistant. So this is not just able to look at the prior history of the customers, it is able to look at what their demand is, it's able to serve them with their own information, and more importantly, make timely recommendations to upselling process.
Komal Jain: So this has led to a big shift for the company, and think about a hundred-year-old company being able to make that, and make that switch quickly. And it's great for Infosys' part of such journeys.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Full disclosure, everyone. Komal and I have actually worked together for quite some time. Known him for more than 10 of your 20-plus years in business, and a lot of cussing and discussing over the years. You usually go in the same direction. It's funny you mentioned that as an example, because they're not in the heart of Silicon Valley. They’re in Phoenix.
Komal Jain: Yes.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And the other thing that's interesting is when you worked with them, and I was out there at times as well, they were going through some churning change in parallel. They bought companies, they sold companies, they changed executives, they had failed major programs across the street. What lessons have you gotten from their senior executives they've gotten on this journey?
Komal Jain: I think they have great leadership. And I think it all starts from the top, and their willingness to make the shift. When you look at their CEO and their CIO, whom we are very closely engaged with, I think they are able to really see the shifts that are happening, they're able to tell us what is not working for them, and then they're able to go to the pains of a change.
Komal Jain: You know, think about it, change is never easy. A lot of people talk about it, a lot of people don't embrace it, but very few do it. But I think in Avnet, I've seen a company and a culture which is willing to embrace the change, being able to engage with partner who can help them on the journey, and being agile enough to shift the journey if that is what is needed. And I think they are one of the examples where over the last three, four years that we've worked with them, we've [inaudible] see them being innovative, being able to listen, and really make the shift, even though they have a huge culture, which could be a hindrance.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And I'm glad you brought them up as well. One last comment on them is, they're not the so-called glamor company…
Komal Jain: Yes.
Jeff Kavanaugh: ... the Apple, the Google, Facebook, and yet they're a multibillion, 15, 20-plus billion dollar company, who sits in that next layer of making tech work. And I think it's for the rest of us that are trying to... that are out there making it work, they're a good lesson. As you think about tech companies, what's unique about them? Do they actually experiment more than others?
Komal Jain: Yes, they do. I think the high tech industry, I've seen across various industries, the one that's focused on what is next, right? In the Infosys language, you talk about navigating the next, and I've seen high tech really focusing on the next level of evolution, more than any other industry, right? If you look at retail, the automotive, the financial sector, right? Those companies have been really around for hundreds and hundreds of years. In my view, high tech as industry, is still in its infancy. As you look at a child, during the early years, they go through a lot of change, and I think high tech is in that part of its maturity cycle. It has been able to attract the greatest talent, right?
Komal Jain: But also I think, it is able to take the changes in the right fashion. You know, there are failures along the way. In fact, failures get rewarded, because to a large extent, it is because the culture that got created earlier on in the Silicon Valley or some of the other innovation hubs, that has continued to fuel the changes and the growth of the sector.
Komal Jain: Also, I think the other thing we need to look at is, driving the innovation, is the amount of patents that the industry has filed, right? If you look at the last five to seven years, the patents that have been filed by the high tech industry is actually higher than all the other industries combined, including the biomedical and sciences. So that is a reflection of the kind of innovation that place does, and how it is really embracing change in the truest sense.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Once again, you are listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. We are here today with Komal Jain, high tech industry leader at Infosys. Komal, on a bit of a lighter note, high tech companies put out some really cool products.
Komal Jain: Sure.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Are they cool internally, themselves?
Komal Jain: It's difficult to see, right? While they work on some really cool stuff, I think that internally they face very similar challenges. I think the biggest one is attracting the best talent. Everyone wants to go after what you call the super programmers, the 10x programmers. So that's a constant challenge for any company, and more so for high tech. Also, I think many of these companies have grown big very fast.
Komal Jain: And another thing unique about high tech is many companies go through mergers and acquisitions. So all of a sudden, you see internal technology systems which don't talk to each other. So I meet across many CIOs almost every week, and they're all still struggling to clean up the mess, and making basic information available to their business. So they have those challenges, they look cool from outside, but I think internally, they have the same complexity.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Going from an internal view to maybe a macro view, and maybe some would even say the elephant in the room, what about China? How is the dependence on China influenced the growth of the tech industry?
Komal Jain: I think China is a big player in the high tech world. If you really look at China, they've been known to be the manufacturing hub for good quality stuff at a much lower cost. That's what led to the emergence of Foxconn, the TSMCs, and many of the manufacturing majors in China. And I think they've led that wave. But what is really interesting is how China has shaped up in the last few years. I think in the last seven to 10 years, you would see China emerging as a AI superpower. You know, we look at some of the innovation coming out of China, the likes of WeChat, buy2, AI, Alipay, and very recently, TikTok.
Komal Jain: You see really interesting cool stuff coming from that region. And in fact, just two years back, if somebody were to say that a company from China would emerge, which would be on every phone, nobody would believe it now. Now but take the example of TikTok. I think it is one of the leading products on every app store, and on everyone's phones, competing with the likes of Facebook, and Instagram, and WhatsApp. So that's very, very interesting. So my personal view is that China will move and grow from its manufacturing position, as manufacturing hub to being an innovation hub.
Komal Jain: And if some of you are really interested in this topic, I would recommend you look at a book, a very interesting book called AI Superpower by author Kai-Fu Lee. I think it's a very interesting read.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Staying on the topic of China for a moment, what should executives outside of China know about China, especially if they're concerned about high tech?
Komal Jain: I think China presents itself as an opportunity as well as a big threat. I'd say opportunity, because it's a huge population. It's willingness to catch up to the Western countries in terms of technology adoption, and most importantly, government support to embrace technology with the likes of smart cities, AI, and its focus on innovation. So it really is something you can't ignore.
Komal Jain: But I call it as a threat also, because you're going to see competition from local Chinese companies. They have access to cheap Visi money which was not earlier available. They have access to talent, English-speaking talent, which is all of a sudden available, and who are willing to work double hard than their Western counterparts.
Komal Jain: And then more importantly, there is a government regulation which supports local companies rather than global majors. So that's why it's a big threat.
Komal Jain: Now, looking at companies who want to take care of this opportunity, I think the only way they can focus on growth and expanding that region is through continuous innovation. Because the moment you're entering China, you're seeing hundreds of copycats coming up who are willing to work double hard. But I think the biggest advantage that you will have is to be able to innovate, to be able to attract talent, and continue to try new things, localize it, and then expand in that space.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Let's look at the product itself. Everyone is enamored with software, but there are still factories that make stuff, that make physical goods. What's the factory of the future look like for high tech?
Komal Jain: So, the factory of the future actually would be a learning factory. We've already seen the emergence of intelligent factories. We have seen robotics being embraced in a big way. We are seeing data now being used in a big way to get real-time analytics, and real-time information, and put in the feedback loop, which helps make these products faster and cheaper and readily available, and be able to adapt to changing cycles.
Komal Jain: Also through industry 4.0, and leveraging IoT and cloud, we are seeing big shifts that really making the factory of the future. I feel the factories of the future will be more learning factories, where humans will work closely with machines, and be able to create that virtuous cycle, where you're able to make products which are far more customized, which are far more unique in many ways, at a much faster rate.
Komal Jain: Now it has two significant implications. Number one, I personally feel that the factories will move closer to their end customers. So we're already seeing that Tesla making its factories in Silicon Valley, or they're going to Europe. Because labor is not a big consideration, proximity becomes important.
Komal Jain: The other thing which we will see is factories be able to mass customize at a large scale, right? I can order my car to my specs, and be available in two to three weeks. That's something we could not foresee even just two, three years back. So mass customization, even for large factory locations is going to be very possible.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Working in the tech industry myself, what always amazed me is applicable I think to most businesses, but especially this, the market rate of change...
Komal Jain: Yes.
Jeff Kavanaugh: ... is X, whatever it is. It's a year, let's say. And yet the rate of change of a company to catch up has always been, let's say three years. It's at least twice that. It's like a mathematical equation with no solution.
Komal Jain: Yes.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You can never implement a big change before the thing you were trying to do is no longer relevant. How do executives deal with that in tech?
Komal Jain: It's not easy, right? It's not easy. For every success that gets talked about, like the Uber, the Airbnbs, the Shopifys, the Teslas of the world, right? There are a lot of failures along the way, which nobody knows. But I think what makes tech industry unique is, they're able to embrace those failures. And I think large global enterprises also need to do the same. You know, I see companies that are really successful in making this shift as the one which have an incubator mentality within the large enterprise. They have something called a “future fund,” or “navigate your next fund,” which is directly in the sponsorship, directly of the CEO. They're able to really focus on what is going to take them to the next evolution of growth.
Komal Jain: Now, if you look at the successful companies that have really reinvented them over and over again, examples like an Intel, or an Apple, or Adobe, or very recently Microsoft, we are really looking at where their new set of growth came in to drive incremental revenue top line. Whereas the traditional business kept the cash flow going on.
Komal Jain: So you really have to look at making that shift happen with that future fund, or an incubator fund, and have that sponsored not around side project or a small project, but right under the CEO, or somebody as senior as that.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Tech firms have traditionally been business to business, or B2B. What are the most important implications as they transition to B2C models, or businesses to consumer?
Komal Jain: Not all companies need to move to B2C. They really don't need to, because as I mentioned earlier, high tech powers in many other industries like the financial segment, the retail, the automotive and so on. Now, the companies would continue to sell in a B2B model, but they really help their clients, and their industries create disruption on their own world, so that will continue.
Komal Jain: On the companies that are in the consumer electronics segment, I think the battle is already on. In the world where end consumer has got used to instant gratification, a great customer experience thanks to the Apple, Netflix, and Googles of the world, I think the companies that'll continue to emerge are the ones that will really make the end user life experience much smoother, and provide them at the touch of a button.
Komal Jain: I'm particularly interested in looking at companies who can focus on few key elements, right? You know, I'm very curious to see how companies make the shift in the health area, right? To be able to focus on human longevity, and in a good way. To focus on autonomous driving. I think that's a big area companies are spending a lot of time and money on it, but there is still some ways to go. I think we're going to see more and more B2C work happening in that space.
Jeff Kavanaugh: We hear the phrase digitally native a lot, but what does that really mean? How are tech firms embracing it?
Komal Jain: I think this is a very interesting term that was coined by Marc Prensky in 2001. Referring to people who grew in the era of ubiquitous technology, which includes the computers, the internet, and the mobile. The digital natives are the ones which feel technology is integral part of who they are. They can't separate technology from their own lives. In the business world, it is really tied to companies in the mobile and social space. These companies really don't hold a lot of physical assets, or factories, or operations, but they have access to a lot of data, right? The companies like Uber, the WeChat I talked about, the Googles, and so on, Facebook and so on. So they every day, have access to petabytes of data. That itself is a gold mine. So they are the ones who are going to call the shots going forward, and really shape many of the industries.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is a common misconception about the high tech industry that most people don't know?
Komal Jain: The many that are around? Yeah. I think everyone feels that high tech, you get to work on cool projects. I think that's not the case. And as I mentioned, companies have grown fast. Companies get acquired, companies merge, and there are a lot of legacy stuff, or disparate system that creep in. So there are things that don't talk to each other, and there is a lot of mess that needs to get cleaned up, and that's not always cool.
Komal Jain: The other thing that everyone thinks is that high tech industry attracts the best talent. Actually, that is not the case. In fact, high tech industry is a poaching ground for traditional companies to attract best talent. High tech industry on the other hand, attract good talent from colleges. They create for them a platform to work hard, sweat, and really become the superstars of tomorrow.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Like the farm team.
Komal Jain: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also, I think the third thing is that high tech companies are really cool because they provide access to free food, free beer and whatnot. I think that's a misconception, because those are the people who are working day in and day out. They have absolutely no work-life balance. So a lot of people who... things that look cool from outside may not be the ones which a lot of people-
Jeff Kavanaugh: Come for the ping pong, the free food, stay the night. Yeah.
Komal Jain: Yeah, absolutely. At work the whole night.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah.
Komal Jain: You're absolutely right. So, these are the things that make high tech look very cool from the outside, but in the inside, it's not as exciting as it looks out to be.
Jeff Kavanaugh: We're close to wrapping up. What three things can you leave executives with, that they can follow to succeed in their own disruptions?
Komal Jain: What comes to my mind is be really honest about the difficulties of change. People know it, people talk about it, but very few do it. I think the biggest thing is, be able to champion failures, be able to embrace what changes, and be able to full heartedly support that. I think that's one big thing which I will recommend highly to anyone listening to this podcast.
Komal Jain: Second, I personally feel is, always look for the right talent. And third thing which I constantly see is, especially in the high tech world is, be constantly learning. Being able to really sense what is changing, being able to look at things outside your normal horizon, you know, what is your core day-to-day focus, and look at how industry shifts are happening. Because shift is going to happen. That is a given. How quick, how soon, sometimes difficult to adapt and know. And the only safeguarding is that is to be able to constantly learn, look for new ideas, not just in your industry, but outside your industry, and take it fully head on.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Who's been a major influence for you?
Komal Jain: Jeff, I'd go to my father. Growing up, I could see a strong sense of work ethic, being able to put in the hours on things that you're passionate about, and give it all that you have. Also, being able to focus on the values, the time tested values of honesty and integrity. I think while it may sound boring, I personally feel that those are the things that are important for creating a lifelong success and happy life, and my father really had a big influence on me, and the reason why I'm here,
Jeff Kavanaugh: Boring never goes out of style.
Komal Jain: Yes.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I appreciate that. What online resources can you recommend to listeners? Any books or any insights?
Komal Jain: You know, I just finished a very interesting book on Elon Musk by author called Ashlee Vance. It's a very fantastic read, because this was written before Elon Musk got to be known for all the success at Tesla, and SpaceX, and others. It really talks about all the challenges he had to go through, almost the near bankruptcy situation that he got into. So I'd highly recommend anyone interesting to know what the high tech goes through, to pick that up.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Finally, how can people find you online?
Komal Jain: They can find me online on Infosys' website, on my blogs, as well as on LinkedIn, and if they are interested, they can directly write to me at KomalJain@infosys.com.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You can find details on our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/IKI in our podcast section. Komal, thank you for your time, and a highly interesting discussion. Everyone, you've been listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer Catherine Burdette, Dode Bigley, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning, and keep sharing.
About Komal Jain
During his 20-plus years at Infosys, Komal has held a progressively growing combination of delivery, sales, and leadership roles, providing him a 360-degree view and perspective of the tech industry. Komal's formal training includes an MBA from the Institute of Management and a bachelor's degree in technology from the National Institute of Technology in Kurukshetra, India.
- Connect with Komal Jain on : LinkedIn
- Email: KomalJain@infosys.com
- Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
- AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee
Selected links from the episode