Human Potential

Unlimit May Answer Perplexing Digital Questions

Following a whirlwind phase of annual and quarterly results, clients meetings, and setting up new operations, I cannot wait to be at Infosys Confluence, our thought leadership summit for clients, prospects, and market influencers. Like every year, this gathering pushes the pause button on my hectic schedule - offering a Zen-like stillness, if you will, to ideate, introspect and envision with some of the best minds across industries. This time the theme, 'Unlimit', will add a new dimension to this pause. Exchanging thoughts on unlimiting our innate human potential, empowered by technology; unlimiting traditional boundaries of industries; unlimiting from that past that is baggage.

Pondering on the theme, I realize how 'Unlimit' is actually the core force driving successful digital-native organizations today. Here's an example. A Swedish startup, Mapillary, built their database of 130 million images through crowdsourcing. Mapillary Vistas Dataset calls itself "the largest and most diverse database for object recognition on street-level imagery" and offers its data to organizations that need to train their AI systems. Its creators want to represent the whole world (not only streets) with photos sourced through crowdsourcing.

While today's startups are digital natives, many large and older enterprises are still grappling with vastly different and changing technologies, consumer preferences, regulations and intense competition from unlikely areas. In my view, digital adoption for an enterprise involves two fundamental tracks - business and technology. The latter of course is about leveraging a wide array of technologies to full potential - from mobile, cloud, SaaS, open source platforms, to big data analytics, social media platforms, and now AI. The business aspect of digital adoption is about infusing the digital philosophy into workings of an existing business and changing if required - thereby, unlimiting itself from trappings of the past. Although very crucial for an organization's transformation, it is often not given due focus, or is expected to happen on its own.

Here are a few pointers that I believe can help larger and older enterprises to truly integrate digital into their business.

  • Creating a culture of innovation: Before an enterprise goes innovative on the outside − through its products or services − it needs to inculcate a culture of curiosity, learning, and experimentation within itself. A truly digital organization empowers its employees with tools and methods, such as Design Thinking, to be innovative; trains them to be open to frequent changes; and teaches them to live with relatively unpredictable outcomes. To give you an example, when a telecom company approached Infosys to automate the creation of analytical datasets to understand unified customer behavior across social, digital, and offline channels (every touch-point) and gather insights, we not only delivered on this requirement but did more. Trained in empathetic problem finding through Design Thinking, our team was able to identify the real need of the client. We used our Telco Customer Genome solution to create prefabricated pool of behavioral attributes for every customer, enabling personalized insights and accelerating the process of realizing business outcomes. Another method that can help foster a digital culture is 'working out loud'. Conceptualized by Bryce Williams in 2010, it is about observable work that can be expressed not just in text but in mediums such as music, painting, picture, audio, video, or a 3D model. 'Working out loud' creates spaces and provide tools for employees to share ideas and incentivizes creativity. This open, free-flowing environment can facilitate collaboration, approaching a problem with child-like curiosity, and identifying relevant problems worth solving.
  • 'Disagree and commit' style of leadership: Leaders in digital organizations are open and participatory, relax control, and engage in rapidly delegated decision-making. Thereby, instilling confidence in employees to make influential decisions - such as whether to include a particular feature into a product or not, or whether a particular method could be pursued in developing a product, and so on. These leaders respect decisions of their employees even if sometimes these are made with inadequate information. As Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos puts it, in digital organizations, leadership has to 'disagree and commit' for long-term rewards.
  • Breaking the mold: Whether it be open collaboration with other organizations, foraying into uncharted waters, or reimagining an existing offering - large and older enterprises will have to break their existing molds. Here's another example of a digital native: Imagine experiencing the sights and sounds of your holiday much before it actually begins. The adventure, the novelty - everything. Navitaire, a technology services subsidiary of Amadeus IT Group, has brought the travel experience closer home. One can now plan and book a holiday in VR and 3D. Justin Wilde, the Navitaire UX developer who came up with the idea, says: "I see a future in which the Internet will be a 3D experience, and everyone will have their own portable 3D headsets". How far do you think your organization, if of the traditional order, would have reimagined an existing offering in travel and hospitality? What vision would have driven this?

I'm looking forward to delving deeper, at Infosys Confluence, into how traditional organizations can leapfrog into this digital age by reworking their business strategies. I hope to come back to you with my thoughts, learning, and aha-moments after the event.