An enriching career spanning over three decades, with stints at Nestle, HCL, Airtel, Vodafone (Hungary) and now running her own company, Amrita Gangotra has been a leading technology leader and instrumental in launching pathbreaking technology solutions in her various roles. From a successful technology leader to a successful business leader, her perspective.
When the world was debating and deliberating the importance of the CIO in the boardroom, she had already created a niche for herself and found a seat at the table. Amongst the few tech leaders who had successfully adorned the CXO hat then, she has translated the wealth of knowledge accumulated over the years into running a successful business which again was viewed with a tainted glass by many. She takes pride in being able to have leveraged her business acumen with her technology knowledge and understand and strategize for her current clients.
As they say ‘flame is fleeting,’ and ‘job titles carry weight,’ but not in this case. She is known and still sought after by the industry for the role she played in disruption and enabling new revenue streams at various organizations and her fame continues to concede. Minu Sirsalewala, Executive Editor – Special Projects, Dataquest in a candid conversation with Amrita Gangotra, Founder &, Managing Director, ITyukt Digital Solutions. Excerpts.
Expanding beyond the realm of technology and into the realm of business strategy. How have you transitioned from an IT leadership role to a CXO position?
For some of us what has been very critical at the CIO level is, that we have been part of the business management team, which was a big differentiator. Earlier IT would report to finance or usually be at a second rung. But if you are a part of the core management team—I was part of the Airtel and Vodafone business management team—it gives you a flavor beyond technology, hardcore operations, or implementation. It exposes you to how technology is used for business. You get a hand at knowing the business. How to look at financials? How do you look at business operations, et cetera? This is imperative for anybody who is aspiring to use his or her knowledge on the technology side. Be it a business solver, or an enabler; irrespective one has to be part of a business management team. To learn about the nuances of any business, there are some commonalities in terms of financials, strategy, the vision of the business, etc. One has to take a keen interest in them and see how you are enabling your business.
This is imperative for anybody who is aspiring to use his or her knowledge on the technology side. Be it a business solver, or an enabler; irrespective one has to be part of a business management team. To learn about the nuances of any business, there are some commonalities in terms of financials, strategy, the vision of the business, etc.
we understand the importance of working with CXOs, mainly the CEOs and the CFOs and CTOs CIOs to create a technology strategy that supports and enables the business and disrupt things and do things differently. We ensure that both walk the talk for an efficacious solution.
For example, when I was at Airtel, benefits from the technological evolution and changes and disruptions that were happening have been the biggest learning for me. Since for over a decade I was a part of the business management team, I picked up a lot other than just what is technology and how you’re implementing technology, but how you’re implementing technology for the business, enabling the business, and supporting the business. For most industries that I was a part of like the communication industry or telecom industry, it’s all about technology. Technology is their factory, as a large amount of CapEx is spent on networks, IP, digital and likes to run the business. Move to today, more and more businesses are just tech-enabled. Retail shops are going away and E-commerce is booming all because of technology. The vision is to use technology to start, steer and sustain the business for further growth. That’s what a current CXO is all about.
How has your technical knowledge and understanding of the business given an edge to your business venture and customer success?
My business is a boutique consulting and advisory firm on technology. We talk about the use of technology, and what should the technology strategy and vision be in context to the business of the clients. We take care of the project management and execution of the strategy. And from experience, we understand the importance of working with CXOs, mainly the CEOs and the CFOs and CTOs CIOs to create a technology strategy that supports and enables the business and disrupt things and do things differently. We ensure that both walk the talk for an efficacious solution.
To explain it further all the use cases, for example of 5G, its implementation be it in manufacturing, retail, healthcare, or mining is a huge change that is coming about in how business is done, how operations are done. They are using Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to carry out operations, take care of safety and health hazards. They no longer send people but control remotely. The exposure to the business side has helped in forming a holistic approach and delivering effectively to the customers. As a high number of our clients are also people who have ideas but no technical understanding, we set up the tech center as per the requirement and give shape to their ideas. Right from what should be insourced, or outsourced? If the MVP is successful, how would it go to the next stage? How do you do DevOps, how do you do agile way of development, we are there end to end.
How do you see the role of technology evolving in the next five years?
Today no business literally no business can do without being built on technology, whether you talk about an SME, a very small company – the way they are using the web, emails, the ERPs or tally all on the SaaS – they are getting enabled much faster, at a lower cost and do not need an IT department, because everything is in the cloud. That is a huge change that is taking place and is going to evolve further. The likes of Zoho, Zendesk, and other DIY apps are penetrating the market allowing businesses to implement tech on their own. You do not need to have monolithic ERPs and complex internal processes. Externally be it the customer experience, or the analytics, the AI engine can give algorithms and suggest changes in the business or answer questions. Technology is answering business questions and giving much-needed analysis and insights.
Some advice to the youngsters would be it is great to know technology but where is the technology being used and what it is going to be implemented for is of equal importance. A lot of people are just happy doing only technology, but if you have the ambition to go up the ladder, then please get out of your technology hat and wear the business hat too.
Another trend is to work from anywhere. Pre – pandemic the uptake on hybrid work environments was pretty low. Now you see the shift, there is disruption happening as a lot of people are working from anywhere enabling all types of devices, and voice calls to move to IP, you don’t necessarily need to be stationed in a place to do your corporate work.
We will see more 5G enablement of the use cases in automobile, B2X use cases, mining, and healthcare. Adoption of AR-VR to enable the various quality parameters on a manufacturing line.
How did you ensure aligning technology with the overall business strategy?
Technology is there to solve a problem or enable or support a business. With that mindset there we always looked at ways to find new revenue streams, for example, when we started Airtel money, our focus was on how tech will enable it; when in 2011-2012, KYC became mandatory for all SIMs issued even in remotest places we banked on tech to make the process efficient and time saving. One has to constantly innovate and think about how the current technology can help the business and align IT with it. As things are evolving dependence on tech is becoming indispensable, and the pull and demand are more from the business, compared to when we started when IT was more of a push activity.
How do you see the role of CXOs changing with the growing importance of technology in businesses?
We always talk about CIOs talking business but nowadays, the CXOs also need to understand technology. IT cannot be ignored and they have to get into the details of how a particular technology is going to help their business. So the CIO-CTO has to have a seat on the board of the business and at the same time the CEO needs to acknowledge that the CIO-CTO is part of the strategy and the vision that he’s creating for the business. He has to be the advisor for technology enablement, like how the technologists have learned about finance and about business, the business guys need to learn about technology.
The trend is setting in but is yet to happen on a mass scale. Some of the industries like manufacturing companies are lagging behind and are yet to acknowledge a seat on the board for a technologist.
What is your advice to the upcoming IT leaders aspiring to move into a CXO role?
It is very simple. You have to know your business and the business you are supporting. You cannot be a pure technologist, how is your technology knowledge being implemented to help the business? Some advice to the youngsters would be it is great to know technology but where is the technology being used and what it is going to be implemented for is of equal importance. A lot of people are just happy doing only technology, but if you have the ambition to go up the ladder, then please get out of your technology hat and wear the business hat too. You also need to ensure timely delivery of the project and bring visibility and awareness of the technology with your fellow CXOs by taking them through various demos and highlighting how tech can help the business case.
As external visibility is also important, participating in innovation forums, startup events and panels, working with research firms helps to get an understanding on the market and outside view.
Your journey, in few words…
All my experience working in large corporations gave me the conviction and confidence to build a business on my own. I am in my fourth year now, running successfully, and it has been beyond my expectation. Many thought I was more from the technology side, how would I run a business? That question has been answered and what is truly rewarding is to contribute to a number of businesses by being on their boards. The message is to have a long-term and stable role and experiment with different types of industries, as for a technologist, it is important to know the different businesses and be able to apply your knowledge.