Natarajan Radhakrishnan, President and CIO, Hinduja Global Solutions, talks about the latest tech and industry trends, the importance of using data responsibly, the disruptive power of Generative AI, the three Normals and how the country is placed in its India 2047 Mission. Edited excerpts from a comprehensive video interview…
On the latest trends…
We used to talk about the technology and IT services industry on one side and BPM on the other: The skills required, the way services were delivered, and client expectations. These were dramatically different between the two. But that line is now going away, and it is becoming one continuum. Today for delivering BPM and customer experience services, lots of technology is needed. Similarly for delivering technology services, you need process experience.
ChatGPT has become a generic name even though it’s a brand. We also have Bard and other large language models coming. This will fundamentally alter the way customer experience services are delivered. Gen AI-enabled chatbots and conversational bots keep learning on the job and build a knowledge repository over a period. Customer experience is becoming much more seamless due to that.
I see exciting times for our tech talent. Now there are so many opportunities around new tech. We need not be the back office of the world or workshop of the world. We can be the factory of the world. We can be the R&D lab of the world.
Another interesting thing is voice and visual search. You can have voice clips and find out where they originated from. When you see a particular visual, you want to know what that product is and who manufactured it. Earlier it was very difficult, but today you have a visual search.
Then there’s cybersecurity. Every year exponentially number of cybersecurity incidents and threats is increasing exponentially. It is immense and an unbelievable growth for me. You can have all kinds of defenders, virus protection, etc, despite that there is always an incident.
There are some existing concepts that continue to be robust. There’s personalization and hyper-personalization. Earlier we were segmenting the market, for example, some people like sedans, and some like station wagons. But that level of segmenting is not enough. We need to personalize for an individual. You can’t have a group of people and make an offering for them. You need to personalize the offering to suit the tastes of the individual.
Finally, how to integrate the omnichannel? How to ensure the same experience in every channel, whether you buy something in a shop or through the Internet, or through a mobile app. The experience must be identical. It must be high-quality and very similar.
Many of these technologies must be developed in India. I see exciting times for our tech talent. Now there are so many opportunities around new tech. We need not be the back office of the world or the workshop of the world. We can be the factory of the world. We can be the R&D lab of the world.
The importance of using data responsibly…
We are constantly mining for data. This means that you also need to make sure that data is responsibly used. That is where regulation comes in. The most restrictive regulation is in the EU, the GDPR. China has its own PIPL. India passed the Personal Digital Data Protection Act. It tries to borrow the best practices from different countries. For example, the user’s data can be used only with consent. It must be unconditional, voluntary, and specific. The user can withdraw consent whenever he feels like it.
Then you have the data fiduciary. Recipients of the data need to exercise total safeguards. It can be used only for the purpose it is intended. Data in general cannot go out of the country. In the case of multinationals, they can send data subject to two conditions. The government has the power to limit sending data to certain hostile countries. It can only be used for the purpose of making decisions with respect to the India business.
There are some exemptions for startups because they are not in a position to spend this kind of money whereas large players like significant fiduciary companies, they need a data protection officer just like a CIO or CTO. All in all, it’s a well-thought-out regulation. There are some concerns about overreach. Data governance is also covered in all of this.
Has the New Normal settled in versus the old?
I actually have three Normals: The Old Normal, the Covid Normal, and the New Normal. The Old Normal was when everybody was coming to work despite struggling with the traffic. Covid times it became completely work from home. Today we have a hybrid working policy. Most companies have decided to call people back three days a week. Some are also saying two or five days, but nobody wants to come to the office five days a week. We have perfected the art of working from home.
But still, there are a few things that require face time. For certain complex problem-solving, people must be in the same room. Face time is also required for team building and camaraderie.
Earlier all our training was classroom training. We also sent people out for training. During the pandemic, there was lots of e-learning. Learning platforms became popular. So today it’s a combination of physical learning and e-learning. Pre-pandemic, 6-10 days a year was the industry average for learning. During the pandemic, this dramatically went up. The New Normal is more than the Old Normal but less than the Covid Normal.
The pace of digital transformation has increased. Earlier what used to take 12-18 months today is taking 3-6 months. Technology, in areas like mobile development, is changing every 6 months. People must be nimble. You should be willing and able to learn new technologies very fast. The most important part is learnability. You are constantly skilling and reskilling yourself. That is the New Normal. 15 years with one technology is the Old Normal.
How much will ChatGPT and Generative AI disrupt?
The headline answer is that it will disrupt big time. The pace of change on the Large Language Model side is frightening. They are all becoming all-pervasive, intelligent, smarter, and so on. I see multiple cases in which it will disrupt and, in most cases, improve the business.
The way you engage with your customers, deliver services, and handle complaints will change. Post-purchase services and help desk is bound to become extremely superior. LLM models will play a big role in the creative space like movie and drama scripts. Then there’s summarization in the healthcare space, intelligent supply chain, digital art, and digital agriculture. There are more and more use cases coming up every day.
Regarding India’s Mission 2047…
All the predictions about India’s economic growth are understated. The reality is going to be bigger. India is the only country with its demographic dividend intact. China does not have it anymore. We still have a reasonably young population. Second, we are very good in terms of basic skilling. We may have some weaknesses in advanced skilling. If I want a programmer, I am confident I can get a programmer. We are the only country where we can hire 300,000 programmers in a year. Nobody else can do it.
we are very good in terms of basic skilling. We may have some weaknesses in advanced skilling. If I want a programmer, I am confident I can get a programmer. We are the only country where we can hire 300,000 programmers in a year. Nobody else can do it.
The third thing that encourages me is reasonably new. We were always good in applied research, applied programming, and things like that. Now there is an emergence of science education. The quality of pure science is going up and there is much more focus on R&D. There is an emphasis on PhD programs, IITs, and other institutes.
Governance is also becoming stronger. The central and state governments are becoming completely digitized and superior. The regulatory framework is becoming much more sophisticated. We are getting out of colonial procedure-oriented regulation to a management monitoring-orientated one. The Data Protection Act is a good example. We are also becoming an innovation hub.
Most of the foundational pieces are in place. I am not even thinking of 2047. India will probably be called an advanced country and in the Top 3 economies in the world in the next 10-15 years. There are a couple of cautionary elements too. This will need superior infrastructure. Advanced education is an area in which we need to make some more progress.
(Catch the complete interview at the CyberMedia Series YouTube channel)