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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

Accelerating Digital in a Data-driven World

Sanjay Srivastava Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Strategist Genpact
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In this episode of the Business Resilience Series, Sanjay Srivastava, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Strategist, Genpact talks to Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner, Zinnov about how digital is changing its face with time. Through innovation, renewed business strategy and a novel approach to talent, digital has the power to transform industries, cultures and business. The role of a CIO has evolved drastically as more and more verticals have adopted technology in their everyday functions. How does this CIO bring a fresh perspective with the correct business context? How does a diverse people strategy contribute to better business model innovations, and optimal outcomes?

This podcast episode delves into the deeper nuance of talent, technology, cultures and the role of data. As we see AI take centerstage, Sanjay also unpacks the climate problem, and how technology can help solve for some of the roadblocks, in the pursuit to net zero.


Praveen: Technology is evolving at a pace unheard of bringing with it a plethora of opportunities, challenges, and innovations. We talk of Web3, heightened data security and privacy, automation, et cetera coming to the fore. It helps to recalibrate our thinking and perspectives to keep pace with technology’s evolution.

Hello everyone and welcome back to another exciting episode of the Zinnov podcast Business Resilience Series. I am Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner at Zinnov and I will be your host for this episode. Today I have with me Sanjay Srivastava, the Chief Digital Strategist at Genpact. Sanjay works exclusively with Genpact’s senior most client executives and technology ecosystem leaders to mobilize digital transformation.

His work helps the company’s innovation programs and technology initiatives across the industries which Genpact serves globally. Sanjay is a consummate technologist who is deeply rooted in the innovation ecosystem and is also an advisor to Silicon Valley incubators as well as several startups and a limited partner in digital-focused venture funds.

Welcome Sanjay. Great to have you here with us.

Sanjay: Thanks for Praveen. Great to be here.

Praveen: All right. So let’s just get into the most important part of the episode where we get to hear from your experience, your learning over the years and with nearly three decades of experience working in tech Sanjay, you are, like I said, a consummate technologist. You have seen technology and the internet evolve over the years. Can you talk to our audience a little bit about how different is the tech world today at the intersection of Web3, AI, automation, and many other cool micro technologies? What about these technologies are you most excited about today Sanjay?

Sanjay: I think Praveen, the first thing that comes to mind as I look back over the last 30 years and what an amazing point we are. We’re doing so much digitalization. We are accelerating the pace of change. Things are moving so fast forward. And yet as I sit here and look ahead, I’m left with a very interesting takeaway which is the pace of change is the slowest today that it is ever going to be in the future. In other words, it’s only going to keep accelerating. And the drivers for that are very obvious, right? If you think about it and you look at the increase in compute power that has come through, in many ways, math is no longer the problem. Compute is no longer the long pole in the tent. It’s about how you apply innovations, how you reinvent business models and it’s how you disrupt value chains. And then, the technology is there to serve it. It’s there to make it happen.

Praveen: One thing I was particularly very interested about was the role of the CIO because in these 30 years there have been various ways where the role has been shunned away, the role has reincarnated… So much that has happened to that role. And I think your point really was that the CIO of the future has to be both an insider as well as an outsider. If you can explain the thesis there like the role of CIO, the leadership around CIO in today’s volatile times in particular, it’ll be super helpful for the audience.

Sanjay: The role of a Chief Digital Officer, the role of an Information Technology individual now… It’s not the back office role. It’s not about delivering technology as a service. It’s more about technology as a strategy. How do you reinvent the business model? How do you disrupt the value chain? How do you apply technology and serve up new ways of driving experience and sticky engagement and revenue growth. And to do that, you need two halves of the whole – you need a half which is all about outside in. So you need individuals in those roles that understanding emerging technologies, that sort of keep up with the trends and the investment in the venture capital industry, that participate in startups and understand those business value propositions, that experiment, that innovate, that try new things.And so that outside in is super important because you can’t get caught in the four walls of the company you’re in, you have to sort of think and live and breathe outside of. And so that in my mind is one half of the role.

You need to drive change. You need to be able to get stakeholders, need to have internal champions, you need to have stakeholders that can kind of get behind your program and you have to institutionalize that across the company. It’s a fundamental change. It’s a grounds up movement and everyone needs to get on board and really to be able to do that, you need the credibility, you need the belief, you need the championship, you need the engagement which oftentimes means that you need to be an insider, that you need to have enough credibility in the ecosystem and access to the stakeholders.

Praveen: In our experience, Sanjay, when we talk to these CIOs are trying to go through that transition phase, they are very comfortable with the people, process, and technology part because those playbooks have been very set for the last 20 years because obviously people have innovated and done a lot of things around it. But by and large there’s a lot of comfort with people, process, and technology. The area that CIOs and other CXOs are not really comfortable yet is to your earlier point on the data side… You know, just leveraging data to innovate our business models, drive change. I think it’s still a tough nut to crack for many, many enterprises. So in your observation, as you work with these Fortune 500 CIOs, what are some of the best practices on the data side that have started to emerge? Is that at a point where there’s enough maturity, the playbook which is set for CIOs to start leveraging, what are you seeing in the market?

Sanjay: That’s a great point you bring up because data is becoming the largest driver of transformative values across, as you look across those dimensions, and you correctly picked up on that. The big takeaway has been that data is not a destination, it’s a journey, because you have to keep working on it and as good as you get, there’s the next thing to take on. And so when you think about that, it comes back to strategies, it’s about how you design your data strategy and how do you adapt it, how do you apply digital ethics and privacy and the latest capabilities.

So one of the things I’ve learned early in the journey is basically you have to kind of get down to the core. You have to selectively forget some parts of the past or the history, and then you have to reinvent the new. The other thing that comes to mind is listen… Often when people think about data, they just think about technology, data as kind of all in the same bag and sort of you move on to the next thing. The reality is, that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Data is its own asset class. It’s not technology, it’s a very different asset class. And so you have to give it sort of the respect. And by that, I mean, seat at the table, seat at the board. You have to have the right people that understand it, that have a voice around the conversation and then you have to build an enterprise architecture that is data-enabled, that is data-based.

Praveen: Amazing, love it. I really talked about data as an asset class and one of the other asset classes that has become important specifically in the pandemic as we get into the recessionary phase is the people asset, The human power that companies rely on. Even despite the fact that tech has evolved so much, the importance of human is even increasing on a regular basis. In your view and you’ve run a large people business in the storied career you’ve had Sanjay, what do you think is the way forward for the tech supply ecosystem as I think of the great resignation, the depressing macro environment? How should one as a company, how should one prepare for what’s the unknown-unknown as we think of the future?

Sanjay: There’s all this discussion about there’s a war for talent and you hear and read all this kind of interesting stuff. The reality is there is no war for talent. It’s already won. Talent has won. End of discussion. There’s no ongoing war. And so there’s some of the things that really come to mind is, first off, the technology curve is moving so fast. There is no point hiring someone or thinking about a talent base that can do everything you needed to be done. So, you know, the thinking about how do you bring in a talent pool that is curious, that is humble, that wants to learn, and has this learning mindset… It becomes super important because you’ll never have the talent that knows everything you need to be known. I think the learning is a big part.

I also learned very early, and this has come to be the case now as we do more AI projects, that diversity is key. Not because it’s a nice thing to do. Not because, you know, you need to meet internal numbers. Not because it is actually right for the world, but frankly, just down to business, getting the best outcomes, getting the best results, getting the best models built, getting the best business nuance apply to the way you solve a problem and then apply it back to the world and the experience that it delivers, you need the diversity of talent that can bring different perspectives and make that happen. And so, you know, how do you purposefully build a team that is diverse and how do you build a team where you’re not hiring for skill, but you’re hiring for appetite, for attitude, for learning ability.

And then the last thing I’ll say is listen, many of us over our careers will end up running very large organizations and because diversity, because inclusiveness, and because curiosity and learning is such an important part one thing that I sort of have religion about is about talking last, speaking last. In a group forum, you want some of the newest members and the rest of the team to actually speak first, because before you speak and part of the reason for that is oftentimes without thinking we can cut off a whole discussion thread or an angle or an approach that might otherwise come out. And so I think it’s just a great practice to be mindful of speaking last, as you engage in larger interactions and really get a lot more voices in the table, because in the end that allows you to make better decisions.

Praveen: Amazing. Love it. So let’s change gears a little bit. And I think, as a thought leader, you’ve been talking quite a bit about ESG initiatives and green energy in several public forums.

What is your opinion on how today’s enterprises are really driving their sustainability-oriented initiatives. Is it still a check mark in the box or are companies really serious about this? For ones who continue to be on the fence, what would be your recommendation to them? How critical do you think is ESG focus the corporations should start thinking about as we go into the future?

Sanjay: Yeah, I think I’ll start first by saying that just in general, you know, we all have this discussion about net zero and the thing we’re going to do to contain where we are. And I just think we need to start with the realization that we’ve already done so much damage that if we didn’t do any more damage, this thing will itself create a large problem for us. And so anything more we do is a very bad outcome. And so this has to be top of mind. But the reality is it’s coming through in every single discussion. I mean, shareholders asking for it, board meetings are getting engaged… This question is on the table all the time. And I work with technology officers all over the world and you can tell that on the list of items, it is a pretty big one.

Now, there’s a change that’s happening. So most CIOs, CTOs I used to work with… It was a reactive thing… You know, someone asks for this, the board wants me to go present this at the next shareholder, investor day and so it’s more of a reactive thing. We’ve got to come up with these numbers, we need to manage and measure this and it was kind of like you get one thing done, then you realize the next thing.

And so can we take a proactive view? Can we go off and start putting together frameworks and approaches that sort of do that? And I see so many of my peers stepping up in a way not only because they’re concerned about the environment, which of course they are, but they have the toolkits and the analytics and the data sets that actually make a difference. And I often think about the climate problem and in the end, it’s a data problem. And it’s a change management problem.

And we know, and as a technologist, the CIO’s office has run some of the largest change management exercises in our company across the board. That’s the case when you put in a new ERP or a new database or new snowflake or whatever, that’s the whole mechanism you go through and CIO offices are set up for programmatic management.

Then it’s a data problem. It’s about capturing, it’s about visualizing. So long story short, I’m seeing a real pick up on ESG and mostly carbon intensity is a pretty important topic in all my conversations. And I think that’s a trend that is just great for the world.

Praveen: Great to learn that it’s becoming a serious priority for the C-suite executives. I think one of the last question I know we’re running out of time, but you’ve also been part of the mergers and acquisition ecosystem, you’ve sold companies that you founded and you also bought many companies to accelerate the growth journey for Genpact and even the other company that you worked for. In today’s time if you were to consolidate all the learnings, the top three learning, from your experience in the M&A side, what would those be like? What are the best practices you’ve picked up as you acquired and sold companies in the market?

Sanjay: I think often people ask what’s the key to success and you know, the long papers and lots of rationale, but in my mind it just comes down to one thing. It’s about culture, because in the end, it’s about people working with people to accomplish goals. And so the number one thing to look out for if you’re selling your company, or if you’re in the process of being acquired, or if you looking to acquire a company is to start with culture and not necessarily with product or people or market share or revenue or profitability, because those things are at a point in time indicators of what that business represents. But in the long arc of time, what’s really going to make a difference is the culture and the assimilation and the symmetry and all of that comes under it. So that’s number one in my mind.

And the second one that I would say is integration. It’s all about the integration. And I see so many business plans where there’s so much excitement on acquiring a company that integration doesn’t get enough of its own focus and coverage.

And then maybe the third thing that comes to mind is to strategic rationale. That is so important to know why you’re acquiring a company and to really reflect hard on that. One of the best practices I learned sometime back is as you go through a strategic rationale discussion on acquiring a company, you’ve got a team of people that come together and they’ll discuss profitability, and people, and revenue, and product design, and this and that, and all this great discussion and in that room, you need a person that you specifically designate… And it’s like Praveen I knew you were for this acquisition, do all this stuff. But for this meeting, your role is different. You have to explain to us why this won’t work, what are the things that will break. What are the mistakes that will happen? What are we not seeing?

And so you take someone who’s a big supporter of the acquisition, but put them in the reverse role and that sort of a discussion and a rigor around thinking through the strategic rationale is super important. And so those are probably two or three things that come to top of my mind, but boy, it’s such an important activity for large corporations because it’s a great innovation lever, and it’s such an important exit opportunity for investors and founders of early-stage companies that you know it’s just great to see.

Praveen: Perfect. Perfect. what are your non-negotiables in the way you lead teams, specifically a large organization? What is your leadership trait that you live by on a daily basis?

Sanjay: I think the notion of best ideas win is an important notion, because you know, it isn’t just about notionally representing diversity or inclusion. It isn’t just about being open to ideas and dissenting opinions. It is actually about embracing and endorsing a culture of teams that are getting self-aggregating teams, ideas that are coming through on the merit of the ideas, and opportunities that are opening up that are outside the original remit.

And so this notion of best ideas win is a super important notion because it’s the one thing that changes the innovation culture of a company, because every single person realizes that the best ideas will win. And there’s this desire and this effort to have a dissenting voice, to have a debate on a topic that you know is going to be well received as long as you disagree and then commit. I trained as an aerospace engineer in my early education, my undergraduate degrees is in aerospace engineering. And there are books that are written on how to map air flows over wings and stuff I used to do when I was younger. There’s no such thing in the work we do today. This is stuff that we’re building as we’re going along and so it becomes super important that you’re open to understanding and you’re bringing in a lot of diverse opinions because you know your opinions are not the right one. You know, once a quarter, turn to the people in your organization and ask them this question, what is the one thing you believe I do not want to hear? Not that I don’t know, but I don’t want to hear because your blind spots are super important for you to get around and so use that, and so this whole idea of best ideas win, you know, look for dissenting opinions, look for a debate before you make a decision, be conscious of the things that you are missing through bias and other effects and be thoughtful about how you actually lead. I think those are some of the lessons I’ve taken away from my experiences.

Praveen: I think with this we come to the last section, which is a little bit of a fun section where I’m going to ask you three or four rapid fire questions. If you can give me a quick response, whatever comes to your mind and then we’ll go from there. So the first one is a book that changed your thinking and you would recommend to our audience.

Sanjay: You know, it’s amazing. I just interviewed an author Admiral William McRaven who has written a book, that is a simple book to read. It’s called Make Your Bed. If you don’t know, Bill McRaven was an Admiral in the US Navy. He’s just a lot of accomplishments. He then left the armed forces and became a Chancellor at the University of Texas, Austin. He’s just done so much in his life, but this book is all about simple things that you do as a marine in day-to-day life and how that changes the way and how you get trained around it. We’re at different stages in our life. We all go through it. But I was a parent at the time with two young boys and I had a chance to come across this book. Such a simple book and there were such lasting lessons in that book that take out of the marines life and training, and then apply it to simple things. And then the first one was actually just make a bed, learn to get up every morning and make your bed. And the fact that as a marine you can do a simple thing like that and you can do it right every single day, allows you to start your day knowing that you’ve accomplished something when you’ve gotten the first thing done. Of course you take on the bigger tasks and bigger tasks, and you know, these guys do a ton of stuff that is super interesting. And so anyway, that’s a book I would recommend to anyone. It’s a very easy read. I might have my parents read it and my entire family read it. And then most recently I had a chance to talk to Bill McRaven as well which was really a lot of fun.

Praveen: Very nice, very good. Your favorite restaurant in Seattle and why?

Sanjay: Oh boy, That’s a super interesting one. I moved to Seattle about a year and a half ago. We lived in the Bay Area and this is a new thing for us. We moved in the pandemic so we haven’t really gotten out that much. One restaurant I like a lot is a restaurant here called Canlis. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a meal. But the more interesting thing is why right. So this is a fusion restaurant between Pacific Northwest, obviously where I live and Asian influences, mostly Japanese but also South Eastern Asian. The chef there is a really talented woman from the Philippines.

I love this restaurant because like anything else, the best things come at the convergence of disciplines, at the intersections of different things and this is about the fusion between Pacific Northwest and Asian. It’s a great experience so maybe if you’re ever in Seattle, we’ll have to do a diversion there.

Praveen: Lovely. Seattle versus Bay area. You’ve lived in both places, which tech ecosystem is better than why?

Sanjay: It’s super interesting you asked that Praveen, because when I moved from the Bay area to Seattle, that was a big worry in my mind.

Silicon Valley’s fantastic first off, because the tech ecosystem incidentally is super broad and just really rich. So you can sort of say, hey, I want to be involved in semi-conductors or flash memory as an example, you can go all the way to the other extreme and I want to be in Biotech or SaaS or AI, or genetic engineering. You look at innovation in any area and it’s actually pretty well represented in the Bay area. So it’s a fantastic place to get started.

I was concerned I’d have to give that up to move to Seattle. And actually what I found in Seattle is that the, ecosystem, the innovation ecosystem is not that wide, but what it is it’s narrow, but very deep.

So if you’re in cloud or if you’re in Data or if you’re an AI, those three areas are super deep here in the Seattle area. I just happened to be interested in those areas. So for me, you know, I am really enjoying being up here and being in this innovation ecosystem. And of course it’s an indication because what ends up happening is the big cloud providers are here. There’s so much work that’s happening on the back of the cloud ecosystem. And then data… A lot of those people come out of those companies and start new startups. And so the innovation comes in the back of… Cause they’re seeing the problems. When you’re working in cloud, when you’re working in data at scale, you see the problems at the edge and then you come out and fix them and try and solve for them by starting companies that are bringing it in.

So you end up innovating around that. I would say that it’s different. It’s not as broad, but it’s very deep in the few areas that I’m interested in. And so for me, it’s been just a great experience moving up here.

Praveen: Perfect. That brings us to the end of the episode Sanjay. So thank you so much for sharing all the perspectives and opinions with us so candidly. As we see newer technologies taking center stage specifically in the post-pandemic construct, and it will be really amazing and interesting to see how some of what we discussed will eventually unfold. So I’m looking forward to a much brighter, much accelerated future as we go forward. And thank you really for sharing everything that you did today with us.

Sanjay: Of course. It’s my pleasure, Praveen. Thank you for having me. It was great seeing you as always.

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