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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

The Transformative Force of Technology in the Gig Revolution

Bhaskar Basu
Bhaskar Basu Country Head - Modern Work Microsoft, India

A recent joint whitepaper by Zinnov and Microsoft noted that 70% of CXOs felt that seamless onboarding and execution can be hampered by inadequate cloud technology infrastructure.
In this conversation with Rajat Kohli, Partner at Zinnov, Bhaskar Basu, Country Head – Modern Work, Microsoft India, delves deep into the dynamic world of the gig workforce and explores how technology helps overcome the numerous digital hurdles that gig workers encounter. The two leaders also discuss how technologies can enable widespread adoption of gig economy, especially in light of the talent dichotomy that enterprises are grappling with – layoffs on one hand, skilled talent shortage on the other.

Bhaskar also talks about how companies can address gig worker challenges and explore new opportunities. The episode sheds light on the practical applications of emerging technologies, offering valuable advice on how enterprises can leverage these tools to optimize their workforce, streamline operations, and augment their overall talent strategy.
Addressing how the workplace today is hybrid in all aspects, Bhaskar and Rajat discuss the potential of apps and tools that enable gig workers to manage their workflow, track time and expenses, communicate with clients, and receive payments seamlessly.

In an age where rehiring and gig workers are becoming increasingly common, and ChatGPT is becoming much more prevalent, the role technology has to play in supplementing a workforce will become crucial. Tune in to discover the endless possibilities that technology offers to transform the gig work experience.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Rajat: In the current dynamic business environment– only agile and flexible organizations can manage operational outages against all odds. To this end, there has been a paradigm shift in (an) organization’s talent strategy and with many adapting to fluid employment arrangements with the gig workforce. The supply and demand go both ways. With top talent on the lookout for flexible means of working, where, they have improved work-life balance. And likewise, organizations are reassessing existing employee policies to engage with the gig workforce for short to medium term projects– with the flexibility to scale and descale easily. Hello, everyone and welcome to an all new episode of the Zinnov podcast. I’m Rajat Kohli, Partner at Zinnov, and I’ll be a host for this episode. Today we have with us– Bhaskar Basu, Country Head– Modern Work Solutions at Microsoft. Bhaskar leads the modern work business group at Microsoft, India. He is an experienced business leader in the Information Technology industry, having led Sun Microsystems and Oracle in the past. Before leading Microsoft, Bhaskar’s experience spans across technology, consulting, sales leadership, business development, product marketing, strategy, and alliance management. Welcome to this episode, Bhaskar.

Bhaskar: Thank you, Rajat. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Rajat: Great. So, let’s hear more from Bhaskar on what he’s seeing in the industry from a gig perspective. But before we dive into the world of gig economy, can you walk us through your journey at Microsoft?

Bhaskar: Yeah, sure and thanks for asking. Not many people do these days, but, here it goes. So, Rajat, I have the fortune of being with Microsoft for close to a dozen years. Very interesting, I would say, run at Microsoft. I broadly look at my stay here across four parts. I joined as an account executive, managing some of our Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) and Telecom customers. I moved on to the sphere of business operations. I was the Chief of Staff for the India Managing Director. Strategy clearly excited me just the way it does to you. And I joined the strategic growth and alliances group. I worked with some of the largest industry houses and, you know, partners in the country. And more recently, I’ve been leading a couple of business groups at Microsoft, India. On a technology stack, which is very close and dear to my heart. I had the privilege of leading the services devices business for about a year. And for roughly about three quarters, I’ve been leading the modern work business group and that fundamentally entails the entire Microsoft 365 solution portfolio and how we are looking at making a difference on the overall collaboration, productivity and, I would say, the outcome portion of our customers across the world. Exciting times, there’s so much happening, especially in this era of hybrid work. I think I’m just delighted to be here, in the company, at this time and of course– to be part of this conversation with you.

Rajat: Great. That’s quite a journey you have had and I can relate modern work with the gig economy. Now, delving into the gig story in India. The gig economy is emerging with huge potential. I’m sure you’ll agree with us. It isn’t something new, but it has been around in various forms for decades. So, as an organization increasingly works with gig workers, how can technology or the solutions enable smooth operations for enterprises and deliver a seamless experience for the gig workers?

Bhaskar: Sure. So let me kind of break this down into a couple of parts and since the larger conversation is about the gig economy, let me kind of spend a moment of just, kind of demystify this whole trend on what we are seeing around us, around this whole gig worker, I think, trendline and how organizations are looking at it. So, I was doing some research (and) of course, I read up on the paper that we’ve published. And very interesting, I think– what I learned was that by 2030, there is a 7 million workforce that we’ve been talking about, that’s going to triple to almost 24 million workers– by 2030. And this workforce, what Niti Aayog says is going to generate over 250 billion worth of work.
Right. That’s humongous. I think what we have learned is that the Information Technology (IT) sector– that’s of course someplace that, you know, a sector which is quite native to India and how we are servicing customers across the world. Gig workers are part of the ITS workforce, and are going to grow by almost 30%. I learned of this new term called fractional CXOs and we are clearly seeing the whole gig economy kind of play out– to even the leadership with more and more fractional CXOs kind of growing. And I’ve also learned that, I think, historically the overall concept of gig workers was kind of relegated to a couple of sectors but very niche digital skills– think about Artificial Intelligence (AI), think about Automation, and Data Analytics. Many evolved, I would say, skill sets– very niche skill sets are evolving and companies are, more and more, looking at this overall gig workforce to address projects, both in the short term and in the medium term, to kind of address that– on an ad hoc basis with gig workers. Now, I think the second part of it is that as this gig worker economy is kind of evolving, there are certain, I would say, native moments, which kind of, drive a much better experience for employers to start with. Think about it. If I need to, kind of, hire a full-time employee, it’s quite a massive cycle. I need to figure out how to identify the right talent. You know. Figure out how to drive interviews, onboard them, and assimilate them. Ensure that they’re productive, you know, ensure that they’re part of the payroll. I think organizations are largely looking at gig workers to kind of shorten this entire cycle of driving productivity and outcome. So, I think that there are many different elements to the life cycle of a gig worker that is clearly very important for organizations today. And I genuinely believe that digital technology has a very strong role to play in many of these moments. Think about it. You know, when a gig worker kind of comes together, right? We are still kind of figuring out– should he/she bring their own device? Should I, kind of, provision a new device, provide that new device? Can I ensure a secure environment to provide that gig worker to kind of, you know, work optimally? How do I offboard? How do I basically rapidly reduce this overall– I would say, time involved in assimilating in driving outcomes– and also offboarding– and think about it. I think, let me just kind of go deeper on each of these elements. So onboarding, right? It’s clearly a very important imperative for organizations, for employers. The overall cycle of onboarding can be radically reduced. I think there’s a plethora of different tech available but I think concepts and interventions like Cloud PCs clearly help in ensuring that an environment is provided to a new work at a click of a button. Think about the amount of time that we, kind of, invest in setting up secure digital infrastructure and ensuring that people are kind of productive from day one. And clearly even in offboarding, I think the amount of time that we spend in ensuring that an employee is going and leaving and kind of handing over assets, getting removed from all the distribution lists, and all the digital fabric– I think all of this can also be rapidly reduced with the help of digital intervention. So back to your question, I think there are clearly three places where digital tech has a very important role to play– in terms of onboarding and assimilation, in terms of setting up a very secure digital fabric for optimal outcome, and in terms of all offboarding and ensuring that there is minimal time to, kind of, ensuring that we are able to let these gig workers go. So that’s how I’m looking at this overall trendline, Rajat.

Rajat: Great. I think the three ways you defined it– it’s perfect in terms of the playbook. But at the same time, Bhaskar, if you look at enterprises, are facing several challenges in the current business environment. And our joint paper, along with Microsoft, reveals that 70% of the CXOs that we surveyed– felt that the success and the widespread adoption of the gig model hinges on overcoming the obstacles during the gig worker onboarding phase as well as the execution phase. Additionally, figuring out the device needs, coordinating the logistics related to their devices, and finally providing IT access to the gig workers, becomes a tedious, yet crucial, critical task for Human Resources, Admin, and the departments. How can Microsoft’s technology and platforms help address these concerns?

Bhaskar: Fantastic question. Let me kind of take a step back, and before even talking about gig workers, let me take a stab at talking about how Microsoft looks at the workforce in general, right. We’ve all lived in COVID times and we’ve all lived through times where we expect so much more, in terms of the experience that organizations are providing to us. Think about it. We are not living or working in completely disconnected yet, offline modes. We are working in a very hybrid environment. We are expecting a different level of, I would say, engagement, communication, onboarding, et cetera. Now, from a principal’s perspective, I think Satya put it very eloquently, saying that whenever it’s about looking at a workforce, and creating the right environment for any workforce– It kind of comes down to three critical Ps. It’s about ensuring that we are providing a digital fabric which reduces the distance between places. That’s the first P. So, be it the physical places, or be it the digital places, I think there’s a clear charter of ensuring that we are able to reduce the friction– in terms of digital and physical distances. I think the second part is clearly around process, saying how we are kind of changing, evolving, and iterating organizational processes to ensure that we are able to provide the right experience to people who are looking at working for us. And I think the third part is clearly around the overall notion about people and how we are empowering people to do their best job. So, the fundamental ethos of any workforce, be it a white collar, blue collar, and now the gray collar economy as we call, fundamentally pivots on these three fundamentals, right. Now, if I were to kind of peel the onion and go a little bit deeper, the heart of it, especially for a gig worker, now, let me kind of go deeper on the gig worker part. When you look at it for a gig worker, the process of assimilation, the process of onboarding, the process of providing a readily available digital fabric is massively important. And I think Windows 365 or the Cloud PC that we’ve kind of curated and constructed for the gig worker economy exactly hits the nail on the head. The Cloud PC fundamentally ensures that, you know, digital environments are rapidly created at the touch of a button. These are highly secure digital environments which do not allow any kind of data leakage because– clearly security is top of mind, especially in the post pandemic environment. So the Cloud PC, I think, is a very fundamental and a core digital intervention that we have, which allows us to kind of onboard, integrate, and even offboard gig workers in a very rapid, and I would say, employer and employee-friendly way. So, think about the amount of innovation we have driven on top of teams which allows us to, kind of, really ensure that the connections and communications between people is definitely higher than ever before. And the good part is this entire experience that we are driving on top of teams is again, rendered seamlessly on top of the Windows 365 platform, right. And then comes this overall idea saying, look, we’ve spoken about the overall notion about, you know, process and evolution. We are talking about how we are reducing the distance between places. And then it comes– the whole notion is about how we are empowering people, right. And what are the kinds of tools, techs, that we are enabling (for) people to do the best work. And that’s where the overall M365 fabric, right, the latest of experiences that we, in terms of our M365 apps– be it the Viva Experience Platform, be it any other part of the M365 digital fabric, all of these kind of provide a very strong segue for gig workers and employees at large to perform at their best.

Rajat: Great. I think you have, you know, in a way answered my next question, but I’ll put it– I’m sure there are some other elements that you can cover. How can Windows 365 be used to support the growth of the gig economy and what role do you see it playing in the future of the work? It’ll be great if you can share some success stories of how enterprises have adopted it and are reaping benefits from the same as well.

Bhaskar: Sure. So let me, kind of, break it down. In terms of saying that, look, which is the future– what’s the future of work? Frankly, you know, VDI or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure has been around for a few years. What’s really changed? Where are we right now? Where is this overall industry headed? And I think, when I look at it, I look at this overall journey on virtualized desktop infrastructure in, I would say, four waves. The first wave is the classic VDI on-premises, right. Think about it, the on-premises legacy, traditional infrastructure– where almost every element of the entire infrastructure, be it the devices, the identity, the security, the application, the operating system, and network controls, what have you, is all owned by the organization, by the employer. I think we soon started seeing a shift where customers came back and said, look, that’s good, but I want a very flexible network backbone. I want the ability to actually host my entire environment so that I can scale up and scale down the core network infrastructure and that’s where the whole Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) part started coming into play. And by the way, you’re probably aware that we actually have a very strong Azure (IaaS) service in which large parts of the network, the data center, and the physical infrastructure is hosted out of the IaaS offerings that we have. Whereas the customer kind of starts retaining the overall control on deployment, on voice management, on the applications, tools, identity, et cetera. The third wave is where we started seeing the overall platform, as a service, coming into play and customers started saying, look, it’s good. I like the whole flexibility on the IaaS part, but I want you, Microsoft, or for that matter, the Cloud vendor, to start taking control of other elements of my fabric– be it the virtualization control plane, of course, the core part of the network, the data center, et cetera. I think we are clearly in the fourth wave of how this overall, I would say, thematic is emerging– where customers are clearly saying, look, I want to kind of completely offload the headache of managing everything when it comes to the end user computing. So be it, the identity itself, be it the applications– like office applications, be it the operating system, be it the security, be it deployment, be it network controls, be it virtualized control, everything! Perhaps the end user device itself, and that could be a very thin client which I own, but I want you as a vendor to provide the entire end-to-end experience, including the management, application tools, identity et cetera. And that’s where we find ourselves now. Now, the fourth part of your question was Rajat saying that is this happening? What kind of customers are responding to it? Is this a reality at all? And the exciting answer is, absolutely yes. And I’ll tell you what are the kind of thematics which are resonating with customers? So, I’ve already spoken about the digital advantages, the people, places, and processes part that I spoke of. But I think, a huge benefit that Cloud PCs and this kind of digital intervention promises and provides is that of sustainability, right. So we are definitely reducing our carbon footprint. I think the overall impact or the benefit of what this kind of offering provides to customers goes beyond just providing immersive digital experiences, but also it is good for the ecology and for the environment.
Now there are different kinds of customers who are coming and talking to us. There are customers across industries, be it Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workers in Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES), be it Healthcare workers and nursing staff, be it people in small businesses who are looking at rapidly creating their entire, digital presence and starting to work from day one. I think there are examples galore from across the industry where people are coming back and saying, look, it’s making sense for us. Let me try and understand what kind of experience that I can provide and what kind of experience can I differentiate between, perhaps, gig workers and other parts of the larger, employee fabric that I have within the organization. I think that’s how I’m largely looking at Rajat.

Rajat: Wow. What a way to define it. And some key takeaways for me are definitely day zero, the flexibility, the scalability, and definitely sustainability is going to play an important role. That was very interesting to know, Bhaskar.
If you were to predict three trends at the intersection of technology and the gig economy for the future, what would those be?

Bhaskar: Very interesting. So, look, I think we’ll all need to kind of wait for my predictions to play out but let me take a stab at it. I think, increasingly, I predict, that the experience that gig workers are expecting will rapidly shift and therefore, think about it, you know, when I’m getting somebody to my organization, I need to have the ability to actually attract and possibly even rehire for niche skills, depending on (the) projects, and therefore to kind of create an environment where I’m able to rehire and, therefore, create a fabric which is compelling for gig workers to come back and work for me is very important. So, my first prediction is that employers will increasingly focus and pivot on experiences that they’re providing to this class of workers. While there is a major amount of focus on the digital aspects of the experience, but I soon expect that experiences around engagement, communication, wellbeing, and the overall, I would say, experience that we are providing to gig workers will rapidly, rapidly shift and we’ll see a very different kind of a conversation, with gig workers in the years to come.
The second part is, look, I think, the covid timeframe has been a great learning for all of us. We shifted from completely in person to digital to phy-gital. We are calling it remote. We are calling it onsite. But clearly I think if there’s one learning– that there is no constant workplace. There is no offline, there is no completely online. So, the second, I would say, prediction is that organizations will continue to pivot on the flexibility of remote work and hybrid work that we are offering to big workers. While there will be projects which will require in-person collaboration but the amount of digital interventions, the focus, and I would say, the amount of energy employers will kind of invest towards setting up a truly hybrid environment, I think, will surely continue for the foreseeable future. I think the third and the most exciting, I would say, trend line that I see, and therefore the prediction that I would like to make is clearly around Automation and AI. You’re probably aware that, you know, I think the world is abuzz with the number of things that different people announce. We announced a whole, sort of, a whole set of very exciting, Logic Learning Machine (LLM) based, generative AI-based interventions. I think the theme over here is that we will increasingly rely on AI to do routine tasks and to automate tasks which can be taken over by, I would say, cognitive intelligence. And clearly there will be, you know, conversational AI bots, LLMs– they will automate a large part of, I would say, standardized processes. Think about customer service tasks. Think about, you know, the repetitive tasks that most, you know, I think gig workers do on a day-to-day basis. So clearly, I would say, the kind of work that we will look at employing gig workers around, will clearly, clearly evolve.
We’ve already started seeing, you know, more digitally native skills being asked for. We are clearly seeing even work around the thematics of AI clearly going up. So, I think the prediction I would make is that the kind of work that we are going to look at, you know, hiring gig workers for, will evolve.
This will require a high amount of reskilling. This will require gig workers to focus more on cognitive based tasks as opposed to rep repetitive tasks.
So, I think very exciting times, Rajat, in terms of what we are here to see, you know, in the years ahead, for sure.

Rajat: Definitely. I’m sure that there’s more to come and as the way you explained to us– the future trends, definitely it’s not going to take a long time. It’ll be shorter. Thanks again, Bhaskar. This has been a wonderful conversation. It is evident that this is just the beginning of the rise of the gig economy and the ecosystem would surely be able to transition quickly from experimenting and observing the model by outsourcing minor gigs to actually implementing it at a scale through the help of innovative solutions on offer.
Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives with us. This has been very insightful and I’m sure our listeners will find them enriching as well.

Bhaskar: Thank you very much, Rajat. It was a pleasure to be here and thank you for the very insightful questions. I think picking up a topic like this, which is so relevant for today’s day and age, thank you very much for having me here.

Rajat: Thank you. That’s it from us at the Zinnov Podcast. We’ll be back with another episode and another interesting conversation. Till then, take care and stay curious. Thank you so much.

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