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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

A Sign of the Times – The Work, Worker, Workplace Revolution

Sarv Saravanan
Sarv Saravanan Vice President
Modern Work Solutions & Telco Service Line
Industry Solutions

The global pandemic has accelerated the work, worker, and workplace (W3) transformation exponentially, and has altered the way businesses function. The work, worker, and the workplace are now governed by the latest advancements in technology and Automation, forcing companies to adopt the latest tools to optimize processes and make remote working successful, while not losing focus on employee well-being and experience. A Zinnov survey of 100+ global CXOs has revealed that the hybrid working model is going to be the organizational strategy even in the post-pandemic era.

In this episode of the Business Resilience series, Sarv Saravanan, Vice President, Modern Work Solutions & Telco Service Line, Industry Solutions at Microsoft, talks to Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner & Global Head, Zinnov, about how Microsoft has been helping their customers enable the future models of hybrid work. He shares valuable insights and statistics around the processes and challenges in the area, and what they could mean as organizations gear themselves and their workforces to thrive in the new and evolving normal.


Praveen Bhadada: Hello, and welcome to an all-new episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series. I’m Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner at Zinnov, and I will be your host for today. The last 16 months or so have transformed our workplaces like never in history, perhaps with the exception of the industrial revolution. The modern workplaces that would cater to the intergenerational workforces will not only need to be smart and intelligent, but also evolve to facilitate a hybrid working model. There has been a radical shift across work, workers and the workplace; and innovation and technology has been instrumental in bringing about this change. To shed some light on what the future of work will hold for organizations and people, we have with us today Sarv Saravanan, Vice President, Modern Work Solutions and Telco Service Line, Industry Solutions at Microsoft. With over 25 years of experience in the IT industry across various leadership roles in multiple tech giant organizations, Sarv is well positioned to share the ins and outs of the modern workplace that Microsoft is helping enable for their customers. Welcome, Sarv. And it’s a real pleasure to have you with us today.

Sarv Saravanan: Thank you, Praveen. Glad to be here.

Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. So, let’s just dive right into the questions, Sarv. Like I said in my intro, you had a really fantastic career so far spanning various technological evolutions and macroeconomic circumstances, including of course, the current and the biggest financial and global crisis. And you’ve gone through the journey, right? As a, as a professional. So tell us a little bit about your background and what has been your top learning in the last 25 years of your professional journey.

Sarv Saravanan: Um thank you, Praveen, good question. Well, looking back at my years of work and career, I’ve seen companies come and go through this period. I think one thing that has been very clear, for me, is that every stage of the evolution of the tech industry, the industry has gotten only bigger and bigger. And, that, that of course gave all of us opportunity to do different things and see innovation coming to fruition and changing lives. And, you know, the, particularly the point in time that we are in, the early part of the pandemic, we say – we have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. The tech industry participation in the GDP is 5%. by the turn of 2030, it would be 10%. And the most important thing is that it’s not, you know, the contribution of technology industry to the GDP, but also what does 10% means that 90%? You know, I would say the best is yet to come, and we’re all going to live and contribute to that and see how it changes lives.

I’m looking forward to that.

Praveen Bhadada: Awesome, absolutely Sarv. And very well put. I think I think that’s a lot of potential that is yet to unfold.

Coming into the spotlight for today, right. And a lot of what we’re going to talk about is going to be about hybrid work. We have recently done a survey with 100 plus global CXOs of the world’s largest enterprises and they have that revealed that hybrid working model is going to be the organizational strategy even after the pandemic is over. So, when you look at 2022, 2023, companies are constantly telling us that they will go remote, they will go hybrid. Many CXOs have also reported that the transformations are actually happening across not just work, but also workers and workplaces. So as someone has been very closely looking at this evolution, looking at this transformation, what is your take on the future models of hybrid work? And more importantly, what is Microsoft’s blueprint to enable this transition for your customers?

Sarv Saravanan: Yeah. As I said, the pandemic induced digital transformation will continue even after the pandemic. For the first time in history, the physical dimension of work has become a new factor. What this means is that’s a role that our job needs to be in a particular place to get the job done. Um, you know, retail, hospitality, leisure, and travel time industry need proximity. But the job we do and many others need not be. As a result, three trends we see – hybrid and remote work will continue. 20 to 25% of workers from bigger economies could work from home three to five days in a week. That is four to five times the level before the pandemic, you know, this has other implications. In urban areas this may reduce mass transits, restaurants, and retail, and urban centers.

The second thing is, the growth in e-Commerce and delivery economy is two to five times faster in terms of growth than the pre-pandemic scene. This will continue. This forces job shifts from the likes of leisure and travel industries towards distribution centers – the last mile delivery kind of businesses. This migration is estimated to be nearly hundred million. I know you have shown research on new kinds of really high value kind of job creation as well across industries. And, and couple that with this migration happening.

For companies, the question is – how they imagine, how and where the work is done. And, in the process figuring out how do they train and redeploy their employees, let me highlight the study by one of the firms how digital work might persist – adding this in addition to your CXO survey.

After the pandemic, they analyzed its potential in more than 200,000 tasks used in some 800 occupations. The pandemic demonstrated that much more – what would be done remotely than we are previously – including in sales calls, legal arbitration trials, doctor visits, you’ve seen classroom learning – our kids who’ve gone through that – real estate, even expert repairs of world’s most sophisticated machinery would have virtual reality headsets let alone the kind of work that we do. So, all studies all be a scene where have you spoken to customers about, this is remaining and we want to make sure that we provide them with the right sort of tools, and right platform for them to thrive and continue to be successful in their business. That’s what MS is focused on.

Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. I love those four broad areas you kind of talked about, which is one, the continuance of the remote and hybrid, digital kind of commerce and including e-Commerce and social, new types of skills, and more importantly, the infusion of AI and automation in everything. I think when we look at these four broad trends, one thing that comes to mind is that these are scenarios that are owned at different levels in an organization – that different people own these functions, right? As you think of this work, worker, workplace transformation of the future, in your view of the world as you engage with the customers, who do you think are the custodians of this transformation? Because it’s so diverse and so spread across…who is owning the charter in your view in the world, Sarv?

Sarv Saravanan: It’s no longer a technology decision maker conversation Praveen.

This is, much more is deeply involved in these kinds of conversations CEOs themselves because our organization capability, and the long-term consequences of that, if it’s not dealt with well – that is a big question for the CEOs, COOs, and it’s really CXO level conversation that we see broadly. And then there are if you had to look at what are the top questions in their mind – improve operational productivity, how do I hire and retain that top talent? – that’s the big question. Automation, I would say it’s still, you know, still in the early stages… it’s not just automation. It’s really bringing intelligence, cognitive services together… Low Code/No Code kind of thing. That will become a universal phenomenon as the companies become more and more digital as they want to see themselves as software or technology companies.

You know, that’s a consequence of that. Personas are changing in every industry…the job personas and profiles are changing. So therefore, the next big question everyone has is, how am I going to re-skill employees? How am I going to skill them up today and how skill them up for the future for them to be relevant, for the business to be relevant.

And in the process, local transformation, a major thing – and all employees are going through unprecedented times, being able to balance the team, work and life, you know, costs hardships, so the employee experience has come to the forefront. Uh, is it one of the top priority items we see in enterprise as a long time, best, you know, if they don’t deal with that will they become an employer of choice in the future? That’s a big question for them. And of course, continuing to improve the collaboration productivity platforms that they have. And, and also another trend that we see in this process is collaboration and business process come together, right? I mean, the paradigm is converging. Those are the five things that are dominant themes of the CXOs in our conversations.

Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. I think those are all five great points and a lot of follow-up questions come to my mind, Sarv, based off what you just said. So. I’m going to ask you a couple of them in conjunction – continuation, what you’ve kind of highlighted.

In fact, in our survey also CXOs have told us, 90% of them actually told us that digitization of operations would be one of their key focus areas as the theme of transforming work. Right. You talked about automation quite a bit, and we have done the estimates that about USD 14 Bn worth of investment went into automation technologies just last year in 2020, right in this industry has a much larger potential.

And we know that Microsoft has been making huge strides in this space with our platform and the surrounding ecosystem. If you can tell our audience a little bit about your journey on the automation side and what have been your learnings so far, as you evolve to becoming the dominant player in the automation world? What are the top two or three things that you’re unearthing at the moment?

Sarv Saravanan: So, Praveen, we don’t see automation in isolation in the collaboration platform. We bring it all together. Our Teams, we don’t just see it as a collaboration platform for people to chat ,for people to come together and do a meeting. We see it as a business process hub. You want to see Teams increasinly as a business process hub. The reason why I say that, and we say that is that as you combine the power platform capability, or collaboration and automation, collaboration doesn’t happen – I mean, it shouldn’t happen outside the business process. It has to be part of the business process. The only way we can make it happen is really fuse the platform together – the automation and the collaboration platforms.

So we are are introducing ourselves as collaborative app development … I think being in the power of our platform, the Teams today we have… automation happening in the process of collaboration and merging the two paradigms. So that’s the direction we are on. And therefore, we see Teams as a process hub for the enterprise. And there are lots of benefits as a result of that. You see, the workplace analytics – we gather a lot of signals through this process. The platform has these diverse capabilities coming together, and the signals can come handy in various of different ways. Not just to monitor the wellness of your employees, but also what’s happening in the flow of work, and what are the opportunities available for you to go, tweak the process or automate the not-so automated processes. You know, there’s tens of things that you can do as a result of signals coming from the platform and the analytics around it, in not just productivity and improving collaboration. Also, you can get a sense of how the culture of the organization keeps evolving as they use these tools and use those signals to further improve productivity or improve the wellness of employees and all through the same sort of platform, that’s where we see them as more integrated in our integrated platform, if you will.

Praveen Bhadada: I think that’s very relevant. Very well articulated, Sarv. Congratulations, first of all, for 250 million users on the Teams platform. That’s a big milestone and we are they proud to use teams as our platform of choice. I think we’ve had a lot of productivity gains because of the platform and the integration that you provided.

Just picking on your point on reskilling and upskilling that you talked about, and it wasn’t done a lot of, analysis of the market. It is clear that the future of the work will be at the confluence of humans, machines, and AIs all working together in this so-called division of labor, if you will. Right? So, will create about a hundred million new jobs. In our view, this has got to be a net new jobs creator instead of jobs eliminator. But the creation of new jobs comes with a different problem of upskilling, reskilling, and relevance of existing resources. So, give us little bit of a roadmap in terms of how Microsoft is going to address the skilling problem. Both on the frontline side, as well, as on the knowledge worker side – what are some of the initiatives and investments that we can expect in the future?

Sarv Saravanan: On the skilling front, there’s a major component of Viva, which is an employee experience platform (that) we have introduced called Viva Learning, right? So, you know, while that is the platform capability, Viva learning is really about integrating two different sorts of, uh, learning content into platform itself, LinkedIn Learning or any other platform, enterprise choose to (have the) content coming from. But I think the most important thing that is being available as part of the platform is making that available in the flow of work, as opposed to employees going out and learning through different systems – LMS and all of that, you know, it’s not frustrating. They can choose the Viva platform, which is something that they use every day. I think with the industry solutions in modern work taking that to the next level, you want to make sure that customers gain incredible outcome that really serve their businesses.

So what we are doing is not just use Microsoft tools – we’re also looking to integrate pretty innovative tools from start-ups and other companies that will make the whole experience complete. What do I mean by that is the future work… and I think we’ve got to look at it in the context of the industry that you are in. I think, the persona shift on those sorts of things based on automation, those things have industry context… financial services – a loan officer perhaps their job would evolve to something else, you know, risk analyst, if you will, in a few years from now as a result of automation, as a result of Low-code/No-code revolution being digital and that kind of stuff. Right? Therefore, based on the industry context that the customer is in, how jobs are evolving, personas are shifting, and therefore, what are the learning pathways we can serve the individual employees in that particular industry. And also combine on just, how the job is evolving, but also it could also be combining their own aspirations as well.

Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. One of the big things that came out of our survey, Sarv, with the global CXOs was the issue around change management. While everyone gets the idea of this being the future, orienting oneself into a full-blown strategy around the W3 transformation is not easy, as you can imagine. What are your learnings or rather, what are the best practices that you’ve uncovered, you know, to be able to enable companies to go through that change management process? What do you recommend companies are on the fence right now, how should they think about infusing this change at the end?

Sarv Saravanan: I think this is not just going and deploying some technology. And these are, the platforms are, that’ll drive change at a broader level. And in fact, has a huge consequence on the culture of the organization as well. I think this is not just some technology work, but I recommend any company that is going through this process to really employ adoption and change management experts, to help them assess where they are and their propensity for adoption and using platform signals to see are the changes being absorbed and what kind of learning practices that they can establish.

We do have hundreds of experts around the world that are working with large enterprise customers delivering the change management intervention to make sure that that investment is paying them and they’re able to go through the cultural transformation as they adopt technologies, as they go through digital transformation. Adoption and change management is incredibly important to see the payback and to see change happening within the company.

Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. I think we’re almost at the end of our podcast. Before I let you go, Sarv, I usually ask a personal recommendation that you want to give to our customers. It’s got nothing to do with modern work or hybrid work. It would be a book that you’ve read, a restaurant that you’ve gone to, a dish that you’ve tried, a place that you’ve visited. What is the one recommendation that you’d give to our audience?

Sarv Saravanan: The one book that I’m reading right now is The 5 AM Club. You know, I thought I probably need it with the pandemic and dealing with the current situation that we are all going through. Probably some kind of help needed there. And the one that I have picked up reading next is Working Backwards, of course it’s from a competitor, but good insights and wisdom can come from anywhere, right?

Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. I love both the books have read portions of both of them. Thank you so much, Sarv. This was a really, really interesting conversation, and thank you for sharing your perspectives on work, workplace transformation that is currently underway across organizations, and also how Microsoft has been instrumental in that journey.

Sarv Saravanan: Yeah, Praveen, first of all, thank you for your business using Teams, and thank you for having me on the show. I enjoyed the conversation.

Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. Thanks for everything.

Thank you everyone for tuning into this latest episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series.

Hope you took away some amazing insights on the future of work – the kind of modern workplaces that await us on the other side of this pandemic. We will be back with another trailblazing leader soon. Until then, take care and stay safe. Thank you.

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