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As legacy infrastructure is on the decline, how are AI, automation, and generative technologies propelling the Telecom sector into a digital-first future? Hriday Ravindranath, Chief Digital Officer, Orange Business Services and Sameet Gupte, CEO of evoluteIQ explore telecom’s technology-fueled industry transformation with Prankur Sharma, Principal at Zinnov.
The episode explores the technologies and techniques that are driving greater efficiency as business models, product mixes, and costs evolve. Learn how advances in automation, analytics, and Generative AI can optimize networks, reinvent customer service, and unlock new value. Sameet and Hriday also discuss overcoming digital transformation’s toughest barriers around people, culture, and change management, outlining automation strategies that balance innovation with practical integration into existing IT landscapes. For Telecom CIOs and decision makers, this timely podcast provides an inside perspective on riding the digital wave with a focus on adoption, simplicity, and human-centered design.
Prankur: Hello and welcome to an all-new episode of the Zinnov Podcast Intelligent Automation Series. This is where we dive deep into the latest trends and innovations, getting unique perspectives from industry leaders across the world of intelligent automation and digital transformation. I’m your host Prankur Sharma, Principal for the Automation and AI practice at Zinnov.
Digital technologies such as Generative AI, Automation and others have been transforming the Telecom sector. And these technologies are streamlining not just customer-facing operations, but also network management. Generative AI, for instance, was instrumental in really thinking through predictive maintenance, forecasting network issues and optimizing network configurations, which not only reduces downtime, but also enhances network configurations and optimizing the overall quality of service.
Furthermore, Automation driven by AI is revolutionizing customer support via chatbots, virtual assistants and automated troubleshooting. And as the Telecom industry continues to embrace these modern digital technologies, it is poised to become more efficient, reliable and responsive in their service and ensuring that we enter into this new era of global connectivity.
Today we have two guests to discuss the transformation Telecom providers can make the most of, through these digital technologies, specifically around Automation and Generative AI. We have Hriday Ravindranath, Chief Digital and Information Officer of Orange Business, and we have Sameet Gupte, CEO of evoluteIQ, a disruptive intelligent automation platform. Welcome Hriday and Sameet to today’s episode.
Hriday: Thanks, Prankur. Thanks for having, having me.
Prankur: Great. Let’s get started. So, Hriday, why don’t we start with you? You recently joined Orange as the Chief Digital and Information Officer. Can you help us understand what is the vision and what is the go forward digital transformation roadmap that you have thought through for Orange?
Hriday: Sure. So I recently joined Orange Business and I’m responsible for the tech agenda for the company. I also have the mandate of building the digital first agenda as well. What that means basically is about taking our business online. So it’s been about almost six months since I’ve joined the company and I’m inspired by several assets that we’ve got.
We’ve got an incredibly rich portfolio of products and services. And we’ve got some fantastic people, that’s the beating heart of this company.
But also Orange Business, as with most companies in today’s world, has its challenges as well. And that’s fundamentally driven by, external market forces where our customer expectations are changing dramatically. Our product mix is changing to meet those customer expectations because technology innovation is driving a big part of that change. And also we’ve got cost challenges as well. Like with most companies, most mature industries, you know, we’re all facing these challenges and that creates a huge amount of reliance on IT and tech.
So IT and tech becomes the biggest problem or it becomes the biggest enabler. So I feel like I’m at the epicenter of that sort of revolution that’s happening in the industry. And of course, within, within Orange Business as well.
So with that in mind, I’ve actually structured, our digital transformation agenda across six key strategic imperatives, which I will share with you.
The first is about digital first, and I talked about this briefly in my introduction. So what digital first means is about- it has a singular purpose: taking our business online. We are a traditional telco, having been in the business for 30 to 40 years. Fundamentally, this was built on foundations pre the digital era.
A big part of my strategy, and what my team will be driving at Orange Business, is essentially building all of our digital assets, that means we can take our business online. These include our e-commerce capabilities for B2B journeys and e-care, which involves customers managing their services online and raising tickets, and so on. So, that’s the first imperative.
But building a shiny front end and constructing a set of portals won’t cut it. At its core, we’re also building a state-of-the-art tech stack that houses all our products and services. So, we’re literally constructing a tech stack from the ground up — completely greenfield. And that’s to do to the fact that almost every one of our products is now being re-engineered as next-generation products.
And, you know, given the fact that we’re a mature industry, we have a huge legacy and our existing IT systems won’t be able to cope with the level of innovation and change needed in the product arena.
The third strategic imperative is exploiting data and AI at scale. And AI now is a huge buzzword in the industry. And, of course, it has a tremendous amount of application, and we want to be able to exploit that at scale. What that means is we want to be able to get our data, bring all of our data. And as a telco, and you mentioned some of this in your introduction, we have a lot of information and a lot of data, especially when we monitor and manage large-scale infrastructure. But how that manifests itself, how we exploit that to actually create value for customers, is still yet untapped.
And we want to make sure we use technology. We use the innovation that’s available both in the public cloud and several other partners to exploit this at scale. So that’s the third.
The fourth is what I call being sustainable by design. One of the key priorities now, as a tech leader, is to ensure that we’re building solutions that are sustainable by design. This means we want to be extremely careful about the amount of compute, amount of resources we use, our impact on energy in our data centers, and so on. Also. We are a big network player with a whole bunch deployed network equipment. We want to ensure that we can recycle and provide a circular economy around our infrastructure as well. So, this is again a very important priority as we build our future solutions.
The fifth strategic imperative is strengthening our cybersecurity. Again, this is a topical issue. It’s a boardroom risk. But also, it’s one of those things that, you know, people don’t really enjoy talking about because it’s less about offense and innovation and more about defence. However, having said that, we want to make sure that we are on the front foot when it comes to managing cyber risk. This involves how we manage our legacy infrastructure and how we build our new capabilities, IT, tech, and infrastructure—ensuring that we design that secure by design as well. So, we’re always ahead of the curve rather than being reactive to situations.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is what I call supercharging our people, operating model, and culture. This is related to the fact that we are transforming as a company, we are building a new set of products and services and bringing them into the digital age. At its core, this transformation will require a significant effort in people upskilling and a change in the company’s operating model. There’s a lot of focus that we’re putting here. We come from an engineering culture, and we want to transition that to a more digital-first, customer-oriented culture. This, in itself, is a huge pivot. As a tech leader, I keep saying it should be less about the technology and more about the human. That’s the kind of change we’re trying to do at the core of the company.
Prankur: Thanks Hriday. Certainly, the insights you provided were comprehensive and offered a great understanding of your thought processes and priorities for the upcoming quarters and potentially years. Sameet, you have the experience of working with various global enterprises, it’s evident that digital transformation has become a CEO priority today. As mentioned, it can either be your biggest enabler or the most significant bottleneck to your business. How are you seeing the digital transformation roadmap evolve, and in how is AI and automation becoming central to the overall digital transformation agenda for CXOs of global enterprises?
Sameet Gupte: So Prankur, you know, just listening to Hriday, it kind of, revalidates, why Evolute IQ and why we are where we are, right. I think digital transformation or AI or Gen AI, I think this is now a way of life, right? This is how you conduct business. I don’t think it’s an option for anybody, whether you’re a telco provider or you’re an airline or whatever it is. I think, it is here. It is here to stay. It is the way you will conduct business. It is the way of life.
And I think, you know, all the CXOs like Hriday, they’ve all sort of embraced it. I mean, and if those who have not, I think they’re going to fall back. I mean, and there’s no recovery because, you know, this is something which is happening real-time.
This is transformation, which is happening, to embrace something, which is, you know, going to be how we build the next generation and the next generation, all of it. I mean, we just heard a CX level person talking about redoing and creating the fundamentals of building something, which is, you know, forward looking. And it’s not just about tech, it is about the people who absorb that, understand that culturally, this is how they need to design systems.
This is how they need to provide an experience for the end customer. This is how they can differentiate themselves with respect to, you know, their competitors. I think that is what is actually the definition of digital transformation, right? When, when the first thing you think is, native, I mean, what did I mention digital first, you know, it’s, everybody has to start thinking native, right? It has to be core.
And I think that’s where things like automation, I mean, automation should be a default, right? What we are seeing now is, people who are embracing this as a way of life, then they are looking at how they can improve the experience of their own employees, how they can improve the experience of their customers, and what are the technologies that enable it?
And obviously, you know, artificial intelligence, automation, gen AI, I think all of this is very much on the forefront because, again, this is what is driving What the world will look like in the future. Right. And you know, it’s been very interesting for us. I mean, when we started evoluteIQ, I was standing there and telling people end to end automation, full stack, you’ve got to do the whole thing, look at the process as end to end. Because that’s how your business sees it.
That’s how your business sees it, how your customers see it.
But, you know, we were so caught up in solving one part of the problem and we did that brilliantly instead of solving the entire problem. And then we took all these multiple solutions and put them together. And then they solve the overall problem.
But what you just introduced was, yeah, sure, some kind of digital transformation. But what you introduced was also complexity, inefficiency and, you know, stitching up different technologies and solutions together. And I think that’s what, you know, excites us.
And then obviously the Gen AI piece kind of comes on top of it, which is, you know, all about, okay, so how do you make this better? You know, how do you identify the patterns? How do you do that? And then that piece also, what we’re seeing introduces the thing of risk.
So, Gen AI is very much going to be the fabric of this next, generation that we see in terms of digital transformation. But it is what we see as people are doing within the walls. I mean, they do want to leverage what’s out there, but they also want to innovate and create the patterns and the LLMs within their boundaries, within the guardrails that, you know, CIOs like Hriday will say they will do it or they need to do it and kind of have a balanced view. So that’s how I’m seeing this whole thing come up.
I mean, AI is the next one. Again, it is something I have been toying with since 1997. So, you know, for some of us, it’s not something new, but hey, you know, finally the world has caught up. So we are very happy about it. And it’s the way forward. For us, it’s an integral part of what evoluteIQ as a technology is built on.
We’ve been offering it for a very long time and since inception. But yes, I do see people asking legitimate questions, wanting to adopt it in the right way. So I think that’s my observation or my experience over the past few years.
Prankur: Thanks. Thanks, Sameet. And I think you, you sort of brought in a lot of dimensions to the whole digital and automation journey of enterprises. I think over the course of our conversation, we want to probably dissect each of them, as we sort of get in your perspectives as well. I’ll just pick one, aspect, first in terms of looking at business being defined by how technology is core to each of those different business operations, business functions.
So if you can help us understand right from a telco standpoint, what are the key outcomes that telcos are chasing, whether it is on the network operation side, on the customer experience side, or overall in terms of how you are thinking about scaling the business from a digital transformation perspective, what are those business outcomes that you would be focusing on?
Sure. So, first let me start off by saying. It’s like an assertion. The, telecom sector I think is going through probably one of the most profound changes, in its history as a sector. I mean, I know, I know almost every industry is going through that. I mean, we’re no less. For us, in our history from a technology change perspective and an industry perspective from a customer expectation perspective, everything is changing around us.
I mean, whether it’s the technology revolution that’s driving it with 5G, with satellites, with cloud, with hyper-automation, and Sameet talked a little bit about that. He talked about AI, you know, AI has got a profound impact, but what that’s leading to is our business model is fundamentally changing.
What we’re seeing is our legacy business, which was hugely profitable,iI mean, it’s a very margin-rich business in the telco world, it’s in sharp structural decline. Whilst we’re growing our new products and services, now, our new products and services have a completely different margin mix to our legacy businesses. Because we’re moving from what is primarily a very infrastructure capex intensive business to, also we’re still a capex intensive business, but with a whole lot of OTT services surrounding that how we innovate with partners, become incredibly important. So we’re moving from a very proprietary own build, you know, very rich heritage of legacy margin rich environment to this new era of products and services that has a very different margin profile. And the way we deploy that into customer environments also changing that’s creating tremendous amount of change, both in the way we need to innovate in the market, but also on our P&L, you know, we need to be far more efficient.
So that’s why we need to really look at, you know, automation capabilities. Yes. You know, and again, hyper-automation, is a word that I think the market has started to use and it has multiple dimensions. How we use that in the right mix is super important. Again, you know, and Sameet talked about silos. You know, we should not make sure that we focus on one thing. We need to focus on the right combination. So that’s one.
And then I want to sort of just double click probably on building on what Sameet said on AI. AI has been around, by the way, for decades. In fact, in academia and research, it’s been around since the seventies. If you see some of the models, it’s, you know, all of that was written by scientists and universities in the seventies and the eighties. In fact, I did a degree. I did a Master’s in AI in 2005, before AI was as cool as it is today. And I was citing, you know, references that were 25-30 years old, you know, so some of those concepts are that old, but what has changed and especially in the last decade, obviously the internet, has brought a lot of change, of which data has exploded. Computational power has exploded, which basically means the way you apply AI can drastically improve both operational efficiency as well as it can create value for customers.
But again, you know, the last decade again is not really revolutionary. It’s more evolutionary. Yeah.
This whole explosion of data and compute. Because, I think industry sometimes referred to as narrow AI. But it’s now hit all of us in the last six to 12 months, I should say with obviously with ChatGPT and Open AI, which is this concept of Generative AI, and some people are also now evolving that concept to be called artificial general intelligence and where that’s different from the narrow AI, which I talked about earlier is, now, I mean, this is AI starting to interpret language, interpret data with context and context is super important. And when you add context to this, you know, all of that other in statistical models and so on, the AI is starting to actually interpret and start to behave like a human brain.
And the applications of that is starting to grow. So I’m super excited by the applications that some of these technologies can bring.
Prankur: And Sameet, from your perspective, I think Hriday gave a really in depth view on how the telco world is changing, but you work with enterprises across healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, retail. Have there been like similar sort of structural shifts in terms of what outcomes companies are chasing from technology, any specific sort of call outs that you would have from here?
Sameet Gupte: You know, I think, it is across the board, right? I think a lot of people are reinventing themselves. The AI wave has, hit them hard. And I think the board of directors are, I’m sure breathing down the neck of all the CXOs, asking and demanding for, where is your strategy? And so a lot of people, a lot of industries are reinventing themselves.
And I think a few stand out. I mean, Insurance stands out. Telecom stands out healthcare stands out, Banking always has been the biggest adopter of technology and they have big budgets. We think that they were very advanced and one of the early adopters, but even they are playing catch up to a lot of things that are happening.
And the latest report I heard was a trillion and for the first time in my professional career. I put a trillion dollars of opportunity on a slide and presented it to my board. And I was like, this is here, right? So I think, the point I’m making Prankur is that because there is so much of willingness to change, a few asks have also changed. I mean, earlier people would just talk about efficiency, they would talk about, value ROI, all of that. I think what I’ve now started seeing is, hey, what’s my experience going to be like? What’s the experience going to be like for the customer?
Right? You know, how can I think a faster, cheaper, better ROI? The hard metrics is a given in every business pretty much has all of those, right? If not, you know, they are driving towards it. So now people are trying to say, okay, so if I use a Gen AI or if I use the EIQ 6. 0, what else happens? You know, what else is my, delta?
What is that X factor that I would get, And how do I measure it? You know, if you’re saying, Oh, it just gives me a great experience in employees or customer or whatever, it has no meaning. You know, how do you quantify that? You know, what is a scientific way of measuring that? Yes. You know, I, instead of delivering this entire thing in 20 weeks, EvoluteIQ will allow me to do this in 11 weeks. Great. Good. I get that. You know, it would be a 60 percent savings.
You know, all these are very hard factors. So this is a given what else can you do for me, or what else can now this technology do, which it was not doing, and I think that ask, I’ve started seeing with a lot of people who are embracing the transformation.
Because you know what they have internalized at a strategic level is, I understand my business KPIs, I’ve been doing this for donkey’s years, I know this. Right. I understand what it takes to compete with my competitors in the circumstance and paradigm of today. But what can I create? This is my opportunity to invest a lot and transform. What can I create for tomorrow that my competitor is not thinking and my customer has not yet realized is something that they need?
Right. And I think that those kind of questions we are getting asked. So as I said, customer experience, employee experience, and quantifying that. What does that really mean? Right? ROI, but ROI not restricted to – I have put in a million dollars. You know, this is my business case. What do I get back?
But ROI with another dimension of- Okay, with all of this, how is it sustainable over the next seven years and what happens and what is the future proofing of how my customers or my competitive landscape relates to this? So I think those are some of the changes and challenges that we are seeing in this new transformative thing. The standard KPIs are always there, but these things interest me because as a CEO. I’m getting challenged to demonstrate that to my customers.
Prankur: Understood Sameet. And just on the aspect of challenges, I think we’ll just maybe change gears a bit, to understand what could be the potential challenges, right? While the imperative, around technology is certainly clear, digital transformation is a must do for every enterprise, but in that journey, and if you can help us understand, at the helm of technology adoption for the last 15 plus years, in your career, what have been those challenges around people, process, technologies, and what were some of the ways in which you helped overcome those?
Hriday: Yeah, sure, Prankur. So yes, I mean, I’ve been in the technology field for many, many years now, spearheading transformation using technology. Even though I’m a technologist at heart, what I’ve actually learned is, you know, the most challenging part of any transformation is the people side. I mean, business change is incredibly hard. Technology change is incredibly easy. Business change is incredibly hard and actually the human side is, it becomes the most, challenging part of any type of transformation.
So, I think a few points in terms of learning, especially, you know, as an engineer, as a technologist, the most important thing is focus on simplicity.
Don’t over engineer anything. The second thing is use, use design thinking, use human centered design in your approach. I mean, I think it’s one of the most powerful tools that’s out there for any product or technology company. So if you’re not already using it, I mean, I would really urge you to use it. It makes a huge difference.
And then again, the final point I would say is focus on adoption. So this pretty much sums up my entire experience in terms of key learnings, this sums it up for me.
Prankur: Yes. I think completely the human side of technology is where I think it falters a lot of times. So that’s, that’s where you focus your energies on. Sameet, you being a platform company, what are your sort of best practices, on solving for some of the challenges that you see in that whole digital transformation and technology transformation journey?
Sameet Gupte: You know, Hriday just spoke our core philosophy. I mean, we have been obsessed with adoption. I think, you know, the reason being one of the biggest things that has not worked out for some of the other first generation automation platforms, which sort of landed up four or five years ago, is the fact that they solved a part of the problem and everybody thought that was a silver bullet. But the reason the adoption after that has not really taken off is because one, obviously, you know, people realizing that it doesn’t solve the whole problem.
That’s point number one. Point number two, is the most important bit is all the business cases were breaking down because financially it was not viable, right? So I think what we have focused and obsessed about is adoption. So simplicity of use. I mean, intuitive, right? I mean, we have taken a lot of inspiration from how the smartphone world has evolved.
It doesn’t matter which part of the platform you’re using. Your approach and the way you build it and the way you construct it is similar so it increases the adoption. I think that has been our key thing. I think that has also been the biggest challenge in in our industry and in the technology space that we approach.
So I think that has been the biggest, you know apart from that I think the first generation players have a lot of legacy in automation. So the costs have been prohibitive.
We were born native. We were born in 2019 with the entire technology stack built out. And we always looked at the problem end to end. So that has given us an advantage. But if I was one of them, I would be worried because I would have only sold an RPA for many years. And now when the world wants a full end to end stack, I’m either building it or buying it. And so obviously that has a commercial impact, right?
And then the third thing is the whole thing about, legacy systems and integrating with legacy systems. See if I go to Hriday and tell him Hriday, I have arrived and I have this great thing, Hriday is not going to say, Sameet, thank you for coming, throw everything out and just, you know, do what my technology does. Nobody would do it, right?
So the first thing every CIO or every user is going to ask is, hey, I’ve invested for many, many years. I have all of these legacy systems. I have homegrown systems. You know, how does this whole thing operate in this ecosystem? And how do I maximize my investments when I put all of this? I think these are the three, three things that we see, you know, the adoptability, the cost and obviously then ensuring that the investments that people have made and customers have made are protected and not written off just because, you know, there’s a new shiny thing that has come.
Prankur: Certainly. And I think that also is probably a challenge for people like Hriday who are constantly evaluating new platforms and seeing how does that fit into my existing technology stack. Right? So Hriday, how do you go about that process? Like, are there certain sort of lookouts that you always have whenever you are evaluating new technologies or new technology platforms that can meet your needs or fit in?
Yeah. I mean there’s, there’s been a huge explosion of capability that’s out there in the market. Of course, there’s the SaaS world and there’s the product vendor ecosystem that basically focuses on functional depth. But there’s also this huge automation explosion. I mean, I think Gartner said there were like over a thousand companies now that, that sort of play in this space covering all aspects of automation, I mean, one of the biggest challenges is you can’t solve one problem in a silo and then not look at the broad spectrum. I mean, we need to look at this end to end and we need the right, the right combination of capabilities driving that end to end automation, driving that end to end transformation.
I think, as a tech sort of leader as a tech buyer, you know, we need to find the right combination, and, you know, to what Sameet said, also, it needs to be able to be compatible and interoperable with the brownfield that we have, you know, because, as I said, with most companies, we have a huge legacy and we need to make sure that it’s able to interoperate with that as well.
Sameet Gupte: Yeah, I mean, I think Prankur it would be genuinely weird as a, as a new technology player or as a vendor to approach any customer and expect that, even if it is the right solution at the right time, there is an ongoing business, there’s an ongoing relationship, there’s an ongoing architecture, there’s an ongoing structure, skills, everything, right? And we all go through this even during our daily life, right? I mean, Just because there’s an answer which is absolutely correct today does not mean the decisions you have made two years ago, three years ago, five years ago are incorrect. It’s just that, you know, the world has moved and now you’ve come to a point.
So now, I mean, I sometimes find my job much easier than when I’m pitching to a CIO or a CXO because my job is, hey, you know, this is the best thing. Trust me, the world is going this way. I’m pretty sure the guy on the other side gets it, but you know, he’s getting all of this. I’m asked to make a very balanced decision of how do I bring in innovation without really completely destroying what has got me so far because you know, it doesn’t work that way and I think I definitely have the advantage of being born without any baggage and without any legacy. So my architecture kind of takes all of this into consideration today.
Prankur: Yes, yes. Yeah. I think that aspect of Hriday’s job is probably that what we don’t envy. And some of the things just going deeper into some of technology aspects on telecom and on automation, right? So, what are some of those like specific use cases or problem statements that you have helped telecom companies solve for using some of the intelligent automation AI technologies?
Sameet Gupte: I’ll tell you one which excites me the most in the telecom sector is, you know them trying to balance this whole 5G and the legacy of the 4G that they have and you know the whole dissecting the networks and you know leveraging the automation to sort of integrate all of this because you know, the 5G obviously brings in a lot of you know advantages for the customer. But obviously again, you know people are not just going to switch or there’s a lot of infrastructure that people have put in for the past, 2G or a 3G or a 4G.
And I think the ones that we work with, trying to balance, how do they do the billing? How do they use the revenue cycle? How do they use automation to sort of decipher, break the networks into different, how do they bill their customers? How do they get that, you know, how do they reduce the human intervention and all of this? Because then it’s prone to errors and you can’t have an unhappy customer.
So I think for me, that has been the most challenging use case for EvoluteIQ as such, where you’re doing billing, where you’re doing, the whole order to cash, when, you know, the customers, different parts of the business of the end customers are on different, uh, you know, networks and are then sort of migrating. And then ensuring that all those pieces are automated. The customer experience is not changing their kind of build accurately and then reducing the footprint of human intervention.
Prankur: I think the biggest challenge that companies and leaders need to solve for is really about looking at the human side of technology, whether it is around adoption of the technology or making technology simple for people to actually use and then get real results from. And then from a platform perspective, I think the end to end approach is something that is sought after and it’s, of course, not a one size fits all scenario. But you need to make sure that you are integrating well with the existing and historical technology stacks that large enterprises have built.
This was a very enlightening conversation even for me. and I’m hoping that all our audience also found it equally enjoyable and enlightening.
So thank you so much again, uh, Sameet and Hriday for sharing your insights and making time to do this today. Thanks Prankur.
Sameet Gupte: Thanks Hriday.
Hriday: Thanks. Thanks Prankur. Thanks Sameet. Thank you.
Prankur: That’s all for today. Thank you for tuning in. This is Prankur signing off for today. See you at our next episode.