Mindtree cofounder shares his take on 2017 digital trends

We recently had a chance to catch up with Krishnakumar Natarajan, Mindtree cofounder and the company’s Executive Chairman since April 2016. KK gave his perspective on the most impactful trends in digital transformation in 2017. Our conversation is excerpted below.

Has digital transformation morphed from a trend into a central component of modern business strategy? What are the three must-have ingredients for any organization to succeed in digital?

Digital transformation isn’t a fad anymore. Most organizations see it as a strategy to gain competitive business advantage, so it is getting a lot of attention from boards as well as CEOs. More and more enterprises are clear on the fact that technology is just not a business enabler but the business itself. In this context, enterprises need to rethink how they identify initiatives to enhance competitive position and consequently win in the marketplace.

One of the key qualities required is agility—organizations need to be agile and keep learning constantly from the environment. The ability to manage change is also critical because it is not about deploying a technology, but about how you help shift behavior to make people adapt to these changes. As technologies keep evolving, the third criteria is that organizations should build capabilities to stay curious and have the courage to experiment and fail. Only by staying agile and constantly experimenting and failing will organizations realize maximum impact and become successful in their markets.

What do you see as the ultimate goal for digital transformation?

Giving users a seamless experience is becoming the holy grail of digital transformation. Across industries, every enterprise is looking to enhance the quality of customer experience because millennials are becoming the largest portion of addressable buyers. The imperative to provide an engaging customer experience is the primary success parameter in most digital transformation initiatives.

How do you see data visualization tools expanding and aligning to the need for data visualization?

In search of delivering seamless and engaging customer experiences, organizations are looking at data as a strategic advantage. Data is not seen only as something to be protected, but also as source of competitive advantage to understand customer needs in a far better way. In addition to using data to understand consumer needs, companies are looking to approaches like big data and analytics to get real-time feedback and understand real customer needs and expectations to structure go-to-market initiatives. Data visualization is the key to understanding the customer needs, and I’m seeing greater adoption of easy-to-use and impactful data visualization tools.

Companies like Uber and Airbnb have achieved incredible growth by using cloud-based platforms. Can these platforms help create low-friction markets where buyers and suppliers interact?

Beyond Airbnb and Uber, a multitude of platforms are driving user adoption. At a high level, there is a lot to ensuring that platforms really deliver the business outcomes required—it’s not just about using the platform for aggregation. Key drivers include the need to deliver an engaging consumer experience, enable self-learning to understand customer experiences, and handle large amounts of transactional data. Organizations should look at self-learning mechanisms in the platforms, as well as how to drive approaches for increasing consumer acceptance and adoption of the platform. They shouldn’t just play the role of an aggregator and build robust engineering capabilities.

Do you expect to see machine learning become a kind of “new normal”?

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are becoming essential technologies. A lot has been said about these two technologies, and for the first time they are becoming mainstream. Depending on the nature of work, businesses are experiencing improvements than can vary anywhere from 15 to 20 percent to a high of 70 percent. The applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence can be wide-ranging, depending on the context of the customer. Some of the implications of machine learning go beyond enhancing customer experience to including emerging spaces such as industrial IOT, where the machine data gets integrated seamlessly with the enterprise data. There are many opportunities to drive efficiency improvements in such a way that maintenance moves from reactive to proactive approach, which can generate significant positive business outcomes.

What is your take on application program interfaces (APIs) when it comes to true digital transformation? eBay and PayPal have relied heavily on these technologies, which have enabled them to manage an extremely high volume of transactions.

Digital transformation is especially successful in a connected ecosystem. This means platforms may aggregate lots of customer data, but the seamless experience of the consumer is not delivered entirely by the platform. Instead, it relies on interactions between a number of services or partners who work along with the key platform aggregators to deliver the seamless experience. To make this connected ecosystem a reality, APIs are becoming critical in building technology solutions. I strongly believe that in the future, these will become more and more mainstream.

What are the building blocks of the workplace of tomorrow? How can companies transform?

It is becoming clear that the world of tomorrow, with respect to the workforce, will be very different. The nature of the workforce will be oriented toward millennials, who have different expectations: inclusivity, being engaged in decision making and working in an environment with continuous learning and innovation opportunities. I also believe that the nature of the workplace will change, with a good percentage of mobile workers who are experts in their field but do not want to engage with the organization full-time. With changes in the demographic profile of the workforce and the nature of employer-employee contracts, technology can play a key role in trying to maintain a high level of engagement. It can also enable a diverse group to collaborate in a seamless way where innovation and new ideas can be fostered and harnessed to benefit everyone.

For more Mindtree insights, read “Toward a holistic understanding of digital transformation.”