The role of technology and information technology over the years have changed considerably. If one goes back to 20-30 years, information technology was fundamentally about making business more efficient and effective. It was about the internal operations and business efficiency. How do I automate? How do I inform and formulate? However, the last decade was primarily powered by acceleration of mobility with the launch of the iPhone. Since then, mobile technology has moved from back office function to being the primary medium of dialogue with customers.
From being the commodity that fuels back office to now being the medium in which brands talk to their customers - there has been a significant shift in the way technology is consumed. Businesses have started looking at technology in a completely different way where it is not just about commoditisation which is what drives efficiency but it is about differentiation. How can I use technology to make my business more relevant to customers? How can I be different from the competition? How can I be ahead of where customer expectations are at, so I can be more relevant to them? That’s the back drop against which we set out to say how we are equipping our people to navigate this shift. This is particularly relevant in India.
Based on my personal experience, I feel the Indian educational system really trains people to be masters of subject matter. But when it comes to ideas and creativity and thinking outside the box, that’s a learning skill. That is something that we’ve got to inculcate in people. So as we sort out to say what is this new breed of technology professionals that we would need to navigate this shift in the role of technology, we said we’d need to actually grow these people. We need to create a new breed of professionals that is capable of speaking to the CMO and the CEO with equal comfort to the conversations they have with the CIO and the technology department.
In order to do that we need to do some fundamental analysis of what skills are required. And it’s not just about hard skills. It is about attitude, behaviour and understanding the culture. Because CMOs and CIOs have vastly different cultures and understanding of the business. There is a need to create people that understand what is really driving business today.
Also, there are a lot of innovations happening in the enterprise technology space, leading up to the rise of micro-services, dev-ops, among others. In the experience layer, there is so much that is going on from augmented reality and virtual reality to adoption of machine learning, cognitive communication, artificial intelligence and block chain technology. When you think about differentiating the customer experience, it basically means differentiating business itself by building new products and services leveraging variety of relevant technologies.
It demands training of people against the current state of technology that helps marketing and business be different. But it’s not just sufficient to know all of those technologies. In this world of differentiation, businesses need to lean into things that have never been done before. You’ve got to have some of your best people really focused not on the things that have been done 100 times before and making them slightly better, but getting into brand new territories where you’re looking at applications of technology that have not been undertaken before.
In this light, we are creating professionals which actually lean into that differentiated future. Additionally, these technologists have got to be influential as well, so we work towards teaching them storytelling skills and the ability to influence. This combination of business and marketing culture and knowledge; the breadth and the depth in the marketing and business technology space; the attitude and behaviour to lean into things that are new and different and pioneering the future, and communication and influential skills are all put together into an intense year long program that SapientRazorfish is promoting as the CMTO Program.
We go through a competitive admission process every year and select 20 of our best 10 brightest technologists from around the globe. The applicant have to go through a cohort based learning journey where they acquire new repertoire of skills and behavioural changes alongside their daily jobs. What we are doing in India is really a part of the fourth intensive. Part of the way in which we bring the good class together four times a year over weekends and roughly about 4-5 day intensives. And this intensive we actually throw our own conference which is a pretty awesome event where the class talks to roughly about 500 people on the topics that they have been studying in-depth as part of their thesis work. So each of them is required to pick an area of technology that is disrupting business. And explain that in simple and influential terms to the audience and what to do about it and how to use it.
We are obsessed about creating what delights the customers, and creating experiences which are highly differentiated and add a tremendous amount of value in the customers’ lives. Some of these are created through experience technology and that’s where augmented reality and virtual reality fit in. For a real estate developer this is a classic application of virtual reality, where the property is not yet ready but you can create a VR experience for the buyer giving them a complete experience of what it would be like to walk around in that space. We’ve created other experiences and augmented reality where you can walk into a store and you actually overlay reviews and ratings on top of physical goods in that store.
Working at the experience layer gives you all sorts of interesting possibilities and a lot of the action is happening behind that. For instance with cognitive computing and data sciences, the amount of innovation that we can drive into business is significant. It is beyond just propensity modelling and predictive analytics to know what customers are buying next. We’ve been able to look at search data and look at behaviour on an automobile manufacturer’s website to then actually predicting where the company should be deploy its inventory.
It’s very expensive for an automobile manufacturer to maintain inventory on car lots. But if they can look at search trends and behaviours of existing customers and do some look alike modelling, they have the ability to impact where to stock inventory based on the customers are looking for in different regions of the country. This can add a tremendous amount of value to the bottom line in unexpected areas that are leveraging some fairly straight forward techniques and data sciences.
The author is SVP and CTO, SapientRazorfish. This article is adapted from his recent interview.