Digital Transformation Post COVID-19 and the Role of Resilient Leader
Speakers: Ritesh Jain, COO | CTO, Former Head of Delivery Digital Tech at HSBC; Nanda Padmaraju, Senior Vice President at Cigniti
Here is the Transcript
You are listening to QA talks, a podcast for quality assurance executives implementing digital transformation in their organizations. In this show, we focus on the unique pitfalls inherent in quality assurance and quality engineering and how these executives are navigating them to position their organization for the future. Let’s get into the show.
Logan: Welcome back to QA talks. I’m your host for today’s episode, Logan Lyles with Sweet Fish Media. I’m joined by two experienced podcast guests today. The first is Ritesh Jain. He is the COO and global head of Digital Technology, Delivery, at HSBC, as well as Nanda Padmaraju. He is the senior VP at Cigniti Technologies.
A little bit more about Ritesh. He believes in exploiting the best technology practices for innovation and business transformation. Being a technology expert and enthusiast, Ritesh is a proven technology leader and DNI advocate with global experience in digital technology, business transformation, and operations. He has led milestone changes in industries including financial services, FinTech, shipping, telecom, and government, and led the future of payments for Visa and delivered Apple Pay in Europe. Through the course of professional life, Ritesh was involved in building and leading the digital CoE at Maersk while leading recovery from the biggest ransomware incident in the industry. He is currently engaged in enabling functions to build the Bank of the Future with one of the largest banks in the world. Ritesh comes from an entrepreneurial background with experience in building and mentoring successful businesses. He provides technical expertise and advice to parliamentary digital service in the UK and is an advisor for payment regulation as well as other governments.
Nanda is our co-speaker for this episode of the podcast. He heads the UK & EU business units for Cigniti. Nanda brings in 22 years of experience in consulting, advising, and helping global enterprises across domains in their quality assurance and quality engineering transformation. Ritesh, welcome to the show, sir.
Ritesh: Thank you for having me, Logan.
Logan: Absolutely. Nanda, Welcome back. Always a pleasure to speak with you. How are you doing today, sir?
Nanda: I’m doing good, Logan. Thank you. And thanks for having me on this podcast.
Logan: Absolutely excited to learn from both of your combined years of experience. Today, Ritesh, the first question I’ve got for today’s episode is to you. Anyone listening to this knows that the world is so different today than it was even five or six weeks ago. It’s changed beyond really anyone’s comprehension. I know mine. For you specifically, what changes do you see coming in the way enterprise organizations function and operate based on everything that has changed here in recent history?
Ritesh: So these are the unprecedented times of what we have seen in the last few weeks, specifically, six weeks or so. The way we operate has changed significantly or completely. The world is quiet at the moment. The office buildings are quite. Everybody is locked in their houses and we are working virtually. And what we have seen the capability of the organizations and the people to perform in a virtual world, which we wouldn’t have anticipated in past. We never thought that we could work in this way. We have always seen the organization’s capacity between 20 to 30 percent. Working from home is basically naive to businesses or the financial services. But what we are experiencing at this point of time, it’s gone 100 percent capacity or 90 percent capacity working from home. Now, when we’ll come out of this, the way we operate, the way we work, the way we do things is going to change significantly. However, when we talk about the banking industry, we will see a significant change. We need to think about the more digital, going more digital and data driven. We should invest more into the cloud. We will talk about the variable cost structure for operations. We need to think about the end-to-end digital sales maturity as well as we need to look into the automation, reduce our legacy I.T. and that’s what the focus going to be after COVID-19.
Logan: That makes a lot of sense Ritesh. You mentioned investment in the cloud. What are some of the other areas that you think banks and financial institutions, a lot of your peers, should be investing in now so that they can emerge or remain as leaders in this post COVID 19 era, as we put it.
Ritesh: So earlier when we were talking and whether it’s 2019, 2017 or even an early 2020, what we have seen there was a joke about it. What is going to change after COVID 19? And basically it’s digital transformation. So the digital transformation has moved from an item on the COO’s to do list to an all out imperative after the COVID pandemic shook the world. But even so, the implication might be broader than may seem to imagine. So it is definitely not an option anymore. And when we are thinking about the cloud, cloud was not an option. If you would like to scale your capability, if you would like to provide better services at scale and at rapid pace to our customers and to meet the ever changing demand and to meet their customer behaviors, we need a platform and services to meet those customer demands. So it is definitely not an option.
Logan: I love what you said there about digital transformation, Ritesh going from a to do list on that executives list to an all out imperative. Nanda, you work with a lot of I.T. leaders. Can you speak to this shift in mentality that you’re seeing in some Cigniti customers or other industry leaders that you’re talking to, Nanda?
Nanda: Sure, Logan. I would like to take the example of a banking customer that we have in the UK. They have divided the entire IT operations into two parts. One, as we all know, ‘run the bank’ and two, ‘change the bank’. In the current COVID-19 situation, run the bank related IT continues as per the plan. This is what helps keep the lights on. And as social distancing becomes the new normal and hundreds of countries around the world are in a lockdown scenario, Digital is the only channel that works in this current environment. So this puts a lot of pressure on legacy banks to cope with the load and hence more frequent performance testing cycles, regression testing for all the patches, core fixes and so on, and hence quality engineering or software testing in the pecking order only went up a few notches for that part of the IT operations. Now coming to the change the bank. So this part of the IT has slowed a bit because the priorities have changed for the banks. However all major projects are still running but to a revised timescale. The priority of the quality engineering on change the bank remains unchanged. And with the social media attention today no enterprise in any industry can afford to drop the priority for quality engineering. One bad release of an application has a propensity to bring down an enterprise. So this is one of the main reasons why, as Ritesh rightly put in, IT quality is now a boardroom priority for all enterprises across sectors. So this COVID situation has only accelerated and notched up the importance of quality engineering in the pecking order for many enterprises, including banks.
Logan: That makes a lot of sense, Nanda. Ritesh, back over to you. You know, the inevitability of digital transformation has been talked about for quite some time. You know, as the pandemic accelerates transformation to new operating models, what do you think digital maturity will look like across organizations? Once we’re on the other side of this, even, you know, a year, two years or further down the road.
Ritesh: Thanks, Logan. And that’s really a very interesting question. And that‘s what I’m talking about quite regularly. And people are talking about regularly. I generally phrase it like you never let a crisis go to waste. And COVID 19, whether you look into it as a threat or an opportunity. And I would say it’s neither a threat or not an opportunity by itself. It’s a threat and an opportunity is the way to look forward. And it fits perfectly with the conversation that we are having about the digital transformation. So we as an organization or banking as an industry or throughout the industries, we need to consider this as a threat and an opportunity. We are witnessing the creation of the next normal and it is going to be more evident post pandemic. We are going to see a digital or virtual world. We are going to find out the new unicorns, which are just around the corners, what we have experienced after 2008. 2008 was just a financial crisis. Now, this is more closer to us as humanity because it is impacting the lives of people. So what we are going to see as a significant revolution into the financial services, banking, supply chain, delivery, communications, e-commerce, and supporting infrastructure and systems and these sectors going despite the crisis. And the next thing which we are looking forward is the virtualization of the companies and these sectors.
Logan: You make a really good point there, Ritesh, about you know, other points in history that we’ve seen major changes. I was just hearing something the other day about all of the companies that didn’t exist pre-2008 in that financial crisis. And now we’re going through something that’s impacting world economies, organizations, and as you put it, individuals, families, and us on a very human level. Nanda, can you speak a little bit to what you’re seeing leaders do right now as they manage their teams, as they seek to keep them motivated, as they seek to still get the best out of them while being empathetic to the situation and the realities that they’re dealing with as individuals, contributors, as well as leaders of teams.
Nanda: Sure Logan. Cigniti was one of the first IT companies to embrace and enable work from home for all our employees. And we saw this coming. And our ICT teams and delivery teams worked tirelessly in planning and executing to ensure that as minimal impact to all our client deliverables. And as we make this switch from work from office locations to working from home, and there are a few things that we have done, hopefully rightly – Open communication channels with all stakeholders, both internal and external, including our clients was the key. And the second one is implementing highest levels of security protocols, along with sensitizing the employees, ensure that we comply with all client-related requirements and keeping the employees engaged, whether it is a daily stand up meetings for the project related stuff, or the regular virtual catch-ups for fun-related activities? I think it was extremely important to keep the team bonding together during these challenging times. And there are various activities that have been initiated by HR on a regular basis to keep these virtual teams bonded together and continue to be motivated to deliver to the clients at this important hour. And finally, we went to all our customers and proactively asked them on how we can help, whether it is performance testing of their IT infrastructure to ensure they cope with the work from home workloads of security-related compliance testing, because all these legacy and large enterprise I.T. systems were never designed, as again Ritesh put in his opening remarks, for this kind of work from home environment. So we have customers where there are thousands of employees. Say if a particular customer where we have 17000 employees and today all of them are logging in remotely, right at 9:00 UK time and immediately they sense the IT performance drops down a few notches which is significant for them. So these are the things that we’re trying to help our customers proactively, saying that have you done this capacity planning, have you also ensured that your security compliances are as expected and as required both by the law of the land and your own IT ISMS systems of your organization? And finally, what we are saying is that, going back to what Ritesh said, every challenge is both an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. So this is one of the best times if you want to initiate change. We have the least path of resistance.
For example, a lot of enterprises have always delayed moving non-production workloads. I’m not talking about production workloads. Non-production workloads to cloud. So this is as good a time for you to use this downtime to start migrating all the non production workloads to the cloud, which render themselves very well for what remote management and also help address scalability and resilience. So once you do it for non-production workloads, then the production workloads can also be migrated. People will have the confidence you can do the migration. So large enterprises have moved and embraced AWS or GCP or Azure. But there are many, many enterprises that are still to adopt these technologies and we are very encouraging and participating and helping customers do these kind of migrations and ensure that their IT systems work as intended.
Logan: Nanda you added a lot to the conversation there. You know, in talking about how you can help employees deal with the current situation, helping customers deal with the realities of this new normal, as well as taking advantage of some of the opportunities based on the challenges and the current realities presented. Ritesh, I want to give you a chance to kind of speak to that same question for leaders out there that are, one, trying to keep their teams motivated and engaged, as well as supported and also especially innovative teams. How do you recommend, leaders are keeping people engaged, supported, and also able to still do very innovative work in a remote environment. Anything you can speak to there in folks that you’re speaking to in the industry or you’ve seen with your own teams? I would love to hear from you on that point, too.
Ritesh: Thanks, Logan. Thanks, Nanda. You’ve a picked up the right thing about the customers and the IT. In this current pandemic, the most affected are the people. It is not only about that we are locked down into the houses. It’s basically has impacted people mentally and which is significant. So there’s a more onus onto the leadership to keep all people motivated than normal times. These are the times for the resilient leadership. These are the times for empathy like empathetic leadership. Now the leaders have more responsibility to bring people together, own the narrative, keep communicating with the people, prepare for the long view, and embrace the long view and aim for the speed over the elegance. And these are the things that we definitely need to look and do and the leaders need to practice. So leaders has more responsibility and onus than the normal times. They need to make sure they own the narrative, they keep communicating with the people, with the teams, with the stakeholders, as well as with the customers. And these are the times for the empathetic leadership and the resilient leadership on the narrative. And don’t just look for the speed or the delivery. Think about the people and get them together.
Logan: I love that Ritesh so much, because as you said it very rightly earlier, this is a time where we’re facing economic financial challenges, but also we’re facing very unique challenges as people no matter what our roles in leadership or what industry that we work in, this is something that’s touching all of our lives. Ritesh, let’s speak a little bit more to the business impact here as we continue the conversation. You know, at any time, business continuity and resilience are obviously extremely critical for any organization, but especially in times like these. So what are some recommendations that you offer to leaders for achieving those sorts of outcomes from digital and operational perspectives, especially in times like these?
Ritesh: Thanks, Logan. As Nanda has mentioned earlier, generally in the banking industry once in a two ways – Run the bank as well as change the bank. So the complete focus is on run the bank specifically during this pandemic because the change of bank is all about producing the new services and amending the services. Now, the focus is on end of the part which is the business continuity, as well as keeping our customers intact, and keeping our customers at the center. So what banks have done is basically in UK and Europe during this pandemic and I’m uncovering from two perspective is the business continuity as well as the innovation in these difficult times. As soon as we have been hit by a pandemic, the banks have come together and as fallen the government regulation, they have increased the overdraft facility overnight. And they have made changes at a rapid pace. Similarly during these times, HSBC and Alibaba has come together to offer digital financing solution to Alibaba’s merchant up to half a million without any collateral or financial documents. So HSBC is utilizing the power of technology and big data to lead trend in home market and empowering merchants during a difficult time. So, yes, these are difficult times, but at the same time, these are the times for the innovation. These are the times to move faster and think more rational and strategically for our customers.
Logan: I love that you keep coming back, Ritesh, to the positives, to the opportunities in these challenging times. One of the things I love that you mentioned there is that it’s always all about people, process, and technology. And when you put people first, then great things come out of that. Nanda, speaking of people, you know, both on our teams and our customers. You spoke a little bit earlier to, I think, something that touches on this. But I want to give you an opportunity to speak a little bit more about the measures that you and your team are taking to ensure business continuity and resilience for your clients as you’re helping organizations of various sizes really mitigate the impact of the current situation.
Nanda: Sure Logan. As you know, Cigniti has an active client list of about two 225 customers around the globe and serving these 225 customers seamlessly with the BCB or the business community plan being implemented across 2500 resources is no mean task. And all this happened in the matter of days when we foresaw these kinds of restrictions coming down from various governments. So we took a proactive step and said we need to be prepared, we need to implement this and sort out any deeding issues much before the official lockdowns have started. So from an early planning, envisioning, and implementing perspective, I think Cigniti was slightly ahead of the curve and that helped us significantly. And once customers saw it working and they also embraced it with open mind, primarily because of two reasons. One, the entire world is facing a similar situation. So I think the empathy factor that was talked about earlier, I think played in our favor because everybody around the world are experiencing the same challenges and they themselves working from home. So embracing the work from home culture whether it is remotely or from an offshore location or people working in an onshore capacity, but still remotely, I think was embraced much openly than a lot of people have envisaged in the past, and this is something that Ritesh also alluded in his conversation. We never saw this coming yet and having not prepared for this, many IT companies have fumbled to implement that in-time. Over a period of time, I think everybody got this sorted out both from a people perspective, IT infrastructure perspective, the security compliance perspective, and being able to meet the agreed timelines in terms of deliverables for the customer I think have been of utmost importance from an operational governance point of view for many IT companies, including Cigniti. And we are on, as you know, a passionate team of testing-only resources. So we have one common theme and take pride in identifying defects and ensuring that we take the custodian ownership of quality across release cycles for all customers. So that’s one common theme that helps us stay united despite these kind of challenging environments to stay focused and continue the good work from all the employees.
Logan: I love to hear kind of a little bit behind the curtain on what you and your team are doing to, you know, address things both as a team and for your customers, Nanda. Ritesh, as we round out the conversation today, you know, we’ve talked a lot about the remote work environments, the impact that that’s having on I.T. infrastructure, speed, delivery, innovation, motivation, and teamwork amongst teams. The other thing I think we have to touch on before we close out the conversation, is security. The remote working scenario right now is presenting some serious security challenges to organizations worldwide across industries. In fact, there have been some reports of a rapid increase in cyber attacks. So for your colleagues out there, Ritesh, what are some advice that you’re giving offline that you’d like to share with listeners here about how organizations can protect themselves from these sorts of dangers and lean more into the opportunities that the current situation prevents? So if you could speak to a little bit to some of the security advice that you’re giving to some of your colleagues, we’d love to hear your input there.
Ritesh: Thanks, Logan. I guess security is paramount. And as a representative of everything. It’s basically when we are under lockdown, people are at home and working from home and that becomes more crucial. So what I would advise for the organization to step up their cyber hygiene standards, which is a basic which is looking into their digital hygiene habits and promoting this to the people as well. Make sure you have got a complex router password at your home Wi-Fi because people are working from home. We should put up firewalls along with our routers. These are the virtual firewalls so that’ll protect us at home. Be extra vigilant on the verification when you’re installing the software. Follow official updates, as well as train the employees on security and work from home best practices and make sure that they are aware of the risk that they can pose to the security of the organization and ensure employees are only using their corporate devices to access the company data and also make sure all the devices they use have the latest security patches installed and updated. Tweak your company’s email production policies to ensure that no fishing or spam emails can make it to your employees because employees are at home and they are behind their own firewalls and security system. And keep reminding to the employees about spotting phishing emails and not to click on the suspicious links. Make sure employees are not sharing the confidential information to their private channels. So, yes, there is a quite a lot to consume during these times on cybersecurity as it is the utmost important.
Logan: As you put it there, Ritesh. Definitely there is a lot to think about. And on that note, I really appreciate you’re giving us, you know, a really great checklist for leaders as well as employees to think about when it comes to cybersecurity in the given environment right now. Nanda, anything else to add there on the security front as we wrap up the conversation today?
Nanda: Being an IT services industry, Logan, we cannot just afford not to be compliant with the needs of the army, particularly when you’re working with banks and financial services, the compliance levels are very high and similarly with healthcare and life sciences companies right. So all of that goes through an audit. And we need to ensure that all the auditors that we maintain for various clients are fully compliant. And now with work from home location, it’s a different dimension altogether. So we have a multi-layered security compliance in place and our ICT team has gone on the top notch solutions to safeguard and ensure that we not only stay compliance but we take one step further and ensure that from an IT system’s point of view, we leave no chance for anything that poses a risk for our customers. So that is on security. And at the same time, what we have also identified is we offer security testing services for a lot of our customers. So not only are we as an organization compliant, but we also help ensure that there are no vulnerabilities in this COVID situation for many customers, including some of the top notch financial institutions and some of the customers in the healthcare and life sciences and in Leisure & Travel & Hospitality industry as well. So this becomes even more important in these challenging times. And that’s where we are trying to go down the path and see how we can help customers go through the cycles of extreme automation and drive efficiencies and make systems resilient enough and flag things much before they happen. So whether you are touching the boundaries of cybersecurity or network layer security or various other security level things that we have been working very hard to not only provide that as a service to our customers, but also to ensure that all our current customers and prospects are in compliant with all of the regulations.
Logan: Nanda I really appreciate that. Getting some context into how you guys are serving and help protect several organizations that you work with right now at Cigniti, as well as Ritesh giving both I.T. leaders, as well as individuals some very tactical things on their security checklist to be thinking about. This has been a great conversation, gentlemen, from leadership to digital transformation and rounding out here at the last part of the conversation on security. Really appreciate both of you bringing a lot of perspective from your decades of experience to the current situation. As we mentioned, there are both challenges and opportunities. I just want to thank you both for spending time and sharing some of that perspective with listeners today. Ritesh, Nanda, thank you so much for joining me on the episode today.
Ritesh: Thank you, Logan.
Nanda: Thank you, Logan. It’s a privilege to be a co-host along with Ritesh today. Thank you, Ritesh.
Ritesh: Thank you, Nanda
Quality assurance is vital to the success of an organization’s digital transformation. Lack of control can quickly derail a company’s technological presence, costing thousands. At Cigniti, our resolution is to build a better world with better quality software. Renowned for the global quality thought leadership in the industry, we draw expertise from over a decade of test engineering experience across verticals. To learn how we do it, visit cigniti.com.
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