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Logging on to the digital highway

Former Procter & Gamble vice president for IT and global business services, Tony Saldanha, visited Goa last week to talk about his book, Why Digital Transformations Fail? The book gives the answers to successful digital transformation and the surprising disciplines of achieving it. A Goan from Saligao and now settled in the US, Saldanha is a globally acknowledged thought leader who made major digital changes in the back-office functions of P&G operations worldwide. He presently runs his own company, Transformant an advisory firm to Fortune 500 companies. In the interview with Shoma Patnaik,

he says that, India has an advantage in digital transformation and the change offers opportunity of a life time. 

Since we are in the digital world presently, what is the message that you want to give through your book?

In the book I have simplified the message on what is digital transformation. For me it is about the fourth industrial revolution. Just like we had the first industrial revolution that kick started the factories, followed by the second revolution led by electricity and the third about the internet, the fourth revolution which is where we are now is not just on technology but on people, jobs and even socially. What is happening in the US, Brexit and many parts of the world right now is the industrial revolution and the effect of it on people feeling unsure about themselves.

Whenever an industrial revolution occurs there are disruptors and countries, people get disrupted. The book says, disrupt before you are disrupted- be the next Netflix, not the next blockbuster. It says how digital transformation can be made routinely successful by following a disciplined process for executing it.

So digital transformation is about disruption?

It starts with disruption. Like retail taken over by online or the taxi industry taken over by Ola or Uber.  Very simply put digital transformation is the rewiring of companies and also people who were successful in the third industrial revolution. At the company level it is about making changes across functions such as in HR or finance and moving towards digital processes. It helps to cut down cost ultimately and become more profitable.   

In your opinion, at what level of digital transformation are we currently in?

I actually think that with the Indian software industry the global factory for the whole world, Indian companies and even the government companies are starting from an early position in digital transformation. I am actually impressed at how forward thinking some of the companies are in digital processes. The PSU sector is expected to implement at least three high level AI projects by the end of this year which is incredible as not many countries are doing that. I think India is at an advantage because the country has the opportunity to leapfrog. The best example of leapfrogging is what is known to all. We still do not have good landlines but we got over that roadblock by moving to cell phones and getting digitally savvy.

Do Indian companies have long way to go in digital transformation vis-à-vis global companies?

It is unfair to compare Indian companies to US or European companies as Indian industry started relatively recently. I am 100 per cent confident that in the next five-seven year horizon Indian companies will overtake many of the global companies. We have the advantage of leapfrogging and moving on.  In most large companies the biggest issue is of legacy. It could be legacy in technology, processes or legacy in people. About 90 per cent of the issue in digital transformation is about people and only 10 per cent is about technology. And that’s where we have an advantage because our people are flexible. We have a highly educated work force and we have people who are willing to do anything. Whereas in the Europe or the US flexibility of people is going to be a big issue and these countries will have massive social upheaval.

How is digital transformation going to help the common people?

Whether it helps the common people or not is going to depend on the leaders, viz. people who lead companies or country. It also depends on how flexible people are to change. There is no guarantee that the transformation will help everyone. However in India due to its combination of education and flexibility, the country could be the world leader in the fourth industrial revolution like how China is the leader today in manufacturing. 

The findings are that, digital revolution is leading to loss of jobs.

It need not. We always worry that with automation jobs will go away. This happened in the first industrial revolution. In reality jobs do go away but new jobs are created. It is said that 40 per cent of the next jobs in 2030 have not been created as yet. Ten years ago there was no online community manager or no Uber driver. Peoples creativity is limitless and that will result in new jobs. Recently Amazon globally announced that they are going to set aside US $ 700 million to retrain people. Amazon is probably the most technically advanced country. The fact that it is that  setting aside money means that  new jobs are coming up. Companies and governments have to be proactive in planning for the future.

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