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"We are very big on starting small"


Q&A: Vinod Venkatasubramanian

Start small and let success breed further success.

Cognizant's Vinod Venkatasubramanian, Senior Director with Cognizant Digital Business, has helped organisations in industries from banking to retail undertake digitalisation programmes. Here, he gives the inside track on the challenges and opportunities of going digital, how to approach behavioural change in an organisation, and the characteristics that digital leaders share.
What is the value of digital to today's organisation?

It’s primarily two aspects. One is on consumer experience, where customers can see a vastly better experience with digital. On the other side, digital can drive significant internal efficiencies, breaking away from all of the legacy that's been built up over 20 years of technological development.

How can organisations approach digital programmes at scale?

The opportunities for digital at scale are actually really vast. The big trouble that organisations can have is where to start. There are three areas to approach. One is a change in mindset. Two is a change in people and the culture in the organisation. And the third is adoption of new technologies that can support digital at scale.

One of the big shifts that we are beginning to see is the change in mindset and culture. We believe this is truly key to driving the transformation that every CEO wants but has the trouble executing.

What areas of their culture and mindset should organisations be concentrating on?

Two primary areas. One is, employees should prioritize speed and velocity, which means adopting a more lean, agile, and test-and-learn thinking, which has traditionally not been the case in most traditional organisations.

The second is to think around legacy, instead of being weighed down by it. It is certainly possible today, and organizations will be well-served with employees looking at opportunities than roadblocks.

How can behavioural change be carried out in businesses today?

In practice, behavioural change has to start small, because it is very difficult at any level for the organisation to drive it meaningfully very quickly. We are very big on focusing on starting small, which is the key area with the right sponsorships where we can actually drive some meaningful impact, and let success breed further success.

We are working with very large organisations in finance and insurance, retail and so on, who have a lot of legacy, but are starting to believe that change is possible. That’s a great first step.

At Cognizant, we bring together a fairly diverse set of skills, to drive healthy tension in problem-solving. In terms of changing the culture, we bring anthropologists, behavioural scientists, creative thinkers, into the mix. We really tend to push the envelope and break away from the status quo. We support all this with our technology backbone, which is ultimately a big part of any solution.

How would you characterise the businesses making the shift to digital?

Very senior level sponsorship is one of the key characteristics that we see among companies that are driving this change: a CEO or a board member taking this on as a personal challenge and driving the change.

There's definitely an element of risk taking that people are ready to take on – especially when there is no sense of urgency to change – when the business is so far doing well. And the third is, to very openly embrace new ideas from different avenues.

And what about the people heading up digital projects – what common traits have you seen there?

I'd say the leaders who are driving digital change have three characteristics. The first one is the ability to work with a diverse set of people and embrace a lot of new ideas. The second is to understand that transformation is a journey made up of small steps, with the ability to evangelise it. And the third is around driving smaller benefits rather than looking for moonshots.

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