Ananth Krishnan likens the evolving technology environment to a digital periodic table. The Executive Vice President and CTO at Tata Consultancy Services believes there are core elements like AI and machine learning, and they will be catalyzed or inhibited by other digital elements – some of which are yet to be discovered.

Moderating a panel at the 2019 TCS Summit North America in San Antonio, Texas, he outlined what the revolution in digital technologies means for CTOs.

“The proliferation of technology in the hands of billions of citizens is causing a fundamental shift – the digital transformation we are talking about. It is changing the way we think. And it’s the opportunity CTOs need to explore,” he said.

Joining him on the panel – titled ‘Driving Change – Executing Tomorrow’s Digital Agenda’ – were Jennifer A. Smith, Executive Vice President and CIO, Zions Bancorporation, and Shadman Zafar, Head of North America Technology, Global Consumer Technology, Citi.

Source: Tata Consultancy Services

The customer is always first

Over the course of the Summit, delegates heard from senior executives about the imperative to operate a business model that puts customer needs at the forefront. Zafar laid out what this means for CTOs. “We are in the business of providing value to customers. Our biggest focus is to ground ourselves. In order to enable that, we need to be where the customer is. We need to figure out their problems.”

This customer-first approach means Citi is working to a real-time model, listening to customers and resolving their issues on the same day. With hundreds of thousands of daily customer interactions, information comes from multiple sources – in person, social media, email or on the phone. Sifting through the volume of data this creates and accurately selecting which are the key issues to focus on today can only really be done by a machine, he said. 

Smith too recognized the opportunities and challenges presented by the mountains of data banks are party to.

“One of the challenges with abundance is deciding what to focus on,” she said. “Banks have a tremendous amount of data – it’s at the heart of everything. Making sense of it is a skill in itself – and it’s easy to get lost in it.”

“Being able to take the information and put it in a digital channel to create scale while maintaining relationships is a key challenge.”

Data as a service differentiator

Using the power of digital to leverage this data is what will mark companies out in the Business 4.0 world.

By truly understanding its customers, Zion is increasingly able to detect anomalous transactions and predict when issues might arise.

For Zafar, it provides focus to the bank’s work, and demonstrates to customers that Citi really understands their needs. Taking the approach of, “if I only had one dollar a day to spend today, where would I put it” helps focus in on what really matters that day, he says, and shows customers that the company is listening.

A world of abundance

But an abundance of technology and data cannot properly be maximized without the right people. Panelists also discussed the issue of ‘cognitive surplus’ – the idea of still being able to make the most out of your people as roles evolve. 

Zafar says this has the potential to create a “leadership nightmare” and warns about the need to find out what people are good at and align towards that in order to make the most of the opportunities Business 4.0 presents. He likens it to making sure you don’t have a structure that puts Mozart in charge of physics and Einstein as head of symphonies.

An ecosystem of solutions

Putting the customer at the heart of what you do requires constant innovation to stay ahead of changing demands. Maintaining a ‘beginner’s mindset’ is crucial to ensuring businesses evolve and develop alongside their clients, attendees heard.

The best businesses draw on their ecosystem to gain an ever-fuller picture of their clients and provide an evolving model that meets their needs. 

“You need to understand your role in that ecosystem,” said Smith, “and ensure you are contributing the health of the ecosystem as a whole, whether or not it benefits you directly.”

For CTOs this means a constant willingness to try new things and to reinvent – they mustn’t get fixated on adding to technology structures they are already building.

Zafar highlighted the risks of complacency,: “Each time a big technology change happens it solves the problems of yesterday – but creates the problems of today and tomorrow.”