Point of View

C-suite Power of One panel—change, cloud, climate, and culture

August 24, 2021

Those of you who have ever attended a virtual or in-person HFS event already know we love seemingly impossible to imagine, let alone assemble, gigantic panel discussions. For those of you who witnessed this for the first time today, you’re welcome.

The kick-off day of our HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium did not disappoint. The Symposium treated the audience to an executive panel of industry leaders discussing how the pandemic changed habits, culture and the return to work, the role of the cloud and data, and the challenges and opportunities for their businesses and customers. HFS’s CEO and founder Phil Fersht hosted the panel. Our mega-wattage panelists included 10 titans of technology and business:

  • Alexander Rinke, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Celonis
  • Cliff Justice, US Leader, Enterprise Innovation, KPMG
  • Debjani Ghosh, President, NASSCOM
  • Katie Stein, Chief Strategy Officer and Global Business Leader, Enterprise Services, Genpact
  • Manish Sharma, Group Chief Executive—Operations, Accenture
  • Marie Myers, Chief Financial Officer, HP Inc.
  • Ravi Kumar S, President, Infosys
  • Rohit Kapoor, Vice Chairman & CEO, EXL
  • Sandeep Dadlani, Chief Digital Officer, Mars
  • Thierry Delaporte, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Wipro Limited
Exhibit 1: The HFS Symposium C-suite Power of One panel featured 10 industry titans

Source: HFS Digital Symposium, June 8-9, 2021

The discussion was very timely. Companies are preparing for a return to the office for many of their employees and dealing with the cultural, process, people, and technology changes they have experienced over the past 18 months.

Returning to work and new cultural norms

Phil began the discussion by asking for insights into how our panelists see culture changes as most firms prepare for their staff to return to the office after experiencing over a year of social, personal, and business change.

Cliff Justice (KPMG) chimed in early with expectations that how we work and approach the office and customers are permanent changes, and things aren’t returning to what we knew as normal in 2019. We aren’t rushing back to 40-hour in-office work weeks nor jumping on planes for every meeting that seems to need us there. Instead, we can be more effective and informed with our time—focusing on interacting with the cloud as a more natural facilitation platform than in the past.

Thierry Delaporte (Wipro) shared that he believes we are “experiencing an evolution of culture,” and the cloud plays a large role. However, he cautions, “If leaders are only into cloud for doing transformation for cost, they’ll only get 20% of the benefit.” HFS agrees; the cloud is a transformative element for business that, done right, has a positive impact on people, process, and technology.

Marie Myers (HP) shared her first-hand experience with how HP’s culture is evolving and using “AI to supercharge its business” while complimenting how teams and individuals accomplish goals with automation tools “to drive transformational efforts.” She added, “By combining AI, cloud, and automation, our employees are working in a more synchronized way.”

Debjani Ghosh (NASSCOM) also added a critical point about how we have grown so much during the pandemic. Emissions in India decreased an estimated 85% during the pandemic. We cannot ignore this. Business and sustainability must go forward hand-in-hand.

Throughout this discussion, every leader agreed that our culture has adopted digital as part of how we work and interact with others; it frees up time, but it blurs the lines between personal and professional even further. As leaders, they see grand opportunities to be part of one of the most significant changes in our work habits since the industrial age and to guide how we weave sustainability beyond lip service into what that future may be.

The cloud is the highway for change and innovation, not a destination for a business

HFS research shows the cloud is fuel for business transformation; it enables the journey, not the destination. However, many companies lack a comprehensive cloud strategy, and thus, Phil Fersht kicked off the next topic by proclaiming, “Companies need to step up their cloud game!” He added that cloud is more than technology—it’s part of a OneOffice mindset linking process, people, and technology to drive adaptable, agile, and insightful characteristics that drive change.

Exhibit 2: Cloud drives ubiquity, but many lack a comprehensive strategy

Source: HFS Pulse Survey, n=801

Ravi Kumar (Infosys) complemented this thought by adding that the cloud is leading to an inflection point, allowing us to “re-imagine the enterprise and how the very structure of our business needs to evolve to meet the physical and digital needs of employees and customers.” Ravi commented that “Cloud, AI, and data will power every company and every industry.”

Sandeep Dadlani (Mars) contributed, “It’s not about being 100% on the cloud. It’s about increasing the clock speed of the enterprise. The hustle. The cloud helps us with the hustle.”

Many panelists agreed with Ravi’s point that moving to the cloud is about evolving from an interdependent way of looking at the business (and its internal process and workflows) toward a hyperconnected company that exists as a real-time partner and contributor to its ecosystem.

By providing every enterprise with speed, reach, and scale, the cloud is a change agent that fuels innovation when combined with cultural acceptance. Leaders must take the next step on their journey; they must ensure that their workforce has the direction and tools to advance corporate goals and objectives. To do this, they need to know that they have access to the correct data.

Data and decision-making accelerates real-time actions

If you imagined the cloud as a highway, data would fuel the cars that run on it. Our panel shared their views on the challenges and opportunities of harnessing data, migrating it to the cloud, and making it ubiquitous to the organization. The right data helps an organization achieve desired outcomes, but the explosion of data further highlights the need for an automation and AI strategy from the onset. In the proper context, the right data in the hands of the right people can further accelerate change and success.

Alex Rinke (Celonis) shared his view that we are in the early innings of an exponential explosion of data. But he warned that many companies had not figured this out. “While the cloud is the infrastructure for the modern business, data is core to the DNA. However, too often, businesses are missing two key aspects of their data strategy; to be successful, data must be real-time, and data must drive action, not only insights.” Using data more effectively (like Amazon or Netflix) leads to fundamentally different economic, customer experience, and employee-centric outcomes. These are critical to making investments sustainable, and being good at these will only get more critical.

Rohit Kapoor (EXL) stressed that data is essential to building a successful strategy; bringing insights to address the problems at hand is what creates value for the business and customers. Business and technology leaders need to focus on data as the crown jewel of their enterprise and drive entrepreneurship and innovation. Cliff Justice (KPMG) said, “Your pace of innovation is what will differentiate your firm in the future.”

Data must be the center of the strategy. What you do with data, where it resides, and how you make it available and protect it are priority discussions for senior executives. Leadership needs to understand and communicate what it wants and doesn’t want from the data. Knowing that data, with AI and automation, will determine how they satisfy customer needs, adapt to market changes, and contribute more effectively to the hyperconnected supply chains makes data become a creative agent for business and cultural change.

Cloud and data require a strategic investment of the C-suite’s time and leadership

We closed with advice to the many leaders in the audience with a call to arms that cloud is a fundamental part of their enterprise’s future. It facilitates cultural change, employee enablement, and customer experiences. The data that travels on the cloud will fuel real-time decision making and shape the actions front-line employees take. Unfortunately, too often, the technology strategy still is bucketed with the technology team. And to this point, Thierry Delaporte was adamant that “the CEO needs to have this as part of their daily agenda as [the cloud] is a business foundation for scale and delivery of products and services to customers, partners, and suppliers.”

Cloud enables the real-time choices that leaders, employees, and customers will use to make macro and micro-decisions. As such, leaders will need to become nimbler as market needs change faster than ever before. Katie Stein (Genpact) highlighted this by stating that “the pervasiveness of managing time is accelerating as transformational changes occur within industry value chains.” Her observation further echoes Alex’s and Thierry’s points about how important data is and how the CEO needs to be engaged in cloud strategy.

To bring to an excellent summary, Manish Sharma (Accenture) expressed, “Enterprise leaders need to accept that we now exist in a world where time has become super compressed. Companies cannot transform how they do business and empower employees it is not a five-year journey; it’s two years or less. There will be no ‘back to normal’; rather, market leaders will be turbocharged by AI and automation as part of their DNA. AI, cloud, and automation are a force multiplier that makes up the technology, people, process, and culture.” Truly a OneOffice point of view!

The Bottom Line: It is clear that the Cloud accelerates both cultural and digital changes. Yet, long-term success will be based on how leadership prioritizes investments in AI, automation, and data will make these changes sustainable and fuel differentiation and growth.

Insights from industry leaders points to a common view that the Cloud is a change agent during and post the COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership is about steeping up during this period of global crisis and identifying where investments in people, data, and solutions will have long-term, sustainable impact. Building technology into the DNA of the business is critical and accepting AI and automation are accelerators not replacements for people is paramount.

Watch the Power of One panel

You can read other POVs and a comprehensive ebook about the Symposium, plus watch video highlights of the two-day event, here.

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