Hi Mahesh, tell us about yourself and your background and how you got to the AI space?
I am from Chennai, India, and like many of my fellow countrymen had a modest upbringing graduating as an Engineer in Computer Science! Started my first and only full-time job in 1997 with an Indian outsourcing firm called Syntel and continued to work with them for 20 years growing from an intern to the head of sales, ultimately resigning in 2017 to build my automation startup qBotica. I always believed in Technology and its ability to influence the way we work and live, for me the foray into AI was via Automation. Automation is a critical first step for any AI initiative in an enterprise as automation has the ability to collect detailed data helping AI to get precision and improved decision making.
Online commerce was booming in 2020; how did it affect brands’ adoption of Artificial Intelligence? – What should be the main focus for brands this year?
From my perspective, 2020 helped accelerate AI adoption more than anything. The pandemic pressed the business case forward and further to ensure that brands view AI not as a replacement but an important augmentation to the human workforce. When decisions had to be made fast, whether in the supply chain for purchasing and routing considerations but also dealing with unusual activity levels communicating with customers. If AI had the right and relevant data, it would have helped the brands significantly service customers without any service interruption!
Mahesh’s checklist for digital transformation
In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good digital transformation strategy?
The ultimate checklist for any digital transformation strategy is to ensure that the enterprise has a frictionless ability to have the right data available at the right place, right time, at the right speed with the right person. Its easily said than done, it requires removing friction caused by manual intensive tasks, human decision making, and disparate data & systems across the enterprise.
How much has the role of the CEO in the social distancing era – what role digital transformation has in this crisis?
The CEO’s role has indeed changed drastically in the social distancing era, normally the CEO is very much in the thick of action primarily spends his day meeting several internal and external stakeholders throughout the day, acting as the fulcrum around which organization depends for vision, culture, and execution. In this new era, the CEO has to take care of all of those aspects and inspire the organization in the midst of the uncertainty caused by the first-ever Global pandemic experienced by 99.9% of living humans as well as take care of the employee welfare.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?
The key lesson we learned is that the culture of empathy and perseverance during difficult times is critical and it will reward us in the long run. As Simon Sinek, running an enterprise is an infinite game with no winners or losers just those who lead, those who try harder, and those that get left behind due to their choice.
2020 was the year of webinars and online events, what was your favorite one?
There were several events we attended. We loved the SSON events and the best event I personally attended was the Freshworks event called Against All Odds.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future, how should CEOs gear up to the changing times?
CEOs should use the opportunity to set up direct clients and direct to employee communication channels. They must have more virtual drop-in office hours to encourage employees to drop by and meet with the CEO. They must also encourage all channels of communication such as text messaging, social media messaging, etc. Many of the communication channels allow delegates to operate so the CEOs don’t have to directly deal with the comms but the fact that “they” are responding makes a huge difference to employees and clients.
The most important aspect of WFH is embracing the challenges of home working such as interruptions, background noises, etc. The CEO must show their own vulnerabilities of working from home and share their own challenges so employees feel comfortable about accepting their own environment. Using this wonderful opportunity, CEOs should pay a “virtual” visit to employee’s homes to recognize them and to appreciate the family support directly! It makes a huge difference!
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
I am a great fan of removing the friction from the buying process to that end, Customer Effort Score is my favorite. “How easy was it to do business with a company?” defines many things about the effort customer has to take to reach a decision point, complete the purchase, resolve an issue, etc. At qBotica this is what we aspire to do, make it “effortless” to engage and enjoy “timelessness” together (measure of partnering effortlessly without feeling the weight of the engagement)