Mint Digitalist Forum by SAP: Leading in digital age, the role of chief digital officer

Here are the edited excerpts from a panel discussion of CEOs at Mint Digitalist Forum by SAP about the role of the chief digital officer


From left to right) Dilipkumar Khandelwal, managing director of SAP Labs India; Banmali Agrawala, president and CEO of General Electric South Asia; R. Sukumar, editor of Mint; Sachin Nandgaonkar, president and CEO (speciality sector) at RPG Enterprises; B. Venugopal, managing director of Life Insurance Corporation of India; and Pramit Jhaveri, CEO of Citi India, at the Mint Digitalist Forum 2017 by SAP in Mumbai. photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
From left to right) Dilipkumar Khandelwal, managing director of SAP Labs India; Banmali Agrawala, president and CEO of General Electric South Asia; R. Sukumar, editor of Mint; Sachin Nandgaonkar, president and CEO (speciality sector) at RPG Enterprises; B. Venugopal, managing director of Life Insurance Corporation of India; and Pramit Jhaveri, CEO of Citi India, at the Mint Digitalist Forum 2017 by SAP in Mumbai. photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The CEO panel, which was moderated by Mint’s editor R. Sukumar, comprised Pramit Jhaveri, chief executive officer (CEO) of Citi India; B. Venugopal, managing director (MD) of Life Insurance Corporation of India; Banmali Agrawala, president and CEO of General Electric South Asia; Sachin Nandgaonkar, president and CEO (speciality sector) at RPG Enterprises; and Dilipkumar Khandelwal, MD of SAP Labs India. Edited excerpts:

Over the past few years a central power has emerged, called the chief digital officer. How necessary is it for a CEO in banking to also be a CDO?

Jhaveri: The first thing is that our industry is no stranger to change but the disruption the banking industry has been facing in the last two-three years is quite intense. In an ideal world, we like to think of ourselves as being a technology company with a banking licence. That is the only way to survive and continue to do what our clients want us to do. Also, I think you need to espouse all those new roles at the same time in the organization.

Sachin, five years ago and now, the amount of time you spent on digital stuff has changed. Do you see yourself spending more time?

Nandgaonkar: Our digital journey didn’t start five years ago but about two-and-a-half years ago. Our first attempt was to try a separate CDO. We didn’t hire any full-time CDO in the first year but asked one of the senior people to assume the role of a digital sponsor and made sure the person was seen as part of the management team. Now we have 12-15 people full-time driving digital. Another shift that happened in the past one year is that three of our CEOs want to become digital sponsors themselves!

When a CEO becomes a CDO, how do you keep track of tech? Sometime back, artificial intelligence was the buzzword, then deep learning happened—how do you acquire all that knowledge?

Agrawala: The whole digital journey is disruptive and, at the same time, a massive opportunity to get more business. There are certain cultural differences which we need to deal with. I need not know what it means to be digital, but what impact it has and how digital facilitates the entire process. What I do is surround myself with people who know what is going on.

How does digital fit into LIC?

Venugopal: LIC, for the majority of our business, is very data-intensive. Our automation process goes as far back as the 1960s: the Reserve Bank of India and LIC were among the first to use mainframe computers in India. Unlike the normal perception, we have been pioneers in the use of IT. Digitization of records at LIC happened 15 years back, when the insurance sector was only beginning to be opened up. For an insurance company, three things are really important: time to market has to be cut down, cost needs to be cut and the return on investment has to be increased. But to be able to do so over a long period of time has enormous challenges—and you need digitalization to respond to those challenges.

How does your organization run as a digital enterprise?

Khandelwal: There are a few fundamentals. Data is growing very fast, people are carrying multiple mobile devices, and everybody wants to have analytics on top. If you put these three or four key trends on any industry—whether pharma, banking or telecom—you are bound to disrupt something in some ways which is going to create new business models which nobody had anticipated. To run an efficient digital enterprise, you have to do two or three things that add value in digital and leverage them to stay ahead in the game. You need to identify what is adding value and focus on those aspects.

Compiled by Isha Trivedi, Bidya Sapam and Sahib Sharma.

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