Ensuring a company’s preparedness for an inevitable digital future is no mean feat: it involves sweeping changes in the technology infrastructure, mindset and culture of the organization. The second edition of the Mint Digitalist Forum by SAP in Mumbai recognized and felicitated eight digital business leaders from across sectors who demonstrated significant business or social impact through the application of digital technologies. These digitalists, who were selected through a nomination and elimination process involving senior editors of Mint and the top management of SAP India, spoke about what ‘digital’ means to them. Edited excerpts (in no particular order):

Anish Shah

Group president (strategy), Mahindra group

Shah emphasized Mahindra group’s use of digital technologies to “make life easier" for customers and other stakeholders. “Digital really is about simplifying the customer experience, innovating and implementing," he said. Terming digital “the most powerful tool a CEO has today," Shah added that it enables companies to stay ahead of competition and “survive". Highlighting the sheer range of change required in digital transformation, Shah pointed out that implementing digital is the toughest part while deciding how to go about it is “very easy".

Dilip Asbe

Managing director and CEO, National Payments Corporation of India

(Bharat Panchal, senior vice president and head of risk management at NPCI, represented Asbe and spoke on his behalf.)

Panchal said that digital is about how it can change the way people bank. “NPCI is synonymous with digital in the country. I believe we are the most successful start-up in the country. UPI (Unified Payments Interface) is the most disruptive technology and the whole world is looking at it. It has given the most sophisticated (payments) platform to the nation," Panchal said. By 2020, NPCI aims to reach every Indian with at least one NPCI product, he added. “That is how our digital dream will come true."

Girish Nayak

Chief (customer service, operations and technology), ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd

(Goutam Datta, vice president of technology at the insurance firm, represented Nayak and spoke on his behalf.)

Datta described digital as “redefining the ‘how’ part of the word" at ICICI Lombard. Most organizations, according to him, have a clear idea about ‘what’ digital will entail over the next five to seven years, but ICICI Lombard is trying to make things digital by focusing on the ‘how’. “ICICI Lombard is also known for its tech savvy, but most of these (initiatives) are to automate the workflow or build a ‘system of records’. We are proud that we have also started the journey on the cognitive side of digital," Datta said.

Gopichand Katragadda

Group chief technology officer, Tata Sons

To Katragadda, digital means one word—democratization. “The process of democratization continues but there is a lot more about digital. It is also about automation; other important aspects of digital are to digitize inspection processes, for example. What needs to happen is the use of digital technologies to automatically detect defects in real time and free up the operators’ time," he said. He added that digital is about “connected people and connected things". For the future, he said that digital should be about connected ecology and sustainability as well.

Ramalingam Chockalingam

Chief operating officer, Edelweiss General Insurance

To Chockalingam, digitalization means freedom. “Ours is an industry in transition, because we are moving from the old world to the new. Being a new entrant in this field, for Edelweiss General Insurance, digital means freedom. There is freedom for the consumer to choose and for companies like us to leapfrog and catch up with some of the established players," he said. “What you actually need is a business strategy which takes advantage of a digital world, rather than a digital strategy which will take you there." He said that the firm was making some digital investments in AI and machine learning that can be considered “quirky".

M. Thennarasan

Chairman, Surat Smart City Development Ltd and Commissioner, Surat Municipal Corporation

(A.M. Nayak, assistant commissioner of the corporation, represented Thennarasan and spoke on his behalf.)

Nayak said that Surat Municipal Corporation has been at the forefront of digital. The computerization of the corporation started way back in 1979 and it launched a mobile application in 1990 through which citizens can fulfil certain civic duties such as paying property tax, lodging complaints or applying for certain certificates such as birth and death certificates. “Digitization has helped us in providing better services to the citizens," Nayak said. In the near future, the corporation plans to launch a common city payments card, which will further help the citizens, he added.

R. Ramanan

Mission director, Atal Innovation Mission

Ramanan said that a “digitalist" is a person who is able to “imagine, reimagine and innovate transformations" that have a social or economic impact on the community, the nation or the world at large. “Impactful transformations require innovation. We have to create an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship," he said, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between entrepreneurship and innovation. “Digital and innovation must go hand-in-hand," he added. Ramanan emphasized the role that Atal Innovation Mission is playing in creating an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship at school and college levels all over the country.

Prabir Jha

Global chief people officer, Cipla

Jha believes that digitalization is a mindset. “There may be different technology solutions but that is the easier part. The challenge is about thinking differently and embracing a vision that can make countries, companies or organizations successful," he said. Stressing on the need for bringing together people on a common platform, Jha said, “We want to integrate people from across the world into one common culture; open lines of communication which were unimaginable culturally; and talk about experience and engagement." All this, he said, needed to happen “in a short span of time", hence digital was the way to go. “Digital is the power of self-belief—of reimagining and reigniting possibilities," he concluded.