JOHN KEELLS IT – A new paradigm for the digital age

Ramesh Shanmuganathan, Executive Vice President cum Chief Information Officer of John Keells Group and Chief Executive Officer of John Keells IT, spoke to Echelon about the digital transformation about to take the country by storm

What is Digital Transformation (DT)?
A: Digital transformation is defined as being a part of a larger technological process; it is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. DT is the mature phase of digital adaption, where one would acquire the necessary knowledge/competence on digital technologies; start applying these technologies to solve real-world problems; and start using the same for its transformative potential in creating new products/services, markets, eco-systems, etc.

What drives the DT?
A: Now more than ever, businesses are faced with threats and opportunities that never existed previously or were not significant enough to be focused upon. The NET economy is fueled by growing penetration of mobile devices, ever-multiplying social platforms catering to different aspirations/interests, cloud platforms that have removed strictures around capital investment on technology, Internet of Things (IoT), enabling businesses to connect the dots in terms of creating a data lake, and big data and associated AI-based predictive modelling and capability, creating better engagement with all stakeholders.

Why is DT critical for businesses today?
A: DT helps businesses achieve the following three key things:
• Acceleration of change – The pace of digital change is rising exponentially, making it difficult to maintain industry leadership and requiring acceleration of new digital solutions brought to market
• Digital competition – Companies are under increasing pressure to compete digitally, and long established business models are being disrupted by “born digital” startups
• Customer expectations – Customers expect a good experience across all touchpoints, and businesses must ensure their interactions are seamless and exceptional

What’s John Keells IT’s DT play?
A: Today, humans are on the cusp of augmenting their lives in extraordinary ways with Artificial Intelligence (AI). The world envisions developing next generation systems that work side-by-side with humans, accelerating our ability to create, learn and make decisions. This will help us architect the future with the most-advanced AI platforms, to say the least – whether exploring new technical capabilities, collaborating on ethical practices or applying technology to solve complex, business and/or social problems.

Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society

Furthermore, organisations have to take a two-pronged approach in being able to manage the transactional system of records and experiential systems of engagement. At John Keells IT, we believe everything around us must be challenged. We must never let the status quo prevail. In doing so, we make every endeavour to make that journey rewarding for both parties by marrying our experience, expertise and knowledge with that of our customers, and collaborating, co-innovating and co-creating their future by thinking of the unthinkable and combining the best-in-class technology advancements to deliver the same.

You have organised John Keells IT’s approach to help digital transformations into five areas. Can you explain the strategy behind this approach?
A: Any transformation needs to take a fresh perspective of the business. This is why we felt we needed to take a more consultative approach, with a clear understanding of business priorities, challenges and context, and explore possibilities that could bring better value and alignment through the deployment of solutions that will transform customer experiences, operational processes and business models.

Our approach takes into account the above and primarily focuses on the right strategy being in place by marrying our years of expertise and experience through a consultative approach. Second, we help you reassess your digital quotient and leverage digital to impact outcomes to all stakeholders; third, to rejuvenate your technology stack to integrate the digital world readily to be able create a seamless experience, as well as the necessary data lake to create engagement with stakeholders; and last but not least, to operationalise all of the above so you can focus on your core business and leave the rest to us as your strategic partner.

Are you seeing mainstream adoption of trends like social media, mobile, analytics, cloud, IoT and AI in Sri Lanka? And why?
A: Sri Lanka is at a nascent stage in this lifecycle. Reasons for this include a lack of understanding at C-level about digital and its potential for businesses; a lack of appreciation for data-driven organisations where digital is the foundation; sticking to the comfort zone of brick-and-mortar; a lack of digital leadership in organisations that are able to drive a transformation; a lack of skills and knowledge in the subject matter; and customers happy just being transactional instead of demanding better engagement.

However, mobile and cloud adoption is on the rise due to higher smartphone penetration, and the cost of Internet usage becoming more affordable. With the passage of time, and physical boundaries blurring due to digitalisation, I believe most will be compelled to embrace it to stay relevant.

Sri Lankan businesses are in a particular state of development, and digital technology isn’t widely applied. Is this a challenge? Do businesses have an opportunity to leapfrog?
A: It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge as we don’t have the critical mass for digital to become mainstream and impact the grand scheme of things from various stakeholder’s points of view, and run the risk of being left behind. It is also an opportunity, in that it has huge potential for Sri Lanka to be on the world map by becoming a key hub in the digital highway by accelerating the digital adoption with a clear vision to impact its economic imperatives. Basic systems like ERP are a necessity for any organisation to embrace the digital wave, and many organisations have implemented expensive ERP systems.

Does John Keells IT have a solution for this?
A: For an organisation to begin its digital journey, it’s imperative to have its basic systems of records, or ERP, in place. Digital is about extending the boundaries to your organisation’s external stakeholders and creating an experiential journey, which creates better engagement and a feel good factor. In that context, we partner with SAP, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and partner eco-systems to offer a personalised, end-to-end value proposition to customers, both on capex and opex models.