Digital transformation isn’t always about the next big thing. Sukriti Jalali, Digital & Enterprise Transformation Leader at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) tells Johanna Hamilton AMBCS that transformation isn’t always about using emerging tech.

Digital transformation is daunting. There’s a saying that sums it up – ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’. But at what point do you grab your knife and fork and dig in?

Sukriti Jalali has been at the forefront of this dilemma for over 20 years. She says confidently, of digital transformation: ‘You have to do the right things at the right time. You can't do things very early on, and you can't do things late because then you're playing catch-up and lagging behind the market. The process is much more about developing a relationship with customers, seeing the potential and being in a position of their trusted advisor.

‘A big part of what we do is to look at technology and business trends early on and make right kinds of investments to build those digital capabilities and industry specific solutions. We must understand the emerging technologies, but also study the use cases and foresee how the marketplace will be disrupted. We need to think about how this technology will play out for our customers, and what it means to their products, services and customer experience.’

Tell me about your role at TCS?

‘I belong to the HiTech & Professional Services Unit which comprises customers from the computer platforms, industrial electronics, consumer devices, cloud, software and professional services sectors. Each of these segments is on a different maturity curve with respect to the business they do and their digital journey, so every project is unique across certain dimensions.

‘I handle the emerging technologies portfolio including blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and insights etc. helping customers with their growth and transformation agendas. One needs to understand that the High Tech industry provides the foundational technologies that drives business transformation and innovation across all other industries, so we always need to stay ahead of the curve in terms of our value proposition and capabilities.

‘TCS is constantly evolving in the services we offer and the way we can keep achieving growth for our clients. On a personal level, I'm very happy with how my career dovetails into TCS growth, because, of course, you have to keep reskilling and keep up to date with the latest and greatest. I come from an embedded systems background, so I used to do software programming and led many projects technically – but now I work a lot on composite digital solutions, business outcomes and agile innovations leveraging cloud, machine learning, IOT, blockchain and data fabrics. It's essentially a combination of these technologies that are helping the customers in the transformation agenda and in solving key business problems.’

How do you implement emerging technologies?

‘Convincing a company to take on a new machine, a new structure, a new way of automating a process can be a hard sell. Is the technology going to be ‘worth it’ and if so, what are the actual costs of implementation? How do you start that conversation?

‘If you look at blockchain, for instance, what does it mean to a manufacturer? What will it do to a supply chain? Is there a new ecosystem play for a skills marketplace? How does it impact and possibly disrupt each of the enterprise processes and the ecosystems they operate in? So those are the kinds of things that are very specific to each industry segment. That’s where our strength is, in terms of bringing that contextual knowledge because for most of our customers – we've been working with many of them close to maybe two decades – it's those relationships, the contextual knowledge, our partnerships, and market view that will push the decision.

‘Also, some of those investments work quickly, some are more of a slow burn. If you look at quantum computing, the metaverse or even Web 3.0, it might be very new now, but we are making investments and then depending on the business adoption, we might scale up or sit tight for a few more quarters. At any point of time, we simultaneously work across three innovation horizons – immediate, medium term and comparatively longer term.’

Blockchain: The elephant in the room

Blockchain has had a mixed reception to BCS audiences. While some praise the immutable ledger technology in use cases from simplifying fintech processes, to supply chain visibility, especially in food production – it’s hard to ignore the energy use. A report by MoneySupermarket compared the energy use of Bitcoin as equivalent to that of the country of Norway ‘roughly 123 Terawatt Hours (TWh) or 123 billion kWh’. Is blockchain worth it?

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Jalali concedes: ‘This kind of huge computing power is required for bitcoin mining leveraging a public blockchain, I don’t think it's sustainable in the long run. And there is already talk of changing the way bitcoin transactions are verified, for instance by using ‘proof of stake’ instead of ‘proof of work’. However, private blockchains don’t consume so much energy, given there are fewer participants and lesser number of transactions.

'We really don’t have to set up our own blockchain data centres for enterprise scenarios. All the public clouds – Azure, AWS and GCP offer blockchain-as-a-service which can be used like any other subscription service, then at least you are diminishing some of those energy guzzling demands. All these companies are adopting sustainable practices in their data centres and supply chains, which will help the overall cause.’

Will blockchain go from strength to strength?

‘TCS began investing in blockchain six or seven years ago starting with the banking and finance sector. That's also when I started looking at it as a discipline and saying, ‘okay, this is a unique technology and it has its unique features’, but what were the actual benefits of adoption and how could it benefit enterprises including our HiTech and Professional Services clients.

‘There was a lot of hype around Bitcoin at that time and we knew, it was just one use case of blockchain. We had to ask, ‘which enterprises are going to adopt it?’ So, we looked into use cases, collaborated with peers, customers, alliance partners and TCS innovation ecosystem and then iterated it with select set of clients in the form of feedback solutions and competencies.’

So is it blockchain with everything?

‘Blockchain is useful, especially in the fintech space or even in the NFT space, I mean it has really caused a disruption. If you see how music streaming and non-fungible tokens are being used, it is quite disruptive and there's probably no better way of doing it than what blockchain provides in terms of properties like decentralisation, immutability and smart contracts.

‘So, I think you have to look carefully at use cases and then if you decide to go ahead with your deployments and if you've done good due diligence, then it could be a great solution. There has been an awful lot of hype around blockchain, it can do wonders and it can solve things but slowly, we've come to realise there's more to it and probably we need to look carefully at where to apply blockchain rather than applying it to every use case.’

When you don’t want new for old...

‘You have to show the ROI in any use case and that's why I think maybe 50-60% of the blockchain projects just don’t happen. I mean you could do a POC quickly, but they fail to move into production because either the use case was not thought through or you could achieve the same results with an alternative technology. Often, when you’re solving a problem there are other ways of doing it, so just because you have a technology, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

‘You have to look at the use case and determine if blockchain is really enabling more trusted transactions between the business entities. You wouldn’t ideally deploy a blockchain say, within TCS because when TCS UK has dealings with TCS North America, they are two trusted entities and wouldn’t need an immutable ledger technology. It really demands an ecosystem play across industries, and that also could be one of the reasons for slower adoption, especially in the non BFS space.’

How will emerging technologies change the way we work?

‘That's like looking into a crystal ball. We're already seeing how these technologies come together. For instance, blockchain alone will not solve anything, but the power is manifold when you combine blockchain with machine learning, blockchain with IOT, blockchain with cloud, or even blockchain with the metaverse now. That’s where things start to get interesting.

‘We can’t go back on our digital journey. It’s only advancing. I’ve certainly seen that in the machine learning space. Four years ago, there were hardly any use cases, but now we’re using big data and machine learning in so many production level deployments. It’s the same with cloud. A few years ago clients were reticent about adoption because of security concerns, but now they’re looking at poly cloud, hybrid cloud, and essentially a cloud-first, machine first approach in everything they do. I think the pandemic has accelerated most of these digital journeys and transformation programs.’

Post COVID, do you think the changes are here to stay?

‘Definitely. I think the way we are working, the way we are living, the way we are now interacting and collaborating – everything has changed so much. We will never go back completely and will probably settle in a hybrid mode of operations. COVID has also taught us to look at a more meaningful and purpose driven life. Thus, I believe those brands and individuals who can continuously adapt to changing technologies but at the same time also have a purpose-centric approach to everything they do, will have a more sustained and valued future.’

About the author

Sukriti Jalali is the head of emerging technologies in the HiTech & Professional services unit, at Tata Consultancy Services. She has led critical roles across consulting, innovation, delivery, pre-sales and program management, through her 20+ years of professional experience. Sukriti is passionate about technology enabled business transformation, helping customers achieve their growth & transformation objectives.

Sukriti has presented at various industry forums and regularly publishes thought leadership papers on IoT, analytics and blockchain. She works with global teams having diverse backgrounds - utilizing individual strengths and appreciates varied cultures and mindsets.