“The future will be more towards convergence”

by Sohini Bagchi    Dec 10, 2012

Samit Ray pwcAs the CIO’s role becomes more strategic, we see a new generation of technology leaders who believe in driving innovation with the help of IT. Samit Ray, Director and CIO, PricewaterhouseCoopers shares with Sohini Bagchi of CXOtoday, what it takes to drive innovation and how can IT be the key differentiator in the overall success within an organization.

What would a CIO’s role be in driving innovation? Can you give an example from PwC where you have been successful in driving innovation with the help of IT.
With the change in the business environment, a CIO is expected to drive innovation with the help of technology. The key to innovation is solving problems in order to create a greater business value and of course customer satisfaction. To do so, the CIO can help in developing and executing the innovation process that can be converted into profits. As a key member of the executive committee, he should help in driving the creation and management of the innovation process.

When I became the CIO of PwC in 2008, the market was volatile owing to the heat of the global recession. It was then that my CEO told me all that he wanted was a 20 percent cost reduction and 20 percent increase in efficiency in the company to keep pace with the economy. It wasn’t an easy job to do but I took his words as a challenge, identifying areas that needed to be agile and at concurrently cost effective and how technology can help in the process. We identified communication as one area where the company was spending enormously due to heterogeneous systems and processes. All the communication system was in silos and the need of the hour was an integrated system for all our branch and remote offices. We decided to go for PBX integration but were very careful about selecting the vendor so that we have a reliable and scalable system. Considering the cost and time involved in system migration, we ultimately decided on Avaya’s solution who agreed to customize it according to our business requirement. The integration that streamlined our national and international calling processes and the entire communication system within the organization saved a huge cost leading to growth and productivity. To begin with, it was a great example where IT helped in driving innovation.

How do you foster innovation in your leadership style?
I strongly believe that innovation is not based on technology, even if technology is used in innovation. I have always believe in the idea to build a team of intelligent people who can drive innovation by leveraging the right technology. In many organizations, people cannot carve out the time to think about innovation because there’s no permission from the top management. It’s a little different in PwC where we thrive in innovation. Going by the company vision, I allow my team to explore the various business applications, systems, and processes that would help them learn and innovate as long as these provide a competitive advantage at the end of the day.

In which areas do you think IT has played a key differentiator in your company? What are the technology areas you are looking at in the coming months?
IT has always played an integral role in the success of our organization. Convergence has played a major part in driving the organizational success and we realized early in the game that we require a converged infrastructure. Let me give you an example. As we moved from a smaller building to a much larger facility, we realized that reaching the ceiling will lead to uncontrolled growth, apart from high operational cost and a high capital investment. We used technologies like HP Cloud System Matrix, Cisco UCS and HP EVA that allowed us to do so. Timesheets were made mandatory for employees and we also ensured a two-factor authentication to streamline our process, so that we pay only for resources we use. This made monitoring simpler. Furthermore, application virtualization enabled us to achieve BYOD. I don’t take my laptop anywhere as I can simply log into to it from my smartphone or iPad.

After much debate on this topic, what according to you should be prioritized: CIO with sound technical skills or CIO with business acumen?
While the CIO must speak the language of the business in order to be taken seriously, I believe that he should have a sound level of technical knowledge so as to understand what it takes to keep the lights on. Moreover, when a company launches a new project, the CIO having a broader understanding of the technology environment may be able to envision a better success by leveraging existing systems and for considering newer needs. However, I agree that a CIO who is exclusively preoccupied with operational platforms and process improvements might not foresee business-changing opportunities inspired by strategic technology innovations. CIOs are increasingly expected to participate in strategic business transformation initiatives, while at the same time manage the IT organization and systems that support ongoing business operations.

What according to you are the technologies for the coming years that you think will drive innovation?
The future will be more towards convergence in which mobile technologies, cloud computing and business intelligence will play a significant role. The challenge for CIOs would be to operate in an ever complex business environment where IT will merge into every other corporate function to create global business services, such as human resources and finance, leading towards centralization. Social technologies will also play a decisive role in the way businesses are run and managed and we are investing a lot in this area in the coming months. Cloud computing will continue to play a greater role in organizations and as a result CIOs should think of innovative ways to secure their network. With the business landscape becoming more complex and transformative, the CIO’s role will also continue to become more strategic with a focus on creativity, collaboration and innovation.