Profiled: K. Ananth Krishnan

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What does your current role at TCS entail?

I am TCS’ Chief Technology Officer, a position I have held for over ten years. In this role I lead Research and Innovation at TCS. I oversee the work in TCS’ global network of Research and Innovation labs that explore emerging technologies such as Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and Blockchain, and create innovative offerings relevant across a variety of industries.

As TCS works with numerous large corporations across numerous industries around the world, my day-to-day customer interactions means I’m in touch with the constantly changing needs of the business and customers. I direct extremely diverse innovation projects to meet businesses’ appetite for adopting new technology and creating rapid disruptions. Apart from enabling innovation in the labs, I am responsible for fostering an innovative culture across my company.

I’m also fortunate in heading TCS’ Co-Innovation Network (COIN), a collaborative network for innovation that connects to the technology ecosystem outside TCS. It links to research teams in academia, start-ups, venture funds, accelerators, Tata group companies and key customers. TCS COIN has a worldwide footprint and I enjoy interacting with some of the smartest technology folks there are and their brilliant innovations.

As digital technology has become central to business, how has the role of a CTO changed over recent years?

The CTO’s role is changing fundamentally. Previously, computing was a tool to record activity and allowed traditionally manual processes to become more efficient. A CTO had to worry about the best software, hardware and network products or breakthroughs relating to application development and maintenance. Technology supported the business and a CTO had to watch over the enabling technologies.

With digital, technology drives the business. Technology becomes the business. The CTO has to now think business. He or she has to think customer experience. With an explosion of new technologies that can create new business models and differentiators for companies, the CTO’s role has become pivotal to a business’ success.

What do you see as the most disruptive technology set to make a major impact on business over the next 3-5 years?

In the next three to five years the exponential growth of AI will have a major impact on businesses. It was the major theme of the World Economic Forum earlier this year and is firmly at the centre of business agendas and the minds of policy leaders.

The recent TCS Global Trend study, validated this. TCS’ study explored the views of 800+ business leaders from companies from various parts of the world to understand how they rate the impact of AI. The study correlates investments in AI with demonstrable business impact: leading corporate investors in AI are outperforming their competitors and have achieved on average a 16 per cent increase in revenue.

Within the enterprise, AI is enabling employees to focus on the revenue creating aspects of their role, work more efficiently and creatively and provide better customer experiences.

Where do you think the opportunities and threats lie in this digital era?

With Digital technologies a business’ potential to innovate soars. New products are easier to roll out resulting in extremely rich and personalised experiences for customers and employees.

The pressures are high as well. Businesses have to stay agile. They have to ensure security and data privacy in a hyperconnected world. Disruptions come from unexpected places and often from completely different industries. This is why it is good to be connected to the entire technology landscape. Adopting open innovation and working with partners who complement this can save businesses from blindsiding themselves.

What advice would you give to businesses in this digital era? What considerations must they make to succeed?

Think digitally. Don’t just ‘adopt’ digital.

Build a digital spine across your core technologies, people, practices and processes. Just as the spinal column was an inflection point in biological evolution on earth, the digital spine will be a game changer for your business. A layer of AI and analytics can then be built on the spine, to create insights for your business.

Enable your business to make smart, proactive decisions in real-time to reach out to customers and enrich their experience of the company. Remember, today’s customers are digital natives. They started thinking digitally before the enterprises did!

Do you feel technology will have a greater impact on large or smaller organisations?

I believe both large and small organisations will reap the benefits of recent technological disruptions.

Falling hardware costs, the availability of cloud based platforms and services, rapid prototyping and niche expertise are in favour of small companies creating big disruptions. We are seeing this at close quarters through our worldwide Co-Innovation Network. Nimble fintechs, for instance, are threatening established banks.

Larger organisations, ahead in brand and market presence, have a lot to learn from the agility of start-ups. Traditional industry boundaries and customer segmentation have disappeared. Products and services connect to ecosystems across industries and each customer is a segment. Businesses must be ready to introduce new business models quickly; learn from failures, and adapt fast. Many big businesses are introducing internal start-up like business lines. In fact, we are in a world where large and small businesses can work together for mutual benefit.

Is there any technology recently that’s really excited you?

Artificial Intelligence gets my vote. AI has fascinated humans through history. I have followed the evolution of the idea of AI through fantasy and fact: From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Karel Capek’s “R U R” to Turing’s simple but enduring test of AI and the more recent developments. Technology is making tremendous progress in getting machines to do tasks that humans can and cannot do. In TCS, AI is being used in a number of applications across image perception, conversational systems, complex decision support systems and automation. Ignio is the first neural automation platform for IT operations. Essentially it applies a lot of machine learning and deep learning techniques to understand what is normal and not normal. It then has the ability to act on insights and automatically amend any issues that arise.

​What are you doing to address the UK STEM skills gap?

The TCS STEM skills programme IT Futures proactively works on reducing the STEM skills deficit. Since 2013, we have reached over 170,000 young people in the UK through the programme. IT Futures works in partnership with 600+ schools, universities and not-for-profit organisations like the British Council and MyKindaFuture.

The aim of the programme is to equip young people with digital skills they need for today’s world. It makes technology exciting through challenges, coding and application design competitions as well as classroom teaching.

The UK tech industry is an important asset to the country, and a catalyst for innovation. TCS believes in nurturing it by creating talent, not just employing it. We are therefore happy to work with the government, academia and businesses alike to address this.