Navigating the Technology Surge: A Balancing Act for Leaders

Navigating the Technology Surge: A Balancing Act for Leaders

Abhijay Datta, Head ‑ Data Engineering and Analytics Services, Emids, 0

Abhijay Datta is a seasoned technology leader with 22 years of experience in IT and Analytics across different industry sectors. He has been instrumental in guiding businesses to use technology for profitable growth and not just chase trends. Currently, he heads the Data Engineering and Analytics business in a specialist Healthcare services firm which has some of the top US based hospitals and insurers as clients.

In an exclusive interview with CEOInsights India, Abhijay Datta takes us through his noteworthy journey and some of the critical factors he feels that need to be considered in the world of rapid technology advancement.

With the extreme pace of technological advancements, how should leaders think of developing and retaining their people to make them high performing?
When I started 20 years back, technology was still there, but it was slow moving. We witnessed serious advancements of technology perhaps every five years or more and older technologies stayed longer. Fast forward to the current times, we see exciting new technology emerging every few months with the potential to disrupt all walks of human life.

Businesses are finding it difficult to navigate this ‘technology bloat’ as I call it. And businesses are nothing but the employees who run them. I feel a leader should have open conversations with employees. They need to start mentoring them on taking personal ownership in upskilling and reskilling. Back in the olden days, employees expected their managers to guide them through their career. But today, the most impactful thing would be to create a platform for learning and experimenting inside companies.

Motivate employees to master the relevant technologies that can grow the business. It is important to educate employees that though modern technology appears to be encroaching into daily work, if we can learn to use them as aids, we can become 100x more productive. Today’s leaders have to encourage their employees not to see technology as a competition but more as an aid to create higher quality output.

Tell us a little bit about how should a leader balance between the phenomenal promise of technology – specifically AI – and the ethical responsibilities?
The pace at which technology is evolving, government regulations at least will not be able to keep up with the advancements. And in a way it is not bad, we do not want to kill the spirit of innovation with ill-formed laws. This is where I see ethics and self-governance will play a critical role in the coming decades.

No doubt, companies that bring increasing number of critical processes under automated algorithms will succeed. I feel the new generation of leaders who will be at the helm of such AI driven companies need to formulate clear ethical goals. They must ensure that the self-learning algorithms do not harm their employees and society.

I want to point out three specific areas – bias, transparency, and security - which today’s leaders must prioritize. When it comes to bias, leaders must be technically aware of how algorithms are built inside the company. It is on the leaders to create a culture where every Machine Learning engineer confirms the training data is representing the population, compares model outputs with 'real world' metrics for fairness and feels empowered to address and fix biases.

As algorithms become indistinguishable from human output, companies will have to make it transparent to human users when they are dealing with automated algorithms. And lastly on security, given so much sensitive data is collected by companies today, they must implement structures to protect privacy and ensure unnecessary data is not collected.

I see a learning curve for new-age leaders to come to terms with all these nuances and unfortunately there is not too much business literature to learn from and everything is evolving so rapidly.

In your opinion, how do leaders themselves stay ahead of the rapid technological advances?
This is an interesting question. We spoke about leaders creating a culture of learning for their employees, but what about themselves. They are at the helm making important technology decisions that have a profound impact on the business. It is important they cut through
the maze of myriad technology promises and make good decisions.

I feel now more than ever, business leaders need to have good mental models of their business and learn to map out the use cases made possible from any new technology. And how those use cases would further the business they are running. Research the competition space more than ever. Not every modern technology is relevant for a business. Leaders will get tested to not get distracted by shiny new technologies. They must build evaluation frameworks for robust cost benefit analysis before spending.

The first one is lifelong learning - setting aside time daily to read and keep up with new concepts, technology, ideas and be able to map them with the business goals.

In this age of extreme tech, I feel adaptivity will differentiate between the good and the great leaders. Decisions are not one-way doors; leaders will make wrong decisions but the ability to admit and correct them fast will be key. Modern leaders must invest in developing that culture of experimentation where new technologies are tried against business use cases, evaluated against pre-designed goals, results are tracked and then decisions are taken to scale or kill.

The good thing is today failures and mistakes are not regarded with disdain. In fact, leaders who do not have failures are often seen as lacking initiative.

Since you have been in large corporates, I want to ask how do young technology leaders navigate complex matrix organizations and bring new ideas in the forefront?
A lot of things I said are easier to apply in smaller setups. In large organizations, the dynamics are a little different. There are multiple divisions, business units, and leaders that you have to collaborate with. And it requires specific skills to navigate these organizations.

Before I get to them, I must say that large organizations are increasingly configuring themselves as startups allowing rapid innovations through fail fast frameworks. However, the reality is that they must run their core business even if it is on boring old technology because that is what brings the revenues. And the core business does take a lot of management focus.

I can share a few learnings for the young leaders in large companies. First is learning to present innovative ideas with evidence. Stay away from anecdotal examples and opinions and lean more on generating data to back your proposal. It will get easier to navigate if you can show the evidence with data. The second aspect is to have an appreciation of the other business unit leaders and not think in a small box. Large organizations have complex interconnected processes and the better you can tie them together in your proposition, the more the acceptance, the third thing is of course developing the soft skills and emotional quotient to influence your competing peers and leaders into supporting you. You have to learn how to tell the story in a way so that others can see value for themselves.

As we wrap up – any advice to the budding technology leaders in the years to come?
We are living in an interesting time compared to the time our parents lived. A decade of technological advancements today is perhaps equivalent to 50-60 years in the prior generation. And this frenetic pace is only going to increase. It will be extremely hard for traditional education, societal norms, and regulations to keep up.

This means that tomorrow’s leaders may not have well established management literature to rely on. A considerable number of them would find themselves in uncharted territories and having to feel their way through uncertainty. And compounding this challenge is the additional responsibility of guiding the young workforce in the company.

In my mind, there are a few critical things that will differentiate tomorrow’s business leaders. The first one is lifelong learning - setting aside time daily to read and keep up with new concepts, technology, ideas and be able to map them with the business goals. Secondly, ethics and personal value would be critical. There would be temptation to improve business performance at any cost using technology. Regulations will lag far behind. So leaders will have to step up and self-regulate. They must weigh their decisions against any harm to employees, customers, and society as a whole. Third in my mind would be the mindset of taking risks. I see the new generation of leaders showing the way to try new ideas and make rapid decisions and a lot of management literature of future will imbibe the fail fast frameworks for these upcoming leaders.