In the past 18 months, businesses of all shapes and sizes have moved their operations and processes online to stay afloat, scale up, or keep up with their competitors.
“I call it the smart normal,” said Sumir Bhatia, president of Lenovo’s infrastructure solutions group in the Asia Pacific.
Bhatia has been leading his team to provide digital solutions to companies in the region for over five years. Even though businesses are more open to upgrading their IT infrastructure nowadays, company leaders are often confused about how and where to begin, Bhatia said. For example, even having a chief information officer (CIO) to manage data and technology solutions within the company.
In a conversation with Oasis, Bhatia explained how to implement top-down changes, and spoke about the biggest barriers that prevent companies from committing to technological transformations.
The following interview has been edited and consolidated for brevity and clarity.
Oasis (OS): How has the pandemic changed the way you and your team function?
Sumir Bhatia (SB): Changes are always there—the pandemic was only the catalyst. Moving forward, organizations will tend to have what I call a “smart normal” approach. It’s basically a hybrid of working remotely and coming to the office. People can work from chosen locations and come together physically for team collaborations or meetings. People don’t need to commute in peak traffic; they can choose to go out when the roads are not as congested. It also requires a smaller workplace, which is more efficient.
With the pandemic, many companies rushed to get on the cloud. There has never been a better time to have the chief information officer (CIO) in the driver’s seat. The IT department is driving innovation for the organization. Data is going to be critical. It’s a new currency. In the past, we’ve seen AI and high-performance computing used mostly in universities and research centers. Now, corporations are using this infrastructure.
OS: How would you describe the role of a chief information officer?
SB: The function of the CIO in a company is absolutely critical. They’re not just your chief information officer but also your chief transformation officer. It doesn’t matter if you have a person dedicated to that role or not—CEOs themselves can do the job. What’s more important is to have the mindset of a CIO.
For one, it’s about constantly transforming the organization. Your competitors could be nimble, aggressive, small organizations that started in a garage. They’re flexible. If you don’t modify your thinking, you’re going to get left behind.
Secondly, it’s about utilizing and analyzing the data you collected in the past to help your customers, reach out to their clients, and expand your business.
OS: Many people don’t recognize the importance of leveraging data to innovate. How do you convince your customers that this needs to happen? What is that negotiation process like?
SB: Let me give you one example: hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is an appliance combining both the software and hardware of a conventional data center. It’s like a smartphone—you can do everything on it. Two years ago, we had to make a case to customers for implementing this, and the conversations were around using HCI as a virtual desktop. Today, customers are very knowledgeable, and the conversations are now more about the different technologies that can be applied on top of HCI.
Of course, there are customers that are not knowledgeable, and they’re seeking help. And that’s what we like to be—a trusted advisor—by not just telling them what we sell but also by forming partnerships and giving them examples to demonstrate how our data product has helped others. We have a platform where customers can communicate with each other about how they went through the process.
We also run virtual seminars, and we make them fun. Recently, we invited Leander Paes, a Grand Slam tennis player to be part of a panel. The talk was on smart fitness in organizations and how they should get smart in their business innovations. We had an overwhelmingly positive response from that.
At the end of the day, it is about one thing: helping our customers grow and thrive.
OS: Many big organizations are having a hard time with their transformations. What do you think is the obstacle?
SB: Their mindset is the biggest barrier.
Within an organization, if the leader has a “changer” mindset, they need to imbue that idea across the group. It starts at the top, and you deliver it downward. Unless the entire team in that organization has a similar mindset, the change won’t happen. Also, transformation is not as simple as flipping a light switch. You need to ask: why am I changing, what am I changing into, and what do we need to change? How do we rescale? You don’t just change for the sake of it.
For example, let’s say I run a great restaurant and we make the best food in town. Unfortunately, I only have a few people dining in every day due to the pandemic. I want to deliver my food to people around the city. How can I do this? This year, in Singapore, numerous restaurants have gone bust, and it’s terribly sad. But there are also restaurants that are thriving. It’s the mindsets of the restaurant owners that made the difference.
The second barrier is the process of finding the right partner to help you and guide you through change. I’m privileged to work in an organization that molds like Play-Doh and ensures that we’re able to deliver what our customers want. Our flexibility allows us to change quickly.
If you fail, don’t be scared to fail. Do it again, keep pushing, and you’ll get there.