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Why Digital Transformation Needs a Reboot in a Business 4.0™ World

Krishnan Ramanujam
President – Service Lines, TCS

Large companies around the world are using digital technologies to reinvent their business models, create superior customer experiences, and build far stronger customer relationships. To do so, many of them are aggressively adopting artificial intelligence, analytics software, and cloud computing. Physical and knowledge work that couldn’t be automated in prior decades is now, or soon will be, done by machines. Concurrently, the savviest companies are carving out new roles for people—roles that the machines can improve even if they can’t supplant them.

Each article in this edition of TCS Perspectives lays out the critical issues facing leaders who must digitally transform their companies. TCS experts have written these articles for leaders who want to tap the power of machines for work that should be automated, and the power of people for work that can’t be automated, now or possibly ever.

As I believe you will see in this edition’s articles, TCS brings a very different method to digital transformation. We call it the ‘Machine First’ approach. Our articles will explain what this means and how to do it, piece by piece. Our experts will give you proven and actionable advice on how to digitally transform your company to win in an increasingly digital world.

Here is a short preview on each article:

As Frank Diana and Simon Torrance explain in “Defining Your Digital Ecosystem: The First Step in a Machine First Transformation,” many leaders are no longer looking at strategy and industry structure in the ways of a non-digital world. Instead, they’re analyzing how emerging ecosystems—networks of stakeholders, including business partners, suppliers, customers, and competitors that interact digitally to create value—are supplanting traditional industries as the organizing construct. For example, in a mobility ecosystem, automakers no longer just make cars; they must redefine the very notion of automobile ownership and how people get around.


After they determine in which digital ecosystems their company must play, leaders have a far better answer to how they must digitally transform their businesses. That’s where the next article comes in: “Reshaping a Business Around AI: The Machine First Approach to Digital Transformation,” by PR Krishnan. He lays out a structured approach to digital transformation. It’s about automating all crucial business process activities that can be automated, and then turning them into intelligent processes. Equally as important is identifying the new higher-level jobs that the organization will need and reskilling the workforce to fill those roles.


Indeed, automation is a central tenet of the Machine First approach to digital transformation. For most companies, the place to begin with is customerfacing activities. In “Using Advanced Technologies to Deliver an Uncommon Customer Experience Every Day,” James Wheless and Navin Mithel show how companies are using intelligent technologies to enhance the customer experience. That includes engaging with customers in new ways. For example, some major cruise ship operators today give customers wearable digital devices that unlock cabin doors and provide access to amenities. That frees up employees from spending their time on manual tasks, which can be automated, to provide more personalized services.


But the customer experience is not the only place that companies can digitally transform through a Machine First approach. In “Giving Power to the Machine: Offering Technology the First Right of Refusal,” Santha Subramoni and Akhilesh Tiwari discuss how accounting, human resources, IT help desks, and other internally facing activities can be made far more effective and efficient. The key is taking a new look at onerous manual activities—both physical and knowledge work—that can now be automated with surprisingly high levels of quality, and surprisingly low levels of operating costs.


As companies automate more and more work, they must also identify and fill the important new jobs in the company that can take it to the next level. In “The Crucial Role of People in a World of Extreme Automation,” Ram Subramanian and Ashok Nandakumar note that even as machines take over a number of tasks, many new tasks will emerge that only people can perform. That will enable their company to truly put their people’s creative, analytical, and managerial talents to work.


But automated systems won’t perform well without high-quality algorithms to guide them, and high-quality digital data to feed and continually improve those algorithms. In “Building the Unbiased and Continually Self-Improving Machine,” Dinanath Kholkar explores how unintentionally biased algorithms and outdated data can lead a company’s machines astray. No company wants that, of course. The author explains how to validate and continually improve the all-important algorithms that are driving their machines.


AI and unbiased algorithms are becoming critical to company success. But another foundational piece of digital transformation is the ‘cloud’—i.e., the ability to tap enormous amounts of computing power that reside in the data centers of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and other firms. In “Cloud Computing: The Essential Platform for a Machine FirstTM Digital Transformation,” Satishchandra Doreswamy, Indu Malhotra, and Chethan Prabhudeva argue that most companies today must turn to the cloud to provide customers with superior and heavily digital experiences. Public and hybrid clouds are also becoming important digital laboratories—i.e., places to conduct experiments requiring colossal amounts of computing power. Furthermore, the cloud has also become a key piece of ecosystems where many companies must digitally connect to one another.

Ironically, the same attributes that make automation so effective—efficiency, accuracy, labor-saving—also open organizations to new risks. This is because computer hackers and other parties with bad intentions are using AI to wreak more sophisticated havoc. In “Protecting Your Robots: How to Design Security into Your Machines,” Satish Thiagarajan, Khalap Sachin, and Sundeep Oberoi explain what companies must do to protect their automated processes.


In Perspectives, we like to bring the views of experts outside of TCS. In the last few years, we interviewed quite a few experts on strategic business and digital issues (Ram Charan, Tom Davenport, Steve Blank, and others). In this issue on Machine First, we spoke with Professor Vijay Gurbaxani, founding director of the Center for Digital Transformation at the University of California Irvine’s business school. For years, Vijay has conducted research on digital transformation, the findings of which have appeared in prestigious business and academic publications. In our Q&A, Dr. Gurbaxani discusses key leadership challenges for companies operating in highly digital sectors (i.e., Adobe and General Motors), and even such sectors as the restaurant industry that many wouldn’t regard as highly digital.

In our last article, “The CEO as Chief Exhilaration Officer,” I explain how enterprise leaders can overcome one of the biggest challenges of automation: engaging, motivating, and retaining talented people in a world of escalating fears that robots are taking their jobs away. I argue that the most successful companies will have leaders—especially CEOs—who extinguish such fears by exuding optimism and creating new work opportunities.

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