Continuous evolution is crucial in product development, processes, technology, and thinking, says Daya Shanker, CTO & Group Vice President at Comviva

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Continuous evolution is crucial in product development, processes, technology, and thinking, says Daya Shanker, CTO & Group Vice President at Comviva
Continuous evolution is crucial in product development, processes, technology, and thinking, says Daya Shanker, CTO & Group Vice President at Comviva

Regardless of changes happening in the industry, the fundamentals of a system remain constant and play a crucial role in defining processes, technologies, and products.

This is an exclusive article series conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Daya Shanker, CTO & Group Vice President at Comviva.

I did my primary schooling in Kanpur until senior secondary. In June 1995, after finishing my Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Roorkee, I decided to switch my career from metallurgical engineering to software engineering. Though the decision was not easy, given my basic knowledge of software like Fortran 88, COBOL, C++, and Pascal, I aimed to make myself market-worthy with a deep understanding of the entire software, hardware, and networking system.

To achieve this, I threw myself into the market, gaining firsthand experience through experimentation. While failure was a possibility, I was determined to give my best. I sought to learn new software tech languages, networking, hardware, etc., on my own. One day, while perusing a magazine, I discovered a significant demand in the local market for financial accounting software in low-level industries like retail. Many people were using the Tally DOS version, but it lacked an inventory management system.

This discovery led me to create an integrated system with accounting and inventory components. I named it IBAS (Integrated Business Accounting System), consisting of two main software components: financial accounting and inventory accounting, both seamlessly integrated. Given my association with the University of Roorkee (currently known as IIT Roorkee), I had connections with professors at IIT Kanpur. Seeking professional help for building software, I approached them. While they provided me with some basics of database design, we struggled to determine the appropriate software. After some research, I chose Forxpro+ as it was an extended version of dBASE.

After 4-5 months of hard work, I created the first version of IBAS with inventory management and took it to the market. My target customers were small manufacturing companies. Given Kanpur’s reputation for Rotoflex, I approached them, showcased my software, and garnered interest. Within a few days, I secured a couple of orders and successfully sold the software. However, with these sales came additional feature requests and change orders, which took almost 6 months to complete as I was working solo.

My initial journey set the stage for the next 3–4 years, during which I accomplished the following:

  • I learned many languages: Power Builder, Sybase Anywhere, Microsoft IIS, HTML, ASP, and JSP. Microsoft SQL.
  • Developed skills in hardware assembly and gained an understanding of the low-level workings of computers.
  • Acquired knowledge in networking, including Novel Netware, Ring Topology, Microsoft Networking, IP setup, and closed network configuration.
  • I expanded my expertise by learning Linux and Unix languages.

Following this, I formed an association with Primus Software of Lucknow. Utilizing the skills I had acquired, I assisted them in developing various modules for the software utilized by the Uttar Pradesh Financial Corporation (UPFC). Additionally, I had crafted billing software for Prabha Telecommunication, which served a private telephone exchange in the Kanpur Stock Exchange and Kanpur Merchant Chamber, managing approximately 300 connections of Tata Exchange.

In 1998, while sitting in a printing press, I met the research director of Dainik Jagran newspaper, who held a PhD. He was overseeing the release of an encyclopaedia of statistical information about India. During our conversation, I suggested that these valuable pieces of information could be monetized by putting them on a website. At that time, the traditional approach was to use printed books, and websites were not yet popular. The idea resonated with him, and he asked if I could provide a prototype. I promptly created one but eventually forgot about it.

In December 1999, I received a call from the research director, informing me that he had work for me. Despite running a small business with a monthly profit income of around 15-25K per month and a turnover of approximately 1CR annually in Kanpur, lacking financial backup, I agreed and moved to Delhi. After approximately 10 months of hard work, I set up a small company. Handling everything myself, I purchased 30 computer parts, assembled them for data entry, acquired an IBM server, networking equipment, and cat5 cables. I also hired an assistant from the CMS Computer Academy. Within 30 days, I had established a startup. We recruited a team for data entry and two software developers to prepare the website.

Finally, on November 13th, 2000, we launched the website, featuring approximately a million pages navigating different statistics about India. The inauguration was done by Arun Shourie, the Minister of Communication and Information Technology at the time. During this time, I was a workaholic, putting in approximately 18–20 hours a day.

After a successful launch, I joined a telecom software company, Sotas India Private Limited, in December 2000 (a Sotas Inc. US entity), and moved to Gurgaon. After 4 months, I brought my family to Gurgaon. However, here, some challenging times began, and I developed cervical problems, resulting in left-side paralysis. I sought medical opinions at Apollo Delhi and Gangaram Delhi, both of which suggested surgery with low survival chances and potential permanent disability.

My wife suggested consulting another doctor who was in private practice and very young. He assessed my condition and recommended no surgery, stating that it could be cured with medication. Skeptical, I followed his advice and wore a brace from my neck to my chest. I also sought a second opinion from a senior doctor at Vimhans Delhi, who confirmed that the ongoing treatment was appropriate. After 4-5 months of medication, I rejoined the office, working partially from home. The medication continued for a year and a half, and eventually, I returned to my normal routine with precautions.

In Sotas, I spent approximately 5.5 years, witnessing two mergers and one acquisition in the organization. Sotas Inc. was merged with Mantas Inc. in the US, and we had two verticals: telecom software and financial software. Both companies shared the same DNA: fraud management software and related software, where I worked in both financial and telecommunication domains.

I have worked on different technologies, various domains, and at different scales in enterprise software. Within both domains, I honed the skills required for evolving the architecture of enterprise software, staying updated with the latest technology stacks, especially focusing on performance tuning, and developing high-debugging skills. This period marked my transition into a leadership role. Leadership, for me, was different. I could have pursued a managerial role, but my passion for technology kept me grounded, leading to a techno-managerial role where I consistently prioritized technology over people.

In my first leadership assignment, I observed that 98% of individuals refrain from starting work due to the fear of failure, even when the chance of failure is only 2%. An incident that highlights this was when we needed to consolidate all fragmented releases into one. The entire team hesitated to start the work, assuming that the code was not available in Version Source Control (VSS). After taking charge, I discovered that only one person’s code was missing. I urged the team to rewrite it, resolving the issue that had lingered for almost four months.

In 2006, I changed my organization back to Telecom, where I engaged with different tech stacks. During this period, I realized a crucial aspect of leadership and development: the need to unlearn before learning. Unlearning is a critical element of professional growth. The landscape is evolving rapidly, and failing to unlearn hinders the adoption of new technologies and practices.

Another vital lesson learned was to stick to the basics. Regardless of changes happening in the industry, the fundamentals of a system remain constant and play a crucial role in defining processes, technologies, and products.

Over my 28 years of leadership, I have been part of numerous product launches, each providing new insights. The most significant learning has been the continuous evolution of everything in the software industry. Nothing stays the same for more than 2–3 years, whether it be language, database, design patterns, architecture, or processes. Adapting to change within this timeframe is crucial; otherwise, the product or team risks becoming obsolete in the market.

As mature leaders, understanding where to allocate resources is crucial. In many instances, when management perceives a product as mature and cuts down on development costs, anticipating a steady cash flow, it often marks the beginning of the product’s decline. Research and development (R&D) and regular product updates are integral components of the software industry, requiring an allocation of 15–25% for R&D. Management often confuses R&D with the product roadmap, treating them as synonymous. This is a significant mistake since R&D is focused on exploring new possibilities, independent of market or product needs, unlike the roadmap. Both R&D and the roadmap should have separate budgets, monitored independently. Their combined budget should be more than 30%, and R&D shouldn’t be factored into productivity per person calculations in the IT industry.

Processes play a crucial role in supporting team development, product success, and organisational growth. However, they should not act as showstoppers or blockers. Hence, processes need to be handled with care, subject to review every 6 months for minor amendments and every 18 months for major amendments. A common oversight in organisations is assuming that one process fits all types of products and industries. As mentioned earlier, while the basics remain consistent, the larger context changes, altering the entire course. Therefore, customising processes based on industry needs is essential. Goals and processes for time-and-material (T&M) projects can differ from those for products.

So here are the key learnings:

  • Initial Phase of Life: Spend time on learning and embrace failures.
  • Overcoming Fear: Only 2% of people fear failure, which can hinder experimentation and success. Embrace it.
  • Guiding Principle: Stick to the basics.
  • Continuous Learning: Unlearn and then learn.
  • Key to Success: Continuous evolution is crucial in product development, processes, technology, and thinking.
  • Differentiating R&D and Roadmap: Never mix R&D with the roadmap if you aim to become a leader in your area.
  • Embracing Change: Recognize that changes are the only constant; keep evolving.

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