As a CTO, it is important to be able to justify technology investments based on the opportunity cost of innovation rather than cost savings
One of the challenges that I had to overcome was maintaining focus on core technology capabilities
Our customers are early adopters of technology-driven innovations and expect a very high level of technology and design capabilities from Accion
This is an exclusive interview conducted by Santosh Vaswani, Content Writer & Editor at CIO News with Ashutosh Bijoor, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Accion Labs.
When asked about his career path to be a successful CTO, Ashutosh Bijoor, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Accion Labs, in an exclusive interview with CIO News, said, I did not plan to become a CTO. I started my career as a technology entrepreneur, with a plan to develop my technology products and services. However, as a technology professional, I did learn some important lessons along the way. Of all those lessons, the most important would undoubtedly be user experience design. Often, technology professionals lack design skills that are equally, if not more important than technical skills. Design is not part of technology education curricula, and engineers are left with an unbalanced view of technology. But I was fortunate to work closely with some of the best designers in the industry and learned how user experience design can make or break a technology solution.
The other aspect of technology is the inordinate speed with which new technologies emerge as viable alternatives to building solutions. As a technology professional, it is tempting to try every new technology that promises better results. But new technologies often involve new risks, and one has to learn to deal with the promises and the risks equally well. This ability to balance technology investments with technology debt is just hard, and I have many stories to tell about these experiences.
When asked about the challenges he faced in his career path and how did he overcome them, he said, one of the challenges that I had to overcome was maintaining focus on core technology capabilities. Often, technology entrepreneurs face the challenge of balancing focus with scale. Remaining focused on your core technical capabilities limits your ability to find opportunities that are aligned with those capabilities. It is tempting to dilute focus and take on opportunities that are not necessarily technically aligned with your focus area, and often such opportunities are technically less challenging but contribute to growth.
For most of my career, I chose focus over scale. I resisted the temptation to scale the business till I found other leaders who were able to complement my capabilities. I am fortunate that I found an organization like Accion that believes in maintaining a high standard of technology capabilities, and provides an ideal environment for technology professionals to thrive in.
When asked about Accion Labs and his key business priorities, he said, Accion Labs focuses on working with customers who are or aspire to be technology-driven organizations. Accion’s focus is innovation engineering. We work with our customers to create innovative products or solutions that have a disproportionately higher impact than existing solutions or processes. Our customers are early adopters of technology-driven innovations and expect a very high level of technology and design capabilities from Accion.
Accion works in a collaborative engagement model with customers, and not as a vendor of technology solutions. Accion considers its centres of technical excellence as the key enablers of innovation. Our core capabilities of innovation engineering are facilitated by centres of excellence in software architecture, human-computer interface, data analytics and insights, cloud computing, DevOps, and automation.
Accion has been fortunate to have worked with some of the most innovative technology organizations in the world that span different industries like healthcare, retail, finance & insurance, utilities, and IT-enabled services.
When asked about the digital technologies which he has adopted or plans to adopt in his company, he said, Accion’s business involves implementing digital technologies for its customers, and Accion itself has been an early adopter of digital technologies. Accion’s entire business runs based on innovation and automation. We believe that only humans are capable of true innovation, and any work that can be automated is worth investing in. The ROI of digital investments cannot be measured based on savings but the opportunity cost of innovation. Every dollar spent on the digitalization of a human being’s task creates additional capacity for innovation.
In addition to using digital technologies for its use and its customers, Accion also invests in technology-driven innovations for social impact. One of the most exciting applications of digital innovation by Accion is Graminno – which stands for Gramin (rural) innovation. This CSR initiative of Accion helps rural communities to leapfrog into a new generation of technologies that the urban and developed world is yet to truly adopt.
When asked about the challenges faced by a CTO today in a similar industry while adopting digital technologies, he said, my observations about challenges faced are in two areas – finding the right metrics to justify digital investments and the availability of skills in emerging technologies. As a CTO, it is important to be able to justify technology investments based on the opportunity cost of innovation rather than cost savings. Getting the entire leadership of an organization to align around such a seemingly abstract metric is not easy.
The availability of skills is, without doubt, one of the biggest challenges. Our attempts to counter these challenges have been a combination of investments in education and globalization. Education needs to be driven by technology professionals who are steeped in hands-on experience. Globalization requires the capacity to invest in new geographies and the ability to overcome cultural differences. Both these aspects are not easy and provide enough fodder for sleepless nights.
When asked how CTOs can overcome the challenges faced, he said, I do not consider myself an expert on overcoming these challenges. I think I have been lucky enough to have found enough people who believe in me and my crazy ideas and have helped in providing all the support required to implement them. Finding such partners is not an easy challenge to overcome, and I cannot help but believe that luck has played an important role in my good fortune at finding them.
Speaking about best practices/industry trends/advice to fellow CTOs for their successful professional journey, he said, there are more than adequate trends in the technology industry that one is overloaded with from everywhere. If at all, one needs a pragmatic way to deal with and choose from them. So, I would not like to parrot the same language and add to the confusion. However, I did mention earlier that design skills are something that I see sorely lacking in the awareness and importance assigned by technology professionals. User experience design is probably one area that I consider an important capability to invest in. Not just as a separate skillset but as a general capability to truly permeate the entire organization.
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