Development of a top-notch technology platform is only one side of the story
This is an exclusive interview conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Lalit Singh, Founder of Meraqui.
How did you plan your career path to be a successful technology leader?
Using technology to solve real-life problems has always fascinated me. There is so much that can be achieved with the use of the right technology at the right time (and these two “rights” are very important for “right” results). For example, when we were conceptualising MERAQUI, we knew that there were multitudes of staffing players, many well-known names with decades of experience, who were trying to solve the problem by bridging the gap between job and jobless. The irony is that in spite of the huge legacy, 98% of India’s problems are still unsolved. The reason is lack of adequate use of technology. With India’s large diaspora, you shouldn’t deploy an army of people to receive a best-fit match when it can very well be delivered using a platform that opens portals to all its stakeholders. Especially post-Jiofication, when more than two-thirds of India is on smartphones, Facebook and YouTube.
So, it all started with a simple idea. You learn as you progress; learning doesn’t stop ever. Everything else is history.
What challenges did you face in your career path and how did you overcome them?
Development of a top-notch technology platform is only one side of the story. The biggest challenges that I came across have been inducing behavioural changes, or simply put, change management, to ensure technology is adopted widely and is put to actual use. Until we ensure that technology remains a liability rather than an asset, I am aware of a lot of organisations where the IT teams picked up large scale implementation projects of cutting edge ERP systems, and the users continued their trust in excel spreadsheets. Nothing significant changed, except an additional task for the executives—to make additional entries in their ERPs to avoid management’s wrath. Management is elusively happy that they are using new age technology, while reality is very different.
You overcome these situations first by knowing your users well and then educating them with positive reinforcers to encourage them to adopt the technology. Use of SMS campaigns, multilingual IVR’s, tele-calling, online training with gamified, addictive reward systems, and in some cases, even closed room handholding with the help of site supervisors—we used all these tools and techniques for technology adoption.
What are the challenges faced by technology leaders today while implementing digital technologies?
Lean and Agile are the key words discussed today when it comes to digital technology implementations. More often than not, clients figure out along the way that what they truly wanted as their final product was very different from what they initially conceptualised. Agile implementation technologies certainly help here. But clients would have unrealistic expectations. Additionally, the desired product kept changing during the implementation duration because the client changed specs significantly. But when they start calculating their TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), it looks significantly different from the set expectations based on their initial understanding. They feel cheated in this entire process while implementation partners are already squeezed between increasing costs and agreed timelines.
Post-COVID, technology leaders are facing many challenges in hiring and retaining high-performing individuals. Growing demands for remote work and debates over moonlighting are only adding to their already all-time high stress levels. Especially, when we know that more often than not, technology leaders are not the best people managers.
Last but not the least; cyber-crime is an ever-growing threat today. These cyber criminals are finding new and more challenging ways to penetrate IT systems.
How can technology leaders overcome the challenges they face?
Educating end users and understanding their “real” needs and setting “real” expectations upfront must be taken with the utmost seriousness to avoid unhappiness all around during the later course of time. Setting milestones, transparency, and a shared vision with respect to expected timelines and costs can go a long way in avoiding unwanted situations during later phases of implementation.
Technology leaders should also not shy away from receiving training on people management skills. More often than not, this is not treated as a respectable skill to acquire. The reality is absolutely the opposite! Every other skill can be acquired or hired if a leader possesses the right skills to source, nurture, and retain the talent, especially the high-performing ones. Everyone needs money, but these high-performing individuals are motivated on a different level. Exciting work is primordial, but getting timely recognition, fair treatment, a clear vision of their growth and trust in the words of their leaders are certain traits these individuals seek in their leaders. Technology leaders must receive timely training to adapt to this new working style of inspiring others to develop and produce more than the earlier ones, when as team players they were developing and producing something themselves. Working yourself to the point of delegating work to others is a skill that you must master and adapt to in order to be a successful leader. This way, you will also become good at cross-level communication and big picture thinking and planning, which will go a long way in ensuring your credibility as a CTO or CIO.
You must prioritise it from day one to overcome the cybersecurity threats. Never try to cut corners by compromising your cybersecurity. In this era of social media, when everyone almost literally has access to everyone else, trust once lost may be a loss forever.
Any best practices, industry trends, or advice you’d give to fellow technology leaders to help them succeed professionally?
Oh, these can be many, but if you can control these top three factors, I think success will not elude you much:
- Hold on to your high performance talents tight. Don’t let them go. It is my personal experience that the pareto principle works here very well. I attribute 80% of my success to these 20% of my high-performance talents. Yes, they do need a very high degree of maintenance too, but it is totally worth it. They will always give you an edge over the competition. Create an environment in which these high-performance talents will want to work.
- Make regular education a lifestyle for your organisation. Sharpening your axe is critical. The environment is evolving every moment. Keeping abreast of what is going around and keeping your organisation up-to-date will help you gain first mover advantage in an ever-changing market scenario.
- Create a culture based on trust. Connect, collaborate, and evolve—should be the mantra to follow for outstanding results. It is possible only when employees trust the organisation first. Top management creates culture. In Meraqui, if an employee errs, we often say that it is our mistake. Organizations must set a culture where individuals can reach out to anyone for timely help. Make it difficult to commit a mistake by ensuring the right processes and systems are in place with adequate checks and balances.
I wish luck to all leaders and budding leaders. There is so much to create or co-create. Let’s make India proud of us; let’s make the world a better place to live for us and future generations.
CIO News, a proprietary of Mercadeo, produces award-winning content and resources for IT leaders across any industry through print articles and recorded video interviews on topics in the technology sector such as Digital Transformation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Cloud, Robotics, Cyber-security, Data, Analytics, SOC, SASE, among other technology topics