“Be Open to Change and Actively Seek it in Whatever You Do”

We at ABFRL present stories excerpted from our internal newsletter ‘In Touch’, where we celebrate our people and their contributions. 

Praveen Shrikhande, Chief Digital and Information Officer at ABFRL, comes across as a well-read man, with no attached frills. While his in-depth knowledge on new-age digital technologies is incomparable, what sets him apart is his attitude to keep up with his learning curve, the love for Fashion Retail, and his new-found interest in the quirky Simon Carter brand. His interest in the world of anthropology further ensures that he remains in sync with his empathetic side, despite living and breathing artificial intelligence at the professional end of things.

What is the one word you would use to describe the future of technology?

The word that comes to my mind is human-like. Basically technology will be indistinguishable from people; you will not know when you are interacting with technology and when with people. We already see artificial intelligence take over in some areas such as call centers and chatbots. It may take a while longer before let’s say robots become human-like. Even today there are cases where people depend on robotic companions, like Japan has adopted digital pets that behave as live pets but are much easier to maintain. How many years it takes to get there and in what areas, is still an open question. 

Do you think leading via technology has the same impact as in-person leadership?

Of course, the past few months has changed in-person interaction in many ways, but still there is a certain element of emotional engagement that happens in person, which is difficult to replicate using technology. Inspiring leadership in the workplace, as we know it, typically has a personal element, because it’s beyond just communicating via a medium. In my view, in-person leadership will still continue to be important. However, the extent and scale of such interactions may reduce, as people get more comfortable interacting using technology.

If not for the pandemic, how long would such a digital transformation take?

That is an interesting question. So clearly, digital transformation has accelerated in many areas and large part of it obviously is to reduce the ‘personal touch’ of in-person interactions that people had come to assume as indispensable. Today, we’re realizing that things can get done even without personal interaction or transfer of physical things. So let’s say e-commerce in India would have taken maybe three years to reach the level we are seeing post COVID. But certain things let’s say, in-person Board meetings or Management meetings, may not have changed for much longer, if an event like this had not happened. It is possible that the ‘New Normal’ will be somewhere in between what it was and what it is today.

What skills should one equip themselves with to enter this field?

Technology in general is becoming all-pervasive and you see that kids today are exposed to the basics of technology at an early age. In many ways, technology in itself will not be the only thing that you can get expertise in. When it comes to technology for business, professionals will need to understand both, the business and the technology. You will need to understand Finance, Supply Chain or Marketing for instance, apart from being a Technologist. Now, core technology is rapidly moving to cloud and technology support is often outsourced and what remains in the business is domain experts with technology background or technology experts with good domain background.

The best advice you have ever received in your career.

That’s interesting. About 20 years back, I experienced the first major change during the dotcom boom and subsequent bust. At that time, my HR Head gave me this book – ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. I would say that was the best advice that I received in my career. I learnt change is constant, don’t resist change, embrace it! I was always open to taking on something new and with the confidence that yes, you can always learn what you need to succeed in a new area.

They say data is the new oil. Your thoughts?

Yeah, this has almost become a mantra and the reason is very simple. Capturing data is actually helping you understand behaviour, whether it’s humans, systems, machines, or cars. These sample points of behaviour of different objects in the system becomes the base for all kinds of analytics and predictive technology. Machine learning is able to leverage past data and identify patterns in it, which helps in predicting future behaviours. When let’s say, Amazon or Netflix recommends certain products or movies, it clicks for you as a person. As they collect more data, they get better in their recommendations. So this data becomes a key resource, which is really helping companies better understand the consumers, machines, etc and so be able to predict their future behaviour or performance. These insights directly impact business by driving higher revenues or reducing costs.

A leader is a person who?

A leader is a person who provides a high-level direction of overall goals for the organization and acts as a coach to empower the team to deliver their best.

What advice will you give those who want to get into fashion technology?

Fashion technology in itself is ever-evolving. What is important that you understand fashion as a business and how the fashion business is changing. The technology in use today will be completely different in three years. If you know the business and how the consumer is a changing, you will be able to adapt technology for the needs of the consumer and the business.

Get To Know Me Better

Your kind of music.

All kinds of old music – Indian and Western, my favourite song is ‘Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya’.

Your fashion essentials

My Apple Watch and Smart casuals

Favourite brands

Allen Solly. I am discovering Simon Carter

A book you would recommend to every aspiring leader

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Are you an early riser or a night owl?

Night owl

A common misconception about your role?

Technology cannot solve business problems; it only gives you the tools to help solve problems.

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