AIIA Interview: Puneet Suppal, AVP, Product Strategy at Infosys

A word by word account of a fascinating conversation




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On August 1, 2018, Puneet Suppal, Associate Vice President, Product Strategy of Infosys sat down with Seth Adler, Editor in Chief of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network to discuss big data, AI, saving costs, solving problems, self-belief, Yoda, and more.

 

 

This is the transcript of their conversation...


Seth Adler:                        

How about a quick introduction for our readers?

Puneet Suppal:                

I'm Puneet Suppal. I work for EdgeVerve, an Infosys company. I head all marketing for AssistEdge, Nia, and the beautiful Nia business apps.

Seth Adler:                        

Let's actually start there. You guys have a lot going on. Let's discover and differentiate to make sure that folks understand. What do we have here? What's the suite?

Puneet Suppal:                

The 'suite'? You refer to it as a suite, but we like to think that we bring a range of capabilities. The capabilities around automation, artificial intelligence, and applications that draw on the power of AI. We believe that these fit very neatly within a pretty wide ranging continuum of needs that enterprises have today. Almost everyone out there today realizes that they need to engage in some form of digital transformation. It's not because it's a fad, but it's becoming abundantly clear to many of them that if they are to remain competitive, if they are to actually gain ground, they're going to have to transform themselves digitally.     

 

"You don't have an AI problem. Nobody does. You have business issues that need to be addressed, and it's just that in this day and age, we are able to take advantage of AI and automation to make that happen for you”.

 

That being said, the understanding of what it means to be digitally transformed, or what it means to undertake digital transformation as a major initiative and make it a part of who you are, defers very widely. What we bring to the table is to address the needs of enterprises at different stages in that journey.

Seth Adler:                        

So, many are at the beginning, and some have made their way through to...not necessarily the middle yet. That's my perception having spoken to many corporate enterprise practitioners. Do you get what I'm saying?

Puneet Suppal:                

Absolutely! I agree with you. I've been traveling a lot in the last few months, and I've met folks from various enterprises across a wide range of industry verticals across the globe. Almost every time, it becomes very clear that people are still, in many cases, grappling with what this all means. What do I really mean by automation? Can it go further than doing some basic simple things? What exactly is artificial intelligence? What are all the technologies that are usually discussed under the umbrella of artificial intelligence? What does machine learning mean to me?           

All of these questions become very important to people because they hear these things. They feel like they ought to be doing something, and then they say “Um, I don't know what to do”. One person actually said to me, “I don't know what my AI problem is”, and I said “You don't have an AI problem”. He's like, “How do you know?”, I said “Nobody does. You have business issues that need to be addressed, and it's just that in this day and age, we are now able to take advantage of AI and automation to make that happen for you”.

Seth Adler:                        

Thank goodness, essentially, that you have unstructured data for us to work with in some ways at least. At the front end, kind of in the middle, and towards the more cognitive side, lets discuss how EdgeVerve is really helping here.

Puneet Suppal:                

Absolutely. Let me talk a little about - actually, I'm not going to put in a plug for our product, as much as I would like to, because I want to keep this at a level where people understand what we do rather than how wonderful our products are; which they are.              

AssistEdge is an RPA product. It is a very good place for any organization to get started, and I'll tell you why. Many of the most tedious repetitive tasks which take up a lot of bandwidth, can be addressed if we employ RPA to remove that TDM. What that then does is it frees up people to do things that are more of higher value if you will. When people feel that they are working towards a greater mission, they are doing something of higher value, they would tend to not want to leave.               

Similarly, with automation, you can bring about a better way of doing certain things, which means you're improving processes or gaining efficiencies. These are very obvious benefits. They are what people would call Low Hanging Fruit. With automation, people understand it. They understand that I'm going to get a very tangible benefit from it. It's a very easy way for people to get started on the digital transformation journey. The interesting thing is, it requires quite a bit of discipline around data, and maintaining that discipline about how to manage and use your data.   

 

"When you start to apply data signs, and you start to look at things in machine learning, you are now able to get to those insights that might be very relevant to changing how you do business."       

 

Once organizations have become familiar with that, I think they are well on their way to taking advantage of the data that resides. Believe me, we have gobs and gobs - that's a technical word by the way for humongous, amounts of data, and only a few years ago we were saying “Oh we have a big data problem!”. I think now, data itself presents the solution, because if we have the right datasets, if we have huge samples, we can start to do some very amazing things with it, and that's where AI comes in.              

When you start to apply data signs, and you start to look at things in machine learning, you are now able to get to those insights that might be very relevant to changing how you do business. Make that with automation, and you have a very compelling argument for employing these technologies, because now you can not only improve your process by the insights you've gained, but those insights driven actions can be automated as well. Therefore, you have improved processes, you have removed redundancies, and you have made people's lives that much easier so they can focus on other more valued activities.

 

 

Suddenly you're moving up the scale. I think that is the promise of where automation can get people started on a journey that would otherwise be hard. If you think about it, if I were grappling with problems in my organization, and somebody said, “AI is the solution”, I would be scratching my head saying, “Where do I start? What do I do?”.

Frankly, nobody wakes up in the morning going “Today I must go get myself an AI platform”. Maybe there are some who say that, but for the most part, its like “How do I solve this problem?”

Seth Adler:                        

That's the way we should be thinking about it. I think its very interesting that in this conversation and the one I had with Atul, you both brought up retaining talent, and AI helping with retaining talent. Sure, there's cost savings to be had with FTA as you also mentioned. That's only one little piece. I love the fact that we are now really starting to have a conversation about how automation can help retain some of that best talent.

Puneet Suppal:                

We need to talk more about it. It's not very cool for people to start this gloom and doom kind of conversation that robots are going to take over, and our worlds' going to come to an end, and we are all going to be out of a job. Certain tasks will get eliminated, but jobs must still be done, and they must be done by human beings. The task that they do, a lot of that can be left to robots, virtual or real.

Seth Adler:                        

Yes, exactly, a Hollywood type of thing.

Puneet Suppal:                

Sometimes, as they say, fiction can be more stark and appear to be more real than reality itself!

Seth Adler:                        

That's kind of where we are. We happen to be talking in 2018. As 2019 becomes a reality, what are you seeing as happening?

Puneet Suppal:                

Last year, I wrote a piece about what's the best way to succeed with AI. My push was towards applying the platform approach. We saw that there were many out there who were talking about how they could work with unstructured data, how they could do natural language processing and understanding, how they could help with all sorts of bits and pieces of technology that would push the envelope further. If all of those could be brought together in a platform where they work synergistically with each other, then it would remove a lot of the extra layering and integration that would be required to be done. Hence, the platform approach.   

 

"Now that we have the ability to take advantage of AI and related technologies, now that we have the ability to work with these huge amounts of data, it's important that we  bring about the kind of value that previously was untapped."    

 

I am still a big believer in the platform approach, but I would say that I've learned over the past year that, again, back to my statement about nobody wanting to jump on to a platform, it was something that we already knew. What I've also learned is that people really need bite-sized ways of consuming the benefits of AI.

One of the other things we are doing, and this is the other aspect of what we offer at EdgeVerve, is a set of business applications that are very nimble, very agile, and can fit into almost any landscape without disrupting the existing landscape, and I mean technology landscape built using open standards. Built taking advantage of Infosys Nia, and taking advantage of AssistEdge. These applications can deliver value where, today, enterprises struggle because even though they may have a complete suite of supply chain related software from one of the major vendors. And believe me I have history with them as well, and I know they do an awesome job, but each company is unique in some ways, and there are certain quirks and nuances within each industry.       

When you bring those together, it creates for an interesting uniqueness that sometimes creates these little gaps that companies, if they could address those gaps, would be doing so much better. Not that they're doing terribly now, but now that we have the ability to take advantage of AI and related technologies, now that we have the ability to work with these huge amounts of data, it's important that we give them the ability to find insights, improve processes, and bring about the kind of value that previously was untapped.

In that regard, these applications that I'm talking about, if you can just drop them in, view them as something that drops in to an existing landscape, takes advantage of your source of data as it exists today, and bring about those insights, potentially even automating some of that and delivering value. We've done this for procurement, we've done this for finance, we've done this for logistics, we've done this for a whole range of things, and this is a growing suite of products that we have.

Seth Adler:                        

There we go! I know that you're a busy person, so we don't have too much time with you so I will ask you the three final questions. I'll tell you what they are, and then I'll ask you them in order.

Puneet Suppal:                

Can I reserve the right to not answer them, because something in your tone tells me this is going to be tricky.

Seth Adler:                        

They're different. I'll tell you what they all are and then I'll ask you them. What's most surprised you at work along the way? That should be easy enough. What's most surprised you in life? That's a little more difficult, and on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there. That is sometimes easy and sometimes is difficult. For the folks that really love music it's tough for them to find one song, so we can take a few songs if you need to, but first things first, what's most surprised you at work along the way?

Puneet Suppal:                

What surprised me was that no matter which part of the world people are, there are almost similar passions, ambitions, desires, and drives that drive them. I believe that if we connect with people first, the process and technology part fall in place.

Seth Adler:                        

That's it. Maybe there's clothing difference, there's always a food difference, which is to be celebrated, and of course music, it goes along with that, and language. Maybe even religion, but then that's about it. From there, you got the same thing, right?

Puneet Suppal:                

Absolutely, because many of these differences are artificial and manmade anyway.

 

"We will face many, many ups and downs, and life does throw us some interesting curve balls, but we must never stop believing in what drives us, what's at our core."

 

Seth Adler:                        

There we go, we'll leave that there. What's most surprised you in life?

Puneet Suppal:                

[laughing] Oh, boy! This is a little too personal, I don't think I want to talk about this!

Seth Adler:                        

You can choose to answer it philosophically, of course! How easy life is to live, or how difficult it turned out to be.

Puneet Suppal:                

Let me see if I can try to speak someone like Deepak Chopra. If we talk about our collective consciousness...

Seth Adler:                        

That's not bad.

Puneet Suppal:                

Okay, we won't go there. Tell you what, it's interesting to me how when we think about something, we as human beings tend to make things more complex than they are. Whether it's at work, or it's at your personal sphere, it's something that affects us and makes us function at a subpar level because we stand in our own way. I think that if we could just simplify things, as in take them as they come and be in the now, in the moment, that's the most important thing.

 

 

Sometimes in the moment we are thinking about the future and that's fine, but that is the task at hand. It has to be what has to be done now. We can not possibly take on everything at one time and make this bigger than it needs to be.

Seth Adler:                        

Learn from the past, prepare for the future, but be here now. Okay, so on the soundtrack of your life?

Puneet Suppal:                

Actually, I'm more of a movie guy. Can I tell you something about a movie?

Seth Adler:                        

Sure!

Puneet Suppal:                

My favorite character, how about that?

Seth Adler:                        

Yeah, sure!

Puneet Suppal:                

Yoda, from Star Wars.

Seth Adler:                        

Serious you must be.

Puneet Suppal:                

I love it! Love it I do. I'll tell you why. He has said some of the most amazing lines. Of course somebody wrote them, but the point is they make an impact if you think about them.

Seth Adler:                        

Can I put you on the spot and ask you for one?

Puneet Suppal:                

Sure. There was an incident, I'm trying to remember which film it was in, where he and Luke are having an exchange, a much younger Luke. They were trying to bring the what-you-may-call-it...

Seth Adler:                        

The spaceship?

Puneet Suppal:            

Yeah, out of the water. You know that one. When after trying so hard, Luke is unable to pull it out. Even after Yoda tells him to use the force. Yoda then does it. He employs a force, and out it comes, and Luke goes “I can't believe it!”. Yoda's response is “That is why you fail”.

Seth Adler:                        

That is a great lesson.

Puneet Suppal:                

Indeed, we must believe. No matter what we believe in, we must believe. and I think that is very important. It is true in life and it is true at work. Because we will face many, many ups and downs, and life does throw us some interesting curve balls, but we must never stop believing in what drives us, what's at our core. If we are true to that, I think we always come out ahead.

Seth Adler:                        

That's it, put the rudder in the water, and go.

Puneet Suppal:                

Absolutely.

Seth Adler:                        

Puneet, thank you so much for your time, I'm sure we will be checking in with you down the line.

Puneet Suppal:                

Thank you so much, and this was very enjoyable!

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