AIIA.Net Benefactor Interview: Chinmoy Banerjee, Hexaware

Seth Adler

As I host the AI & Intelligent Automation podcast, I’m taking the opportunity to sit down with a thought leader from each organization to get a sense of each company’s thinking.

Next up is the EVP & Global Head of Business Process Services of Hexaware, Chinmoy Banerjee...

Seth: Now, I have to ask you, because now this is new information that has come to light for me. Sachin, right? You know who Sachin is...

Chinmoy B: Of course!

Seth: This guy - I believe he's an important guy.

Chinmoy B: A very, very important guy. He's the most important guy, one might say, for Indians, right?

Seth: The Michael Jordan of cricket. Is that fair? Or even better, maybe?

Chinmoy B: Even better for sure. Because Michael Jordan didn't have to have a one billion people rooting for him and the pressure that brings about as a result of that.

Seth: For the nation, right?

Chinmoy B: For the nation. He's amazing. There's a movie about him recently. I don't know if you caught it.

Seth: Yes! This is how I know him. I saw the movie.

Chinmoy B: All right! I saw it recently too on a recent flight.

Seth: It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Chinmoy B: Absolutely, absolutely.

Seth: I guess we could say that Hexaware's kind of doing the same type of thing, right? For the nation, but really for AI practitioners, for IA practitioners, if you want to automate, maybe we should turn to Hexaware. You guys might know what we're talking about. Is that fair?

Chinmoy B: Absolutely. You know, automation is such a big buzzword today, but we started off for, quite early, I would say, in 2014, 2015. One of the things that we picked up on is that everybody has the tools and technologies to automate, but the most important challenge that we thought for companies is to make the culture align for automation, right? Seth: Interesting.

Chinmoy B: The head of a unit or the CEO of the company, Keech, might say, "Hey, listen. You have to automate," but if the KPIs of everybody down the line are not aligned, and if you're going to get penalized for reducing revenues by cannibalizing through automation, then they are just not going to automate, right? So if we fix the culture first, and then came the tools and technologies.

Seth: Fix the culture first. Put that into, if you can, I know that you guys have a case study in ML, in machine learning.

Chinmoy B: Right.

Seth: Let's start there. Let's discuss that case study, and see if culture comes up.

Chinmoy B: Sure. The first thing is, before ML, you need a level of automation, otherwise machine learning doesn't work, right? So machine learning today is where RPA and other forms of automation was in 2015.

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: Right? So that's where we are in 2018. The case study in this instance is on trade finance, where you have ingest a lot of data using paper. Then once you ingest that, you'll have to do a lot of checks, right? These are high value items, millions and millions of dollars, so you can't afford to make mistakes. Traditionally, what happens in the process is somebody looks at an OCR, prints the OCR again, and then enters the data. Once the data is entered, it goes to his manager or team leader, who then looks at reams and reams of documents, and then makes sure that the documents is aligned to all the clauses in a bill of goods or what have you, when somebody is doing an export or an import. What we have done is we have created a not only, we are not only ingesting the data through the use of machine learning, we are also keying in the data automatically using RPA. Then we are getting the document checked using machine learning. We are building a confidence model, if you will, that allows the machine to keep learning continuously.

"Now if the culture is not there to automate, what are you doing? You are making the process less riskier, more straight through, right? But you are reducing your own revenues. Most BPOs bill on number of people."

In the initial period, you will have a human checker, but slowly as the confidence level increases to 95, 98, 99%, the checker goes away. Now if this job is being done by 100 people, let us say, doing doc check for export or import, that goes down substantially, reduces to 30, 40, people, right? Now if the culture is not there to automate, what are you doing? You are making the process less riskier, more straight through, right? But you are reducing your own revenues. Most BPOs bill on number of people.

Seth: You are reducing your own revenues.

Chinmoy B: We are reducing our own revenues.

Seth: Yes, exactly, right.

Chinmoy B: But the way it works for us is, because we are at a certain size, so last year we closed at about 600, 607 million, because we are a certain size, we feel that if we do right by the customer, we will gain much more, not only from that customer, but other customers as well.

Seth: Of course.

Chinmoy B: That needs a culture change.

Seth: Yes. So that's a culture change for you and for the client. In the example that you just gave, how do you prepare that organization for saving that much FTE and maybe hopefully upscaling those other workers to other jobs. How do you play culturally?

Chinmoy B: Yeah, so the first thing is that the alignment has to come from the C suite, not only from us. From our side, we have it, but from the customer side, is the COO prepared? Is the CIO prepare? Are the operations and the IT in the client organization aligned, right? Because in most cases, they are not, because even today many organizations have a separate head of operations and a separate head of IT, both of them reporting to the CEO. So you have an issue there. That alignment is important. The second thing is that there are a lot of people who've been doing the same process for 20 years. They have this bias that, "Hey, listen, I tried it. It didn't work."

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: "I don't believe in this cool technology stuff," right? "It's all BS."

Seth: Yeah, "I've already been there."

Chinmoy B: "I've already been there." It's just they're scarred if you will. That needs to change as well, right? So change management becomes a very important thing, to tell them that, "Hey, listen. If this goes away, a lot of grunt work that you've been doing over 20 years goes away, and then you can actually use your knowledge to better the process," right? So giving them the limelight, if you will, right? Co-creating that change and its solution with the customer is key, because these are new technologies. It needs a lot of faith, right? And it needs a lot of collaboration to work on it. Two years down the line, you don't, but today you do, right?

Seth: Yeah.

Chinmoy B: Like RPA today, everybody or most everybody believes in RPA, but not so much in ML and AI, right?

The underlying platforms are not there. That needs to be looked at as well. It's not like RPA, which is more non-intrusive. ML is very intrusive, so you have to look at a lot of data, a lot of learning, and hence collaboration becomes even more important. Seth: Absolutely. As we get to this next step, you guys are already there, of course. As other folks come with you, you mentioned your BPO and that you are changing the way that your organization thinks. It's disruptive. It's disruptive to the client. It's disruptive to you. Hexaware as disrupters, speak to that concept.

Chinmoy B: Right. As I said, this started about 2014, I would say, led by Keech who is our global CEO. Essentially what we started off initially was saying that we will do shrink IT, which it is, as its name sounds, is shrink technology, right?

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: And grow digital. Late last year, we made the pivot and said, "Now, will go to market using three levers." We said we will cloudify everything, put everything to cloud. We will automate everything, right? The last one is called customer experience transformation, right? So that's how we are going to market and disrupting. The various units of the organization, and we were talking about it, BPO is one such, where we have 5,000 people, all will go to market under these three umbrellas. So as cloudify everything, you don't have to explain. Put everything on cloud. Everybody is doing that. Automate everything is ML, RPA, fix the underlying platforms, but do it across various layers. We are saying start at the customer experience layer. What does implementing ML mean for the end customer? He is able to get back his documents in four hours rather than two days. Then we look at the process layer using RPA and such. So instead of making 20 mistakes - because I'm a human and because it's a bot - it probably makes a couple of mistakes, because it falls down sometimes.

Seth: Sure.

Chinmoy B: The next layer is the application layer, you know, change underlying application itself. That's we have a platform called Raise IT that looks at that. The last layer is the infrastructure layer. We're basically looking at it at four layers overall. Three things, cloudify everything, automate everything, and finally you're talking about customer experience transformation, but across four layers, customer experience, the business process, the application and the infrastructure, right?

Seth: Yes.

Chinmoy B: Customers are benefiting because, you know we usually win business against the large legacy providers, as we say, people who are 10 billion, $20 billion in revenues, who have the technology, but feel it very difficult to make the cultural change, right? Plus they are not focused on many customers, because unless some customer has $50 million or more for them, it's not as important, as opposed to us. We are able to play in that segment. Also, because we are at a 'Goldilocks stage', if you will, right? We are so small that we have made the pivot in terms of doing right by all our existing customers, have a bunch of case studies. At the same time, we are not as small as we were. We are still $600 million in revenue, that don't have the capabilities to make the pivot. Hope that answers your question.

Seth: It does. You talked about automate. You talked about cloudify. That almost explains itself. What about transform?

"20 years ago or 30 years ago, when banks introduced ATMs, lot of people had to change. It's a journey that keeps on happening, so that is how we transform."

Chinmoy B: Sure. Transform, again, is using various levers. We use, for transformation, for example, using automate everything, right? Or you could do customer experience transformation as well, right? From a BPO perspective, given that I lead BPO, if you look at back office, right? The way we transform it is we automate first, right? But we don't automate a broken process. We will first fix the process, and then automate it. Automation, the goal is not to reduce headcount. The goal is to see how can the end customer of that particular client benefit in terms of him getting his stuff back faster, we not making so many mistakes, and so on and so forth. How do you reduce risk? That's how we transform, using automation as one of the levers. The second part of transformation is how do I get people skilled up, right? It's not only in my organization. It is easy in my organization, because I'm hiring afresh, because I'm getting new business. But for existing customers, how do we partner with them and, especially the middle managers, how do you upscale them? What kind of training do they need to do, and so on and so forth. Because it's a change, right? 20 years ago or 30 years ago, when banks introduced ATMs, lot of people had to change. It's a journey that keeps on happening, so that is how we transform.

Seth: Excellent. Okay. You and I are sitting here in North America, happens to be New Jersey.

Chinmoy B: Sure.

Seth: Thanks for having me. Most of the team that I've been working with at Hexaware is based in India.

Chinmoy B: Right.

Seth: So you guys are obviously global. As far as APAC as a focus, tell me about the work that you've done, the work that you're doing, and how that APAC market is unique.

Chinmoy B: Right. When you look at APAC, APAC is a pretty big market. In fact, our global delivery centers, since you mentioned that, we also deliver out of the US, increasingly so. We deliver out of Russia. We deliver out of multiple centers in Europe and UK as well. We are essentially global, if you will, but of course our delivery footprint, largely still remains India for traditional reasons. Now, if you look at the Indian market, India itself is one of the hottest and fastest growing market overall. It's a proven fact. Everybody knows it. So for example, we started working with a global company which competes with an Amazon in India. Not an Amazon, but somebody who competes with Amazon. A eCommerce company that's actually bigger than Amazon today.

Seth: Sure. I've a couple names going in the Rolodex, right?

Chinmoy B: Yeah. It's about 500, 700 people. Also, India is a very hot market across operations and across customer service. The challenge in India, though, is if you want to automate, your automation tools have to be really economical, because the labor in India is already at a certain cost. If you have to automate and reduce the labor, then you need to really make the technology work. Hence, you look at technologies that are homegrown and not really the big names that are usually used in the US or Europe.

Seth: Off the shelf.

Chinmoy B: Off the shelf.

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: Right? The second big market that we are going after is Australia. Australia is very much like the US. The costs are very high. The mentality of the buyers are also very much like the US. These two markets are very hot. The third market that we are going after is the Middle East. That's a very hot market in terms of automation today, I would say even hotter than India. People are not afraid to pay. They have the money and the cash, but they want to reduce risk. They want to automate. They want to be world class, best in class, like the US or Europe. I just came back, as I said, from Dubai, where we were talking to a few institutions. Automation is very, very hot there. I anticipate 2019 and beyond, Middle East will be a big hot market for us.

Seth: Look at that. All right, next time you go back to Dubai, I'll hop on the plane with you.

Chinmoy B: Sure.

Seth: Rewatch the Sachin movie.

Chinmoy B: Movie.

Seth: You and your team have a phrase that you use. Don't talk, automate. There's many folks that are talking about automation and doing it, but doing it through talking. You guys are almost, I almost get the sense you're frustrated by all the talking. Don't talk, automate. What do we mean?

Chinmoy B: We mean execute, right? Because as I said, everybody has the tools today. But do they actually go ahead and execute? They don't. We see a huge opportunity there. Our bias is towards action and execution. You used a term fail fast. That's what we use all the time. When we introduce something, we either succeed, we have a proof point, we have customers, we have something to show, or we fail fast. What we see is that the way we are able to look ... For example, a big four consulting firm charges 100K, 200K what have you to do an assessment. We probably do it for 5K, because we've figured out how to templatize that and do it very quickly. Then, we can then, by the time somebody finishes the study, we would have deployed five bots from an automation perspective, finished a proof of concept. Speed and agility, and the startup culture and mentality, is what BPO and Hexaware overall prides itself on.

Seth: You mentioned that the revenues and how you do have scale, but you keep coming back to the fact that the mindset is of a startup.

Chinmoy B: Yes, absolutely. The ability to pivot very quickly, the ability to fail fast, and also empower people. As I said, I have about 5,000 people, but I still feel that everybody is empowered truly. They know that if they fail, that it's [inaudible 00:16:19], but if they succeed, the sky's the limit.

Seth: Empowered to fail.

Chinmoy B: Empowered to fail. Empowered to just do it.

Seth: Which leads to greater success.

Chinmoy B: Greater success and confidence. Give people more confidence. So culture again is so key for us.

"I think Nordics is a big market. They are getting increasingly interested in automation. They don't care what tools you use, as long as you help them with end goals."

Seth: Absolutely key. Okay. As we now look to 2019, you mentioned Middle East as a specific growth market. What else should we be expecting.This is a big question, so answer it how you like. What should we be expecting in 2019?

Chinmoy B: Right. From a markets perspective, I think we continue to focus a lot on US and Europe, but if you look at niche areas, I think Middle East, I said already, from APAC perspective. From Europe, I think Nordics is a big market. In the US, the second tier, if I might call it that. Not the enterprise class, $50 billion companies, but companies worth $10 billion or lower. They are getting increasingly interested in automation. They don't care what tools you use, as long as you help them with end goals. So that becomes a big focus for us from market perspective.

Seth: Within budget, of course.

Chinmoy B: Within budget, of course. Within budget, of course, because these things are expensive to implement. From a focus perspective, I think the three layers I laid out, customer experience transformation especially would be a big focus area for us, because most of the automation today that we're doing is in the back office side. This year and the next two, three years, we'll focus a lot on the customer service side of the world. So for example, the market is very large. It's over $100 billion in size. It is not automated at all, apart from the IVRs. We focusing a lot on end to end integration of that, so chat bots as an example, looking at voice bots. How do you actually deflect a call from the call center into a customer's home, where you can just address Alexa and answer, his queries get answered. We've got a bunch of proof of concepts going on now. That's a big focus for 2019 and 20.

Seth: To put you on the spot, and feel free not to answer, but I wonder when is it that the IVR becomes the VCR, meaning just completely out of date. Do you see that in a ...

Chinmoy B: I would say the IVR will first morph into a lot of voice bot capability. I think that's some time to go, because it's customer experience, so people, clients, are very reluctant to take the people out of the equation.

Seth: Sure.

Chinmoy B: But I, as I said, I was in Dubai recently, and somebody has a call center. He says, "Why don't you implement technology so that it becomes zero people?"

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: Maybe it doesn't become zero.

Seth: Of course not.

Chinmoy B: Maybe you still have five, ten. But that's where people want to go.

Seth: Set the goal here.

Chinmoy B: Set the goal here.

Seth: Looking at that, what do we wind up with?

Chinmoy B: Exactly. So customer experience transformation, big deal for us. ML and AI, big deal for us.

Seth: Sure.

Chinmoy B: Again, ML is something that we're already seeing this year. We are increasingly wanting to go into AI as we move into 2019 and 20. The tools and technologies are out there, but they're not industry class yet.

Seth: We talked about ML. When you separate ML from AI, an argument would be that ML is part of ... whatever.

Chinmoy B: It is. It is absolutely. As I said, it's a little hazy like that.

Seth: Exactly, but when you say AI in 2019, what are you thinking? What does that mean?

"We will use what Google or Amazon comes up with, and what Watson's IBM comes up with. But even today, when you look at ML/AI, nobody is still taking out the checker function. That itself is a huge deal."

Chinmoy B: Hopefully, we will have the confidence level so high that we can completely eliminate the checker functions in a few areas. That becomes very robust artificial intelligence, if you will, right?

Seth: Sure.

Chinmoy B: Then I'm still not talking all the fancy stuff that most people are seeing, because we're more focused on execution. We will use what Google or Amazon comes up with, and what Watson's IBM comes up with. But even today, when you look at ML/AI, nobody is still taking out the checker function. That itself is a huge deal.

Seth: That's a step change.

Chinmoy B: That's a step change. So for people to get the confidence, because even if you make one mistake and it's $100 million ticket size, you're essentially up a bad place.

Seth: Yeah. You can't. That's it, yeah.

Chinmoy B: So that's where I think we should absolutely go to in 2019, 20.

Seth: Excellent. Thank you for that. We'll obviously be checking in with you throughout and at that time. For now, I've got three final questions.

Chinmoy B: Okay.

Seth: I'll tell you what they are. I'll ask you them in order.

Chinmoy B: Okay.

Seth: What's most surprised you at work? What's most surprised you in life? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there. But first things first. What's most surprised you at work along the way? We really didn't talk about your career so much. We have spoken about Hexaware. What's most surprised you at work?

Chinmoy B: Throughout my career?

Seth: Sure.

Chinmoy B: Well, I have not been too surprised, because I've made a lot of pivots. I started off in banking. I moved to consulting, and then I moved to BPO and outsourcing.

Seth: This makes sense to me.

Chinmoy B: Yeah. Because when I moved in 2004, it seemed like a sunrise sector where you could to do cool stuff, right?

Seth: Yup.

Chinmoy B: What's really surprised me is the slow pace of change that's still out there. It's surprising.

Seth: Many people say, well, how fast it changes.

Chinmoy B: No.

Seth: Why do yousay how slow it changes?

Chinmoy B: Yeah, because again, our bias towards execution, because it's a lot of talk, talk, talk.

Seth: I see.

Chinmoy B: When it actually comes to execution, people are still very scared to make the pivot.

Seth: The buzzwords change quickly-

Chinmoy B: The buzzwords change quickly.

Seth: But what about the execution?

Chinmoy B: Yes. You had a lot of eCommerce and stuff in 2000. You have a lot of RP and robotics now, but hey, RP penetration's still 5%.

Seth: Right.

Chinmoy B: Right? So if everybody's doing it and everybody has got millions of bots, why is it 5%? That's really surprising. I was hoping that people would adapt faster. They're not, right? So that's what surprised me at work, if you will.

Seth: Yeah. What's most surprised you in life?

Chinmoy B: I changed a lot after my kids have come into my life. I was much more...what can I say? 'Me, me' and aggressive, and all of that. I've completely changed, especially after my daughter came into my life 13 years ago. I've become a better man, a better father, a better everything, a better husband. I never saw that coming.

Seth: Got it.

Chinmoy B: I never saw that coming.

Seth: Just elevated the whole thing with the two kids, right?

Chinmoy B: Yes, absolutely.

Seth: All right.

Chinmoy B: On the last one, on the song?

Seth: Yes.

Chinmoy B: I don't have an answer.

Seth: Well we could do-

Chinmoy B: We could do sports!

Seth: Well, that's what  thought! I think we did Sachin, Sachin, Sachin. I think that's the song?

Chinmoy B: Yeah, that's beautiful. That's beautiful. I still have tears in my eyes after I watched this. I grew up watching Sachin, because we are almost the same age. That's absolutely, cricket is religion for me. The second biggest thing is tennis.

Seth: Ah ha!

Chinmoy B: I love Nadal. I am not a Federer fan. I love Federer, but I'm not a Federer fan. I am a Nadal guy.

Seth: Got it.

Chinmoy B: That's a big religion for me too.

Seth: Trying to remember, for me the tennis thing that I, really the only thing I remember, and this is way back, but you'll remember it. I don't know where it was, but Yannick Noah-

Chinmoy B: Of course.

Seth: Going backwards and then hitting it under his legs, and then winning the point, right?

Chinmoy B: And Federer has made that into his own shot after that. Yannick Noah, he won the French Open once, yeah?

Seth: That's it. This has been a pleasure, Chinmoy, and I'm looking forward to checking in with you down the line.

Chinmoy B: Thank you, Seth. Hope this was useful.

Seth: Absolutely!

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