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The time has come to embrace digital transformation: Sunil Vachani

At the recently concluded Forbes India Leadership Awards, the executive chairman of Dixon Technologies along with other company heads spoke about leadership in times of disruption, and how technology 4.0 is here to stay

Published: Mar 12, 2024 02:35:00 PM IST
Updated: Mar 12, 2024 03:18:19 PM IST

The time has come to embrace digital transformation: Sunil Vachani(L-R): Manu Balachandran, associate editor, Forbes India; Sashank Rishyasringa, co-founder and CEO of Axio; Rishi Das, CEO and co-founder of IndiQube; Sunil Vachani, executive chairman of Dixon Technologies. Image: Forbes India

In recent times, we have witnessed a raging pandemic, two wars, economic volatility, supply chain disruptions, and lately, the advent of artificial intelligence. And during such disruptions, what matters is exceptional leadership.

To discuss how leaders navigate these uncertainties and inspire their teams to overcome obstacles, Forbes India’s associate editor, Manu Balachandran, invited Sunil Vachani, executive chairman, of Dixon Technologies, along with Sashank Rishyasringa, co-founder and CEO of Axio, and Rishi Das, the CEO and co-founder of IndiQube, for a panel discussion during the 13th edition of the Forbes India Leadership Awards held on March 7, 2024.

The leaders started by shedding light on the biggest disruptions they’ve witnessed in their sectors. In the financial services or the fintech space, it is the growth of the digital public infrastructure, said Rishyasringa of Axio, a tech-first financial platform. “The public sector has changed the game by creating the best digital public infrastructure for financial services that we see anywhere in the world today.”

Vachani, on the other hand, recounted the time when Dixon Technologies was doing road shows ahead of its IPO and investors were wondering if the electronic manufacturing services sector is prone to disruptions.

“My honest answer then was that the technology in our sector—information and communication technologies (ICT)—has changed a lot. For instance, take LED televisions as a category. We moved from a CRT television to plasma television, then to an LED, and now to OLED, and maybe something new ahead. So, while technology changes, the manufacturing setup per se does not have to undergo a major transformation,” Vachani said. And he stressed, “What's going to change will be important for any leader to process and embrace is digital transformation. Industry 4.0 is here to stay.”

Also read: India needs more discipline and world-class financial institutions: Uday Kotak at FILA 2024

Das of IndiQube, a co-working space, recalled how the workspace sector was one of the most affected during Covid-19. “Will people ever require offices?” was the question he’d often get asked, he recounted. “Generations of people were going where work was. Now, work is going where people are and that’s a big disruption in this sector.”

Among the other changes he has observed post-Covid-19 are the emergence of distributed offices, people willing to go back to the office, and an increase in focus on office spaces by the top leadership to get employees back. “The growth in tier 2 cities is tremendous, as well as India’s performance in commercial spaces compared to places like the US,” Das said.

While disruptions are part of the learning curve, they also bring about changes that leaders can either resist or adapt to. Among the biggest changes from disruptions in the electronic manufacturing field, Vachani believes, is the shift in mindset. At one point, the bureaucracy and entrepreneurs believed that electronic manufacturing was not going to happen in India.

“Now, we believe that India will be the next hub for manufacturing in the world,” Vachani said.

“And, going forward, we need another mindset change. We need to start looking at global competitiveness. Gone are the days when you could look at setting up a factory for catering to just 5 percent of the domestic market. You have to look at large scale,” he added. He also said that while we should continue to focus on make-in-India, we'll also have to emerge as a nation that is churning out products and solutions.

Rishyasringa mentioned that, unlike any other sector in tech, finance has risk and it has compliance. “The problem with this credo of moving fast and breaking things is when you break things in financial services, you die. And one of my learnings from the last few years is half the job in building financial services in India is not dying. If you survive, you have a bright future ahead of you,” he said.

On the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), Vachani said he foresees it to play a very big role as far as manufacturing is concerned, especially in the manufacturing execution system—a software system that monitors, tracks, documents and controls the process of manufacturing goods from raw materials to finished products.

Also read: 'If I had to make My Name is Khan or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna today...': Karan Johar at FILA 2024

As far as the fintech space is concerned, Rishyasringa said machine learning and AI have been around but there are still a few years till they can bring things like judgment and the ability to make life-and-death decisions in a business context. “When that tipping point happens, financial services are in for a ride,” he said. "I'm tempted to say it's a bit overhyped right now.”

On the kind of transformation they expect to see in the next few years, Das said that sustainability is not going to be a pipe dream anymore and is an important aspect to consider amid the ongoing climate crisis. “It is achievable. Covid-19 taught us all to focus on the environment, and health, and we're working very hard towards it with visible results," said Das.

Another crisis he sees coming is AI eating up jobs. “What we’re seeing in the IT sector is not a slowdown, it is AI systematically taking over our jobs and I think that this will be one of our biggest problems going ahead,” Das said.

To conclude, Rishyasringa said one of the biggest disruptions that could happen is the risk-taking ability of the capital markets. “Traditionally, we have been a conservative economy, which has meant a high reliance on more conservative mechanisms to raise financing like banks, and it has in some ways raised the risks of entrepreneurship. But capital is still very concentrated. There are a handful of lenders or a handful of investors,” he remarked.

Therefore, to truly become an economy of risk-takers and a nation of entrepreneurship, we're going to have to become a country that becomes more comfortable with risk.

“And the only way that's going to happen is if we create those mechanisms that could spread risk over larger pools of investors,” Rishyasringa said. “And, if that disruption happens, I think the sky's the limit, and most importantly, it will to some extent release us from this dependence on foreign capital.”

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