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In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video interview, Mike Vizard talks with Dinesh Varadharajan, chief product officer for Kissflow, about why there needs to be more focus on operational transformation if digital business transformation initiatives are to really succeed.



Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video series. I’m your host Mike Vizard. Today we’re here with Dinesh Varadharajan, who is chief product officer for Kissflow, and we’re talking about the trouble with digital business transformation, these days. Dinesh, welcome to the show.

Dinesh Varadharajan: Thank you, Michael, pleasure being part of the show.

Mike Vizard: For every one digital transformation project that succeeds, there’s probably 20 or more that have failed. We saw a huge number of these projects kick off in the Covid-19 pandemic, ’cause everybody was trying to figure out what they were gonna do next. But from your perspective, what are you seeing that people are doing consistently that maybe, you know, are at the root cause of why there are so many of these project failures?

Dinesh Varadharajan: I’ll probably start with an example. Assume that you are running a 20-year-old car, so, you want to modernize what you’re driving and everything, so you end up changing the engine. You get a very, very powerful engine, and you change the body of the car – very modern. But many times, we don’t change the drivetrain. Drivetrain literally gets the power from the engine and pass it on to all, so even though you change the engine to have a very fancy body, the car still goes at the same speed. That’s what pretty much happens with all organizations. The systems are that body of the car, right, you have a very modern application changing whatever you put in the system.

And you also change the core systems that are in the business, right, that’s the engine of your car. But we never touch the applications that run the business operations, right, that’s the drivetrain, that’s invisible. No one really cares about that, but what actually runs the whole car aspect, right? That’s the challenge, right now. Pretty much any business that gets into this digital transformation, they forget transforming the operational, the middleware that holds the business together.

Mike Vizard: There has been a divide between business and IT for as long as anybody can remember. Is that part of the issue, here, is that the business kind of assumes that they can do certain things based on what they see in maybe the consumer world, only to discover that, you know, they have this large amount of legacy technical depth that they haven’t really addressed?

Dinesh Varadharajan: Yeah, it’s quite natural, as well, because xx bandwidth, it’s extremely limited, right? And many times, it actually goes into xx the customer-facing applications and the core systems, and the business xx gets into huge backlog because they don’t have the bandwidth, right? So, that also results in the shadow IT, because business want hardware, right? They have figured out their own ways. And IT is not really happy about it, because they ___ what business is doing, right? So, this divide is quite natural, because they have different priorities, and businesses don’t normally know all the business needs. And businesses always try to push their priorities or do something on their own, to get things done.

Mike Vizard: We hear a lot about low-code tools, low-code tools, business process management, all kinds of interesting things around robotics process automation. Are these things that, you know, need to be implemented first before we start the visual transformation process? ‘Cause it seems like maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse a lot of the time.

Dinesh Varadharajan: True, to a very large extent, because if you look at the spectrum, IT spectrum in any enterprise, you’ll have, like, the core system that are only, like, ten percent of the business applications. The 80 percent is what we call the long applications, and all these applications that are consumed by the business. So, unless you ___ the business to automate many of these applications themselves, whatever initiatives that you take to cater to the core systems are the end user-facing systems, right? So, if you enable business, to manage all these applications, that is a good first step.

Mike Vizard: Who’s in charge of kind of leading this technology conversation? ‘Cause you see that there’s chief digital officers, per se, or there’s somebody who’s on the business side, but who’s their corollary on IT that kind of understands this conversation and kind of turns this vision into an everyday reality?

Dinesh Varadharajan: I’m seeing a new set of growth that is emerging in the last, at least post-Covid, called chief transformation officers, right? So, people who are responsible for digital transformation in these big enterprises, and in many, right? So, they understand citizen development, they understand this is the only way to move forward, so they are looking at tools that can enable them to empower the business uses to pretty much manage what they are doing every day, so they can focus on the mission critical or business critical functions. So CAOs and the digital transformation officers are the ones who are responsible for this.

Mike Vizard: Is there something you see successful IT leaders doing that helps them kind of manage this whole process and this transition, that you wish that more IT leaders would do?

Dinesh Varadharajan: Like, a lot of visionary, right? Again, one thing that is very, very particular, because they know that’s what’s running the business. Even though it’s, like, not in the forefront, but they are the ones that actually run the business. So this priority is actually getting the tools, right? Which allows the business to manage. So it is about taking a significant part of the workflow and dedicating that to IT in their business, right, that’s what these visionary IT leaders are doing right now. And I’m seeing a significant trend, a lot of other IT leaders are also following this aspect, but I wish more IT leaders understand the importance of delegation and co-creation, along with business, as well.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that IT leaders are overestimating the capabilities of their legacy platforms, and not realizing that they need to kind of essentially add a whole new layer of IT middleware to kind of make those things more accessible and more flexible for the business as a whole?

Dinesh Varadharajan: They understand the challenge, they understand, they know they need to move out of legacy, because suddenly accelerated the transformation, right? Because the legacy systems are not _____ to the remote working model that we have right now in many of these organizations, so there is a sudden urge to transform everything. So, at least they are clear about that right now, just that they are not really clear about how to actually go forward in this transformation, right? Of course, there are a lot of no-code, low-code tools that are in the market right now, but low-code, no-code is the new cloud, right, every tool is no-code, low-code. So they need to literally choose the low-code, no-code tool that caters to citizen development, right? So, right now, there are a lot noise in the market, so they need to be very particular about choosing the tool that enables them in this transformation.

Mike Vizard: Do I need to pair those citizen developers up with professional developers? ‘Cause sometimes, you know, a citizen developer may not appreciate what it takes to run something at scale, they may not appreciate, necessarily, what it takes to get something that looks good from a graphical perspective, or, for that matter, secure. So, can I turn these people loose, or should I have some sort of guardrails in place?

Dinesh Varadharajan: They already have governments in place, but again, it’s either citizen development or professional development, right? But it actually allows citizen developers to develop 80 percent and then the professional developers develop 20 percent of that never gets done. Because, again, it gets into the titration, right, because the business won’t be able to exactly translate what they need to IT, and IT will actually deliver something, and the business always has infinite titration, right? So, your platform can enable citizen developers to complete end-to-end application development, nothing like it, right? So, they want it, and they get into to what we call is an IT effect. Because if business gives their equipment to IT, they always go back with new changes, right, because they weren’t able to communicate what they need to IT.

But if business wants the implementation 100 percent, they are absolutely okay with delivering something that is not complete, right? They’re absolutely okay to make changes and improve what they are doing, as well, right? So, they want it and they are responsible for adoption. So, the IT should let the business know what they are developing, but they should actually share aspects, right? They should know that they need to have completely submitted to what is happening, and they need to take care of security, and they need to take care of privacy. Because end users might actually send data to other systems, all right, and they might also get information from users, which they shouldn’t actually xx as part of their application. So, the platform should actually provide the governance layer to IT, and complete implementation and control to the business, to run their functions, aspect, right, xx.

Mike Vizard: Right, ’cause otherwise, it seems like the citizen developer, over time, will come divorced from their effort, and they won’t take control of it and they won’t manage it. So maybe the key to this thing is to make sure those people understand that if they build it, they own it, right?

Dinesh Varadharajan: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. But the most interesting part is we have customers with thousands of business users using the product, but again, many of them want it, they’ll really want it. In the sense that, if there are issues, they try to solve it themselves without relying on IT. But we don’t want IT to give control, because business don’t understand certain aspects of the application, which may actually put the whole organization in trouble, right? So, the IT should have complete visibility, but the business, the xx we need to have, like, guardrails to prevent business from making these mistakes, right? That’s the responsibility of the platform xx.

Mike Vizard: All right, folks, well, you heard it here, the relationship between business and IT is changing, arguably, for the better; it just may take a little time and patience. Dinesh, thanks for being on the show.

Dinesh Varadharajan: Yeah, pleasure, it’s a really nice conversation, Michael. Thanks for having me here.

Mike Vizard: All right, and thank you for all watching this latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. You can find this episode on the site, along with others. And once again, thanks for spending some time with us.

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