The standard operating procedure in most, but not all, technology companies is that they have a solution (or sometimes a box) while looking at a problem. In other words, they have products and try to force-fit those solutions to address some pain points. And then, of course, there is "my box is bigger and better than his box" syndrome.
Bridgital Nation does exactly the opposite. Perhaps for the first time, one of India's major business leaders (N. Chandrasekaran wrote the book with Roopa Purushothaman) has come up with a pragmatic and implementable solution for one of India's most pressing challenges - namely, jobs and digital transformation - via a unique bridgital model. But the irony could not be starker. How do you thrive, or at least begin to understand, a world that is getting more and more interconnected because of technology, and still operates in silos as everyone is becoming more and more protectionist?
At the heart of the book is a fundamental belief that we have an impatient India and time is not on our side to throw more money at the problem or create more capacity for more jobs. Instead, the book reimagines automation, not as a zero or one binary problem but as the facilitator of jobs in the 'missing middle' in both traditional and service sectors.
How can technology bridge the gap between the overwhelming demand for top-quality services and an overwhelming supply of human capital? Or, as the bridgital strategy argues, how can automation work with humans in synergistic ways to help the latter serve their clients in superior ways? What is left unsaid is that India's digital transformation requires deeper engagement between the government and the private sector in every possible dimension. For example, there are interesting start-ups which solve tough public problems such as non-functional streetlights, potholed roads or access to temporary jobs and workers. But the government's minimum prequalification criteria often exclude them from working with the authorities. Nevertheless, it is eminently doable (and doable quickly) to design a social media citizen command centre to invite (from any and every online platform and thus solve the issue of easy access to the government) a list of citizen grievances, direct the same to appropriate authorities, chase them and ensure redressal.
What intrigues me most are the small cases studies, no more than three-four pages each, which introduce us to several real-life protagonists - Amit, Jasleen, Saju and Nikhil, to name a few. Helped by simple tech tools, their entrepreneurial talent has solved everyday problems of teeming millions.
Chandrasekaran's blueprint also bridges the gap between government and governance in simple yet innovative ways. Consider this: A bridgital cluster can operate as a platform of platforms and provide district-level entrepreneurs access to services. As India has a single online platform or service for delivering passports or MCA21 or income-tax e-filing (all implemented by TCS when Chandra was its CEO) or a centralised IT processing centre (set up by Infosys), there is no reason why it cannot have a 'one nation, one platform' for entrepreneurs to change the red tape to red carpet.
My only gripe: Apart from the small case studies, the book could have included the transformational work done by other companies in India and abroad. For instance, Mastek helps with congestion pricing in London through its cameras and algorithms and Onward has automated NABARD's (National Bank For Agriculture and Rural Development's) rural branches. Besides, it could have given the readers a sneak peek into what the much-anticipated Tata Digital's distinctive charter and strategy are likely to be in a world where each organisation wants to be labelled as a digital company.
Chandrasekaran has the unique advantage of first leading TCS to great heights and then heading the $145 billion Tata Group (I think only General Electric comes close to it in terms of scale and market cap), thus observing both digital and real worlds at close quarters. So, his blueprint might be just right for the Indian government, which is pushing the power of digital technology across all quarters for rapid implementation and better engagement. We are all waiting for the action to unfold.
Co-Founder and CEO, Capillary Technologies, an India and Singapore-based CRM and retail tech start-up operating globally.
For you, is reading for business or pleasure?
At first, I used to read books like Built to Last and Good to Great, which gave me a lot of insights. But then, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Secret were some of the books I grew up with. So, for me, reading is a mix of knowledge and fun.
What are you reading now?
Books by Ben Horowitz. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Based on his experience, Horowitz does his best to fill the knowledge gap of other CEOs regarding founding, managing, buying and selling and investing in tech companies. Hard Thing offers practical wisdom needed to navigate through some of the toughest problems which B-schools do not cover. I also want to read his next book, What You Do Is Who You Are.
One book you can't forget.
What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack. What matters more than numbers and excel sheets are personal interactions and self-discipline. To be successful, you not only have to recognise the foibles of others but also your own. If you focus on quality and timeliness, you are sure to make things work. The book shares details of high-profile business people, and it is eye-opening how many of them came from non-business backgrounds.
One book all CEOs must read
Business Adventures by John Brooks. CEOs can discover 12 surprising and entertaining case studies which feature insights into some significant moments of business history.
As told to Sanghamitra Mandal.