Virtual ways of doing business are now the norm: Unisys’ CTO
Vishal Gupta is the Senior Vice President, Products and Platforms, and Chief Technology Officer, responsible for driving Unisys’ Products and Platforms business through an integrated digital strategy for the company’s solutions. He was elected a Senior Vice President by the Board of Directors in July 2018.
He is responsible for driving Unisys' Products and Platforms business through an integrated digital strategy for the company's solutions, including products and services for foundational Unisys technologies such as Unisys Stealth security software and ClearPath Forward operating environments for high-intensity enterprise computing, as well as for vertical-industry applications.
He is also responsible for driving integration of new advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence/machine learning, blockchain, public cloud and software-as-a-service across Unisys' product and services offerings in order to deliver competitive advantage for Unisys' clients. Vishal draws on deep experience in software engineering in enterprise-technology and security solutions companies with complex client requirements, as well as his proven ability to bring innovative software solutions to market.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
On a global level, do you see a new tech infrastructure in the making that will help economies recoup after COVID-19?
No doubt, the COVID-19 crisis will drive innovation in “technology infrastructure”, as have previous human crises. I see three interesting areas to watch out for in the “new technology infrastructure.” The first is pervasive Virtual Reality. As physical experiences remain fraught with risk and people seek meaningful interaction that goes well beyond video, VR may go mainstream, finding use cases in areas like student learning and employee collaboration. Secondly, security becomes even more critical in a world where people work from unsecured environments with BYOD. The key, though, will be to secure users, endpoints, and networks with a minimum of customer friction and without adding huge layers of cost and complexity – something that will require extensive innovation. And finally, the massive increase of digital also gives rise to enormous new streams of data on, for example, customers, business processes, and buying patterns. Data analytics will now become a vital part of “technology infrastructure.”
How do you view the criticality of technology and digital innovation as organizations battle to come out of this crisis?
All of a sudden, across industries, we have been rudely dumped into a world where new, virtual ways of doing business have become the norm. Many business functions and processes that are common across industries are being radically transformed. Take sales for instance. In many industries and companies, sales (particularly B2B sales) has always been characterized as a high-touch, face-to-face, relationship activity. That model is rapidly being re-conceived and technology will play a critical role now. How does a sales person go from a physical sales-call model to a virtual model that is equally effective? Yes, video-conferencing is part of the answer. But there are many other aspects to this. How do we facilitate a highly confidential discussion between salesperson and customer without the threat of information being leaked or hacked or spied upon? How do we measure sales effectiveness? How do we enable remote customer demos in a flawless manner with minimum latency? How do we measure and maintain sales productivity in a virtual world? Technology will underpin all of this. And sales is just one of many areas that will see a complete rethink underpinned by technology.
What are some of the major shifts that you see as organizations continue to fast-track their digital agenda?
There are at least two big changes that we see now, which are fueled by businesses fast-tracking their digital agenda.
In the past, most companies had at most 10-20 percent of their employees working from home. That number has now jumped to 90-100 percent of employees for most companies in the last three months.
No one could have anticipated that this change could happen or the fact that employees can be so productive while working from home. Especially in big metros like Mumbai and Bengaluru, there is a significant time wasted in commuting which is now saved. Even a portion of that reinvested into work is driving not just the same but even higher productivity. Second, organizations are now getting even more open to embracing Cloud as they realize that Cloud will give them agility, enable faster business outcomes, and also suit the remote workforce model. Embracing Cloud is giving organizations access to compute and digital resources in minutes and hours vs. what could have taken weeks in the past, for IT to respond.
What are the top next-gen technologies that organizations will bet on most to thrive in the post-COVID-19 world?
I believe data is the new gold in the digital economy and protection of that data will not only be required from a compliance standpoint, it will also be critical to engender trust and so cybersecurity will be key. I also believe biometrics will continue to become even more important to ensure both convivence and security given credential harvesting is on the rise. I am a big believer in AI as well as AI will be key to make customer interactions intuitive, efficient, and effective and at Unisys, we have now embedded AI in four of our key offerings vs. none two years ago. We have seen that all the biggest global companies by market cap are big users of AI and that includes Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
Organizations are now getting even more open to embracing Cloud as they realize that Cloud will give them agility, enable faster business outcomes and also suit the remote workforce model
While more businesses are turning to tech to battle COVID, according to a study by Gartner, global IT spend will shrink 8% in 2020. How do you see this?
Even if one agrees with the research you quote that IT spend may see a decline, I believe this will be a temporary blip. The overall trajectory that we are observing is a massive and structural uptick in digital usage across industries and use cases. I refer to this as “digital intensity.” And I believe there is no turning back. Can a company that allowed its entire workforce to work from home for several months without productivity declines suddenly demand a return to the traditional office? We are already seeing that in some cases, digital models have overturned traditional assumptions like “we need to sell face to face” or we “we need home buyers to physically see and tour a home before they buy.” In a strange twist, COVID-19 has accelerated society’s acceptance and comfort with technology. This means, if anything, more IT spend in the years to come.
How do you see the security implications of the post-COVID-19 world because data will no longer be confined to corporate offices?
That is a great question. A post-COVID-19 world will bet big on a distributed workforce that works from where they want. Also, the post-COVID-19 world is going to bet big on the adoption of Cloud and it will be a Cloud-first world. It will also increasingly be a world that requires collaboration with a wide array of eco-system companies in order to accelerate innovation. To secure the digital enterprise in the post-COVID-9 world will require three key capabilities. First, given the distributed nature of the workforce, the perimeter based firewall solutions will become even more redundant and the need instead will be for Zero Trust solutions that massively reduce the attack surface and encrypt and protect the data, even if there is a breach and these are typically software based micro segmentation solutions. Two, there will be a need to authenticate people in a convenient and irrefutable manner and given that credential stealing is so rampant, I see a big opportunity for biometric-based identity solutions and that is sometimes called third factor authentication. Third, you want to provide the ability for folks to access any applications without having the challenges of VPN and also from any device they want. These solutions are typically called ZTNA or Zero Trust Network Access solutions and they can save cost and provide more flexibility and convenience and Stealth Always On Access is an example of these.
Remote work is increasing significantly and the reason for this is because organizations can see that remote workforce is able to not only deliver in many industries but it can even increase their productivity