Neha Pareek leads IBM’s people & culture agenda in Southeast Asia, covering a highly diverse set of countries and businesses. In the current role, Neha is focused on strengthening and accelerating the leadership, skills and engagement charter to drive IBM’s success in the ASEAN region.
Prior to this role, in the capacity of chief of staff to the GM of IBM Asia Pacific, Neha ran many large-scale HR programs touching inclusion, diversity, skills and employee experience. She designed and co-led a bold campaign on "Speak Up, Speak Out" covering 120,000 employees to generate awareness about IBM's zero tolerance policy on unethical behavior and harassment.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the new tech infrastructure in the making globally that will eventually help organizations rebound after COVID-19?
If anything, the current crisis accelerates and accentuates the adoption of Cloud and AI for all industries and sectors. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna cited hybrid cloud and AI as "the two dominant forces driving digital transformation – the basis for competitive advantage in the 21st century" and "every company will become an AI company". These technology platforms will determine how quickly companies can pivot to new market opportunities, how well companies serve their clients, how much they can scale, and how fast they can respond to a crisis like the one we're facing today.
The pandemic has been a 'turning point' for many Governments, industries, and businesses across the globe, as the disruption and uncertainty caused by the crisis has accelerated the digital transformation that for many was already underway
What's your take on the different and sometimes divergent strategies organizations are embracing to adapt to the rapidly changing business condition amid the crisis?
Through the pandemic, IBM continues to sustain the digital operations of the world’s most critical organizations: the banks, telcos, retailers, healthcare providers, and government agencies. These are the businesses enabling us to manage our banking digitally and place orders online, they're providing the network capacity to support our grocery delivery apps, and they're powering the services our first-responders require to help address the needs of patients around the globe. IBM is truly essential and more so now. Fundamental to the ongoing operations of these clients and industries is our Public Cloud. IBM has teams around the world right now working to ensure the specific needs of our clients large and small are met, across every industry, and that we are optimizing their cloud infrastructure and services needs so they can continue operating and serving everyone the best they can. I have seen multiple behind the scene images of IBMers and healthcare workers standing side by side helping patients through the crisis – both truly essential.
How do you see the criticality of digital innovations as organizations prepare to adapt to the new normal?
One of the things that the pandemic has taught businesses is the critical importance of technology solutions which enable speed, flexibility, insight, and innovation. In fact, choosing which technology platforms can power businesses is the most consequential decision that businesses can make. This determines how quickly businesses can pivot to new market opportunities; how well they serve their clients and how much they can scale. The pandemic has been a “turning point” for many Governments, industries, and businesses across the globe, as the disruption and uncertainty caused by the crisis has accelerated the digital transformation that for many was already underway.
We see many of our clients shifting their operations overnight to immediately accommodate a remote workforce, and to keep their businesses running smoothly. IBM collaborated with Singapore Airlines to enhance the mobile apps that support critical functions for its pilots – within just a week using Agile principles. IBM worked with National Centre for Infectious Disease to set up their screening center’s IT systems up and running within 24 hours. Our clients are facing unprecedented challenges in how to manage their business continuity considering the burdens this can place on capacity, productivity, and security. We are working hand in hand as true partners, supporting them through this difficult time so they can quickly recover and maintain their path to growth and success. We are fighting this together.
What are some of the strategies organizations are pursuing to expedite digital transformations in their workplaces?
In the midst of fighting COVID-19, businesses all over the world are facing enormous challenges trying to adapt to the new Work from Home (WFH) environment and to ensure their employees stay safe and well. And as the Fourth Industrial Revolution kicked off, great emphasis was placed on the role of digital transformation in defining how businesses would remain relevant in the future. Up until a few months ago, the actual transformation has been rather slow for many. However, today, it turns out that this pandemic that we are facing has been the greatest catalyst for digital transformation that the world has seen, with companies now accelerating adoption of these future work practices that many have been advocating for years. Digital readiness is no longer optional, it's a must. It is also very important in this new world to use GoodTech to drive innovation and serve the underprivileged – from IBM’s launch of the Emb(race) campaign to enabling the future generation with the right skills through our P-Tech schools, we’re not only moving fast but also with purpose.
There will be large portions of the workforce that will not return to a traditional office post-pandemic. What kind of tech and other support will they need to work that is seamless for both employees and employers?
Dozens of business-oriented applications are now connecting homebound workers to collaborative tools that enable business continuity. The cloud-based support of video conferencing, file-sharing services, communications platforms, chatbots, and a host of data analytics, graphic design, accounting, HR, and sales management programs have allowed remote employees to continue work as if they never left their offices. This needs to continue and employees have to be enabled to leverage the technology to their best advantage. We are effectively training our teams to get a ‘Virtual Collaborator Badge’ which ensures that they are able to smartly and effectively use the tools of trade now to their advantage and be more productive remotely. Similarly, remote developers continue writing code and building applications in cloud-supported containerized environments, while AI-backed internal and customer-facing applications keep humming along because they are built and managed in the cloud. All this is to enable productivity while employees work remotely.
Equally important are employee wellness and well-being. Redesigning how employee engagement is done and ensuring wellness resources are at the fingertips for all is our key priority as employees work remotely. Staying close virtually as a team is very important when physical distance is mandatory. Customized learning programs delivered virtually, enabling employee assistance programs for psychological wellbeing, creating transparency on careers and making virtual work fun are all very important. What will not change is the high EQ managers and teams need to display while working remotely. In my view, this will be the most important and differentiating skill in the new normal.
How do you see remote and flexible working five years down the line? What sort of innovations will make remote work smoother in the long run?
With remote work now becoming a norm, the value of cloud computing has never been greater. And to date, we've seen many companies move to all-encompassing WFH without much interruption - thanks in large part to cloud. At IBM, we seamlessly moved 95 percent of our workforce to operate virtually very quickly. Dozens of business-oriented applications are now connecting homebound workers to collaborative tools that enable business continuity. We are onboarding and offboarding our employees remotely, conducting many learning sessions and employee engagement and wellness events all virtually thanks to the tools and technology at hand. For IBM, we will ensure that our clients can maintain the same levels of security and reliability as they transition to widescale WFH through their public, private, and hybrid cloud environments.
Amid this crisis, choosing which technology platforms can power businesses is the most consequential decision that businesses can make. This will determine how quickly a business can pivot to new market opportunities
In the post-COVID world which of these technologies will be bet on by companies most and why - IoT, AI, 5G, Blockchain, or cybersecurity?
There is greater demand by enterprises to leverage AI and cloud solutions to adopt more agile practices and get better at navigating current challenges in transforming businesses. With the increased adoption of AI, embedding trust and transparency will be a key focus with tools like IBM’s AI Fairness 360.
Post-COVID will witness the acceleration in the adoption of Public Cloud as businesses look at cloud to not only from a core infrastructure, but also to address multiple issues without having to make large upfront investments. Solutions like Disaster Recovery on Cloud-which ensure high availability of core infrastructure or Virtual desktop solutions on Cloud which will allow the organizations to support remote operation of their teams are some examples of where we are seeing significantly enhanced interest from the customers.
Another area where there would be significantly enhanced investments is Security. Security issues will be further enhanced by the fact that many users are accessing data remotely, as opposed to a controlled access environment earlier. Clients will also revisit service models and look to leverage self-help or self-healing tools which will allow every single user to continue working without significant intervention. This will also lead into the adoption of automation solutions. Technology is the new backbone for any business - not merely a "good to have" - but a "Must Have" imperative for survival and future success.
As we battle the multiple crises engulfing the world today, what resonates with me as an IBM leader are - we are truly essential and we are GoodTech. That's what really matters!
While more businesses are turning to tech to battle COVID, according to Gartner, global IT spend will shrink 8% in 2020. How do you see this?
Digital transformation is a broad term that means applying digital tools and technologies to impact all aspects of the business or the enterprise. The good news, according to the 2020 TechTarget/Computer Weekly IT Priorities survey, 44 percent of nearly 200 respondents in ASEAN cited DX as their top priority, followed by infrastructure modernization (41 percent) and cybersecurity (36 percent). The priorities are not surprising, given that more enterprises are coming under pressure to remain competitive in the face of digital disruption across industries, such as financial services, logistics and telecommunications.
Going forward, we will see incredible and continued rapid acceleration to a digital environment. An organizational, social and cultural shift will continue to take place to adapt to post-COVID-19 technologies and the new normal. As we battle the multiple crises engulfing the world today, what resonates with me as an IBM leader are – we are truly essential and we are GoodTech. That’s what really matters!