Article: Investment in AI will help predict and prepare for future crises: Sanket Atal, Intuit


Investment in AI will help predict and prepare for future crises: Sanket Atal, Intuit

How do we prepare for potential future crises and what role can the technology industry play? Read this interview with Sanket Atal, Managing Director of Intuit India Development Center to know more.
Investment in AI will help predict and prepare for future crises: Sanket Atal, Intuit

Sanket Atal in his role as the Managing Director of Intuit India Development Center plays a strategic role in Intuit’s mission of powering prosperity around the world. Strengthening Intuit’s position in India to ensure it is future-ready to take advantage of game-changing opportunities. Sanket leads a team of over 1,000 talented employees who deliver key innovations for products including QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Mint that delight millions of small business, self-employed customers and consumers around the world.

Sanket has a wealth of experience leading and growing global development centers. In his previous role as Group Vice President at Oracle Corporation, he was responsible for the R&D organization in Bangalore, NCR, Pune, and St. Petersburg in Russia. He founded the global program, Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator (OSCA) by establishing its first center in Bengaluru in April 2016 and led the expansion of the program to nine centers in seven countries and added a virtual accelerator program.

At People Matters TechHR India 2020, Sanket will speak on ‘Leading through COVID-19 and beyond’ - how do we prepare for potential future crises and what role can the technology industry play? As a precursor to the event, Sanket spoke to us about the biggest learnings of 2020 so far and the role of technology to re-imagine our organizations for a faster recovery.

What are some of the learnings from 2020 so far? What could we have done differently to be more prepared for a viral outbreak such as COVID-19? 

The world is currently witnessing the biggest ‘black swan’ events - the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the lack of historical frameworks and data as the guiding principles for their decision-making that makes it difficult to predict the magnitude of its effect or what we could have planned differently. 

This year has shown us that with agility, unity, and collaboration, the industry can face any uncertainty.

Quick pivots were made, as we moved into a virtual work environment almost overnight and as we got a grasp of the situation, most organizations quickly assessed how we can play to our strengths and help the ecosystem around us. For instance, at Intuit, we launched the Small Business Relief Initiative, in collaboration with Milaap, to help small and micro businesses in India, raise money to tackle the challenges arising from the COVID-19 lockdown. During the initial onset of the pandemic, we also launched a Consult an Expert program to help our small business and accountants, by providing free, timely, relevant and virtual advice from a pool of experts during those early days.

How do we prepare for potential future crises? 

The challenges presented by pandemics such as COVID-19 are multi-faceted, and there is no one solution to minimize their economic and social costs. So while the future might seem premature to predict, the pandemic has shown that India backed by its large talent pool, entrepreneurial mindset and inherent penchant for overcoming challenges is resilient and agile. 

Government support in enabling a thriving ecosystem: The government’s recent mission ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is aimed at further enabling an ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive. Programs like Make in India, Startup India, and Digital India have taken on new rigor and meaning

Embrace the virtual workplace model: Companies should look at strengthening the tech ecosystem and infrastructure that would enable rapid discovery and response of potential future crises. Organizations should invest in tools to enable employees to work remotely and collaborate virtually. At Intuit, to help our employees transition to a new way of working, we have been providing easy-to-access resources on working from home, leading virtual teams, keeping kids engaged, and staying physically and emotionally healthy. We have also provided work-from-home ergonomic assistance and enhanced the reimbursement limit for internet expenses to further support employees with the right WFH setup.

Revise relevant policies for the long term benefit of the company: Companies should consider establishing pandemic-specific policies and procedures, capabilities for employee communications, telecommuting, and personal/family leave to minimize disruptions. Here at Intuit, we instituted a time-off benefit for all employees that augments regular leave policies should they need additional time to care for family members impacted by school closures or for times they cannot perform their job remotely during the work-from-home period. 

Staying connected with your employees:  Effective communications during any crisis is crucial to maintaining trust and stability while keeping employee morale and confidence high. Right at the beginning, we created a microsite for our employees to provide them with the right resources during these unprecedented times and also to answer any queries they may have regarding the situation. We have been using internal communications tools to consistently communicate with employees through town halls, virtual engagement activities etc.

Build the ecosystem around you: Our startups' engagement program, Intuit Circles, is one of the key ways through which we are creating awareness and making a difference in the startup ecosystem. In this time when the need for virtual connect is at an all-time high, we launched a virtual community to ensure that our startups stay on top of what's happening in their own space and continue to make smart connections which can lead to future business partnerships. The portal allows our 2,500 startup community to Converse, Connect, Access Content, and Collaborate.

What role can technology play in managing crises like this in the future?

Innovation has spurred India's response to COVID-19. The pandemic has introduced innovators with the triple helix model of innovation, integrating efforts between universities, industries (startups), and the government. 

The national government launched the COVID-19 solution challenge on March 16 which invites innovators to offer ideas and solutions for tackling the pandemic. Industry associations such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry collaborated in an online hackathon to develop non-medical solutions for COVID-19. The NASSCOM Pandemic Response task force built dashboards for state governments to relay accurate information for the people. Reports suggest that investment in new technologies such as AI will be able to predict and prepare us for crises like this in the future, as it is doing now.

At Intuit we use our technology expertise to help small businesses become more resilient by contributing resources, tools, and insights to help them weather COVID-19 with functions such as Money movement, risk and fraud management. Over and above the continuous innovation in our existing products, we also created unique offerings to help our customers in the US through this. For instance, The Intuit Aid assist offers free, easy-to-use estimators to help the small businesses check their eligibility for federal relief programs, as well as estimate the portion of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan forgiveness, and estimate the amount they may be able to get from new tax credits like Employee Retention Credit (ERC) and paid leave.

As part of our AI-driven expert platform strategy, we were already looking ahead at how we need to support our customers in a virtual world and COVID-19 has just accelerated our journey. Today, our TurboTax Live customers connect with experts virtually through our Virtual Expert Platform technology, an offering that gives them an opportunity to get the right kind of help, especially in the present situation. Technology will help us increase our speed of innovation and enable us to build the right virtual solutions for the customers we serve.

How can leadership play an effective role in re-imagining our organizations for a faster recovery? 

Begin building the workplace of the future: The remote working culture has become the new normal and has changed the office going dynamics forever. It may very well be the way we continue to work in the future, hence, the focus needs to shift to sustaining a business as the usual model with the goal of making your teams comfortable and thereby productive as well. This may require simple strategies such as reiterating your business priorities, regrouping and optimizing, equipping them with the right tools to continue in an efficient manner and of course transparency of where the organization is headed. Another aspect that leadership must actively think about is sustaining and growing the organization’s culture in a virtual environment. We should look at this as an opportunity to broaden our repertoires, expand our capacity, and to develop skills that could be helpful in the future. 

Focus on your people: We have always thrived on in-person interactions to drive innovation and deliver business outcomes but now we are developing a new muscle in being able to do this in a virtual environment. Now more than ever, it is important to own the narrative, prep, and build awareness amongst team leaders and managers around how to deal with their virtual teams, using the right communication tools and interactive tactics to stay connected, engaged, and productive to build trust. Ensure that every member of the team understands how they contribute to the larger goal of the team and trust them to deliver their best. Invest in your people, strategically and thoughtfully encourage your teams to use this time as an opportunity to grow and learn

With the current situation, leaders have been presented with a unique opportunity to reset how work gets done in ways that make it multiple times more efficient and effective—free of the burden of historical norms.

 What is your one piece of advice to leaders to face such a future crisis?

● The most vital aspect is to stay connected with your workforce and stakeholders. A leader must be transparent and communicate regularly. This will retain trust and instill hope in many to see a brighter future

● Be cognizant of the well- being of your employees. While this massive change is happening, it is imperative that we focus our energy on our most important and primary stakeholders - our people. We need to be mindful of the realities of working remotely which range from distractions and feelings of isolation to micromanagement and burnout because the line between work and home has become too blurry. 

● For people who have never managed a remote team, the situation may present new challenges. We must be intentional about how we adapt our management style to fit the unique needs of our now virtual teams.


Meet Sanket and many more trailblazing leaders from the world of HR and Work Tech at People Matters TechHR India from 10th -14th August. 

Click here to register.

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Topics: Technology, #TechHRIN

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