Article: 'We Never Upskill Fast Enough': NTT DATA Services CEO Bob Pryor on mastering change


'We Never Upskill Fast Enough': NTT DATA Services CEO Bob Pryor on mastering change

In this LeadingEdge edition, Bob Pryor, the CEO of the Japanese IT giant, shares profound insights: Adapt your skills, embrace technology, and empower your people for a surefire path to success.
'We Never Upskill Fast Enough': NTT DATA Services CEO Bob Pryor on mastering change

The CEO of the Japanese IT giant, leading a whopping 160,000-strong workforce, identifies cloud migration, multi-cloud adoption, and AI as the top priority areas for businesses today. Despite economic hiccups, he's noticing clients tightening their tech spending belts but smartly –-with a keen eye on efficiency. Modernisation of infrastructure and enhancing digital experiences continue to be non-negotiable priorities, according to Bob. When asked about AI, Pryor cuts to the chase – it's about upskilling, not losing jobs. 

This optimistic outlook extends to India, NTT's "fastest area of growth" and home to its second-largest employee squad after Japan. Given the talent pool and growing influence of Indian executives worldwide, NTT aims to expand its workforce in India from 40,000 currently to up to 60,000, said Bob, in an exclusive interview with People Matters.


Here are the edited excerpts:

Mastufa: As a global tech leader, how do you see the current tech industry landscape, especially in the post-pandemic era with lingering uncertainties?

Bob: Over the past few years, there's been a significant shift towards helping companies modernise their technology environments and embrace digital transformation to enhance experiences for customers, employees, and stakeholders. This has spurred a substantial migration to the cloud. The emphasis is on the importance of multi-cloud environments and proximity to companies, network centres, and compute intensity without latency. Another major focal point is AI, particularly generative AI. These three overarching themes not only dominate conversations but also drive investment strategies.

While the impact of generative AI is a subject of debate, its significance is universally acknowledged. Over the last decade, substantial investments have gone into automating performance through RPAs, orchestrators, advanced AI, and machine learning. This automation push positions us to the next level, automating intricate environments and situations. Each company needs to determine its priority use cases, but significant themes for AI applications include software engineering, product engineering, sales, and marketing.

Clients are also grappling with economic volatility, uncertainty in the U.S., record-high interest rates, inflation concerns, and geopolitical uncertainties. This cautious environment influences their investment and spending decisions. Despite these challenges, the consistent themes of technology, multi-cloud, and AI remain inevitable focuses for investment and continued attention.

Consistent investment in technology, multi-cloud solutions, and AI persists despite economic uncertainties.

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Mastufa: In the context of the buzz around AI that you mentioned, do you think businesses are upskilling fast enough to address the potential gaps in the coming months?

Bob: It's always a challenge, and to be honest, we never upskill fast enough given the myriad of options available.  However, we're heavily investing in training, development, and skilling across all levels. Retaining talent involves helping them acquire more advanced technologies and skills in high-demand disciplines. Individuals tend to find greater satisfaction in roles that require complexity over those that are simpler to master. Constantly evolving the mix of skills, technology, and labour is crucial. Take AI, for example—it doesn't eliminate labour; it enhances people's efficacy when working with AI. 

In healthcare, top oncologists use advanced AI algorithms for diagnosis, medical devices, and treatment. The challenge isn't whether they are displaced by technology but whether we're scaling them fast enough to use the advanced technologies we're investing in and developing. Working effectively with AI involves having people smart enough to ask the right questions—what to create, what questions to ask, and how to interpret language models. Today, at our event, a grand chess master from India highlighted the importance of constant learning and understanding the opponent's strategy in chess, which parallels the need for continual development in skilling, training, and working with advanced technology. In this context, data skills, including asking the right questions, analysing and synthesising data, and effective communication, are fundamental for today's modern workforce across various industries, especially in the technology sector. 

Mastufa: NTT recently revealed a substantial investment in data centres. What factors underscore India's strategic significance for the company?

Bob:  India holds immense strategic importance for NTT, driven by the calibre, skill, and education of our employees. With around 40,000 employees, India constitutes our largest population outside of Japan, making a significant impact on our global business. The influence of Indian nationals, serving as CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, and CISOs in client organisations worldwide, is substantial. This trend is expected to grow, contributing to the country's significance in technology.

Amid challenges, India's job markets prove resilient, signalling sustained skill demand.

In terms of data centre investments, we allocate over $3 billion annually in capex for new data centres and projects, with over half a billion earmarked for India over the next few years. The rationale behind this investment lies in India's role as a hub for many global companies, hosting large captive centres and employee groups. We envision crossing the billion-dollar mark in revenue in India within the next two to three years, highlighting our commitment to the domestic market.

The focus on skill, technology, and supporting the evolution of Edge computing, advanced network services, and AI further emphasises the importance of India in our investment strategy. India stands alongside North America as one of the two primary locations for growing our data centre business.

Mastufa: Do you have plans to expand your workforce this year in India?  What are your top three priorities for 2024?

Bob: Yes, currently employing around 40,000 people in India and approximately 190,000 globally, including Japan, we anticipate a substantial increase in our workforce in India. You can expect to witness a continued expansion of our employee base here in India, with the possibility of adding another 10 or 20 thousand employees to the existing 40,000 over the next few years. This expansion aligns with our vision of how India will play a crucial role in supporting our business and markets worldwide.

Our priorities include:

  • Our primary focus is on helping our clients navigate the risks prevalent in the current environment. The emphasis has shifted towards driving greater cost efficiency, particularly with the prevailing economic uncertainties, high-interest rates, and elevated inflation.  
  • Cloud discussions have evolved to multi-cloud environments, as most clients operate across multiple public cloud platforms with additional on-prem or privately hosted solutions. Our initial priority is aiding clients in cost reduction, enabling them to allocate resources to crucial projects such as modernisation and improving digital experiences for customers and employees.  
  • Our ongoing assistance also revolves around guiding clients towards more efficient systems and adopting progressive technologies. This area is anticipated to witness significant spending over the next five years.
  • Our clients are increasingly focused on simplifying their businesses as they expand. Driving efficiency and simplifying large enterprise operations remains a top priority.  
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Topics: Technology, #LeadingEdge, #CEOseries, #Artificial Intelligence

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