As part of our series about the “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Srikanth Balusani.
Srikanth Balusani is the Chief Technology Officer at MST Solutions. He brings more than 18 years’ experience developing and delivering innovative solutions. Srikanth is passionate about leveraging cloud platforms, AI, IoT, and conversational UI to build customer-centric solutions and improve business outcomes to help mid-market companies solve real business problems and accelerate growth.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I moved to the U.S. to pursue a master’s in computer science and upon graduating, I joined a startup that was building a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application to connect exporters and importers. This really sparked my passion for technology and management. From that point, I learned about how to design large-scale applications as well as build teams to solve complex challenges. Before I joined MST Solutions, I was working for American Express, but saw an opportunity with MST where I could make a bigger impact and help clients achieve their digital transformation and CRM initiatives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the early part of my career, I was a software developer working for a government agency. We were printing annual statements, which was a fairly routine process. Everything was going fine, but then we realized there was a small mistake in the programming so some of the account numbers got mixed up. This meant a number of the statements had the wrong data and were shipped out. Even though it was such a simple issue, it created a big problem. So, I learned quickly the little things matter. Even the smallest mistakes can have a pervasive impact when you’re building large-scale applications.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of my managers when I moved to Arizona really believed in me even though I only had a few years of experience at that time. He gave me a lot of responsibility which helped me develop into a good manager. He showed me the importance of collaboration and taking care of people while still focusing on the technology to deliver great software.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
In the early days of MST Solutions, we knew we wanted to serve a deeper purpose so our team came together to develop what would become the values that have continued to drive everything we do. These values, which we refer to as our 3Cs: Colleagues, customers and community, guide how we deliver impact. Our vision is to leave a legacy by delivering impact in these three areas.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We are building solutions to enable government agencies to issue licenses and conduct inspections quickly. I’m really excited about what we are able to do in this space because it’s enabling digital transformation for a lot of government agencies that have previously been hindered by legacy systems.
There are thousands of agencies across the U.S. that issue licenses for a variety of industries, but most are still using legacy systems and manual processes which hinder their ability to process applications efficiently. We are helping them leverage Salesforce to enable them to digitally transform and make it easy for citizens to apply for licenses and permits. Since the pandemic, this has become even more mission critical as these agencies now need to have options for contactless and online application submissions and processing.
As you know, digital transformation refers to the integration of technology to speed up processes, efficiency and productivity. Many CEOs have argued that digital transformation is not a choice, but a necessity to stay competitive. Do you agree? Can you explain what you mean?
Yes. Digital transformation will be essential to not just survive but thrive in this new era of business, particularly as creating intelligent, responsive and personalized customer experience becomes critical. But digital transformation shouldn’t be looked at as a one-time event or an end result to be achieved. It is an evolution that will continuously evolve as the business evolves and as technology advances.
How have you used digital transformation to improve customer experiences, and other aspects of your operations and processes?
We are Salesforce implementation partners, so we work with organizations to embark on their digital transformation journeys. But we also practice what we preach. So, we started by first mapping our internal processes, getting all stakeholders involved, then determining what our ideal state was. That made it possible to map what we needed to do to achieve that state. That step is often overlooked when organizations begin digital transformation. It’s natural to focus on implementing technology rather than look under the hood and tighten up internal processes first. That’s where we always start with our customers as well — leading them through this process.
How far along are you with the digital transformation of your company?
While we don’t believe it’s ever completely done, there are certain stages of maturity organizations achieve. Since we live and breathe digital transformation, and it has been woven into the fabric of our company, I believe we’re somewhere between the responsive investment and sustained vitality stages — depending what model you follow. We’ve committed to it as a company and have baked it into our management approach.
How are things going with this new direction? Has your digital transformation enabled you to provide a better value for your customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We’ve been able to help a number of government agencies achieve digital transformation, some just before the pandemic hit which prepared them to go virtual when that became necessary. For example, we worked with one agency that issues licenses for contractors to build an online customer portal that could accept applications, show the status of the application and provide 24/7 service and support. We were also able to digitize a number of their paper-based processes, which enabled their team to work remotely. When our world suddenly shifted to virtual, they were able to maintain business continuity because they were now able to serve customers online and their team was able to access cloud-based files and data from anywhere. They’ve also been able to process applications faster, reducing backlogs.
Has integrating digital transformation been a challenging process. What are the challenges? How do you resolve them?
Some of the biggest challenges that arise with digital transformation are silos and not having a comprehensive vision or roadmap. Often, because processes within organizations that haven’t yet undergone digital transformation are manual and not uniform, organizational and data silos tend to exist. These and a lack of a comprehensive roadmap are among the biggest inhibitors.
Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take A Company To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- To improve the customer experience. An organization’s stakeholders — customers and employees — should be at the center of any digital transformation effort. By going through the process, it necessitates organizations gain a clear picture of the stakeholder experience and where there is room for improvement. From this point, they are able to build a streamlined and more personalized experience for customers.
- To improve the employee experience. Similarly, when organizations take the time to understand the workflows of their employees and where there may be friction points, they can use this insight to inform their digital transformation roadmap. The end result should be more efficient workflows, systems that enable collaboration, and a better all-around experience for the team.
- To make management and operations more efficient and effective. If the first two are done right, teams will have a comprehensive picture of what current workflows and processes look like. They’re often able to eliminate a number of processes and convert previously manual operations to digital. This creates great efficiency and tears down data and operational silos that tend to form in organizations.
- To save money. Digital transformation, when done correctly, eliminates redundancies and streamlines efficiencies, which often translates to cost savings.
- To make innovation a part of the company culture. Because digital transformation isn’t a one-and-done process, it’s an ongoing evolution that inspires agility, collaboration and the use of technology to meet customer needs and achieve efficiency, teams are inspired to continually iterate, improve and innovate. And when they see it’s a company-wide initiative, it helps foster a culture of innovation.
Based on your experience would you recommend using custom software to digitally transform, or off-the-shelf software?
It always depends on the specific needs the organization, but generally a hybrid approach can offer the best of both worlds. There’s a lot of sophisticated software, like Salesforce, that can meet the needs of many organizations. Using a solution that’s configurable allows you to expand upon it over time, but also add apps and functionality to customize it to the organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” — Albert Einstein. I always remember this quote when things seem like they’re getting overly complicated. It reminds me to take a step back and look at what we’re missing.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/srikanthbalusani/