Top Cloud Trends and Sustainability Mantras | Rob Walker | AWS re:Invent | Cognizant
[Music] I'm Steph Strickland with GeekWire Studios, absolutely thrilled to introduce you to our guest. Welcome, Rob Walker. He is President of Cognizant's Global Growth Markets. We appreciate you making the time for us here. Thanks for coming. Hey, great to be here. For folks who are unfamiliar, tell me a little bit about Cognizant and what it does.
Well, Cognizant is a global technology company. We're about $20 billion in size, with 350,000 people globally. We're kind of one of these companies you think, "how have I not heard of you, given your size?" Fundamentally, what we do is we're digital engineers. So, anything companies are trying to do around digital engagements, we do all the application and data transformation, the fundamental hardcore engineering that companies need to do to transform their business. We're responsible for that. A little bit about where you came from.
Well, I've been at Cognizant a little under two years. I originally joined Cognizant to lead the UK and Ireland business, and I recently stepped into this new role as President of Global Growth Markets around four months ago. Global growth markets, we referred to that as all of our international revenue outside North America. As a company, we're still relatively young, and we were very successful growing super fast in North America. We grew probably more tactically outside of North America, around certain accounts, certain industry segments. But strategically for us, it's
really important that we harness the opportunity to help global companies transform their business. And therefore, a key priority for us from a strategy perspective is to accelerate our international business outside North America. And fundamentally, that's what I've been charged to do in terms of developing a strategy, identifying the industries we want to grow, the clients we want to work with over the next few years to accelerate and transform their businesses.
One of the things that Cognizant does particularly well is take the lessons that have already been learned to make sure that you're not reinventing the wheel, that you are taking best practices and then creating a unique solution for your particular clients. How can the success of Cognizant in North America help what you are trying to accomplish outside of our sphere here? Well, it's one of the beauties of specializing in certain technologies. Often, when companies use this, it's the first time they're trying to do something, be that drive advanced data analytics or work with artificial intelligence, machine learning for the first time or even just go on a cloud journey. We've done that several times, multiple times, hundreds of times across different industries, and we can bring methodologies, capabilities, tooling, and experiences to help companies give them confidence about the speed they can get there but also the ambition of what is possible once you're there. By having starting
with deep industry capabilities, which is where Cognizant starts from, we're able to put that in the context of the industries our clients operate in and really help technology accelerate business change and business outcomes for our clients. So then, how do you take that sort of advisory-led approach and apply it to something like cloud adoption? Well, first, firstly we organize ourselves deliberately by industry. So if you go back a few years, we were a capability-led organization. That meant that we had experts who could help you
with Salesforce or cloud enablement or a number of technical skills. We realized we needed to change our model and go through deep industry expertise. So we start with deep industry use cases and build our solutioning and models and methodologies around that. The second thing we do is we start with a consultative mindset. So we've invested significantly in our consulting capability,
which helps in terms of modern technology doesn't just start with a CIO or a CTO. Technology is really owned by the business. 50% of decisions are now owned outside of a technology company. So if we want to be able to advise a client, then we need a broad range of stakeholders in a business. So we actually need to speak to someone in sales if you want to do a CRM implementation.
We need to speak to someone in supply chain if you want to help do a new ERP implementation that will help drive digital improvements in the supply chain. So we'll really start with a consultative mindset with deep industry specialism, and that allows us to accelerate benefits for clients. You've actually led me to something that I think is very important and dovetails, and you gave me a great example. I want to talk about sustainability, particularly how it applies to your aspect of Cognizant’s business. When I think of something like a supply and
manufacturing company, maybe trying to optimize fuel efficiency or just reduce power consumption, all of those things that can help create a company that is better for the environment, how do you see that unfolding as you look to global markets? My perception is it's perhaps easier in Europe and some other markets than it might be here in North America. What do you find, given that's where you started? Well, let me start with, I think sustainability is the single biggest transformation of our generation of business leaders. I think it will transform business models fundamentally in ways that we haven't yet managed to think all the way through. I also have a core belief that the solution to some of society's biggest
changes on sustainability have to be enabled by technology, and the combination of where we are being a technology company focusing on digital engineering. I think we're at the heart of helping clients drive sustainability changes. And if I give you a couple of examples, look, we know fundamentally that if you go from running applications and data on-prem, on legacy technology, to putting all of those in a cloud environment where you have greater flexibility of going up and down, that not only can drive significant cost savings, it also allows you to operate far more efficiently. And then if those data centers in the cloud are then
powered fully by sustainable power, so we happen to be an Asia, let's say, where they've made commitments that all of their cloud operations will be driven by sustainable energy by 2025. That fundamentally is a key enabler in terms of how companies can reduce their carbon footprint in terms of the way that they run their complex modern technologies. It's interesting. I know that for Cognizant, the goal is net positive by 2030. It's a very lofty
goal, and one of the ways that the company wants to address getting there is to create that "here's the end game, now let's design the process to get there." That's a similar strategy that you use for your clients. You talked about moving to the cloud, but if you just -- it can be very labor-intensive and ultimately frustrating for a company that's entirely on-prem to move to the cloud and do so successfully. Talk to me about the processes that you put in place to help your
clients get there with trust, efficiency, speed -- all of those things that are really relevant. Well, the good news is that technologies exist today that allow you to de-risk that. So yes, we bring huge capability around application modernization so you can get your applications ready to move into the cloud. We bring very sophisticated data analytics, machine learning and intelligence models that allow you to monitor and de-risk the way through that. We also provide
lots of different choices about the type of cloud journey you want to go on, be that private cloud, public cloud, some type of hybrid cloud. And there's not a single solution for an organization in terms of how they get there. I think we are beginning to see, though, large-scale transformations. So very large organizations beginning to take things into a cloud that perhaps a few years ago they wouldn't have done that. And I think it's
because they've got confidence of not only seeing what the industry is doing, but they realize that what a little bit of their business they can take, actually once they're there, not only is it more efficient but it makes your business far more agile. It provides far more insight in terms of actually the way that you can then run and modernize your business post that. So it's not just the prize of getting there and getting some cost reductions. It's also then getting into the cloud and taking the advantage of the flywheel
effect you can get by rapidly scaling agility of your business, the insight you can drive of that, as well as just having far more flexible demand in terms of the way that you scale up and down from either data or application usage. So there are huge advantages to being there, and I think we're seeing far more appetite for companies to do that at a larger scale than we were a couple of years ago. We were dealing with the pandemic, and businesses were struggling to figure out how they could remain viable when their entire way of doing business had to change. It definitely drove a lot of rapid adoption, and the technology was there to sort of back it up. I want to talk about some of the success stories. There are obviously some fun
ones, like Formula One, but you also touched on a lot of different industries. Can you give us some tangible examples of things that your business vertical has done in this space? Yeah, well, let me just pick up the point on what's happened with COVID. It's just been an extraordinary three years to operate a business, hasn't it? I still remember in early 2020 when, frankly, we were wondering if we were still going to have a business in three months' time. There were some incredible things that companies did to ensure business continuity, to transform their business, to go completely to remote working. And it did a couple of things
that I think were extraordinary. One, companies, having gone through that, realized they can make technology leaps and do things more quickly than they ever thought was possible. And then you came out of a COVID period where companies had probably delayed investment for a period of time. It had two things: one, we can no longer delay investment around our own digital transformation, and two, look at those extraordinary things we did when we had to operate our business. So if we made some bold steps, we could get there more quickly. And then that's why you have this incredible explosion coming out of COVID of these digital demands. And frankly, the industry wasn't
ready from an availability perspective in terms of having the right skills and the right resources necessarily to drive that. So I think COVID has had this really funny effect of just ramping everything up around the pace of change and the confidence that companies have around how quickly they can get there and the risk they're prepared to take around adopting new ways of working. I think to give you a really crazy example on sustainability, we work with a company called Orica. It's an Australian company that many people probably wouldn't have heard of outside of mining or construction. So, it's the world's largest explosive company,
which is not a company you associate with sustainability. But frankly, if you're going to have to make large complex construction or mine, you can either choose to do that in a really efficient way or you can choose to do that in a really legacy way. And we're working with Orica around examining the geostructural shape of rocks, ensuring that the drill point when you blow things up is entirely right, the quantity of explosives that you use is right, so that when you do mine and you are mining, the size of the rock is entirely right for being crushed or being transported. And that is reducing the carbon footprint of mining up to about 40%. So, in what
is, you know, there's an example of an industry that people would look to and go, that's a really challenging space to demonstrate sustainability improvements. But we're building technology and platforms that can demonstrate how that company can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 40%, and I think those changes are phenomenal. If I give you another one, which I think could literally change the way that we consume food. We're working with a number of agricultural and fish industries around the way that you use technology to monitor the way that fish farms operate. So, you have these huge tanks full of millions and millions of fish. We can
use camera technology to identify the health of each fish. There is actually a unique fingerprint, in the same way that we have unique fingerprints, the scale patterns of fish are unique. So, we can look at the unique health and welfare of a fish. We can look at both the food and the antibiotics that you need in fish farms around the rate to ensure that as it falls through the fish farm, you're not wasting food. That's the biggest cost for fish farms. And now you combine that with modern technology, which is all about data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT, using cameras to combine that, you can increase food production by 30-40% and reduce costs at the same time. Now you think about the impacts on the ocean of sustainable fish,
that has the potential to change the world. And that is an amazing example of the application of technology in a modern way of working that could fundamentally change the way that the world consumes fish. Those things are just hugely exciting in terms of the application of technology. And that's really why I believe technology is the key solution for sustainability, as businesses and industries have to adopt different ways of working. The former agriculture reporter in me absolutely loves hearing about that, how far we've come, and really harvesting the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning, technology, the cloud, all of that to deliver those solutions. I do have to ask about Formula One, something everybody loves. Tell me a little bit about that and how that interesting
partnership came about with Aston Martin. Yeah, well, for those who may not be familiar, we are the title sponsors of the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One team. For me personally, I'm based in the UK, Aston Martin is an amazing brand to be associated with. It's the first time
they came back into Formula One in over 60 years, so it was a unique partnership in terms of how do you create a new team, a new brand in probably one of the highest-performance sports on the face of the planet. So we're doing a number of things for them. Each car has over 250 sensors on it, and every time it goes around the track, that data has to be assessed in real-time. So we're helping with the flow of data off the car,
the way that's being assessed. The difference in cars is fundamentally on aerodynamics, and there are a huge number of regulations about how long you get to develop the car. You're only allowed to use a 60% scale model in a wind tunnel. So it's an incredibly technical, highly regulated industry. The more time you can get around examining the flow of that data, the way that you govern that between different departments, we're doing a huge amount of work with Aston Martin about the way they assess and improve the use of data and doing very complex aerodynamic calculations.
Fundamentally, it's made the car go quicker. And the other thing, which for those who aren't familiar with Formula One, is typically a track is three and a half to four kilometers long, and the difference between being third in qualification and 15th in qualification can be half a second. That's equivalent to 50-80 meters on a three and a half to four-kilometer race track. So the differences are so tiny that the improvements you can make really can transform the way the car operates. But we know with Aston Martin, it will be a three to four to five-year journey. You don't just rock up in Formula One and put a car on the front of the grid with all the regulatory changes. So we're really excited
about the journey we can make and hopefully over the next couple of years demonstrate that the Aston Martin will go further up the grid and get more podiums. We're very, very excited about that. As often is the case in sporting events and high-performance events, the technology developed now five years from now, further down the road, has applications. Beyond just the thrill of motorsports, I do want to ask you about some of the challenges of cloud adoption. Right now, we've discussed the need several years ago, and that rapidly accelerated things. What do you view now as a challenge that Cognizant can help overcome? Actually, I'm less bothered about the technology challenges. I don't think it's really a technical complexity. The technologies exist today to ensure that whichever type of migration you want,
you can do that safely and at pace. The real challenge is the human challenge. The industry is short of resources, and companies themselves don't have enough expertise around the cloud. Companies don't exist for technology; they exist to delight their customers in retail or banking or whatever industry they operate in. That's where they're experts, so they're not experts in cloud adoption.
They don't have the experience, the capabilities in what is a very, very tight labor market. So, I think what Cognizant brings are a combination of things. Firstly, real confidence around transformation because we've done it lots of times before and we know the context for which clients operate. But then also, highly skilled individuals the clients wouldn't ordinarily have access to within their own technologies. And those individuals also operate in the industries where clients themselves operate, so they're deeply embedded in terms of understanding both the technology transformation but also the business enablement, the business outcome the clients are trying to drive. I think that combination of really sophisticated individuals with the right skills who operate in the industries with the right consultative mindset is quite a unique aspect of the way that we can help clients on their cloud journey.
The company itself has guests. Right, one step. One-steppers need is for you. What does it mean as a representative of Cognizant to be a visionary in the space, to propel cloud adoption, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and all of these things coming together? What does it mean to be in this space at the forefront of where we're headed? Well, our tagline is 'Intuition Engineered,' and being a typical cynical Brit, when I first saw that, I kind of went, 'I'm not entirely sure.' I was a bit confused by it. It was two words you don't often see together. The good news is I've got a marketing expert because actually, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that's an incredible combination of factors that we can help clients adopt. Sometimes it's our intuition, more often than not, it's our own clients' intuition of
what they're trying to do with their business, what is the business outcome they're trying to achieve, and we can help the engineering of that. So all the nuts and bolts that go into making business outcomes with modern technology, in terms of shutting down legacy technology, adopting it into modern ways of working, all of that engineering can deliver intuition or a business outcome that our clients desire. I got to really love 'Intuition Engineered' as a tagline once I understood it and once I got over my normal cynicism that sometimes Brits are known for. Changing minds one at a time. Let's talk about why it's important for Cognizant to have a presence here and be a partner with AWS. Yeah, well, we are delighted with our partnership with AWS. It's been a longstanding partnership for
us. It really is a unique way of working with a partner to drive business outcomes. Reinvent, for those who haven't had the opportunity to come here, it's one of the most remarkable weeks that exists in a technology calendar. Every single day, there is a new announcement from AWS about a different innovation they're driving, be that very specific to industries and more general from a broad technology perspective. Understanding those transformations, the innovations that AWS is bringing out and ensuring that we can have conversations with our clients and with AWS about how do we apply those changes, those innovations into our client space make this a very unique event for us. I've certainly had a number of conversations with clients this week with AWS where we're talking about jointly developing a solution or an outcome that would fundamentally change the way that our clients would do business in the future, either from an innovation perspective or greater efficiency perspective, and that makes it quite unique in terms of all doing that in one space in one week across multiple clients, which is why this is an amazing week. What's the best part of your job? Uh, the best part of my job, there are lots of great parts of my job. I mean, fundamentally, the thing that I get most energized about is
spending time with clients and helping them solve problems, because generally companies like us are bought in to solve a complex problem the clients are unable to solve themselves or resolve at the pace they want to solve. And I think as soon as you can understand the application of technology around business outcomes, that is very, very rewarding. But the bit I also love in our job, and this is very important to us, is the sense of people development. You know, we are 350,000 people. We are only as good as the person we put in front of a client. And so, therefore,
the importance on development, the importance of our culture in terms of putting clients first, that bit is hugely important for me. And I think as a leader, the most rewarding thing you can do is help someone develop and do something quicker than they ordinarily would have believed themselves. And anytime we have an opportunity to do that, where you can look back on an individual over the last couple of years and they go, "Wow, that was incredible," I joke that I think cognizant operates dog years. A year at cognizant is worth five or six years at any organization in terms of the access you get to learn new things, to work with great companies. But that development where people are doing things and teams are doing things, working together, I find hugely rewarding. Well, I feel like I've picked up about seven years of knowledge just sitting here with you.
Pleasure to speak with you. This is Rob Walker, the President of Cognizant Global Growth Markets. Everyone, thank you so much for your time. I'm Steph Strickland with GeekWire Studios. [Music]