This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview distinguished executive, scientist, engineer, Dr. Kishore Swaminathan, Chief Scientist Accenture. Kishore shares his insights into global overall trends, business needs and strategy, the future of technology, skill needs, and career lessons. Kishore ideas will stimulate much thought and are provocative. I encourage you to have a look.
As the chief scientist of Accenture, Dr. Kishore Swaminathan defines Accenture’s Technology Vision and helps set Accenture’s technology and research agenda. He also directly heads Accenture’s Systems Integration research located in Chicago (US), Silicon Valley, California (US), Sophia Antipolis (France) and Bangalore (India).
Born and raised in the 2,500 year old city of Madurai in southern India, Swaminathan took an interest in science while studying, ironically, history. "I realized that the ideas of Archimedes and Pythagoras endure but not the empire of Alexander," he recalls. "It made me want to focus on science to understand the world in a deep way, taking nothing for granted, but questioning everything."
At 18, he enrolled in the elite Indian Institute of Technology at Madras, where he received his Bachelor of Technology in aeronautical engineering, and then went on to earn his master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Even my doctoral dissertation was concerned with science," Swaminathan says. "I was interested in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, so I focused on how computers might be able to process scientific literature and discover scientific trends."
Although he originally intended to become a teacher, he accepted a position at Accenture’s Center for Strategic Technology Research in Chicago in 1990 since "it was a new lab that was just getting started and I thought I’d be able to help define and shape the lab." Over the years, Swaminathan has worked on more than a dozen research projects and has as many patents to his credit. His interests include document understanding, corporate knowledge management, computer-supported collaboration, sensor networks, data and process analytics, system architecture and software development. One of his projects in corporate knowledge management received the Computerworld Smithsonian award for the best application of IT in 2000.
In 2001, Swaminathan took a one-year leave of absence from Accenture to launch Artsonia, an online children’s art museum that now displays over a million pieces of art from children in more than 100 countries. "I always felt that schools focus so much on teaching, but not enough on fostering creative self-expression," he says. "For me, Artsonia was a labour of love – to give children a global audience for something they did on their own."
Creativity and innovation will be recurring themes in Swaminathan’s role as the chief scientist of Accenture. "For any company, innovation comes from a systemic mind-set that embraces and nurtures creative ideas," he notes. "Creativity does not necessarily result in innovation, but there’s no innovation without creativity."
As a result, Swaminathan wants to identify creative people from all levels of the company and set up mentorship programs to nurture and develop their ideas, in addition to several other ambitious plans. "Last year, I took on the responsibility to develop – from scratch – a brand-new research capability in software engineering and systems integration in Accenture. In less than three years, I want to create a research group of big thinkers who are not afraid of redefining the field. We are going to completely rethink how large-scale business systems will be architected, designed, built, managed, operated and so on. This is strategically important for Accenture, our clients and society at large given the importance of computers in our daily lives."
Read Swaminathan blog at: http://www.accenture.com/Global/Accenture_Blogs/Kishore_Swaminathan/default.htm to learn about his latest thoughts on technology and innovation.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Please share your experiences with Artsonia and why this initiative is so important to the world? (Artsonia is an online children’s art museum that now displays over a million pieces of art from children in more than 100 countries)
"….Artsonia was a labour of love. At one point I thought, what is something that could unleash the creativity of children around the world….In the past it was not possible or cost effective to build a children’s art museum, whereas on the web you can do that and in fact give kids all over the world an opportunity to showcase their talent. That is how the whole thing started….It is not an elitist site, it is for everybody…."
Can you profile your key milestones prior to joining Accenture and share some important lessons that you wish to pass on?
"….Finishing my undergraduate degree was a much greater milestone than finishing my doctoral dissertation….Lessons: While science involves the scientific method, scientists are often somewhat emotional and irrational and that’s a good thing….If you really want to be creative and do something new you have to have some intellectual arrogance….Reality has many layers….As a scientist you can get credit or you can have influence but don’t ask for both…."
What were the key disruptive forces driving change in your life and how can we learn from your experiences?
"….My teenager is a senior in high school and will be going to college….Working with people in different time zones is very disruptive both for your life and their life….Another disruptive force is related to aging…."
What are your top lessons for effective leadership?
"….All round communication….Follow through….Never put anybody on a critical path that you have not worked with in the past….Stay away from the day-to-day fires…."
What are your current roles with Accenture and how will you shape your vision in the next 5 years?
"….As the Chief Scientist my role is to define the company’s technology vision for the future….I am also Accenture’s Director for Technology Research….My vision for my own future is I want to get seriously into writing….In the role of Director of research, my vision is to make Accenture technology labs among the top labs in the world…."
You indicated that you wanted to do some writing – are there some particular themes that you want to write about?
"….There is one phenomenon which doesn’t get much attention and that is the growth of mega-cities….The specific area that fascinates me is how can technology help so people don’t need to migrate to the cities….And how can technology help the cities to be a lot healthier and safer than they currently are. This is the area in which I want to do some serious research and write about…."
In each of your current roles, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions?
"….My biggest challenge in my role as director of research is making people understand (including my junior researchers), that research and creativity are not linear processes and that progress does not occur based on the amount of time you have put into it…."
What are your major initiatives and tactics to develop talent and creativity amongst computing and business professionals?
"….In a globalized world and with technology which enables you to work from anywhere, in the future both computing and business professionals will need to have three very distinct qualities: the ability to work without supervision, to manage ambiguity and having the ‘ping’ quotient (having a network that you can tap into very casually without a lot of structure)…."
Kishore shares his thoughts on completely rethinking how large-scale business systems will be architected, designed, built, managed, and operated.
"….We are at the cusp of what I would say is the fourth generation of system development…."
Can you profile the major global trends that we need to anticipate and leverage for success?
"….Resource contention….Climate change….Growth of mega-cities….Society’s continued confusion between progress and growth…."
What are the major challenges for business today and how can they be solved?
"….Our traditional notion of value, intellectual property, how do I build capacity, how do I scale a company, how do I grow a company – all this has been based on the assumption that a company had a very clear boundary….When companies are no longer totally self-contained and are porous, a lot of these traditional notions have to change and that is going to be a pretty big challenge from a ‘managing the business’ standpoint, managing the intellectual property, signing contracts, etc. but also from the workers standpoint, socially and culturally…."
What are the major technology trends and what do we need to do to take advantage of them?
"….Cloud computing….The infrastructure of the web itself is changing….A proliferation of devices….The whole social media combined is creating a new economy called the conversation economy….Collaboration….4th generation system development…."
What are the core drivers for organizational success in the next 5 years?
"….The work of the future that I see is one in which there are no projects, no metrics, no plans, no status reports, no deliverables, nobody really works for anybody, nobody is really accountable for anything but somehow stuff happens. In other words, work gets done because of these new communication capabilities…"
How are the skills framework and jobs for computing professionals changing in the next 5 years?
"….As computer infrastructure gets more complex….the infrastructure requires automation….As a result there is going to be less need for people to operate the infrastructure. But there is going to be more and more need for people who can architect systems. I think architecture is going to get a lot more complex because of different data formats…I think a big change in the profile of people involved in IT is there is going to be a lot less need for people who manage the day to day of running data centers (those are getting automated), and skill needs are going to be more architectural bound…."
Which are your top recommended resources and why?
"….Wikipedia….There are two things that humanity has done almost completely with volunteers (no plans, no metrics), one is Wikipedia but there is something else and I would say that this is probably the biggest open-source endeavour I can think of and that is the Appalachian Trail….If you read the history of the Appalachian Trail, that I think for any computer professional, will give them a much better sense of what makes the open-source movement work…."
Kishore shares some stories from his work.
If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
"….’Who are your role models?’….’What are your big disappointments in life?’….’How do you deal with extreme stress? How do you act under duress?’…."
Please provide your views on the IFIP IP3 program on professionalizing the profession and how it could improve the IT industry? [http://www.IPThree.org].
"….Computing professionals are no longer just operating calculators that churn out some numbers….Something that is seriously missing from the whole field is education on occupational safety because writing code is no longer just about writing correct code. It is about understanding about various aspects of safety….Code now manages our finances, our identity, etc., therefore a certain level of ethics is crucial….I think IP3 is an interesting first step, but I think we need to go a lot farther…."