CIO Spotlight: R. Venkateswaran, Persistent Systems

What's the best career advice you ever received? “It sounds cliche, but I strongly believe that every role has a significant learning potential. Bring your best to the role, with the utmost sincerity and learn as you go.”

Headshot of R. Venkateswaran, CIO at Persistent Systems
Persistent Systems

Name: R. Venkateswaran

Company: Persistent Systems Limited

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: September 2020

Location: PUNE

R (Venki) Venkateswaran is the Chief Information Officer at Persistent Systems where he oversees digital transformation and drives business growth alongside the executive team. In his nearly 20-year tenure with Persistent, he has led the organisation’s transformation initiatives in IoT, Products & IP, and Telecom. Venki holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Washington State University as well as degrees from IIT Bombay.

What was your first job? My first job was as a software engineer, working for Patni Computer Systems in Mumbai. I worked on mainframe computers, developing software in C, COBOL, and assembly language.

Did you always want to work in IT? Not sure about the field of IT, however, I had a strong foundation in mathematics and logic. Computer Science was hence a good option, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue this field.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have earned a PhD in Computer Science from Washington State University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I worked for 3 years immediately after my BTech degree. I then decided to pursue higher studies and completed my Masters, then PhD. Post receiving my PhD., I worked as a network researcher at Bell Labs and in the CTO Office of Lucent Technologies in the US. After working at Lucent for 7 years, I returned to India and joined Persistent Systems in 2002. I have been working here since, though my roles have changed many times over the course of the last 19 years.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? In the past few years, we have invested heavily in cloud-based technologies for our internal IT systems. While we have made significant progress, we will continue to invest and evolve to a hybrid multi-cloud environment to bring in agility and speed.

Helping our key decision makers to make data-centric decisions is another area of focus. We plan to invest in bringing all relevant data and provide the right insights to our stakeholders, which will be critical for our business growth.

In today’s world where work-from-anywhere has become the norm, we will continue to invest in improving our overall security posture. The threat vectors are increasing day-by-day, and hackers’ capabilities and tools are becoming more sophisticated. Staying ahead of the security threats is a continual challenge that the IT team will continue to invest.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As a growing organisation, our priority is to provide the required IT capabilities to support our growth objectives. Being agile and nimble, the ability to enable different stakeholders – Sales, Delivery, HR, Marketing and Legal to scale are key areas of focus. Security is paramount and safeguarding Persistent’s corporate assets and the assets that have been entrusted to us by our clients are critical as well.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Traditionally, CIOs were expected to implement solutions decided by the business. In transformed enterprises, the CIO is a key business enabler who participates in the business strategy and aligns the IT priorities with the business objectives. Given the thrust of enterprise data for decision making, the CIO is the custodian of all enterprise data. In such cases, the CIO takes on the additional responsibility as the Chief Data Officer (CDO) or the CDO reports into the CIO.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? At Persistent Systems, we believe that a digital enterprise is a journey and not a destination. Hence, we are continuously evolving our digital enterprise roadmap. While it is extremely important to operate an efficient IT team, at the current stage of Persistent’s growth cycle, revenue growth and customer experience take precedence over operational efficiency.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Most of the key enterprise applications are already delivered as a SaaS model. Furthermore, we have a well-populated data lake that is the repository for all relevant enterprise data. All business-critical metrics are computed from this data.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? It is important to change the mindset of the team to align them with business priorities. This requires significant effort from the IT leadership team to continually engage with the team members to maximise transparency. This is challenging, especially given that many of our team members are still working remotely and their tenure at Persistent may be only 12-18 months.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? In today’s employee centric market, it is difficult to find good talent for many of the skills we need. Persistent has recently made bold moves to position ourselves as the employer of choice, most notably the announcement of the most inclusive Employee Share Ownership Program (ESOP) in our industry. In fact, Persistent’s ESOP program enables 80% of our employees to benefit from being Persistent shareholders. Beyond that, our approach to mitigate skill gaps is to focus on developing and grooming internal team members to take up additional responsibilities.

What's the best career advice you ever received? It sounds cliche, but I strongly believe that every role has a significant learning potential. Bring your best to the role, with the utmost sincerity and learn as you go.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. There is no formal succession plan in place. However, I have a strong team of leaders that are my direct reports that I have been nurturing. It requires time and focus to successfully make this happen.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? I am a firm proponent that organisational success is more important than individual glory.

What has been your greatest career achievement? It is difficult to pinpoint any one as the greatest achievement. I anticipate my greatest achievement is still to come.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Due to the pandemic, a lot of strategic initiatives took a back seat due to the focus on enabling employees to be able to work remotely. In hindsight, I could have structured the teams differently to ensure the focus on strategic initiatives.

What are you reading now? I just finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Great book with lots of insightful nuggets that one can incorporate.

Most people don't know that I… In today’s hyper-social and connected world, there are not too many secrets.

In my spare time, I like to…I work with several academic institutes and conduct technology sessions for the students and faculty.

Ask me to do anything but… Sing and dance.