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Embracing digital transformation: Airtel CIO discusses focus, benefits

Companies embracing digital transformation shouldn’t let the fear of failure slow down their digital initiatives, Harmeen Mehta, global CIO and head of digital at Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel, told the audience at the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

“If you really want to push the digital agenda, you will be … pushing the boundaries,” said Mehta, who was the recipient of this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. “And when you are doing that, you are walking a road less treaded and you are going to find a lot of pitfalls.”

In this Q&A, she discusses where Bharti Airtel is with its digital transformation journey and the organization’s current and future focus areas as it continues embracing digital transformation. According to Mehta, companies should focus on creating value in the digital transformation process as they make it a business priority.

Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Which parts of the company are leading the charge in digital transformation?

Harmeen Mehta: I think there are many areas. We’re looking to transform all of it and we’ve just decided to start with the consumers and focus more on the B2C side of the business before we move into the enterprise and the internal transformation. The rest of them are catching on as well, but we are probably a little more ahead on the consumer transformation, because that’s where we spent the last two years really digitizing and creating a lot of impact and value.

Which parts of the organization are less far along?

Harmeen Mehta

Mehta: The enterprise side of the business. We’ve just started doing it this year, so that’s going to be a big focus for us in the coming months and hopefully, we’ll be able to create a lot of impact and value there as well.

We’ve got another target to digitize a lot of our internal pieces within the organization as well. While parts of that have been continuing, we intend to accelerate a lot of that this year. I would say these two parts are probably that need a little bit more focus in the coming 12 months.

What kinds of strategies are effective in getting the entire enterprise to the same level of digital prowess?

Mehta: I think every business realizes that there is a very different way of doing things and if they don’t disrupt themselves, somebody else will come out and disrupt them. I think they are embracing digital [transformation] really well and actually partnering up with engineering organizations well.

Anybody who’s not doing that are probably either in denial or living in oblivion. Hopefully, they’ll see the light very soon and come out of that, but in my organization that’s one challenge I don’t have. The business embraces this entire changing trend and has done an amazing job in getting their own organizations together and getting them lined up towards this transformation.

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