Interviews

Sun Life Global Solutions driving growth by accelerating Digital Transformation

CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Ajayan Narayanan, VP and Head of Digital Business and Technology Solutions, Sun Life Global Solutions, India

 

  1. How do you see the digital transformation taking place in the GCC sector?

Global Capability Centres are evolving as a digital twin of their parent organizations. They are seen as business growth drivers in many cases. As Zinnov states, we are increasingly seeing global roles with strategic influences operating out of GCCs and it’s estimated to grow 4x by 2030. We are also seeing companies insourcing key portfolios to their respective GCCs from traditional services organization with an objective to accelerate their digital transformation. I believe some of the following themes will help drive that growth.

  • Focus on client experience – Digital technologies are enabling GCC companies to enhance customer experience through personalized engagement across multiple channels. Data and analytics play a key role here.
  • Automation of business processes – Many repetitive and manual tasks are being automated through robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This improves productivity and operational efficiency. Given India is one of the largest talent ecosystems for Data and AI, enterprises would like to maximize their impact by leveraging the GCC talent.
  • GCCs as a microcosm – Many matured GCCs are almost a mirror of their parent organization, and it uniquely positions them to create a fly-wheel effect by leveraging knowledge/innovation from one area and apply that to the other. Some of the levers for example are, standardizing on key business platforms across various geographies, addressing technical debt across the enterprise, leading innovation for the enterprise, leading knowledge management etc.
  • Data-driven decision making – Data-driven decision is pivotal to a successful digital transformation. GCC’s ability to harness data across the enterprise value chain (given the microcosm approach) helps organizations to gain deeper insights into customer behavior, operations and markets leading to improved outcomes.
  • Emerging capabilities – We are witnessing emergence or scaling-up of financial shared services, procurement management, sales/marketing enablement, legal and corporate services, data analytics & data stewardship assignments, Data, AI CoE and other capabilities. Sustainability is another key focus for many organizations and GCCs are playing an important roles in areas like carbon reduction, adopting sustainable best practices and anchoring initiatives at local level – aligned to the umbrella sustainability mission and vision.
  • Cybersecurity investments – With the dynamic Geopolitical landscape, increased focus on digital transformation, connectivity, and the attack surface, GCC organizations are dedicating more resources towards cybersecurity measures like encryption, multifactor authentication, and security awareness programs.

 

  1. What challenges are CIOs facing towards digital transformation journey?
  • Mindset Shift – To transform digitally, the whole organization needs to think and act like a digital company. Changing old work habits and using new technologies can be hard for traditional enterprises. Employees may resist change if they are not comfortable with it. Many transformations fail because people don’t change their mindset, hence impacting their skillset. CIOs and business leaders need to explain why transformation is needed, motivate employees, reskill them and track progress, adjust if needed and above all lead by example. Organizations are increasingly embracing a Product Mindset rather than the traditional Project mindset to enable an agile innovative workforce.
  • Legacy modernization – A lot of big businesses have legacy systems and technical debts that they need to fix for a successful digital transformation. Many CIOs and business leaders avoid this risk with the motto ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Lack of talent in legacy technologies can also hamper transformation efforts.
  • Integration challenges – When companies adopt new technologies or acquire other businesses, they must ensure that they work well with their current systems (some of which may be outdated). This integration is challenging and can slow down transformation plans. CIOs need to pay more attention to creating long term roadmaps and structural integrations.
  • Data and security challenges – With more data being generated, it is a challenge to collect, manage and derive insights from this data while maintaining privacy and security. CIOs must focus on data management strategies and security in line with global regulations and norms such as data residency issues in certain geographies.
  • Vendor lock-in risks – Dependence on single vendors can lead to lock-in risks. CIOs need to diversify vendors and develop internal skills to avoid such risks. Example, dependence on single cloud vendor (limits ability to acquire new businesses and support seamless integration).

 

  1. What strategy does Sun Life have for expanding its presence in India through technological advancements?
  • Our organization is committed to strengthening our digital capabilities to better serve clients and optimize internal operations. We will look to apply technology solutions to make client interactions more seamless, introduce greater automation into our work, and develop AI-powered tools to improve client support. Our vision is to promote digital-first thinking throughout the company, cultivating creativity and putting clients’ needs first. At the same time, protecting data and online safety will remain top priorities. We constantly explore cutting-edge technologies, as applicable, such as AI, Quantum etc. to enhance the client experience and foster responsible innovation through digital transformation.
  • India is at the heart of Digital transformation with a rich ecosystem of Digital talent and infrastructure. Our India center is uniquely positioned to define the next leap of innovation, evolve, and scale engineering capabilities for Sun Life in partnership with all stakeholders across the organization. Last year we expanded to Bengaluru to tap into the large digital talent ecosystem.
  • We have scaled up capabilities on emerging technologies such as GenAI, Cloud, API, Salesforce, Pega, Identity and Access management, Master Data Management and Data science. Our teams are leveraging co-pilots for software development, and we have a maniacal focus on removing toils with automation.
  • We deeply foster an inspiring innovation culture and provide our employees various opportunities and forums to inculcate this in their way of working. We hold regular global Hackathons, work with startup ecosystem and academia to foster a culture of innovation and solve key problems for Sun Life.
  • As one of the technology hubs within Sun Life, we aim to adopt best engineering practices early, leading initiatives that increase agility, standardization, and productivity. Measuring flow and value regularly and providing developer experience for both modern and traditional systems help us accelerate our journey and helps us attract and retain the best talent.

 

  1. As an experienced IT leader, what are your plans to assist the growth at SLGS in technology & strategy?
  • Sun Life has a constant focus on enriching Technology Talent across our GCCs in India and Philippines. Sun Life Global Solutions (SLGS) has developed deep expertise in data, digital, cloud, legacy technologies, IT Service Management, and infra engineering and we are deeply integrated within the Sun Life ecosystem.
  • SLGS aims to enhance its capabilities by emphasizing on modern skills like Generative AI, DevSecOps, cloud computing, SaaS/COTS Platforms (Salesforce, PEGA, SAP etc.), web & mobile app development, product management, user experience, data science, and artificial intelligence. In addition to technical skills, SLGS teams have also developed strong business and domain knowledge and are co-innovating with various global business groups in places such as Hong Kong, Vietnam, the United States, and Canada.
  • With our expansion to Bengaluru in 2023, we have embarked on a journey to strengthen our Digital capabilities and help create exceptional digitally enabled interactions with our clients, sponsors, advisors, and brokers. To ensure we act and think like a digital company, we are curating digital experiences, build digital capabilities and embrace digital ways of working.
  • To embed an entrepreneurial mindset and foster a culture of innovation, we encourage our employees to experiment with new technologies and ideas. We will continue to Invest in talent development to ensure that our teams have the capabilities needed for current and future.
  • We are adept at agile processes and leverage tools to rapidly prototype, test, and deploy new solutions and embrace not just “Do-Agile” but “Be Agile” mindset.

 

  1. What are your thoughts on the implementation of modern-day technology?
  • Sun Life is increasing its investments in technology, especially in key areas critical to our business. We are committed to revolutionizing how we serve clients through digital leadership, strategic acquisitions, and collaborative partnerships. This involves developing novel solutions and services for current and future clients. Our digital leadership approach revolves around providing outstanding and customized digital experiences for all stakeholders, harnessing digital abilities for faster and more cost-efficient delivery, and progressing our digital work methods for heightened speed, agility, and a client-first orientation.
  • Modern technology, especially Generative AI (GenAI), is significantly transforming how businesses operate and deliver customer experiences. Like many in the industry, GenAI is a top priority for our organization as well. We have been actively testing and deploying various GenAI projects to see how it can enhance our employees work and improve client services. Recently, we introduced an internal chatbot to boost productivity and efficiency in a secure manner. We also tested a program to help developers code faster and more accurately, as well as a virtual assistant pilot to reduce administrative tasks for certain roles, allowing a greater focus on strategic work. Additionally, we are exploring how GenAI can improve service delivery in our call centers by analyzing and summarizing calls to provide insights into our most common client concerns. This would help us better meet their evolving needs.
  • Technologies like AI, machine learning, cloud computing, and mobile connectivity are empowering people in new ways and helping to solve complex problems. It’s allowing for improved healthcare, education, communication and more.
  • We are also curious about Quantum Computing to solve complex problems like underwriting, predictive analytics, claim loss prevention etc.

 

  1. What kind of skill development initiatives is SLGS implementing to meet the demands of modern technology?
  • As one of the leadership and talent hubs for Sun Life, we constantly look for opportunities to attract the best talent in the geographies we operate.
  • In Tech, we have built deep expertise in data, digital, cloud, legacy technologies, IT Service Management, Infra engineering and are deeply ingrained within the Sun Life ecosystem delivering across the engineering, QE, Application support, Agile and Business excellence domain, Infrastructure and Governance.
  • Our workforce is young, energetic and comprises of large number of millennials. We have a laser sharp focus on upskilling our work force both in terms of technology and leadership. We have programs like SEAL Academy for Architects, Engineering Career Framework, Women in Tech programs, Program Catalyst aimed at developing leaders and Managers Excellence program to name few.
  • We have a huge focus on Top talent retention which allows us to retain the knowledge in the organization (>90%). We have tailormade custom programs across various experience levels to develop technical, leadership and business skills.
  • We have been consistently recognized and certified as a Great Place To Work, SLGS India is among 40 Best Workplaces in Health and Wellness 2022 and a Top 100 Best Companies for Women in India.
  • We are excited about the collaborative journey with our stakeholders across the globe, which is helping us deliver higher value, take greater accountability for providing solutions and architecting the future. We are making significant strides on our culture, being a hub of leadership and talent and being a truly amazing place to work.