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  • Thursday, May, 2020| Today's Market | Current Time: 01:34:21
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    Interview: Shantanu Narayen, Chairman and CEO of Adobe Systems on the show ‘Global Dialogues’ with Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18

    Published on May 21, 2020

    Q: Let me start by asking you about this whole business of work from home and home-shoring. Do you believe that this is going to be an irrevocable trend as we go out of the COVID-19 crisis and move forward? That seems to be the expectation at this point in time but if that were to happen, what is going to happen to the Valley? These islands of prosperity across Bay area, what happens to those?

    A: What happened when the pandemic hit globally was unprecedented as you point out and it is actually quite amazing how resilient employees were in terms of working from home. So, I do believe that this is irreversible. I think people have realised that you can be incredibly productive at home.

    Like all companies, what we first focused on was making sure that our employees were safe, making sure that we were appropriately sensitive to what our customers were going through and then really focused on how we could make our employees productive. What we found is that through benefits of collaboration technology, through the benefits of not having as much time commuting, people are actually adapting to this new normal and I don’t think we are going to go back.

    Clearly on the medical front, until you have testing and therapies and vaccines, this is the new normal and I think like all companies we are really making the most of it.

    Q: You believe that this is going to be an irreversible trend and it might change the way the employees and the employer engage. What will this mean then for this new sort of contract, so to speak, this new code between the employer and the employee? 

    A: We are in the intellectual property business and in the intellectual property business, our biggest asset are our employees and our people. There has always been I think in the tech community an acceptance that people need flexible hours, they can work from home and what we have to figure out is, how we create that virtual water-cooler sort of moment when people get these ingenious ideas and innovation is really spurred.

    In terms of trusting our employees that they are going to be productive at home in terms of being able to give them all of the equipment that they need to be productive, in terms of making sure that we have the right tools for each one of them to be collaborative at home, I think we were already the leaders in that particular space. I think the contract is again going to continue to just be about can you get your objectives done and can you continue to innovate? As long as we do that, we really don’t care whether you are in a physical office or you are virtually connected.

    Q: Let me talk to you about the digital economy and what we have seen through this COVID period is that the mega trends that have already been under way for the last few years have been exponentially accelerated. I was just looking at your Adobe Digital Economy Index and what it is showing up as far as e-commerce is concerned, it is only consolidating the shift to ecommerce. What is the index telling you about the mega trends that we should watch out for? 

    A: Every company that is global like Adobe has sort of focused on two different issues. The first one has really been about how do we – as soon as the pandemic hit, make sure that we take care of employees and take care of customers. That was the first big shift to make sure that there was safety of our employees, that was top of mind. Once you finish ensuring that your employees can be safe and can be productive at home, clearly the attention turns towards customers and with shelter in place or lockdown, you recognise that the only way you can actually interact with customers is digitally. So, this is going to be this dramatic inflection point as it relates to people recognising that interfacing electronically or digitally first with employees and then using physical where appropriate to augment it is going to be critical. So, every company is really reflecting that after they take care of employees, they are saying how do I get my business back on track and that means engaging digitally with customers. If I don’t have the right website, if I don’t have the right mobile application, if I don’t have analytics about which customers are coming, if I don’t have the ability to personalise that experience for customers, if I don’t have an ecommerce website where I can actually transact business and finish the last mile, you are going to be even more disadvantaged.

    In the stay at home, in the remote economy that we find ourselves in, the urgency to have all of that digital is certainly top of mind. As you point out in our digital economy index, we are finding out whether it is online groceries, whether it is electronics, whether it is the ability to get other essential goods at home, and I think tongue in cheek, we sort of said that everybody is finding that what is up is that people are finding more flexible ways to work at home and so payjama sales are up but pant sales are down.

    Q: What is also interesting and that is something that you talk about, you talked about how this is a inflection point for the digital transformation that many companies have been on, but you also believe that this is going to be the decade of the CIO and the CMO. Explain that to me and what that means for the digital playbook as more and more companies try and adapt to this? 

    A: You are familiar with Adobe and what we went through when we went through our own transformation of making sure that instead of selling software in boxes, we were selling software as a service. What we recognised through that entire transformation was that the ability for me to absolutely personalise my offering for you to make sure that you understood what the new features were, what the appropriate pricing was. That was unprecedented when software was sold in boxes as sort of mass distribution.

    So what this really requires is, the CMO is always scared about the brand of the company, they are always scared about how can you emotionally connect with customers, how can you attract customers at the top of the funnel and that’s sort of been the art of marketing your service or your offering to customers. What we believe in this decade is that art will have to be combined with science. Science is where the CIO comes in, which is, is every decision that is being made in a company, is it being made on the basis of fundamental data and how do you combine that art and science in order to deliver the right experience to customers. I think the bar that has been set is, when you are interacting with a financial institution, your expectation is not that, that financial institution engages with you digitally the way another financial institution engages with you, your expectation is that that financial institution engages with you the way you would hail a cab or the way you would order food online. So this digital expectation from consumers has absolutely sky rocketed and this is only going to accelerate that. So the CIO and the CMO as part of the digital transformation mandate that has been frequently driven by the CEO and the CFO becomes even more important. So that need for data and the need for the brand has never been more important.

    Q: When you talk about the need for data, the need for brand, I want to ask you again on what your data tells you on how ready we are here in India or in the Asia Pacific region in terms of having made investments to cater to this customer centricity model that you speak of much more relevant, much more personalized, much more data driven, the AI tools, the investments in that, how ready are companies in the Asia Pacific region and in India specifically on the back of the data that you have?

    A: What you are seeing in India from sheer numbers and the hundred and millions of people who are digitally savvy as a result of the mobile revolution that has happened in India, the volumes in India are unprecedented. So I think India is actually leading in terms of the expectations of a new infrastructure and how it is a mobile first economy more so than anything else.

    I think the second thing where India is really pioneered and driven innovation is the cost of those transactions. When you bank with a bank like HDFC, what they have absolutely mastered is this innovation associated with how do you give that service at an incredibly low price. I think as it relates to governments engaging right now with citizens, I think you are going to see another push there as well in terms of what happens with electronic signatures and what happens with the ability to do all of the citizen facing services that you did by walking in to either a place where you might have got a drivers licence or you might have got a ration card, all of that stuff is also going to happen electronically. So I think like all countries what we are finding in digital too is that it needs to be tailored to the right expectations in India.

    I think in India also the payment methods are different because they typically tend to get paid on delivery. So I think the countries will adapt but that fundamental move towards all of this happening online is true everywhere in the world.

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