The Success of AI is the Fusion of Robotic Intelligence & Human Intelligence
By: Radha Basu, Co-Founder & CEO, iMerit
Radha Basu is widely recognized as a leading technology entrepreneur and mentor, a pioneer in the software business, and a passionate educator. She has received numerous awards including Great Place to Work: India’s Best Leaders in Times of Crisis 2021. She got a Business Leader of The Year by the World Leadership Congress & Awards 2020.
In an interview with Women Entrepreneur India magazine, Radha speaks about the importance of digitization, new-age technologies and much more.
According to you, how has the dynamics of the workplace changed with the intervention of the digital approach?
The digitalization of the workplace has impacted everything we do in three major ways. First, it has enabled more women to participate in the global technology workforce than ever before. Second, broadband internet access, along with VPNs, endpoint management, collaboration tools, education software, and strong infosec have enabled our ability to balance working from home and working from the office in ways that were unimaginable before the pandemic. We have been able to bring digital technologies to the last mile.
These three factors are powering a revolution where advanced technology work can be done by a more inclusive workforce in more diverse places. The impact that has on not only accelerating tech innovation, but on society is massive, as the opportunity to build a rich life is opened up for so many. iMerit has used these digital advances to build a highly technical, inclusive workforce - especially for women - beyond large metros, to really capitalize on the strong demographic dividend. Our inclusive workforce is more than 5,000 people, comprising over 50% women, 75% come from non tier one cities, and the average age is 24.5. That is the power of creating digital jobs all over India.
How has AI catalyzed the adoption of automated solutions? How are companies using it to their advantage?
AI is disrupting automation in just about every industry imaginable. As AI enters into production, we see incredible advances in things like vision at the edge, which is the ability to put computer vision AI capabilities into sensors. Imagine how this type of technology can revolutionize manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare. With AI enabled advanced vision technologies, we will see faster, more cost efficient, and safer production. We work on projects with clients to use vision enabled sensors to transform agriculture, allowing us to modify planting and harvesting cycles to increase yield, identifying where crops should be planted, and automated tracking of plant disease and other problems before they become widespread. We see excellent applications also in medical AI, where radiology tools can screen large populations, document AI in healthcare informatics, audio AI in customer service, and most recently applications in language tools like ChatGPT.
These AI advances are helping drive the startup ecosystem to monetize and build new businesses around them. The potential is really quite exciting.
What has been your most outstanding achievement in your career as a CEO until now and what strategy helps you to be a leading tech entrepreneur?
I have been in the tech world as an entrepreneur for a very long time. When you look at how the tech industry in India has evolved, I was fortunate to be here right in the beginning in the mid 1980’s when I set up Hewlett-Packard software in India. People did not believe that you could do IT in India, and look how the great companies created at that time have changed the face of India in the global economy.
Since that time, I have started a software company, taken it public on NASDAQ, created a foundation that has enabled thousands to develop technology skills/jobs. The most exciting and rewarding phase of my career has been starting iMerit, that is driving AI innovation for societal applications and creating digital jobs. These are the beginnings with a lot more to be done.
Throughout it all, I have two guiding principles that are at the core of iMerit - two feet planted firmly on the ground. One is to be maniacally focused on clients. The other is to build a global business with an inclusive workforce. The nexus of these two is with a strong investment in technology. The success of AI is the fusion of robotic intelligence and human intelligence, and that is what we are building at iMerit.
What is your preferred way of communicating with your team about goal setting and progress reporting?
My preferred way of communicating and connecting with my team is through MBWA - management by walking around. That is something that I learned from my mentor David Packard. I cannot emphasize enough how important accessibility and the willingness to engage with people at all levels has been to building multiple businesses. At iMerit, I am committed to visiting our team in each of our various centers of excellence. The culture that comes from meeting team members and learning something new about them is key to team success. They are always eager to learn about new projects and get chocolates from me!
In terms of metrics, we have an annual strategy and OTTR process for organizational transformation and talent review. When we have issues, we focus on RCA - root cause analysis - to fix them. I am often known as the edge case CEO, and to preemptively discover and address problems.
The bottom line is that as a team, we believe in being deep, deliberate, and daring. This powers our focus on client success, continuous improvement in operational excellence, and getting into innovative new technologies. A prime example of this is when we entered into computer vision, it was pretty unknown in India, and now powers large businesses like autonomous mobility, medical AI, and geospatial applications.
How can tech companies ensure reskilling of their employees to ensure a higher ROI and retention rate?
Investing in people means taking care of all facets of our employees - not just jobs and income, but skills as well. Skills are critically important. As our clients grow and innovate, we have to grow with them at an incredibly fast pace. You cannot do that without continuous upskilling.
To accomplish this, iMerit has developed a learning academy that not only includes skill development on the technologies core to AI, but also soft skills like communication, culture, and confidence. This helps our employees work with clients in a much more powerful and deep way. It allows us to do data-driven decision making.
Upskilling our people is a continuous process, and a key contributor to retention at iMerit, which is among the best in the industry. Its importance cannot be overstated and I believe that tech companies in India, and around the world, like iMerit need to make this investment in youth and young women.
Please shed light on the role of women in MSMEs and their involvement in tech and digital adoption for business growth.
Women play a critical role in starting and building MSMEs. Right now, approximately one in every five MSMEs in India are founded by women. Women MSMEs create job opportunities for other women. iMerit, being an AI technology company, is over 50% young women.
There is a lot more to be done in the mentoring and growth of women as technology business leaders. I certainly benefited from that. Much of my career has been focused on encouraging and empowering women to learn to use technology to create a future for themselves, their families, and their communities. That was one of the founding principles of iMerit. It has been a focus of our work with the Anudip Foundation. It is exciting to see the progress being made, and there is much more to do to realize the potential of women and give them a greater hand in building India’s future.