Scarcely is an institution as important to a nation as a competent and impartial media house. ABP Private Limited, headquartered out of Kolkata, India, stands out as an organization that delivers news to millions of Indian citizens through its various platforms. The media conglomerate completed a hundred years in 2022.
Subhamoy Chakraborti, Chief Technology Officer of ABP Private Limited, spearheads the technological advancements under his ambit in the media house, which publishes two daily newspapers, five magazines, several digital channels and portals, runs e-commerce platforms, school admission-related portals and a radio enterprise. His responsibilities span the entire IT spectrum, encompassing the IT infrastructure and network, Security, SAP, Business applications, Data Analytics, and digital footprint.
He is guiding digital transformation across the organization for the last 4 years. In a conversation with Foundry, Subhamoy sheds light on his journey, adoption of emerging technologies such as cloud computing and AI, and his views on independent and fearless journalism in the future.
What has your journey been like in this business, and what do you consider your greatest career achievement?
Overall, my career has spanned 20 years. After completing MTech from Indian Statistical Institute, I started my career at Cognizant. After a brief stint, I joined Oracle India as a product engineer where I was working on the technology stack of Oracle Apps. I then moved to Wipro Technologies, where I was fortunate to work on product development for leading OEMs like Motorola, Toshiba, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Cisco etc. After a very engaging stint in Wipro, I joined Magma Fincorp (now Poonawala Fincorp). Here, I was responsible for Digital transformation of Business processes in an NBFC setup. We developed multiple products on Sales, Collection, Operations, Credit and implemented products in HR, Finance, and other areas.
I have been with ABP for the last four years overseeing the entire Technology spectrum. I am fortunate to have joined ABP at a time when it is going through a digital transformation, where my team is playing an important role in digitizing customer and employee experience. We are working on creating an improved employee experience, and have launched multiple products in B2C space.
I strongly believe that the “greatest achievement” is yet to come, especially when you are working in the technology space. The evolving landscape keeps me excited in doing something better than what I have achieved so far.
What data and cybersecurity challenges are unique to ABP, and how do you leverage technologies like cloud and AI to deal with them, as well as improve reach, transparency, and operational efficiency within the company?
The attack surface in cybersecurity has been expanding at an immense speed in recent times. As a result, new technologies and products are rapidly evolving. The traditional perimeter security is not the only cover as more often than not, users are working outside the office. This is leading to rapid technological growth in the endpoint security space. One of the major changes is the shift from signature-based protection to behavior-based Machine Learning dependent solutions. We are adopting this approach, as security is of utmost importance to us. We are also using AI in the platform side to create better recommendations for readers. This is often challenging in the native language space, but we are making inroads in this area.
On the cloud adoption side, we have a clear policy. For steady workloads with predictable growth and known timeframes, we generally go for on-premise setup. But when we need to prioritize agility and speed to market as well as for unpredictable load, specifically for new products in B2C side, we opt for cloud. Thus, we are adopting a hybrid approach to balance agility and cost.
When you look back at your years in ABP, what’s the toughest decision that you’ve had to make, and how did you make it?
The tech team deals with tough decisions as part of their daily routine. Strategic decisions with multiple options goad us to select the most appropriate option, while prioritizing the organization and its future growth. A few examples would be:
When it comes to the choice of approach, we often face the ‘build versus buy’ decision – should we build it internally or should we buy the product? On a case-by-case basis, we try to reach the best possible decision.
If we opt to buy a product, choosing between similar OEMs can be confounding. While we stay unbiased, the choice is not easy in many cases as the offerings match almost apple to apple at times.
Change management is one of the trickiest tasks. Tech teams often drive change in most organizations, but they themselves can have some inertia to change. For example, when a product or a practice is in use for many years, phasing them out can become a difficult job as it not only involves technical considerations but also touches upon the emotional attachment some of us have towards the existing setup.
As a tech leader, I thoroughly enjoy this part of my job, and don’t see them as tough decisions at all. This is what makes the job most interesting.
What do you do to foster a culture of innovation and experimentation in your employees?
It is important to foster a culture where employees are innovative, experimentative, and attuned to embrace newer technologies while keeping the foundation stable. In ABP, innovation is encouraged by the organization. To achieve this, we are driving a number of initiatives.
At the organizational level, we conduct innovation contests every year where employees submit innovative ideas to be assessed by the senior management. The best ideas are not only awarded, but they are also implemented and showcased to all.
We also conduct multiple events through our leadership event platform, Infocom, which is now in its 22nd year. Technology and business luminaries come and enrich us with their thoughts in this platform.
At the technology department level, we have started a new initiative this year. We realized that ideas don’t come with a deadline. They come at the oddest hours, during tea breaks or during friendly discussions, and we forget those ideas when the time comes to delve deeper into them. To overcome this, we have launched a collaboration platform where employees can keep a note of the ideas and connect with their colleagues to develop them.
Creating a culture of ideation is a hard problem. There are no silver bullets for this. Only experimentation can help to improve this index.
What are the three qualities that are crucial for a successful CTO according to you?
I would mention strategic thinking as one of the most vital qualities for a CIO/CTO. It’s easy to get caught up with the problems at hand and lose focus on the long-term vision. Unless we keep our focus on the bigger picture, it can lead to a plethora of activities that go nowhere.
In today’s world, CTO/CIOs are expected to have a broad understanding of the business landscape and have a deep understanding of disruptive technologies, especially on the digital side. I could be biased because of my background, but I believe at a skill level, someone with a product engineering background is better suited to deal with this evolving landscape. Those having experience in building products would gain advantage in this role going forward. In the future, exposure across multiple domains will also be essential as this would bring outside-in perspective instead of getting bogged down with legacy.
Effective communication is another vital quality for a CIO/CTO, as they need to interact with various stakeholders – which includes the senior management, the vendors, and the team. Every such interaction requires a different approach. To be successful, it is important that the vision of the CTO is accepted by the stakeholders, and good communication skills definitely aid with this goal.
Do emerging trends such as deep fake, AI impersonating real people, or duplicated voices concern you, and how should society be prepared to deal with these modern challenges?
Of course, this is a concern.
Sometimes AI-generated content can be fun or educational, like the viral conversational video generated via AI, between Bill Gates and Plato, talking about the effects of AI. Educational content like this ignites people’s imagination by creating experiences they would not realistically encounter.
However, regulation is crucial to quell misuse of this technology. As we hear, several countries are now actively conferring on this aspect to evaluate what regulations can be adopted to restrict misuse of AI generated contents.
Ensuring transparency and trust is paramount, especially in cases of deepfake or AI-generated videos. For instance, when newspapers or magazines carry representative photos, it remains clearly mentioned that it’s not a real image. One idea can be to use similar easily identifiable indicators, such as stamps or logos, imprinted on AI generated contents to denote that it is not genuine. Non-compliance with such labelling should attract appropriate penalties.
This is an evolving area. As citizens, we should be concerned and review what regulations can be setup to mitigate the risk this technology potentially carries.
According to you, what are the ways in which it is possible to support more democratized journalism?
It is important to ensure that the journalists can capture news in the field and transfer the data back to the newsroom in the most efficient and secure way. While the last mile challenges are easing out, the security concerns are on the rise. Technology team should work on creating an environment in improving this experience.
Digital Transformation, Media and Entertainment Industry