How a tech model at Univeris fosters team building with empathy

Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Toronto, Univeris has over $450 billion in assets under administration in 12 countries. And with tech as a central enabler, Manas Khanna, the company’s associate VP of global technology operations, has a complex, dynamic, and ever evolving portfolio to manage, including all aspects of infrastructure and its operations, SaaS site reliability, DevOps, implementing IT cybersecurity measures, and supporting compliance efforts.

“My time at Univeris has been marked by a blend of challenges, opportunities, and engaging innovation projects,” Khanna says, who’s been at the company for six years. “Building a versatile team has been a particularly rewarding aspect of my journey.”

He traces that importance for a diverse, collaborative, and capable team from his career experience, and continuously building on a passion for technology.

“A recent lesson I learned is the significance of connecting with my team at a human level and ensuring their mental and physical well-being as a top priority,” he says. “In the current climate, health has taken precedence, and it’s essential for leaders to provide support and nurture it. Additionally, and personally, I work on my own health to set an example for my team to follow as well.”

And with the surge of gen AI and all of its potential, he eagerly anticipates further opportunities for growth.

“It represents the imminent technology revolution,” he says. “When harnessed correctly and ethically, it has the potential to significantly contribute to achieving positive business outcomes.”

Khanna recently spoke with CIO’s Lee Rennick about diversity in business, a trilingual approach to leadership, and what it takes to manage a big portfolio. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On humble beginnings: During my college years, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey to support myself. I managed various ventures, assembling computers, and operating two cyber cafes and IT at a few offices. In my third year of college, I secured my first job at Tata Consultancy in India, where I began my career as a developer working for Microsoft technologies like ASP.Net and C#. Within a few years, I seized an opportunity to work in Canada in an application development support role. It was during this time I gained invaluable insights into the importance of operations and how innovative solutions are crucial to ensure reliability practices. One lesson I learned was the importance of productivity, which I put into practice when I’m leading a major technology upgrade of platforms. From there, I moved to Toronto and established a DevOps practice and delved into evolving principles that brought development and operations closer together in the software and service delivery process. Then I joined Univeris as a site reliability engineer, pioneering the implementation of reliable technology practices inspired by Google’s approach, and introduced observability platforms and process automation that enhanced the reliability of our SaaS operations, reducing the need for heroic efforts, which many of us in operations end up doing.

On building diverse teams: As I immigrated to Canada, I personally experienced the challenges of underrepresentation and the difficulties of assimilating into a new environment. Fortunately, I’ve been part of an inclusive organization that values diversity. As a leader, I’m committed to helping others facing similar situations and providing opportunities when needed. When I’m in the process of hiring a team member, I prioritize objectivity by eliminating biases and offering equal opportunity based on skills and qualifications, particularly for hard working immigrant applicants seeking a chance to excel. In my role as a tech leader advocating DevOps practices, I emphasize the importance of fostering a collaborative culture where teams collaborate to drive innovation and solve problems. In today’s landscape, isolated teams can create process bottlenecks that hinder productivity. Aligning with business objectives to deliver value has become a central focus across all technological aspects these days.

On being a leader: When I came across the notion that being bilingual means understanding both technology and business, I was really fascinated. It led me to reflect on the importance of adding the third dimension of being trilingual as a leader. In addition to our responsibilities in the realm of technology and business, we’re equally accountable for the well-being and growth of our people. The landscape has evolved significantly due to factors such as the pandemic, rising living costs, and other global influences. So as a leader, I’ve prioritized the mental and physical health of my team, recognizing that indirect impact on overall well-being and productivity. Operational teams in particular face the ongoing challenges of delivering service amid numerous unpredictable factors. My approach to supporting emotional empathy as a leader includes leading by example to cultivate a culture of empathy. I create a space where team members feel comfortable sharing emotional concerns, fostering open communication channels.

On gen AI: While it’s still in its infancy, it’s imperative we proactively upskill and prepare for the transformative challenges it will usher into the tech industry. Embracing change, although challenging, is essential, and the integration of AI is inevitable. So gen AI adoption revolves around three fundamental points. One is understanding the ethical aspect of it and its underlying principles by developing robust ethical policy guidance toward potential biases and hallucinations. A second is application development, looking at utilizing gen AI app builders based on an existing knowledge base for internal use. That’s a basic use case that many organizations are exploring. And third is exploration of AI features to leverage features of technology and business aspects of the organization. By adhering to these principles and focusing on upskilling, ethical consideration, application development, and feature exploration, we’re poised to harness the potential of gen AI effectively and responsibly.

Artificial Intelligence, CIO, Diversity and Inclusion, Generative AI, IT Leadership, IT Management, Staff Management