Shan Jegatheeswaran is the SVP of Digital for the Oil Field Services business unit at Baker Hughes Company. SLKone has known Shan for many years, and we have always been inspired by his visionary ideas to reinvent the business environment using technology. Shan began his career in sales at GE Capital and then spent time across multiple GE businesses in Finance and Transformation roles. We recently interviewed Shan to get his perspective on his career and how he thinks digital will impact corporations in the future. These views are his own and not representative of any organization or entity.
Q: To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how you ended up being the SVP of Digital at Baker Hughes from where you started in Sales & Finance?
A: I started out as an account manager for commercial lending with GE Capital, which was GE’s banking unit, and I did that for about three years. From there, I spent about four years with the Corporate Audit Staff (CAS) at GE corporate, spending about 50% of my time on financial audits and 50% of my time on business transformation and international growth activities. While at CAS, I worked at most of GE’s different business units and across 15+ countries - it was a good way to see all aspects of our operating and revenue models. In 2013, I joined GE Oil and Gas to lead the global sales operations organization. The mandate was twofold: (1) grow our channel partner business and (2) drive a competitive advantage through sales operations, focusing on key account strategy, sales incentive plans, CRM, commercial analytics & insights, and training. As part of that role, I led the sales integration of people, processes, and systems between Baker Hughes International and GE Oil and Gas. Post integration, I continued as the global sales ops’ leader for the newly formed entity, Baker Hughes Company. In November 2019, I took on my current role of leading OFS Digital, the software organization for the upstream business unit. OFS Digital services internal and external customers supporting just over $10BN in operations and services.
Historically, digital has been separate and distinct from P&L activities. “Digital” was the domain of IT and business was the domain of function and P&L. We are in a world today where digital better be indistinguishable from standard operations. I believe that corporations are evolving into having IT and digital departments being led by someone who may not have grown up through the traditional “technical” track. I find that my practical experience in sales, finance, and operations has allowed my teams and I to build digital experiences that are fresh, well adopted, and wrapped around the user experience. It is not just about release dates and cost control – it is about driving adoption and making money by enriching data through the digital value chain that we build. The same principles that drive the success of SaaS and digital native companies should inspire how we approach digital within a traditional enterprise. I learned the importance of scalability, usability, and change management with my experiences in sales, underwriting, auditing, data analytics, and integrations. The common thread was harvesting data at scale, cleaning it up, operationalizing it, and then making money from it. Whether financial markets or giving sales teams an edge – the principles are the same – generate value through democratizing contextual data at scale.
Q: Do you find yourself getting into the weeds on how the software works, even at the code level, or is the function better managed at a higher level?
A: You must start, especially on new products, from the perspective of users and their logic. I spend time on the actual configuration and logic of the software at a very detailed level. I walk the user experience at a click through level with the team. Setting the fundamentals correctly upfront helps ensure we drive simplicity and avoid any over-engineering. It also helps with ensuring the data model is set up to scale and that we capture data that can be harvested later for value. Getting into this level of detail helps drive the culture of user experience and adoption as a key metric for our development teams. I believe that to be a strong digital leader you must be able to develop strategy grounded in reality – otherwise you end up with slideware. Strategy is about driving product vision, monetization, and influencing key stakeholders. Reality is where the fun happens – the messy discussions, the trials and errors, the learning of the challenges from the front line. This is where the product’s fate is built – an engaged, decisive leader can be the difference between mediocre or great product.
Q: You mention you have to teach the culture of user experience and driving adoption as a metric. Do you think this is a divergence from current metrics and philosophy?
A: Adoption is a key metric in the B2C space, but ask yourself if adoption is tracked in a typical B2B setting? I have not seen it as part of standard ops. Enterprise IT teams typically track things like budget, on-time releases, productivity, etc. All important, but not really aligned to the core questions – are people using your product? Do they like it? Is it making money or generating value? The change in my philosophy is that I care less about the bells and whistles and more about adoption. A whizbang uber technical product that is barely adopted is negative ROI. Adoption is now a guiding principle. Sometimes we stagger features for release so we can align with our ability to change manage our user base. There is so much happening for the average employee these days – we want to do our part to simplify their workday. The other theme related to user experience is the importance of data quality. Poor data quality = poor adoption. Historically, the development teams considered data models and data quality the ownership of “others” – business leaders, functional leaders, product owners, etc. I have embedded that ownership into the accountability of the development teams. We don’t spend coding dollars unless we are certain that the data required to make the product successful either exists or there is a plan in place to make it exist. We created a data operations team whose sole purpose is to work with business teams to curate data. We do not want to have different data entities that are silo’ d – so we’ve introduced concepts like a data dictionary and a data passport that drive consistency and standardization. This helps with user delight and adoption.
Q: When you came into your current role, you inherited not only a new organization, but a suite of preexisting digital applications across the product companies. How did you begin to assess the capabilities of your organization from a people and products standpoint?
A: While we are an internal team, I approached the mission as if we were building a standalone, professional software company where Baker Hughes Company happened to be our biggest customer. I had a few basic questions: What digital products do we build and why? Who uses it and do they enjoy it? How do we build this stuff efficiently and to drive value?
We did not have simple answers, so we began by building a value proposition and product book from scratch. We then standardized a framework to segment our portfolio, which led to insights on how we would influence our capital allocation and focus.
Who is our customer? We studied the current experience of how our stakeholders requested software with us. We saw that application development was pursued through the lens of budget owners or executives – leading to one-off apps with limited integration and consistency. Practically, this meant that things were being coded multiple times, data wasn’t flowing between products, and users had disjointed interfaces – all of this had impact on speed, cost, and quality. I educated myself and learned that many Fortune 500 organizations experienced the same issues. We took an entrepreneurial approach and collapsed the current intake and redesigned the entire build experience mimicking how one would approach a SaaS vendor. For example, when we get requests now, we treat it as a service. We have a pre-solution team that knows our portfolio and they say, oh, this ask looks like something that we are building for another product line or its complementary to an app that already exists; let us put this into that team and they are going to build it out. Or we may look at it and determine the business is not ready to invest in the digital product until x, y, and z are completed first. It was somewhat challenging at first, but we’re now able to build with speed and we are stitching together data sets that have never been integrated before. It starts to become very powerful.
Who is actually building the stuff, and are we efficient? Again, we rolled up our sleeves and conducted a bottoms up, zero-based approach to our structure - standardizing roles, standardizing core processes around development and data, and creating global COEs on architecture, design, data. We also consolidated into a single global team (versus being divided by product line and geography). We brought in new talent and pivoted our capabilities to truly be a software company rather than an internal function. We’ve seen a ton of improvement from a cost and speed perspective. The machine works much better.
Q: What are a couple of megatrends you keep in the back of your mind; what are those paradigm shifts that you are always thinking about?
A: I think the next decade is going to be one of the most interesting decades of our lifetime. I subscribe to two megatrends (1) where we move from a primarily physical world to a primarily virtual world and (2) the emergence of the autonomous economy.
If you go back to the late 1800s, you bump up against the gilded age – one of tremendous innovation – railway, petroleum, automobiles, modern banking. Core ingredients that power how our society operates today. The prime and scarce resource was land. Access to land enabled growth and value generation – whether digging below the ground or building above the ground and providing products and services. Until recently, the top companies in the Fortune 500 were ones that played in the arbitrage of land, (i.e. Exxon, GE, GM, Walmart, Shell, Berkshire Hathaway).
The first megatrend is the movement to the virtual world. What does that mean? I believe that it means the prime and scarce resource is going to be attention. It is the next finite asset that is up for grabs. Today we have about 8BN people worldwide with a max of 24 hours in attention - that’s 192BN hours in available attention every day. If you remove 8 hours for sleep, that leaves 128BN of available hours. If one examines the highest market cap companies today – they’re ones that arbitrage in attention. The most valuable companies are the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Tencent, Facebook, and Ali Baba. They’ve figured out how to harness the power of attention to drive value (and the markets reward them for that).
The first wave of innovation was one where companies went after the five p.m. to five a.m. cycle, which is when people are off work or off school - social media – Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Tencent – all these companies own that space today. That leaves the workday and sleep time as the next source of attention to go after. In this window there is no clear winner (perhaps Microsoft at a stretch).
The next round of growth and value will be in companies who can capture and monetize attention at work and during sleep. This is where I think the industrial stalwarts can start to pivot their business models to digitize and better harness the power of the attention of their employees and customers. This will be done on the back of big compute power, AI, design, and data. The benefit industrials have here is that, unlike consumer data, business data requires extensive upfront work to clean and contextualize. Unlike an Uber that combines digital ingenuity with GPS and credit card info (two datasets that already exist), one needs domain expertise and sweat equity to prepare healthcare data or oil & gas data to get ready for consumption at scale. The winners here will be folks who can bring together the power of domain expertise, technology, and change management to transform how stuff gets made, distributed, and used. The concept of measuring adoption will become key in all enterprises. We will move from senior executives with budgets dictating what gets developed to teams tracking user behavior and adoption to determine what gets developed. The corporate and industrial digital experiences will become more integrated across companies and industries and within workday workflows. You can innovate off this and change culture, change activity, and ultimately monetize attention.
That leaves the window of sleep and I have a hunch that Tesla’s or Elon’s brain chip is a leading indicator of where that is headed.
The second megatrend is the autonomous economy. In the long run – everything, everyone, everywhere, will be connected. Applications will speak machine language and plug into AI capabilities to make decisions, self-tune, self-heal, and self-manage.
If you think about manufacturing being moved to automation in the last couple of decades - robotics basically displaced or reinvented a lot of these warehouse and manufacturing roles. But I don’t think the biggest disruption is there. I actually think the coming wave of AI will radically transform traditional white-collar roles. It is relatively easier to address aggregation of data and decision making for office jobs by an AI entity than it is for AI to figure out the vision, touch, smell, and hearing required to effectively remove physical labor. In the past you needed leaders to take different data sets, listen to different people, have different updates, and then make decisions. For example, deciding how much to price something in the B2B world is driven by commercial leaders today, but that is a data driven exercise in the B2C world and they have figured out pricing in real-time. That will happen in the industrial space to core corporate functions like pricing, inventory management, sales planning, capital allocation, performance management, and business optimization. The need for MBAs or Finance types with great PowerPoint presentations will diminish and make way for a new generation of leaders who are system thinkers, understand data, and are well versed in digital change management.
Q: One result of the global pandemic on businesses and employees has been the requirement to work from home. In the longer-term, do you think this shift is here to stay; especially from a Digital leader perspective, how do you think the future of the working environment looks?
A: In the short-term, we’ve seen material impact to the physical location of people and a movement towards remote operations. If your job could be done remotely it likely has already become so in the last year. In the longer-term, the very nature of roles and work activity will change.
When B2B ecosystems mature and we are able to do things fully online – we will transition from thinking of roles to thinking of capabilities. You take away all the administrative bureaucracy and human inefficiency and you end up with a seamless closed loop of data, insights, and decisions – all done by an artificially intelligent entity that may or may not be reliant on human intervention. It is going to be painful, but it will happen. Does it really matter what company an employee is from or what their title is? Work will be skills and project based. The “system” will coordinate scheduling and skillsets to bring the best people together to do the work through a clearinghouse mechanism fed by billions of data points. So, for me, to answer your question– it is going to be less about your business card and more about your capability and value. What matters is the problem that needs to be solved for and the “system” will figure out the best people (and machines) to solve it. Cooperation will become greater than corporation.