We met with Mastek CEO John Owen and discovered how it has become a trusted partner for agile, digital transformation programs with government, BFSI, healthcare and retail sectors, by empowering its engineers to build creative solutions.
How has your career experience to date empowered you to deliver in your current role as CEO at Mastek?
“I've worked for startups, venture capital companies, global blue chips like Raycore and then Northern Telecom, Hewlett-Packard and Sirco. There are always opportunities when markets go through structural change. I’ve seen the switch to the paperless office, then from data communications to networking and the transition from fixed-line telecoms to mobile. We went from analog to digital technologies and from building networks ourselves to buying the service. I've worked in services, software and hardware at companies large and small, experiencing how difficult it can be for incumbents to change. Look at what happened to Nokia and Ericsson who once dominated the mobile phone market… I aim to harness the energy, the focus and the accountability of a small company, but with the reach, the security and the brand of a large company, taking on the difficult task of blending those two into the perfect operating model for our customers so they can avoid being locked in the downward spiral of an outdated business model.”
Could you give an overview of how Mastek can help organisations with digital transformation?
“IT was once dominated by established players like Emphasis, Wipro, HCL and TCS, who compete on an economy of scale, but in a digital world, it’s not about the cost of the inputs, it's about the time to the outcome. In the digital world, the project is rarely about cost displacement being driven by the back office. Digitally, we're all about transforming the business in the front office to customers to shareholders to suppliers to the regulator - that change is very transparent. We're all tech savvy with smartphones and in the digital world, every delay, every issue is also transparent to your stakeholders. For us embracing digital is about quality and speed as we support our engineers to deliver capability, capacity and judgment.”
Tell us about the philosophy you’ve attempted to build at Mastek during your time at the helm?
“We couldn't compete in the old world of this race to the bottom… What we do have is residual value in our architects and engineering excellence. We respect, trust and reward our engineers, empowering them to invent and make things better. They don’t just go to work to follow a tick box exercise… It’s where I think the IT world was going with more junior people simply following processes to drive costs down, who weren't being encouraged to think, to explore, to challenge and be curious.”
Do the majority of your clients realise IT needs to be at the forefront of their thinking? Where do you think that balance lies today?
“Most board members didn’t build their careers by being tech savvy but I think they’ll get there. The way we interface with customers and shareholders, share information and transact 24/7 in the comfort of our own homes is radically different to where the public sector delivers services with a manual process at their convenience, like the Post Office. We've opened a Pandora's Box with technology and it’s going to become as important as financial acumen is today. Leaders will need to look beyond the numbers and also know the digital footprint of their business to run it well. However, many still view tech as a separate function, yet with successful companies it’s the core of the business. Look at the impact of Amazon… A technology company engaging with customers via a digital interface which will allow them to diversify into banking, insurance… They are driving change so companies really should start to look at technology in a different light.”
Do you see companies like Mastek taking a pivotal role with their position in the market becoming ever more important?
“We’re pragmatic… Mastek delivers digital solutions for customers based on their problems. I don’t think we’re thought leaders who are going to shape the market. However, the market has a responsibility to undersell and over deliver but for the past 30 years it’s been the opposite. Many in boardrooms today probably have a track record of failed IT projects, be it in government or the commercial sector. I think we as an industry have a duty to bring in technology in a responsible way, because it is going to have a social impact, there's no doubt about it. The regulators have a deeper role to play because the wider introduction of digital technologies will be so profound it’s going to have both positive and negative consequences.”
What is the key short-term objective for Mastek?
“Digital is an opportunity-rich market where companies are realising they need to spend as much on their digital footprint as they do their traditional footprint, be it offices or shops etc (exemplified by Mastek’s partnership with Morrisons). We’re good at what we do (Mastek has enjoyed nine consecutive quarters of revenue growth) and we're quite selective about who we work with - represented by the fact 90% of our revenue comes from repeat customers. The next phase is learning how to capture that and sell to those who haven’t encountered us before.”
Can you give us some insight into how you go about building customer relationships and keeping them?
“You've got to be pragmatic with IT services. Although we're in digital, at the end of the day, we're an IT services company. We don't own any IP… It's about how we attract and configure the right talent to almost run itself. The way we drive productivity gains for our customers, there's no silver bullet, it’s so unique nobody else could do it. Our great delivery track record is because our technology doesn't deliver to the quality of scale but has a profound business impact on our customers which is something we've branded Mastek 4.0 where our engineer’s North Star is the customer's agenda.”
How much has the new age of tech – from blockchain to advanced analytics – disrupted the service you're able to offer your clients? How do you see that developing over the next few years?
“Particularly in the corporate world, things move slowly… The confidence in deploying blockchain is low. We know how to build it if we were given a project but many companies are hesitant to go down the blockchain road right now because of the government's model and its transparency - it would be bleeding edge for them, though the principles are strong. Mobility and the move to cloud are core trends and that's now the mainstream. It’s easy to say, ‘Let's go to the cloud’ but from an architecture perspective, be it going to Azure, AWS or even the Oracle client, it's not as straightforward as just writing new software.
Automation will be key - machine to machine learning and then moving into artificial intelligence. It’s early days, but I believe it’s going to have a more profound impact than blockchain. If you look at it from the perspective of the Indian tech world around 50% of jobs will be redundant in the next three to five years through automation. Much of that is down to highly skilled engineers being given repetitive, mundane jobs. That's what automation was built for… We're using it to unlock our people to have space to think and architect sophisticated solutions to complex problems where there’s a profound impact for the enterprise if you get it right, or wrong.”
Where is Mastek today and what are your goals for the future?
“We're proud of the way we're building confidence with our employees - they can see Mastek has a bright future. We're financially strong and not only will we grow organically, but we'll accelerate this through M&A activity; we have the funds to do that. Our investors are a lot more confident in Mastek than they were historically, because we're building predictability into both our business and financial performance while retaining the confidence of our customers (Capita has been a valued customer for over 20 years), because we are delivering on our milestones and viewed as a trusted partner. We aim to be easy to do business with and predictable. That’s why we hunker down to those three core markets, India, the UK and the US, focused on being an engineering company. I don't think the industry needs more thought leadership but it does need good engineers to build digital solutions on time, on budget, and at that enterprise-grade quality.”