Zero Trust

Unlocking the power of India's digital future

Feb 14, 2024
Global IT Leadership Summit | Mumbai Global IT Leadership Summit | Mumbai

Change is constant. Its pace is quicker than ever. But revolutionary change, the kind of turn-the-world-upside-down change represented by megatrends like the cloud or AI/ML happens on timelines marked by decades. Most of the changes today and for the foreseeable future, the ones that enable greater productivity and faster growth, will involve advances in information technology. 

This means the role of IT is and will continue to be increasingly important for economic productivity. Because, as Zscaler CEO, Chairman, and Founder Jay Chaudhry put it in his opening keynote at the Global IT Leadership Summit in Mumbai last week, "It's all IT at the end of the day." 

That is why India and its workforce are among the most influential players in the industry today. And it’s why I was overjoyed to be able to return to the country to meet with customers and hear first-hand about their digital transformation journeys. 

In addition to becoming the backbone of the global IT industry, the nation's economy is expected to exceed $4 trillion this year and become the world's third largest economy by the end of this decade. I am proud to say Zscaler maintains offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chandigarh, and Hyderabad. Almost 40 percent of our workforce is based in these offices. 

For many of the Zscaler executives in attendance, this was more than a business trip. It was a homecoming. 

IT powers business. India powers IT. 

One thing that struck and delighted me was hearing from so many of our India-based customers how Zscaler is a tool for modernizing their operations and expanding their businesses.

More than being a company with deep roots in India, we can also say we support some of the country’s most important business entities. Consider the Mahindra Group. We were lucky to be joined by the company’s CIO, Rucha Nanavati. As she shared, the Mahindra Group is a conglomerate with businesses spanning 20 industries, from automotive to hospitality, and $21 billion in global revenue. It has been in business since 1945 and runs 25 plants and more than 150 offices in India. 

The key to its success? "A shared vision, open communication channels, celebrating your wins, and learning from your failures — always anchored to customer needs," says Rucha.

Tata Steel, like the Mahindra Group, is a large conglomerate operating its $32 billion business out of India. The company’s CIO, Jayanta Banerjee, explained how producing steel near ore and the necessary water resources entails a presence in some of the most remote portions of India, connectivity is still a challenge. Nevertheless, digitization and the cloud allow Tata Steel to run its operations remotely, a process now supported by hundreds of AI applications. 

Jayanta spoke about the importance of tackling digital transformation in stages or, as he puts it, "building the road before the car.” 

"We invested in one of the largest cloud migrations, moving 7.2 petabytes onto the cloud in 2018," he said. "That gave us the right IT backbone to embark on our AI journey." Today, Jayanta's IT projects return an average of $7 for every dollar invested, further proof of IT's importance to overall business success.

Ritesh Mishra, VP & global head of IT infrastructure & security, put identity at the forefront of Dr. Reddy's transformation by using SAP profiles to enable identity-based access controls.

For, it was also a movement to the cloud that paved the way for a complete digital transformation – and brought ICICI to Zscaler. The bank was looking for a new edge proxy to protect its cloud assets, when Munish Blaggan, head of technology for the company's customer engagement platform, realized the platform is more than a proxy.

"Zscaler is not only a proxy," Munish said. "The kind of value it brings, whether it's the zero trust architecture itself or private access, all these help us to scale further during key projects." Using Zscaler Private Access, Munish says the bank is able to open new branches in days rather than weeks. 

Continuous digitization and modernization are goals for another of India's largest banks, HDFC, said CIO & Group IT Head Ramesh Lakshminarayanan. "If we are to become a globally important bank as Indian banks rise," Ramesh said, "zero trust architecture must be a foundational concept."

The importance of zero trust to HDFC’s is reflected in the fact the bank has made it one of its four guiding pillars for near-term growth. That architecture has enabled HDFC to close M&A transactions in record time and remove MPLS networks (and their associated costs) from 450 of its branches, an effort it plans to continue pursuing for its remaining locations. 

IT and cyber are team sports

I myself had the pleasure of hosting a panel composed of Munish Blaggan, who I mentioned above, and Ramaswamy (Ram) P V, global CIO & head of cybersecurity at Virtusa. We discussed the importance of collaboration and cross-functional teamwork to digital transformations. 

For Munish, the key to ICICI's successful implementation turned out to be getting organizational buy-in for implementing zero trust. Once that was accomplished, the bank's infrastructure overhaul went smoothly.   

Ram arrived at Virtusa along with a new crop of senior management, which found that the organization's existing infrastructure was, "dated, on-premises, and their security policies were no longer aligned with their evolving application and infrastructure landscape." From Virtusa's perspective, change was needed. Luckily, the company was able to cite its zero trust transformation when asked by clients operating in heavily regulated industries. It didn’t hurt, Ram said, that his chairman, CEO, and CTO had all been involved in cyber incidents at a previous company. 

If IT and security are team sports, the teams are growing as boards and senior business leaders become increasingly involved. Ram acknowledged the reality of sticker shock for some boards struggling to grasp the importance of transformative projects.

For Munish, "convincing the board was much easier because, being a bank, we are in the business of trust and trust comes with security and that's where we have been focusing."

Ram also sees boards playing a more active role in IT and security. "You have to be a good seller and communicate in the language the board and the management understands," he advised. 

Ultimately, both panelists agreed on the importance of teamwork and collective buy-in at the highest levels of business were essential to the success of their transformation initiatives. 

Wise words from a cricket icon

We concluded the summit with someone who knows a thing or two about teamwork, Kapil Dev. The hero of the 1983 Cricket World Cup at only 24, Kapil went on to coach India’s national team before leaving the game for other pursuits. 

Despite his success and global notoriety, Kapil radiates humility, positivity, and wisdom. It was an honor to have him on hand to discuss his “beautiful journey,” from struggling to afford shoes to representing India in the World Cup. 

​​"When I had a cricket bat and ball, I was just enjoying myself and enjoying my passion," he said. According to Kapil, the root of his success was his relentless pursuit of passion. It helped him overcome adversity both within the oval and outside of it, to shrug off naysayers, play through injuries, and express himself through sport. 

Kapil's message resonates with me deeply in light of my current role. Customer obsession is my passion. The opportunity to be among so many intelligent, dedicated, and talented ones in Mumbai helped to fuel that passion.

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