We are at an unprecedented time in modern history. COVID-19 impacts how we conduct business and every company must adapt immediately while also preparing for future unknowns. The ability to iterate quickly and approach problems in a modular fashion has never been more important.
It is precisely this approach which led Tesla to build ventilators using car parts in record time, in response to the dire need for the device in order to save lives. At Piktorlabs, we take this same modular approach to our work. We discussed this as a team earlier this year during EPIK 2020, our first product showcase event. And that discussion feels even more relevant today.
Read on to relive the discussion Ankit Shekhawat (CIO), Molly Schachter (Director, GTM), Sreekumar Paramu (CEO), and Unni Sukumaran (COO) had and learn more about how a modular approach to product development is the way of the future.
Unni Sukumaran (COO), Ankit Shekhawat (CIO), Sreekumar Paramu (CEO), Molly Schachter (Director, GTM) discuss product development
Product Development of the Future
To kickoff EPIK 2020, we sat down for a fireside chat with a few members of the PIktorlabs leadership team. Below are highlights from that Q&A.
Molly: We talk about Piktorlabs as a "future-focused product innovation lab." I want to break that down a bit. What do we mean by future-focused?
Sree: To define what the future holds, let's take a look at the past. When I was growing up, if I wanted a shirt I would go to a tailor and he would take my measurements then stitch a custom shirt to meet those requirements. Fast forward a few decades and that's not how anyone buys a shirt! There is a lot more standardization now with sizes-small, medium, large, fit, style, etc. As a result, there are a lot more shirts in the world, the process has become more affordable, and there's more innovation because of this ability to scale.
This maturity that's happened in other industries has taken about a hundred years. But if you look at the digital industry, which is just about 25 years old or so, we are still very much in the "craft" mode, where most of the time we custom-build products based on requirements.
We've heard a lot of our customers say, "I bought this all-encompassing solution but we ended up only using 2–3% of its features." That actually shows the lack of maturity in today’s tech industry, we have a long way to go. This decade we'll see a lot of changes. That's what we mean by future-focused: we're bracing for the impact of a big shift. No customer is going to wait 24 months for a digital transformation program. In that timeframe, someone else could disrupt them. We need to get ready and lead the next leg of our industry's maturity.
Sreekumar Paramu discusses the modular approach
Molly: Now that we have a good understanding of how things have been done in the past and why that's no longer working, let's talk about that "next leg of maturity." What does that look like?
Sree: Again I'll give an analogy. A BMW and a Nano have many parts in common—such as a spark plug. The spark plugs in both cars are probably the same and probably made by Bosch. There is a lot of abstraction at play here. In mature industries, we don't see any product that is built from scratch. Rather, it's an ensemble of different components coming together to orchestrate an experience. This level of modularization is something that we haven't seen in our tech industry, yet.
This decade there will be a lot more emphasis on abstraction. Like when there is a question about, "OK we have this business problem," we won’t go and start building a solution right away based on research and some analysis and a spec. Rather, we will take a step back and take a look at what is going on, form an abstracted view of it, and identify the independent components that could build that solution. The benefit is when the market changes and there is an inevitable disruption - you won’t have to throw all that investment out and start over. Instead, you can move pieces around or add new components to adapt and evolve. The whole aspect of plug and play is going to be the norm. But to come up with what you need to plug and what you need to play is dependent on how much one can abstract, componentize and orchestrate.
Solving Problems with Abstraction
Molly: This idea of abstraction is something we've talked a lot about in the context of innovation and imagination. How do these ideas come to life here at Piktorlabs?
Ankit: Abstraction can be looked at from many levels. We've talked about how change is the only constant. But a lot of times as technocrats we get a little obsessed with technology and its power and ability to change. Sometimes we look at it as a hammer and nail. At Piktorlabs, we abstract technology in a human context and look back and think — "technology is great, but how can we make meaningful disruptions that will last?
So for example, you can look at HR products as solutions for managing resource problems. Or, you can abstract it at a human level and see it as a people enrichment opportunity. The same thing can be done with [our AI-powered retail product] VERA. You could look at it as a style solution, or you could look at it as a way to understand the human motivation behind actions and create a very meaningful, contextual experience.
Ankit Shekhawat shares a perspective on meaningful disruption
A Unique Approach
Molly: So we've talked about abstraction and getting to the core of a bigger problem that one of our partners might try to solve. And this idea of being future-focused—moving from a monolithic approach to more of a modular way of doing things. But how does our team accomplish this? What do we do that's unique to get to these points that we've discussed so far?
Unni: We are distinctly different in three aspects. First—the people. We are blessed and fortunate to have some of the best minds with us who think in totally different ways. We are proud to have a diverse, multidisciplinary team. We come from different countries and different backgrounds. Our diversity nurtures a different way of thinking and problem solving. So our first and foremost differentiator is our people.
Unni Sukumaran highlights the diversity of the Piktorlabs team
Unni: The second one is our thinking process. There's a clear difference in the way we approach and solve problems. Conventional processes encourage approaching the problem and solving it as a whole, leading to a big, monolithic solution. Although the intention was to take a holistic approach to problem solving, oftentimes such unidirectional approaches are met with countless shifts in user needs, market conditions, technology stack, environments and many times — the problem itself will change! This makes the solution obsolete even before it has launched. Companies get stuck or it slows down their business.
Unni Sukumaran discusses abstraction and our method of thinking
Unni: Our approach to solving problems is very different. As Sree mentioned, when we have a problem to solve, we take a step back, try to abstract the problem into its fundamental elements, and shape them as reusable modules. This approach enables us to solve our customer problems faster, helping them go to the market quickly. And we don't stop there. We also explore new ways to orchestrate these elements to create new experiences for our customers and help them to solve new problems. We are talking about elements, adaptability, scalability — this is the future that we’re focused on and that's where we differentiate ourselves from other companies. That approach has proven to deliver faster results, be more cost-effective, and scalable.
And the third differentiator is our focus on customer success. At the end of the day, our process and outcome need to solve our customer’s problem — at scale, as part of a larger ecosystem. Customer success is ingrained in our thinking and actions. We take quality extremely seriously which is ensured through rigorous testing, iterations, and how we experiment to make sure that the products we deliver to customers are high quality, scalable, and adaptable.
New Experiences from Finite Components
Sree: What we are talking about — abstraction, ‘elementization’, orchestration — is the foundation of long-lasting solutions. Just think about it — whatever we see around us is made out of just 118 elements in the periodic table. Our nature itself is a great example of the power of this modular approach. We'll have to train ourselves to consciously take a step back and deeply understand the problem, try to see the independent elements, and imagine the opportunity to orchestrate new kinds of experiences using those elements. That will take training but it’s what will define our work for the next decade.