GenAI Will Make Creativity More Precious: B.K. Kalra

Change is difficult, but it also brings agility, says B.K. Kalra, president and CEO of global IT services company Genpact, referring to the disruption in businesses brought about by generative artificial intelligence. In an exclusive interview, he gives details of Genpact’s focus on becoming an AI-first company, its AI-assisted learning platform Genome, its strategy for growth in coming years and more. Edited excerpts:  

Photo: Tribhuvan Tiwari

How big a threat or an opportunity is ChatGPT, or applications like it, for Genpact and particularly for the Indian IT sector?

As we see it, it is a big opportunity. And, every big opportunity has its risks, so we will reflect on the risks as well. Not just for the IT sector, for the overall business world, for people, overall populace, it is an opportunity to advance. Hopefully in a few years, the coding language will change from Fortran to Python or to C++ to many others, to English, to Hindi, to Tamil. Therefore, think of elderly people somewhere who want certain applications based on the needs that they may have. They can get answers with far more ease, while behind the scenes, a lot of coding has happened.

So overall, it is a big opportunity for the business world.

Genpact has made investments in training the workforce in GenAI and developed its own GenAI platforms. Please tell us how exhaustive and resource-intensive the reskilling process is.

As we progress as an AI-first company, learning agility of our talent is one of the most vital attributes. We continue to invest in and integrate AI to reskill our employees. Genome, our AI-assisted scalable learning platform, offers over 600 granular skills in over 80 domains and learning across four major areas—digital and AI skills, professional skills, industry skills and service lines skills.

For instance, more than 80,000 employees are upskilling in GenAI via Genome. For the fourth consecutive year, our global workforce completed approximately 10 million training hours on Genome this year.  

Genome has tens of thousands of active learners and hundreds of master gurus—Genpact leaders with expertise in specific subjects, who curate various advanced and relevant courses on the platform. To scale it further, we also rolled out a GenAI-powered bot, AI Guru, as a digital twin of all the master gurus collectively, available round the clock. We also have an internal GenAI Playground with over 60,000 users. Here, our employees can test and learn how generative AI can be used to solve client problems and unlock value. 

We are collaborating with best-of-breed external partners for deep skilling in advanced digital and tech skills to complement the contextualised learning delivered by in-house experts. 

In the whole ecosystem which will use or develop GenAI, are there losers? There is a lot of concern among content producers. People are thinking that their work will move to IT companies. Does this not mean that the smaller companies are losing, and the profit is getting concentrated in the hands of a few big ones?

Change is always difficult. But yes, what it is forcing is agility. Actually, you are saying content generation or creativity. In the world of GenAI, creativity will become far more precious because I have the GenAI model, you have the GenAI model. It can produce similar things; it can go look at the same data. But this is where human intellect can come in, and if your creativity is better than mine, then you are far more precious. So, I think it is also a shift of mindset.

In the next five years, how much of this solutioning do you see being divided between the IT services companies and the start-ups in India?

I think start-up ecosystem is always a good catalyst even for the IT services companies. And I see this as a symbiotic environment. IT services companies, most certainly in India and different parts of the world as well, have been very innovative. And you can see it in their results. And sometimes a large language model (LLM) or a particular innovation catches many eyeballs, which does not mean a lot more innovation is happening at a micro level. And therefore, I would credit IT services companies as well as the start-up ecosystem because the benefit of a start-up ecosystem or any start-up is they are looking at our particular micro problem based on their resources. 

And for that micro problem, many IT services company—most certainly Genpact also leverages what this start-up has done—bring them in their ecosystem and, again, solve a bigger problem.  

Is it correct to ask if Indian IT companies are lagging behind global players in terms of patents and proprietary algorithms? 

I think what we need to consider is evolution of economies. Developed economies have been astute about many of these things for a long period of time. Developing economies have to go through their own evolution. I think, yes, the time period is reducing. You will see, if you broadly see the patents arising out of India, you will see the exponential rise. 

However, does it match US? Does it match Europe? Maybe not. I will not be surprised if in a few years from now we surpass them. It is also a bit of evolution of an economy that kind of makes people aware that, hey, these are the intellectual property that we need to protect. 

Analysts believe that the US and European markets are slowing down in general, and it has a telling effect on IT companies. What is Genpact’s strategy to bring growth back to its global revenues?

Reflecting on 2023, it is clear that the macroeconomic environment challenged us along with the industry as a whole. 2024 will be a year of building for us as we strengthen our foundation for future growth.

We have a 3+1 strategic initiative to improve revenue growth and profitability for Genpact. This consists of three client-focussed objectives and one internal-facing initiative. 

From an external perspective, we will focus on leveraging industry-leading partnerships to bring more AI-focussed, growth-oriented solutions to the client; integrating data, tech and AI-first principles in all client conversations and simplifying our sales and go-to-market leadership structure—moving from a highly matrixed organisation to 12 unit leaders, driving agility and accountability. 

We have a robust pipeline and believe our deep domain and process expertise, combined with our experience developing and refining our own AI capabilities, provides us with a competitive advantage. We expect to perform at or above market rates in the coming years.

As the new CEO of Genpact, you have big legacy shoes to fill. Do you see it as a challenge, since it impacts people’s expectation from you? Will your leadership style be more about continuity, or will it be about disruption? 

The art of leadership transition is in purposeful disruption—knowing what to continue and what to disrupt. We will continue our culture of curiosity, courage, incisiveness on a bedrock of integrity and our maniacal client focus. 

The intent is to be an AI-first company which equates to broader capabilities and deeper investments.