HR Tech Interview with Satish Gannu, Chief Technology Officer at Korn Ferry Digital

Journey into Tech

Please tell us about your current role and how you arrived at Korn Ferry Digital.

Korn Ferry is one of the most respected names in organizational consulting, performance management, and HR. After 20 years working at the highest levels with organizations around the world, the company has accumulated an enormously valuable store of data about all aspects of work.

I joined Korn Ferry Digital to build a cloud-based SaaS platform we call the Korn Ferry Intelligence Cloud to put the value of Korn Ferry’s data in the hands of both employers and employees across all aspects of work through AI, machine learning, and analytics.

My background is in cybersecurity and large-scale digital transformation. My job before Korn Ferry was helping oversee the digital transformation of the giant industrial conglomerate ABB, which has 18 industrial business units and more than 100,000 employees worldwide.

How has the Product Development ecosystem evolved during the pandemic?

As with most things, the pandemic compressed about a decade into two-plus years. The idea of ecosystem partnership didn’t change that much, but the velocity of building that partner ecosystem increased enormously. The pandemic made clear how crucial it is to find and retain talent, optimize the employee experience, and maintain productivity in hybrid settings.

Perhaps most of all, companies around the world realized the size and strategic importance of upskilling and reskilling current employees for the swift digitalization of work. These requirements have guided our partner ecosystem architecture.

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What is your take on the role of AI and automation in the development of HR Technologies?

The key word in “HR Technologies” is “technology.” As with any technology today, across any industry you could mention, AI and automation are key because it’s all about the data – how can we derive insights, how can we make better, faster decisions? This is particularly applicable at Korn Ferry, because the company has spent 20 years accumulating a gold mine of uniquely broad and extensive data. The cloud, AI, analytics, and related digital technology now allow us to extract the gold from that data and make it valuable for our clients. And not only for employers, by the way. Digitalization makes HR more of a two-way street. 

Which HR Technologies would you recommend to every business leader / CHRO in a high-growth organization?

All CHROs know they probably have too much HR tech and too little integration. There are various studies that yield some amazing numbers – like the average enterprise uses 22 Learning & Development solutions. And that’s just L&D. 

That’s why I believe so strongly in talent intelligence clouds. They empower CHROs to integrate and make better use of the data already available – which turned into a flood once people went remote using digital devices – and normalize job architectures, success profiles, and so on. Intelligence clouds will help companies make better plans for the workforces they’ll need in the future, and also give employees who want to be part of that future the navigation tools to get there and improve themselves. Right now there’s too much data and too little insight. 

And as long as we’re on the subject of CHROs, I think the convergence of the post-pandemic moment, the rise of cloud-based SaaS talent intelligence clouds, the global war for talent, and a shortage of key workers (tech, for instance) offers CHROs the opportunity to become even more important to their organizations. HR used to plead for a “seat at the table,” but this convergence gives CHROs the chance to move to the head of the table. 

Please shed some light on the concept of “democratized HR?” How does this concept align with the modern HR Tech-driven cultures?

We believe the current trend is the democratization of HR, where employers and employees partner for mutual benefit by putting employees at the center of HR and putting at their fingertips everything they need to do their jobs optimally, and also to grow in their careers. This orientation provides multiple benefits for organizations and employees alike. 

Digitalization and the cloud have changed HR from something companies do to their employees to something companies do with their employees. HR is evolving from transactional management of people to nurturing an organization’s most critical asset. 

HR and business leaders are wondering: Why must people always leave a company to get a better job? Why do millions scrupulously update their skills on LinkedIn when they don’t bother doing it in their company’s HR systems? If HR can illuminate a fulfilling career path within an organization, “re-recruiting” a company’s own people to identify, reskill, and upskill great candidates for new opportunities – lateral moves as well as promotions – workers won’t need to leave to upgrade their careers. Simply put, powerful employee/employer partnerships will define winners in the post-pandemic business environment.

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How important is organizational culture to digital transformation? What kind of consulting do you provide to your DX customers?

Let me address the first half of that question: organizational culture is the most important element of digital transformation. Multiple books have been written on digital transformations that worked or failed due to organizational culture. The No. 1 requirement is that the C-Suite champion digital transformation unquestionably despite the painful changes it requires. If the C-Suite isn’t 100 percent committed, it’s not going to work. 

I can add that democratized, digitalized HR as exemplified by talent intelligence clouds will be helpful to organizations attempting digital transformation because people will be able to find jobs and roles in their companies’ new world that feel right to them. You don’t want people feeling trampled on or left out by digitalization, because they will fight it. 

As to our consulting offerings, I’d refer readers to the Korn Ferry website. We offer the finest consulting in the broadest number of areas, with the best consultants in the world. Did you expect me to say anything else? 

What has been the biggest effect on the technology development and marketing fronts in the last 5 years? Could you shed some light on the relationship between the product leadership and their understanding of how different technologies for enterprise stacks work?

The answer to both those questions is cloud, SaaS, and PaaS. You only have to look at the gigantic growth of Azure, AWS, GCP, etc., to see how many organizations have flocked to the cloud, and big as that migration has been, it’s only going to get bigger. Cloud enabled the growth and proliferation of SaaS solutions, and PaaS has enabled faster, simpler SaaS development with fewer people. 

Could you please explain how your team uses AI and machine learning in team management and training to improve performance at a group and individual level?

A lot of companies like to say they eat their own dog food. We eat our own caviar. The entire point of Korn Ferry Digital is to apply AI and machine learning along with other digital technologies to extract the most value from the enormous veins of golden data-ore companies generate. We help our clients get better at management and, more importantly, leadership, at Learning & Development, and many other aspects of HR as a competitive advantage. We use the same tools internally. We’re a combination of continuous POC and beta testing.

Finding tech talent will be Challenge No. 1 in the years ahead. For example, a Microsoft study recently estimated there will be 190 million job openings worldwide for experts in software development, cloud and data analysis, AI and machine learning, and cybersecurity, and forecast a shortfall of 149 million (78 percent of the 190 million needed). We believe companies can find some of these rare birds cost-effectively in their own companies right now, if they can locate and train them. Our Intelligence Cloud has a solution for that, which we also use in-house. 

What kind of skills and competencies are you hiring for your team?

Data engineers, full-stack developers – all the standard hard skills. The Top 10 tech jobs across global business are a good reflection of what KF Digital is looking for: machine learning engineers, data scientists, cybersecurity specialists, application security engineers, cloud architects, data engineers, mobile app developers, front-end developers, DevOps engineers, and network system administrators.

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Any advice to every CTO/product management professional working in AI/ HR Technology?

One challenge that’s growing in importance is the impact of data privacy and data sovereignty laws on the growth of cloud-based SaaS solutions. On one hand, SaaS and machine learning in the cloud deliver universal benefits, including the economic benefit of scale. But there’s a counter-story, which is the growing number of countries or even states – such as California – imposing data privacy and data sovereignty laws that work against the universality and scale of SaaS/cloud solutions. 

As we build HR Tech products, we need to keep data privacy and sovereignty top of mind. How can we engineer products that will still deliver maximum value if the data being analyzed must meet stringent privacy regulations and/or remain within a country’s borders? There might be separate clouds for countries, states, or regions, like the EU. And then there are attractive markets, such as Saudi Arabia, where data regulations mean there’s no cloud at all. 

How do we deal with that? My advice is general: take all this into account because the trend is growing, and architect for it.

Thank you, Satish! That was fun and hope to see you back on HR Tech Series soon.

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Satish Gannu is the Chief Technology Officer of Korn Ferry’s Digital line-of-business.

Mr. Gannu joined Korn Ferry from ABB, a global technology company, where he played a key role in the firm’s digital transformation. As Chief Technology and Security Officer of ABB Digital, he led the development of the cloud-native ABB Ability Industrial Internet of Things platform and Universal Edge on Microsoft Azure for secure worldwide deployment of hundreds of digital solutions. Additionally, he conceived and launched the Operational Technology Cyber Security Alliance (OTCSA), a global, cross-industry consortium that has attracted scores of member companies. OTCSA helps Industrial operators and suppliers reduce the risk of cyber security issues in today’s fast evolving world.

Prior to ABB, Mr. Gannu was Vice President of Technology at Vidder Inc. (since acquired by Verizon), where he led the Technology and Customer Success groups in delivering zero-trust network solutions based on the Amazon Web Services Cloud. Previously, Gannu spent 21 years at Cisco Systems.

Mr. Gannu holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the National Institute of Technology Calicut and a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Memphis. He holds 20 patents in networking, social analysis, speech and video services.

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Korn Ferry is a global organizational consulting firm. We work with clients to design their organizational structures, roles and responsibilities. We help them hire the right people and advise them on how to reward, develop and motivate their workforce. And, we help professionals navigate and advance their careers.