Building Future-Ready Talent Supply Chains for the Automation and AI Era

Building Future-Ready Talent Supply Chains for the Automation and AI Era

In this blog we delve into the significance of talent supply chains in modern work environments and practical strategies for designing and building a resilient talent pipeline that will help organizations match individuals with roles that suit their skills and aspirations and facilitate the alignment of workforce capabilities with business needs. 

The guest on the show is Arunava Bhattacharjee, Senior Vice President and global Head of Talent Supply Chain at Birlasoft, a visionary leader with over 27 years of expertise in talent management and driving talent transformation.

Learn how to build a resilient talent pipeline, align workforce capabilities with business needs, and stay ahead in the competitive landscape. Read this blog version of the podcast episode for actionable insights and expert advice to future-proof your organization’s talent supply chain.

Highlights:
  • A well functioning talent supply chain enables organizations to match individuals with roles that suit their skills and aspirations and facilitates the alignment of workforce capabilities with the business needs.
  • Maximizing Talent Utilization and Cost Efficiency in the Talent Supply Chain – Just like airlines earns revenue only when their aircraft are in the air, our revenue flows when our talent is fully utilized in projects. The key is to efficiently manage the churn of talent moving from one project to another, ensuring continuous engagement in revenue-generating activities
  • Reducing costs involves optimizing onboarding processes and maintaining overall cost efficiency within the organization. Scaling up or down, managing project transitions, and maintaining a clear growth path and learning environment for employees are essential for operational success. 
  • Crafting a successful talent strategy requires a forward-thinking mindset, aligning skills, timing, and costs seamlessly. It’s about creating an ecosystem or strategy that empowers organizations to thrive by having the right talent in place precisely when needed.
  • Each geography has its nuances, but global collaboration has become key in talent supply chain management. We’ve learned to reach talent where they are, breaking down geographical barriers.
  • AI-powered tools play a major role in optimizing talent supply chains across organizations with Gen AI impacting many aspects of talent acquisition, deployment, and management strategies.

SatJ:  Today we’re talking about a topic that’s been on the minds of many industry leaders, mastering the talent supply chain and strategies for its success. From the rapid evolution of technology to shifting market demands and a looming skills gap, organizations are navigating a complex landscape to attract, retain, and develop the talent that they need. 

A well functioning talent supply chain enables organizations to match individuals with roles that suit their skills and aspirations and facilitates the alignment of workforce capabilities with the business needs.

Welcoming Arunava Bhattacharjee, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Talent Supply Chain at Birlasoft, to share with us his interesting perspectives.

Arunava I know you’ve been in the talent supply chain ecosystem for more than two decades now, and you’ve seen the way talent transformation has happened over the last two decades. Today we’re largely going to be speaking about how the talent supply chain ecosystem has transformed over the last few years and also understand from you …

What are the components of talent supply chain strategy and how do you implement it to drive business objectives? And what do you think is a primary role of a talent supply chain function in an organization and its significance to modern businesses? 

Arunava: It’s been a phenomenal journey for me coming to a talent supply chain kind of a subject. I must thank all the employers that I have worked with who have given a lot of opportunity to learn, learn throughout the career span. And that’s one of the reasons that you have slowly mastered where you want to be. 

Coming to a very important aspect, this morning when I got up, I was reminded of my roots in the City of Joy, India. We recently faced Cyclone Remal, and it got me thinking: the environment will always present challenges, but how prepared are we to face them? Has anything changed in our approach to fight against such circumstances? So I think over a period of time, the anecdotes that I find between these two subjects is how well you have prepared. What have you done before the Remal hits you and, what have you done so that, after it goes off, you bring life back to normalcy? So if that’s the relationship let’s look at, you know what happens in the talent supply chain. I think the biggest thing that a talent supply chain organization does is the alignment of the business objective of a talent function and bring a lot of operational efficiency for the businesses how agile you are, bringing agility into the whole process and making sure that your organization is a lot more competitive in the marketplace.

So that’s all your talent supply chain does. The bigger thing it does, if I have to really take you to the business is the revenue assurance that it brings in, talent supply chain as a function and I’m sure, you know my colleagues who are on the frontline sales, they bring business to the organization, but how you assure that revenue, how you make sure that revenue comes home are the key areas that, talent supply chain organization works, and I’ll give you a few bullets which will actually describe the talent supply chain …

  • How do you ensure that the right skills are available at the right time? That’s something extremely important for a talent supply chain function. How do you optimize your resource utilization? I will give you a quick example:  Just like airlines earn revenue only when their aircraft are in the air, our revenue flows when our talent is fully utilized in projects. The key is to efficiently manage the churn of talent moving from one project to another, ensuring continuous engagement in revenue-generating activities
  • How do you reduce cost? Both in terms of onboarding the talent from the external market and how do you actually make sure the overall cost for the organization is kept in check? 
  • How do you scale up, scale down as an organization? Like we spoke about Ramel after it passed, how do you actually manage things? There will be a true up and a true down. How do you handle some of them? 
  • How do you help employees to showcase that there’s a clear path of growth? That there’s learning for everybody in the organization. So, how do you actually make sure that you are bringing in that learning environment for the employees in the organization? 
  • How do you handle risk for offer delivery? Being a talent supply chain, especially in an industry which is so much dependent on people. It’s all about people. So how do you handle the risk for the company ? 
  • How do you make sure your clients are happy? So how you bring the client satisfaction into a home are top highlights of a talent supply chain strategy. 

The significance that it brings to the table in terms of an organization. Yes, we do bring revenue at home, but how you deliver that revenue is a lot more dependent on the talent supply chain organization.

SatJ: One of the things that has always been a challenge for organizations that we have represented in the past and organizations that we see whether it is good times or bad times, there’s always demand for skilled talent and there’s always shortage of skilled talent for organizations. Now in your experience, 

How do you effectively stitch together a talent strategy that will enable, right skills at the right time at the right cost, how do you do this? And practically how do you stitch together an ecosystem or a strategy to enable this for organizations? 

Arunava: I think the first thing I would say is that it requires a mindset. You look at how the computer came to the industry, maybe 50-60 years back, we felt that there won’t be any job there won’t be a requirement of a human being. But I think we all have worked through that. We have navigated that part of our life and then, it came in how do we learn this box? How do you deliver it? And it’s all about at different points in time. This industry has gone through a lot of technological transformation and every time a wave has come and I think we as humans have adopted it. There is no point always, looking at the shortage, I don’t think there’s a shortage. It’s all about the mindset and making sure that you have the right set of people who adapt to things, who have a huge learnability, who can learn and quickly deliver. And that’s the reason most of the organization takes a very important part, which is to hire, train, assess, and deploy as a model.

And I think that has always worked in these 30 years. I have seen that you find adjacency skill, you find relative skill and how you make your rest of the organization ready? Remember, there are tools or we call it technology, the skills, whatever we call them, it keeps coming in. It enhances, it changes but the fundamentals of it doesn’t change, your role requirement doesn’t change. So you actually need to quickly learn, make sure that you have embraced some of them and move on. And I think that’s what is helping the last three decades, and I’m sure the next three decades will be the same. How do you actually make sure that you have created an environment where people can, you know, get trained, get themselves assessed on a specific skill set and deploy them to their work. That facilitation has been important for this industry and will continue to play a major role for all of us who work in this industry.

SatJ: Many of the organizations today always look for a perfect 100 percent skill match and we have seen this in our talent acquisition days. Now while managing the skill levels, training them, enhancing their capability. Requires very careful orchestration. Many believe that hiring a hundred percent fit, skilled, ready talent is not going to be possible. 

So how do you as a practitioner on the ground who constantly works with the delivery organization demanding a hundred percent skill set, how do you manage this conundrum and what are some of the unique ways we can manage the situation? 

Arunava: I think this question will be very close to many people’s hearts. We always look for that perfect match and I’m sure every day we look for a perfect match. One thing comes to my mind, and I’ll probably put that example in front of your listeners. You look at one of the major things which has happened in 2023 for a country like India, where we had a launch of Chandrayan successfully and if you really look at Chandrayan one, two, three you will find that the scientists who have worked for one, two and three are all different. They have not looked for the same people, coming in for two or three. It’s a new set of scientists everytime. I think that’s a great example that tells you that you need to know your core, the tools, and your competencies – these are most important. Tools will come, technologies will come, you will adapt, you will learn.

You look at, three of those launches that India had done, there are many learnings out of that, and each of the second team who have picked it up have not only covered what they have learned on the first one and then did more improvement on the second one. There could be a new person coming in with a newer thought, there is always an opportunity to do even better. I always think that there is someone with another organization who knows it better. But it may not be that way. It’s a skill that one needs to actually learn and make sure that, wherever the project requirement is, how you are applying them, how you are deploying those skill sets. Chandrayan is a big example for that. And I think, It’s not only the IT services industry, but I think in all industries people take those as an example that you will keep creating newer things. You don’t need to actually find and I’m hoping that we are about a 60-65 years old industry and transformations are happening. And I think all my colleagues across the organizations are making sure that comes into our industry. We become a lot more mature in terms of identifying talent based on competency, not on tools and technologies, because you can learn them, you can learn and deliver. You need to really look at the core competency of a talent and make sure that you know how to deploy them? 

Second – how do you create that ecosystem within your industry, within the organization, even with the customer? You need to make sure that you are able to tell your customer that you will make sure that the business problem that is in hand, you will solve with the technology now learning that technology, making sure that, you know we have learned that technology and delivered to them is something that should be left with the people that who are actually making that happen. It’s the business problem that you solve. It’s not about very specific tools or an understanding of skill sets. I think if that mindset changes in the industry, that will actually shift the gears. And that has been always, you look at the evolution that has happened from a mainframe to a, today’s AI world, there are probably four out of five skill transformations, which has happened in the industry.

We all have adopted, we have looked at all the newer skill sets we have and how we have actually developed our talent to pick up the newer skills and go on. Over a period of time, they have become obsolete and again a newer phase has come in and I’m sure we have, we have taken enough steps to as an industry, as an individual, as an organizations, we all have done that. It’s only a question of time that we have to rebuild. You look at, how in India it has happened? We all thought that there would be a shortage of talent. You talked about that shortage of talent. We created an ecosystem whereby we have gone to the engineering colleges, which are owned by the private organization.

In our education time, we always had a government engineering college and we felt they had the basic infrastructure and, there cannot be anything outside it. But I think in 2000 onwards, when we felt that the industry is going to have a lot more dependency on talent, we have created an ecosystem whereby, Overall, the ecosystem has produced a huge number of talent and that has taken care of the shortage. So people have come in from the different engineering colleges with certain basic skill sets, problem solving skill sets. And we have adopted all of them. I mean, people have come to the industry from a Civil engineering background, mechanical background, mining background, not only the computer science guys, but we have looked out people who have core engineering skills of problem solving and they all have come in and had a wonderful career in IT services. They have adopted all skills, tools, and technology that’s possible. And overall, that has helped in the whole ecosystem that we don’t have a talent shortage at all. And I think that’s the greatest example that we have set for ourselves. And I think we will continue to evolve as an industry.

SatJ: I know you’ve worked across geos. You worked in the Southeast Asian geography, you worked in the Middle East, you worked, of course, with the North America and European markets. What do you think are the similarities, differences or uniqueness of each of these geographies when it comes to talent supply chain practices and strategies?

Arunava: I think there are nuances for every geography. I think the whole global collaboration has been one of the biggest topics that talent supply chain professionals have. We have looked at it to make sure that you make sure that you reach the talent where they are. I think that’s one thing that we have done now over a period of time where there were pockets, but then we have actually opened up our boundaries so much that we have managed to reach through the talent where they are. It’s not about geography. And I think that’s the biggest thing that has happened. And I think India played a major role in it. Whereby India has produced. Like I said, it is an ecosystem that produces a lot of talent in the marketplace not only, they have got the talent, but we have created the skills, India as a market. You look at each of the geography is unique. Like I said, the US as a geography has a talent shortage. And then there was the initial phase of the IT industry when a lot of talent arbitrage happened from India to there, where, we have made sure that the overall availability of a supply is a lot more, but there were constraints in terms of your immigration laws and so on and so forth. And we have navigated that, and I think there’s been a remarkable political and economic will that has played well to make sure that the availability of talent in every marketplace happens. I’ve worked with a lot of Asia Pacific countries and what we have made sure in our previous organization , how do you localize the talent? And, while doing the localization, we have done a glocalization actually, so how you take global talent and mix them with the local talent and enhance the overall ecosystem was one of the biggest things that we have practiced and that worked pretty well. You look at China where we had no presence, but we built up a large presence in China as a market. What we did, we took a lot of core people from a different market and made sure that we get local talent and those core team members actually helped build those talent locally.

So that’s the pitch for the industry, how do you localize? Bring your core talent from across wherever they are available and make sure you improve the local talent. Same goes with our ITS industry look at the Philippines the way they, they actually worked on it. You talked about the Middle East. I know the challenges that we have gone through in our initial phase when we went to Saudi Arabia as a country, but I think there was a lot of political will to make sure how those best talents came to the local market and they helped the local market to grow and that all worked. I think every country has taken that, the global thought process in their mind and made sure that the local talent is there. So I think the big learning for me has been that, make sure that you improve the local talent. And how do you do that? You Get your talents across the globe. Make sure that you bring them for your customer and build around that. So that has been. The key when it comes to the whole global collaboration that we talk about.

SatJ: For the next phase of the discussion I wanted to essentially ask you about the role of technologies and platforms that have played in helping this talent supply chain transformation. And I’ll be failing in my duty if I don’t use the buzzword AI, where everything is just AI. 

So how do you think technology has played a role in optimizing talent supply chains across organizations? And two, what do you think is the impact Gen AI has had on the jobs and on the talent supply chain ecosystem Arunava?

Arunava: I will take you through the talent supply life cycle, and I will say what technology has done into some of them, and that will probably give a good perspective to the listener. So let’s look at first and the most important part of an organization – make sure that we have a repository of skill information for an organization. How do you actually get a tool to create your skill taxonomy and make sure that you have actually got your skill repository available for the organization and make it current ,make it current from every angle and, how do you create that framework? What tools do you get? How do you capture it? How do you make it current? In every place there has been a lot of AI built on. Let’s look at the internal talent search and match capability. I think it’s phenomenal. Things have happened in the last few years that, today the tools are able to help you to actually look at a job description available and the profile available and able to tell you who matches this particular job well, and that’s been a huge change in the industry.

So a search and match capability has improved manifold because as in humans, you look at an organization which has a strength of 300, 000 or 500, 000 people, it’s very difficult to go and do a match one by one. It’s just difficult. It’s just impossible at some point in time. So these tools of a search and match engine are also evolving over a period of time. And I think they play a phenomenal role in today’s world [00:22:00] where by a click of a button, you can say, okay, if you need this particular skill then how many are available with you? Where are they available? When will they be available? All that information has become very easy with your advancement in tools, technology and the AI which has come in. So I will go a little more when it comes to external talent. I’m sure before we go and hit the market, we need a job description. So in today’s world, if you have a skill set and a role, you have specified that these are the skills and these are the roles I need. Your AI can actually build your entire job description, and that happens in a click of a button. And today that’s possible. There are so many tools available in the marketplace that do it for you. A candidate outreach, it’s a big conversation, how do you make sure you scale? How do you make sure you keep traceability of information? So today let’s take an example of a recruiter, you have hundreds of recruiters.

They all may not be at the same pace, and is everybody talking to the candidate and asking all the same question? And aren’t they actually keeping all information to them in the same way? But if you have an AI tool available, I mean, today the chatbots available, whether it’s through a chat, like a WhatsApp as a medium, or on a voice call, your AI is able to do that and able to reach people.

Hundreds and hundreds and thousands and you know, millions of people in a, in one go are able to actually have that conversation with your candidate, collect all information and be able to give it to you a stack rank of the candidates available for you. That’s a phenomenal thing which has happened. I’ll give you an example – I did a pilot a few days back. I looked at some of my dormant profiles that I had in the organization. When I say dormant, you know, I’m talking about six months back. Those profiles have come to us and we haven’t looked at them. Looked at such dormant profiles of 9,000 of them, and I said, let’s reach out through an AI chatbot to all the candidates. We took only three hours to reach out to all 9, 000 people and I’ve got a positive response for a career opportunity in my current organization. Of 2,600 people in that three hours which would have been an impossible task if the AI wouldn’t have been with me. And I would have taken probably a hundred days putting some 20 recruiters on the job to get that done.

So it’s phenomenal what happened actually and I’m sure these are the tools and technologies everybody is using. And that’s actually going to help you in your daily life. Find out technology, which is going to change your daily life mundane task. I mean, probably recruiters are going to ask the 20 top questions to everybody in the same fashion. Maybe make sure your AI does that. And, the biggest one is if you are using a chatbot, you are becoming a lot more intrusive in nature – I am able to respond to the candidate whenever I think it does not require me to respond to somebody now, but you know, whenever I am and, and, and. The chat is a big intrusive one. While, you know, I’m doing some work, I can still chat and respond to some of the questions which can actually be a lead indicator to the hiring community and so on and so forth. So that’s one big example. Your interview scheduling, you know, has become a completely automated one in today’s life. You actually don’t need to deploy a human to actually do that task for you. You know, talking to your interviewer, talking to a candidate, finding a common common you know, the slot has become a very click of a button. You look at you know, one of the big issue I think we as an industry face is, is the genuinity of a candidate, you know, and, and I’m sure that’s a big debate that work on India, let’s say, for an example, have come up in a long way, building a informal infrastructure called DIGILocker. If at some point in time, if that becomes to all of us as a golden you know, document then, you know, all these discussions that we talk about will all go away, and I’m sure all of us are doing that. Making sure, you know, we are using them, making an offer. You know, your entire chat bot can actually do the offer management for you.

Today in most of our work, we have probably 20, 30, 40, 50 team members who do offer management alone. But you can actually make a complete automated AI process. through that. Look at the documentation, you know, collecting documents from every candidate. It’s such a painful exercise, but you can do that through even a WhatsApp as a medium and be able to actually give a viewpoint that, you know, if you need 20 documents where you stand on what document how you know who is at what stage, how engage the candidate. So in a post offer follow up, you know, that gives you an engagement with a candidate that you know how engaged they are with the candidate. In all states, you can do it. So that’s on a full supply side. You look at your demand side as well. I think, you know, I will not do justice to my job if I only stick to the supply part of it.

It’s very important that we look at the demand part of it. So. From your CRM tool perspective, you know, which is the biggest one on your demand management. So you have automated someone, how it is able to actually talk to a supply and be able to tell your sales or frontline sales guys what’s available, when available and so on and so forth. So all of that has been a possibility because today we have the AI available with us. And, and with this, I think we have what has become is, you know, it has enabled us. I don’t think we have to think through that situation whereby we think, you know, someone will get replaced by someone.

I think we still have a lot more jobs to do. It’s a collaboration that AI and humans need to do to make sure that there are a lot more. Agile the, the, the, the speed is there they make sure that they are actually helping each other to achieve a better result. So, and, and that collaboration actually is going to help, nothing is going to go away. I think it’s very important how you collaborate with the tools and technologies and take it to a next level. 

SatJ: Great examples and wonderful use cases of how you can use technology to enhance the quality of experience as well as speed of response, especially in the talent supply chain ecosystem where today, if you don’t respond to a candidate, you pretty much have lost that talent in today’s competitive scenario.

We have an interesting round of questions for you. We usually call this the quickfire round. So I have a bunch of questions, I would request you to respond in small bite sized responses. 

What is your one piece of advice for companies looking to scale their recruitment process?

Arunava: I think don’t look for the best match always, look for a near match will be my thought process. And, that will solve a lot of problems for all of us. 

What do you think are the top skills required to be a good talent supply chain expert? 

Arunava: I think the understanding of business or if you know business, then you will get all these signals for yourself for a supply and getting that early signal through a product. Understanding of your business will be the key and you’ve got to learn that out. 

Do you foresee AI replacing some of the traditional roles of recruitment or other talent supply chain professionals have been doing, and do you see this as a challenge?

Arunava: No, I think I would say embrace the changes realign yourself and get into areas where humans have done well. I mean, AI has been the creation of us. We will move to something new. We have created computers, we have created AI and we will, you know, we will create something. The biggest one will be to embrace the change, realign yourself, It’ll be all good.

This was an interesting episode with expert take on talent supply chains to achieving success and organizational growth.

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