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TD Magazine Article

Staying Ahead of the AI Train

Preparing for an artificial-intelligence-influenced future will soon be on every talent development professional’s plate.

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Fri Jun 14 2024

Staying Ahead of the AI Train
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EXL: 2024 BEST Award Winner, #19

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Preparing for an artificial-intelligence-influenced future will soon be on every talent development professional's plate.

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If you want to envision life in the fastest of lanes, imagine sitting in the driver's seat of Sanjay Dutt, global head of learning and capability development for EXL. You may soon be following his lead.

A major provider of data and artificial-intelligence-led digital operations, solutions, and analytics services, EXL is modernizing its portfolio to embrace the latest advances in data, domain excellence, and AI solutions. In the process, it has gained global expertise in technology's most dynamic trends, including generative AI, cloud technology, data, and analytics.

It is Dutt's job to make the necessary talent transformation succeed by upskilling the company's workforce and radically changing the culture of more than 54,000 employees—all while staying ahead of technological whirlwinds. From his base in Dublin, Ireland, Dutt heads a team of 85 capability development and HR professionals who are engaged in EXL offices around the world.

He says success in his role requires an unwavering commitment to building a workforce that is not only well prepared for AI and the digital age, but one that can also drive innovation, customer experience, and productivity and efficiency gains.

An upskilling blueprint

To meet the daunting demand for digital practitioners and experts, Dutt's team established a robust capability development blueprint for upskilling its workforce. The three-year Future Ready Talent Strategy focuses on building 14 new capabilities in the field of AI and generative AI as well as data and analytics, significantly expanding the company's expertise in AI and data-driven decision making and insights.

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The initiative includes training programs on cutting-edge technologies to align employee capabilities with emerging industry demands. Through a comprehensive upskilling and reskilling initiative, Dutt's team has created a culture of continuous learning.

Achievements to date include higher value delivery to clients complemented by high levels of client satisfaction. "Our strategic talent development efforts not only addressed skills gaps but transformed it into a catalyst for growth and excellence," Dutt shares.

The campaign equipped more than 7,000 digital practitioners with skills and knowledge needed to excel within the burgeoning landscape. In specific domains, such as AI, cloud, data management, machine learning, and computer vision, the learning team developed more than 650 digital experts who are now industry leaders in their respective areas, Dutt says.

EXL rolled out its Future Ready Talent Strategy in 2021, as AI and generative AI began making waves in the marketplace. The company evaluated the current capabilities of the EXL workforce, focusing on where their professions may end up within four to five years. The learning team consulted the field's leading experts and top business school experts for insight. The resulting feedback, Dutt states, "created huge excitement within the company."

Within an accelerated span of time, the team upskilled EXL to be ready for the generative AI craze—a considerable feat, says Dutt, for an enterprise of its size.

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A critical focus that emerged was to drive practitioners' capabilities around identifying specific use cases for enterprise transformation and orchestrating it end to end from strategy and design to deployment, change management, and results. In response, Dutt's team approached leading data and AI experts and business schools for their insights regarding AI's future impacts on client business.

Executive buy-in

Dutt has personally engaged in all things AI to ensure the readiness of EXL's workforce. In that pursuit, he enjoys the full endorsement of the C-suite, which prioritizes capability development alongside business growth and performance. The executive team links talent outcomes directly to client outcomes. Executives also demand a workforce that is fully attuned to the forward-looking needs of clients and is comfortable in the worlds of AI and data expertise.

Senior leaders are the driving force behind the employees' empowerment, Dutt notes. They furnish essential resources from cutting-edge technologies to a rich array of learning channels, including online courses and interactive workshops, ensuring that individuals acquire new capabilities effectively.

"Talent development is front and center of any strategic conversation among our company's leaders," Dutt states.

Thinking about tomorrow

What fuels the initiative is the vision that a skilled and technology-savvy workforce is critical for the company, explains Dutt.

"We rely on people who can listen, who are comfortable with AI, who know how to use data, and are not just managing services," he says. "When that happens, you change the culture of the company."

Dutt's advice for TD professionals everywhere is to prepare for the emerging trends within their own organizations. "Since technology keeps changing, one of the biggest challenges faced by companies is the difficulty of upskilling their people at scale without fully employing learning technologies to their fullest," he warns.

Dutt also urges TD professionals to climb aboard the AI train if they haven't already done so. "Gen AI and \[large language models\] are making AI accessible for widespread adoption," he stresses. "AI will soon start shaping strategy, operations, and people's lives—a profound change." Within EXL, Dutt and other senior leaders lead by example by conducting their own research and meeting personally with AI pioneers.

The business world has not fully realized just how profound that change will be. "There's a lot in this emerging field that's not generally known, from the intricacies of 'narrow AI' to the complexities of general intelligence," he states. At a minimum, he cautions that TD practitioners will be preparing employees to transition into higher-value-added roles as AI assumes the mantle of repetitive tasks.

View the entire list of 2024 BEST Award winners.

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