Covid-19, an accelerant to a digital makeover: Nigel Vaz

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on April 03, 2020 Published on April 03, 2020

Nigel Vaz, Global CEO of Publicis Sapient

The shift will be driven by three factors, says Nigel Vaz, Global CEO of Publicis Sapient

For Nigel Vaz, Global CEO of Publicis Sapient, it has been an eventful one year of leading the digital business transformation company. The 30-year-old firm has itself gone through several transformations — starting life as a tech consulting company, then focusing on brand experiences and now exiting marketing services and strengthening its capabilities in data/AI and engineering. Excerpts:

Do you think Covid 19 will accelerate the digital transformation journey of companies?

Absolutely. We think about digital transformation being driven by three factors.

1) Changing human behaviour: If you look back, the advent of internet and mobile telephony led to people’s behaviour changing and forced business changes.

2) Technology: This made it all possible.

3) Business models: When new behaviour kicks in and technology changes, it leads to new business models. Twenty years ago, it was incredible to think you could be sharing your house with a stranger. Be it Airbnb or Uber, there are many such examples of new behaviour-led, tech-enabled, business models.

What you are seeing currently is a dramatic escalation of human behaviour dynamics. In healthcare services, banking, e-tailing, we are seeing numbers going through the roof in terms of adoption of digital systems and platforms.

There is huge adoption even among the elderly. I won’t say Covid-19 will be the reason for take-off of digital transformation, but this could be yet another major accelerant because, during this period, most people have figured out how to do things they were uncomfortable with. They don’t have a choice.

What about the other barriers that have inhibited companies from digitally transforming themselves?

A lot of people equate digital transformation with an IT project or a digital project. For us, digital transformation is not a destination but a journey. Every company is in a different point of this journey. Even most advanced technology companies like Microsoft are transforming themselves to be even more digital — if you look at the way they are moving their businesses to cloud.

At the other end we have traditional manufacturing businesses that are still taking first steps in digital adoption. So, there are challenges and challenges in digital transformation.

Then we see situations such as in India, where companies leapfrogged an entire generation of tech. Mobility is the trend that really accelerated the digital transformation trend in India.

The other challenge with digital transformation is that lots of companies have a wrong culture, wrong incentive philosophy.

A lot of companies think of tech and IT as being about risk and cost. The mindset is, keep the risk down and keep the cost low.

Today, to me, technology is moving from risk and cost to value and differentiation, which is actually how tech is going to give the biggest advantage. But there are still a lot of companies in the risk and cost stage.

Publicis Sapient’s own evolution in the last 30 years has been interesting. Can you outline reasons for these transformations?

We exist primarily to serve our clients. We are 30 years old and you could look at the company in three decadal slices. In the first third, we were helping companies leverage the internet to change their business. In the first third, for most companies internet and digital was a small percentage of their revenues. For retailers and small companies, they knew they needed a website. We were shifting people’s ideas in banks, trading houses, etc, but they were still small shifts.

In the second third, our focus was on experiences. The user experience is fundamentally the brand. If I were Taj Hotels and a customer tries to book a room on my website, the booking experience of the customer is the brand. Till then, brand-building was advertising, marketing, storytelling. But what we were offering was brand-building through actual experience.

But both in the first and second third of our existence, we were not actually touching the client’s product. Now, as we help clients digitally transform their businesses, we are deep inside the companies, actually working the product, or the service.

Can we use AI to reorganise the entire customer journey for a bank providing housing loans? The way it worked in the past is, you go see a house, by the time you fill in the paper work, sew the mortgage, somebody would buy the house.

Now if you are the bank, you would be helping me buy the house by getting all the information upfront.

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Published on April 03, 2020
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