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Sheldon Monteiro

Global Technology Officer | 14 Sep 2015

We are looking for brands that are looking to change the status quo

If SapientNitro were to be described in one word, it would be ‘disruptors’ says Sheldon Monteiro, Global Technology Officer, SapientNitro. “That’s the reason why we embarked on this new journey with Publicis,” says he. Publicis completed its acquisition of Sapient Nitro in February this year.

“In partnership with our new parents, we have the opportunity because of scale now, to actually push change throughout the industry. It’s going to be a huge change management exercise as we stand out as ‘Publicis Sapient’ , as we make an impact across Publicis portfolio. But I’m very excited to be disrupting the industry,” shares Monteiro.

In conversation with Priyanka Mehra, Monteiro talks breaking boundaries between the intersection of technology and story, creating effective business collaboration platforms, why he considers Amazon, Facebook, Netflix competition and more…

Q. Who do you consider as competition given that agencies today are catering to vast spectrum from technology, creative, media and digital?

I don’t really look at systems integrators or agencies as competition. I don’t mean to be arrogant but I just don’t spend as much time thinking about them as thinking about digital businesses that have truly made the jump. So I look at companies like Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and I say what kind of capabilities have these people developed to move at the speed they are moving and achieve the kind of success with experimentation and agility that they do. If you spend time watching industries that are already under significant stress like other agencies or other system integrators then you are not looking at the right thing.

Look at Amazon. I’m talking about this as a technologist. Amazon pushes code changes in the production 10,000 times a day. Your average systems integrator is pushing code changes into production maybe once a quarter. Customers demand transparency and speed. That’s where I look for competition. You might say they are not competition, but they are, when it comes to talent. I am looking at the same type of people and I want those people. I don’t want the people who are just interested in clocking in from nine to five and doing an industrial era job.

Q. Who is an ideal client?

We are looking for brands that are looking to change the status quo. This is a consumer empowered world where consumers are enabled with technology, we are looking at brands who say ‘how do we shift the dialogue from just communication and experience to a fusion of the two?

Q. How do you actually achieve a balance between creativity and technology within the agency at a grass root level?

There are multiple legs. If you think about culture from a structural standpoint, you enforce culture by the things you choose to talk about and the things you choose to recognise. The things that actually get discussed in meetings at different levels. When we talk about this intersection of story and technology, it isn’t just something that resides on a poster. We have rituals that are conducted at team levels and leadership team levels where we are actually talking about what the system was delivered, or this piece of creative work was done, but how does it actually push the current norms? That’s what we mean by breaking boundaries, it’s a fresh take on connecting the two in a very powerful way. We choose to recognise the work very visibly at the team level and leadership level, things that are pushing the envelope.

There are other pieces that are good work or average work that don’t get talked about as much so quickly people start to recognise what do we value as an organization and what do we value less as an organization. They get encouraged to push themselves more. We have rituals like team de-briefs on a quarterly basis, where we are talking about work and if it is pushing boundaries. And if not, what can we do to reframe it. Because sometimes the team feels they are very constrained, but the client wants it that way. Is that really the case or is there a stewardship conversation that can be had with the client to reframe the way the client is thinking? Because it is incumbent upon client services as well to reframe what the client is looking for. Clients in most cases are looking for the same things that we are. But they may have constraints like the amount of risk they want to take, or the budget that they have. We look to make it so that it doesn’t equate to budget doubling. There are ways to get around that.

Q. How difficult is the implementation and how do you approach it?

We have built the internal working environment to foster this kind of collaboration. A lot of agencies will talk about their physical space. They have great offices and creatively organized. The reality is that work gets done by people who are in different places. They get done by large teams that are distributed. So how do you put in place the social collaboration and business collaboration platforms and culture to work on those platforms that are deployed on a global unified basis? We’ve been on that path for almost five years. It has really taken off in the last two and a half years. Pretty much every Sapient employee is on our social business platforms. We have put in place global workflow platforms that make work a social object so you cannot just say this task is done, but there can be a conversation around that task where the people working on that task are actually putting in comments or asking questions to each other.

All of this is mobile-enabled. A person sitting in Gurgaon can ask the creative leads that might be working very closely with clients in Europe a question that needs to be answered vs it going through a formal document. Millenials want to have the same kind of technology that they have in their personal lives at work too. Millenials are now 35% of the workforce. They are larger than GenX and those earlier.

Q. How has technology impacted the creative process?

In a lot of cases what tends to happens is you hear this conversation around ‘the new art and copy is code and data’. I think that is rubbish. The reason is technology, which is not just another medium. It is something that infuses and challenges the creative process. Your canvas is just a canvas. You can use new colours but the canvas doesn’t fundamentally change its texture and operating parameters and the way new technology is advancing today, really enables different kinds of executions.

Technology informs the creative process as much as it ‘realizes’ the creative process. When you say a canvas informs the creative process, it’s a reach to go there. I’m not a big subscriber that it is just another medium. We tend to bring in technologists, both enterprise technologists and experienced technologists right into the creative process. Where we are examining the art of the possible. What’s possible with new technologies, with Internet of Things.

You can put these people in a lab. And they can be mad scientists and come up with new possibilities but it is not the same thing as having them in the pitch team. That’s where they feed off each other’s ideas in order to create new possibilities. The acquisition-oriented strategy will struggle with that. Let’s say you are on the traditional side of the house. Now you have acquired a digital firm and they are sitting right next to you. Let’s say it’s the most important pitch of the year. Your business survival depends upon it. Are you going to take risks with this thing you don’t quite understand yet? You don’t quite speak the language. Or are you going to hedge your bets? And put the people that you know have done things in the past for you. It’s the same thing if digital does reverse. When push comes to shove, the executives that are going out in the front are still the executives that own the P &Ls. When you value them, it really matters. If you don’t do that , you are not going to be able to be authentic. When we started down the path it was exactly that. We had hard conversations at the leadership team levels that this is unacceptable, this is not what we want. We started to change our own behaviours.

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