Deloitte’s Kulasooriya: Digital Disruption Can Be A Positive For Developing Economies If They Have The Right Strategy

The Singularity University has a track record for innovative thinking. . At the last Singularity Summit in Bogotá, Colombia, Cognitive Business News’ executive editor Loren Moss was able to sit down with Deloitte’s Duleesha Kulasooriya who runs their Center for the Edge. Kulasooriya  had thoughts to share on how disruptions brought about by things like Robotics Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and the decline of large scale manual labor as seen in traditional factories can actually be a benefit for developing economies.

Here are excerpts of their conversation.

The Singularity U Colombia 2020 Summit takes place August 18 & 19. For More information click here.

Cognitive Business News: So, I am here with Duleesha Kulasooriya. You are Deloitte’s executive director for their Center for the Edge. What is that?

Duleesha Kulasooriya: We are a small group within Deloitte, it´s based at San Francisco and Silicon Valley, we have another unit in Amsterdam another in Melbourne, (and now one in Singapore). We look at how the world is changing and why it matters and what you do about that, and if you ask a consulting colleague what drives their behavior, they will tell you it is whatever keeps their clients up at night. Our mandate is slightly different, our mandate is what should be keeping clients up at night and how do you bring that to the table. So, we look five to ten years out, we frame the perspectives in a way that you can understand it, and then, not only do we frame the future in a way that you can understand it, we say, well, given that, what do we do about it today? We do three things. We do research, we write papers, we do the research to kind of understand and frame, so we write papers about it, we do eminence, speaking like this and we also do advisory with a selection of clients, we work with them to help with their own transformation.

Cognitive Business News: That´s interesting, because, you know, I think of Deloitte coming from a finance background, I think of Deloitte as an audit, and large company accountant basically, but it´s interesting because we see companies like Deloitte, and the traditional Big Four have been evolving, then we also see companies, I am reading a book right now by Bill Mattasoni and when his time met at McKinsey and also BCG and its fascinating because his focus was marketing, he kind of pulled them away from traditional strategy into a different area, and so now, how important is it for companies, even if you go as a consulting you tell, for example General Electric how to reinvent itself, but you guys as a company that has been known 20 or 30 years ago, Deloitte, ok, they do my audit as a publicly traded company or they do our taxes for a multinational, but here we are talking about innovation and ways to disrupt and ways to see the future. How does that fit into the core DNA of a company like Deloitte?

Duleesha Kulasooriya: It´s a very common misconception that we are still an audit and tax firm, those are our roots, it started as an audit firm more than 100 years ago, and in most geographies that’s still what we are commonly known for. Now, in the US, in Europe and Australia, our consultants…at this point, consulting makes more money than all the other businesses combined, so it´s very dominant, and beyond consulting, we have many other edges like The Center for the Edge, we have a practice in blockchain, we have a practice on the future of work, all these different edges that are relevant to everything here at the Singularity Summit. I mean our partnership with Singularity University itself, is an example of that where the other guys aren’t. So, we recognize that we too need to evolve, and a big part of the evolution is kind of pushing the boundary, pushing the edge from where it is and I think the marketplace is coming to realize that Deloitte is more than an audit firm. I think for Colombia we had to do something like this, for them to say “wow, I didn’t know you guys did that!”

Cognitive Business News: That´s interesting and especially in a place like Colombia, I don’t know how familiar you are with the country…

Duleesha Kulasooriya: Not enough unfortunately. It´s my first time here, I have been reading a lot before I came, this Orange economy thing is very interesting and I´ve done very relevant work for that in the US but I am learning more about that.

Cognitive Business News: I live in Medellin and Medellin works very hard to position itself or has the aspiration to be like the Silicon Valley of South America. And it’s fascinating because you have San José California and then you have San Jose Costa Rica that also has had a lot of success, and so Medellin is really trying to be the new version, there are a lot of fascinating things happening…

Duleesha Kulasooriya: Santiago de Chile has also done really well in some of those aspects.

Cognitive Business News: You spoke about how a lot of companies or too many people traditionally depend on the resume or old traditional qualifications and I think that that is fascinating, especially in Colombia, if you spend time here you will see it is a very traditional country.

Duleesha Kulasooriya:I spoke at Deloitte Colombia yesterday and I was the only male not wearing a tie. And I was definitely the only person with a mohawk! Well I am the only partner at Deloitte with a Mohawk.

Cognitive Business News: Especially in Bogota. It would be very hard for a nonconformist to come up through the ranks in a place like Colombia, many times you will go to some talk and you will see introductions and the speaker will spend five minutes reading about what university the speaker went to 30 years ago and what they did and all this…

Duleesha Kulasooriya: It´s a qualification for you up there…

Cognitive Business News: While back in the states on the other hand, you might see somebody who is a great programmer for example: “Well how did you learn Python?” “Oh, I taught myself”…We´ve got a friend visiting right now in Medellin, I had to leave him to come here, but he has been a CTO, he lives in California, and he has been a CTO for several companies that have been clients of ours, and his whole career has been in IT and software, but his degree is in music, and it would be extremely difficult for somebody to do that here in Colombia. I think that as they can shake that they can accelerate, and you see that need for…

Duleesha Kulasooriya: Absolutely. So, in all of these places, either we break the culture or not, so, that is no different from what I am talking about in an organization and having to do something different, and having the conviction and the courage to do something different. Once you find one or two examples, if you shine the spotlight on them, then more people feel you have permission to try something as well. The reason I have this mohawk (haircut) is kind of for that reason, there´s a festival called Burning Man, actually in the next building they have a whole lot of….

Cognitive Business News: A lot of people here know about Burning Man, I´ve got a friend from Cartagena who goes to Burning Man every year.

Duleesha Kulasooriya: Yes, I go to Burning Man every year, and I shaved a mohawk for the festival because that is what I wanted to do, I could be myself and be that for that week. So, I come back, shave it back, go bald, it’s hair, right? Not a big deal. One year, I kept a little longer than that, and this lady walked up to me and said thank you, and I said for what, and she said, well, I don’t know if you noticed, I am wearing a snow string. I don’t, it´s a tiny little thing, and she said, well I take it off during the week and only wear it on the weekend, because I didn’t think it was appropriate then I saw you walking around with a mohawk and it made feel okay to bring my whole self out to work.

So, what I realized was that inadvertently I had created a space of permission, where others can be themselves. so, I kind of took that to the next level, so, even, I have an office, but I don’t sit in the office, I sit in the bullpen with all of the younger colleagues so that I can also learn from them and then can learn from us, and I am also in their day to day so that we can interact more, and we can have a normal conversation, so we can actually talk about it, and there is not like a hierarchy. I go to work in a hoodie, I go to work in jeans and a hoodie, because we always had this thing of “dress to the level of a client.” Well, what do you think people at Facebook and Google and all the startups wear? They are not wearing suits and ties, it´s a different world, right? You realize that stuff is very superficial, it´s not what matters.

So, what you need in Colombia, and it will happen over time, are more examples of people who are doing things differently, you will need that startup, Rappi or something else, that suddenly begins: Oh! So, I don’t have to go join a large corporation, I can do this and be successful too. You need someone who is kind of flamboyant in some way to show a case and be successful. You need alternate models to succeed in order for others to have permission to do so as well.

Cognitive Business News: We look at scale and one of the things you talked about, disrupting at the edge, that reminded me of the book “The Innovators Dilemma” which is a very popular book in Silicon Valley, and there are cases of companies that are very large for example, General Electric, IBM, Kodak, and what happens is that sometimes there are business reasons why the cant necessarily bet the whole company on something, maybe the right thing is to disrupt yourself, eat your children, and it´s fascinating because I wonder how that can apply to countries that are medium size economies like Colombia that just entered the OECD and are advancing, the basic infrastructure is here such as fiber optic, and 4G and all that stuff, but still in many ways they are playing catch-up. How can they leverage those concepts to be able to either leapfrog or to grow more quickly?

Duleesha Kulasooriya: So, a few things. One, you do need the technological infrastructure, if you are saying that is already there, that is great, because that gives everyone access and the ability to take part of the digital economy. That’s the first one.

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