‘We are well on our way with our cloud transformation agenda’: Zak Murad

Zak Murad, Chief Technology and Information Officer, CRISIL.

Global analytics company CRISIL’s 5-year strategic plan is to build a strong technology foundation that is highly secure and agile. Its cloud transformation is mostly done and it is now digitising all aspects of the business while removing legacy technology debt and adopting disruptive technologies. Zak Murad, Chief Technology and Information Officer, CRISIL, talks about the technology roadmap of the company and focus areas, in an interview with Ayushman Baruah.

What is the biggest technology challenge you have at CRISIL and how do you plan to address it?

Transform at scale without creating business disruption is a challenge. And, doing this while supporting a demand for accelerated growth from businesses in a highly disruptive technology landscape, along with the hunt for talent makes it even more challenging. We do have a strategic plan in place to address these challenges, and we are well positioned to realise this plan. We are well on our way with our cloud transformation agenda. From an engineering perspective it is mostly done; and our engineering is not just lift-and-shift, but it is really about transforming the way we service our clients and streamline our internal processes with agility.

What is your strategic 5-year plan for CRISIL?

Our 5-year strategic plan for CRISIL is to build a strong technology foundation that is highly secure and agile. This means a move to the cloud – which is almost completed –with close to 100% infrastructure-as-code (IaC). This is backed by a development team that is highly agile vis-à-vis adoption of modern development practices focused on delivering business value at speed, digitising all aspects of the business while removing our legacy technology debt and adoption of disruptive technologies. We are leveraging our matured internal capabilities to better help our clients through our Benchmarking, Risk Solutions, Ratings, Data Analytics, and Consulting capabilities through a client-first approach. We are also improving our employee digital experience by revamping and digitising our corporate systems to streamline the way we do things internally in order to truly move at a much faster pace.

How do you perceive the Indian government’s revised Data Protection Bill?

Data protection is core to what we do and is critical to ensuring a trustful relationship with our clients and the Data Protection Bill is in line with what we believe in. S&P, as a parent company, has strong relationships with regulators globally. The Indian government’s revised Data Protection Bill is in line with regulations that we are already familiar with, and it is good to see the Indian government collaborate with other global regulatory authorities for building a comprehensive framework.

What are some of the tech trends you see in 2023?

The major technology trends this year are clear: cloud transformation will hasten; artificial intelligence, machine learning, and no-code and low-code platforms will proliferate; and cybersecurity will require enormous efforts. Issues around AI governance will be thrust centre stage. Cloud transformation will materially accelerate with global tech majors building out their presence and increasing offerings. Importantly, it is becoming easier for organisations to migrate to, and operate from the cloud. The hybrid cloud environment affords great flexibility to companies.

Organisations continue to invest in tools and build mature operational processes that can cope with increasing complexity. Basic infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is also maturing at a rapid pace and the traditional infrastructure engineering roles are continuing the shift towards cloud engineering and DevOps which is about combining software development and information technology operations. AI and ML are at the front and centre of this seismic shift, with their models going mainstream as demonstrated by the sudden popularity of ChatGPT.

How serious a boon or bane is ChatGPT?

With the sudden popularity of ChatGPT, and as these products become more accessible, organisations will begin to grapple with the ethics, governance, and ‘explainability’ (taking an ML model and explaining the behaviour in human terms) of AI. While good-quality data and data wrangling are inevitable components of building and managing models based on AI and ML, the bedrock of all approaches must be robust ethics. Else a slippery slope will be at hand. Having said that, I think that ChatGPT is disruptive. Not because of the present hype, but because I think it is a useful tool. I think the disruption of such tools or platforms really comes to the fore when its functionality starts to get integrated into value delivery which then leads to innovative ways to accelerate this value delivery.

How has a CIO’s role evolved over the past few years?

CIO roles in the past were either more general business-oriented or very technical, inward-facing roles. With the massive technology disruption happening, and the survival of many enterprises dependent on their ability to digitally transform, a CIO has to fully understand the technology disruptions happening, have the people skills to successfully navigate the people through the digital transformation, and also deeply understand the business and work very closely with business leaders clients to maximize our end client value delivery.

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Ayushman Baruah is the Editor – Asia for Business Transformation (Asia). Ayushman loves to observe technology trends and help decision makers arrive at informed business decisions. Some of his topics of interest are cloud, artificial intelligence, and metaverse. But technology is rapidly evolving and so are his focus areas. In 2013, he also won the 15th annual PoleStar awards for excellence in technology journalism. Besides, Ayushman is a firm believer and proponent of the fact that good journalism is good business. Loves nature and travelling.