Challenging the Status Quo: How to Become a Business First Technologist

Sanjay Gupta
CTO at the Small Business Administration
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Podcast Questions

  • Where the SBA sees the future of AI and ML
  • Talk about Sanjay being a business first technologist and challenging the status quo in IT
  • The story of the SBA implementing the CARES Act Congress passed in March.
  • What advice Sanjay would you give to CIOs and CTOs in a digital first world so they don’t get fired.
  • The importance of customer experience
  • The importance of agile mindset
  • The SBA’s success with its 90 day sprints

Official Bio

Sanjay Gupta joined the U.S. Small Business Administration in January 2017 as Chief Technology Officer from the private sector. Sanjay is a business driven, results oriented leader, adept at leveraging technology to innovate and deliver results quickly. He brings to SBA an exclusive combination of experiences as a CIO/CTO, Managing Partner Consulting, and as a Research Analyst.

Throughout his career, Sanjay has led business/IT transformations across industries. He brings extensive global experience across industries in areas such as IT Strategy, Innovation, Digital Transformation, Architecture, Cloud, Mobile, Strategic Sourcing, Vendor Management, Contracting, Cybersecurity, Agile Development and Open Source.

Sanjay has authored over 20 research white papers focused on advice and guidance for CIOs/Boards. He isa recognized industry thought leader, keynote presenter, speaker and author.


Joe Toste (00:00):

This episode is sponsored by Nagarro. Nagarro is an 8,000 plus digital product engineering company that excels at solving complex business challenges through agility and innovation. We call it Thinking Breakthroughs. Thinking Breakthroughs is how we've helped industry leaders to embrace digital and accelerate technology-led innovation.

Joe Toste (00:17):

Our clients range from startups to Fortune 500 companies like Verizon, Honeywell, Siemens, Lufthansa, Google, Intel, and many more. Our goal isn't just to be another vendor, but a long-term strategic partner. And what really separates us is how we see the changing and evolving world. The challenges that companies are facing are more unique and complex than ever before, especially with the technology disruption happening across the globe today. And it's this technology disruption that our clients look to us to find solutions in a forward-thinking, agile, caring, extension of your team kind of way, that can help transform, adapt and build both the now and the future.

Joe Toste (00:57):

At Nagarro, we care. Caring is our super power. It drives us to deliver excellence to our clients. It makes us responsible and it makes us better colleagues. It all begins with the conversation. You can email me at joe.toste@nagarro.com Or message me on LinkedIn. For all information on Nagarro, check out nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O.com. Let's talk about the possibilities. And now, off to you, James.

James (01:27):

Thanks, Joe. And welcome everyone. You're listening to season two of TechTables, a Q&A podcast dedicated to interviewing industry leaders from across the globe, ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, mixing it up each week with topics ranging from design and digital product engineering to AI and industry 4.0. Let's do this, Joe.

Joe Toste (01:49):

Thanks, James. I'm super excited today, as we shift our focus to all things IT at the SBA, that's the Small Business Administration. Huge thank you to Sanjay Gupta for taking time to come on the show and be with me. In today's episode, we'll cover where the SBA sees the future of AI and ML. We'll talk about Sanjay being a business first technologist and challenging the status quo in IT. We're going to talk about the story of the SBA implementing the CARES Act, Congress passed in March. What advice Sanjay would give to CIOs and CTOs in a digital first world so they don't get fired. The importance of customer experience. The importance of an agile mindset and the SBAs success with its 90 day sprints.

Joe Toste (02:25):

But that's quite enough from me. Without further ado, I'm thrilled to welcome Sanjay Gupta CIO at the small business administration.

Joe Toste (02:32):

Welcome to TechTable. Super excited for you to come on today.

Sanjay Gupta (02:36):

Glad to be here.

Joe Toste (02:37):

Awesome. Love it, Sanjay. And so I was reading why the U.S. needs a strategy for AI. I know it's maybe about a year old or so, but I thought that was pretty good by the CTO of the United States. And he said, as president Trump said in his recent State of the Union address, we must invest in the industries of the future. There are a few industries more important than AI for the SBA. Where do you see the future of AI and ML?

Sanjay Gupta (03:03):

Big question, actually, Joe. And thank you for that. Let me begin with just doing a little context setting around artificial intelligence and machine learning or AI, ML as you refer. First off, I use the concept of creators and consumers. And the reason that's important to talk about at the onset is because, creators are the people who create the algorithms for the artificial intelligence, and consumers are pretty much everybody else like you and me, hopefully, who use that algorithms.

Sanjay Gupta (03:34):

And the reason I bring those two distinctions is because, for the large part, at least in my assessment, I would say about 95 to 98% of the users would fall in the consumer category. And there's a small portion that falls under the creator category, and rightfully so, that should be how it is. And the reason I want to bring that distinction is because oftentimes if you do not apply the lens of a creator versus a consumer, things can get a little murky in the AI, ML space. So, I usually begin the AI, ML discussion with that.

Sanjay Gupta (04:07):

Now, in terms of the question about where are we SBA going forward in terms of the AI, ML footprint. First off, clearly applying my own concept, we are a consumer of AI, ML and to be more specific, we are more in the machine learning category as opposed to the artificial intelligence category. So, we have implemented cybersecurity tools which help us to improve our cybersecurity posture. And let me give you a simple example of anomaly detection to help clarify how we're using machine learning in that environment today.

Sanjay Gupta (04:44):

So, for example, let's say I logged in, in Washington DC on the SBA network, say at 8:00 AM Eastern. And then say at 9:00 AM Eastern, my login credentials shows coming from Los Angeles, California. Clearly I could not be at 8:00 AM Eastern in Washington DC and at 9:00 AM Eastern in Los Angeles, California. So what the system will do is, will raise an alert. It's an anomaly to improbable travel and alert our security analysts to look into this further.

Sanjay Gupta (05:18):

So, that's a simple example of how we are using anomaly detection, which is form of machine learning. Now, in terms of your question about where do we see us in the future. We certainly would see, I foresee we will increase the use of machine learning, anomaly detection. We're also using machine learning capabilities for natural language processing and sentiment analysis. So I would see, we'd continue to increase the use of that. We're also using algorithmic-based decision support for credit management, credit risk assessment and fraud detection. So, I would see that we would continue to increase the use of these services, but use algorithms at the basis. So that's a long way of answering your question, but that's how I see the use of AI, ML from an SBA perspective.

Joe Toste (06:06):

Yeah, no, that's really great. Definitely seems from a very broad use that you'll be able to implement machine learning, which is really, really great. So, I was kind of curious, I know when we talked before, this is your first public sector job. And so I kind of wanted to get your experience from the private sector, but you think like a businessman, you kind of have that business, technologist blend together. Can you just talk about challenging the status quo and always looking for solutions?

Sanjay Gupta (06:34):

Sure. So, as you said, I've been here, the Small Business Administration for about three and a half plus years. First time in the federal government, my entire career prior to that has been in the private sector. I was a CIO/CTO for almost 14 years. I've run a consulting practice and I've also authored about 20 plus research papers when I was CIO/CTO to share my experiences with my fellow CIO/CTOs. And one of the things I've found in my entire career is, you always start with the business first. Technology for the sake of technology is probably not a good idea. And I have used this belief as my foundation throughout my career in consulting as a practitioner CIO/CTO. And I'm applying the same principles here as well.

Sanjay Gupta (07:22):

My consulting career gave me the opportunity to work across many industries, globally. And one of the first things I used to do is understand the business drivers, understand the business market scape and then figure out technology solutions that would be best suited to meet that market space. And so that's always how I've approached solving problems, using technology as a tool, as opposed to using technology for the sake of technology.

Sanjay Gupta (07:50):

In terms of the challenging the status quo, one of the things I've learned over the career and which is something I've applied here at the SBA as well, is that, to innovate and to be thinking outside the box, you have to have an inherent belief that you can use technology to solve a problem in a better way than what you are doing today. And so that's the inherent belief I go in with and look for opportunities to see how I can improve the mission outcomes, the business outcomes, by the application of technology as a tool amongst other tools. So, that's how I've been approaching situations. And that's how I've used my experience and knowledge here at the SBA in challenging the status quo and modernizing the IT foundation for the SBA.

Joe Toste (08:39):

Yeah. I love that. I think bringing that business background, studying the business first and then asking the question, "Hey, how can I layer on the technology?" Really, really important. So, when the CARES Act was passed in March, the SBA was suddenly in charge of 10 times the amount of usual funds it has to distribute to small businesses. I only got the Wall Street Journal cover on it. I'm sure it was hectic and crazy. I grabbed a quote, you said, "We're trying to push about 349 billion through the program in about 10 days or less." That's really incredible.

Joe Toste (09:13):

I'm just curious, walk us through the timeline of you probably reading the Wall Street Journal, like me, you see Congress passes the act and then you're probably thinking to yourself, "Okay, now my team has to actually execute the technology behind it to actually deliver this." Can you just maybe recount that story just from your own perspective?

Sanjay Gupta (09:36):

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So let me kind of do a little fact sharing, if you will. And actually the volume was actually more than 10 times. And I think you're referencing the time when the first trench or the first round of the CARES Act was passed for about 350 billion, since then that number had increased through subsequent Congress legislation. So, a few facts that I think will help lay the foundation of the volume and velocity of transactions we were dealing with through the March, April, May, June timeframe, if you will.

Sanjay Gupta (10:10):

So, first off, the Office of Disaster Assistance at the SBA since March has processed more loans, disaster loans to be more specific, then they have processed in the entire 67 year history of the SBA. So, let me say that one more time. We have processed more loans in the last about 100 plus days for disaster support than we had processed in the entire 67 year history of the SBA. So, that sort of gives you one point of comparison or the volume and velocity of transactions we are dealing with.

Sanjay Gupta (10:45):

The other side, which has also been in the news quite a bit, and I'm sure you and others have read about is, what's called it the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP, which is one of our SBA loan guarantee programs. In that program, the number you're referencing, the CARES Act when it was enacted in March, actually March 27th, the Friday, there was $349 billion that were appropriated for the PPP program. And we at the SBA processed that in roughly about 14 days. And just to begin, give you a compare-contrast on that, Joe, we typically in a year process, the volume of loans in our loan guarantee program that we processed in one day.

Sanjay Gupta (11:30):

So, simple math, one day we processed the loans that we would typically process in one full year's time. So, 14 years worth of loan processing for loan guarantees, we did in about 14 days. And so that's the staggering amount of transactions we were asked to do processing, and obviously it was a good reason. The economic recovery was hinged on this and we at the SBA found ourselves at the forefront of this. But let me kind of recount back and give you a little perspective on how this journey started for us. So-

Sanjay Gupta (12:03):

And give you a little perspective on how this thing journey started for us. So in the third week of March, it was before actually the CARES Act, which had passed on the 27th of March. The president had declared the global pandemic COVID-19 as a national disaster. So our disaster processing and disaster loan processing had actually begun before the CARES Act, and the flood gates they had already opened for us. And then when the CARES Act was passed or enacted on the 27th of March, PPP Program also kicked off. And we were given about a week to start the process, but we were also told that we don't really need to wait for a week to start processing that. So the first order of business for us was actually to move our entire SBA staff to telework status. And what that meant is, overnight we had to ramp up our capabilities to ensure that all of our staff was telework capable.

Sanjay Gupta (12:57):

And why was that important? It was simply important because we needed to ensure SBA's business operations were maintained and there was no break in that. And why was that important? Because obviously we needed to process the PPP Program and the Economic Disaster Injury Loan Program, or EDIL Program, in a short period of time for helping the nation with its economic recovery. So certainly those were very, very tiring times. There were long days and nights, I think that blended quite seamlessly for a lot of us, myself included. It was a blur of time, quite frankly, as we look back and see how we scaled up to that volume of transactions, and there was numerous things we did. We implemented new portals, we augmented existing capabilities because of the sheer volume. And just to sort of give you an illustration, one of our disaster loan application portals, which is where the disaster people would come in and put in an application, needless to say, the flood gates had opened and there was a tremendous volume of transactions coming to that.

Sanjay Gupta (14:03):

So first, obviously we started to beef up that solution by adding, if you will, more resources behind it. I recognized early on that we were likely to run into performance issues. So within a few hours, I worked with my team and we stood up another solution in parallel, if you will. And what we did is we put up a simple web page, we put all the loan applications in there and we asked the users to download those applications, fill those applications and upload those applications into a secure site. And I was putting that as a stop gap solution because we were working with another partner of ours to set up a web portal, which would allow us to do an intake on our Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications. But that was roughly about a week away.

Sanjay Gupta (14:47):

So when I set this temporary solution up, I can just sort of give you another staggering amount of data that we collected was, in less than about 100 hours worth of time we saw that we had ingested over a terabyte of data through applications that our users would download, fill in, and then submit back to this portal. So in a span of about eight days, we had three different solutions we were working on to help from a Disaster Loan Application standpoint, because just the sheer volume was something that none of us probably had anticipated or foreseen the extent of that. But certainly we were able to successfully move forward because we had already established a cloud foundation in the years prior. And I'll talk more about it in subsequent questions here.

Joe Toste (15:34):

Yeah, that's really great. I actually don't want to jump ahead, but I know the cloud initiative foundation that you laid in 2017 was, I'm sure a blessing for when this came around. I was curious, did you hear the story? It was a pretty cool story of Mark Cuban and then the CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, Jill Castella. Did you hear that story of the two of them working together to process, I think he was funding the SBA loans? I've read it before, but it was pretty interesting. And then the SBA, I think fulfilled that. I'll have to send you the article.

Sanjay Gupta (16:14):

Yeah. I will like to read through it. But I think you may be referencing also one of the things that we do part of the PPP Program, which like I said, was a loan guarantee program. What that means is the SBA works with a set of financial institutions or lending institutions that process the actual loan applications and they work directly with the borrowers. And then we at the SBA received their validated applications, and then we make a disposition on whether we will, we being SBA, guarantee that loan from that standpoint. So I think the reference you're making too is most likely, I would imagine that they were working with some lending institutions. There are many lending institutions that are part of the SBA platform, if you will. But I'll be happy to take a look at that article and then I'll maybe send you some more detailed commentary on that on a subsequent time.

Joe Toste (17:04):

Yeah. Yeah. I just looked it up so I could refresh. So I think they created a website to automate the SBA's 11 page PPP Loan Forgiveness Application.

Sanjay Gupta (17:16):

Yeah. A lot of the lending institutions on their own took on some of the IT-based either automations or validations, and then different institutions and lending institutions took a different approach. But obviously time was of the essence, and so we at the SBA, and including I would imagine the lending institutions, were working at a furious pace in trying to see how they could address the deluge of demand, if you will.

Joe Toste (17:44):

Yeah. I think it was just everyone around the clock was spitting out solutions so fast. It was really incredible. And I think just from your scene, from behind the scenes on your end, you're living it. I mean, the late nights, early mornings, I'm sure a little bit was stressful. But as we talked in 2017, I mean, that just really laid the foundation. So, but before we get there, you are really successful. And I was curious about, and I know you're a CTO, but what would get a CIO fired today? Not being digital first is something that I've heard some other CEOs, and CIOs and CTOs talk about. So I know you're a CTO, but what advice would you give to CIOs and CTOs in a digital first world so they wouldn't get fired?

Sanjay Gupta (18:32):

Yeah, I think that's a very important question. And I think we all know the average tenure of people with chief information officer or chief technology officer is not a very long duration on average across the industry. So I think in a broad brush sense, I would say to you it is usually if the IT leader, he or she is not lockstep in battle with the business. And what I mean by that is, the business demands usually do not allow a lot of luxury of time to be able to respond to it. And I think I've seen this in my experience in the past, that one of the common concerns that the business leaders have with their IT shop is it takes IT too long to put solutions together. And I think that is a common complaint, because I think as you know, as well as I know, the dynamics of the business landscape are not going to wait for somebody to find a solution, or look for a solution, or wait too long to put that solution in place.

Sanjay Gupta (19:34):

The competitive forces will sort of play, and if you will, provide the solution or fill the gaps if your business entity is not able to come up with a solution quickly enough. So certainly one of the things that I think you were talking about, Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, I actually happened to be on that event, the virtual event I was attending when he talked about that. And I think I'll give you another example. So for example, in the last about 100 plus days, or 220 days or something like that, I think from an SBA standpoint, and I can almost project it to say the most organizations, both public and private sector, just imagine how little paper we are using or printing. If we had all been in offices, you could imagine there's a lot of paper that gets printed slash used. You sign and documents get routed. But I'd like to say that, at least from an SBA standpoint, that amount of paper has been significantly cut down.

Sanjay Gupta (20:31):

So what does that mean? It means we are initiating business workflows in a digital only manner. We are completing those business workloads in a digital only matter. And there's no paper in between, if you will. For a lot of us sitting in their home offices or any other offices, how would you route paper from my office to your office, as an example? Obviously I can scan it and send it back to you and back and forth, but that's a very inefficient way of doing business right. So one of the things I've seen happen here is that we as a collective community, just not the IT community, but the business community as well have adapted and adopted digital workflows, and I think that's really paramount. So going forward, I think it has been predicated on the fact that you have a [inaudible 00:21:18] organization, which allows you to do that collaboration in a digital fashion.

Sanjay Gupta (21:22):

The other aspect from a digital standpoint, if you think about it, is being able to do virtual communications and collaborations right. So you have to have some kind of infrastructure in place to be able to allow you to do that with a work shield workforce. And right now we are almost getting into the six months into this global pandemic situation, and it's probably unknown how long more we will be in this situation. So certainly I would say to net it out, IT leaders that are more in line with current modern practices and are able to respond to the business quickly are the ones who will probably have a longer tenure in their positions. And [inaudible 00:21:59], obviously the people who are a little behind in the technology adoption and being able to pivot quickly are likely to be under the microscope, if you will.

Joe Toste (22:09):

Yeah, no, that's really great. And that is right, Aaron Levie, I do like him. He puts out a lot of really great stuff on all things digital and any blogs or podcasts he's on. So something you did mention, the inefficient use of the paper workflows. I think my first job I interned at some company, I don't even remember exactly the company, but I just remember having to take the paper and walk it over. And I was always thinking, or I'd even scan it in, and I'm like, there's got to be a better way than this. I was just ahead of the curve now. This is before the Dropbox, and Box and all of that and the fax machine was still a thing. So, no, I love that. I love that story, just as far as moving from paper to digital.

Joe Toste (22:55):

There's actually a really similar story with Gary Brantley, whose the CIO of the City of Atlanta. Yeah. He just moved all of everyone off paper, I want to say it was in two days. It was something incredible and they just had to eliminate it because people are going to their homes, they're teleworking and it just really transformed everything. So from reading online, I know that customer experience is a big priority for the SBA and for you, obviously taking a business first approach. Talk about the importance of the SBA providing an excellent experience for it's customers.

Sanjay Gupta (23:26):

Absolutely. So like I said, I come from the private sector and the customer experience has been near and dear to me. I understand the business relevance of that, and also the, obviously the technology relevance of that. And just quite frankly, in the public sector, because you don't necessarily have competitive forces, customer experience has not traditionally been a very important attribute, if you will. And then, so one of the things when I came on board here and realized that we needed to do many, many things to help improve customer experience. So let's just do a quick definition of what does customer mean in our context?

Sanjay Gupta (24:03):

And so let's just do a quick definition of what does customer mean in our context? So there's two types of customers that the way I define for SBA. So one is an internal customers, which are everybody who is not in the IT world within the SBA. So call them the internal customers. And then there's the external customers, external to SBA, if you will. And those are all of the people who are representing the small business community, the entrepreneurs, which is what we at the SBA are there to service and provide services for them. And so one of the objectives has been how can we improve that, and what does that improvement look like? What are the attributes of improving customer experience?

Sanjay Gupta (24:38):

So first and foremost, one of the things that's important is when the customers, the external customers to be more precise, when they are transacting with the SBA, they are able to reduce the friction of their transaction, and there's always all kinds of friction in place. And so reducing that is one way to say this is how we are improving customer experience.

Sanjay Gupta (24:59):

Number two, not in any order of priority is that we're helping them complete their transactions faster. So if it took us X days to do something for the business customers, now we're doing it in X minus Y days, in a lesser time. And then we're offering them, if you will, self-service capability so that they can look up the status of the transaction, if you will. It's a loan application, as an example, or a loan guarantee. And then we're also working towards making the information more accessible to them in a secure manner, obviously, but accessible to, as you would imagine, through mobile devices. So all of our web properties, we converted them to become responsibly designed so they can have a much better user experience when they are accessing SBAs myriad of their properties.

Sanjay Gupta (25:51):

So those are some examples of what we're doing. Another example every time share with you, which is sort of very important is around, I launched this initiative called the enterprise single sign on initiative. And it's kind of a mouthful, but we verse it down, we're trying to reduce the number of user IDs and passwords our customers, meaning our external customers, are having to create with the SBA to interact with the SBA. So what we're saying is we use a shared services for identity management, which comes from another federal government agency called the General Services Administration, or the GSA, and we're using that show service to do identity management. And that allows us to not only help our customers who work with the SBA to use that single identity, but if the same customer is also working with other federal agencies who also happen to use the same identity solution, then they don't have to have multitude of IDs.

Sanjay Gupta (26:48):

So one of the common problems I think you and I both face in our personal professional lives is we have way too many user IDs and passwords, or some credentials to interface and interact with whatever we are doing it in our personal and professional lives. And so this is helping us reduce that sprawl of user IDs and passwords and help them secure this information, and they can work with us. So, there's many aspects of that. We certainly believe that user experience and customer experience is going to be paramount regardless if you're in the public sector or the private sector to help improve our services and service delivery to them.

Joe Toste (27:26):

Yeah. I love that. So you have the internal customers, the non IT folks, then you have the entrepreneurs, the external customers, and then some of the attributes reducing the friction. So great. Helping them complete their transactions faster, really great; X minus Y days. Self-service applications, also really great. Accessible in a secure manner, especially mobile devices, love the enterprise SSO initiative, reducing the number of IDs across the different government sectors, really great. The shared services, those are some really, really great examples and attributes of actually implementing at the SBA. But before you get to the attributes, another, it happens to be an A word, I didn't plan it this way, but an important piece of success is having an agile mindset. And so we talked about the attributes, but let's talk about the importance of having an agile mindset in developing these proactive solutions. And now you can touch upon the cloud initiatives from 2017, too.

Sanjay Gupta (28:28):

Certainly. Yeah. So Joe, I think I'd mentioned about sort of looking from the customers from the outside in, if you will, and how they are looking to reduce the time for the transactions. The other thing I talked about earlier is also, and that's a common resonating business, if you will, concern with IT is it takes longer to deliver business solutions or business capabilities. And so the agile mindset, I use the word agile mindset, I know there's an agile methodology as well in the IT world for developing new solutions. And I kind of use the word agile mindset is because I'm not just only going to limit myself to the agile methodology. The agile mindset implies that you are able to respond to the business needs. You are able to flexibly find new solutions that are creative, they're innovative.

Sanjay Gupta (29:20):

And I'll give you an example. The global pandemic that we all are in right now, no one had anticipated what the impact is or was going to be. And I still don't think we have a clear idea where this is going to end. But that changed the business dynamics dramatically for every organization in the private sector or the public sector. And certainly for us as well in the public sector, we moved to telework and then we had this immense volume of transactions we were trying to facilitate. So the agile mindset is all about trying to be able to think on your feet, look for solutions and look for solutions that address the business need. And I think to that extent, there are two main factors.

Sanjay Gupta (30:03):

The first factor to me is always understanding the business landscape first, is recognizing what are the business drivers? What is it the business is trying to achieve? What outcomes are they looking for? And then you will have to also have a good understanding of the technology landscape to see what are the various solutions available at your disposable, and then be able to apply those solutions from a technology standpoint to produce the outcomes you're looking for. And you have to do it in a quick manner.

Sanjay Gupta (30:28):

So for example, I talked about we implemented many solutions, and I think the longest time any solution that we implemented took about eight days, eight calendar days to be more specific. And let me sort of make it a more further point on that is if you can word that into hours, that's less than 200 hours of elapsed time. So one of the things we did in our SBA's COVID-19 response was if you will change the unit of time. And what I mean by that is the longer we were talking in weeks or months are not even days. We were talking in hours. We went from no solution to a solution sometimes in 12 hours, sometimes in a hundred hours, or sometimes in less than 200 hours was the max.

Sanjay Gupta (31:09):

And so the luxury of time was not there. We had to operate in a mindset, which was like, "Okay, I need to get a solution out there and continue to iterate on that and build on that." One of the perfect examples I'll talk about is we implemented something called the customer service hub. So put simply like most organizations, we at the SBA are different. We have email IDs. If you think about it, customer service at your domain name followed by that. And most organizations use emails to receive customer inquiries, customer support information. And so we were no different. Very soon, our customer support email boxes, if you will, were just overflowing with the amount of data and the amount of inquiries we were receiving. And so we implemented a solution, and I got the first situation of the solution done in four days, to less than a hundred hours, if you will, we had an iteration one done, and that was done back in March.

Sanjay Gupta (32:04):

Today, as we speak almost at the end of the month of August, now, I think we've gone through 12 different iterations and continue to build the capabilities iteratively quickly and deployed it out from a business need standpoint. And we continue to build on that. So that's the example of an agile mindset that I talked about. I think it's very important. It's paramount, because the business really does not have a lot of patience, because traditionally, IT has not been able to respond fast enough. So quite frankly, that is what I refer to when I talk about an agile mindset.

Joe Toste (32:36):

Oh, I love that. So I recorded a podcast episode I mentioned earlier with Gary Brantley, CIO at the city of Atlanta, titled The New Superheroes: How CEO's, I guess you could swap out and put in CTOs, Drive Organizational Transformation with People First. Gary mentioned he has this five, five, five principle. I know he probably stole it from somebody, but basically it was, what can we execute in five days? What can we execute in five weeks? And what can we execute in five months? Talk about the SBA success. And I know you've already touched upon it, but with it's 90 day sprints. I know you've had a lot of success with those.

Sanjay Gupta (33:11):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think I'll kind of bring up the cloud piece here as well. I know we talked about briefly in the last question, but I didn't talk much about it, but yeah. So one of the things I started with when I onboarded here in 2017 was it was very quick assessment that I did. And I realized that we needed to build a strong foundation, and a strong foundation meant using a cloud. And one of the things I've talked about, and I believed in this, is the fact that to be responsive to the business, you have to have solutions in place from a technology standpoint that allows you to be nimble and agile and responsive. And I've known this from my previous experiences that the cloud foundation is one of those tools in the IT arsenal, which allows you to build a very agile foundation.

Sanjay Gupta (33:56):

So, we started with that, and we went from no cloud to a design architecture, a migration plan, and something called an authority to operate. It's something which is applied in the federal word. I never heard that term in the private sector, but that's something you got to do to be able to run something in production when you are in the public sector environment. And we did that in 82 calendar days. And then that was one of the cornerstones of our foundation for more [inaudible 00:10:23]. Little had I known at that point in time when we started this journey that one of the missions for the SBA is about what's called is disaster assistance. And what that means is that when natural disasters, and if you may remember in fall of 2017, there were three major hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey, or Maria that hit, and that caused a lot of damage and destruction.

Sanjay Gupta (34:45):

And so our office of disaster assistance rammed up to support the surge in demand for that. And when I say ramped up, they ramp up in terms of staff. And so one of the things that happens is they have a mechanism to bring on more staff. So normal times, our officer disaster assistance is about 800 or so people. The peak time for Harvey, Irma, and Maria timeframe, we had about nearly 6,000 people just in the office of disaster assistance. And that was done over a period of literally over 60 days.

Sanjay Gupta (35:15):

So that's when the first instance for cloud foundation allowed us to rapidly respond to the disaster assistance needs. Had we not been in the cloud foundation, we would have gone the traditional route of buying more hardware. And then it takes some time for procurement, then you have to configure it, and then you've got to set it up and then run. Obviously, time was critical. So we were able to leverage the cloud in helping us accelerate that. We did that, also on a different note, in a self-funding model. We didn't have the money for that. There was no budget available, but we did a self-funding borrow to fund that initiative. And during this process, we delivered a specific business outcome, which is helping the SBA accelerate its disaster response. That was the driver. And I knew going in that cloud is not the destination. Cloud is an enabling...

Sanjay Gupta (36:03):

... cloud is not the destination. Cloud is an enabler of a business mission, and that's what we were focused on. Fast forward now in 2020 again, obviously no idea about what this global pandemic could or would have been, but again, it was here that we leveraged our cloud foundation in being able to respond expeditiously to this enormous volume and velocity of transactions.

Sanjay Gupta (36:24):

I'll just give you a simple case in point, just to give you some more metrics or data, if you will. So early in April, the President tweeted the SBA in one of his tweets, and our main flagship portal to the world, which is called sba.gov, the number of hits we had received on that in the next few hours went up by 1,000% over the next few hours. Now, obviously we had built this foundation for sba.gov in the cloud, so we were able to scale up to that without a blink of an eye, and that is just a paramount example of how the cloud enabled us to be able to be responsive.

Sanjay Gupta (37:05):

So let me just come back to the 90-day sprints now, so that's a sort of quick example that I got out of the way. So one of the other things that I learned firsthand in the implementation of the cloud in our response to the disaster was the federal world operates under a lot of policies, and rightfully so. Those policies exist to ensure compliance, and ensure consistency, and ensure cybersecurity and other compliance needs that are met. So the Office of Management and Budget, or the OMB, usually brings out these policies.

Sanjay Gupta (37:32):

So one of such policy that was in place was called the Trusted Internet Connections or T-I-C, or TIC for short. And what I realized was that this Trusted Internet Connections policy from the OMB had been put in place about almost 12 to 14 years ago. Obviously the cloud did not exist them, so they did not have that factored in. And back to my earlier comment about challenging the status quo and being innovative, I went around that and said, "Look, we have to find a better way to meet the requirement of this policy. We all have to comply to it, but this policy is something which is quite dated and that is hindering our ability to adopt services through the cloud."

Sanjay Gupta (38:16):

And so I've worked with three main agencies, Office of Management and Budget, OMB, Department of Homeland Security, DHS, and our General Services Administration, which is GSA, and did a 90-day modernization pilot with these three agencies, along with the SBA team, to show that we can meet the goal and the intents of the policy, the TIC or the Trusted Internet Connections policy, and also to help them inform that the policy needed to be updated.

Sanjay Gupta (38:46):

And so the two factors that I use in that case was collaboration and using a demonstrative approach. And what I mean by that is, showing them versus telling them. So what we did is, we, again, used an agile mindset, and we had daily stand-up meetings and we had sprints in our releases. So in a 90-day calendar timeframe, we showed that how we could meet the goal and the intent of the TIC policy. That actually became the foundation for the update to this policy. By the way, this is a federal policy, impacts all federal government, and quite frankly it impacts the entire public sector. And what I mean by that obviously is the state, usually the policies kind of follow from federal government to state and local governments, and counties, and municipalities. So the entire public sector, if you will, gets impacted by these policies in due course.

Sanjay Gupta (39:37):

So the work I led actually helped inform the policy update, the federal level policy update, and became what's called now the TIC 3.0 policy. And that has been claimed as sort of the future model of updating policies in the IT world, specifically by the Federal Chief Information Officer at that point in time. And it has also allowed what is called a positional shift in these policies, and these policies in the past used to be what I call are prescriptive, that you have to follow this prescriptive architecture, as an example. One of the things I was able to negotiate an influence here was the fact that these policies need to be more outcome-driven, meaning if you want to achieve this outcome, don't be so prescriptive. So that set the foundation to help change the policy direction to be less prescriptive, and more, if you will, outcome-driven.

Sanjay Gupta (40:32):

So let me kind of fast forward to another 90-day sprint we did in 2019, another program from the Department of Homeland Security called the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program. It's kind of a mouthful. CDM. Simply put, what that does is it allows the agencies and other organizations to maintain a continuous monitoring and mitigating approach to cybersecurity, and then allow you to improve your cybersecurity posture. That's sort of the high level view of that. So again, I worked with the Department of Homeland Security CDM team, another 90-day calendary, by the way, pilot, and did demonstrate how we could achieve the goal and intent of the CDM using a set of cybersecurity tools that we deployed at the SBA. And so you see a recurring pattern here. 82 days in 2017, 90 days in '18, and other 90 days in '19. And again, in 2020, obviously, probably I would say it was less than 90 days for our initial response to the CARES Act.

Sanjay Gupta (41:31):

So to sort of net it out, one of the things I've known from a private sector is that the three key takeaways of that is, you have to deliver tangible value to gain credibility. Obviously in most IT situations, you have to establish your credibility as a leader or as an organization. And you can only demonstrate items only, but the best way to demonstrate and to gain credibility is by demonstrating and showcasing capabilities that you build and the outcomes they drive for the business. So back in case in point, as we built a cloud foundation, we were able to help with the SBS mission for disaster response in an accelerated fashion. So that was the mission outcome we were supporting. Back again now in 2020 with COVID, we were able to support the mission by allowing use of these technologies and enabling responses there. So that's sort of number one.

Sanjay Gupta (42:24):

Number two is, you have to challenge the status quo, and the examples of the Trusted Internet Connections modernization, the CDM modernization, are prime examples of something that was in place for a period of time. It required discussion. It required partnership. It required collaboration with other constituents and stakeholders to be able to influence and drive change there. And last but not the least is, you have to, I have talked in the past is, you have to take a business approach first and use technology as a solution enabler. You don't start with the technology. You talk about outcomes, business outcomes, and then see what technologies help you get there.

Sanjay Gupta (43:03):

So long ways of answering a question. I love the five, five, five methodology. I think the 90-day mark calendar day, it seems daunting, but at least I've seen in these past four years that every year we delivered a major transformative initiative in a 90-day calendar timeframe.

Sanjay Gupta (43:24):

So what I would want to say as a takeaway here is that this is about demonstrating the art of the possible. We all talk about the art of the possible, but demonstrating that you can achieve it, you can deliver something of substantive impact to the business, is really what matters at the end of the day. And doing it over a repeated period of time every year consistently, across different domains, I think sort of showcases that if you have the desire and the will to do it, you can set your mind and you can do it.

Joe Toste (43:55):

That was really great. So you said a lot there. I don't have enough time to fully summarize everything, but there are three things that you said, it was those last three things that were, I think, really goal. I don't care if you're a CIO, a CTO, product manager, designer, all different types of titles of people that we have come on the Tech Tables Podcast. You said, one, deliver tangible value to gain credibility. So good. Outcomes, really driving those business outcomes. And then number two, you said challenge the status quo. So good again. Number three, business approach, and technology as enabler. So good.

Sanjay Gupta (44:31):


Joe Toste (44:32):

Any domain you're in, those three will will take you pretty far.

Sanjay Gupta (44:35):


Joe Toste (44:35):

So really, really great. So the last question I have for you, this is my wrap-up question. Season two, I took this from a podcast I really liked called Invest Like the Best, from a guy named Patrick O'Shaughnessy, and he always ends each podcast with, "What's the nicest thing someone has done for you?" So Sanjay, I'm really curious now. What's the nicest thing someone has done for you?

Sanjay Gupta (45:00):

Wow. That's a head scratcher. I can't think of something so immediately, but I would say the thing that comes to my mind first and foremost is having an open approach to things. Having the ability to do reasonable dialogue. And I think one of the things I've found is, when I talk about the art of the possible, I approach these things with the intent of saying, "Look, let's talk about what outcomes we're driven for." And I've found a reasonable audience, quite frankly. I was told by many people, I was still new and I'm still considered new myself to the public sector, and I'll ask questions, and I don't think any question is quote-unquote "not the right question to ask." I'll ask questions regardless. Is that people are generally reasonable, but if we start with the outcomes and you work with the outcomes, and you explain the rational, what you're trying to do, I think you'll be surprised at what kind of response you get, and being open about it and having this in open dialogue. So that's probably what comes to mind on the first goal.

Joe Toste (46:08):

Love it. Awesome. And where can people find you? Do you hang out on LinkedIn, Twitter? Where do you hang out most?

Sanjay Gupta (46:14):

Mostly on LinkedIn. I'm active on Twitter as well. Not a lot, but probably LinkedIn is probably more active for me.

Joe Toste (46:19):

Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you, Sanjay Gupta, for coming on the Tech Tables Podcast. Appreciate you.

Sanjay Gupta (46:25):

Thank you, Joe, for having me. Glad to have this discussion with you.

James (46:29):

If you're interested in seeing what Nagarro, a digital product engineering company that excels at solving complex business challenges through agility and innovation, can do for your company, you can email Joe at Joe.Toste, that's T-O-S-T-E, at nagarro.com, or message Joe on LinkedIn. For all information on Nagarro, check out nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O dot com.

James (46:55):

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James (47:11):

To catch more Tech Tables episodes, you can go to techtablespodcast.com. And to learn more about our sponsor, please visit nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O dot com. And of course you can find Joe Toste, your podcast host, on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Joe's last name is T-O-S-T-E. Thanks for listening.

Joe Toste
Joe Toste
Host of TechTables Podcast

Host of TechTables 🎙- Conversations with Top Technology Leaders