Arvind Basra (00:00):
How do two platforms, one focused on learning, professional training, for example, how does that feed into public safety as well? And how do you look at public sector as a whole, as an ecosystem of these platforms that can work to the benefit of the citizens?
Joe Toste (00:00):
Welcome to TechTables, conversations with top technology leaders, taking a closer look at the world of IT and digital through the lens of agility and innovation. I'm your host, Joe Toste. As we shift our focus to all things Verizon and the public sector, Arvind Basra is the head of product development for the public sector group at Verizon. Huge thank you to Arvind for taking time to come on the show and meet with me today. In today's episode, we'll cover public safety and education, solving big problems and new ways of thinking in the public sector. The digital divide in education, where Arvind is seeing public sector opportunities right now.
What most public sector CIOs and CTOs are missing. How to create net-new products inside a big company like Verizon and how partners like Nagarro help to accelerate digital innovation and engineering. What a world-class digital government looks like today and in the future, and what's important to understand around 5G from latency to network slicing, but that's quite enough for me. Without further ado, I'm thrilled to welcome Arvind, head of product development in the public sector at Verizon.
So let's kick off today with a little bit about yourself and your background at Verizon with some of the projects that you've been working on and leading.
Arvind Basra (00:00):
Thanks a lot, Joe, for having me on I'm very humbled at the opportunity to share and discuss some topics with you. So it's super exciting. So I've been with Verizon for about 16 and a half years. I've been fortunate enough to have both kind of the individual contributor and leadership roles in deploying everything from enterprise IP fios, which is our video triple play type services, LTE and 5G networks, including some next gen kind of network slicing type capability. I've been focusing a lot over the last couple of years in the public sector with a keen focus on public safety specifically, and education now, especially post-pandemic. I think there's a lot of opportunities there that we're looking at. I have a small team of, and I call them industry mavens, that we go after solving big problems for our customers, municipalities agencies, and where we want to play is a little bit above just pure connectivity. It often means new products, new services, new line of thinking, and hopefully new revenue as well. So that's kind of like where I play now.
Joe Toste (00:00):
That's great. Could you maybe just expand, you said public safety and education, but can you expand upon what the, maybe some new line of thinking in the public sector regarding public safety and education. What are some new lines of thinking that are maybe on top of mind right now?
Arvind Basra (03:10):
Yeah. I think in general there are two lenses that everybody is assessing nowadays. It's the pre-pandemic versus the post-pandemic. And as the pre-pandemic space there was a lot of tangible cost cutting, consolidation, looking at infrastructure in a way that public safety can leverage more of the contemporary approach of cloud-based services, as well as more of what's in the mobile ecosystem that consumer landscape has really benefited from. But as you look at the public views, those that are tasked to serve our needs in a time of emergency, they're woefully prepared for that with some of the technology. So we want to close some of that gap. I started touching a little bit on digital divide. Like you'd be surprised to see how much of that digital divide exists, even when the context of first responders and such. Also there's a lot of fragmentation in that space as well.
Agencies might buy a solution for 9-1-1, but then buy a situational awareness tool from some other supplier and then they often don't talk to each other and it becomes a very onerous system to maintain and manage. And I don't think they're getting to make the most out of it. So that's where we think we're going to focus and win and hopefully provide some product solutions that can start layering in machine learning, AI and potentially even 5G type capabilities to help public safety do their job a little bit better. And in education, I think when you think about it from a pre-pandemic standpoint, we were looking at it from a professional training and certainly providing more immersive training. How do you use AR and some of those tools to elevate certain curriculums, but I think post-pandemic, I think it becomes very interesting where you really start focusing on the digital divide a little bit more, and there are just so many students that find themselves lacking access to their school.
And I think that's a very hard problem to solve. I think a lot of people are throwing money at it from a philanthropic venture, but can you come up with platforms and technologies that allow school districts and states to look at their resources a little differently, I think that's a unique problem to solve. I also think that my Shangri-La is, how do two platforms, one focused on learning, right? Professional training, for example, how does that feed into public safety as well? And how do you look at public sector as a whole, as an ecosystem of these platforms that can work to the benefit of the citizen?
Joe Toste (05:02):
Yeah, that's really great. I really liked the public sector as an ecosystem. I think as I've interviewed more and more CIOs and CTOs in the public sector, I've realized how just ginormous the public sector is, from housing and transportation, the airport, there's students, everything. And there's really a digital divide across all of these really micro ecosystems that you have, that everyone is trying to figure out from the state level to the cities. And I think that's going to be a huge opportunity, especially with the team that you're on and you're leading. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the new lines of thinking and products that Verizon comes out. In our podcast prep call you had mentioned that you wanted to have a provocative conversation around the public sector. What do you think most public sector CIOs and CTOs are missing? Are too many governments acting utilities? Where do you think the public sector is right for innovation?
Arvind Basra (06:01):
Yeah. That's a great question. First. I'm not envious of any CIO or CTO because of the expense of their responsibility. I can't even pretend to understand the difficulty on balancing which services get upgraded, which ones don't, which ones have mission-critical applications, which ones don't. So that's a very onerous task. But as a taxpayer, as a father with kids in school, and obviously being a law abiding citizen, and especially in the landscape in this country now, there's a lot more activism, a lot more mistrust and not only information, but transparency. I think if I looked at CIOs and CTOs as they're investing in technologies, I think it's key to make sure that those agencies are doing the best job possible, data-driven, AI driven and bringing that to the forefront and doing them cost-effectively as well. But then also connecting back to the citizens with a certain sense of transparency and openness that helps build some of that trust.
So I think technology is the equalizer in that, and I think if the right investments are made and the right... If we start thinking of it as a public sector ecosystem with some connective tissue in between, I think we get a lot closer to building that trust and transparency. So that's one way. As far as the utilities piece, I think you bring up an interesting point where there's so many things from transportation, public health, public works that individual private sector, private public partnership type of entities have come up and started adopting those technologies way faster than our government agencies have. Things like AI and ML, data-driven insights and cloud-based monitoring platforms and such. And certainly those are starting to become adopted, and those are starting to come on onto the space for those municipalities, but I think from a utility standpoint, many of the utilities has taken them a while to get to that point.
I think the real question is how do we bolster more of that PPP effort and create a reciprocal benefit for those agencies, for those CIOs and CTOs so that they can do their job and make their decisions for the public based on infrastructure that's being invested in from the private sector. I think that becomes an interesting way for them to catch up, for example. Of course there's sourcing processes and such that many of these agencies and CIOs and CTOs, they're always making sure that they are responsible too, right? The fair play and how they're going to go about and actually contract certain services. So, that often slows down a lot of the process, however, it doesn't have to detract from adopting certain technologies, if we can look at PPPs and the new way.
And the last part of it for innovation, that's an interesting question. I think about two years ago, as I started looking at public safety, I did a portfolio scrape internally. I got together with some of my team and just sat down and dreamt up of, okay, how can we do this differently, specifically about public safety. And week over week it feels like every newscast that came out was some wrongful deaths, some engagements that started off very simple that has escalated between law enforcement and citizens. And we got started fueling a little bit of a, like how do we build platforms that elevate data, that remove bias, that kind of create that same data normalization, if you will. Like you look at it through a lens of facts and information about the situation, as opposed to coming into the situation about how you feel about it. I think that becomes an important point of de-escalation.
How do you resolve a situation with folks? I think that in itself, the approach is innovative, right? It requires us to make sure the platforms can exchange data between citizen and cops, institutions amongst each other, and then obviously do it in a secure and a safe way. I think that's one place. I think the other thing too, is just a lot of infrastructure and certainly through the pandemic, this has been highlighted through a variety of different agencies that everything from DMV to public health, it's just not digital enough. It's a department of buildings and such of firefighters are going in with a certain sense of, here's where I need to be. Here's 9-1-1 call, not only the street address of vertically, where am I in the building to make sure firefighters stay safe, but also EMTs, and such can also help in the right places.
These become interesting problems that feel like, this should be easily solved, right? They feel like near to resolution, but you'd be surprised on a lot of that depends on infrastructure that is on paper, they're on scrolls, the architectural layouts of buildings and cities that haven't been digitized. So I think some of that becomes a place of innovation as well. Like how rapidly can we create digital transformation for a lot of what are paper assets or non digital assets? I think that kind of accelerates it. Much like the EMR, electronic medical records, some years ago I think it became a mandate to do that. And if you look at where medicine is today with tele-health and kind of the innovation that's cropped up three to four years after that became a mandate, it really took off as an ecosystem.
And I think if you started there fundamentally, I think you could potentially find yourself in that same innovative landscape. So I think that could be a good place. I do have some other comments too on where I think it's innovative and such, but I don't want to give away too much of what specifically we're working on. So maybe as a followup, we'll have some more tangible things to talk about as far as some of the other things around dispatch 9-1-1 type services that we're looking at. It could be quite compelling as well.
Joe Toste (11:40):
That's great. Yeah. I know we're going to try and have you on for me hosting a public sector virtual event. I think it's the first time I've publicly even mentioned it. Sometime in end of March, early April maybe we'll be able to talk a little bit more that then. And so I have a couple of comments. You said some really great stuff. When you were talking about AI and ML and data-driven insights, as I've talked to a number of public sector CIOs and CTOs, I really think Pareto's law is at hand because really 80% of them aren't ready for that. The infrastructure isn't there, it's a huge issue. And like right now, I think one of the biggest basic areas is in cloud, is just a big one and it's so basic and they need to put in the infrastructure to be able to then actually leverage stuff like AI and ML.
Some states are doing it really well. A great state would be the state of Arizona. Is doing a fantastic job. They're pushing the boundaries fast. I interviewed Doug Lange. His episode was great. Just actually just released it. And they are just taking off over there. And then some of the other ones where it's just a very, the culture is starting to change, I think is a big one. And so some new CTOs have come in, very promising, but you can't layer on any data-driven insights without having the right infrastructure in place. So I think 20% are ready to really take off. And I think 80% are trying to build that foundation right now.
But I think COVID has for sure accelerated, which is, I think from a digital perspective, really great. Changes the mindset, start asking questions, hey, how can we make this happen versus, no, we just can't do it. And especially, and I love what you mentioned about some of this low picking through keeping firefighters safe. Why weren't we asking, why aren't cities asking these questions? And I think it just starts with a simple open mindset and asking questions, open-ended questions. How can we solve these types of problems versus, we just can't do it. And that's the mindset shift that I feel like COVID has been the ultimate forcing function for a lot of these CIOs and CTOs.
Arvind Basra (13:46):
Yeah. I couldn't agree with you more. The numbers that you bring up, they're not surprising. They're certainly validating in many ways. I would love to have that dialogue with some of the folks that are in that 80 percentile, because I think it does come back to two main things. There are always parts of the infrastructure in general that need the funding to go to, whether it be the airport or new roads and schools and such. So there's always a trade off, right? And often dealing with the union labor is we need to always take into consideration how we're going to keep such critical services going with such fundamentally important resources, with boots on the ground. So there's a delicate dance, I would assume, that maybe differs some of aspirations from CTOs and CIOs and that's speculative on my part. I think what we need to do is we need to create more cost-effective solutions so that we can make incremental progress.
So they're not feeling like maybe next year, maybe three years from now, we'll deal with that. Because I think if we can figure out the right partnership and also agree with the CIO's and their requirements in the RFP sourcing process that they normally build these infrastructure projects. With that there's incremental steps that we can take over several years so that they're slowly moving from that 80 percentile mark to more of a 50, 50 in three years. And I think that becomes the closing that digital divide for those public agencies. I think that becomes a hugely important conversation to have. And there has to be a certain sense of altruism and a certain sense of ignoring P&L as a company sometimes to do that and the appetite isn't always there from for-profit business, but I think that's where the partnerships really come into play to help build those roadmaps on those technologies.
I'm very excited to see what Arizona is doing and some of the other agencies in the 20%, because I think there's a layer on top of that as well, in terms of efficiencies and total cost of ownership and maintenance and management and all those things that kind of go into this new cloud based infrastructure that's not a commonplace. Still a lot of the costs and a lot of the long-term kind of viability is not well understood either. So we don't want that 20% to start dwindling based on a bad experience in adopting that technology as well.
Joe Toste (16:00):
Yeah. That's right. So could you talk about your experience creating net new products inside Verizon and then how partners like Nagarro helped to accelerate that digital innovation?
Arvind Basra (16:12):
Yeah. It's one of those things that in a large organization like Verizon, our company has a hundred and fifty year legacy through a variety of different names and acquisitions and both from a regulated part of the business and unregulated part of the business. Everybody knows us with our 5G moniker now and the cool ads that we play now. But I think as you look at our history and I've been here for long enough to see it's a good piece of what is current day Verizon. There are, in the truest sense of a telecom, I think there needs to be a change agent. You need to have groups of people willing to look at new ideas, often unpopular ideas and evangelize them. No different than trying to be on the street and go out and try to earn VC and try to raise capital and evangelize your idea. That's what I do inside the company.
We look at infrastructure, we look at the things that are on the horizon. We look at things that have been done in the past and we come up with a solution that we think makes sense where the merit so far outweighs any of the politics or any of other outside strategic forces around it. We want to perpetuate that this is the right thing to do. And it takes a long time, it takes in a large company. But my group tends to evangelize that. And that's where Nagarro really comes in, especially here Silicon Valley labs team. What we do is we come up with an idea and a vision.
I think the first step is having folks that are looking at the technology landscape globally, which is I think a huge benefit of having the Nagarro team as a partner. And then buy into that vision first of all. Having the team, the time commit to their thought leadership to it and understand that this is the right thing to do and then quickly validating it. And I think that's what's been the most impressive part of talking to Nagarro within, I think my six year relationship, or I think it's like a little short of that, five years. We've been validating quickly different concepts and ideas and pursuing kind of a point of view that may be seen as unpopular in the telecom industry. And I think that's where it becomes important. You need partners that are willing to be outliers with you.
So many other agencies and companies might put you into a practice or a vertical, that is telecom. And certainly those businesses do well when you're talking to folks that fit the 99 percentile of what like Verizon might do or a telecom company might do. But it doesn't really sit my need, that 1% change agent that's looking to build net new products, and looking at evangelize and build our new roadmap around solutions and such. So that's where Nagarro, I think really steps forward and allows us to do that and our value partners in that space.
Joe Toste (18:50):
I love it. So as far as a world-class digital government, what do you think that looks like today and maybe 10 years from now, if you've thought about that?
Arvind Basra (18:58):
Yeah. I can't stress this enough, Joe. I think it has to do with building trust. Not only is the technology secure, is it accessible? Is it generally available to everybody? When public infrastructure goes into place, you need to make sure that it has long-term viability for all citizens. And I think a lot of that has to do with how are people going to access them. I brought up this idea of what does a digital government look like? I think how much of the infrastructure can you and I really say is digitized in the current landscape? Right? I think when you want to hail a ride-share, or have somebody deliver food through a ride-share app, the fidelity that you get, the experience you get from services as something that's so fundamental as getting food delivered to your door, needs to have that same type of approach into how governments need to operate.
And if you think about some of the things that we touched on, law enforcement certainly, there's a lot of political opinion out there on what does it mean, and I'm not an activist or anything like that, but there is what does it mean to re-imagine law enforcement? And it doesn't have to do so much with removing funding or closing down shop. It really has to do about re-imagining accessibility to technology for those folks. And as that technology is being used, how do you reciprocate that information to the citizens? Right? So that there's a trust being built, the bridge, if you will. And we talked a little bit about IoT and some of those things about transportation and such, those are essential services that need to exist.
And in a post-pandemic world, I'm not sure and also with ride-sharing and such, and I don't know how any of that really plays in, but as I go out to 10 years from now, could an MTA, right? Some kind of a transit authority for a city have a ride-sharing business that's told and metered in such that instead of having the buses and such, could that also create a reciprocal benefit to the carbon neutral footprint, having more of those cars be electric and having a grid that are ushering people in a semi-concierge kind of way, where that could be the next generation city.
And then more fundamentally than any of that, honestly, is like the papered part of the business. And when I say paper, there's like you think about judiciary. I remember hearing one of your podcasts with the gentleman from, I think, Thomson Reuters and a lot of that, and trying to bring technology to the specific vertical, like you think about law enforcement, you think about civil suits. I know many lawyers now, many of my family that are feeling they'll never have to go back into a court ever again, because this remote capability of doing the judiciary in terms of holding a session, what would be in court, makes it so much more accessible.
Now, if you think back to if you're everyday citizen parking tickets and all the things that they might need that infrastructure for, do they have access to that? Do they have the infrastructure to be able to get on a docket and plead their case, bring in a lawyer and do all those things. And I think that becomes an interesting jump step to even like how the judiciary branches and the criminal justice branches of the government can also be brought in. But it really just comes down to you have law enforcement, you have education, public health. We talked about transport, judiciary, you need to create some kind of connective tissue between that. And that is the citizen, right?
The citizen is a digital record across those agencies. And to do that in a secure, honoring the privacy of the citizen and honoring the trust that they have in a system like that, I think it goes a long way. 10 years down the line on providing services for that citizen and potentially retaining that citizen in your city. Especially in the pandemic and the post-pandemic space, large cities have lost a lot of citizens because of being in crowded spaces and such, and being in lockdowns and whatnot. So I think this becomes an interesting opportunity to look at that infrastructure and see how inviting you could make it open and transparent and safe.
Joe Toste (22:56):
Great. Let's head to, I think a really fun topic, 5G latency and Network slicing. So for those who aren't familiar with network slicing, it's using a single shared physical network with multiple fully virtualized networks running on top of it. I actually really like this when it, I think, becomes more mainstream. So let's talk about what's important to understand about and around 5G from latency to network slicing. For those who aren't familiar with network slicing, it's using a single shared physical network to bring multiple fully virtualized networks running on top of it. Talk about the potential 5G brings to the world today and especially with Verizon.
Arvind Basra (23:39):
Yeah. A lot of the blogs have been talking a lot about this. A lot of the smart people bringing the technology out have been writing white papers about this as well. But just from a Verizon perspective and just what my team and I have been building. We've been working on low latency products for several years now, even with the 4G infrastructure. And really what we have to start looking at is, what are the critical applications that require that low latency, right? How much of that is mission-critical? How much of this concept of time to decision, right, is important, right? Whether you're a firefighter, an incident manager during a time of crisis or autonomous driving vehicles that are trying to avoid certain intersections or come to a right stop when they detect something. These are all things being debated in terms of what the low latency application.
And I think when you think about IoT communications, you think about removing the human element out of it. You need to drive some of that behavior, the trust in the system and make things that allow machines to work because the speed at which machines will make that decision are magnitudes of hundreds of thousand times faster than what a human would be able to. And that is what's necessary to make those applications really become viable in the longterm. So I think the incremental steps are, we need to work very closely with the agencies to understand what are the low latency applications that reside. And then I think when you get to the point of removing some of the human element out of there really AI and ML driven, and you have technologies like 5G at the forefront of figuring out a better mechanisms on contention.
And just to nerd out for two seconds, a lot of the perceived latency over different technologies has to do with, are you on a browser? Or are you in an app? Are you on a mobile phone? How many people are concurrently using the same cell tower? How many other critical applications have a higher service level to make sure you deliver it? These all are things that are contending with each other on the network. And our job becomes to make sure that we create fair balance. And then also ensure that critical services can meet their KPI, their performance indicators, right? So I think with 5G, you allow scale to happen.
I think the concept of network slicing is also something that we've been talking for a few years now in regard to LTE broadcast, right? This is one of these technologies that layered on top of 4G but essentially sliced the 4G network. It was meant for broadcast television kind of more meant for video delivery. But as you look at the fundamental capabilities of dynamically carving out parts of the network, basically creating a slice, right? From the time that a piece of information comes into your network and essentially a consumer consumes it or machine consumes it, it's on its own dedicated path. I think that becomes super valuable when you think about critical services for agencies like law enforcement, IoT communications, you think about some of these things, and also make them bidirectional.
So as you started thinking about network slicing, it really comes down to how much of that infrastructure is needed for specific applications. How do you orchestrate those services on those slices, and then with 5G and the capabilities of a massive amount of spectrum added to that as well, you have an opportunity to scale those services. I think that becomes hugely beneficial to not only, municipalities and as I go back to those PPP type of discussions, the private enterprise would essentially look at that as being a value as well because they'd want to have a slice for some of their application data and such too. So I think it becomes immensely important for a lot of this.
If I look at a good parallel, it'd be having your own dedicated network, this idea of how much of it is virtualized or not, it's always going to be a hybrid model in my opinion, because at some point there's a physical aspect of you attaching to the network and you need some kind of device or something to do it, but the slicing capability and those resources need to be carved out, and no pun intended, out of thin air as well. You need to make sure you secure that communication and you secure it and create that dedicated pathway all the way to the end point, the customer premise edge, as we call it.
Joe Toste (27:49):
Yeah. I'm really fascinated that I'm actually interviewing Samuel Navarro. He leads 5G and networks at the GSA, General Services Administration, this Friday, and I'm going to go pretty deep. So I'm interested to hear what he has to say, especially around this topic. So it's been great having you. To wrap up, two quick questions. I had one wrap-up before, but I was inspired to add a second wrap up. What's the number one leadership lesson the audience can take away from you?
Arvind Basra (28:20):
That's a good one. I racked my brain on this a little bit when you and I had discussed this previously. I landed on a couple of things, but I think the one thing as I've been approached for being a mentor, having a team of really capable people reporting to me, I think that my charter has changed a bit in my life and who I am as a person. And one of my biggest, I think, lessons that I would say to not only your listeners, your audience here, to people that are doing and then people that are leading, well doing what is right is more important than doing what's popular. And I feel like in that context, not only sleep better for yourself, I think the gains in terms of relationships and the gains in terms of the fortitude needed to do more compelling things and more impactful things in the longterm will be realized. So do as well what is right, not what is as popular. And I think that would be my one lesson.
Joe Toste (29:17):
Wow. That's excellent advice for the business world. And for me to tell my daughter that, who's a sixth grader. This is really great. Do what's right, not what's popular. And what's the nicest thing someone has done for you?
Arvind Basra (29:29):
Yeah. That would be probably my wife, Heather, who said yes when I asked her to marry me. There's still actually a little debate on that too when I proposed, I don't actually remember hearing a yes, but that could've just my nerves. I'm not sure-
Joe Toste (29:42):
But did she accept the ring?
Arvind Basra (29:43):
Yeah. She accepted the ring. Yeah. Okay. And then I think the second thing is she gave birth to two best kids ever. My daughter Aspen, and my son Boddy, my daughter's six and my son is now 18 months old. So that's the best thing anyone's ever done for me.
Joe Toste (29:59):
Love it. Awesome. Thank you for coming on TechTables, and where can people find you? Do you hang out online? I think we talked about this. I don't think you really hang out online too much, but if someone wanted to find you, where do you hang out online?
Arvind Basra (30:08):
That's a great question. You can just email me email@example.com, which is verizonwireless.com. and then you'll get me. I am going to take your advice. I think LinkedIn, and some of the thought leadership pieces that we're talking about here and in the future, we need a little bit more exposure. So I will be taking to LinkedIn and to other social media platforms with that message. So look out for me there and I'll follow up with you on when I have that up and running.
Joe Toste (30:34):
Love it. Awesome. Thanks Arvind.
Arvind Basra (30:36):
Thanks so much, Joe.
Joe Toste (30:37):
If you are 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 the Nagarro, checkout nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O.com. You've been listening to the TechTables podcast. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you have an iPhone we'd love for you to open the Apple Podcasts app and leave a quick rating for the show. Just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. To catch more TechTables 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.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.