Kissflow CEO Suresh Sambandam "Work moved online and it got messy over time."

Suresh Sambandam: 'The Time Has Come to Reimagine the Digital Workplace'

7 minute read
China Louise Martens avatar
Kissflow CEO Suresh Sambandam discusses lifelong learning, designing a digital workplace that works for all and more in our latest interview.

Suresh Sambandam realized early on in his career that he had “a knack for working on problems that were not easily solved,” a skillset that’s served him well in the digital workplace.

“I got the freedom to dive deep into specific topics and build up my knowledge bank,” he said. “Some of those topics even became the foundation for my future business.”

Sambandam is currently CEO of digital workplace platform provider Kissflow as well as founder of application platform-as-a-service (aPaaS) vendor OrangeScape, which is Kissflow’s parent company. He got his start as an entrepreneur, then worked at HP and Selectica with a focus on rule-based computing before returning to the entrepreneur life when he founded several startups.

Democratize Rule-Based Computing

A key takeaway for Sambandam from working at HP and Selectica was that, while rule-based computing was supposed to make life easier for line of business users and give them more autonomy, that wasn’t the reality.

“The irony is that, to operate, use and derive value, the rule engines of 2000s needed high-end programmers,” Sambandam said. “So, when Accenture acquired my division in Selectica, some members from my team and I got together in pursuing the dream of ‘Democratizing Rule-Based Computing.’”

After initially pursuing two other product directions — Dimension and then OrangeScape — neither of which took off as fully as hoped, with Kissflow, “we got the technology, market category, UX and product-market fit right.” The name of the company refers to the KISS (‘Keep it simple, stupid’) principle. The vision is for a low-code platform and workflow management software which is “extremely simple to use for citizen developers and business users,” and requires no coding experience, according to Sambandam.

Kissflow is a sponsor of CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Neil Miller, director of content at Kissflow, will be giving a hands-on workshop at the conference titled, “Pushing Digital Transformation to the Edge of the Enterprise” on June 17.

We spoke with Sambandam about his take on human-centric design, the importance of employee inclusion, and his thoughts on lifelong learning.

Human-Centric Design Makes Work ‘Flow’

CMSWire: When looking at the digital workplace, what does ‘human-centric design’ mean to you? How do you see that design focus evolving as the concept of work changes in terms of how, when, where and for whom employees work?

Sambandam: Humans haven’t had a work management platform designed specifically for them yet. It’s always been in favor of what the programmer wants to provide. If it is user-centric, then the features are incredibly limited.

A human-centric design means that this is a place that humans go to intuitively make work ‘flow’ the way humans think about it, not the way programs do.

Work will continue to be a mesh of humans and machines working together. However, that doesn’t mean you should have to be a full programmer to be able to participate.

A human-centric design will continue to be the way the common worker is able to merge human and system tasks together.

CMSWire: In your opinion, where are the key gaps today in the employee experiences organizations provide to their staff?

Sambandam: Most employers feel like they are giving employees the right tools to do their job. In reality, they are just handing them whatever seems good.

An email inbox and some spreadsheets is not a way to equip team members. They should be given the ability to manage all the work that comes at them, no matter what it is.

CMSWire: What is your advice to organizations about how best to use a digital workspace to ensure that onsite and remote employees feel fully connected and part of a company’s culture? Why is this connection and inclusion so important?

Sambandam: Work moved online and it got messy over time. Today, a normal digital worker has at least 10 tabs open in the browser at any point in time and they have to juggle between those tabs to get work done.

This way of working often hurts productivity and requires a lot of context switching, let alone the lack of neat and deep integration between those tools. The time has come to reimagine the digital workplace.

Imagine if queries in a chat window were converted to tasks; if requests for leave were automatically filled out and processed; and if confirmed bugs highlighted in a forum were filed as tickets. Then, add in the ability to automate repetitive tasks and combine all this information to generate reports for analysis.

Learning Opportunities

Having this kind of a digital workplace minimizes the difference between an onsite worker and a remote worker, bringing in inclusiveness.

CMSWire: What more can organizations do to enable their employees to benefit from lifelong learning? What are the benefits of investing in ongoing employee education and training for both an organization and its individual employees?

Sambandam: Very few organizations consciously invest in employee learning, let alone lifelong learning. This is one area I feel passionately about, and I am personally proud about what we do at Kissflow. I’d mention two programs specifically.

The first program is called G2G, inspired by the famous Jim Collins book “Good to Great.” The entire company meets for one hour between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm every Friday and spends time learning and bonding together. We started doing this when we were around 20 employees and we are continuing this practice as of today with around 200 employees.

The second program we do is called OLP — OrangeScape Leadership Program. Around 35 people within the organization have been identified, who we believe will be the next-level leaders if advised well. So, we consciously invest money and time in this group of people by organizing offsite training sessions, primarily focused on leadership lessons. This program has had a deep impact too.

CMSWire: What has been the long-term impact of your decision at age 17 to become an entrepreneur and then to teach yourself programming? What lessons did you learn from the school of life which you couldn’t have at college?

Sambandam: When I was 17 years old, my father told me I should help him run his business instead of getting an engineering degree. Looking back, I can see how that choice to “take the blue pill” actually put me in a better place to become a successful entrepreneur because it taught me things I never could have gained in a classroom.

After deciding to forgo college, I began attending a computer programming course offered in the evenings at a small institution in my neighborhood. I immediately fell in love with computers.

Once I completed the course, I decided to start my own computer training center with four partners. This gave me unlimited exposure to creating programs to solve real problems, which is an opportunity that colleges and universities don’t always give students.

CMSWire: Who and/or what inspires you in your day-to-day work and why? Do you have a favorite motto or mantra which you find particularly inspiring? If so, what is it and why does it resonate so strongly with you?

Sambandam: I am my own motivation. I don’t have a role model that I look up to. I am a problem solver and every single day at work throws open a whole host of new problems to solve. That keeps me motivated and I look forward to work every single day.

My mother tongue is Tamil, one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world. An influential Tamil philosopher once wrote, “Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir.” It means, “Every country is my country; everyone our kin.”

I am simply fascinated by this phrase and amazed at how someone who lived and wrote this thousands of years ago had the clarity and vision of “global citizenship,” which we are yet to achieve today.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience.

About the author

China Louise Martens

China Louise Martens has been fascinated by how individuals and organizations choose and use business software for over 20 years. To dig deeper, she’s interviewed and profiled end users, developers and executives as well as software vendors and IT observers.

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