Anadi Sah is the Head of Innovation – Creative & Technology at Isobar India.
He spoke to Econsultancy about some of the digital transformation projects that Isobar is currently working on, the difference between creativity and innovation, the importance of observation skills, and dealing with the madness of Delhi traffic.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I am the Head of Innovation for Isobar India – it’s a highly diverse and dynamic role, just like the Indian market. The briefs are broad – one moment you are strategizing a technology-led innovation on voice, IoT or Blockchain and the next, you are working on an innovative solution to help support social inclusion. With this, you can get a fair sense of the sheer exhilaration one goes through in a day.
Inspiration at Isobar India happens at two levels. Firstly, by creating prototypes and secondly by hosting workshops and brainstorming sessions. I passionately feel this hands-on approach is essential to build the open culture of creativity that fosters innovation practices.
The products we have prototyped in the past are iTag, a smart bag tag, and Drive Mode, a car fitment to avoid phone distractions during driving, as well as a Smart Helmet to ensure safe driving for two-wheeler drivers.
At present, we are creating an interesting set of prototypes, like an IoT-enabled smart trolley for gas cylinders, a Voice Transcript Machine for six vernacular languages of India, and a SAAS product for retail and OOH sector to enable commerce through content.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Isobar has five offices in India, namely Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune. Being in Delhi since my childhood, I am deeply connected to the city. This is the sole reason for me being stationed at Delhi.
Thanks to Skype and video conferencing, I’m always connected with teams located across India. I report into Anish Varghese who is at the role of National Creative Director for isobar India and based out of Mumbai.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
The most important skill in this role is interpersonal skills. In a diverse market like India, you interact with people with varied levels of digital exposure. It is essential to have a connect with them and explain the proposition in the simplest form.
The other day, I had to explain a case for digital transformation to a client who was into organics foods and staples and to date, prefers to communicate over landline than a mobile phone. He was impressed when we introduced him to a mobile testing kit that could be included in his packaging and would allow customers to authenticate products to be 100% organic.
The second most important skill is prioritisation. Our work is inherently flexible, which makes planning a bit tricky. There is always reshuffling of projects which makes structured planning a challenge. You often get into firefighting and in those critical situations the focus is to set your priorities right.
The third most important skill is agility. Any new trend and technology acts as a spark for various creative minds. Only the ones who can swiftly transform their ideas into reality with an MVP win the race. There are many times when you may miss the opportunity just by investing too much time on not so relevant elements like a form, add-on features and packaging.
I feel that observation is also equally important. Only with this ability will you be able to spot situations that may need you to innovate a solution.
Tell us about a typical working day…
My morning starts with prayers to a few of the 33 million Indian Gods and Goddesses. My prayers include meditation which helps me keep my calm in heavy traffic congestion and the two-hour-long drive to the office. On reaching office, a big cup of tea over casual chit-chat with colleagues across DAN preps me for the day ahead.
The first half of the day is devoted to meeting with creative, tech and business teams for opportunity knocking. Isobar delivers experience-led transformation, which means leveraging creativity and technology to solve business challenges, so we work closely across teams.
Then I connect and seek updates from other regional teams (India only) on the projects that have my involvement. The next couple of hours are spent working on presentations followed by brainstorming or ideation sessions with the technology and creative team.
Before the day ends, there are few hours that I devote to self-learning and research on new upcoming technologies, creative processes and trends. Voice undoubtedly is supposed to be the most promising technology in years to come.
Adding vernacular to voice makes it even more relevant and interesting for the Indian market where there are more than 22 official languages. I was recently engaged in prototyping a Voice Transcript System that works for six vernacular languages for a prospective client. The leadership team here feels huge potential in this project and with its success, the project could script a compelling digital transformation story for Isobar India.
When the work day ends, I gear myself for the long drive home through the maddening traffic of Delhi.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Discovering something new every day in the ever-evolving world of technology is what I love. There is so much to learn around diverse technologies and how they can be used in diverse domains to drive business outcomes. Recently, I have been working on the potential use cases for AI, deep learning and computer vision in retail environments to drive brand commerce.
What turns me off is when people confuse innovation with creativity. Creativity is about conceiving new ideas that can be manifested in many forms and allows one to see, hear, smell, touch or taste. Innovation is about making that idea viable.
By identifying an unrecognized and unmet need, an organisation can use innovation to apply its creative and tech resources to design and develop an appropriate solution and reap social and monitory benefits. NowLab’s innovation framework allows me not only to establish the difference but also develop sustainable solutions that drive business and social impact.
Creativity is about conceiving new ideas that can be manifested in many forms. Innovation is about making that idea viable.”
– Anadi Sah, Head of Innovation – Creative & Technology at Isobar
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My primary goal is to use innovation as the growth hack for isobar India. This includes devising ways and means to creatively use technology that can deliver business value to our clients and their businesses.
There are both quantitative and qualitative KPIs that differ from industry to industry, but in the end, it should all translate into ROI. For instance, blockchain is a technology in its infancy, but the Isobar India team used it for CEAT tyres to achieve transparency throughout the campaign in terms of delivery and performance, which apparently is the auto industry first. Such creative application of new technologies is extremely exciting for me.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
There has been an addition of two new tools to my list of favourites, besides Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office. The first is Slack and second is Notes. While Slack keeps me up to date on all the action happening within and outside the network, Notes helps me to script or scribble my ideas and thoughts even when I am mobile.
How did you end up at Isobar, and where might you go from here?
I was introduced to Isobar by my fellow colleagues from GroupM who joined Isobar and were setting up different verticals and functions. I was offered the responsibility to set up the creative division as Creative Group Head for Isobar in North India.
My journey here has been fascinating, with a new challenge to conquer every time – from having a new entrant make a stand in the market to get noticed, to living up to the expectation of being the preferred development partner for Facebook.
From making Isobar the only agency in the market to have an in-house production capabilities, to transitioning the legacy businesses of our clients into digital with confidence and ease. The most exciting one at hand is to convince brands under various industries to undergo digital transformation.
Which customer experiences have impressed you lately?
I was really inspired by the facial recognition technology and the vast array of use-cases in China. The country is on the cutting edge of this technology and using it in amazing ways. A faceprint, just like a fingerprint, is unique and is run through identity databases to connect a user’s face to a name in the database. It is being used not just for security and surveillance but also to help find missing elderly and kids.
They are also using the same technology for payments and financial transaction without having the need to carry a wallet or swipe a card. On top of this, the Shanghai Airport is reportedly using it for automated clearance system to manage huge crowd during security clearance and give gated access. India is no different in terms of population, which presents problems as well as solutions when it comes to the application of this technology.
What advice would you give a young creative or marketer entering an agency today?
Develop skills of observation. Humans are live beacons that relay signals and need a sharp observer to grasp them. These signals can be translated to powerful insights and solutions which will always keep your creative juices flowing.
Often when young creatives get into agencies, they become disconnected with the real world and increasingly depend on data and insights from research. I would recommend them to never disconnect from the real world as they can only get into the shoes of the customer when they know who the customer really is.