C-Suite Perspectives On AI: Vinodh Swaminathan Of Cybersettle On Where to Use AI and Where to Rely Only on Humans

An Interview With Kieran Powell

Kieran Powell, EVP of Channel V Media
Authority Magazine

--

Courage is what sets apart a successful leader who has and will use AI to transform the business — the cultural mountains to climb within a business to implement transformational AI require conviction, tenacity, and perseverance.

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance and integrate into various aspects of business, decision-makers at the highest levels face the complex task of determining when, where and how AI can be most effectively utilized to augment human performance. This series seeks to explore the nuanced decisions made by C-Suite executives regarding the implementation of AI in their operations. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Vinodh Swaminathan.

Vinodh Swaminathan brings extensive executive leadership experience from Fortune 500 organizations to his role as President & CEO of Cybersettle, commencing September 1, 2023. With a background spanning businesses ranging from $5B to $80B in revenue, Vinodh has a proven track record of managing client relationships with global revenue targets exceeding $100M. He is adept at overseeing operational and capital expense budgets, with responsibilities encompassing upwards of $30M+ and $150M+, respectively. Throughout his career, Vinodh has excelled in mentoring teams, driving performance, and bolstering revenue.

During his tenure at KPMG since 2015, Vinodh served as a Global Lead Partner for a Fortune 50 client, spearheading KPMG’s global relationship, which achieved annual growth rates of approximately 10%-13%. Additionally, he held the position of Partner in KPMG’s CIO Advisory practice, where he collaborated with clients across various industries to align business strategies with technology enablement, focusing on cloud, data, and AI initiatives. Vinodh’s leadership extended to guiding multidisciplinary teams in delivering large-scale digital transformation projects, often engaging with C-suite executives and board members.

Before joining KPMG, Vinodh spent 12 years at IBM, where he held senior leadership roles and played a pivotal role in incubating and growing new businesses. Notably, he led initiatives that resulted in multi-billion-dollar lines of business for IBM. His diverse experience includes directing strategy and product management for IBM Watson, contributing to the growth of IBM’s SaaS business, and leading the Smarter Cities growth initiative.

Throughout his career, Vinodh has demonstrated a commitment to innovation and growth, leveraging emerging technologies to drive business success. He holds a Master’s degree in Engineering from Drexel University and a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My journey began with a strong foundation in engineering, having earned my Bachelor’s degree from the National Institute of Technology in India and later pursuing a Master’s degree from Drexel University. Equipped with a passion for technology and innovation, I embarked on a career path that led me to Fortune 500 organizations like IBM and KPMG.

During my tenure at IBM, I held various leadership roles where I played a key role in incubating and growing new businesses, contributing to the development of multi-billion-dollar lines of business such as IBM Watson and SaaS. These experiences honed my strategic thinking and provided me with valuable insights into navigating the intersection of emerging technologies and business needs.

My journey continued at KPMG, where I served as a Partner in the Digital Consulting business, overseeing global client relationships and leading multidisciplinary teams in delivering digital transformation projects. My role allowed me to leverage my expertise in technology enablement, particularly in areas such as cloud, data, and AI, to drive business growth and innovation.

Now, as the President & CEO of Cybersettle, I am excited to bring my diverse background and leadership experience to the forefront. I am passionate about leveraging advanced technologies to revolutionize financial negotiation and settlement processes across industries, and I look forward to leading Cybersettle into a new era of success.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a recent graduate, I once wore my alma mater’s logoed pull-over to a customer meeting with my sales leader. It seemed like appropriate attire, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. However, things took an unexpected turn when we discovered that the customer was a graduate of a rival school with a heated sports rivalry with my alma mater. This triggered an awkward situation, with the customer expressing their displeasure throughout the meeting. Fortunately, the client’s son, who shared my alma mater, joined the meeting and diffused the tension by revealing their shared connection. Despite the rocky start, we managed to close the deal, but I learned a valuable lesson about avoiding potential triggers that could strain relationships, especially in unfamiliar situations.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re currently focused on an exciting project at Cybersettle, preparing for the upcoming release of our groundbreaking product set to revolutionize financial negotiation and settlement processes. Cybersettle serves as a trusted digital platform, facilitating seamless resolution of financial negotiations and settlements in various commercial transactions. With approximately $3 trillion worth of transactions annually in the US alone, encompassing insurance claims, legal disputes, and real estate transactions, our platform addresses the significant inefficiencies that cost parties an estimated $300 billion annually.

In our forthcoming software update, we’re integrating AI to enhance the customer experience throughout the digital negotiation and settlement process. Leveraging exclusive behavioral and transaction data from our platform, our AI intelligence empowers users to craft optimal negotiation strategies, guiding them towards successful outcomes. While our AI doesn’t dictate negotiation offers, it nudges users towards strategies that maximize success within the shortest timeframe, transforming the traditional win-lose dynamic into a win-win scenario.

One aspect of this project that excites me is our pilot phase, where we’re collaborating closely with multiple new clients to refine our platform. This hands-on approach enables us to gather invaluable feedback, iterate on our product, and ensure alignment with our clients’ needs and expectations.

I firmly believe that our new product will reshape how organizations approach financial negotiations, streamlining processes, cutting costs, and enhancing overall efficiency. By harnessing advanced technologies like AI and fintech, we empower our clients to achieve faster, more favorable outcomes, ultimately advancing their business objectives with greater effectiveness.

Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. In your experience, what have been the most challenging aspects of integrating AI into your business operations, and how have you balanced these with the need to preserve human-centric roles?

In my 15 years of professional experience, I’ve worked alongside brilliant engineers and data scientists capable of creating remarkable AI-driven products. However, despite the desire of business leaders to embrace these technologies, they often face real-world constraints. Throughout history, humans have made critical decisions without complete data, relying on instincts, experience, and skills. AI presents an opportunity to streamline this process, allowing humans to make informed decisions more quickly and efficiently. Ultimately, in business, humans are the decision-makers, and we’re not yet ready to entrust machines with that responsibility.

This reality has prompted me to rethink the business construct — comprising people, processes, and technology — to effectively leverage AI for better decision-making. Understanding where AI can enhance human efforts and where it can replace them is key. Reimagining the modern enterprise with this framework in mind poses a significant challenge for existing businesses but is comparatively easier for new ventures.

Can you share a specific instance where AI initially seemed like the optimal solution but ultimately proved less effective than human intervention? What did this experience teach you about the limitations of AI in your field?

The age-old adage, “Good, Fast, Cheap, Pick Two,” is likely familiar to most readers. About eight years ago, we embarked on a journey to use AI to transform the economics of a highly profitable business within one of the firms I worked for. We successfully trained an AI engine to read complex securities-related documentation, extracting critical information essential for professional accountants to verify compliance with securitization procedures. However, the deployment of the AI system into our business operations faced unforeseen challenges unrelated to the technology itself.

One major hurdle was the reluctance of the P&L owner to reassign staff to accommodate the AI’s role, despite being an enthusiastic project sponsor. Additionally, ensuring that professional accountants were comfortable with the machine’s output posed a significant challenge. Many business processes in enterprises are designed for human oversight to minimize the risk of errors. Introducing AI into these workflows requires individuals higher up in the organizational hierarchy to trust and verify the machine’s outputs. This highlights a profound challenge for AI adoption in enterprises — senior personnel, who often sign off on business processes, may lack the expertise to evaluate machine-generated outputs effectively.

Ultimately, my takeaway from this experience is that while AI holds immense potential, its full integration into enterprise workflows is a multi-generational journey. The limitations lie not in AI itself but in the readiness of existing enterprise structures to adapt to and capitalize on AI-driven transformations. Closing the gap between investment in AI technologies and realizing their productivity impact requires a concerted effort to navigate these organizational challenges and manage expectations regarding the timeline for returns.

How do you navigate the ethical implications of implementing AI in your company, especially concerning potential job displacement and ensuring ethical AI usage.

Throughout history, the advent of productivity-improving technologies has consistently led to progress, prosperity, and growth for society. Therefore, rather than fearing job displacement, we should embrace AI as a catalyst for advancement. Addressing the short-term ethical implications of AI requires a pragmatic approach. In the short run, AI can create entirely new types of products and services, fostering job creation. Simultaneously, it serves as a productivity enabler through automation, potentially leading to job displacement. Embracing AI entails accepting a concept of creative destruction, acknowledging short-term challenges in exchange for long-term benefits.

Our technology choices reflect our core values as a society. Despite immediate ethical dilemmas surrounding AI, I am confident that the “new normal” will align with our societal values and aspirations. While it’s essential to remain vigilant against potential dystopian outcomes, we must not let fear deter us from implementing AI responsibly.

Could you describe a successful instance in your company where AI and human skills were synergistically combined to achieve a result that neither could have accomplished alone?

At Cybersettle, we leverage AI to assist users in refining their negotiation strategies during financial settlements. We understand that these negotiations are complex and emotionally charged, so we don’t aim to replace human involvement with AI. Our approach doesn’t involve AI “bots” negotiating on behalf of users or dictating their offers to the other party. Instead, we carefully employ AI in a “human-assist” capacity, helping users fine-tune their negotiation strategies. We believe this AI-augmented human negotiation approach is pivotal in delivering a win-win outcome for our users.

Based on your experience and success, what are the “5 Things To Keep in Mind When Deciding Where to Use AI and Where to Rely Only on Humans, and Why?” How have these 5 things impacted your work or your career?

  1. It is never AI OR HUMANS; it is always AI AND HUMANS.
  2. AI is ready to handle autonomously decision-making situations that are fairly “definitive” — in other words, if one follows a set of definitive rules (if, then, else) to arrive at decisions, you should immediately look to deploy AI in these situations and stop using humans to perform such activities.
  3. Where reasoning and justification are required to make a decision, use AI as an accelerator — to sift through data to assemble a fact base quickly that allows humans to reason over this fact base. Put differently, in the absence of rule-based decision-making, use AI to speed up data processing so humans can take that “leap of faith.”
  4. “Hugs” from AI are cold and lack authenticity — Humans are an essential medium for a brand to communicate empathy, warmth, and authenticity. If the situation warrants a brand to lead with such human traits, don’t attempt to use AI to deliver that experience — it will backfire.
  5. Courage is what sets apart a successful leader who has and will use AI to transform the business — the cultural mountains to climb within a business to implement transformational AI require conviction, tenacity, and perseverance.

Looking towards the future, in which areas of your business do you foresee AI making the most significant impact, and conversely, in which areas do you believe a human touch will remain indispensable?

The best AI will be those we won’t notice or care about. For example, nobody talks about the AI behind Alexa or Siri; they only discuss the utility value of those services. AI will be ubiquitous in business for two reasons: everything will morph into being described as AI, and every aspect of business will have AI embedded in it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

In the world of AI, reinforcement learning is an important mechanism for AI to better reflect how humans expect it to perform. I would love to see tech companies figure out a way to involve the broader population in participating in reinforcement learning. This way, the AI they release would be more trustworthy and dependable when it arrives as a product. Imagine if all of us spent 15 minutes at $X/hr in a kiosk pressure testing and teaching/correcting Google or Microsoft’s next product. Wouldn’t it be that much better as a product and also better received?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Cybersettle website: https://www.cybersettle.com/

Cybersettle LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cybersettle-holdings-inc

Vinodh’s personal LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vinodhswaminathan/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Interviewer: Kieran Powell is the EVP of Channel V Media a New York City Public Relations agency with a global network of agency partners in over 30 countries. Kieran has advised more than 150 companies in the Technology, B2B, Retail and Financial sectors. Prior to taking over business operations at Channel V Media, Kieran held roles at Merrill Lynch, PwC and Ernst & Young. Get in touch with Kieran to discuss how marketing and public relations can be leveraged to achieve concrete business goals.

--

--

Kieran Powell, EVP of Channel V Media
Authority Magazine

Kieran is the EVP of Channel V Media, a Public Relations agency based in New York City with a global network of agency partners in over 30 countries.