CXO / IT Leadership , Digital Transformation

Dr. Jai Menon, Former CIO of Bharti Airtel, Leaves Rich Legacy

Tribute to a Technologist Who Always Put Customers First
Dr. Jai Menon, Former CIO of Bharti Airtel, Leaves Rich Legacy
Dr. Jai Menon, former global CIO of Bharti Airtel

"My solitary aim is to pursue technology. Throughout my career, I have done only that. I spent my 20s in deep core mathematics research, my 30s creating and innovating IT through IBM in the U.S. and my 40s consuming IT in telecom. I'm now turning 50, and I want to spend the next decade creating intellectual property and technologies rather than consuming technology." - Dr. Jai Menon, after he decided to resign as global CIO of Bharti Airtel.

Menon was a restless technologist; one who would relentlessly pursue innovations that would directly impact business outcomes. How many CIOs would you come across holding 53 patents and publishing 82 academic papers? His idea of a CIO was not only ahead of the time, but also extremely disruptive. In most of my editorial interactions, he invariably emphasized the need for a CIO's role to evolve.

"CIOs need to move out of the computer and look at the boardroom as their destination. It is about time the CIOs begin talking about business outcome-oriented utility models and realign their priorities from best practices to next best practices," he said.

What brought Menon into the limelight was a 10-year, billion-dollar IT outsourcing contract to take on the comprehensive management of Bharti-Airtel's IT infrastructure. He orchestrated a deal with IBM to provide a standardized framework for the entire group to integrate its channels and customer-facing processes for a more seamless customer experience, higher customer satisfaction and more profitable growth.

Bharti Airtel needed to maximize its flexibility and growth potential by adopting a business-driven framework for integration, allowing it to implement and deliver new services rapidly. Outsourcing of technology enabled the company to focus resources on growing the business. It also improved cross-selling and targeting and a more seamless, efficient total customer experience through end-to-end integration of customer-facing processes.

"Our new strategy is all about delivering a truly differentiated experience and having the flexibility to continually improve the customer experience," Menon said after Bharti Airtel set up the outsourcing deal with IBM.

Reached after Menon's death, several former colleagues shared tributes.

"Having worked with Menon for 10 years at Airtel, I can't forget his passion and enthusiasm," recalls Amrita Gangotra, former director - IT and CIO, India and South Asia for Airtel. "The ambitious Bharti Airtel IT outsourcing deal with IBM in 2004 was the highlight of his career. It will remain a landmark deal globally. Sometimes technology can be far more complex than expected; however, he would explain the solutions with the most simplified analogies. He beautifully used the analogy of a truck while explaining technology in telecom for business support systems (BSS) and operations support systems."

"Menon was a man of stature," says Rajeev Batra, group CIO of Bennett Coleman & Company, who also worked with Menon at Airtel. "Having a significant number of achievements to his credit - both academically and professionally - he was a professional par excellence. Be it technology management, communication skills or business acumen, you don't find many with such a blend."

After spending 13 years at Bharti Airtel in different capacities, Menon chose to work for an entirely different technology vertical - media and entertainment. He signed up for a unique challenge to lead one of India's oldest but diversified media groups - HT Media - as group CTO. He led the group technology across news, radio, entertainment, education and internet businesses. When digital transformation was just a buzzword, he introduced concepts such as integrated newsroom, digital content, media marketing, internet radio and online education. He built an innovative "e2i" (enterprise to internet) framework for the group.

"I had an opportunity to closely work with Menon at HT Media. He was a true leader with mastery on the art of simplifying tech for both business and tech teams,” says Anup Mandal, CTO of Medistar, who spent a considerable time with Menon at HT Media.

"Jai and I go back 18 years when our parallel lives were intertwined in both Airtel and Reliance Communications," recalls Sumit Chowdhury, chairman of Gaia and former CIO at Reliance Jio. "We swapped places. We became closer with IBM and even closer after he left Airtel. He was an intelligent futurist and a great strategic thinker. He groomed a lot of CIOs and tech leaders. I was fortunate to work with him on Start-up India's Maarg Mentorship platform. He remained an inspiration for me, always."

"To be heard in the boardroom, CIOs have to change tracks. They have to move from being effort-oriented to outcome-oriented. They have to focus on customers and listen to their challenges rather than struggle with technology systems," Menon said.

Dr. Menon may have breathed his last on Dec 29, 2022, but the pathway he created will remind us of his exemplary leadership and quest for innovation in times to come.

About the Author

Rahul Neel Mani

Rahul Neel Mani

Founding Director of Grey Head Media and Vice President of Community Engagement and Editorial, ISMG

Neel Mani is responsible for building and nurturing communities in both technology and security domains for various ISMG brands. He has more than 25 years of experience in B2B technology and telecom journalism and has worked in various leadership editorial roles in the past, including incubating and successfully running Grey Head Media for 11 years. Prior to starting Grey Head Media, he worked with 9.9 Media, IDG India and Indian Express.

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