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‘Unisys’ Tells Us Why Reskilling And Upskilling Are Of Utmost Importance

Unisys, an information technology company builds high-performance, security-centric solutions for the most demanding businesses and governments

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In an e-interaction with Gairika Mitra, Shankar Venkatraman – Senior Director, Marketing & Communications, CoE, Unisys and K Nageswara Rao – Vice President APAC Engineering Products and Platforms, Unisys Corporation shed some light on how does working on cloud feel like, what are the challenges that people have to combat normally and why is upskilling of utmost importance. 

What are the challenges faced by Unisys in transforming Cloud 20/20 into a virtual event? How has Unisys managed the transition?

Shankar Venkatraman – Senior Director, Marketing & Communications, CoE, Unisys

Cloud 20/20 is one of the leading industry-academia interlock events with a history of ten successful editions. It attracts submissions from engineering colleges across the country. This year, we received 3250 plus member registrations and 319 project submissions from 130 colleges across the country. Typically, these submissions undergo multiple levels of evaluation with the final round taking place in Bangalore in a face-to-face event where the top six teams present their ideas to an eminent panel of judges. Top three projects are selected on day one of the event and felicitated on day two, which is a mega event with leaders from Unisys and the industry in attendance. The contest provided a great platform for these students to showcase their talent to the world. It also offered rich, experiential learning to students, allowing them to compete with the best-in-class from the country and also to network and learn from industry leaders. The Year 11 edition of Cloud 20/20 which was scheduled to take place in April this year was bigger and better with our clients and partners also coming onboard, defining problem statements and technology use cases for the students to solve and joining as part of the jury. We also had representation from NASSCOM on our panel of judges.

With the COVID-19 situation, a physical event was neither feasible, nor safe for anyone concerned. We were faced with the mammoth task of converting a face-to-face event into a virtual one, connecting this whole ecosystem of students, clients, partners and Unisys associates, all spread across the country, some even in remote pockets, owing to closure of offices and educational institutes. The amount of coordination which was required to make this possible was humungous. Also, while we factored in all possible precautions, we also needed to make sure we had backup plans that took case of last-minute hiccups. With the event happening virtually, maintaining the authenticity of project presentations was also a priority. Last but not the least, the virtual platform used had to be secure from cyberthreats. 

The organising committee started off by selecting ten teams instead of the usual six, both because of the quality of these projects and also to ensure we have a good set of projects to compare in case any of the teams were unable to join or present virtually. The event was staggered across four days starting from May 12th and ending on May 15th, with each team getting a 45-minute slot to present their work. During this slot, the students spoke about their projects, hosted a demo/played a video and took questions from our judges, thus giving the jury a comprehensive overview of their work. Their faculty members/HODs were also advised to join the sessions and vouch for the authenticity of projects as well as participants. Students were allowed to join in as attendees and view the presentations from the other teams, thus giving them an opportunity to learn from their peers. This was what the team did on the format front. 

From the infrastructure standpoint, the Cloud 20/20 team worked with Unisys IT team to set up secure webinar links that were accessible to attendees from within and outside the Unisys network, without posing any cybersecurity risks. This was done via Zoom links with access passwords shared only with known attendees. We had an IT resource on standby throughout the sessions to address any challenges that came up during the course of the sessions.

Next was the task of preparing the students and judges for the new virtual format. The core team worked very closely with the student teams and their institutes, coaching and mentoring them on what to expect and how best to be prepared for it. Students were advised on what kind of IT infrastructure and back up plans they would need to arrange to make sure that their presentation would go smooth. Right from outlining basic infrastructure needed to insisting on having internet connections from two separate service providers and identifying backup speakers, the team made sure they prepared the students for any and every challenge that could come up. Dry runs were scheduled ahead of each day to address any last-minute questions or concerns. 

The judges were kept informed about the changes in format from the beginning and were also given all the guidance needed. The jury comprised of our clients, partners and industry representatives, some of who were new to Cloud 20/20 and the new format. Virtual briefing sessions and sharing of project profiles ahead of the event ensured that judges had enough background knowledge of each project and what to expect as well as how best to evaluate student projects in a consistent manner.

Effective communication played a key role in orchestrating the whole event and this was well supported by the corporate marketing and communications team. This team also ensured a great visual experience through powerful collaterals that stitched together various projects on diverse topics in a consistent manner. The team also drove market awareness for the event via live and planned social media promotions. Close collaboration between the Cloud 20/20 team, corporate marketing and communications and IT teams made the smooth and seamless flow of the event possible. 

What is Unisys’ approach to tackling COVID-19 and its commitment towards young graduates/ students, clients & partners?

Consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other national and local health authorities regarding efforts to limit the spread of the virus Unisys has taken steps to mitigate service disruption while protecting the health and well-being of our associates. To advance these objectives, we have shifted most of our service delivery and operations to function through remote work arrangements and instituted restrictive travel and visitor guidelines and internal hygiene protocols. We are maintaining communication with all our people to ensure they have the information and resources they need to be safe and stay healthy. 

The decision to convert Cloud 20/20 Student Project Contest from a physical to a virtual event was in line with this commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all stakeholders concerned. At the same time, the student contest was launched late last year in a pre-COVID world and like every year, the student teams, their faculty members had put in significant amount of effort into their projects. Breaking our commitment to give them a platform to showcase their ideas was not acceptable to the Unisys team. We thus happily put in the efforts, planning and operational rigor to convert this into a virtual event, while keeping the essence of the event and its innovation quotient intact. In addition, Unisys also maintained its commitment to the student body by taking on deserving students as interns and fresh hires at the company. 

Can you throw some light on Cloud 20/20 and how it is adding to experiential learning?

Students need more than just theoretical knowledge to become future-ready and this is an area where these technology institutes are often found lacking. Cloud 20/20 plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between theory and practice. Cloud 20/20 is an academia-industry interlock event that started in year 2009 as a technical paper submission contest. It has now grown into one of the most popular and credible platforms in this space. The program typically involves Unisys identifying emerging and hot technology areas and asking students to leverage those technologies to come up with project ideas. The process starts with a submission of project proposals from which the most promising and relevant ones are shortlisted and assigned Unisys mentors who work with the student teams to help them develop demonstrable Proof of Concepts. These projects are further evaluated and the top few teams are invited to a live event where they present their ideas to a panel. The top three projects are shortlisted and the teams, handsomely rewarded. 

The platform thus gives students an opportunity to apply their knowledge of emerging technologies in a practical sense and thus go deeper into those domains. The close interaction with Unisys mentors over a long period of time provides industry exposure like never before. The opportunity to showcase their ideas in a demonstrable form to an eminent panel and compete with other colleges elevates the experience through peer-to-peer learning, large scale exposure and industry networking opportunities. Potential internship and job-offers from Unisys make the value proposition even stronger.

Cloud 20/20 is thus different from other events in the industry-academia interlock space in the following ways:

  • Broad range of hottest technology areas to choose from
  • Flexible construct giving the students ample leeway for original thinking and innovation
  • Enriching learning experience spread over months for participating students, right from abstract submission to development of demonstrable POCs
  • Connect with the tech innovation fraternity – clients, peers, industry/analysts and academia in one multi-faceted engagement

This year, the experience was further enhanced by the presence of Unisys clients and partners. Besides the regular track called Student Innovation Project or SIP, we had a separate track called Targeted Innovation Program or TIP where problem statements were sources from Unisys clients and Unisys sales teams who were well connected with the market and client pain points. This gave the students an opportunity to work on real-world technical problems, giving them a glimpse of what a career in technology would look like.

What is the importance of reskilling & upskilling for the future?

Developments in technology are taking place at an exponential speed. They are happening even as we interact. Emerging technologies such as Cybersecurity, Machine Learning, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are just some of the technologies that are growing in complexity, scope and application. This is fortunately or unfortunately outpacing the rate at which the syllabus of educational institutes evolves or an average IT professional learns. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore business and IT challenges which have never been faced before. In order to address these needs, the workforce of today needs a new set of skills and needs to think and work differently. Skill sets with Java and programming are no longer the game changers in the industry.

Thus, reskilling and upskilling are critical so the industry can meet the demands posed by the market and professionals can keep themselves relevant and eligible for the opportunities that come up. Complacency will most certainly result in losing out on the opportunities or even in job loss. The world of work is evolving rapidly and as such; upskilling and reskilling will remain strategically critical maneuvers, in the foreseeable future. This is critical to businesses, the IT companies that service these businesses and the professionals themselves.

Please share some insights on the different skill sets emerging in the year 2020.

Advanced technologies like cybersecurity, AI/ML, big data and more are reshaping the business models of various companies. It is also an era where skill sets are becoming outdated in just a few years. This year, people with skill sets of DevOps, information and cybersecurity, RPA, 3D Printing skills, data scientists, AI, UX and UI Engineers and analytics are expected to witness increased demand.    

Another emerging aspect is the category of “hybrid skill sets” or jobs that create whole new categories by mashing up disciplines. These jobs essentially combine technical expertise in one or more domains with expertise in design, project management, or client and customer interaction. For instance, jobs that are titled as ‘security consultant’, ‘data scientist’, ‘machine learning engineer’, ‘experience architect’, ‘IoT engineer’ or ‘user experience designer’ will fast gain traction in various industries. While the title may vary, these new emerging hybrid roles are all combined with technical skills, which are going to be in demand in the near future. 

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