Shamlan Siddiqi is the chief technology officer for NTT DATA‘s Public Sector Business Unit and a Pinnacle Award finalist in the Artificial Intelligence Industry Executive of the Year category. Here, he shares notable achievements in the last year, proud career moments, learning from failures, taking professional risks, advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in his footsteps and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2018?
As CTO, I have a lens into all of the amazing things that NTT DATA Services is exploring and delivering. I have a bird’s eye view into the research, development and innovation of our larger parent company, NTT. I get to participate and collaborate on some incredible projects with the best and the brightest in the IT industry.
This year, we’ve implemented a unique AI-based solution to predict the possibility and magnitude of a crime using applied machine learning algorithms and deep neural networks. The initiative focuses on using AI, machine learning and advanced analytics by taking inputs from a variety of internet of things devices, sensors and existing data. We then apply machine learning to look at patterns and anomalies to provide alerts to help predict crimes.
This is a great “smart” project. We are not just talking about implementing, it is operational — helping a city to relieve traffic problems, identify vehicles and people of interest, and helping to prevent in crimes.
Another great project involves border protection. We developed a multilingual analysis solution that converts spoken languages of different countries to translated text. Our solution then uses deep neural networks and sentiment analysis to evaluate the transcription and help to identify possible threats in real-time.
Even in a crowded environment, where multiple languages are being spoken, the results display a single dashboard for border agents, thus helping to eliminate communication issues, expedite response and identify possible terror threats.
In both projects, we are helping law enforcement reduce the time between incident awareness and emergency response. This is a groundbreaking technology — truly AI solutions at their best.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I am surrounded by an amazingly supportive team. I am fortunate to work with a group of incredibly creative, technically talented individuals in every facet of my job from marketing and sales to solutions and leadership — collectively that contributes to across-the-board success and translates to really helping clients.
Helping clients has been instrumental to my success, I tend to think more about my clients and the impact I can have by helping them with their challenges and respective missions. If I focus on this everything else with my career falls into place.
Ultimately, it’s about having passion for what you do, being open to ideas and then executing on those ideas.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I am most proud of acquiring, retaining and mentoring top talent over the last decade. It is incredibly rewarding to coach and collaborate with talented individuals and then watch them thrive.
This summer, I mentored an amazing group of interns from some of the top schools in Virginia. I was impressed and humbled by the technical knowledge they brought to a proof of concept AI and data analytics project. The thirst for knowledge combined with a fresh technical perspective was truly inspiring and infused the project with an infectious energy.
I was sad to see them head back to school but very proud of the work they accomplished.
How do you help shape the next-generation GovCon leaders?
One of the many aspects of my role as a public sector CTO is education. When I say education, I mean it in a broader sense of helping and mentoring startups, nurturing and coaching young professionals and interns, and exposing seasoned technology leaders to new technologies.
I do this through outreach and training within NTT DATA and externally to my many colleagues in government. I conduct regular mentorship breakfast sessions, actively participate in nonprofit organizations like OPEN that focus on entrepreneurship, and stay closely tied to my alumnae organization to cultivate young talent.
At NTT DATA, we’ve launched a CTO foresight video blog series to educate government leaders on new and emerging technologies. The bite-sized videos inform the viewer not only about new technologies, but also how they can be used to enhance the government technology environment. I speak regularly throughout industry and actively blog about various topics that help shape new trends, to equip next-generation GovCon leaders with the tools, ideas and content they need to spark innovation and move the needle forward for the future.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
I think it is very important to define the purpose, understand the problem we are trying to solve and make sure the right governance is in place to execute. In my experience, when one of these three things have been missing or is unclear even the most well-intentioned programs have run into problems.
I have also learned the importance of hiring the right program manager, that is a key role in any project. Setting proper expectations with the customer, early and often, can have a huge impact on program success.
It is a lesson I learned early in my career and it strongly influences how I approach proposing technologies to a client — both the client and the environment must be ready for and understand the technology.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
I was asked to help bring innovative approaches to delivering a $600 million large scale modernization transit project and provide a vision for future emerging technologies like data lakes, social, mobile, security and AI. I took the role even though failure could mean losing my job and risking my reputation, given the challenges and obstacles on the project. I successfully provided and executed a technical strategy and vision for this large program, and I am proud to say it still running today.
What’s your best advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in your footsteps?
I’d say focus, friends and fundamentals. In that, I mean stay focused on your career goals, network as with the right people for guidance and mentorship and make sure to get the fundamentals right — dress well, be on time, be professional and courteous, work smart, underpromise and overdeliver.
I recommend investing the time to become a true specialist in something, do it well and make yourself standout.