Crunching Numbers, Shaping Futures: Sreesha Belakvaadi’s Data-Driven Leadership

Sreesha Belakvaadi | Head of Engineering - Data Analytics & AI | British Telecom Group
Sreesha Belakvaadi | Head of Engineering - Data Analytics & AI | British Telecom Group

Sreesha Belakvaadi is a strategic leader with over 24 years of trailblazing expertise in the tech world swiftly winning the maze of data, code and innovation. Where expertise meets leadership, he stands as the Head of Engineering in the realm of Data Analytics & AI at British Telecom.

Sreesha’s journey has been nothing short of remarkable. A trailblazer in IT Strategy, Cybersecurity, Digital Transformation, and People Leadership, Sreesha’s footprints also grace the domains of DevOps, DevSecOps, DataOps, DataGovOps, Agile, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), Cloud Migration (GCP/AWS), Microservices Transformation, IT Infrastructure, Data Center Operations, AI Ops (ML), and IT Service Management (ITSM).

Sreesha’s prowess extends to crisis management and situational leadership, where the reddest situations metamorphose into green havens under his guidance. His legacy is etched in building high-performing teams, nurturing next-gen leaders and crafting predictive strategies to curb attrition.

Mentor and leader, Sreesha has managed over 500 people, including senior managers, at the peak of his career. His guiding hand has nurtured high-performing teams, shaped the leaders of tomorrow, upheld motivational hygiene, and orchestrated predictive control of attrition.

In the tenures spanning across Informatica, IBM and British Telecom, Sreesha’s impact reverberates through the corridors of innovation. He pioneered Site Reliability Engineering, orchestrating a 30% reduction in Total Cost of Ownership. His expertise in Customer Engagement and IT Business Strategy led to a staggering 40% increase in profitability, which reflects his strategic acumen.

Let’s delve into the journey of an indomitable force—Sreesha Belakvaadi—leading, innovating and shaping the world of Data Analytics, AI and IT leadership!

Transformative Tales

In the landscape of technology, Digital Transformation takes center stage, simplifying User Experience and enhancing personalization. Sreesha emphasizes this point, stating, “Digital Transformation is all about simplifying the user experience, making it seamless and personalized.”

Looking back, the evolution of technology has been driven by necessity. Diary-based registry entries of the early 1900s transformed into flat files and then sophisticated Database Management Systems (DBMS) and Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) in the 1990s. Today, accessing data is as easy as a tap on a digital device, thanks to cloud-based sharing. Sreesha notes, “Data accessibility has come a long way and now, it’s at our fingertips, literally.”

Another revolutionary stride is DevOps, a branch of IT that has streamlined automation across various traditional IT domains. Sreesha points out, “DevOps has revolutionized how we approach IT processes. It’s the backbone of automation in the modern tech world.”

At the core of these advancements lies Analytics, a strategic lever that drives decision-making. This shift naturally gave rise to the evolution of Cybersecurity, addressing critical aspects like Data Privacy, Regulatory Compliance, Cryptography, and Data Abstraction. Sreesha explains, “Cybersecurity is about safeguarding the integrity of information, ensuring privacy and staying ahead of cyber threats.”

Cybersecurity has transcended the boundaries of enterprise businesses, infiltrating diverse domains. In criminal investigations, it manifests as ‘Cyber Forensics,’ employing techniques like ‘Ethical Hacking’ and ‘Autopsy’ to handle cases. Even in the realm of Medical Science, Cybersecurity plays a pivotal role in safeguarding patients’ data and ensuring demographic confidentiality. Additionally, government entities such as the Department of Defence and National Security Agencies rely on robust Cybersecurity frameworks like NIST to shield against cyber threats.

Sreesha emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between Digital Transformation, Cybersecurity and a robust IT strategy. “Digital Transformation and Cybersecurity are not mere tools—they are integral components of a strong IT strategy. They boost ROI and cut down Total Cost of Ownership, making them indispensable in today’s tech-driven world.”

Leading the Pack

As a leader, Sreesha sees the human element as more art than science, emphasizing, “I see people aspect more as a creative skill than empirical.” While established frameworks like Sigmoid-curve analysis and Bell-curve evaluations have their place, Sreesha firmly believes that true success comes from authentic ‘engagement and connect’ with people. This connection is created through effective one-on-one interactions, understanding team members’ preferences, empowering them to excel in their strengths and aligning their abilities with business objectives. “It’s about coaching and nurturing their strengths rather than focusing solely on limitations,” Sreesha asserts.

Sreesha’s approach to leadership is deeply rooted in genuine human connection. He views motivation as a product of consistent communication, treating team members like family and aligning them with the broader business mission. “My style of people leadership revolves around trust, giving freedom, allowing room for occasional failures (with responsibility on me), and encouraging skill diversification,” Sreesha shares.

Addressing attrition, a challenge in any organization, Sreesha believes in a proactive strategy. “Attrition cannot be entirely controlled, but its impact on business can. Strengthening niche skills, promoting cross-skilling and eliminating single points of dependency are crucial,” says Sreesha. To him, no employee, even a CEO, is irreplaceable.

Sreesha champions a system-driven approach where processes, not individual personalities, form the backbone of a thriving business. This perspective emphasizes the importance of a resilient and adaptable organizational structure, ensuring stability even in the face of natural workforce changes.

Cultivating the A-Team

For talent acquisition, Sreesha takes a unique approach, emphasizing, “Hiring is one of the most serious functions that today’s corporate has taken for granted.” Sreesha’s focus goes beyond technical skills—they prioritize attitude, behavioral aspects and the zeal to learn. “I look for potential and zeal to learn in the candidate,” Sreesha states. To him, the long-term investment lies in finding individuals who can scale to business needs while finding personal contentment in the work environment.

Sreesha delves into the human aspect, considering factors often overlooked. “The aspect of family balance is crucial. It’s important to hire individuals with healthy social balance, well-knit family values and empathy,” Sreesha asserts. These soft, essential traits form the bedrock of a successful corporate environment.

Sreesha’s unconventional approach to hiring involves exploring candidates’ growth through failures. “I focus on ‘failure stories’ and what the individual learned from them. Assessing the alter side of an individual reveals their real strength,” Sreesha notes. When hiring senior members, Sreesha evaluates the risk-taking capabilities and problem-solving skills through lateral thinking, employing logical or analytical problems to gauge the abilities.

The Cultural Canvas

In the intricate realm of change, the most formidable challenge often lies in altering mindsets and adapting behaviors. Sreesha understands this challenge firsthand. Reflecting on past experiences, he shares, “The toughest part of any Change is the mindset and behavioral adaption where Digital Transformation is NO exception to this.”

Sreesha recalls a time when they worked closely with numerous Senior Managers and Stakeholders spearheading various Digital Transformation initiatives such as DevOps, Microservices Transformation and Cloud Migration. To overcome the hurdles, Sreesha devised a comprehensive Training & Awareness program. Sreesha passionately explains, “One of the key levers I employed was a large-scale Training & Awareness program. It included coaching sessions like ‘Change as a Catalyst,’ ‘Breaking barriers of Mindset and Comfort,’ and workshops on how Digital Transformation impacts not just business growth, but personal careers too.”

Navigating through the initial resistance, akin to any significant change, was challenging. It took nearly 6-9 months of dedicated effort before the positive transformation started to resonate within the teams engaged in Digital Transformation. Sreesha notes, “The initial curve was very hard, but eventually, we started to see positive vibes in the teams that engaged in Digital Transformation.”

This journey highlights a universal truth—change is a process, often met with resistance, but with the right strategies and perseverance, it can lead to remarkable growth and innovation.

The Techno Wave

Sreesha sheds light on the era of Generative AI, emphasizing, “Today it is not even just Analytics or AI, but the age of Generative AI.” Understanding the art of crafting prompts and asking questions has become pivotal in shaping business strategies. The shift from relying solely on AI-based metrics to engaging in ‘cognitive asking’ marks a significant transition. Sreesha illustrates this shift, explaining, “Instead of depending on AI alerts, we can now ask Generative AI tools and be surprised by the insightful responses they offer.”

Sreesha points out the essence of asking the right questions in the right way, making Prompt Engineering a sought-after profession. The convergence of Large Language Models (LLMs) with Natural Human-centric behavior and cognitive language processing signifies the future of Data Analytics and AI. This transformation signifies a new era where human interaction with AI systems becomes more intuitive and insightful, propelling businesses into a future where innovation knows no bounds.

From Data to Innovation

Data & AI have become indispensable in the tech landscape cutting across all industries. Sreesha emphasizes, “Data & AI is a happening domain now and it is becoming inevitable to stay away from it regardless of the industry you belong to.”

Remarkable innovations underscore this shift. Palo Alto’s Cortex XDR, with its behavioral AI, proactively detects cyber threats, potentially saving millions. Meanwhile, Tesla’s ‘Camera-based AI Vision’ redefines automotive possibilities, introducing the unimaginable ‘Auto-piloting’ feature. “Applications are becoming more cognitive and intuitive with AI-based engines,” Sreesha points out.

Indeed, AI is seamlessly integrating into everyday life. From search optimization to shopping and lifestyle choices, AI-driven apps now guide human decisions with robotic precision. The transformation is a revolution shaping the future of every industry, making AI an essential tool for businesses and individuals alike.

From Vision to Victory

In Sreesha’s extensive experience collaborating with CXOs to shape IT roadmaps and strategies, the critical aspect that always shines through is how to measure milestones and success. Sreesha underscores, “Measuring success in IT Transformation involves strategic thinking. Delivering an MVP or PoC is half the battle. The MVP must demonstrate potential ROI.”

Efficiency is key. Sreesha highlights the importance of selling the IT transformation story with minimal investment, harnessing the power of open-source solutions and involving star performers in their Individual Development Plans for career growth. Sreesha explains, “It’s about showcasing the potential with minimal resources, leveraging open-source and tapping into the skills of top performers.”

Additionally, defining phase-wise success criteria and clear deliverables is vital. When leading the DevOps transformation at British Telecom, Sreesha set quantifiable KPIs such as reducing Defect Creep by 20%, Testing Effort by 50% and Code Walkthrough Effort by 90%. These metrics were empirically measured using timescale tools, comparing manual efforts pre-DevOps with post-DevOps automation. Native monitoring and ticketing tools like Service Now provided insights into defect volumes, highlighting the improvements brought by the DevOps transformation.

Penny Wise, Transformation Smart

Managing budgets in IT projects demands meticulous attention and strategic planning. Sreesha is well-versed in this realm and shares, “This is one of the trickiest responsibilities. We need a very strong process and governance that regularly tracks the expenses.”

Once the budget is approved, the focus sharpens on monitoring intricate expenses—from resourcing and licensing costs to infrastructure expenditures and even real estate if needed. Tight governance through a PMO office, coupled with regular reviews with senior leaders, ensures a clear understanding of the project’s financial dynamics.

Sreesha emphasizes the necessity of automated systems, stating, “Automated macros that proactively alert risks and slips when the budget crosses defined boundaries are crucial.” Additionally, having alternative plans ready in case the budget exceeds limits allows for timely strategic decisions.

Customer Engagement 2.0

In the realm of customer engagement, Sreesha advocates for showcasing “Value” as the foremost factor. Sreesha emphasizes, “The key is to deliver Value—whether it’s through Quality, Solution, or Reduction in TCO.”

Drawing from a successful experience at IBM, Sreesha implemented a focused Problem Management project, both reactive and proactive, resulting in a remarkable 30% reduction in TCO and a net 45% increase in profitability. By addressing repetitive issues, IBM’s resources were reallocated effectively, enhancing operational efficiency. Sreesha elaborates, “Profiling and fixing top repetitive issues, proactive alerting and self-healing significantly increased CSAT, enhancing both Quality and operational Value for the customers.”

Where Standards and DevOps Converge

Sreesha underscores the paramount importance of Standards and Guidelines in any IT Transformation journey. “Defining a baseline is the foundational step in any IT Transformation,” Sreesha asserts. Take, for instance, the realm of DevOps and DataOps, where tools like SonarQube are employed for code walkthroughs. Here, the definition of standards for object-oriented programming (OOP) languages like Java or C++ becomes crucial, encompassing factors such as ‘Cyclomatic complexity’ and ‘Code Duplication.’

Moreover, Sreesha highlights the significance of standardizing the toolchain, particularly in the context of Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI-CD). “Standardization is not only vital for implementation but also for measuring success,” Sreesha emphasizes.

Sreesha also stresses the early integration of Platform as a Service (PaaS) in large-scale complex IT Transformations. “A PaaS must be incorporated right from the Design and Solution Architecture phases,” Sreesha advises.

Businesses that have ventured into IT Transformations without adhering to Standards, Guidelines and Baselines have often met with failure, providing valuable lessons on what to avoid. In the IT landscape, these principles serve as guiding lights, ensuring that transformations are not only successful but also sustainable.

Crisis as Catalyst

During his tenure at IBM, Sreesha found himself at the helm of a significant crisis involving Telstra, a major Australian telecom company. Reflecting on the challenge, Sreesha recalls, “My team and I owned a failure due to human error, causing substantial losses for Telstra. It was an opportunity to engage the customer, own the mistake, bridge communications, and resolve the issue promptly.”

The crisis intensified as data recovery involved physically shipping backup tapes from various locations, adding complexity and time constraints. Through adept Incident Management, Effective Governance and Post-mortem analysis, Sreesha played a pivotal role. His efforts not only resolved the crisis but also revitalized Telstra’s confidence in IBM.

This experience reflects effective crisis management, showcasing the importance of transparency, accountability and swift, strategic actions in restoring client trust and ensuring long-lasting partnerships.

From Code to Cognition

Sreesha champions a distinctive approach to career success, focusing on the unparalleled power of continuous learning. “One thing that creates distinction is the ‘zeal to learn,’ with this one weapon, I truly believe every aspiring IT professional can make a huge difference to their careers and accomplishments,” Sreesha affirms.

Sreesha’s own journey serves as inspiration. Completing a Master’s in Cybersecurity from MIT at the age of 50, he emphasizes the potential of younger professionals. “It is all about positioning to market trends, creating distinctions and value for self-branding,” Sreesha notes.

In the modern IT landscape, Sreesha stresses the importance of developing a ‘User-centric’ mindset. “Today, it is not about innovative ideas, but about understanding User Needs. Aligning closely with human behavioral science and practical needs leads to business success,” Sreesha asserts. To excel in this IT revolution, Sreesha advises staying updated on the latest technologies, upskilling efficiently and implementing smart solutions promptly while ensuring high quality.

Sreesha’s wisdom underscores that in the ever-changing world of IT, the key to success lies in constant learning, adapting to user needs and embracing the fast-paced, technologically advanced landscape.

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