Mar 6, 2024

Harsha Solanki: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges in Tech

How Harsha Solanki is changing the game in tech with empathy and innovation

Harsha Solanki: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges in Tech

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Harsha Solanki’s career trajectory embodies the spirit of resilience, strategic insight, and leadership within the dynamic world of telecommunications and IT management. Her journey from a traditional military background to becoming a pivotal force in the tech industry showcases her ability to blend the discipline and values of her upbringing with the innovative and fast-paced tech environment.

With a solid foundation in computer science from Fergusson College and specialized post-graduate training in Telecommunications & IT Management from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, Harsha's educational background laid the groundwork for her ambitious career. However, it is her personal narrative — growing up in a military family and marrying into one — that adds depth to her professional persona, revealing a unique blend of tradition and modernity. This duality is reflected in her approach to leadership and business, where she leverages empathy and strategic vision to drive growth and innovation.

At Infobip, Harsha has been instrumental in the company's exponential growth, playing a crucial role in its evolution into a communications powerhouse. Her days are a testament to her dedication, filled with strategic sessions and meaningful interactions across all levels of the organization. Her belief in compassion and empathy as fundamental to leadership is a refreshing take in the often cutthroat tech industry.

Harsha's journey through various roles, from marketing and sales at Starcorp to leading Smart Wireless Pvt. Ltd., and finally her ascension to VP General Manager Asia at Infobip, is a story of relentless pursuit of excellence. Her contributions have been pivotal in launching innovative SaaS products like Answers, Moments, and Conversations, cementing Infobip's status in the CPaaS sphere.

What stands out in Harsha's narrative is her commitment to maintaining a balance between her demanding career and her personal life. Her hobbies and interests, ranging from reading and travelling to interior design, offer a glimpse into the person behind the professional success. It's this multi-dimensional aspect of her personality that resonates with many striving for balance in the demanding tech landscape.

Moreover, Harsha's involvement in philanthropy speaks volumes about her values and the importance she places on giving back to the community, an aspect that enriches her profile beyond her professional achievements.

In a sector where the pace of change is relentless, Harsha Solanki has managed to not only keep up but also anticipate and lead through innovation. Her story is not just one of personal achievement but a blueprint for aspiring leaders in the tech industry, demonstrating that success is multifaceted, involving professional excellence, personal balance, and a commitment to broader societal impact.

As the VP General Manager for a diverse region, including India, APAC, and Eurasia, what strategies do you employ to manage such a geographically broad team and market?

A large geographical area comes with an inherent and complex superset of challenges. Hence, I resort to a comprehensive and adaptive approach to manage the diverse region. The strongest epicentre of the strategy that I consider is rooted deep in cultural sensitivity while fostering inclusivity and diversity within the team. Having that as the foundation, a unique blend of cross-cultural integration, transparent & effective communication, customised and agile tact to manoeuvre the local/regional industry dynamics complemented with strong regional partnerships cements the strategy holistically. Quintessentially the same working guidelines are being employed by me in shaping cross-cultural leaders and developing and fostering talents. Since the region is vast, technology and tools are extensively utilised to ensure the probity of efforts. Consolidated feedback from all stakeholders is latched into the system with an aim to increase the efficacy/efficiency of all P’s.

Infobip operates in the omnichannel engagement space. How do you see this industry evolving in the next few years, and what are the key challenges and opportunities?

Technological advancements, evolving market dynamics, and shifting customer behaviors will drive the omnichannel engagement industry. Personalized customer experiences, messaging apps and AI-driven chatbots will take center stage. However, challenges, including security, compliance, and maintaining consistent cross-channel interactions, need to be addressed. As businesses navigate through the changing landscape across the world, Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) emerged as a pivotal tool to seamlessly integrate and manage diverse communication channels by leveraging AI capabilities and effectively addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

In the past few years, we have seen communication channels like SMS and email remain just as relevant as new channels like WhatsApp, Messenger, and WeChat. Today, we are in the era of Conversational Everything, where we are enabling our clients to offer personalized communication and 24/7 customer support.

To further make the CPaaS onboarding a smooth and quick process for brands, we have introduced CPaaS X, which addresses the pain points of the CPaaS onboarding journey. The new set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) makes the product stack more scalable with reduced effort in less time.  

In a competitive market, what unique value propositions does Infobip bring to its clients and partners for advanced customer engagement and security solutions?

The evolution of the B2C (business-to-consumer) experience has been remarkable over the years.  As technology progresses, customer expectations regarding their interactions with brands also evolve. Nowadays, customers expect rapid, customized, and human-like engagement when dealing with businesses. Consequently, we have transitioned from one-way communication to personalized one-on-one interactions.

Being a global CPaaS provider with a local presence in over 200 countries, we possess a distinctive edge in acquiring insights into customer behavior within each market. Our 43 data centers with more than 9700 connections (of which 800+ are direct operator connections) gives us a competitive edge. This empowers us to identify the most impactful applications for brands across industries, facilitating outstanding customer experiences.

Through our robust platform and cloud infrastructure, businesses can process substantial amounts of communications and digital interactions at remarkable speeds, maintaining low latency and top-tier delivery rates. One example is Infobip bolstering security for Uber with the number-masking feature and enabling Indian customers to book rides via WhatsApp using a chatbot powered by Infobip's 'Answers' platform.

Brands across sectors have leveraged our SaaS solutions and CPaaS capabilities to provide an interactive customer experience. Our services have empowered large organizations to facilitate their customers in embracing digital tools by offering support through their preferred platforms.

Can you share a specific success story where Infobip's solutions made a transformative impact on a client's customer experience or business growth?

In India, we created a chatbot for Mumbai’s governing civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on the WhatsApp Business platform, which streamlined communication for Mumbai's residents, tourists, and businesses. Leveraging Infobip’s conversational support, BMC also introduced WhatsApp helpline numbers for prompt reporting of garbage and clogged drains. The services made connecting with the administration, registering complaints, seeking assistance, and accessing a diverse array of resources much more convenient.

Another noteworthy example I'd like to highlight is Bajaj Auto. As one of the world's leading producers of two-wheelers and three-wheelers, the company aimed to establish a communication channel that would enable more meaningful interactions with customers rather than simply sending one-way, transactional messages. Infobip introduced WhatsApp and Rich Communication Services (RCS) as the fresh communication channels for Bajaj Auto, boosting engagement levels with a remarkable 133% increase and assisting the brand in attaining higher conversions (twice the previous rate) and an 8% surge in click-through rates.

Managing multiple countries with diverse cultures and regulatory environments can be complex. How do you ensure consistent service delivery and compliance across your supervised regions?

I believe that all of us are created with a unique and divine purpose. We at Infobip make a deliberate endeavor to understand, and then to be understood. As a consequence, despite being spread across all continental demographics, we structure fair and balanced opportunities for all, amidst our differences in culture, perspective, and beliefs, to transform our current situation into something amazing.  We celebrate our differences and strive for unity rather than similarity.

As an organizational value, we believe in “setting industry standards” in providing excellent customer service and producing high-quality platforms or services. This guiding principle, along with innovation, valuing adaptability, owning accountability, and striving for quality over quantity, serve as a cornerstone for us. It has helped us remain consistent over the years and holds us in good stead.

Can you talk about any initiatives or projects aimed at fostering innovation and staying at the forefront of the industry that you've been involved in at Infobip?

Indeed, a lot of efforts have been undertaken to foster innovation, but our focus has been unmistakably at the core. We have left no stone unturned to create a culture within the organization that encourages creativity, risk-taking and continuous learning. Infobip is a matrix design for close-knit collaboration between different functions. We also actively engage with external communities, customers, and partners for open innovation. This promotes diverse and fresh perspectives that might not be evident within the team/the organization. Strategic partnerships and collaborations complement our strengths and enable us to use external expertise more efficiently.       

A customer-centric approach and quintessentially being agile in operational fiber help us be the torch bearer. A deep dive into market trends and leveraging data mining of primary and secondary industry data helps us make an informed analysis of anticipated trends/moves, thereby retaining the first mover advantage. In addition, data-driven decision-making making, investing in employee training and development augments the efforts for the podium finish.

Building and maintaining a strong team is crucial for success. What qualities do you look for when hiring for leadership roles, and how do you cultivate a collaborative team culture?

A positive change in the world has seldom been achieved by one person. More often than not, amazing things only happen when like-minded people are committed to a singular goal. And it’s the individual commitment to a group effort that makes teamwork, a company work, a society work and a civilization work. Apropos, we at Infobip are specifically focused on the right hire. While celebrating diversity, we look for people with the right attitude, and high emotional intelligence while being fearless decision makers, person who are hungry for proven skill development and an innate desire for feedback. We also prioritize the ones who prefer quality over quantity always and every time and are engaging personalities in addition to being a good communicator, an effective team player and adaptable.

Cultivating a collaborative culture is all about keeping the recipe simple with the right amount of spices to it. We work towards maintaining a mentor–mentee environment while fostering a creative work environment with full room for openness to be heard, leveraging the strength of the team while setting SMART team goals and providing a space for social activities.

What advice do you have for emerging professionals looking to make a mark in the telecommunications and customer engagement space based on your own journey and experience?

One piece of advice that I would always give for budding professionals across industries, not just in the telecommunications and customer engagement space, is to view challenges as opportunities instead of roadblocks. I have always done this in my professional and personal life, and it has been my strength. The telecommunications and customer engagement space is a high-pressure environment, and patience is one of the prerequisites to survive and grow in this sector. Apart from this, one has to remain self-motivated to handle this pressure.  

What is your one guiding principle in both life and work?

With the passage of time, the boundaries between work and life have blurred and it is a challenge to support two separate identities: your “work self” and your “life self.” A majority of working professionals struggle to establish stasis becoming workaholics or lifeaholics, at least as long as they can stand it. Affinity to either is not sustainable in the long term.

Always remember, your work and life have one common denominator: “You”

Once the “You” is anchored to the balanced center, navigating work and life seems like less of a choice and more like a natural give-and-take. Arriving at that balanced center is a matter of moving steadily in that direction one step at a time.

Images courtesy of Harsha Solanki

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