Interview with Pavana Jain, CEO and co-founder, SHIFTMobility.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: Pavana Jain is a natural innovator and a true stalwart of industry. During 18 years as a Senior Director with Oracle, she redefined operational strategy, helped close million dollar deals, and influenced the company’s policies and procedures.
Currently, in addition to serving as the CEO of a startup she co-founded, Jain works with angel investors and venture capitalists to explore new ideas, review mobile solutions for niche markets, identify the impact of local micro-markets on local commerce, and evaluate mobile platforms.
In an e-mail interview with The American Bazaar, Jain delved into the inner workings of her company and mused about the industry at large. Excerpts from the interview:
Your company, SHIFTMobility, is “the automotive industry’s first fully-integrated mobile solution.” Can you break down what that means, in layman’s terms?
Automotive industry is interestingly diverse and comprises of a complex network of car manufacturers (also called Original Equipment Manufacturers or OEMs), auto parts suppliers, wholesale and retail distribution channels, and transportation logistics service organizations.
Manufacturing and distribution in general represent the two halves of the industry; they are the ying-yang of the sector. While the manufacturing half concerns itself with the supply of raw materials to build automotive vehicles, the distribution side handles the flow of products in to the markets and to the consumers – the ultimate buyers of cars, parts, and services.
Although automotive manufacturers use state-of-the-art information systems and technology, the distributor systems are deeply fragmented and are also more than two decades old. As a result, information is not readily or easily available at the point of sale and service.
OEMs have their own dealer network to distribute goods and services whereas aftermarket segment consists of a large number of parts manufacturers, distributors and independent repair and service organizations.
SHIFTMobility focuses on automotive aftermarket – a $240 [billion] industry, and links up the repair centers to parts distributors and manufacturers with the industry’s first fully integrated mobile solution.
Why focus on the automotive industry?
Automotive aftermarket has lagged behind in terms of technology and innovations. It is also the one with the most number of players, still uses paper for back-end commerce and EDI for B2B transactions, has unstructured information silos, complex data integration requirements and service challenges.
SHIFTMobility technology was built from ground up to simplify information networks for mobility, and is disruptive. It also uniquely solves the challenges that could not be easily addressed earlier. SHIFTMobility brings about a rapid transformation from the use of mobile integrated offerings with smart devices, resulting in huge cost savings and process improvement gains required for mobile driven commerce and service networks.
What are the implications of artificial intelligence, i.e. robots, in the automotive industry?
Fly by wire systems in use since 1960’s have provided tremendous learning’s to perfect our skills at automating complex tasks and fine tune decision systems. With the advent of smart devices, visual image processing, GIS, spatial data processing, and big data infrastructure, it is natural for the industry to evolve to develop smart inference systems to tackle problems that would not require frequent human intervention such as for some of the most mundane activities like grocery shopping. The next decade is undoubtedly an era of smart bots with artificial intelligence that would be able to assist with personal chores and non-stop manufacturing. We will be able to overcome the barriers that test our potential with robots.
Are driverless cars feasible to manufacture on a large scale? Are they financially viable?
Driverless cars necessitate smarter roads, intelligent transportation networks, and highway systems. Yes, it would be possible to build such vehicles on a large scale provided there are adequate incentives for investments, regulatory support, and liability coverage for their use on the roads. It is, however, too early to fully understand the market and financial risks.
Where will the cars of the future be manufactured, in the U.S., Europe, or Asia?
US and Europe are already leading the effort designing smart cars of the future. They will be built with parts from Asia, Europe and US, and assembled where it makes sense to manage costs and to ensure they are affordable to purchase.
During your former tenure as a Senior Director for Oracle you oversaw a period of massive growth. How long ago did you strike out on your own? What sort of growth have you seen thus far as a startup?
I co-founded SHIFTMobility in 2013 with nearly two decade of experience at Oracle. It has been an unbelievable journey from start – with bumps, bends, and straight roads, frankly these are quite common to expect with startups. But I have seen us make tremendous inroads into the sector. Our products are transforming, our customers are eager to uptake mobility, all this adds up. We are solving tangible problems while amassing a massive network. This is awesome.
What are your core values for conducting business?
I wish I could re-phrase this question and focus more on SHIFTMobility’s core values. We take care of employees who in turn take care of our customers. So it is important to ensure every one of us share the same core values: Integrity – this is the hallmark at SHIFT; Impact – Be the best you can all the time – every time; Innovation – Think out of the box; Passion – Stay hungry and focused; and everyone is to be – a passionate ambassador of our company’s vision.
You are an Oracle Cloud subject matter expert. Do you believe cloud computing is the way of the future?
Absolutely. Especially with demand for connected cars or vehicle-to-vehicle communication infrastructure, I would say the cloud of today will evolve to a “mobile cloud” embedded within smart devices.
During the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for an end to the gender pay gap. Do you believe policymakers will decide to make it a priority?
I certainly hope so.
You emigrated from India to pursue your studies and career in the U.S. Do you believe the “American dream” is still accessible to anyone who puts in the work?
Intel has been making a recent, very visible push to add diversity and support systems for under-represented minorities/women to their workforce. Do you believe it accomplishes anything? Is it a step in the right direction?
Making a real effort to add diversity to the work force is certainly a step in the right direction. But, specifically regarding Intel’s effort, I find it odd that a $300million investment is established to incentivize managers to hire more women and minorities. This kind of implies there is lack of talent/skills with women and minorities and managers have to be paid to ignore skill gaps and compromise on hiring criteria.
According to your LinkedIn page you represented India at Asian Games and an Indian festival in the former U.S.S.R. — can you tell me more about that?
I enjoy competing. I love winning. It was an honor and great pride to represent India in USSR, looking back it was just a few months before the union broke up. We had gone there to introduce Russians to Indian native game called Kho-Kho, one of the fastest team game next to basketball. It was my very first foreign trip. I found USSR a beautiful country filled with lots of friendly people.
Have you been inspired by any role models?
I have been greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi for his deep thoughts, Steffi Graf for her focus to be the best while carrying herself with dignity, and my mother – for everything else, her fighting spirit and mental strength.
What do you consider your greatest triumph as a businessperson?
Being able to revolutionize an industry from scratch, to solve real problems with tangible gains, and enabling all stakeholders prepare for the next wave of rapid innovations in the automotive industry.