Romi Mahajan: Karan, you have built an amazing data platform for Asset Management- what were the core technical problems you were looking to solve?
Jaskaran (Karan) Singh: Pepper was born out of a need to modernize the existing systems that were on the market at that time and were plagued with multiple problems. Lack of a well-planned data management strategy and independent operation of multiple business units had resulted in isolated data silos at large enterprises for years.
Data silos are bad for multiple reasons. First, silos limit the ability of executives to use data to manage business processes and make informed business decisions. Data silos lock data away from users who can’t access them. As a result, business strategies and decisions aren’t based on all of the available data, which can lead to flawed decision-making.
Data silos also aren’t consistent with other data sets. Data errors by one team may not be identified and fixed in another system. Data updates in other systems don’t flow into a siloed system. Such inconsistencies create data quality, accuracy and integrity issues that affect end users in both operational and analytics applications.
The second major issue we saw with these systems was that they were implemented as “closed” systems deployed on customer sites. These systems were developed with no integration points, meaning there were limited options to ingest or get data out of the systems. This meant that the users were limited to only the features that the system provided at the time, and could not take advantage of the new technology products and services. These systems would lag the technology landscape by several years.
With years of experience working in this space, we knew we could develop a capability that can address all of these issues when it comes to AssetTech. And hence Pepper was born.
Pepper is a modern data platform that simplifies data management strategy by eliminating the data silos that traditionally separate functional and business areas. It provides multiple ways to ingest your data that can reside in disparate systems. Governance rules apply appropriate policies, security, data quality and privacy to the data stored in the system.
Pepper is an open system, providing multiple integration points. You can move data in and out of the system easily. Being a cloud native solution enables Pepper to integrate with multiple solutions like Slack and DropBox to name a few. Pepper provides multiple modules like CRM, Analytics using PowerBI that lets users build dashboards, and leverage AI/Machine Learning capabilities that the platform gives the users as an add on.
We are living in the age of disruptors. What SnowFlake has done to the Data warehousing industry, AirBnb has done to hospitality and Robinhood has done to trading platforms, Pepper intends to do the same for AssetTech world.
RM: Pepper is a Cloud-Native FinTech. How has that given you agility and how has that agility given you advantage?
JS: When we started out, the systems in the market at that time were mostly deployed on-site, meaning that it was deployed on a per customer basis. At the very onset, the management team at Pepper wanted to be the leaders in this space, and that means that we would not accept the status quo, and innovate on behalf of our customers. Being born in the cloud definitely gives us an edge over the on-prem systems.
The first one is the business agility in terms of reducing our time to market. We dont have long lead times when we want to provision resources, because we can easily make them available with a click of a button. It also enables us to experiment faster and more often, and then get feedback from our customers to continually evolve our system. We can keep pace with the fast changing market because we can try new things rapidly without investing a lot of time and energy upfront
It also enables us to reduce inefficiencies and simplify our technology stack. For our customers, that means that they get the new features and capabilities out of the box without them going through an upgrade cycle. All of our customers get the same set of features, freeing us from deploying the solution on customer sites, and thus managing multiple versions of the product.
We can also manage our capital expenditure much better. We don’t have to “guess” the capacity in advance, because we can easily scale based on the customer demand. Trading Capital expenses for Operational expenses helps us free capital that we can put back into our product and services, and it trickles down the customer in the form of reduced service pricing and new features.
RM: What are your comments on the Usual Suspects: Security, Compliance, Data Stewardship.
JS: Security is a top priority at Pepper. The platform employs all the phases as laid out in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. User authentication is secured mechanisms like Multi Factor Authentication (MFA), enforcing regular password rotation and patterns, logging each user login, detecting abnormal usage and locking user accounts.
From a data perspective, we encrypt data in transit as well at rest. All user actions are logged for auditability. Observability mechanics built into the platform enable us to collect and analyze data from applications and infrastructure so that we can alert, troubleshoot, and resolve issues. On the network level, firewalls and network security controls protect our systems for example automatically block requests originating from IP addresses associated with known threat actors.
Data is the new oil and is fueling a number of businesses. There are specific standards, policies, procedures and responsibilities with respect to the data ownership and data related activities to reduce data security risks due to unauthorized access or misuse of data.
RM: With billions of dollars managed on the Pepper platform, what the the special provisions you need to make as a CTO – basically what is the special role of a FinTech CTO given the fact that you deal with so much OPM- Other Peoples’ Money?
JS: The CTO role is evolving faster than ever before. If you look at the role over the past 10-15 years, managing physical and personnel technology infrastructure, including deployment, network and system management, integration testing and technical operations development have been a big part of the role.
The CTO role is evolving away from the traditional focus on managing daily IT operations to increasingly focus on driving technology innovation and scanning emerging technologies that can deliver competitive advantage to the organization. This new age CTO is tasked with exploring how emerging technologies can deliver operational and competitive advantage to the organization.
Given the amount of sensitive and high-value information contained within the FinTech space, the role has been evolving to incorporate the functions that can address those concerns. Data security is one of the top concerns considering the access to high volumes of personally identifiable information (PII).
Today’s CTO has to wear multiple hats. The way I look at it is that besides the core responsibilities of what come with the job, a FinTech CTO is now also a business enabler making key decisions on technology investments while ensuring that the appropriate risk assessments are made when introducing new information and operational technology into the organization.
FinTech has been the biggest, most recent disruptor of the financial services industry. I see a FinTech CTO on the forefront of this disruption, being the organization’s “innovator”. He is the thought leader continuously improving supporting processes and procedures to deliver business value.
The new age FinTech CTO is also a digital business leader, working with business functions to understand customer and market requirements in order to translate them into digital products and services that enable new business models.
RM: Your CEO Pulak Sinha has helped coin the term “AssetTech.” How do you see this space developing and growing in 2022 and beyond?
JS: In today’s world, becoming a data driven company is easier said than done. A number of organizations are trying to inculcate a data driven approach to their work so they can provide substantial value to their customers.
Data is at the center of AssetTech. Our goal is to remove data silos that have plagued enterprises over the years, and provide a compliant data platform where data can be shared in a secure and governed manner.
Improved workflow management to give users the tools to increase productivity and ease of use is another area we are spending considerable time on.
AI & Machine Learning is also at a center stage and becoming more and more important. We at Pepper think of it as a first class citizen which should be tightly integrated into any product instead of it being an afterthought. We currently have features like automatically extracting data from documents, intelligent search, as well as using the data to create advanced machine learning models.
The inability to utilize the data to its full potential in the current enterprise systems was the reason we launched Pepper, and we will continually keep on evolving that space.