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Sheetal Pratik

Sheetal Pratik: Harnessing Technology and Innovation for Transformative Impact

“Innovation breeds opportunity, but it’s collaboration that nurtures true ingenuity,” asserts Sheetal Pratik, the versatile Director of Engineering, Data, and Analytics at NatWest Group. Her forward-thinking perspective on harnessing technology as a catalyst for transformation is creating a culture where leaders fearlessly embrace its potential.

An alumna of the esteemed Birla Institute of Technology, one of India’s premier technology schools, Sheetal was instilled with a passion for leveraging innovation to solve complex challenges from an early age. This mindset has served her well in her integral role at NatWest, where she is leading Data Engineering platform operations within the data and analytics organization and initiatives focused on enhancing customer experience at the intersection of data, analytics, and many progressive technologies.

However, Sheetal recognizes that true technological disruption requires more than just intelligent systems, it demands an open environment where collaborative expertise can flourish. “My vision is to foster a secure space where smart people from diverse backgrounds feel empowered to solve problems and push boundaries without constraints,” she explains.

Under Sheetal’s guidance, multiple data platforms have emerged and have become industry pioneers, mobilizing cross-functional teams to reimagine legacy processes through a technological lens. Her data-driven approach, lean processes, focus on fast concepts in the cash cycle, and ability to extract valuable insights that inform strategic decision-making enable her to streamline operations and serve customers better. Meanwhile, her evangelism for secure, federated data implementations is piloting business empowerment through technology and data.

Most importantly, Sheetal intends to continue her focus in her new role on cultivating NatWest’s human capital as much as its technological capabilities. “Innovations are meant to augment human ingenuity, not replace it,” she insists. This mindset permeates her leadership philosophy of providing ample growth opportunities, autonomy, and psychological safety for her talented engineering teams.

Looking ahead, Sheetal envisions technology’s transformative potential extending far beyond archaic business conventions. “We’re just scratching the surface of how exponential technologies can enhance problem-solving, security, sustainability, and our collective human experience,” she says excitedly. With her inspirational leadership catalyzing its technological evolution, she is excited to contribute to NatWest Group, as it continues to deliver sustainable long-term value for its shareholders using data and technology.

From Humble Beginnings to Transformative Impact

Sheetal’s journey in the technology sector began with a simple yet powerful motivation: the ability to solve complex problems and make a significant impact. Fueled by a passion for strategic improvement honed during her Master of Business Administration, she quickly realized the immense opportunity to understand business challenges and leverage technology to solve them. Her problem-solving skills, nurtured by her father, the late Sudhir Seraphim, an educationist specializing in Math and Physics, laid a strong foundation. He taught her to solve problems using first principles and instilled in her patience, persistence, resilience, innovation, and the ability to navigate complexity from a young age.

Sheetal’s mother, Mrs. Sharlet Seraphim, played an equally vital role in shaping her mindset. A strong, well-read, and fearless woman, she impressed upon Sheetal the belief that she could achieve anything. Innovation was a daily practice for her mother, who optimally utilized limited resources, making sustainability a way of life rather than a buzzword. Her sister, Mrs. Suvigya Seraphim Raj, an HR leader based out of Canada, and her paternal aunt, Dr. Rina Seraphim Deen, an economist by profession, have been her soul sisters, providing support and encouragement even in her toughest times.

Raised in a north Indian family from Bihar, Sheetal is the fourth generation of well-educated women. Her great-grandmother was a professor, her grandmother, Mrs. Evelyn Lawrence, ran a successful educational institution, and her mother was an educationist in the humanities. Education has been a non-negotiable pillar in her family. Her paternal grandmother, Ms. Mary Seraphim, a president-awarded educationist specializing in Sanskrit, ensured Sheetal excelled academically.

Sheetal’s children, Akshat and Ashi, have supported her dreams by growing into independent and mature individuals. Her life partner, Mr. Nishant Pratik, has been her best friend, mentor, and ally, always pushing her to excel and be happy. His attitude of allowing people to follow their paths and supporting them fully has deeply impacted their family values, fostering a culture of trust, support, and transparency.

Her upbringing in a joint family, daily struggles, and experiences of forgiveness and compromise have profoundly influenced her understanding of human emotions. Educated at one of the best schools in her town, St. Joseph’s Convent, Patna, and later at Notre Dame Academy, Patna, Sheetal learned discipline, values, and the importance of playing fair. Observing the nuns run a successful institution and administration inspired her deeply.

After completing her senior secondary education, Sheetal moved to study and work in different parts of India and around the globe, broadening her horizons and making her a better human. Her family’s legacy and her early education are deeply ingrained in her DNA. She was fortunate to attend St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, for Physics honors, where she met her life partner, Nishant. After their first year together, they transitioned to Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, which further nurtured her technological mindset.

Sheetal’s postgraduate diploma in business administration from the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad (IMTG) was a unique journey post-marriage and motherhood. Balancing motherhood, a demanding technology consulting career, and her studies required perfect time management. Her mother-in-law, Mrs. Purnima Prasad, provided unwavering support during this time. The course taught her essential business concepts and the importance of taking help, building mental strength, and letting go of perfection at times.

With over 20 years of professional experience, Sheetal’s career spans roles at Oracle India, COLT, NaviSite, Syntel, Mphasis, Reliance Jio Payments Bank, Saxo Bank, and Adidas. Her mantra of “being comfortable in being uncomfortable” has guided her through diverse challenges. Along the way, leaders and friends have inspired, motivated, and mentored her, playing significant roles in her journey.

The Transformative Power of Technology

Historically, technological innovations like electricity, the telephone, and the airplane have been transformative, changing the way people live. This is the power of technology that keeps Sheetal energized every day. Today, we are at a similar inflection point with Generative AI and Blockchain. Sheetal is fascinated by how technology can transform traditional business models, optimize processes, and create new opportunities.

Sheetal sees technology evolving in several ways to further enhance its ability to deliver business value: 

  • Problem-Solving: Technology provides powerful tools to solve complex business challenges, whether it’s streamlining processes, improving efficiency, or enhancing customer experiences.
  • Innovation: Technology is constantly evolving, presenting new opportunities for innovation. Whether it’s AI, blockchain, or the Internet of Things (IoT), these advancements offer exciting possibilities for driving business value.
  • Data-driven Insights: The proliferation of data from various sources, including IoT devices, social media, and sensors, will provide businesses with unprecedented insights into market trends, customer behavior, and operational performance. Advanced analytics tools will empower organizations to extract actionable intelligence from large datasets, enabling informed decision-making and proactive strategies.
  • Collaborative Technologies: Collaboration tools and platforms will continue to evolve, enabling seamless communication and collaboration among teams, regardless of geographical location. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies will further enhance remote collaboration, enabling immersive experiences and virtual workspaces.
  • Blockchain and Trust: Blockchain technology will play a significant role in enhancing trust and transparency in business transactions, supply chains, and digital ecosystems. By providing immutable and decentralized ledgers, blockchain can streamline processes, reduce fraud, and improve accountability across various industries.
  • Cybersecurity: With the increasing digitization of business processes and the growing sophistication of cyber threats, cybersecurity will remain a top priority for organizations. Advanced security measures, such as AI-driven threat detection, encryption, and zero-trust architectures, will help safeguard data, systems, and intellectual property.
  • Ethical and Sustainable Practices: Businesses will increasingly prioritize ethical and sustainable practices in their operations, driven by consumer demand, regulatory requirements, and social responsibility. Technology will play a crucial role in enabling sustainable innovations, such as renewable energy solutions, circular economy initiatives, and eco-friendly supply chains.

Through her work, Sheetal realizes that she is part of something much larger, contributing to a transformative period in technology that is shaping the future of business and society.

Transformative Power of Technology

Leading high-performing teams across diverse sectors requires a blend of leadership skills, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities within each sector. Here’s how Sheetal approaches it and the strategies she uses to ensure their success, realizing she is part of something much larger.

Sheetal believes that a highly motivated team can achieve extraordinary results. She has leveraged Pink Theory as a guideline, focusing on enabling people to become intrinsically motivated. According to Pink Theory, intrinsic motivation is based on three key factors: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. By creating teams that are autonomous, equipped with resources for continuous learning and skill mastery, and understanding their purpose and impact within the bigger picture, Sheetal fosters self-motivated teams.

Setting up a high-performing team also requires adapting and switching between different leadership styles depending on the team formation stage and product development needs. Sheetal utilizes various leadership styles, including:

  • Democratic Leadership
  • Autocratic Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Bureaucratic Leadership
  • Servant Leadership
  • Reverse Leadership

Additionally, Sheetal emphasizes the importance of establishing a feedback culture and a growth mindset. Creating an ecosystem of experimentation, providing a safe space, and encouraging continuous feedback nurtures thought leadership and offers everyone opportunities without the fear of failure and rejection.

Moreover, adopting reverse leadership has been particularly rewarding for Sheetal. This approach promotes leading from the bottom up, fostering inclusivity and collaboration. It empowers all team members to lead, even without a traditional leader’s label, thereby organically developing future leaders.

By combining these mechanisms with a common vision, shared goals, gamification with measured OKR conversations, and regular formal/informal discussions, Sheetal has successfully created a unified and high-performing team. Her realization that she is part of something much bigger drives her commitment to continuous improvement and collective success, making a significant impact within her organization and beyond.

Revolutionizing Data Governance with Data Mesh

Over her 20 years of experience, Sheetal has had numerous opportunities to lead and shape various engineering platforms. However, her most fulfilling and transformational journey was creating the Data Workbench, a bank-wide data governance platform for one of the leading European banks. This project coincided with the revolution in the data industry brought about by the introduction of Data Mesh by Zhamak Dehghani. Data Mesh is a socio-technical approach to building a federated data architecture, leveraging a domain-oriented, self-serve design. It borrows from Eric Evans’ theory of domain-driven design and Manuel Pais’ and Matthew Skelton’s theory of team topologies.

Sheetal was entrusted to lead this initiative, starting with a blank slate in terms of requirements, tools, and processes. At the time, there was no proven implementation globally, no production-level implementations, and no single tool designed to accomplish this. The challenge was to solve the complexity within a very lean budget, with no room for error.

With great sponsorship from the business, support from pioneering stakeholders, partnerships with the right consultants, and mentorship from her manager, Sheetal effectively curated the platform. She spent extensive time brainstorming with data experts worldwide, learning, listing out risks, identifying possible technologies and tools, and engaging with the right people. They adopted a fast-track development approach to create quickly, fail fast, and incorporate regular feedback sessions and course corrections.

One of the major challenges was achieving cultural alignment as they transitioned from a centralized setup to a federated one. There was considerable resistance, which is common to any transformative program. This presented an opportunity to empathize with people and set up educational and cultural sessions emphasizing larger goals.

By overcoming these challenges, Sheetal’s leadership in creating the Data Workbench not only advanced the bank’s data governance capabilities but also positioned her as a pivotal figure in the evolving landscape of data management. Her work on this project underscores her ability to navigate complex, uncharted territories and drive significant technological and cultural transformation.

Cultivating Innovation and Collaboration

Sheetal believes that innovation and collaboration are integral parts of a successful culture. She understands that the foundation of both lies in creating a safe space where people feel secure and fearless. Innovation, according to Sheetal, stems from the ability to recognize constraints and find ways to overcome them. It involves a mindset of hyper-automation, where one continuously identifies bottlenecks in business processes and uses technology and thought leadership to break through these barriers. This behavior is often cultivated by leading by example, empowering others, and maintaining constant communication about possible improvements.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is rooted in a growth mindset. It flourishes when people are focused on larger goals, follow pull rather than push mechanisms, and build relationships based on trust. Sheetal has found that sometimes these elements naturally exist within a team, but more often than not, it requires a conscious effort. She has implemented candid communication, training, gamification, and constant feedback to foster this culture.

To facilitate effective collaboration, Sheetal leverages various tools and technologies, such as JIRA, Kahoot, Menti, Teams, Slack, Google Tools, and Miro. These tools help create an environment where team members can collaborate seamlessly and efficiently. By prioritizing innovation and collaboration, Sheetal has successfully cultivated a culture that drives continuous improvement and collective success.

Bridging Worlds

Sheetal has experienced the distinctive dynamics of both large organizations and start-ups, recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities each presents. Large organizations are often on a scaling or transformative journey, rich in resources but hindered by long decision-making times. In contrast, start-ups are typically in their inception or build phase, and lean on resources but are characterized by quick turnaround times and a digitally native approach.

Working in large organizations, Sheetal has learned to be mindful of proper metrics for budget utilization, implementing lean processes that enable a quick concept-to-cash cycle, and ensuring effective cultural alignment for holistic transformations beyond just technical changes.

In start-ups, she has focused on making thoughtful decisions, establishing sufficient processes, maintaining a farsighted vision, and ensuring that team members are not overworked.

Currently, in her role within a large organization, Sheetal also incorporates a start-up perspective into her portfolio. By being aware and mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of both environments, she strives to blend the best of both worlds. She aims for the speed and agility of a start-up, the governance and stability of a large organization, lean processes, prudent budget management, and the employee care typical of large setups.

Through her journey, Sheetal has come to realize that she is part of something much larger. Her ability to navigate and integrate the diverse elements of both large organizations and start-ups highlights her significant impact on driving innovation and achieving success across different business landscapes.

Navigating the Fast-Paced Tech Industry

The most pressing challenge in the tech industry is the rapid pace of innovation and changing technological trends. While many organizations are still navigating their cloud transformation journey, Generative AI (GenAI) is already making a significant impact, often unexpectedly. Skills that were once in high demand are now readily accessible through GenAI tools. At the same time, the increasing need for rapid customer response times and personalization pressures businesses to shift from selling what they produce to producing what sells, and to do so at lightning speed. Predicting customer behavior has also become more challenging as trends change rapidly.

Collaboration is key to addressing these challenges. Constant collaboration across the stakeholder chain, understanding the evolving bottlenecks, shifting innovation nodes, and keeping stakeholders engaged and informed can significantly mitigate these issues. Businesses designed to embrace continuous collaboration and adapt quickly will not only survive but thrive in this fast-paced environment.

Another crucial aspect is preparing for unexpected crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations must build resilience to ensure business continuity and handle unimaginable situations effectively. This involves creating robust contingency plans, maintaining flexible operations, and investing in technologies that support remote work and digital transformation.

By focusing on these strategies, businesses can navigate the challenges of rapid technological change and position themselves for sustained growth and success in the tech industry.

Connecting Alumni with Innovation and Resourcefulness

The BG Social App was an initiative by BITOSA Global (BIT Old Students Global Association), a section 8 non-profit company, aimed at connecting alumni on the go. As with many non-profit projects, budget constraints were a significant challenge. The team opted to use a no-code app, which presented another challenge: the ability to customize it according to the actual alumni roadmap.

During the early stages, the project team had to prioritize effectively, applying Stephen Covey’s principle of “First Things First.” This approach helped navigate the initial hurdles by focusing on the most critical tasks first. The effort required 360-degree thinking and a relentless focus on connecting, connecting, and connecting. By prioritizing these connections, the team was able to bring various elements together and eventually achieve their initial goals.

While the journey is still ongoing and there is much work left to be done, the BG Social App stands as a testament to the power of innovation and resourcefulness in overcoming challenges. The project’s progress so far highlights the importance of strategic thinking, effective prioritization, and the commitment to fostering strong connections within the alumni community.

Embracing Resilience and Innovation in Today’s World

In today’s rapidly changing world, resilience is the most crucial skill. As business environments, situations, and technologies continue to evolve, the ability to adapt, learn, and maintain strong mental strength is essential. Coupled with a supportive family environment, these qualities form the foundation for success.

Sheetal believes in instilling resilience and problem-solving skills in her children from a young age. As a working mom, she encourages them to tackle their challenges independently or at least try to find solutions on their own. This approach not only empowers them but also builds their confidence. Often, their solutions, although sometimes crude, are their own, and they occasionally surprise her with innovative ideas she hadn’t considered.

Exposure to technology from an early age is another key aspect of their upbringing. Viewing programming as just another language and recognizing repetitive patterns equips them with skills valuable not only in the tech industry but in any field. Understanding what technology can achieve fosters innovative thinking and prepares them to be forward-thinking professionals.

Sheetal’s simple mantra is to get started, embrace technology, strive to be a better version of yourself than yesterday, and never give up. This philosophy not only drives personal growth but also ensures a resilient and adaptable mindset in the face of continuous change.

Awards and Accolades

  • Her research paper on “Data Mesh Adoption: A Multi-Case and Multi-Method Readiness Approach” won the Best Overall Paper award in December 2023 at the EMCIS (European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern Conference on Information Systems) at the British University in Dubai.
  • She was interviewed and featured for her work in the Harvard Business Review in 2022 on ‘Creating Business Value with Data Mesh’ for creating one of the early federated data governance platforms.
  • In 2022, she received the Indian Achievers Award 2022 from the Indian Achievers Forum – Sheetal Pratik.”

With a heart filled with appreciation, Sheetal acknowledges the pivotal role her family has played in shaping her into the person she is today. Their constant presence, words of encouragement, and unrelenting belief in her abilities have been the guiding light that has illuminated her path, even in the gloomiest of times.