Meet Dr. Sankaraiah Sreeramula, a Chief Data Scientist at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas, which delivers quality products to meet the growing demand for tissues, packaging, and paper. In this role, Dr. Sankar leverages information, innovation and emergent technologies to help the business become more efficient, sustainable and accountable.
Dr. Sankar received his Ph.D. with 10 ISI publications and the best thesis award in IT from Malaysia, a Master of Engineering in Embedded Systems Technologies, and a Bachelor of Technology in Electronics and Communication Engineering from India. During his tenure as a researcher at Intel, Dr. Sankar received the Best Brains in the World scholarship instituted by the Department of Education, Government of Malaysia. This scholarship is issued to outstanding researchers in Malaysian Universities. Dr. Sankar’s achievement as an exceptional researcher has been more than matched by his excellent research accomplishments. He has also been selected as a young AI expert from Malaysia to attend World’s top 100 Artificial Intelligence researchers meet in 2016.
Dr. Sankar, Since starting his career has worked in several business sectors, including FMCG, retail, finance, travel, and manufacturing. His significant contributions include working with the world’s top semiconductor, viscose, pulp, and paper manufacturing companies. Dr. Sankar’s global experience has provided him with an appreciation for the value of diversity of thoughts and opinions, which he brings to stand externally as a Business of Data Global Advisory Board Member. His commitment to nurturing a culture of diversity was well recognized and rewarded with several awards.
When he was working on his first open-source project, he was the youngest in the team of more than 50 developers from all over the world. All his hard work, research initiatives, and community involvements are being duly recognized by international awards, featured articles, and invitations to partake as a hackathon judge, panelist, and keynote speaker in premier international conferences.
Dr. Sankar knew that probability is an essential part of Data Science. He knew that if a trained module could successfully deliver results greater than 51%, then it was acceptable. However, he also knew that the industry demands perfection, they wanted results that were either 100% accurate or very close to it. Anything less than that was not enough.
Despite all these challenges, Dr. Sankar continued to push the limits. Over time, his contribution to the industry became increasingly impressive. He became a champion of data-centric ML, a huge open-source proponent, and a Chief Data Scientist. He also inspired countless young minds to follow in his footsteps and pursue careers in technology.
Motivating Creativity and Innovation at Work
Dr. Sankar has seen a fundamental difference between the present and earlier generations using technology-based gadgets. While the earlier generations were content with obeying orders, the present generation has a different attitude. Those who know how to operate a gadget feel superior to those who can not. Many believe using a gadget confers new knowledge, even though it is not always true. Dr. Sankar understands that when someone wants to create something new, they must understand previous knowledge’s shortfalls.
In his capacity at APP, Dr. Sankar has been deploying remotely piloted drones to capture images of plantation areas. These images are then fed into a deep neural network that has been trained to determine the condition of plantation crops based on various factors. The algorithm can identify factors that contribute to flood risk or send alerts when tree disease is suspected. Although these inferences are not perfect and require additional confirmation and intervention from ground teams, drone-aided monitoring enables APP to direct resources towards the most probable problem areas, resulting in significantly improved efficiency and response times.
Dr. Sankar also knows the importance of listening to people and their ideas. He believes that by listening, people can air their thoughts freely, even if others don’t agree with them. Listening creates an environment where people can express their ideas without fearing ridicule. This attitude has helped Dr. Sankar motivate, innovate, and maintain a healthy environment in his work.
The Shining Star
Dr. Sankar is a performance-driven forward, thinking technocrat with over 16 years of experience in Data analytics and AI projects. He is known for his strong business acumen for communicating and solving complex problems, leading and mentoring technical teams, and improving/optimizing data management, automation, and integration across industries in the APAC region, North America, Europe, and Middle Eastern countries. Dr. Sankar has a proven track record of leading over 50 challenging projects in ML/AI, Digital Transformation, eCommerce, Industrial IoT, Microsoft, and AWS Clouds.
He is an exceptional leader with a hands-on approach to career coaching and motivational speaking. Dr. Sankar is always capable of adapting to new working environments. He has a very positive attitude towards work. His unique workflow, skills, ingenuity, and comprehension make teamwork great.
Another innovation he has implemented inside APP’s mill ensures minimum tear as highly complex, powerful machines churn out jumbo rolls of copy or tissue paper. Dr Sankar and his team have embedded hundreds of sensors in these machines to closely monitor the process, such as temperature, speed and surface tension – allowing them to predict the probability that a sheet will break. This allows plant managers to better manage risks and reduce incidences of costly shutdowns, enabling the mill to run more efficiently
A Rapidly Changing Industry
As an experienced business leader, Dr. Sankar knows that the business landscape is changing quickly, and no company can afford to rest on its laurels. With increasing human lifespan and technological advancements, the lifespan of organizations is decreasing, and a successful company today may no longer be there after 20 years.
Dr. Sankar knows organizations must adapt quickly to bring stability in the age of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have disrupted the equilibrium of supply and demand, sending shock waves through the world economy. The compounding effects of these issues significantly affected demand, the cost of goods, supply chains, and investment decisions, resulting in a period of inflation and increasing the likelihood of a recession or stagflation. Rising costs, reduced revenue, skill, talent shortage, the role of new technologies, adopting environment, social and Governance as part of business model, accelerating digital transformation, and cultivating robust agility are a few other challenges. Dr. Sankar readjusts business goals and adapts to economic rifts in this situation.
As a forward-thinking leader, Dr. Sankar now focuses on several initiatives to tackle business challenges, which include.
- Ensuring the spending visibility
- Investing in technology and innovation
- Upskilling existing employees
- Facilitating interpersonal relationships
- Introducing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives
- Adapting to the future of work
In the next few years, Dr. Sankar aspires to achieve better business growth and optimize the technology stack toward business acumen. He looks forward to deepening the right skills for the competitive world and taking his knowledge base to the next level to contribute even more. Dr. Sankar also sees himself enhancing his leadership and management skills, developing as a mentor, and putting himself in a position to lead a growing team.