Feb 14, 2024 | 5 min read

Hiran Bhadra

Podcast #225 Let's build the future.


How Hiran Bhadra and Belden are Building the Future 


Welcome to episode 225 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. We are delighted to be joined by Hiran Bhadra, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Belden, a leader in the design and manufacturing of insulated wire, cable, and related products. Over the course of its 120-year history, Belden has transformed itself from a cable manufacturer to a signal transmission company and now to a global supplier of network infrastructure and digitization solutions.

About Hiran Bhadra: Hiran brings over two decades of expertise, having previously served as a senior partner at Accenture and KPMG. In his current role, he leads Belden's shift towards a solutions-focused approach, emphasizing core networking product technologies and data engineering capabilities. His leadership has been instrumental in driving the company's strategic expansion over the past two years.

Unique Insights: This episode dives into Hiran’s extensive background and discusses how his experiences laid out the foundation for his current role at Belden. Not only does he talk about previous engagements while working at Accenture, but he also talks about the decision process of Belden leading Litmus’ Series B round in 2022 before outlining the value of Belden’s ecosystem and how value is created for customers and partners.
Listen now to learn how Belden is creating value for customers, reducing their costs by becoming a solution-oriented organization, and gain valuable insights from a true industry expert. 


 Discussion Points:

  • Your Digital Thread: What would you consider your digital thread (the one or more thematic threads that define your digital industry journey)?

  • Consulting Heritage: With over 20 years at Arthur Anderson, KPMG and Accenture, how did that time prepare you for your role at Belden?

  • Creating Impact: What were some of your most impactful engagements during your time as Managing Director / Industry Principal Partner for Digital Manufacturing at Accenture?
  • Belden's Appeal: What is your remit and what attracted you to Belden?
  • Defining Data Hydration: You talk about “networks and data” being important to digital transformation. You even refer to it as “data hydration”. Can you say more about this?
  • Belden's Digital Edge: What’s Belden’s right to play and right to win for digital transformation?
  • Lead Investors: You’ll know that Momenta Ventures are early investors behind Litmus. We were certainly pleased to see you lead their Series B round in 2022. What was the rationale behind this deal? 
  • The Value of Belden: What’s the role of your Belden ecosystem and how does this help to create value for your customers and partners?
  • Client Support: How is Belden supporting their customers in supporting and developing AI solutions for Industry?
  • Inspiration Source: In closing, where do you find your inspiration? (i.e., book recommendations, articles, podcasts, people, etc.)



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View Transcript




Ken: Good day, and welcome to episode 225 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. I'm joined today by Doug Harp, who leads our Advisory Practice. We are delighted to host Hiran Bhadra, Belden's Senior Vice President of Strategy. Hiran is a key member of the senior leadership team at Belden and has spearheaded strategy and technology initiatives over the past two years. In his role, he oversees the transition plans to expand the company from its core product-centric approach to a solution-oriented one, emphasizing core networking product technologies and data engineering capabilities. Before joining Belden, Hiran held senior positions in consulting organizations such as Accenture and KPMG, where he focused on manufacturing and digital transformation. Hiran, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast.



Hiran: Thanks, Ken. Nice to be here.



Ken: Nice to have you. Thank you, Doug, for recommending Hiran. I believe this will lead to an engaging conversation, particularly given the fascinating insights into Belden from my perspective. This is the Digital Thread podcast, and we typically inquire about individuals' digital threads. In essence, these are the thematic threads that define their journey within the digital industry. So, Hiran, what would you consider your digital thread to be?



Hiran: Sure, Ken. I will have completed 25 years of my professional career in a few months. Reflecting on your question, I see three distinct arcs that have shaped my professional development.

The first arc stems from my engineering background and education at one of India's leading business schools. During this phase, I focused on structured analysis, delving into business problems, and understanding why assets, people, and processes perform as they do. However, in the early 2000s, and even into the latter part of the decade, the emphasis was less on technology and more on comprehending the physical environment to excel as a consultant.

The second arc, spanning from 2008 to 2012, saw me deeply immersed in IBM's Watson development, which catapulted me into the world of digital transformation and the transformative power of data. This period marked a significant shift towards technology, and I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by organizations like KPMG and Accenture, which supported leaders like myself in embracing technological advancements.

Now, in the third arc of my career, I foresee at least a couple more decades ahead. This phase is about humanizing technology. While data analytics and technology platforms are crucial, success ultimately hinges on making these advancements accessible and user-friendly. As part of the corporate strategy team, I am focused on integrating technology with human-centric approaches to ensure digital initiatives resonate with people across the organization.

In summary, my journey has progressed from focusing on business operations and technology in the second arc to converging these elements in a more human-centered approach in the third arc.



Doug: Great, thank you, Hiran. This is Doug, by the way. It's fantastic to have you here, and I'd like to delve deeper into the 20 years you spent consulting with companies like Andersen, Accenture, and KPMG. How did those experiences prepare you for your current role at Belden?



Hiran: Excellent question, Doug. Firstly, I must express my gratitude for the invaluable learning experiences provided by these esteemed organizations - the renowned Arthur Andersen, KPMG, and Accenture. Each served as a fantastic platform for professional growth. Despite Arthur Andersen's legacy primarily revolving around audit and tax, business consulting was significantly emphasized. Similarly, while KPMG had a predominant focus on audit and tax, they also strongly emphasized business consulting. These organizations fostered an environment where curiosity about core business areas was encouraged, allowing individuals to learn, embrace new challenges, and contribute to the advisory practice.

When I began my journey with these organizations, the advisory business accounted for less than 25% of the overall portfolio. However, it was the fastest-growing segment, with substantial investments being made to leverage the expertise of professionals with engineering backgrounds to tackle critical business challenges. I am deeply grateful for the emphasis these organizations placed on adapting to the evolving landscape and leveraging technology to drive innovation. In particular, my experience at Accenture was instrumental in broadening my perspective on the potential of technology. Accenture, renowned for its technological prowess, provided unparalleled opportunities for learning and growth.

Furthermore, these organizations instilled a strong value-driven approach to consulting, emphasizing the importance of creating tangible value for clients. Regardless of how impressive an idea or technology may be, the ultimate measure of success lies in its ability to deliver value to the customer. This customer-centric ethos was deeply ingrained in the culture of all three organizations.

Lastly, these organizations recognized the importance of partnerships in addressing clients' complex challenges. They understood that no single entity possessed all the necessary capabilities to solve these challenges independently. This recognition of the power of partnerships is evident in our collaboration today. I have realized that true innovation and success often stem from collaboration and collective expertise, transcending the boundaries of individual organizations.

In summary, my tenure at Arthur Andersen, KPMG, and Accenture instilled a deep appreciation for learning, innovation, and creating value for clients. These experiences have shaped my approach to consulting and continue to guide my efforts in my current role at Belden.



Doug: Right. Thank you, Hiran.



Ken: Let me riff a little bit on your admiration for Accenture. I noted that you were the managing director/ industry director for digital manufacturing, an area near and dear to our hearts. Let me ask: what were some of your most impactful engagements during that time?



Hiran: I'll break this into two parts: an internal engagement and an external engagement. Let's start with the internal engagement. When I reflect on why I joined Accenture, besides the conscious decision to pivot towards technology, I'm reminded of the period between 2016 and 2017. During this time, Accenture introduced the concept of "innovation in action" and established customer innovation centers. These centers served as environments where digital replicas, or hybrids of digital and physical assets, were conceptualized, allowing customers to engage in dialogues about the possibilities. I found this internal engagement to be truly remarkable. Picture this: I participated in design thinking sessions where CXOs from large manufacturing organizations with revenues exceeding $50 billion spent two days immersed in these innovation centers. They explored concepts such as digital twinning, albeit in its early stages, and pondered the potential power of having a data replica of their day-to-day operations. The entire innovation experience cultivated by Accenture was invaluable.

Now, let's shift to the external engagements. One particular engagement stands out given my background in asset performance management, manufacturing, and global capital productivity. It focused on improving capital productivity in various industries, including paper, cement, chemicals, and steel mining. Despite common perceptions, there are substantial opportunities for enhancing capital productivity, even in North America. Our team delved deep into this challenge, examining how data could be leveraged to optimize the utilization of trillions of dollars worth of assets. Looking back, I take pride that our efforts significantly improved overall equipment effectiveness across multiple industries. Whether it was increasing shovel efficiency in mines, optimizing truck utilization between distribution plants and manufacturing sites, or enhancing kiln performance in cement production, our interventions had tangible impacts. From a business performance standpoint, these improvements translated into hundreds of millions of dollars in savings and revenue generation. By uncovering these hidden opportunities, we contributed to the bottom line and fostered greater efficiency and sustainability within the companies we served.

The internal and external engagements during my tenure at Accenture were instrumental in shaping my approach to consulting and driving meaningful outcomes for our clients.



Doug: Fantastic, Hiran. I'm intrigued by your emphasis on value creation. As we delve deeper into Belden, could you share with us how you transitioned from strategic soft-side services, such as those offered by Accenture, to a company like Belden, known historically for its strength in cabling, connectivity, and hardware? What drew you to this transition, and what is your overarching role at Belden?



Hiran: What attracted me was the relative size of the organization, and as you know, Belden is a sub-$5 billion enterprise, which provides strength in terms of agility and speed of execution. However, what truly captivated me was the immense potential for value creation within Belden. When considering the company's core strengths and the opportunities ahead, the potential impact on a global scale is substantial, if not astronomical. Simply put, if the world's GDP is estimated to be around 60 to 80 trillion dollars, Belden's contribution to the global GDP in the next 5 to 7 years could be multiple times its current size. While the exact figures remain to be seen, it's evident that Belden possesses a strong core foundation.

What particularly fascinated me was the leadership's commitment and understanding of the opportunity to pivot the business model and generate more value globally. Furthermore, there was a clear acknowledgment that such a pivot required external talent. During their selection process, what drew me to Belden was precisely this potential for value creation. Conversely, what drew Belden to me was my background in technology, including networking and 5G, which I've gained through my involvement in digital transformation initiatives. Additionally, my experience transitioning from a product-oriented approach to a more solution-oriented one complemented Belden's strategic goals. This alignment created a strong synergy, and the hypotheses have proven successful.



Ken: Looking at some of your writings online, you talk a lot about network and data being important to digital transformation. You coined 'data hydration,' which is an interesting term. Can you say more about this term and how this powers digital transformation?



Hiran: Certainly, Ken. Since the inception of my work in 2008, particularly in digital transformation within manufacturing and smart building environments, the significance of network infrastructure has been paramount. There was a widespread belief that valuable insights could be easily derived by simply establishing pipelines to transfer data from its source to its destination. Consequently, there was a massive influx of investment in cloud technologies, analytics, and big data platforms, accompanied by a surge in demand for data scientists and engineers. However, despite these advancements, the expected transformation and productivity enhancements failed to materialize even after fifteen years.

Upon deeper examination, it became evident that the fundamental assumption—that existing technology infrastructure could seamlessly replicate the physical world into the digital realm—was flawed. The current infrastructure, designed to mimic physical processes, lacked the sophistication required to accurately represent the complexities of manufacturing operations in a digital environment. For instance, intermediary systems such as historians and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) often compromise the fidelity of sensor data by averaging or smoothing it before transmitting it to cloud platforms. Consequently, vital nuances and fluctuations within the data, crucial for generating actionable insights, are lost.

Recognizing this discrepancy, it became apparent that a paradigm shift in network infrastructure was imperative for the success of digital transformation initiatives. Networks emerged as the linchpin for enabling the seamless transmission of high-frequency sensor data with utmost reliability, security, and accuracy. As the Internet of Things (IoT) increased, the demand for robust network infrastructure capable of handling massive data volumes surged. The conventional approach of relying solely on cloud computing became unsustainable due to escalating costs associated with bandwidth and infrastructure.

Consequently, networks assumed a central role in digital transformation efforts, facilitating the integration of IT and Operational Technology (OT) systems while ensuring the integrity and consistency of data transmission. Moreover, Edge computing gained prominence as organizations recognized the impracticality of transmitting all data to remote cloud servers. By deploying Edge computing solutions, organizations could process data locally, minimizing latency and bandwidth requirements.

In conclusion, the role of network infrastructure in facilitating digital transformation cannot be overstated. It is the backbone of modern industrial and smart building ecosystems, enabling the seamless operation of digital twins and other advanced applications across multiple sites. Thus, investing in robust network infrastructure is imperative for organizations seeking to harness the full potential of digital technologies in their operations.



Doug: Thank you, Hiran. That's insightful. Reflecting on our previous discussion about Belden's pivot and the concept of data hydration to bridge physics models with data models, I'm curious about your progress in determining your strategic positioning and timing in delivering value to the market. As your customers undergo digital transformation, how does their feedback inform Belden's digital journey and strategic direction?



Hiran: Yes, that's a crucial question. At a strategic level, we've divided the problem into addressing the needs of both brownfield and greenfield settings. For our brownfield customers, those with existing infrastructure, we understand the complexity involved in transitioning to new technology. Therefore, our approach is to provide solutions that seamlessly integrate with their current Operations Technology (OT) environment. Instead of advocating for a complete overhaul, we're focused on demonstrating how Belden's intelligent products and software can enhance their existing infrastructure. We aim to deliver clean, secure, and harmonized data from multiple points of generation to the Cloud without necessitating significant changes to their OT setup. By addressing the technological complexities, we enable our customers to concentrate on application development and end-user adoption, thus minimizing the perceived technology debt.

At a technical level, this entails transitioning towards a platform-centric approach. We're committed to providing a comprehensive platform that orchestrates data transmission from its source to the Edge or remote cloud infrastructure. This platform will handle the intricacies of OT integration, ensuring reliable data transmission regardless of the signal's origin. Essentially, we're evolving from a product-focused organization to a solution-oriented one while transitioning into a platform organization capable of seamlessly orchestrating products, software, and services. This strategic shift reflects our commitment to delivering holistic solutions that address the evolving needs of our customers in the digital age.



Ken: You've provided a fantastic segue into what I consider to be one of the pivotal questions. As you know, Momenta Ventures is an early investor behind Litmus, and I was delighted to see your leadership in their Series B round in 2022.? I think you've already answered it, but what was the rationale behind that deal?



Hiran: Ken, this ties back to the overarching concept of what I often refer to as the data supply chain or data hydration. Investment analysts have projected that a typical manufacturing floor will soon have up to 20 times more sensors than it currently does. Even if we conservatively estimate a tenfold increase, the reality is that organizations are adopting various sensing capabilities at an unprecedented rate. They're beginning to measure aspects they hadn't considered before, such as weather conditions or ambient temperatures in critical machinery. This proliferation of sensing technologies has resulted in diverse protocols being used across manufacturing technology systems. It's common to find multiple industrial systems operating simultaneously within a single manufacturing facility. Litmus addresses this complexity by harmonizing data generated from these disparate protocols. Essentially, it's akin to translating signals from various languages spoken on the manufacturing floor—be it Spanish, English, German, Hindi, or Chinese—into a unified language, making the data universally accessible and actionable.

While this may sound simplified, Litmus has honed this capability over many years. Integrating Litmus into our R&D process has accelerated our ability to address this complexity without changing the underlying OT infrastructure. Unlike some companies that advocate for wholesale replacements of PLCs or MES systems, we recognize the value of leveraging existing technology environments. Litmus plays a pivotal role in streamlining this complexity and enhancing our overall capabilities.



Doug: We're all aware that the digital era has emerged powerful and value-generating ecosystems. Having collaborated with you, Hiran, I understand that ecosystem play is integral to Belden's value creation and market penetration strategy. Could you elaborate on how you're leveraging partnerships to create value, both for your partners and your ultimate end customers?



Hiran: Certainly. Reflecting on our earlier discussion, two key takeaways from my experience underscore the significance of remaining steadfastly focused on creating customer value and recognizing the limitations of any single organization in providing end-to-end solutions. It echoes the fundamental principle, Doug, that we aim to maximize the value of investments in digital transformation. When we discuss concepts like "sensor-to-cloud," we must delineate our core competencies and identify areas where partnerships are essential.

From an organizational standpoint, our strategy is clear: we specialize in network and data infrastructure. For sensing and cloud operations, we prioritize forging partnerships. Similarly, within the realm of network and data infrastructure, we recognize the critical importance of technologies like 5G, particularly in hybrid environments where our expertise in wireline and wireless Ethernet capabilities must seamlessly integrate with 5G capabilities. Thus, we've opted to pursue ecosystem partnerships in this domain as well.

In essence, our approach involves presenting a holistic solution to the customer, breaking it down into its constituent "Lego blocks," and strategically determining which blocks will be sourced from our own capabilities and which require integration from external partners. While certain components may not fall within our core expertise, we ensure that our integration capabilities mitigate any risk to customer value. Therefore, ecosystem partnerships are integral to our execution plan.



Ken: This has been a great conversation. In closing, I always like to talk about personal inspiration. I'm going to ask: where do you find your inspiration? Book recommendations, articles, podcasts, people, etc.?



Hiran: It sounds cliché, but the inspiration you draw from often changes a little over time. I recall being captivated by literary works such as George Orwell's "1984" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." Yet, if I were to pinpoint a singular source of inspiration, it would undoubtedly be Gandhi—an indelible figure deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of many Indians. His principles of patience, unwavering commitment to truth, and resilience against external tumult have been instilled within my family and me since my upbringing in India. Thus, the Gandhian ethos profoundly influences my perspective.

However, more recently, I found myself engrossed in a book titled "Oppenheimer." While the film adaptation has garnered widespread acclaim, delving into the book offers a nuanced exploration of the intersection between technology and the tangible world. As we embrace advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) and integrate them into various facets of development, it compels us to contemplate the responsible execution of technology. Indeed, the role of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in any organization becomes pivotal in ensuring ethical and prudent technological deployment.

Central to this discourse is the imperative to reconcile technological innovation with human considerations. How do we navigate this delicate equilibrium? How do we ensure that our technological endeavors not only advance progress but also uphold human values and dignity? These questions underscore the essence of organizational distinction—setting apart entities deemed merely adequate from those heralded as genuinely innovative. "Oppenheimer," in its poignant exploration, sheds light on the criticality of striking this balance in the contemporary landscape.



Ken: Well said. First of all, I can understand much about you already based on the Gandhian aspect, and it certainly describes the Hiran we've gotten to know during this podcast. "Oppenheimer" has one of the quintessential moments where the military leader says, "It's okay. We've got it from here." I'm afraid sooner or later, we'll have one of those AI "we have it from here" moments, so well said. Hiran, thank you for sharing this time and these great insights with us today.



Hiran: Thank you, Ken. Speaking on behalf of Belden and personally as well, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity extended to us by both you and Doug.



Ken: Thank you so much.



Doug: Thanks, Hiran.



Ken: We appreciate you taking the time. This has been Hiran Bhadra, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Belden. Thank you for listening, and please join us for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series. We wish you a momentous day. You've been listening to the Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. We hope you've enjoyed the discussion, and as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions. Please check our website at momenta.one for archived versions of podcasts, as well as resources to help with your digital industry journey. Thank you for listening.


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What inspires Hiran?

Hiran believes that the inspiration you draw from often changes over time. Book such as 1984 by George Orwell and in particular, To Kill and Mockingbird by Harper Lee fascinated Hiran due to the fact that it portrays messages such as listening to your instincts and practicing what you preach, which leads into Hiran’s biggest inspiration, Gandhi. Like with many Indian families, Gandhian principles have been enshrined in his family and taught him a lot about patience and perseverance. Remaining focused on the truth and not being impacted by outside noise is something Hiran has followed throughout his life.

Currently, Hiran is finishing up the biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer and noted that a key takeaway is the power of technology in the physical world and how embracing AI in technology can be executed in a responsible way. A key challenge for every CTO is ensuring a balanced intersection between technology and the human aspect, which can be a distinguishing point for many organizations. Not only is the biography relevant due to the attention in the media surrounding the latest film, but also it highlights the fact that balance is critical for the world we live in.

About Belden:

Belden Inc. delivers the infrastructure that makes the digital journey simpler, smarter and secure. We’re moving beyond connectivity, from what we make to what we make possible through a performance-driven portfolio, forward-thinking expertise and purpose-built solutions. With a legacy of quality and reliability spanning 120-plus years, we have a strong foundation to continue building the future. We are headquartered in St. Louis and have manufacturing capabilities in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. For more information, visit us at www.belden.com; follow us on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter.