Balaji Ganesan Of Privacera: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Companies should contribute insights from customer interactions to offer best practices and prescriptions. By doing so, they not only meet the needs of their customers but also assist customer teams that need more of the luxury of extensive external interactions.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Balaji Ganesan.

Balaji Ganesan is CEO and co-founder of Privacera. Before Privacera, Balaji and Privacera co-founder Don Bosco Durai, also founded XA Secure. XA Secure’s was acquired by Hortonworks, who contributed the product to the Apache Software Foundation and rebranded as Apache Ranger. Apache Ranger is now deployed in thousands of companies around the world, managing petabytes of data in Hadoop environments. Privacera’s product is built on the foundation of Apache Ranger and provides a single pane of glass for securing sensitive data across on-prem and multiple cloud services such as AWS, Azure, Databricks, GCP, Snowflake, and Starburst and more.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I had the privilege of working with Don Bosco Durai, our current co-founder and CTO, for over a decade. We started a company called XA Secure in 2012 to solve the challenges around data security and governance in emerging areas of big data. The company was acquired by another big data company called Hortonworks in 2014. The product became open-sourced into a project called Apache Ranger. We launched another open-source project called Apache Atlas to bring together the approach of metadata and classification and data security. At Privacera, we extended the work done by Apache Ranger and Apache Atlas to solve broader data governance and security challenges with data and cloud.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As more and more businesses have shifted towards data-driven models, they’ve come to understand the true value of data and the challenges associated with balancing its safety and utility. We created Privacera to help enterprises do just that — to help organizations use data effectively and responsibly while accelerating their digital transformation by helping them safely migrate data to the cloud and minimizing compliance risk.

Privacera provides data privacy, security, and governance through its SaaS-based unified data security platform, delivering trusted and timely access to data consumers. We enable data and security teams to simplify secure data access, security, and privacy for analytical workloads across an organization’s data and analytical ecosystem in hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Our latest innovation, Privacera AI Governance (PAIG), is one of the industry’s first AI data security governance solutions.

Our Fortune 500 customers come from across industries, including Nike, Intuit, and AutoDesk. They chose Privacera because we meet all their data security governance needs in a single platform.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Throughout my career, three character traits have been instrumental to my success: being a self-starter, having high energy, and being a passionate entrepreneur. These characteristics have been integral to my 15+ years of building startups and large transformational teams. Over the years, I have coordinated large teams in managing numerous large-scale IT transformational projects and have built a deep understanding of critical success factors for implementing turnkey technology solutions.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

In assessing our industry and company alongside peer observations, AI disrupts our operations through two main streams. Internally, AI enhances productivity, streamlining coding and development by replacing human reviewers and facilitating defect detection before delivering code to customers. In marketing, AI, exemplified by tools like GitHub Copilot, accelerates tasks from content writing to creating automated email campaigns, serving as an internal helpdesk tool.

The second impact revolves around how AI influences our customers. Firstly, incorporating AI into our products enhances decision-making processes, similar to tools like Copilot. With our focus on Security Privacy, AI’s presence creates startup opportunities fueled by the speed and risks associated with AI. This shift offers market opportunities, transforming our approach and allowing us to provide solutions in this emerging market to both new and existing customers, presenting new project opportunities. In summary, the three key impacts are internal productivity, embedding AI into products for existing customers, and exploring new markets as generative AI unlocks inaccessible parts of organizations.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Generative AI has had the most significant impact on my industry. When discussing generative AI specifically, OpenAI has provided the most substantial contribution. Its influence extends beyond internal productivity to areas like GitHub Copilot. This tool has especially affected companies with sizable development teams, streamlining coding processes. Additionally, generative AI has impacted marketing and other general tools. However, if I had to pinpoint one company that stands out in this context, it would undoubtedly be OpenAI.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

We’ve identified two key areas of impact: internal advancements and customer engagement. Last year, we observed a significant market shift as our customers delved into generative AI, sparking numerous projects. Concerns about security and privacy arose, altering our risk discussions. This pivotal moment prompted a surge in interest from CIOs and CISOs, providing us with unique access to decision-makers.

Externally, this market shift led us to develop a new product called PAIG (Privacera AI Governance) to address governance gaps. Our investments aligned with market trends and feedback from both customers and the investor community. This experimental project demonstrated the transformative power of AI, enabling rapid deployment without an army of data scientists.

Last year’s advancements, coupled with tools like GitHub Copilot, showcased the accelerated pace of AI development. This marked a profound shift in the industry, allowing us to make faster decisions and enhance productivity. AI has reached a pivotal moment reminiscent of transformative milestones like the Model T or the advent of smartphones. It’s now accessible to the masses, representing a significant technological paradigm shift.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

AI brings exciting opportunities across many areas. AI also brings fear of potentially replacing existing jobs. We must embrace AI as an enabler and accelerator for advancing humanity. We want to look at AI as a tool and guide that can help employees do their job better and be more productive.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

The biggest challenge is changing the culture and mindset around AI. AI is an enabler, and it will help teams improve their productivity. As with any change, organizations need to show value to employees and guide them on how AI can help their careers.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

Findings from Privacera’s State of AI and Data Security Governance Survey revealed that abuse/data bias was identified as a concern by 39% of survey respondents. As generative AI continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, more and more organizations are using sensitive data to train their AI models and LLMs to harness the true value of generative AI. This sensitive data in models and embeddings creates serious risks of sensitive data leakage. To address this, Privacera has focused on helping businesses address the risks of implementing generative AI and LLMs and empowering them to embrace the opportunity without compromising safety.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1. Beginning with top leadership, mandating AI adoption and fostering an environment that views AI as an enabler rather than a source of fear.

2. Approach AI implementation cautiously, ensuring accuracy, protecting customer data, and managing risks.

3. Taking a proactive approach that provides guidance and a comprehensive roadmap for customers, collaborating with regulators to shape the future, and actively contributing to industry standards.

4. Companies should contribute insights from customer interactions to offer best practices and prescriptions. By doing so, they not only meet the needs of their customers but also assist customer teams that need more of the luxury of extensive external interactions.

5. The technology industry should seize the market opportunity presented by AI, not only for external customers but also for enhancing internal productivity and refining products.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

Common misconceptions revolve around the belief that AI is indispensable and requires extensive pre-work, especially when leveraging generative AI, distinct from traditional generative AI. However, numerous pre-packaged applications exist, and tools like co-pilots can be set up quickly. This misconception implies that some solutions are deemed unready when, in fact, they can address and resolve issues immediately.

On the flip side, there is resistance within teams asserting that what they do is highly specialized and there is yet to be a capability of replicating it. However, this assumption may be challenged when evaluating the capabilities of AI tools.

Another misconception is that AI can solve global issues such as world hunger. While companies acknowledge certain limitations within their knowledge, they understand that AI cannot completely replace humans. AI enhances productivity and improves processes, but it does not imply replacing human roles.

Developers and marketers are still essential. AI is a tool that aids improvement, not a substitute for human involvement. As reflected in the balance sheet, the stage has yet to be reached where one can simply replace all personnel costs with AI. Both sides hold certain risk assumptions, with some believing AI can solve global issues while others dismiss its potential entirely. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

If I look back at my life, one incident changed my perspective of life and how I think about my priorities. In Jan 2009, I was a passenger on a plane that suffered engine failure while taking off from NYC. The pilot miraculously landed the plane on the Hudson River, and everyone survived. The incident is well known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The incident greatly impacted me, and my life approach became “having no regrets.” I started my first company in 2012, which was acquired in 2014. I co-founded my current startup, Privacera late 2016, and it has been an incredible journey so far. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and have taken measured steps towards founding my own company. The incident in 2009 changed my approach. I don’t want to be in a position where I regret not doing certain things. I approach my life around first principles as I would approach my company. It is about prioritizing what is important and doing it now.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As someone heading a startup, various things run through my head daily. As a CEO, I am responsible for balancing the needs of all our stakeholders, including our customers, employees, and investors. What keeps me awake is how to ensure we continue to do better for our stakeholders and keep moving the needle. My approach to running the company is again based on the first principles approach. What are the core things we must do to make life easier for our customers, help our employees achieve their personal growth goals, and increase our investors’ overall value and return?

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a father of 2 teenagers, the next generation will face bigger challenges around global warming and sustainability. We must focus on sustainability and lowering our carbon footprint. I am a believer in a community-driven approach in addition to nations driving key goals in this area. I would like to start a movement within communities to encourage sustainable farming practices and use alternative models of transportation that do not use fossil fuels. It includes encouraging biking within communities that are dependent on cars. Biking is more sustainable and safer for the community by reducing accidents and keeping one fit.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Balaji Ganesan on Linkedin and @Balaji_Blog on Twitter.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.