As digital technologies become essential to business success, the role of the CIO is significantly enhanced. From manufacturing, operations and supply chain to human resources, customer analytics, marketing and sales, the demands placed on the technology function are on an exponential rise. Today, most businesses are driven by technology. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for CIOs, whose position in the organization is more influential than it has ever been.
Depending on the nature of the organization, the CIO may well be the best equipped person to take the lead in digital transformation, although to be successful this will involve a great deal of cross-functional understanding and collaboration. A transformational CIO will combine technical capabilities and digital vision with business acumen and a range of soft skills.
In CIO Roundtable with BW Businessworld, a few leaders spoke on the transitions of CIOs who are leading the path for organizational changes driven by the digital transformation of enterprises. The discussion found participation from Praveen Shrikhande of ABFRL, Naresh Purohit of Nutanix India, Punit Rastogi if JCB India, Sharad Kumar Agarwal of JK Tyre, Umesh Mehta of Jubilant Lifescience and Milan Sheth of Automation Anywhere. This discussion was moderated by Hoshie Ghaswalla, Managing Editor of BW Businessworld.
Digital Transformation Leading the Way
Commenting on how roles are evolving as digital architects of the company, Umesh Mehta said, “The buzzword Digital Transformation has really gained ground. If you are not talking about Digital Transformation, it means that you are missing something. We need this transformation for business value, growth, profit and survival. Organizations are constantly discussing this transmission and automation of processes for business value, growth, corporate transformation and survival. Earlier, the PC, server, cloud, etc. was the center of the CIO’s strategy. Today CIOs are keeping the customers the central focus for such transformations, whether it is internal customer or external customer, everything revolves around the customer, which led to the change in the role of CIO in the last 8-10 years. Whether it is RPA, prescriptive analytics, or cloud, CIOs are now having to embrace it...IT has now shifted from enabling the business strategy to inspiring the business strategy”.
The CIOs opined that digital transformation is more rightly acknowledged as business transformation. Naresh Purohit pointed out, “CIO is now also the Chief Innovation Officer. Innovation is not just confined to IT infrastructure. The role of CIO is to meet the consumer’s expectations which are enabled by KPIs. Today, CIOs are sitting with the CEOs and the CFOs to decide what are the KPIs which have to be enabled by technology. Earlier, IT departments had their own way of working, and CFOs, CEOs had their own way of working. However, over the last 10 years, people are working in a more cohesive and unidirectional way, allowing them to achieve solutions in shorter ways. Further, when it comes to business innovations, we have to constantly consider how we can add simplicity to the infrastructure, and it has been realized that every business problem has a very unique solution belonging to a specific vertical of the organization. One solution will not fit all the problems. Today the aspects of simplicity to infrastructure, brought in by AI, Machine Learning, Cloud Migration, is driving business innovations and aligning them with their KPIs...Cloud is going to play a pivotal role in any transformation”.
Covid-19 impacting IT resilience
When asked how COVID-19 has redefined their IT resilience, Praveen Shrikhande remarked, “Our sector was one of those which was most impacted, all of our stores had to be shut during the lockdown last year. We had to quickly think of ways to bounce back. Of course, immediate steps were to get people to work from home, where cloud played a major role. Fortunately, most of our applications were already enabled for remote access within the organization, and those that were not, got enabled by quick technology intervention. From a business perspective, we had to rapidly get stores onboarded for e-commerce, as that would enable customers to shop remotely, we had some stores which had ecommerce delivery capabilities before the pandemic, however, as an impact of the lockdown, we had to scale it to most of our stores within a matter of weeks. Last year we saw our over 3 times growth in Ecommerce for various brands and expect to see rapid growth in future as well. The big focus shift from offline to online has been significant for our business during the pandemic. For the high transaction volume which e-commerce brings in for a business like ours, end-to-end automation of services was essential. We had to transform our systems for the Digital Age customer and an omni-channel business model”.
Sharad Agarwal added to that stating, “This covid aftermath was also about human resilience, and lesser about IT resilience. This is because the number of people who are providing IT support, directly or indirectly is limited but the number of people dependent on the IT services of an enterprise increased after the pandemic. If earlier they were at 200 locations, now 8000 locations were dependent on such IT services. Of course, we had several automation processes which were brought in place, but the human aspect of this was very important. Even before the lockdown started, we had enabled work from home. Somehow as a group we got a sense that we need to be prepared for what’s coming. During lockdown 2.0, via our JK Health App services was given to all employees and all individuals connected directly or indirectly to the JK Family for their health checkups. There has also been a surge in the number of digital payments transacted post covid, as a customer way to do transactions in a no-contact way. Lastly, I think, the role of the CIO is becoming like a digital lubricant, by which I mean, we are trying to reduce friction wherever handover is happening between stakeholders of different processes. If there's friction, we try to digitize it”.
While commenting on that accelerated support brought by the IT infrastructure to companies in the aftermath of the pandemic, Punit Rastogi from JCB India said, “IT has been very responsive during the Covid times, several experimentations took place. IT has been the enabler for the business. Covid definitely brought in several challenges in terms of business continuity. However, within a month of the pandemic, everyone was comfortable with the way IT enabled their workstation. Except manufacturing, I believe everything else was in line, because covid has forced all these manufacturing units to be closed. I think this was the first time when IT was the frontline of any Chairman or Managing Director’s Statement as a result of the pandemic...because of the IT services we could sustain momentum. IT has been a great enabler to the business, and impact of covid was mitigated because of its services”.
Automation of Process
Sitting in the center of automation, Milan Sheth commented, “IT has driven the digital led business model itself. There are two relevant questions which came up from the IT Department, which are, when you interact with the external world, do you have a digital channel, and when you work on internally within an organization, how digital are you. Earlier, if we had digital processes in place for our suppliers and customers, we would say we are digitally ready. But now, for the first time during the pandemic, I observed even internal processes were dependent on IT Services. When you digitize something, you digitize it end-to-end, and this was the biggest learning for us. Also, there is an old saying that, in B2C the technology adaption is faster than in B2B. However, in the pandemic, this changed, as the B2B sector started to quickly adapt with this technology intervention. Questions were being asked which processes can be enabled by digital intervention, and which would require physical presence. Finally, automation is no longer done in parts, it is integrated for the system as a whole, to ensure all people connected to its process are in sync”.
Way forward for Transition Led by Technology
Milan Sheth mentioned that Indian companies are still managing a large volume of documents which require intelligent automation processes, through machine learning and other IT enabled processes. When commenting on the automation of front office and back office of organizations, he said, “Large organizations like Maruti, L&T, Tata Steel have suddenly experienced the volumes increasing heavily, leading to automation of processes during the pandemic. In terms of the back office, whether it is finance, procurement, HR, are the traditional spaces where the automation takes place. I think where this is heading is the core operations side, whether it is logistics, supply chain, production management, monitoring of sites and plants, etc., are some of the other areas where bots are working together. Automation is taking place at the front, mid and back office along with the offices which are processing transactions. The lines have blurred between business functions and technology operations. Today a lot of business functions want to be empowered by bots, rather than waiting for 18 months to do an ERP upgrade cycle”.
While commenting on what technologies have helped companies to stay ahead, Naresh Purohit mentioned that there are five catalysts which are significant while developing digital strategies for companies, i.e., speed, scale, simplicity, security and spend. He mentions, “What got you here, won’t get you there”. He also mentioned how leading manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and several global organizations are aiming to work on a lift-and-shift technology model, in which the technology facets of one unit can be implemented in another space, by implementing a similar framework.
During the technology transformation journey of Umesh Mehta, since the last 10 years their core processes have been integrating the new technology platforms and have been virtualizing their data center. He mentions, “We have adapted cloud for strategy, and around 40% of our applications are on cloud. Whenever a hardware refresh is due, we evaluate and see if the servers and application qualify the criteria to move to cloud and if yes, we move them to cloud for better flexibility & resilience. We have also started pulling data from IT and OT system into data lake/ data warehouse which will be the single truth information across the organization to do Analytics over it, be it Descriptive, Predictive and Prescriptive analytics using new age technologies like AI & ML”.