INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH
INTERVIEW WITH MR. SOURAV DAS,
CDO & CIO,
Aditya Birla Group Essel Mining & Industries Limited
Enterprises are at different stages of their digital journey. What kind of competitive advantage can enterprises get with the early adoption of new and emerging technologies?
I agree that different enterprises are at different stages of their digital journey today. If I look at my experiences, I think few organizations are looking at only a few bits of IT automation and then some enterprises are a little more digitally matured and are already utilizing point solutions. Then there is a few organizations that are looking at larger digital transformation initiatives, for example, entire supply chain digital transformation and finally, we have some organizations which are looking at business transformation.
If we take into account the brick or mortar or the manufacturing industry in India, most of the organizations are there in the first two stages of the digital journey i.e., IT automation and point solutions utilization and gradually looking to enter the arena of digital transformation. If you take a look at industries such as services, for example, the organizations are more into digital transformation and business transformation. I feel start-ups are much more ahead in their digital transformation journey as compared to bigger organizations as they are much more agile and easier to transform.
Now, look at what kind of advantages early digital adoption brings with it. I think digital is all about how organizations are leveraging technology and innovation to drive business outcomes. I think digital is all about how organizations can minimize costs, increase business efficiency, enhance revenues and drive compliance. The sooner the organizations embark on their digital transformation journey, the faster they can get ahead of the game in terms of competition.
The other advantage of early digital adoption is that digital drives digital. The moment that organizations showcase a little bit of value addition through digital adoption, more and more employees get into the digital mindset which leads to more improvements and more business benefits.
What are some of the good practices that enterprises can adopt to drive cultural change for technology adoption, given that this is an indispensable factor for driving returns?
I think there are a lot of challenges when it comes to technology adoption such as lack of digital mindset, fear of failure of people who will be entrusted with leading the journey, fear of the unknown i.e., fear of employee role redundancy, job losses. Therefore, I think there are quite a few good practices that organizations must adopt to drive cultural change for technology adoption.
Firstly, I think empowerment is the key to driving digital adoption. If you have an IT team, a digital team, an innovation team, a business team, a functional team, etc., I think all the resources from these teams should be suitably empowered, they should be given decision-making authority in terms of digital transformation.
Secondly, instead of just brainstorming I think crowd-storming is a better alternative. There must be a sound mechanism to source ideas from employees and also make sure that the best ideas are rewarded.
Thirdly, a simple parameter in driving technology adoption is to compare the evolution of processes. Organizations must think about how they were doing a certain process a year ago as compared to now and if there are no changes, they should look to bring in positive changes through innovation. For example, if you as an organization have been delivering products/goods for your customers for the past year, you can look to implement a system where the customers get real-time updates or track their shipments.
Fourthly, there should be an innovation practice with a sound budget. You need to have a team who would have the bandwidth, flexibility as well as liberty to think outside the box to generate good ideas. This practice should have a sufficient budget to implement their ideas as well.
Finally, there should be top leadership engagement which is imperative for driving cultural change for technology adoption. If you are looking at transformation, it cannot be good if the top leadership turns a blind eye and leave it to a certain function or a department. There has to be serious engagement from the top leadership. I would say digital transformation is not a luxury but a necessity in this dynamic business world.
A lot has been said about why digital projects fail or succeed. In your view, what are the top 3 factors that never fail to contribute to the success of such initiatives?
I would like to answer this question from a slightly different perspective. For a digital transformation initiative to be successful, be it an IT automation or implementing a point solution or a business process change, the lifecycle of this initiative should be around three important spheres i.e., The first area is ideation, the second is implementation and the third is adoption.
Unless we have a very good vision of how we want to transform our business, we would not make any substantial progress. As I have mentioned earlier there should be a very sound mechanism of idea generation across the organization. The second important area is implementation. We can have a lot of good ideas but if we cannot implement them or if we cannot implement them the right way, it would not give us the desired results.
For example, in our organization, we had a challenge in one of our mining units. The process was when the throughput from the mining unit came out, it was loaded into the trucks and these trucks came out through weighbridges, where the weight was done and then eventually these trucks came to the exit gates where the exit formalities were done. We had 6 weighbridges and only 1 exit gate. We analyzed that the throughput of the trucks was very low. So, we did a ‘Time and Motion’ study and understood that the bottleneck is in the final stage at the exit gate where the documentation was done. We did a little bit of process improvement there, automating some of the manual activities, introducing QR codes and e-transport permits, etc., and therefore debottlenecked the process so that the overall throughput increased which had a positive impact on the bottom line.
Finally, the adoption part should also be considered equally important. In my experience, I have seen some brilliant ideas, implemented also in the best possible manner using the best possible technologies. However, somehow these implemented ideas were not adopted well by the user department and that’s how the business could not achieve the desired results. Therefore, I would say the three critical factors for the success of any initiative is sound ideation, implementation, and adoption.
CIOs are transforming from traditional IT service delivery to a more strategic role. They are no longer just responsible for IT services management, rather they are leading strategic initiatives. What is your opinion of the evolving role of a CIO and CIOs are being tasked with steering cultural change in their respective organizations in order to drive the digital transformation efforts that are necessary to support innovation and implement customer-centric strategies? How do you think CIOs are becoming the new agents of change today?
CIOs are responsible for many more important things than rather just ‘keeping the lights on.’
I think today almost all organizations are running on an IT backbone which means if there is a minute of IT downtime, there is a minute of business downtime. In our organization, we run a program called “Brilliant Basics” which means all the basics have been standardized, templatized with the right SOPs and with thorough training on “what-if” scenarios. This has made junior employees into process champions leading to bandwidth savings for the seniors. Additionally, we measure everything, every downtime and uptime is measured, and daily as well as monthly reports are created. 100% uptime has become the norm for us. After having the operational aspects in check, we shifted the focus to strategic aspects. We looked at what new projects can be done, what new technologies can be leveraged, and what innovation could be done.
CIOs are tasked with driving cultural change and innovation. The role of today’s CIO is to understand the business and to advise and implement in the business the things of tomorrow. In our line of business, fuel is the major component. Half of the cost of mining coal is the cost of fuel. So, back in 2017, we implemented solutions around IOTs and sensors so that the entire fuel ecosystem was measured right from the time the fuel comes into the mine, to storage, to transfer to different units, and so on. Two years down the line, we were able to integrate the fuel ecosystem data with the ERP and drive more intelligence from the system. Therefore, this is how I believe the CIOs are becoming the new agents of change today.