INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH
INTERVIEW WITH MRS. NAMRITA MAHINDRO,
Chief Digital Officer,
Aditya Birla Chemicals
Enterprises are at different stages of their digital journey. What kind of competitive advantage can enterprises get with early adoption of new and emerging technologies?
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT/ IIoT), blockchain, cloud and quantum computing can help organizations in building a robust infrastructure at the back end which enables them to scale on demand, improve resilience, minimize infrastructure investments and deploy solutions rapidly.
On the front end these technologies help deliver a best-in-class customer experience which inspires trust and transparency and helps build an agile and efficient operating model.
These technologies are also disrupting existing business models and creatingnew customer value propositions that can drive transformation that delivers exponential revenues andcreates competitive advantagethrough innovative solutions.
At Aditya Birla Chemicals, we are using these technologies for several different use cases including automating processes across functions, leveraging data & analytics to drive greater insights both on the customer and operational end and making better business decisionsinpricing predictions, enabling personalized customer experiences, supply chain planning, logistics optimization, improving manufacturing productivity, predictive maintenance, quality improvement, yield optimization and data interoperability to make our manufacturing plants smarter and more efficient. These technologies are helping build agile, transparent, decentralised, modular, ecosystems of value that will help future-proof businesses.
To support all these use cases,we are also investing in ensuring we have the right resources and capabilities in house and across our partner ecosystem. We are also extensively investing in training, re-skilling and upskilling talent as well as hiring new talent.
A decade back when I started working on digital transformation these emerging technologies were seen as a key differentiator but they have now considered table stakes for any organization hoping to remain relevant and resilient in this VUCA world.
Technology initiatives have always until recently, been the responsibility of the chief information officer. In the context of Indian enterprises, do you see the change happening where CEO’s and COO’s are getting increasingly involved in suggesting or driving these initiatives?
Technology is no longer being looked upon only as a business enabler but more as a business driver. Adoption of technology can often becomea strategic lever for businesses.
Over the last 8- 10 years that I have been in the digital transformation space, all such large programs had the sponsorship of the CEO. The reason this shift happened is because traditionally IT was seen as a backend support function mainly focusing on providing a robust infrastructure for businesses.
However, in the last decade technology has come front and centre disrupting business models, transforming customer experiences andredefining operating models. For example, at one of my erstwhile companies, we were the first player in the Indian industry to launch invoice discounting using blockchain technology. This became a game changer, a new business model for solving the cashflow issue for suppliers and their customers.
Similarly, we had a first in using AR / VR technology in the Indian automotive industry in creating a dealership of the future which enabled an enhanced experience in visualizing and customizing one’s car in 3D be it the colour, accessories, etc. Added to this we enabled “Bring the Showroom” home concept where a car could be booked from the comfort of one’s home, office or any other place of choice and all stages of the car buying journey could be completed online. And all of this was in the pre-covid era which helped transform the customer experience and make the business future ready.
More recently, we have been using emerging technologies like AI, data & analytics, IIoT, etc to drive operational efficiencies. The vision of having connected, intelligent, self-optimizing, manufacturing plants in the future needed the sponsorship and support of the plant heads, CEO and COO.
Another example is that the pandemic disrupted all the demand planning and forecasting and supply planning. It showed us that this was no longer just restricted to a supply chain function but needed a buy in from the CEO and CXOs across functions (sales, marketing, manufacturing, logistics, etc) to drive the next generation of integrated business planning using technologies like AI / ML to enable more sophisticated demand forecasting, dynamic scenario planning, etc.
These initiatives couldn’t have been pulled off as IT only initiatives. They needed a deeper understanding of the business pain points, engagement with those who were on the front lines and understanding how technology could play a role in shaping a solution that was a win win for all stakeholders.
What are some of the characteristics that best in class CDO’s’s display that allows them to lead a digital business and influence the rest of the stakeholders?
The winning mantra for a successful transformation is different for different organisations and CDOs but just like vowels are necessary to form words similarly the following characteristics enable a CDO to lean more toward a positive outcome:
A:Agility is of the essence given the exponential rate at which technology is evolving, the dynamic changes in the macro and microenvironment and the increasing risk and complexity in this VUCA world. Additionally, because digital transformation (DX) is all about business transformation enabled by technology it is imperative to align the DX strategy and roadmap with business priorities, goals and targets and use it as a problem solver, an accelerator for this transformation journey.
E: Any transformation is an emotional journeyfor all stakeholders. This changeneeds to be managed with great empathy. Also, creating a safety net for those who will be going through the disruption can minimise or eliminate the associated perceived risks significantly and convert the naysayers to advocates and emissariesof the program.
I: CDOs can inspire confidence by walking the talk and being hands-on in this journey. Focusing on the low hanging fruit and delivering small wins can infuse greater belief in the leader and the program. These programs are also a great opportunity for cultivating a culture of innovation and ingenuity in the DNA of the organisation.
O:CDOs who drive transformation with “detached attachment” find themselves to be more objective and can course correct faster and more easily during the journey.
They firmly believe theownership of such programs must lie with businesses. Following a “Build Operate Transfer”, model entails business teams being involved from the start of the journey and being completely aware that the ownership for the running and success will be transferred to them at a mutually decided future stage.
U:“Unity in diversity” is another characteristic of CDOs who lead and influence by nurturing and harnessing large internal and external ecosystems of value creators. Their ecosystem of advisors and collaborators comes with a wide variety of different expertise and CDOs leverage this with a single-minded purpose of enabling, driving and accelerating the organisation’s transformation.
Another characteristic of best-in-class CDOs is that they are always on the quest of learning and unlearningand immersing themselves in new domains to self-disrupt and expand their canvas becoming better version of themselves. This diversity of experience enables them to see the same situation with different lenses and therefore makes their solutioning, influencing and inspiring capabilities stronger & richer.
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?
As Mark Fields, erstwhile CEO of Ford Motor company famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast and transformation for lunch”. We can change experiences, processes, infrastructure and technologies but without addressing the people element, we will fail at delivering lasting cultural change. Our people and our culture must be the heart of our organization, and without a functioning and happy heart, no business will survive.
The starting point for any transformation is laying down the strategy. But instead of focusing on strategy alone prioritize the cultural alignment of the transformation.
Pick your battles and focus on the critical behavioral changes. How to help employees have an open mind, collaboration across silos, increased experimentation, creating a safety net that increases the buy in and appetite for risk and accepting failure as learning are some of the significant milestones in this journey.
Focus on the strengths of your company culture and evaluate how these can be leveraged to drive technology adoption. For example, if agility is an organisational value then demonstrate how technology is enabling employees to live that value more effectively and recognise and reward those embracing it at work.
Another practice that works well is embedding technologists in business teams so that they can build trust, help solve problems faster by understanding the business better, innovate new solutions based on business priorities, drive a culture of data driven decision making.
Today’s organisations have a mix of digital immigrants and digital natives. To drive a cultural change for technology adoption there are different set of initiatives and practices that will appeal to different target audiences.
For the digital immigrants the pandemic has played a key role in shifting mindsets with everyone using digital for information discovery, shopping, payments, etc over the past two years. Programs like reverse mentoring, curating expert communities of employees who can engage with other employees on specific technologies both formally and informally, offering training combined with a live project where the digital immigrants can apply their newly learnt skills, communication and celebration of those who have become champions of change are some of the initiatives that can help drive cultural change.
For most board members at organisations forming digital committees, including a technology person as part of the board, having technology as part of the key strategy and risk board meetings and 1:1 reverse mentoring has worked well in providing the right messaging for the organisation about the cultural change starting at the top of the pyramid.
It is important to provide digital natives the right opportunities for accelerating their adoption of technology at work. This can once again be done through capability building combined with application of these in real world projects. Also, creating shadow boards which look at the same problem from an innovation / disruptive mindset that leverages technology more naturally is another idea that has worked well. Curated communities can often have the digital natives as the experts on specific domains. Besides this, hackathons & technology capability showcasing events where an ecosystem partner or an employee can bring their tech knowledge and experience to solve business problems can be rewarding both from a monetary and recognition perspective and be inspirational for their peers. Many organisations also have internal accelerators and start up innovation hubs that digital natives can become part of.
Last but not the least it is important to monitor and measure cultural evolution of the organisation. This ensures that course correction can be done as required and a positive momentum maintained.