Digital is the Future

—Vinit Thakur Executive Director and Group CIO, Dalmia Group

Graduated in chemical engineering from IIT Kharagpur, Vinit Thakur, Executive Director and Group CIO, Dalmia Group, headed the automotive leader Mahindra and Mahindra and went on to work with companies like Wartsila Industries, Marico, etc. At Dalmia, he has directed and mapped the group’s technology architecture in a scalable manner that would support Dalmia’s leadership ambitions in each of its lines of businesses. Recently, the company moved some of its apps to cloud. In an exclusive chat with Dataquest, he talks about what all planning the group did for this and how the transition came out. Excerpts

The Dalmia group has moved some of its business applications to cloud. What propelled you to make this transition?

The transition to cloud was a part of a sequenced journey that would build a technology superstructure. Over the past five years, we have grown manifolds and inorganic growth has been the key element of our growth strategy. The cloud initiative has to be, therefore, understood in this context as standardizing our business operations is a part of our ‘One Dalmia’ vision. In fact, our first step was to Power One Dalmia on Cloud platforms but very quickly we moved into refined strategic vision of ‘One Dalmia-Digital Dalmia’. Certainly, cloud is an integral part of the same.

Secondly, the group has to be contemporary and meets the customer and employee needs in an ever evolving ecosystem. We are among the early adopters of the cloud technology. As a part of realizing our digital dream and creating an enabling environment that would ease access and let us focus on our core priorities. We started out with the refractory business which is widely distributed in the country and certainly fitted into a good case for experiencing the power of cloud. We partnered Ramco cloud ERP for the same.

Next big bet was entire productivity suit. And we did evaluate a few technologies aggressively but finally zeroed on Microsoft O-365. O-365 was a big step in realizing the digital dream which dalmia has. I have seen many of our aspirations of agility, time to market and reliability being realized on the technology backbone of cloud and mobility.

What all planning and initiatives were taken to make this transition happen?

Migrating to cloud is a strategic choice and is a part of the broader objective to make ones enterprise a nimble, digital competitor. The preparations, therefore, are far greater at the level of making strategic choices than at listing down tactical elements preceding the migration. Tactically speaking, cloud does not need much of resource planning. In fact, the entire resource planning life cycle has substantially come down in the areas where cloud is being used. The only area where cloud is demanding more thinking is the whole network design.

Nevertheless information security clearly demands much more rigour than what we initially envisaged. Well-defined agreements with the partner on data secrecy were on top priority in planning agendas for everybody.

In parallel, another team was evaluating a group wide solution for human resources. Our Chief of HR wanted a complete Human Resources Information System Software (HRIS). The idea was to have everything, from talent acquisition to talent retirement, covering the entire life-cycle of an employee. Most importantly, we wanted a system which is employee friendly with plug-n-play modules and the added benefit of adding more modules as we grow.

This again was a big challenge as we operate in most difficult terrains in the country. But our O-365 experience helped us take the bold decision of picking Ramco on cloud to be our HRIS backbone. We have gone live on group wide HRIS in the month of December. Hopefully we would be able to meet and surpass the expectations.
So far we have been using Cloud as a SaaS (software as a service) platform. But of late we are applying ourselves for Cloud as PaaS (platform as a service) platform. We are piloting our SAP implementation for sugar business on AWS.

What challenges did you face in the journey?

Challenges are always a direct function of the quantum and extent of changes being made. At Dalmia, we had a stage-gated process of migration to cloud to minimize the negative impact of new technologies. Some of the challenges being faced include integration of the various services while you are working in a hybrid model. Porting the legacy developments to cloud is another challenge. This integration would be an ever evolving subject and would remain a challenge even in years to come.

Exploiting full capability of cloud is a large opportunity in terms of enhanced capabilities and optimized costs. We are not able to exploit it fully and to optimize the exploitation is an ongoing challenge due to telecomm infrastructure and user change management and learning life cycle.

How do you project the RoI?

We have clear matrices on per unit service cost. Any technology decisions on business continuity services are taken either to enhance the quality and capability of existing services or to have tangible impact on costs. Cloud experiences on business continuity services are giving us pleasant surprises on both the fronts. In some cases, we have seen TCO getting impacted to the extent of 30-40%.

Similarly, in new projects or in new digital capability building initiatives we are seeing technology components having a positive impact on RoI. Our understanding isâ??this is primarily due to the reasons of not building excess capacity in advance and management cost of managing the services.

As a CIO, what excites you in technology?

As a CIO, I look at business as its owner would, through the prism of the customer, the employee, the supplier, the regulator, and the investing stakeholder. If you look at any business through the eyes of any of these classes of stakeholders I have outlined above, you would notice that digital is the future. Without a digital strategy, companies would find it difficult to survive in an environment where decisions by various stakeholder categories are being taken on the move. That decision-making is changing the very nature of industries: Commodities are no longer hard-hatted industries, and have become as competitive as consumer-goods industries.

To thrive in this environment, we need to transform and that is at the top of my innovation agenda at Dalmia. I am a part of an exciting digital journey wherein we are transforming a resource-focused industry through powerful analytics, robust systemic controls, and agile systems. We are tapping into mobility solutions for a wide swathe of our customer-facing processes, we are beginning an analytics journey to strengthen our decision-making, and we are already migrating our enterprises into cloud.