IT By Instinct

fp.jpg (15144 bytes)From being a
data-entry operator to heading the computerization efforts of US-based MNC Tupperware,
Thiagaraja Manikandan has done it all. Except one little thing. So busy was he climbing up
the IT ladder that he forgot to take a formal training in computer. All he has is a
Master’s degree in mathematics. But he has a knack to instinctively grasp the complexities
of IT. About his journey he says, "I used to be a data-entry operator in college.
After that I got so interested that I just joined Business India as a computer executive
with no other knowledge of computers. Then whatever I learnt I applied it on the
job." In an exclusive interview, Manikandan shares more of his experiences with
Surajit Agarwal of Dataquest. Excerpts:

What is the IT need of an
organization like Tupperware. Since you are just setting up operations in India, we don’t
expect it to be very complex?

No, on the contrary, IT usage in Tupperware is very critical. You see, the organization
has such a large global IT network that for any new manager in the company the challenge
is to set up a network that can quickly become operational and handle the local
requirements. Apart from this, I also have to look after the global integration. If my
network is not well-integrated with the world wide Tupperware network, then it is as good
as not having done anything at all. This apart, the distribution model Tupperware uses
cannot be supported without IT. Currently, we have about eight regional offices reporting
to the HQ. Each of these regional offices have distributors under them. Since our
distributors only book orders from the end-users, we have to ensure that the information
flow is perfect. Because, we have to ensure that the goods flow is not affected. Closely
linked to the sales flow system is the warehouse inventory system and the manufacturing
system. It is all a very intricate link and if one thread of the network comes loose then
the entire thing will come to a grinding halt.

How do you manage dataflow
effectively from so many centers?

As of now we are using email. That is only because the organization is still in the
process of setting up its regional offices. Now, we have only eight regional offices and
about 50 distributors. But this is not going to be a very effective system once the
numbers go up. Then we are thinking of going in for an intranet application. For us the
problem is not so much of data management as data flow. We do not really need a powerful
database engine or anything, but we definitely need to have our data-flow motoring along
if we are to do well here.

The sales management system has
been developed in-house or you got it from a third-party vendor?

Well, initially we did give it to a third-party vendor, but our experience with them has
not been very good. So it has been completely redone by the in-house team at Tupperware.

For this kind of an implementation
don’t you think it would have been better to go for an ERP solution?

As I told you, our problem right now is not data management. We do not have a huge data
bank that we need an ERP type of solution. That will come later, maybe five years down the
line when our distributors and regional offices together cross the 1,000 mark, and we feel
the need for close integration of data. Right now, it is essential to get in the data as
quickly as possible and consolidate it at the HQ level.

What is your total investment in
IT?

Over the last two years, we would have invested around Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 crore. But
this is just the initial investment as we are just about getting our act together. Our
real investments will come in the current year. This year we are looking at Microsoft
Exchange for total automation. This apart, we should be able to decide on our Intranet
apps too.

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