IT for better distribution



When Redington started its operations in India, in 1993, the distribution
market was dominated by the likes of Tech Pacific and a slew of local players.
Given that, many wondered if the company could make it big. In the first year of
its operations it posted a modest turnover, and since 1994, it rode the IT boom
with fervour and grew impressively year-on-year to become a Rs 2,080 crore
entity by 2004. Over the years the company has mastered the art of IT
distribution and has become a major force in its chosen space. All along, IT has
played a key role in shaping the company to face stiff competition and tackle
the complex dynamics of the distribution industry. Engineering various IT
initiatives is Clynton Almeida, general manger, IT at Redington.

Before taking a closer look at IT in Redington, let’s look into the company’s
operations. Redington India is a part of the 140 years old $2 bn transnational
Kewalram Chanrai group, head quartered in Singapore. The group has a very strong
business history with operations spread over 40 countries covering the US, Asia,
Europe and Africa. The group’s operations are highly diversified and cover
diverse areas like IT products and services, international trading, property
development, and textile manufacturing among others. The group has IT products
and services business in India, US, Singapore, Dubai, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Jordan and Kuwait. Overall, the IT products and services business generated
revenues of $841 mn in the financial year 2003-04.

Clynton Almeida

For fiscal 2003-04, Redington India was ranked number 10 in the DQ Top 20.
That’s indeed a big achievement. The company’s portfolio of distribution
products cuts across peripherals, systems, components, supplies, mobile phones,
and packaged software. The company has 29 branches and around 6,548 dealers. In
just a span of a decade Redington has built an enviable reputation in the IT
distribution space, and much of the success can be attributed to the strong top
management team in India that had forged strategic relations with IT vendors and
the channel community. Clearly, Redington India is one of the most thriving
business entities of the Chanrai Group.

IT in Redington
The company has taken three significant initiatives in the recent years,
says Clynton: “We went in for a CRM, it was needed to integrate our Pre
Sales activities across branches and also to enable us to assess the market
potential in terms of how we are placed against competition. We are a strong
customer-focused organization, and that called for interaction with our
customers and potential customers in the best possible way. Implementing CRM
created a synergy across the organization and made us customer centric.”

The second major initiative pertains to the BI (business intelligence)
solution the company has put in place. “With the business landscape
changing at a fast pace, it is important for us to keep a close watch on ground
realities and business scenarios, to take instant decisive business calls. This
is not possible without a well-implemented BI and data mining system. The
lead-time of getting information from the IT department, in the traditional way,
is too high, resulting in lost opportunities. With BI, individuals are empowered
to analyze and extract information on the fly and take decisive, timely,
business decisions,” says the CIO.

The third major IT decision was to go in for a VPN solution. The VPN network
was setup primarily to address the upcountry locations and the mobile work
force. It is also used as a connectivity backup in locations where primary level
of connection fails. Says Clynton: “The VPN technology has made a
significant impact by making business more real-time. With VPN, our mobile users
can access information and impact a transaction workflow anytime/anywhere. This
is a well known technology and, I feel, its impact is tremendous.”

The Challenges
The proactive IT set up at Redington has also helped the company manage its
huge portfolio of products. Clynton has played an instrumental role as the CIO
by helping the company adopt new technologies in varying phases of its
evolution. Many challenges had to be tackled every day that commanded high
degree of technical and business sense. However, Clynton managed to come on top,
using his technical acumen and years of experience. According to him, some of
the biggest challenges he faced were-issues like managing IT Infrastructure
such as desktops, across different geographical locations; breakdowns and virus
attacks; planning and managing storage of individual users across the
organization. But the most challenging was maintaining connectivity uptime and
deploying new lines.

Redington today is a tech-savvy organization. “Agility is a prerequisite
to survival with the changing business dynamics. It is vital for organizations
to adopt various technologies that will give them a distinct competitive
advantage,” quips Clynton.

Shrikanth G in
Chennai

"We measure all our IT initiatives"

Clynton Almeida, GM-IT, Redington India

How do you measure the IT investments at Redington?
IT is considered an integral aspect of business and many of our large IT
investments and initiatives are backed up with an RoI, for measuring the value
of IT. Savings on manpower, time, estimated increase in revenues, cost
reductions are all considered when measuring the value of IT. Though many
benefits cannot be quantified, we assess and identify the qualitative benefits
along with the quantitative benefits. This approach gives an overall view of the
returns on a project. Many projects have qualitative benefits, which makes
business sense even though the value cannot be entirely quantified. To
summarize, the process we follow for measuring IT is that we list the
qualitative and quantitative benefits and the business impacts. Wherever
possible, we put in some estimation on the quantitative benefits, the costs
involved, and the TCO. Based on all this the overall view of the value of IT
initiatives is assessed.

How do you manage your relationships with vendors?
We are in constant touch with all our existing and potential vendors. We
keep a close track on SLA levels and highlight deviations to our vendors. We
have a very good rapport with them and get to understand emerging technologies
and the offerings, we then establish how relevant and suitable they are to our
business. All major purchase decisions have to follow an approval process.
Users, who would be interacting with a product, are also included in discussions-for
influencing a purchase decision on a product. After establishing the value of IT
initiatives, the final call is taken on purchase of a product or solution.

Which are the vendor policies you find very oppressive?
Some of the vendors provide products that promise a slew of features but the
SLA or the sign-in document exonerates the vendor from any of these features for
not functioning. What I mean is, some vendors do not take responsibility for the
product they are offering. Moreover, in some cases, the vendors do not highlight
the hidden costs and, at the very onset, enquire about the budget. The vendor
marketing team, sometimes, becomes very aggressive and tries to push a product
down your throat, and sometimes even try indirect methods-like approaching
through individuals in senior management and the like.

With Linux emerging as a major force in enterprise, what is your take on
the same?
Linux is now a huge business, with more than 10 million installations
worldwide. Today, many organizations are relying on open source for
mission-critical apps. Growth is strongest in server-based applications, where
people are using it to run their Web infrastructure, and to do other types of
internal infrastructure. It’s growing particularly quickly as well now in
enterprise applications such as ERP or CRM. The one area where Linux isn’t
quite ready is the corporate desktops area, in part because personal
productivity tools-such as Office-are not yet matured or available on Linux.

What is your views on mobile applications?
The ability to conveniently access mission-critical information from the
enterprise while you are on the road, with a customer, or in a remote office
location is essential to business success and profitability. Mobile applications
extend over hand held devices including smart phones, PDAs, and two-way pagers
and access can be online, offline, wireless, and real-time. With an easy to
integrate, quick deployment, mobile workers are up and running towards greater
productivity, more sales and service calls, and higher profits. There are a slew
of success stories on mobile applications and the RoI is more tangible and
measurable. Mobile applications provide agility and swiftness to an
organization. It is a clear winner and every organization must have this on the
top of their list for future IT initiatives.

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