Technology definitely helps to create competitive advantage in any organisation. The ability of firms to utilize, develop and enhance IT capabilities is critical. COVID-19 is sweeping across the world, has been a dramatic uptick in the use of digital technologies. STL is an integrator of digital networkswith core capabilities in Optical Interconnect, Virtualised Access Solutions, Network Software and System Integration.
Nischal Gupta, Chief Transformation Officer (CDO & CIO Mandate), tells us more about their IT capabilities.
DQ: How is your organisation going in the direction of developing IT capabilities?
Nischal Gupta(NG): In STL by design, we fold IT under the Digital Transformation construct which has four verticals centered on Process Design, IT Stack, Data Science, and Strategy Execution. We are forerunner in setting up its IT capabilities using the first principle design.
We are investing heavily in building technology products and platforms to seamlessly manage our complex business needs and have been very successful in also making this all work in a location free world.
Our investment in shifting our Cloud capabilities from over 10% to almost 70% has helped us to balance Security, Flexibility, and Mobility, not to mention the advantage of always keeping our IT landscape up to date. We have developed a product in-house called InterSTLer which allows us to view the neural network of our global IT landscape from application to databases to server locations and all the STL platforms.
This comes handy when we are planning our B2B integrations or even while deploying a new application, any new releases, or even to assess the upstream or downstream impact of any sunsetting legacy app.
DQ: What are the challenges in this direction?
NG: Often the organisations end up spending most of the time in IT Operations Mgmt and forget about reviewing the IT Architecture, Org Structure, and Design Principles. We need to have some non-negotiable design principles with a relatively long shelf life, else one will end up having an IT landscape which is just a collection of a lot many tools with limited adoption and least RoI. Also, it may not allow for ease of interoperability and could lead to superfluous platforms with similar functionality modules.
Design principles help you not to succumb to daily pressures and bring in a collective and thoughtful decision along with the business stakeholders and a key to that is to distinguish between the Application Owners and the Process Owners for driving accountability on both sides.
The IT Org structure should also be sensitive to the kind of business complexity and be always agile and ‘business aware’. For example, given the breadth of STL’s business, we took a call to have our IT capabilities built into the verticals of Plant & Business IT, Corporate IT, IT Infrastructure, and Information Security – which helps the right talent and right competencies to spike in the related field.
That way one does not need to worry about the domain competency in Plant and Business IT as the team is well versed on all the concepts relating to production planning, manufacturing execution systems, supply chain management, or helping B2B integrations through EDI or Web collaboration etc.
DQ: What kind of IT products and solutions would you like to have?
NG: We are looking at IT products and solutions that enable self service, self configuration, and are very agile to implement. Most of all, the ones which do not bind you in the archaic licensing regime.
Many large plus traditional software providers have till now made money from their customers by locking you into long term license based agreements and by strategically spending more money on a battery of lawyers & compliance management than on a battery of developers and product managers with an agile framework and mindset.
These providers will soon lose the competitive advantage as the world is waking up to open source, disaggregated solutions or very lite cloud offerings. The ones that prove their RoI by demonstrating value with application on solving a real business problem or by success based investment rather than by ring fencing you in a licensing battle.
The solutions have to get closer to solving real business problems, it has to be viewed as one by the eyes of the (business) customer and not to be pushed as a solution by the software provider. Else it is not a solution.
We are eyeing products and platforms which allow for integrated business insights, small bits of pre-configured ML codes that work on the most critical business metrics without having us to worry about the speed of deployment or its adoption as the latter two should be a given .
DQ: Have you evolved a strategy for implementing the IT capabilities and infrastructure for these IT products & solutions
NG: Digital transformation or IT does not exist in isolation. While it is organised as a CoE concept to form like minded cohorts for problem solving or best practise sharing, the team is deeply entrenched into business. It basically means that we do not invest in any product or platform without going into a RoI analysis.
We have a cross functional decision session including the business stakeholders where we discuss and evaluate technical maturity of the product, its business impact, ability to allow for self service, ease of configuration, and total cost of ownership to weigh its RoI etc.
Also, many of the products and platforms we invest in are seen to ensure mass democratisation across the company so that the business stakeholders do not have to depend upon an IT team to do the implementation.
A classic example of this is the way we have used Business Process Management System (BPMS) and Tableau platforms to have business users configure their own workflows and related dashboards.
Hence, once chosen, implementing these is not a problem.
DQ: What are your thoughts on digital transformation, now that 2020 has nearly passed?
NG: Well I think that many in doubt earlier have suddenly started believing more than ever in the power of digital especially as the shift to digital is now permanent. While it is a sad backdrop with Covid in the mix, it has precipitated the adoption of a digital world. Suddenly we need to imagine a location free workplace that is more productive than ever.
Our need to analyse data has grown up significantly with this as we need to make ‘no regret’ decisions while investing Opex or Capex as these times have bred in financial prudence more than ever. We need more and more insights on how the business is performing from the L0 level to the L5 level. While we work remotely, we need replicability of processes more than ever. If your processes are already repeatable then you want to mine them further to make them leaner and agile.
Earlier some organisations were living without investing into B2B integrations but now this a necessity as you are sitting at one place and want a world view of your organisation.
Suddenly you wish to replace every repetitive work with a bot and also have a workflow orchestrator which just gets the work down without worrying about who is sitting where. You would also want to drive your financial prudence by re-doing the user profiling and maybe look at very different infrastructure based on the set of users – say ‘Horses for Courses’.
Covid has also brought in some trust deficit amongst the trade partners – be it customers or be it suppliers and that needs to get managed thru the digital trust and less by bank guarantees as working capital management is also getting to be more challenging than ever.
Suddenly you do not want to deal with the middlemen in your business and would rather go straight to the source. And most of all – you want to remain connected always with your fellow employees , customers, suppliers, logistic service providers , bankers and investors through a virtual collaboration platform for enabling real time orchestration, demand supply visibility and so on.
All of the above hence dictate technology investments in Data Lakes, BI tools, BPM systems, ML models, Supply Chain Collaborations, Process Mining, DAS, Cloudification, RPA, Blockchain and what not.
DQ: How are you moving towards being more agile in future?
NG: STL is radically re-visiting all the legacy systems to stay true to our design principle by working with a very agile ecosystem of product and platform providers who sign up for success based business RoI for every investment made in IT.
We plan to sunset the legacy systems which are based on the archaic philosophy of user licensing regime and especially the providers who made more money by forced compliance than by democratisation of technologies or even say working with the user for an optimised mutual business gain. We wish to let the business case itself prove the worthiness of investing into a solution.
Over and above this, STL is anyway geared towards an agile transformation strategy that is supportive of cloud platforms, ML based insight models, self service capabilities of every product we invest in, plug & play platforms which require very light development, training, and deployment effort etc.
DQ: What are the new techs you need to focus on, in future?
NG: While we have set up a good base for ML models for driving business decisions, we wish to strengthen this a lot more by moving more and more of our data to the Data Lake for drawing out horizontal extracts given our growing global landscape. We also wish to focus a lot more on Process Mining, Botification, 3D Printing (of spare parts), EDI integrations across our end to end supply chain, Blockchain to address the increased trust deficit in the supply chains with the advent of Covid, moving more and more towards Cloud based apps which have a high degree of interoperability and DRP capabilities.
Also as B2B business is moving towards the flavours of a B2C business and with the middlemen slowly losing their relevance, we would be investing a lot more in PLM for driving towards a B2B solution selling.
But as we do this, we also want to spend some good amount of effort in improving the efficacy of all that we have already invested in the last 3 years of the Digital Transformation journey in STL. We have some amazing platforms and best of breed products right from strategy to sales to revenue which need a nice insemination of homogeneity (aka STL Best Practices and Uniform Adoption) – which need to be cemented well into the company by an acute focus on user experience and business insights.
STL is surely paving the way for the future ahead especially given our dream around data!!