'Technologies which will continue its impact in 2017 are Automation and Artificial Intelligence'

Vipul Anand, Group CIO, Jindal Group, in conversation with Sachin Nandkishor Mhashilkar, CIO&Leader, focuses on the business critical applications deployed at Jindal Group and the tech trends for 2017

How do you envisage your sector?

We are essentially into steel, power, mining infrastructure sector. We have been manufacturing in India, the ‘Make in India’ concept which we are talking today; our Group has been doing it for many years. This is supported by the fact that we have erected state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in the remotest parts of the country, mostly in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. We have erected state-of-the-art plants which are highly automated.

We have been successful in inserting and adopting automation in all our manufacturing facilities, right from purchase to pay, order to cash to finance and to distribution (everything is automated). We have tie-ups with reputed OEMs including SAP, where we essentially use SAP for our transaction platform. All our businesses are essentially governed by SAP, whether it is a small business out here in the domestic or abroad (we are 100% on SAP). This enables us to have a common decision-making platform. The entire platform is supported by our own in-house Center of Excellence team. So in the remotest parts of our manufacturing locations, we have been able to put up our own teams, which we call ‘SAP Center of Excellence’. So these people work along with our business team to come up with automated processes as per our business needs.

Also, since we are scattered globally, we have invested heavily on technology adoption in all our overseas business entities as well. We have also been successful in bringing up lot of business analytics and mobility applications in our organization.

People are also taking about IoT today. We have been early adopters of IoT in our plants. We have got our Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 automation in our steel manufacturing plants, where the data is being sent out from the steel manufacturing machines, taken into our ERP system that is SAP, given back into the machines and then pulled out into our analytics layer. So we have high level of analytics adoption also in our company.


How do you streamline the corporate IT of business like Jindal Group, which is spread across multiple sectors?

It was a big challenge for me when I came to this group, having worked for companies like Honda and Aditya Birla. I bought in the set of best practices which I experienced in my previous assignments. When I came to this group 2 and half years back, what I found was that there have been investments in technologies, there have been people to manage the technologies, there have been technologies available across all our locations but the uniformity, cohesiveness, the common understanding of processes and businesses were missing. So we started by bringing up best practices and ‘Center of Excellence’ groups and we have fairly successful in doing that. We have common set of business processes across our locations. We also bought in an external partner, EY, to audit us as to whether our business processes are uniform across our locations. We actually got certified on this aspect. I’m proud to say that we have now got a standard set of practices and processes to run our business.

Besides, we have also gone for new trends like ‘The Theory of Constraints’ to implement and optimize our business processing. Also, we have been able to achieve a better throughput on our plant and machineries, better control on our inventories and financial results. So I think IT and automation has played a major role in supporting the business on all these.


Any business critical applications which you have deployed recently?

There have multiple applications that have been deployed and of late, we have also been recognized in the industry and awarded also at both domestic and international circuits for bringing in lot of innovation and technology in our business.

We have created a mobile app, an online portal, for faster decision-making. Since we are scattered across locations, people wanted approvals and officials who were supposed to approve things were scattered across locations. There was lot of time consumption on paper movement of documents. Since we are a technology company, lot of supporting documents were required in order for a decision-maker to take a decision. So to overcome all these challenges, we created an online portal which is actually also a mobile app through which we call it a ‘note for approval’ portal. If you have to procure or take a decision regarding something, you just have to use that portal to put up your request. It is highly integrated with our SAP system. Once you put up a request, as per the delegation of financial powers, the particular note moves onto the next person for approval. So the person can either approve or reject or seek advice from someone. The person can also attach as many files. Finally, once it is approved, it gets converted into a PR or a PO. So there is high level of automation which we have done in our decision-making process. This has brought down the cycle time of our decisions. It has also brought in uniformity across locations because the same thing we were procuring across locations and the business users were not consulting each other while taking a decision. With this portal and app in place, we have one Jindal, one JSPL, which is working along. This has brought in huge benefits in our business processes.


What according to you will be the technology trends for the year 2017?

We have been successful across Jindal on the social, mobile, analytics and cloud platforms. We have been successful in bringing SMAC adoption into our organization. For example, on the social platform, we are fairly advanced and all our employees are active users of the social mobility platform which we have. Likewise, mobile, analytics and cloud. Technologies which will continue its impact in 2017 are Automation and Artificial Intelligence. The thrust on automation has to continue in 2017. More focus on artificial intelligence has to continue. We used to talk about machine-to-machine interface in 2016 but already people are talking about machine-to-artificial intelligence, human-to-artificial intelligence and human-to-human interfaces. No matter what amount of automation you bring into your enterprise, the human touch makes a difference. Unless you have a human touch with your business community, teams, stakeholders, OEMs or partners, things cannot go successfully. As people say, ‘Ideas are very cheap but execution is everything.’ I personally feel execution depends on the kind of human interface we have with the stakeholders. So this is going to continue.

Further, everyone is talking about ‘smart’, that is, smart digital world, smart health, smart public service, smart hospitality, smart education, smart finance, smart cities, etc. All these will continue into 2017. Automation will play a pivot role in changing the face of the society not only in India but also in other countries.

Cloud and artificial intelligence are going to continue as a trend in 2017 and then, augmented reality will come in. IoT and security is going to continue. Open source is going to be the key now because previously, there was talk about proprietary software or proprietorship. We are going to talk more about the Open source. We are going to use more social platforms to enhance our business. Like you and me will be interacting more on the social community to take business decisions and less on the conventional ways of telephones, emails and so on. Then the intelligence is going to superimpose anything. If you are intelligent in your domain, nobody is going to cut across you. That is going to continue in 2017.

On the hardware front, the software-defined networking is going to continue in 2017. Then, most important is how to create a difference with the user, which we call the user experience? This is going to be the major emphasis area in 2017.

Analytics is also going to continue as a fore-front area in 2017. Apart from these technology trends, the continuous need of right size of people to run the business and technology solutions will continue to be the need of the society. Therefore, there is continuous need to keep improving our educational standards, have more and better educational institutes (especially, on the technology fronts), attending and conducting summits, networking with the users, business  and technical community. That will be a guiding force to make you successful in the coming days.


Any tips you would like to give to the NextGen CIOs?

NextGen CIOs are doing great and they find it easy to adopt a new technology solution as against earlier CIOs, who are having a conventional mindset. If you give them a new technology, you have to prove it or help them explain it. The new CIOs are the early adopters of technologies and that is an added advantage with them. However, the NextGen CIOs have to continue with their thoughts and the technology about the domain in which they are working on. This industry never wants a ‘hopping’ character, whether it is in your ideology, approach of working, loyalty towards your employer or organization. Therefore, the new age technocrats or CIOs should have consistency in their use, ideas and loyalty towards the technology and the employer for whom they are working for. 

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