CIOs need to leverage the power of innovation

Vineet Bhardwaj, Head - IT, Godrej Properties believes that IT forms the backbone of business and CIOs and IT leaders have an important role to play in driving business for the company

CIOs need to leverage the power of innovation - CIO&Leader

Being the senior executive responsible for all the technology, running a company is not an easy task. Today’s CIOs often have to wear many hats to get the job done, stay competitive and lead more successfully. Vineet Bhardwaj, Head - IT, Godrej Properties, a Chartered Accountant with a passion for technology, has had the opportunity to work in diverse companies and in various IT domains. He believes that IT forms the backbone of business and CIOs and IT leaders have an important role to play in driving business for the company. In a recent interaction with CIO&Leader, Bhardwaj speaks about his career journey, changing role of CIOs, his tryst with emerging technologies and also offers his pearls of wisdom to budding CIOs in the industry.  

In India, a predominant majority of CIOs are career tech professionals. You are a CA. What made you switch to tech?

As a Chartered Accountant, I started my career in finance and accounts department of one of the Navratna PSUs, however; soon I realized my love for technology and started looking at options internally to move into technology roles. I got an opportunity when my organization went in for SAP implementation and based on my interest and passion, I was considered for being part of the core team for the said project. From there on, my passion for technology has only grown leaps and bounds and eventually became a technocrat. It has always fascinated me, how technology can impact and change the way businesses function. I love the freedom that my role allows me in assessing new technologies and examine them from the perspective of business challenges they solve as well as in exploring and optimizing them for our specific industry and organization. Organizations, over the years, are looking at leveraging technology, not only to enhance productivity and efficiency but also to make build competitive value proposition and create differentiation.

What are your key tech priorities in the next one year?

In our endeavor to become a future-ready organization, we are leveraging technology as a foundation across various business processes, all in accordance with business dynamics. With us continually learning, evolving and leaping forward to keep pace with the rapid growth in technology, individual departments within GPL, themselves are becoming as agile and adaptive as the larger company. We are very keen to utilize apps to improve our business processes and to up the accessibility for our customers and employees. Just as in various other industries, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are bound to be the next big thing in real estate. Besides, 3D printing technology may also become another major factor in shaping the growth of the real estate industry.

As a CIO what was the toughest decision you made?

Making the decision between in-sourcing and outsourcing models – especially with IT services, because the technology is ever evolving, becomes obsolete quickly and consequently, the skill set associated with it changes as well. In order to have the right balance, we decided to have an internal team that is not just purely technical but holds more business and process-centric capabilities that are more of a techno-functional nature. On the other side, we choose to outsource work which requires certain specialized skills, either on a project basis or on a resource augmentation basis. This helps us to have the best of both worlds by having strong domain expertise in-house and agility to adapt to new technologies quickly.

Where do you see the CIO role heading in the future?

Businesses need their CIOs to be real partners in dealing with complexities and dynamism of business. The role of a CIO is moving in the direction of higher process automation which will exist in alignment with human tactical intervention on time-saving and improving productivity while maintaining great quality. In an increasingly technology-centric business environment with constant change in demands from the business, CIOs must find key game-changers in innovation and process improvement that genuinely impact the bottom line. Over time, the CIO’s role has changed from that of simply a business support function to a business enabler and ultimately to a business driver. I visualize the CIO’s role evolving even further into that of a business transformer, constantly building path-breaking innovations. Ultimately the CIO will stand in the position of an indispensable master strategist, thus driving the entire business system.

What are the new business challenges your company is facing this year?

Real estate has seen constant change over recent years. With RERA, GST and constant policy changes from the government, business processes have gone through various changes within the short span of time. We are still on the trajectory of a learning curve with customer challenges, pricing and new needs. Taking this as another opportunity to grow, we are also bracing ourselves for the challenges. 

How do you think new technologies like AI, IOT, Blockchain technology and chatbot can play a key role in accelerating innovation in the real estate industry?

As part of GPLs ‘Win for Employee’ and ‘Win for Customer’ agenda, we have recently launched ‘Infobot’. Under the aegis of the functional academies at GPL, we have leveraged Artificial Intelligence (AI) through our Real Estate (RE) Infobot. Infobot helps employees from non-RE backgrounds (51%) to understand RE terminologies better. Employees can ask questions on anything RE-related and they will receive an immediate response. It answers over 300 potential queries that a new joinee could have regarding RE concepts. We have also ensured continuous & exemplary engagement with customers to deliver assured delight. Both the platforms possess a user-friendly interface, making them easy to use. Our customer bot is almost ready with all the important implementation. We have also set up smart homes which are an IoT based module which is also integrated with Amazon Smart Speakers. With regards to Blockchain, there’s still a long way to go, and we haven’t found any relevant case study to implement. 

Please highlight some of your technology initiatives in recent years.

One major initiative we have been driving over two years is the creation of “Unified Information Architecture”. It was extremely satisfying the day our top management began using system generated reports and dashboards for periodic reviews and decision making was an important win according to me. While we had been working on building the information warehouse and the data analytics tools for a while, we were not achieving the toehold we were aiming at or the buy-in from the top management who was still leaning towards using Excel files and PowerPoint slides rather than a system generated report. Apart from this, we have started implementing smart home technology solutions and Alexa enabled homes. Providing customers and employees the AI experience is one important priority for us this year.

One thing that CIOs should take as a mantra…

IT should take more part in the business decision-making process and not be confined to only the servicing & transactional mode. Rather, IT should aspire to lead the game as an integral part of the business. IT should solve challenges strategically and achieve a strong footing with every change in the organization as enablers. It’s not easy but if IT teams start investing more effort in understanding business issues even before the business teams raise the problem; the tact of being predictive and not just agile will gradually develop. To stay ahead in the race, IT teams need to leverage the power of innovation and analytical thinking to ultimately counter the complex issues by building on the basics. IT departments, in reality, are drivers powering any business today. They need to involve themselves in all aspects of the business and align with other functions. Not just in implementing and executing but also in planning and strategizing.

After a busy working day, how do you unwind?

Other than IT, I have an interest in music and would like to learn to play drums sometime in this life (smiles). I believe in maintaining a work-life balance and try to spend quality time with my wife Pooja and two kids, Aryan and Aishani. 

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