Prompt Engineering is the new future of Gen AI!

Umacharan Singh, CIO at CEAT India, illuminates the evolving role of IT leadership in crafting strategies that address immediate business needs and anticipate future trends, ensuring organizations remain competitive in an ever-changing digital landscape.

Umacharan Singh

In an interview with CIO&Leader, Umacharan Singh, CIO at CEAT India, offers a comprehensive view into the multifaceted journey of a CIO who has helmed IT functions across diverse industries. Excerpts below.

CIO&Leader: What are the key milestones and challenges you faced as a CIO?

Umacharan Singh: I became CIO for the first time in 2008. PI Industries was my first company where I joined as the head of IT function. Over the last 16 years, I’ve led IT functions across diverse industries, from chemical manufacturing to automotive and beyond.

One of my key accomplishments is driving several large-scale technology transformation projects. I have completed four end-to-end ERP, SAP implementations. Additionally, I’ve significantly transformed the R&D function by implementing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems and other related technologies. On the manufacturing side, I have led automation initiatives and the development of smart plants.

I’ve also worked extensively on customer-facing activities, building end-to-end collaborative platforms with partners, including channels, end consumers, and vendor partners. Furthermore, I have focused on leveraging technology to enhance the effectiveness of our employees’ day-to-day work, ensuring that IT is closely associated with the business and acts as a business enabler.Throughout my journey, I’ve also mentored many individuals who have gone on to become CIOs and IT heads.

CIO&Leader: Could you highlight major challenges you have faced and the strategies you have taken to overcome them?

Umacharan Singh: One major challenge has been securing investment in IT. Convincing management of the need for technology projects requires building a strong business case. Each company requires a different approach, and this has taught me a lot. Another challenge is ensuring the right team is in place to drive projects. It’s essential to have business teams lead projects to ensure ownership and effective execution.

Scope management is another critical challenge. Ensuring a realistic scope before going live is vital. I always advise setting realistic expectations and building on them gradually.

Additionally, handling project setbacks and aligning stakeholders is crucial. Admitting mistakes and learning from them is essential for continuous improvement. Change management is another significant challenge. Ensuring that people adopt new technologies requires effective training and communication. The concept of design thinking, which emphasizes human empathy, has been beneficial in driving adoption.

CIO&Leader: How do you build and lead high-performing IT teams?

Umacharan Singh: I believe in recruiting people who are better than me and bring diverse perspectives. It’s important to have a team with varied backgrounds and experiences. I handhold new recruits until they are independent and then give them the autonomy to work on their own. Daily stand-up meetings and direct communication are essential for effective team engagement. Recognizing achievements and understanding team members’ personal lives also help in building a cohesive team.

I follow the concept of Pareto, focusing on the 20% of work that delivers 80% of the output. This approach ensures prioritization and effective use of resources.

CIO&Leader: How do you prioritize technology investment?

Umacharan Singh: I ensure we are not technologically obsolete by evaluating new technologies regularly. We follow an N-minus-one approach, where we adopt technology one step behind the latest to avoid vulnerabilities. Our evaluation criteria include quality, price, and implementation capabilities. We also conduct paid proofs of concept (POCs) to test new technologies before full-scale implementation.

CIO&Leader: During your tenure, which technology has amazed you the most?

Umacharan Singh: The cloud has brought significant transformation, changing how we manage infrastructure and workloads. The ability to scale services on demand and conduct POCs seamlessly has been a game-changer. Advances in computing power, including quantum computing, are also exciting developments. Additionally, the concept of prompt engineering, where programming relies on natural language, is something I look forward to.

However, cyber threats remain a major concern, keeping us vigilant and proactive in our approach.

Image by Freepik

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