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By VARINDIA    2018-10-22

New-age CIOs re-defining the IT function

In the era of big data, apps and cloud computing, the role of today's CIO is to enable the business, innovate and focus on new technology strategies to help better engage customers and drive revenue. The shifting business landscape is increasing competition, and bringing constant changes in the needs of the employee - 


In the fast-moving world, the rise of mobility, cloud and big data has changed the technology landscape. Today's business needs to innovate technologically, even if it's just to stay in pace. Today IT is not only the support or service function but it is a part of business growth. IT has to take care of users’ pain area and by using IT tools, businesses are enabling or facilitatingits users to perform task batter and secure manner.


Sanjay Singh Gahlod (General Manager), System & IT Department, Oriental Rubber says that  IT plays a crucial role in its organization, and the good thing is that even the management is now open to discuss about new technology. “We are already in a discussion about IoT usage in our organization, but now we are focusing about our machine data to analyse to take corrective action. We are open for automation so that we can reduce production time cycle. We are open for cloud computing but not for open source software. We may go to cloud in year 2020 with SAP S-4 HANA,and are in the process to get artificial intelligence technology to be used.


Since Information technology revolution, IT has always been part of Board meetings and discussions. But in recent years IT has taken the front seat and has emerged as the driving force for organization's growth. 


“Upcoming and new Technologies are being discussed with respect to its ROI, Business and Customer impact. The Board is willing to invest in the technology if any of the business parameters like Revenue, Improved customer satisfaction & brand Image, Outreach in the market is improved. Board members are more tech savvy now and their technology awareness is very high. This actually in turn helps IT in putting good projects in front of them. Sometimes, proposals are coming directly from CEO & Board members. This is in complete contrast to few years back when IT projects were not given any attention and diligence,” asserts Sanjay Chowdhry, Chief Information Officer - Hamdard Laboratories India.


He further adds, “IT is now no longer considered as only technology support function. Management demands IT to think strategically and contribute towards the business growth. There is a complete paradigm shift towards IT function as the board sees it as an opportunity to stay ahead of their competitors. Moreover, IT has become a hybrid function. Re-inventing IT function is the need of the hour.”


Across industries, irrespective of nature of business, IT was always very much integral part of business.However the industry started identifying the importance of IT post Digitalisation era. Reliance Entertainment started its business keeping its vision of Digital businesses. However its consolidation of Digital businesses Mandate brought IT in to the board room and it took a lead role in making the business viable to operate. 


“For us the IT is not a support function, but weintegrated it closely so that all new businesses can be enabled by IT. New IT function looks more like business desk and that’s what the trend is turning in to be. More and more adaptation of digital technologies, and advancement of technologies is further adding more responsibilities to IT to drive those businesses. CIOs have to take lead and come with ideas to drive the businesses and be part of businesses,” says Sayed Peerzade, Group Chief Information Officer - Reliance Big Entertainment.


Says Sanjeev Jain, Chief Information Officer - IntegreonManaged Solutions India, “IT plays a very critical role today for the business. Buzzword like Digitisation, RPA Machine Learning and Automation is a wakeup call for the board and senior management. The Board plays very crucial role along with IT to ensure that we are on top of the latest technology and tools available in the market. One has to take hybrid approach when it comes to implementing several technologies. Cloud computing and AI continue to be top priority for every organisation. Demand is very high in the market for AI and it is growing rapidly.”

In today’s Digital Transformation age, various technological advancements have given machines a greater ability to understand information, to learn, to reason, and act upon it. For instance, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence can help Agriculture market by finding the quality of grains and seeds, banking and insurance companies to identify risks and frauds and so on. 


“Our board agenda mainly focuses on IT Risks. As an SI company IT risks ought to be a critical concern for us - the risk associated with higher levels of IT-related fraud & error and IT disaster recovery & business continuity.For every service we offer to the client we assure the project designed should be Business centric rather than IT Centric. 


The future of IT will function with machines more than human intelligence; IT which will be investing more on cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. Security will be the biggest challenge to IT in the future; the risk isn’t the machines, it’s the people involved at every level, inside and out,” says Mahanthi Parthu, Founding Director & CIO - Parsupp IT Services.


“As businesses are fast changing to meet the rising customer expectations, combined with increased business complexity and rapid technological advancements, the role of Information Technology function has rapidly changed as well to keep pace with the business,” explains Umesh Bhapkar, Director IT – Synechron.“IT at Synechron has rapidly evolved from mere support function in the past to a much more agile, customer centric and innovative function. IT played a vital role in Synechron’s recent acquisitions in Europe to integrate the business processes, be it our ERP System, EAG Apps, Infrastructure Integration and communication and collaboration tools such as Skype & Yammer enabling Synechron entities to work together as one team and one company.”


According to Umesh, the new IT function is very agile, has its customers at the center of IT Strategy and is much more innovative than ever before. “The business is relying on IT function to be able to develop – or partner appropriately to deliver – an infrastructure that enables them to leverage the capabilities of technologies such as cloud computing, virtualisation and artificial intelligence, all of which have quickly become essential part of our business success,” he says.


Boards are increasingly nervous when it comes to corporate dependence on information technology, where the need to automate compliance with government regulations have heightened board sensitivity to IT risk. Board members frequently lack the fundamental knowledge required to ask intelligent questions about IT risk and expenses. This leaves the CIOs, who manage critical corporate information assets, pretty much on their own. 


“Organizations must be innovative and leverage the latest technologies simply to stay in business & as just another route to increase their revenue. It is very important to understand that to undergo digital transformation, companies may need to completely re-engineer their current processes to make use of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and others,” says Vivek Dharia (CIO) - KNP Securities.


According to Surhit Bhattacharyya, Head-IT - McLeod Russel India (MRIL), to get visibility across the operations and to bring in better control Management depends on the depth of the IT services.


“As we matured our processes (ERP, Add on Modules and BI and Analytics) the Management is increasingly convinced about the power of IT to bring down costs on one hand and engaging with customers on the other. It was also noticed that with the right amount of internal controls facilitated by the IT processes, our company was able to bring down human interventions which further reduced costs,” he says.


 Surhit further explains, “McLeod Russel is a plantation company in the organised sector where labour related costs make up around 65% of total costs. The laws governing the sector have put the organized tea sector at considerable disadvantage to the unorganised sector.MRIL realised that micro understandings of the leakages in various operations are key to control costs. We have introduced AI driven tools to understand exceptions and automated immediate action on the results. We have not yet deployed Cognitive computing but limited to use of AI only.”


 Techyard Technologies has started taking initiative on board oversight by creating board-level IT committees similar to audit, compensation and governance committees. The Board also discusses of how these committees can assist the CEO, and CIOs, senior management and the BoD in driving technology decisions, keeping IT under control and developing competitive advantage. Its Governance process assures IT is Integral to the strategic planning process and not disconnected or independent.


“Today’s silo-like IT function has transformed into an embedded and integrated business technology structure,” says Rahil Sayed, Director-IT - Techyard Technologies. “In practice, this means that leaders need to create collocated, cross-functional teams for agile development and effective collaboration of business and technology resources. These teams can develop, test, learn, and iterate far faster than teams that use the old practices. We expect that most companies will choose to transform the IT department under the direction of the CIO with the help of the CDO. We also expect that the most effective CDOs will be temporary, completing their digital programs in three to five years and then transitioning to other responsibilities within their companies.” 


Agrees Chandrasekar R, CTOIO -, “In an age where innovative technology is driving change, developing a strong technology roadmap for enhancing customer experience and delivering business goals is the agenda. To help navigate the future, we constantly look at technology to transform and take us to the next level. Especially in view of our global expansion of our matchmaking services and expansion of marriage services within India.Among other things, we are looking at leveraging Artificial Intelligence to deliver customised user experience and improve our operational efficiency.”


“There is a sea change in approach towards Information Technology adoption,” says D V Seshu Kumar, Asst. Vice President – IT Head, Orient Cement. “Earlier it was like a silo kind of approach but since the last few years entire scenario got changed and dependency increased on Technology for decision making and forecasting. Earlier unused data now become as very useful for deep dive analysis. When traditionally approached scenario looks as optimum utilisation of Operational capabilities but deep dive analysis gives a scope for further improvement in capabilities by adopting new dimensions. Because of these scenarios of innovative approach of IT made permanent board agenda.”


The new IT function, according to Seshu Kumar is going to bring a radical change in the organizations’ approach. It has now bought businesses to a point where they might have some of the talents replaced by the machines. “Be it in the field of Artificial intelligence (AI), BIG DATA, internet, UI technologies, DATA mining, Block chain, the scope has increased incredibly. The wants are never ending. Before Machine learning was limited only to certain fields, now it has found its applications in almost every app, device, upcoming industries possible,” contends Seshu Kumar.


Over the past two decades, technology has evolved at an accelerated pace thereby transformingsocieties, cultures and economies. The emergence of Social Media, Big Data Analytics, ArtificialIntelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain and the Internet of Things, have managed to deeplytransform the lives of people in various sectors including manufacturing. “Almost 25% of businesses currently implement or plan on using artificial intelligence. Stand-outs arein the health, financial services and automotive sectors. Where there is data there is potential tobenefit from AI. Today’s AI systems start from zero and feed on a regular diet of big data. This is augmented intelligence in action, which eventually provides executives with sophisticated models as basis for their decision-making.If cognitive computing & AI work in proper sync with one another within a single system,operating from the same sets of data and the same real time variables from the world around it,” says Arindam Singha Roy, CIO - East India Udyog.


“Board has constructive role in IT Governance & Strategy of the organisation with IT alignment to the Business,” says Badar Afaq, Head Information Technology - Antara Senior Living. “Board members have more focus on IT security & Risk management. They would like to implement cutting-edge technology with defined ROI.IT is playing an essential role in driving technological innovation within the organisation. IT function is not only for the support, but now IT is part of the key business functions and creating value to the business.”


Arvind Kumar, Director - IT & Digital Innovation - Elior India Catering LLP says that digitalization and cloud computing are major agenda for the company as they are in the preliminary phase to provide digital experience to their customer on best in class technologies with in-house development platform. “Once we are mature enough after a year or so, we will work with AI / ML, Big data analytics or block chain technology to explore more of our potentials,” he says. “Now a days IT is not just an IT to provide infrastructure/App platform/network connectivity for organizational users, but it become business enabler by providing various ways/methods to improve business excellence (Sales & Operations), retain customers and provide new dimension to business to do business differently.”


Observes Ashok Cherian, Chief Information Officer - Emami Agrotech, “Having spent over 25 years in IT, I have been an avid observer of what lies in the role of a CIO. I must say there is no better time to be a CIO than now. Gone are those days when technology and engineering was the key area. It’s all about business now a days.  One may say “so what?” What I really want to touch here is the unique combination of business focus and the emergence of cutting edge solution areas which can rock the business.  Never had we had such maturity and acceptability on options like AL, ML, Cloud, Blockchain, Big data, IoT, Social which are all changing the business in a big way. Digital Transformation is no longer a dream but a bare necessity if you need to survive. Does all these revolutionize the CIO role? Absolutely yes!!”


He further explains, “As CIOs and IT guys, we also have the responsibility to challenge the solution providers to adopt open standards and talk more realistic. We should also raise the voice against unreasonable licensing and other governance issues. Partnerships can never be one sided and today I feel this area is pretty much neglected and needs to be focused much more.”


Harnath Babu, CIO, KPMG in India too observes that in this fast-moving world, the need of the hour is to understand how technology is evolving and adapt to the trends. This is why it is of utmost importance for boards to understand the game-changing innovations and incorporate them.


“Businesses are increasingly going digital nowadays with the rise of technology trends such as mobility, cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence, as well as constant changes in consumer needs. As a result, technology-enabled innovation has become a focal point of the board agenda. Boards are now starting to take a strategic perspective on how technology is shaping their industries as well as the implications on their companies. This, in turn, is leading to forward-looking conversations, helping drive technology innovation as well as increasing investments in IT.I believe, we need to adapt to the market trends and customer demands, and ensure successful application of technology across all business functions, in addition to IT,” he says. 


Different business problems need a different approach and tool set. In today’s complex environment,one shoe fits all approach does not work. Clearly a plethora of skill sets and tools are required to be governed through specialist, start-ups, partners, in-house domain experts and legacy solution with IT at the core orchestrating the show.


“No more there is an IT and business function to be separated. Today the distinction is very difficult to demarcate a separate IT function. Governance of various specialists and the technologies will remain along with portion legacy systems but 2025 no more It departments,” says Avinash Velhal, IT & Process - Atos Global IT Solutions and Services.


Says Kumar Prasoon, CIO - Al Safeer, “When technology was first making inroads into business, the IT leader’s traditional job was “keeper of the infrastructure.” Over time, as technology advanced into almost every aspect of the enterprise and became indispensable to the functioning of the organization, it carved a path for the IT to the boardroom of any organization. Al Safeer is no different where expectations from the IT department have seen a sea change in the digital era. 


“Technology is transforming the way we work at an ever-increasing pace. We work whenever and wherever, and data is as plentiful as air and as valuable as currency,” says Upkar Singh, Director – IT, Fidelity Information Services India.“In today's competitive world, the traditional business managers has less options to take their organizations to consistent growth path with traditional approaches. IT with emerging disruptive technologies offers the great advantages to today's organization to meet the business needs in this global market where quick deliveries with high qualities and less cost is expected. Now, IT Managers are playing the role of Business manager with their inherent capabilities of technology experience and getting involved in understanding the business needs for better business decisions. Thus, Board members are working with IT on evaluating and using right disruptive technologies to experience digital transformation for achieving their specific business agendas like Strategic Value, Revenue, Customer Satisfaction, Cost, Employee Productivity and Risk.”

IT started from EDP to system builder, provider to business enabler, to digital disruptor and new revenue channel drivers. From digitization to digitalisation is a big journey. But the change and scale up is going very fast. “Earlier one change used to take months, quarters and years. But now things are changing in lightning speed & with the advent with start-up ecosystem, technology availability and change is the occurrence of hour. IT department and CIO jobs are getting disrupted in a positive way through reskilling existing staff, collaborate with start-ups and understanding and also embracing the change fast. IT becomes more a new revenue driver and model is evolving over time. Every initiative is taken positively & lot of POCs are taking place in every area of digital. The way is only change and Digital,” says Parna Ghosh, Vice President & Group CIO - Minda Industries.

Says Jagdeep Singh, Cyber Security Evangelist & Researcher, “IT function now is at the forefront of changing business needs, and adapts to unique requirements of the business quickly. IT function in most organizations is already quite sophisticated in many ways it operates. For instance, working with a DevOps and/or DevSecOps approach. Nowadays services are independent of hardware with containerized infrastructure. Services are designed to handle huge volume of requests, and the underlying infrastructure including compute up scales up in real time.”


IT is the core business driver of many organizations. There is hardly any industry which is untouched by IT. The whole focus is how IT can be used to drive efficiency, value and transparency in any ecosystem. Organizations initially start to look at IT for automation, however they soon realize the capabilities which emerging technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence bring to the table. This has transformational impact in changing the ways business is done. Additionally, Boards and Leadership is also concerned on ways to use IT safely, in the wake of data breaches from which even the most renowned companies in the world are not untouched. 


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