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Driving IT Being One Step Ahead of Business
Jaya Smitha Menon
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Divakar (Dave) Kamath was quite futuristic with his technology vision. In the times when business system platforms and collaboration tools were the jargons of the IT companies, Kamath wrote his technology mission with all the latest tools, which would make conducting business simpler and work more agile for people. Six years before, before he joined IDEX Corp as its CIO, the company was a public portfolio company with , most of the companies operating autonomously with its own IT infrastructure and support systems. But his observation and study of the business and its future did not take him much time to realize that the portfolio companies that were till now working in an autonomous and isolated manner will be brought under a single operating model. The man who believed that the IT team of a company should be ahead of the business, should anticipate the transformations that company can go through in the future, and support that change accordingly couldn’t have thought in a different way. ”It made business sense,” says Kamath the technology guy with a strong business background. With this vision in mind, he started on his technology mission, which reduced the IT aggregated spend of the company by half and made business processes operate much faster.

It was a huge feat as the company was in its transitioning mode, and instead of operating as separate portfolio of companies, IDEX was integrating the operations and businesses to gain leverage and synergies among its companies. This demanded integrating them through an efficient IT enterprise infrastructure, including a global MPLS communication network. Today, Dave’s Global Information Services team is enabling and supporting the company’s integration opportunities and leveraging operational and market synergies across IDEX portfolio. This is possible only through centralization of IT infrastructure into its own private cloud, standardizing enterprise business systems, and providing common platforms to enable market strategies.

However, this does not satiate this CIO who is always on the lookout for filling the gap between business and technology. He believes that certain technology constraints may e hinde many business innovations. “Most innovations face mobility hurdles and lack of standardization of major platforms. Some of IDEX products rely on wireless and mobile monitoring technologies to collect data under many different and harsh operating conditions. This has been a challenge because of lack of reliable local or wireless access infrastructure in many geographies especially in Europe and Asia. Telecom firms are not able to solve for these issues easily. . Also, whether it’s operating systems, applications, databases or browsers, Kamath believes the Industry is lagging behind in standardization process. For instance, newer releases of browser standard by Microsoft do not necessary e supportapplications written by Oracle,” he pinpoints. In fact, the recent action of Microsoft to halt its support for Windows XP may hurt companies that run some of the legacy Oracle applications.

In his endeavor to support the business process and make it more agile, he foresees that cloud is emerging as a lucrative option for cost effectiveness; however, the integration, the fragmentation, security and reliance on the disparate services in the cloud are still big issues. The security too remains a challenge, with cyber crooks outsmarting traditional security systems. If this was not enough the CIO also has to deal with the different privacy and regulatory policies that differ from region to region in the world. The knowledge of local regulations for technology usage, government policies, and compliance issues are very important to keep in tune with the business needs.

As the IT leader of a 1.5 billion dollar public company, Kamath believes that it is important that business stakeholders recognize a positively perceived and real ROI on the technology initiatives of the company. To realize this goal, awareness is a must. Kamath spends a chunk of his time with the actual users of all the technology he implements at IDEX. He listens to their apprehensions, ideas, challenges, and observes their attitude. To ensure that there remains no ambiguity, the CIO has a high performance team, which is a mix-match of operational experts and technology geeks.

Ask him about the most common factor that deters an organization’s drive for innovation and consistent performance and you will get a quick answer –“Nothing but ‘excuses’ to adopt new processes and change to the business or simply ‘resistance to new technology,” says Kamath. A CIO will most likely thrown into this excuse cycle at all levels, suggests Kamath.. A CIO has to be self motivated and persistent to drive the technology initiatives that enable business changes and innovation.
In fact, Kamath takes care to even ponder at the minutest nitty gritties to avoid those excuses; whether it’s inadequate network performance, non-functioning applications, or the lack of bandwidth. As the chief of the technology backbone of the company, he considers that it is imperative for his IT department to ensure a consistent performance, shirking any laid back attitude prompted by technology complications.

Being always on his toes to accomplish his goals, this CIO has made his mark throughout his career graph and even at IDEX the story remained the same. Talking about his edge, Kamath says, “My previous experiences in companies like IMC, a large Fertilizer company (renamed “Mosiac” recently after sale to Cargill) and SunDistributors, a portfolio of diverse companies were more focused on both IT and operations; hence understanding the need of the various departments including sales and finance becomes easier for me.”

Kamath had gained experience for his role through variety of assignments throughout his career.. At the initial days of his career at Kraft Corporation, he had to assume various roles that provided varied experience in dealing with many different issues. Initially, he was involved in its distribution and manufacturing divisions. “I got into the technology side when I became their systems analyst, developing forecasting systems and so on. I moved on to a distribution company three years later, a spin-off from Sun Oil.” This stint brought him good operations and logistical planning experience. Then he focused on service-oriented sales automation, high-response distribution systems, and logistics. Kamath was made CIO where he had both Material Planning and Procurement operations and distribution systems reporting to him.

His biggest leap from the small public company at SunDistributors to the $2 billion public firm IMC, renamed ‘Mosaic’ after Cargill acquired the company, ensured a swift turn of his careerto tackle more complex leadership role.. He led a shared IT services group that was responsible for providing enterprise wide business process support, application deployment, infrastructure, end user customer support, security, and network based services. With his engineering background, he emphasizes use of technology-enabled business strategies to drive innovation, competitive positioning, cost reductions, and streamlining of business processes.

Today, as a Board member of the Chicago Chapter of National Association of Technology Professionals (AITP), this first IDEX CIO is aware of the issues that the IT in the US faces at large. The country’s reliance on offshore capabilities and tech elements has deliberately widened the lack of interest for technical careers for future generation of college kids within the US. To improve the condition, the demand is for an agile workforce, however, this too is a concern, as it’s an ageing workforce that rules the roost in the current market, while technology fails to stir up the new generation workforce.

Even as the concerns stay, Kamath doesn’t let these concerns, or in his word ‘excuses’, slow him down and fail in his goals, which is always reflected in his mantra, ‘Take away excuses, to focus on solutions’. He understands that if people are ensured the autonomy to perform their jobs with less supervision, a sense of ownership evolves within them and excuses take a back seat. At IDEX, Dave Kamath has created an environment today to make sure that they are a step ahead of the innovation planned by the business in the future.
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