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July - 2012 - issue > CIO Insights
Enable, Enhance and Engender to create new Business Models
V S Parthasarthy
Group CIO & Executive VP of M&A, Finance & Accounts-Mahindra & Mahindra
Sunday, July 1, 2012
V S Parthasarthy is the Group CIO & Executive Vice President of M&A, Finance and Accounts at Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian multinational automaker headquartered in Mumbai. The company's operations span 18 key industries that form the foundation of every modern economy. It is a multinational group with more than 144,000 employees in over 100 countries across the globe. Having joined the company in 2000 as Head of Performance Management and IT, Parthasarthy has since held several key positions and roles in the company. The multifaceted leader led a 400 member team through the iconic Harmony project at Mahindra and Mahindra where they worked at developing a single ERP platform (SAP) for all the group companies. Partha as he is fondly known believes that the CIO is not just a technology enabler, but a business solution provider. Under his leadership M&A team has executed more than 30 transactions and acquisitions across geographies. Parthasarthy shares his views on what CIOs should prioritize in changing pace of enterprise needs.

Changing Facets of Technology

It is interesting to note that technology in enterprises is no more an additive and has become ecological. We stand today at cross roads and whatever happens next in IT will have the power to transform the complete eco cycle and business model. The priority here is to see how these technological changes happen and how they impact the entire eco system. There are three angles to it – organization, people and stake holders. The CIO’s priority is to Connect, Converge and Collaborate (CCC). So, we must give the organization a frame work to make CCC a reality.

The CIO is no more an enabler of function, but has transformed into a business IT person who drives business transformation to bring in a competitive edge. Organizations also need to be future ready. We require technologies and solutions which are not only for today, but also serve tomorrow. Another important facet of change is that people have become extremely dependent on technology. If mails are not available for an hour, I get bombarded with so many phone calls that it appears as if there has been a catastrophe somewhere. Individuals with gadgets such as iPads or Android devices want to stay connected all the time so information should be available to them seamlessly. This has given rise to our major challenge which is security concerns. Today, neither the U.S. Defense sector nor Facebook is impervious to these security attacks which can have serious crippling effects.

Major Challenges

The change in the CIO mindset is our first and the biggest challenge. CIOs often believe that they are the technology enablers and not business solution providers. This mindset needs a reform. The second challenge is to convince the CEO that the organization can run what it already has and any further investment will change the way business is done, and can visibly impact the bottom and the top line. The third challenge is to ride the digital tiger without getting swallowed by it. Investments in technology are huge and the changes are on a large scale. So, we must learn to be flexible so that we do not become slaves to technology.

Over a period of 10 years M&M has transformed from a small player to a huge company. This transformation in terms of size brings complexities since we now have to deal with huge amounts of data. The challenge here is to be able to harness this data into giving us meaningful information for analysis and decision making.

The biggest tech Implementations and the consequent Challenges

In terms of IT the implementation of SAP in M&M Ltd was a difficult process. The first challenge was to make a process entry so that we could have the ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. People were used to operating on manual basis so it was difficult to get them to work on semi computerized environments. We also had to manage servers which were new to us. These were the initial hiccups. As we moved towards expansion we had to move to a data centre. Our company required emails, teleconferencing and video conferencing enabled by the IT. So the first challenge here was transforming to an ERP and a collaborative environment. Also our mammoth datacenters required proper management to shield us from technical glitches so there was an immediate need to build our architecture in a way to avoid disasters and also to have a backup plan in case something went wrong. Keeping ourselves abreast with all the technological changes that kept happening across the globe was another issue.

At M&M, we were working on project Harmony which involved more than 400 people at any point of time. We were creating ERPs for all group companies at a single instance, a single server and with common processes. We faced internal challenges in terms of upgrading the skills and being process masters. The external difficulties were to get people to accept these management changes. This was one of the most complex projects in M&M.

Combat Competition

Staying updated is extremely important. On the first level we work closely with services like Gartner Inc and their equivalents. These services do not just keep us informed about what is happening in technology but also help create a bridge between technology and our businesses. Our technology group receives updates from them on a weekly basis. Once a year we visit top technology companies to discuss their next five year road maps.

Our company also has enabled two councils drawn from the organization. The first one is Strategic Leader Council, consisting of the top people drawn from various businesses. This is the decision taking body that reviews new technologies and decides what needs to be adopted and how. Below that is the Technology Leadership Council consisting of the CIOs of various businesses. The group meets every month to discuss and recommend new technologies for adoption.

Within the organization we have a specific cell called COE or Center of Excellence. This cell keeps in touch with different magazines and services like Gartner Inc. On getting any information they do POC (proof of concept) checking the functionality of the technology for the organization.

Changing role of CIO

As I had mentioned earlier, the CIO mindset must change. My job earlier was to get the right technology for my company. But that is not the best mindset for solutions. A CIO must Enable, Enhance and Engender to create new business models. I believe that we are at the cusp of transformation where going forward we can either be the nucleus of change or we can stand by the side and just watch the change happening. I think we can become what CFOs became in the earlier era. To put it in simple words, from a product peddling mindset to a solution providing mindset is a key change that needs to come in.

There is a lot of cacophony in the technology world which makes it challenging even for the CIO to make sense of everything. For instance, someone comes and makes noise about 'cloud' or 'public cloud' and after three years they say that 'public cloud' actually meant virtualization. But, in those three years I force you to change everything and you get caught in this fever and waste your time, money and energy for nothing. The role of the CIO is to change when change is needed but also be able to recognize when not to go with the crowd. We must become change leaders and not change followers.

The vision

Our challenges are our vision. We must move from a product peddling mindset of not going to the manufacturers like Microsoft, IBM, and CISCO for the solution but to look at the manufacturing, marketing and retail, kind of problem statements and try to provide solution to them. Today almost 70 percent of our time goes into firefighting, maintenance and the enable quadrant. I want that to change where we spend only 30 percent of time in enable quadrant and 70 percent of your time on enhance and engender quadrant. In fact, I want the term CIO to be changed to Business Transformation Technology Leaders. That is what my priority is.

(As told to Rachita Sharma)

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