In Focus

Sunit Vakharia

Chief Technology Officer
U GRO Capital

The critical goals of implementing technology are innovation, secure operations, and ease of business.

There is an adage that every adversity brings a unique opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that there is a degree
of truth to it.

There is no doubt that the implication of COVID-19 has put tremendous stress on organizational budgets, focus areas, and operating policies. However, as the scale of this unparalleled event unfolds, many organizations are also developing new business models and strengthening their virtual capabilities to create fresh revenue streams.

In a recent interaction with Better World, Sunit Vakharia, Chief Technology Officer, U GRO Capital, shared insights around the current mindset of technology leaders and the importance of technology-led solutions to navigate the current crisis. (U GRO Capital is a highly specialized, technology-driven lending organization that focuses on providing customized, sustainable solutions to small and medium businesses.)

Excerpts from the interview:

Better World: How has COVID-19 impacted your business? How have you leveraged technology to achieve business resiliency?

Sunit Vakharia: While the unpredicted COVID-19 epidemic has threatened our sense of normalcy, it has also pushed people to innovate and reimagine the conventional business models.

At U GRO Capital, we’ve utilized the current situation as an opportunity to scale our business digitally. U GRO Capital provides loans to small and medium-sized companies. We extensively focus on technology and analytics as enablers to onboard our customers and disburse money as and when required by them.

Technology has played a pivotal role in expanding our operations and customer base during the COVID-19. Even before the spread of the pandemic, we were equipped to deal with a fully remote working situation. We’ve been using remote collaboration tools such as Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams, among others, since the commencement of our operations in 2018. All U GRO employees can work from anywhere, and there is no location constraint for anyone, helping them stay connected and manage client expectations. Similar engagements have been done with our vendor partners. All our technology developments and meetings with partners happen in an agile way over online platforms, and I am happy to share that significant efficiency has been observed in this new operating world.

We continue to build and deploy digital platforms. All aspects of sourcing new customers, servicing, and collecting documents are being done digitally. This has been the basis of our philosophy. We rolled out the digital KYC verification and digital document collection process during the days of the pandemic-induced national lockdown when our executives could not visit customers. These digital processes are clear differentiators for us.

Through our platform, we ensured that the entire communication and verification process runs through our video solutions. From the photograph of the factories to geo locations, customer coordinates, survey inputs, and the related verification, all procedures can be completed through this platform. This solution has helped us onboard our customers digitally and curtailed our visits to customer premises. We use statistical predictive models to assist, understand, and underwrite our customers better. Through AI-driven models, we assess our customers’ business requirements and offer the best product for their long-term growth. We have incorporated machine learning and analytics capabilities in our assessment solutions to drive exceptional customer experience.

Nevertheless, there are a few requirements that cannot be completed digitally, for instance, submission of post-dated cheques or specific covenant necessities. Still, I am sure, over time, we will devise solutions for that as well.

Better World: How have IT spending priorities changed due to COVID-19?

Sunit Vakharia: U GRO Capital’s management provides tremendous support and encouragement to foster innovation and to build scalable yet secure platforms. COVID-19 has pushed enterprises to leverage tech and to find new ways to empower their stakeholders. They are focusing on more unique capabilities to facilitate remote working.

In the current scenario, technology leaders will continue to evaluate infrastructure, applications, and security for supporting their employees, partners, and customers. Many technology spending priorities are being rationalized from the perspective of the new normal. Focus on digital transformation has been amplified, and enterprises are swiftly turning to automation and analytics to make smarter decisions. At U GRO, our focus will continue to be on innovation, and we are working towards developing new business lines and automating end-to-end supply chain processes. We are also planning to introduce a unique secured loan product very shortly. We’re building platforms in such a way that makes sure our core platforms remain constant while our ecosystem gets evolved incessantly.

Sunit Vakharia

Chief Technology Officer at U GRO Capital

Sunit is a senior strategic executive with over 19 years of rich experience in technology implementation. He has an exceptional understanding of the financial ecosystem, analytics, and data-based insights.

Sunit is a constant learner and has essayed various roles on the strategic IT leadership and execution fronts, notably in solving business problems through technology delivery, program management, business transformation, and client relationship management.

Before U GRO Capital, he had worked for global multinationals such as HSBC, Merill Lynch, SAS, Accenture, and ICICI Bank.

Top skills

  • Strategic Leadership
  • People Management
  • Process Improvement

Honors/Awards

  • Most Valuable Business Partner
  • HSBC Technology Winner
  • HSBC Technology Runner Up

Education

  • Strategic Thinking and Leadership, University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School Leadership Management Training
  • Bachelor of Engineering, Instrumentation, University of Mumbai

We use multiple digital channels to facilitate customer interaction, and this will continue to be a focus area for us.

Better World: Where are you on your cloud journey? In case of multiple clouds, does orchestration pose a challenge?

Sunit Vakharia: We are a cloud-native architected organization. We have zero presence on physical infrastructure, an approach that will remain applicable in future. We do not feel the need to build a private cloud for our business. We operate on a self-service model, and hence do not need any physical infrastructure. The SaaS model works best for us. However, we may explore the possibility of using a hyper cloud approach for some of the use cases. This is largely because, at times, a specific cloud becomes expensive for certain use cases.

At this moment, we do not need to orchestrate multiple clouds, as we are using a single public cloud provider. In the near future, if a need arises, plenty of orchestration tools are available in the market.

Better World: As a technology leader, how critical is it to balance the short-term revenue requirements against long-term technology implementations?

Sunit Vakharia: There is a strong understanding of what needs to be prioritized. The current COVID-19 situation is undoubtedly complicated. It requires leaders of all departments, and not just technology, to make a thorough evaluation of all investment decisions because ultimately, you’ve to run business.

The critical goals of implementing any new technology are innovation, secure operations, and ease of business. Their importance can vary for different organizations, depending on their nature and scale of business. Many young enterprises make the mistake of implementing a technology solution because someone else is doing that, which is wrong and misleading. All technology implementation decisions should be finalized after getting answers to these questions: Is it making sense for my organization? Will it help my customers and the business we operate? Will it help in driving our future aspirations and the business goals we intend to achieve in the next quarter?

For instance, at U GRO Capital, we did not make investments in Blockchain technologies, which is exciting, yet some time away from the overall ecosystem maturity. So, we will not look at such pieces now and can explore them at a later stage when it makes real-life business sense for us. But what we want to do is to enable our customers and the sales team to work efficiently, keeping in mind the social distancing measures; and limit the physical visit and interaction during the collection of documents or at the time of money disbursement.

U GRO Capital’s customers are small enterprises, and we do understand that they need handholding. So we need to implement solutions that are relevant and more comfortable for our customers to understand and use.

Better World: You mention security as a key focus area for enterprises. Can you share some of the initiatives taken by U GRO Capital to enhance your information security architecture?

Sunit Vakharia: We’ve invested in the Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platform. It is a cloud-based endpoint protection platform, which is designed to overcome the confines of legacy security solutions. The platform protects entire traffic from malware attacks, ransomware attacks, and other potential threats coming through either the web or emails, as those are already predicted. We are also implementing industry-leading Enterprise Threat Protector DNS for controlling what can be accessed on our networks. Besides, a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solution from Microsoft has been deployed. That means all the emails that typically come to us are getting monitored, thus ensuring that our teams do not get spam emails.  It also helps us detect and block sensitive data transmission.

We are also working to implement a privileged/password access management (PAM) solution, which means anyone who wants to access our infrastructure, our database, or the applications need to request access. The request will come for approval to our information security team, which will review it and open up the entrance to the network border. PAM solutions ensure that there is no illegal access through the internet. Through PAM, all network access, control, monitor, and infrastructure can be audited. This enables us to see the tasks or actions done by a specific individual.

Information security is a continually evolving area, and we will continue to invest in solutions to strengthen our IT security defense on an ongoing basis.

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

The COVID-19 outbreak has turned the world upside down. Many people equated the situation with the great depression of 1929 when food was scarce, income went down, and millions of jobs were lost! From remote working with contingent staffing and transforming themselves digitally, organizations had to test and deploy new operating models to motivate their employees, remain operational and meet the expectations of their customers. HR tech came to the rescue for many and enterprises that accelerated digital transformation initiatives were better prepared to tackle the challenges. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?).

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us new learnings and highlighted the significance of social interaction and humanity within almost every aspect of our lives.

Top HR and tech leaders, educationists, and talent stalwarts recently came together in a virtual-reality-based conference titled Lessons Learnt from Crisis to Design the Future’ to deliberate on the challenges posed by the pandemic and discuss leadership innovations that can ensure a more robust roadmap for the future. 

Vinay Ranjan, CCL

Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

“The pandemic has once again demonstrated the importance of adaption to survive. There will be a lot of changes during and after the pandemic. How you react to the situation will enable the best way to capitalize from the new realities”

Rohit Thakur, Paytm

Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our people.”

Guramrita Oberoi, Just Be

Guramrita Oberoi, Founder, Just Be

Last year, buying behaviors of corporate L&D functions shifted dramatically. We realized Social distancing is making L&D leaders search for alternatives and rethink how they can develop and train people and create and strengthen organizational capabilities and culture when we simply cannot get together in person. We started to realize engaging a virtual audience is quite different from presenting in-person. And not only did we need to adapt and upscale ourselves, but we also needed to find a way to fill the gap in immersive experiential engagements online.”

Better World was the exclusive research and media partner for this virtual HR tech conclave.

The VR-based conference was organized by More Than HR Global (MTHR), a Mumbai-based pan-India Knowledge Community in association with Beyond Reality Events (BRE), a VR initiative of Just Be, an integrated people solutions provider. BRE’s core team comprises Guramrita Oberoi (Founder), Kanishk Malick (Co-Founder), and Kartik Sachdev (Advisor).

The discussion panel at the event included: Anil Dhanker, senior HR management professional;  Dr. Aquil Basrai, Independent HR Consultant and Former President of National HRD Network; Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL;  Debi Prasad, CEO at Potential Infinity, a People Consulting & Research firm; Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC); Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm; Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc; Tanaya Mishra, Head of Human Resources, Essar Projects Limited; Sunita Rao, Independent Senior Talent Leader; Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

New challenges in uncertain times

One of the most extensive tests that many HR and tech leaders faced during the outbreak was a lack of experience in dealing with such an unprecedented crisis. While leaders who were able to reinvent themselves through transformative strategies navigated their organizations through the disruption, others who failed to design a solid action plan could barely endure the crisis.

During the session, the panelists touched upon the numerous facets of how COVID-19 and unprecedented lockdowns impacted HR and related techs and processes. Intelligent enterprises took the route of digital transformation and emphasized making decisions that serve their people’s and businesses’ long-term interests while sidelining short-term lucrative steps.

Accelerating digital transformation helped many enterprises navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19. “While the pandemic was quite dramatic and shocking, technology and variety of media enabled us to collaborate and kept our social capital alive with the people that mattered – professionally or personally. The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.” Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

In the social distancing age, technology is playing a crucial role in connecting and engaging people. The event itself was hosted on an innovative VR based platform, bridging the digital and physical worlds.

Echoing similar sentiments, Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc, said, “We often accuse technology as a reason to separate us and make us less social, but during the outbreak, technology brought us together. It even enabled us to learn something new and collaborate effectively in the times of crisis.”

At a personal level, the crises posed an unprecedented challenge for individuals. Many participants shared that the months of uncertainty and fear amplified the importance of the human connect’ aspect like never before. Companies like Paytm started preparing for the crisis timely after keeping a closer tab on international developments.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard our people’s health and well-being. Nevertheless, we learned many new things while coping up with the pandemic. Following protocols as they were announced, then 100% of employees working from home consistently and trying to do that, engaging them, reducing panic, motivating them was a completely new challenge,” said Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

A winning strategy

The panelists at the event discussed the importance of adaptability to survive in a crisis. While adaptability was a crucial attribute even before the pandemic, Covid-19 made it a must-have skillset to survive. Within the months of the pandemic, we adjusted to living our lives very differently. Those organizations who adapted well (using HR tech) during the crisis not only survived but also made a substantial leap.

“Coal comes under essential services and is important for the energy security of India. So, for us, lockdown had never implemented. Like several other companies in our sector, we were poorly prepared to tackle sudden technological changes, such as moving from physical to virtual meetings. Nevertheless, our people exhibited great resilience and adjusted to the new normal very fast. The leadership at Coal India also set strong examples and took actions that reflect wider care and empathy,” said Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

Not surprisingly, the emphatic and caring policies of CCL did wonders for its production capabilities as its workforce responded to the pandemic bravely.

Gyan Nagpal, ALC

Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

“The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.”

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

“We all must remember it’s the collaboration, whether, in terms of vaccines or humanity coming together, that has made it possible for us to where we are today. We all need to think about making a better world by leveraging our capabilities and using technology wisely. We need to ensure such crisis doesn’t happen again or be better managed.”

Bhavesh Chandaria

Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted.”

About MTHR Global

Mumbai-based MTHR Global (More Than HR Global), a leading Knowledge Community Pan India since 2002, is a not-for-profit body that continues to bring the best in Learning and Networking! MTHR Global is a community that grew to over 15000 members within ten years across India and in a few other countries across the world.

About Beyond Reality Events

BR Events is a virtual reality offering by Just Be. Under BRE, the company provides immersive and interactive experiences for its clients — from layout to branding, bringing the real world into 3D.

During the COVID-19, the coal stock at its thermal power plant rose to the highest ever inventory of about 46 days compared to the average supply of 20-22 days, demonstrating exceptional results for companies who made their employees feel heard and included the COVID-19 crisis.

The session panelists also delved deeper into the hard-earned lessons for the future from the current crisis. The senior HR and tech leaders shared the importance of acting fast, cross-training employees, and eliminating overdependencies.

“I think we need to detox from overdependence. The new crisis response cannot be designed from the viewpoint of COVID. It could be an internet or electricity outage. We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted,” said Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“For instance, many countries keep a car-free day in a month. Why can’t we plan things and embed such things into our design, say an electricity and internet free half-day a month? This is essential so that our today’s generation does not assume and completely dependent upon such things. We need to learn to live without the obvious,” Chandaria explicated.

Final thoughts

The industry experts also outlined the importance of collaboration and using technological innovations wisely to create a better and sustainable future. At various levels, everyone emphasized the importance of empathy toward those who surround us, developing hyper skills, exploring multiple ways to approach a particular challenge at an individual and organizational level.

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Indian tech startups are setting a perfect example of building resilience amidst the crisis. Even though the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and resulting in severe pain, it is also true that the outbreak profoundly influenced indigenous innovations, new tech startup ideas, and digital transformation roadmaps in India. (See: Digital transformation deals put IT sector back on track)

When businesses were scrambling to find the best ways to deal with the crisis, Indian tech startups emerged as a force to reckon with. According to a recent Nasscom report, India added a whopping 1600 plus tech startups in 2020 and has become the third-largest tech startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China. 

Ravindra Kumar, IT Delhi Alumni AssociationRavindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi
Alumni Association

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),
blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach.”

Rajesh Kumar, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com

“The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface for better positioning.”

Akhilesh Shukla, TechshotsAkhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

“We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of Techshots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions.”

The number of unicorns (those who have a valuation of over $1 billion) is also growing steadily in India. In 2020 alone, 11 startups from India joined the unicorn club, which boasts of Paytm, Ola, Zomato, Cars 24, and 34 others.

The above figures are intriguing and contrary to the early fears raised by several industry observers. The Indian startup ecosystem was projected for a steep decline by many in March 2020 due to the Covid-induced bedbound economic environment. Technology interventions and innovative ideas played a pivotal role in resuscitating the growth path. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?)

Turning the crisis into opportunity

When millions of citizens were confined to their homes, the rise of digital technologies created fresh opportunities. These technologies enabled people to do things efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Had it not been for the role of IT and tech startups in India, the impact of the crisis could have been more upsetting!

Amidst the widespread uncertainty and social distancing measures, the dependencies on digital solutions grew enormously. Whether it is healthcare consultation, retail, astrology, education, grocery supply, or entertainment, technology kept the economy running and helped us adapt to the new normal.

If Indian tech startups such as Byju, UpGrad, and Unacademy excelled in transforming the education and learning delivery, location surveillance apps such as Unmaze, Aarogya Setu, and Sahyog kept the COVID-19 virus in check. India also witnessed a massive surge in fintech and health startups as the demand for their services, such as contactless payments and telemedicine, grew much faster.

News aggregators such as InShorts, Dailyhunt, and TechShots have gained significant traction as people continue to switch to their personal mobile devices for real-time information and news.

Some of the new habits that people learned during the pandemic are likely to remain permanent, and this compelled many entrepreneurs to launch niche and specialized services. “Media consumption habits are changing quickly. Most consumers now prefer to receive their daily dose of news bulletin digitally in a crisp format. During the COVID-19 crisis, this demand reached a record level. We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of TechShots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions,” said Akhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

With quarantine and lockdown rules forced consumers to stay indoors, online grocery delivery demand witnessed a massive rise throughout 2020. Along with established online grocery suppliers such as Big Basket, Grofers, and Amazon, agritech startups such as Otipy, Sabzibhazi, Freshokartz, Agrowave, among others, also made their presence felt.

“I started Sabzibhazi in 2019. When I first launched this company with my meager savings in 2019, it didn’t do well. The idea was to provide the freshest produce at a reasonable price using a new-age tech platform. Even though we did much research, but there were still no customers. It was a tough time. We didn’t go for fundraising as we didn’t want to be answerable to anyone. Moreover, we were not sure if we would get that much attention from venture capitalists,” says Rajesh Kumar Pandit, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com, a South Delhi-based digital farm-to kitchen service provider.

Things changed quickly for Rajesh when India announced nationwide lockdowns. Many established players failed to meet the unprecedented surge in demand for online fresh produce. “The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface,” an enthusiastic Kumar adds.

In the healthcare space, startups like Pharmeasy, CureFit, and EyeNetra attracted massive investors’ interest.

Innovative ideas fueling startups

Besides the above, innovative virtual event platforms Airmeet also garnered significant attention from enterprises. Businesses took their services for hosting various internal workshops, panel discussions, and customer events in a setting where physical events are restricted.

There are also pure-play data analytics firms such as Mu Sigma, which are growing exponentially. 

The tech startup culture in India is equally supported by the government and premier institutes like IIT. The Indian government has taken several initiatives recently to help the local startup ecosystem grow. Under the AatmaNirbhar Bharat vision, the government has eased regulations, announced tax exemptions, and set up a Rs 10,000 crore fund exclusively for startups.

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach,” said Ravindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi Alumni Association, in an earlier interaction with Better World. (See: IIT Delhi can help develop an Indian equivalent of Google or Facebook).

The year also saw spectacular ideas such as anti-viral t-shirts and COVID-19 protective lotions unveiled by E-TEX and Clensta, two startups incubated at IIT Delhi.

Another startup that caught our attention was ATAI Labs; an applied AI company launched recently. The startup provides AI-based digital transformation solutions for the supply chain and logistics industry, which bring the data center capabilities closer to the source of data and enable AI inferencing, decision making, and analytics at the EDGE.  The 70-employee young Indian startup offers innovative solutions to augment maritime, retail, locomotive, and surveillance capabilities. (See: AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation)

Factors.ai is also an AI-based startup that focuses on providing marketing analytics for entrepreneurs and small-medium businesses. The startup was chosen as one of the 20 firms for the fourth cohort of the Google for Startups (GFS) Accelerator program in India last year.

An equally exciting tech-startup, The Water App, was launched to solve the water crisis in Hyderabad. The company leverages advanced technologies and intelligence to monitor supply chain management of water and deliver clean water at the doorstep.

Final thoughts

Before the pandemic, many enterprises were reluctant to go online entirely. But things changed quite dramatically. Across all sectors, there was no option but to accelerate the digital transformation.

Indian tech startups and IT companies proved that integrating innovations with adaptability models led to new pathways and behavioral models, bringing together enormous resilience and resolve.

At Better World, we believe that this is just the beginning. Indian tech startups not only took risks and found new innovative models but were also instrumental in adding thousands of new jobs at a time when people were losing hopes. In 2021, according to Nasscom, the Indian IT industry (along with the tech startups) is expected to add over 1,38,000 new hires, taking the total employee base in this sector to 4.47 million.

By leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, and cloud-based collaboration tools, these young tech companies will continue to bring the best of the ideas and tools to revive the economy and develop life-enabling solutions.

Narendra Agarwal joins Dabur as Global CIO

Narendra Agarwal joins Dabur as Global CIO

Narendra Agarwal CIO

Narendra Agarwal, Global CIO, Dabur.

Narendra Agarwal has joined Dabur India as its new Global CIO. Agarwal moves from Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), where he donned multiple IT and automation leadership roles during the nine-year tenure. He was responsible for digitizing Dabur’s newly acquired Nutrition (GSK) business.

“We are delighted to welcome Narendra Agrawal as the Global CIO of Dabur India Ltd. Narendra is an MBA professional with 13 years of industry experience in technology transformation and leadership. Narendra comes with vast exposure in successfully leading large-scale global transformation projects in ERP, Logistics Operations, financial forecasting, and S&OP,” Dabur said in a statement released through its official Twitter account.

Among his HUL accomplishments, Agarwal led E2E IT integration for Unilever’s biggest merger and the first-ever remote merger in the industry. He led the technology stabilization and automated platform management for the logistics technology solution, driving continuous improvements in the DevOps model for business.

Overall, Narendra Agarwal has led several large-scale business and technology transformation programs with Dabur, Amdocs, and Capgemini as a CIO or IT leader.

An alumnus of IIM Indore, Agarwal has a keen interest in strategizing and rapidly executing technology capabilities for specific business capabilities that help build business models to get closer to users and help enterprises gain a competitive edge. Narendra has also done a Bachelor’s in Engineering from Mumbai University. 

About Dabur India

Dabur India Ltd is one of India’s top FMCG Companies with revenues of over Rs 7,680 Crore and a market capitalization of over Rs 88,500 Crore. Riding on consumer discretionary spending revival, Dabur India reported its highest-ever quarterly revenue and profits in December 2020.

Dabur also plans to set up a new subsidiary to manufacture, sell, and export its consumer care products. The company was founded in 1884 by SK. Burman and headquartered in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.

AI tools can drive big efficiencies in oil and gas

AI tools can drive big efficiencies in oil and gas

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving, especially in industrial organizations such as oil and gas, where data acts as a critical enabler to provide a competitive advantage. Industrial organizations operating in the fields of mining, oil, and gas; and marine, are going through a radical transformation and seeking innovative ways to optimize performance with minimized risk.

The volatile and ever-competitive nature of the industrial companies demands them to identify new and innovative sustainable models to stay profitable, grow and unlock efficiencies. The situation has become more challenging in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Capgemini research, over 50% of the European manufacturers, 30% in Japan, 28% in the USA, and 25% in South Korea implement AI solutions.

Enterprises operating in Oil and Gas, Marine, and Oil use traditional machinery which may not be easily replaceable because of the huge costs associated with it. Hence, they need advanced technologies to optimize their operations. They are the ones where data could act as a critical enabler to provide them a competitive advantage if managed with the right combination and tools. (See: How will AI impact enterprise ecosystems in 2021?)

Intelligent machines, optimized production

An estimate from the Robotic Industry Association says the cost of one minute of production-line downtime for a company like General Motors could be around $20,000. That’s enormous!

AI for industrial organizations has become essential for driving operational efficiencies of their assets and processes. With AI and ML advancements, industrial enterprises can make their machines smarter, predict maintenance schedules, minimize downtime and let the devices identify problems sooner, and even rectify them automatically in some instances.

Industrial organizations have an enormous amount of data from their different manufacturing processes. However, the lack of talent and necessary tools prevent them from leveraging the same for deriving meaningful insights.

By monitoring and analyzing data carefully, industrial organizations can anticipate the gaps in the output and receive automated warnings to stop the machine when there is an issue. This helps save cost and time, assisting companies to better their efficiencies. For instance, by leveraging AI-based predictive tools in oil and gas, companies can identify the machine and pipeline deterioration signs and raise alarms to pipeline operators. The use of voice-enabled AI chatbots can also help in oil and gas and mining areas, whereby operators can engage in meaningful automated conversations around the processes, focusing solely on production-related activities.

The supply chain is another crucial process gaining substantial benefits from the AI and ML-driven applications, ensuring industrial companies create equipment buffers as per the real-time market demand. Besides, AI capabilities are also being used extensively for manufacturing and industrial companies to reduce energy consumption, minimize assembly lead times, and increase asset utilization.

Key challenges

The challenge, however, for the industrial organization is a widening gap in the knowledge and competencies of various enterprises’ internal IT departments. The shortage of internal talent to deploy and scale AI in production and integrate with existing standardized solutions.

The successful predictive maintenance strategy is heavily dependent upon the data to integrate necessary engineering in the machinery. Data can not bring efficient results in case they are working in seclusion.

The industry needs strong foundations and collaboration models to create new enterprise-specific applications to analyze data and automate critical processes. Another major challenge that many enterprises need to deal with is managing the people and cultural change. It becomes necessary for organizations implementing AI solutions to conduct essential workshops and focus group discussions on understanding the pain points and queries of their employees.

As we move forward in 2021, AI for industrial organizations will see greater demand as they focus on reducing time to impact and balance their supply chains according to the real-time demand. The industry is likely to witness a steep rise of several integrated solutions from emerging solutions providers and specialized companies to help Industrial companies drive further innovations.

Star-Disney India ropes in Tirthankar Dutta as CISO

Star-Disney India ropes in Tirthankar Dutta as CISO

Tirthankar Dutta, CISO, Star-Disney India

Tirthankar Dutta, CISO, Star-Disney.

Tirthankar Dutta has joined as the Vice President (VP) and CISO of Indian media conglomerate Star-Disney India, a Walt Disney subsidiary in India.

In his new role at Star-Disney, Dutta will spearhead the company’s security transformation initiatives and provide the necessary direction and guidance to the CTO/CFO and key Disney-Star business leadership members.

Besides, Tirthankar Dutta will also manage information security governance processes, chair the information security advisory committee, and lead information security programs and project priorities at Star-Disney. He will be internally assessing and providing necessary recommendations around security controls to the Disney leadership in India. Dutta’s responsibility also includes establishing an inclusive and comprehensive security program for Disney and developing essential support for internal information systems and technology research capability.

As an IT professional with over 14 years of experience, Dutta has led several IT and IT security projects in top financial services, travel shopping, and IT services companies such as Religare, Expedia, HCL, TCS, and IBM.

Dutta has established and implemented large information security programs, including deploying a patent-pending fraud detection solution that protected thousands of clients from phishing attacks. He has been credited with performing evaluation and selection of IT security tools and successfully implemented IT security systems to protect availability, integrity, and confidentiality of critical business information and information systems.

Before moving to Star-Disney, Dutta was the Sr VP and Head of Information Security at Infoedge India, a pure-play internet classified company. At Infoedge, he led the information security program and built cohesive security and compliance programs to address state and Country statutory and regulatory requirements effectively.

About Star India

Owned by the Walt Disney Company, Star-Disney India is an Indian media conglomerate with its headquarters in Maharashtra. The media company offers content in eight languages through its 60 channels. Its network reaches approximately 790 million viewers a month across India and globally.

For other recent C-Track movements, click here.

Five key steps to a successful RPA implementation

Five key steps to a successful RPA implementation

The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) adoption in India has picked up pace as enterprises focus on developing automated intelligent process automation bots to support their users and employees round the clock. (See: RPA-led tools helping enterprises sail safely through a storm). Despite the benefits RPA offers, many companies struggle to maximize the value of their RPA implementations. Let’s delve deeper into some of the critical steps to a successful RPA implementation for enterprises.

These steps can also ensure there is no gap between reality and expectations from an RPA initiative.

#1. Define your objectives 

RPA is a game-changing digital transformation initiative, automating several traditional mainframe applications by leveraging AI/ML-based software robots. At the backdrop of the pandemic triggered economic slowdown, businesses are increasingly exploring intelligent automation and RPA for refining quality while controlling costs.

According to McKinsey, RPA can deliver up to 200% ROI in the first year of deployment and 20-25% cost savings. Additionally, it also enables organizations to enhance compliance, become risk-averse and strengthen the customer experience. The mundane and time taking processes turn fast, and users get an opportunity to switch to higher-value work.

However, like every strategic technology investment, RPA investments need to be evaluated based on their potential utility to a particular enterprise or a process.

There is no one size fit all solution! As a first RPA implementation step, the process you select for RPA should be carefully mapped against your end-goals. Before you assign the process execution from your employees to bots, you need to set clear goals around what you want to accomplish from a specific RPA implementation and the financial aspects of the deployment.

#2. Select your processes intelligently

An overarching strategy for process selection and implementation should be in place before you move to RPA. The most critical goal that drives RPA adoption is achieving enterprise efficiency for highly repetitive tasks. RPA tools imitate a human being’s actions by following a rule-based structured approach to accomplishing specific routine tasks, helping employees retrieve a significant proportion of their time.

Hence, as a key step for a successful RPA implementation, the process you select for RPA should be mature, predictable, and stable, high-volume, involve a considerable amount of repetitive human efforts, based on pre-defined data patterns, and evaluated on measurable savings. For instance, data validation, extracting data from PDFs, and employment history verification.

#3. Build an execution team

It is paramount for any automated process that a group of team members is assigned to keep a closer look at all the change-related developments and flag any inconsistencies. This team is often called as Center of Excellence (CoE) team for RPA projects.

Enterprises that do not have the right capabilities and resources or deploy the RPA model for the first time can also support specialized external consultants to facilitate RPA implementations effectively.

#4. Develop a robust change management plan

The success of any RPA initiative is dependent mainly upon how internal employees perceive the change.  Similar to any other digital transformation initiative, RPA is also bound to cause apprehension among impacted employees.

While some team members may follow a cautious approach for any recent change, others may like to debate the relevance of change. Moreover, there could be a fear of job losses, change of roles, the transition to a new team, anxiety around lack of training to supervise any new tool, and more.

A robust change management plan includes addressing these fears and anxieties, upskilling and reskilling impacted teams, setting up a robust governance framework, providing the necessary knowledge to groups about the positive impact that RPA will bring for the business. The technology heads and project leads should encourage people to ask relevant questions and engage them through focus group discussions or one-on-one interactions to understand the objectives behind the RPA implementations.

#5. Make sure to conduct the pilots

Any automation process is a long-term journey and needs sustained efforts for success. Do not expect to gain immediate benefits by deploying software robots. It’s a continuous process and needs several pilots before you ultimately obliterate any process-related obstacles or iron out flaws for a smooth run. It is advisable to have a multiple-phase rollout if the process spans several business operations geographies and impacts people from across teams.

Planning for pilots is one of the essential steps to any successful RPA implementation. Pilot implementations of RPA provide an excellent operating overview of the control frameworks, governance structure, and training to ensure that objectives align with expectations; remove reserves, if any;  and get buy-in from key stakeholders.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *