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UPL IT department- from a function to a serviceqrcode

−− How UPL Global CIO A Balaji made it?

Apr. 12, 2017

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When A Balaji took over the reins of IT as the Global CIO of United Phosphorous (UPL) in 2015, the one line brief his Group CEO and Promoter Director Jai Shroff gave him was to take the IT department ahead of the curve. Fast, Fast, Fast. That’s how Shroff wanted the IT department to deliver on business outcomes.

The urgency to meet this need for speed prompted Balaji to look into the present condition and future direction of the company. He realized that the time was ripe to assess, reform and transform the way IT conducted itself in response to business needs.

Take the field
Balaji has his work cut out for him. Speed was only one part of the complex equation. Complexity was another.

A visionary IT leader that Balaji is, he knew was responsible for implementing change. He refrains from riding herd on his IT team. Instead, he believes in putting in place a robust system that makes everyone accountable for their duties.

Get a handle on IT
To foster transparency into IT operations he brought in global ticketing services with instant feedbacks from internal customers. This settled role clarity, brought in accountability, SLA adherence and transparent engagement with customers. This coupled with governance framework of CAPA (Corrective and Preventive Action) for poor feedback resulted in fixing the wrong service quickly. He established communication through monthly updates on the progress of ongoing projects to improve the overall quality of work delivered through the team. This also resulted in structured operational reviews and transparency.

“As a team, we have committed ourselves to move from ‘IT as a function to IT as a service’. This was required to internalize ourselves with the service attitude,” states Balaji.

Delivering ‘IT as a Service’ would have been a mere motherhood statement had Balaji not detailed out this shift in each and every activity IT performed. It involved various rigorous fine prints by setting up internal rules of IT covering attitude of the team, measurement metrics, communication strategy, tools and techniques implemented to facilitate this. We are what we are today because of the commitment demonstrated by the team and their willingness to adapt this cultural shift.

Intensifying his efforts in the direction of ‘IT as a Service”, Balaji has established Bimodal IT at United Phosphorous. And he has gone a step with Bimodal IT by mapping not only IT team but also his internal customers. “We have carried out benchmarking both in budgeting as well as IT commercial activities. We have classified every activity within the framework of Run / Grow / Transform to help ourselves in prioritizing our requirement and conflict resolutions.” he shares.

“We have not mastered this yet but we can say with conviction that we have institutionalized this. Through constant vigil, we drill down the deviations. Almost 1500 manhours of training have gone into raising this service bar in the integrated global environment. Decisions are backed up with adequate data to reduce the anomalies and perceptions helping us to focus on real issues in the empowered environment,” he adds.

Most importantly, IT has moved from asking “What” to “Why”. The team comprises long time employees of the company who understand the business well. So, they are ripe for this mindset shift. “Great team makes Great organization and Individual glory can be incremental and only team glory will be transformational,” he retorts.

UPL reaps rich IT harvest
The IT team at UPL has taken up several projects for their internal customers. These projects range from Office 365, Telepresence, Demand Planning, SalesForce, SAP new functionalities, Mobility, and Analytics.

The success metrics are measured through customer satisfaction index (CSI) of stakeholders. CSI covers aspects pertaining to the understanding of business, quality of delivery, time of delivery, the cost of delivery, training, and handholding. Projects are considered complete only after obtaining CSI.

“We have also interlinked this with the performance metrics of the people. With the complete transparency performance measurements are being carried out,” reveals Balaji.

UPL carried out the Enterprise Architecture program in 2016 to take stock of its present condition and future roadmap. Industry comparisons, inside out perspective, outside in perspective, past footprints, technological opportunities, governance and security framework are taken into consideration to enable a 360-degree view of IT. It helped the IT team regroup and set priorities on the key areas.

UPL is engaging farmers through its digital advisory services, "Adarsh Kisan Centre" a remote digital advisory call center for farmers in India. This unique helpline resolves crop related farmer queries / Concerns / Issues. The call center comprises query handlers conversant in all major Indian languages and English. The result is that this timely UPL Service has emerged as a convenient problem solver. Similarly, Adarsh Farm services offer mechanized field spraying resulting in saving of time and cost.

Taking a rain check
Balaji is enthused about Deep learning– Image pattern recognition. We have attempted some and we are foraying in some new business cases.

“My definition of digital is anything that challenges the conventional wisdom through technological means. There are enough discussions around how SMAC is helping the organization to achieve their digital objectives. My view is that we should not approach digital through technological means. Rather we should finalize the business case first, then approach technological means,” he asserts.

Balaji is curiously observant of the platform-based approaches. “Platform based models are emerging very strongly. Uber and AirBnB are just the beginning. Many exciting new business models are emerging. Capital equipment selling propositions are getting challenged. Nothing is getting owned (except money) and almost everything is available as service,” he retorts.

Balaji is cautious about the cloud model. He believes that CIOs need to adopt a deliberated approach to the cloud model. “Cloud is still vendor- centric and not yet customer- centric. On a lighter note, we have discussed enough on the cloud. It should start to rain benefits now, else it will only be the storehouse of bacteria,” he quips before signing off.

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