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“A CIO can’t confine himself to a support function anymore”

Ramesh Chandra, CIO, Tata Motors Finance Ltd, on the CIO’s role as a driver for change.

Ramesh Chandra has been in the Tata Motors family for over 30 years. He has diverse experience across verticals from manufacturing to IT, and has played a pivotal role in shaping IT for Tata Motors and its group companies. For the last one year he’s been the CIO for Tata Motors Finance Ltd. He talks to us about how he’s driving initiatives and innovations in IT to support business and achieve desired performance.

What are some of the priorities for your business and how is IT helping achieve them?
“As an NBFC, our major stream of work is managing resources, client acquisitions, servicing vehicle loans, managing collections, monthly billing and other activities. Customer experience is the prime focus. While working with business heads we have to innovate and leverage technology to be continuously agile and responsive to our customers. All of these require a robust application landscape, and we work with our technology partners to provide the necessary support. We have an old legacy architecture that we want to revamp and bring it up to speed by adopting the latest technology.”

What are some of the new initiatives you’ve undertaken in IT transformation?
“The landscape we’re working with was put in place six to seven years ago. We’re in the middle of modernising it to meet the changing expectations from business. As is the case with other organisations, digitisation and mobility are the order of the day. We are looking at moving to a hybrid data centre by leveraging cloud. We are also re-evaluating various products to re-platform existing architecture with state of the art loan origination and collection systems. We are looking at re-implementing SAP and have recently moved to Office365 and are in the process of exploiting it to drive a collaborative culture. While we want to strengthen the foundation of the core systems we are looking at digitisation and using mobile to change the way one interacts with the system.”

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in bringing about the change?
“It is not only about changing processes but also about changing mindsets. People are used to doing certain things in a certain way for a long time. Re-defining the processes and ensuring business buys keeping in mind customer experience is a challenge. On the IT side, finding the right mix of people who understand technology as well as business is not a simple task. The challenge continues to persist in the industry. We need to find people who can create a bridge between technology and business.”

How has the evolution of the CIO’s role affected IT transformation?
“Digitisation and transformation is the mantra for a CIO to focus and adopt to stay relevant to the business. With the rapidly changing environment and an overdose of technology, the CIO’s role has changed significantly. He was traditionally been seen as a person who enables or automates processes, brings discipline, adherence and control, but he is now the key enabler to drive transformation. The perception is changing. A CIO needs to work more with business heads and the CEO to drive change and influence business outcomes. He is now seen as the custodian of the enterprise processes, leveraging and adopting technology and analytics to change the way we do business. The earlier IT had straight-jacketed individuals, whereas today IT needs to unleash and give flexibility to help the organisation remain focussed on business. In the service industry it is important to have processes that are not people dependent. Smart applications supported by analytics help define rule-based business processes and rule-based exception handling and aid the manager in taking data-driven decisions. That’s the transformation we’re looking to undertake in my organisation.”

How can a CIO become an effective business leader?
“The CIO or IT team can only be effective if they work in close co-ordination with business. CIOs don’t progress because they’re not hand in glove with the business. The business stakeholders often see IT as an inhibitor rather than an enabler. So we have to work collaboratively with the business keeping the end objective in mind, to serve our customers better and stay focussed on business goals. The business and IT processes need to have a natural fit, be intuitive and support collaboration. The role transition needs to happen and a CIO has to be seen as a partner understanding business challenges and targets, and be a part of business reviews to understand the ground reality.”

How have you structured your team for optimum productivity?
“We are restructuring the IT team to provide better support to business leaders keeping in mind the changing technology landscape. We have a team of business analysts who are the custodians of business processes, a centre of excellence for technology platforms including emerging technologies and an IT service management team. These are the three verticals. The first is team of business relationship managers who work closely with various businesses to understand their challenges and requirements. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that IT delivers the right solution at the right time. The business analysts work very closely with the centre of excellence team, who are the solution architects. These are the ones who will see how to tactfully or optimally use a particular program/technology to solve a business problem. The third group is the one that takes care of business as usual.  These individuals look into complete IT service management; make sure we continue to deliver what we promise, with proper SLA management, vendor management, etc. These three verticals need to be supported by a layer of a program and portfolio management to ensure timely deliveries.”

What has been your key business learning in your years in the industry?
“Prior to my role as the CIO, I was heading the global delivery organisation for enterprise solutions. I’ve spent a significant part of my career in the IT service delivery role and the key takeaway is that people tend to get lost in technology and lose connect with the business. The challenge is to be a master of both. Today organisations have very high expectations from IT and from the CIO. As a CIO you need to give business the confidence that, yes, you are their partner and, yes, you will help them solve their problems; that their success is the CIO’s success. This attitude will go a long way in building the credibility of technology or IT within the organisation. I’ve won many contracts just because I was able to comfortably reassure the business heads. That element of selling even within the organisation is missing nowadays and that is something a CIO needs to sensitise his team for.”

What excites you the most about your job?
“Technology and IT systems are able to transform business and provide a competitive edge or advantage over competitors. Driving transformation excites me a lot. When considering transformation you have to think out of the box and that is stimulating. I work as per the first principles model, so whatever process I’m considering—IT or business—I break it down into pieces. I get into the details to analyse the nitty-gritties to ensure the value each process step adds. I’ve discovered that you can get rid of a lot of waste in the process. If say a 25 step sequential process can be re-engineered to work in parallel or if by using technology the entire throughput of the process can be increased multi-fold. That’s the kind of business transformation that drives me.” 

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