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“Explosion of Technology is making CIOs think and act like business leaders”

Vinod Bidarkoppa, Group Chief Information and Technology Officer, Future Group, talks about the current state of the business-technology domain. By Shweta Gandhi

“If we step back and look at the changes that are happening in technology, no matter which domain, we are at the crossroads of a significant disruption,” says Vinod Bidarkoppa, Group Chief Information and Technology Officer, Future Group. With a career that has spanned 25 years and three continents, including the US, Far East, and Europe, Vinod has spent considerable time observing the maturity of technology in various industries. He started his career in the early ’90s with American Airlines, and has since worked with EDS, HP and Tesco PLC before joining Future Group. He was recently recognised as an influential Diversified Group Icon at CIO Power List 2016. He talks to us about the changes tech is driving in the business world.

Major IT changes and challenges
“I’ve been in India for the last seven years and I’ve seen the local landscape change in terms of the conveniences technology has brought—to customers, in increasing the internal efficiency of businesses and in helping employees collaborate better. If one looks at how technology has changed, we notice we have come all the way from the main frame to the client’s server environment, to the distributed networking environment, to what we have today—which is really the explosion of the combination of cloud, mobility, analytics. Increasingly, we are beginning to see technology as the key driver behind business model disruption.

“About six years ago we saw a lot of technology come into the retail, banking and telecom industry; for the simple reason that businesses had started becoming omnichannel. For example, what was a branch specific business to a bank or what was a travel agency specific business to an airline is now becoming omnichannel. Now, all of them have found a very different, new way of engaging with the end customer, which is influenced by technology. ”

Changing role of the CIO
“I heard something interesting at CIO Power List 2016, that the role of a CIO is akin to Vishnu’s avatar. Today, a CIO has to take on different roles depending on the nature of the business. So in my current role, I wear the hats of a CIO and a CTO—which translates into a bunch of things that I have to do to keep my operations running. But I am equally accountable for building new products and platforms so as to attract customers, and find ways to drive growth and increase the bottom-line. Earlier, the product development team built new products and platforms. The CIO’s role is now morphing depending on the business and the person occupying the seat. If it’s a well-rounded person with a plethora of business knowledge, then that person can absorb the mandate of doing different things differently. But if it’s an old-fashioned back office data centre type of person, then I would not entrust them with the responsibility of driving the digital side of the business.”

Incorporating SMAC
“There is probably no business today that would not have included some (if not every) aspects of SMAC. In our own business, I have put many things on the cloud. Future Group also has a lot of loyalty programs like Big Bazaar Profit Club, Future Group Shopping Festival, and a lot of our digital assets are on mobile or desktop. Coming to analytics, I don’t think we can drive a business today without having a very solid foundation of not just customer analytics, but analytics of every kind—merchandise analytics, store analytics, supply chain analytics, etc. We as Future Group are very proud to have created such a strong foundation around analytics. Analytics is going to be a key driver that helps businesses grow exponentially.”

Importance of IoT
“There are many applications of IoT for every business, whether it is manufacturing or airline or healthcare, etc. In our business we have a number of stores in diverse locations—we have stores in cold places like Gangtok in Sikkim, and in warm places like Jaipur. So one use case for us would be to consider having devices in different places, like inside the store or inside the equipment, and remotely monitoring the temperature settings. This would drive energy savings. The second use case is RFID itself; in some sense it’s IoT, because it allows us to tag high-end consumable goods, whether it’s high fashion or jewellery. Currently we are piloting RFID in our stores as part of IoT. We are looking at putting beacons to track customer activity and are evaluating the business aspect of this decision.”

Managing big data
“In any business that is large, geographically complex and as diversified as ours, there is a ton of data that we generate. If we only look at the number of transactions that come through from all the customers who shop online and in store, there is a tremendous amount of data that we gather. Besides that, there’s also the merchandising data. Sometimes, we are constrained by the physical equipment that we have, to put all this data in one place. Today, if you want to start driving benefit out of this load of data, then big data provides the solution. Big data is driven by three Vs—variety, velocity and volume—all of which come through for most of the businesses. Big data is a space of interest for us and I’m looking at how to take some of this data onto cloud and analyse it so that we can manage the three Vs.”

Future of technology
“Fortunately, we are in an industry that keeps us on our toes. Things change even before six months have done by. The graduates now are much more open, have a different set of skills, have access to online courses—they confirm that technology will change. The biggest example is the booming startup industry in India. Everyone is driving and trying to do things differently that’ll force tech to change. Businesses are adapting, leveraging and exploiting this change in tech for the benefit of the business and the customer. Drones, driverless cars, AI, virtual reality are all seriously knocking on the doors. Change is the only constant. And as long as businesses keep adapting to those changes, just like Darwin’s law states, they’ll survive.” 

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