Dr Nagarajan Raveendran, Senior General Manager (Enterprise-wide Solutions), Sakthi Finance Ltd/ABT Industries Ltd, discusses technology enablement to drive business growth.
For Nagarajan Raveendran, technology and education are the two big drivers in life. In the IT industry over 36 years, Raveendran has been responsible for driving system development/implementation of business applications in organisations and with customers using effective project management. Not one to rest on his laurels, Raveendran is constantly upgrading his knowledge; he recently completed his PhD in ERP Management. Raveendran is also keen to share what he’s learnt and is a frequent visiting faculty to many business schools.
Please tell us a bit about your role.
“Currently, I am the CIO for Sakthi Finance (a non-banking finance company) and ABT Industries Limited (dealing in auto dealership and food products). Both are part of the reputed Coimbatore-based Sakthi Group. I take care of complete enterprise-wide automation, in the form of computerisation, digitisation, etc, with needed strategic engagements and business process enhancements.”
How has the CIO’s role changed in the BFSI industry?
“There’s definitely been a big role change. The role nowadays revolves around ‘technology adoption towards customer satisfaction’. There are growing expectations from CIOs for enhancing customer-friendly frontend services, reducing the customer service TAT (turnaround time), etc. There’s also the expectation to quickly adopt the needed technologies like mobility and cloud with background data analytics to proactively understand and serve the customers. Ultimately, customer satisfaction is the key. This is our current avatar.”
Which of the new technologies have become the most relevant for the BFSI industry?
“Basic ERP has been around for a while and has become well established now. One area where there’s a major thrust is mobility. Mobility enablement for our internal stakeholders like marketing officers and management representatives has become important. Helping them reach our customers, aid the customers and get the business done. So mobility supported by cloud plays a big part here.”
What are the challenges you face as a CIO?
“A lot depends on type of customers we deal with. Our customers are truck operators and farmers, and their education level and tech savviness are not that great. So we face bottlenecks when providing technology enablement in the frontend. But that doesn’t mean we are not going to do it. It’s a gradual process. If out of 100 customers, it is effective initially for even 50 then we are happy. So ‘customer-centric technology adoption’ is the prime challenge. The other has to do with internal staff and their change management; adopting and adhering to new technology practices. Upgrading their skill level to work with new technologies with adequate training is something we have to do.”
CIOs have also become business leaders. Can you please elaborate?
“When you get into the CIO/IT head role, you are entering the business enablement level. As a CIO, I sit with other business heads for any strategic decision required to run the business effectively. This is not just related to technology decisions. I am treated as a business enabler here. So CIOs nowadays, besides the routine automation, are supporting the business in arriving at and executing strategic decisions resulting in business growth, higher profitability, etc. In my case, 30 to 40 per cent of my role is around IT, the other 60 to 70 per cent is for supporting business enablement, enhancements, etc.”
What are the five qualities a CIO needs to have to be good at what he does?
“The first and primary one is that a CIO needs to understand that he can’t just consider the technical aspects of the role. Those are no longer his prime responsibility. A CIO now needs to have a business sense, know what the company’s goals are, what management is expecting, what users are up to and accordingly devising strategies for IT. You can’t blindly develop software or automate systems.
“Secondly, a CIO should be a good leader, not just with regards to the team under him, but other departments as well. CIOs are senior level executives; they need to handle internal and external stakeholders including customers.
“Next, a CIO should be able to educate and handle Change Management effectively. It’s not about just directing people to do something. You should be able to bring team members together and educate them about the business plan, its execution, the bottlenecks being faced, the benefits of the proposed process/IT change, etc. This exercise is something a CIO should ensure before any solution is moved even to the drawing board level.
“A CIO should also keep abreast with what is happening in the IT industry. Learn about the new technologies and trends like SMAC, IoT, etc. This will help when you have to choose the right one that is suitable for your emerging business requirements.
“Lastly, a CIO needs to constantly educate himself. I’m not referring to just the technical skills, but overall enhancement of knowledge. This is a big value addition for a CIO. In fact, I just recently completed my PhD and the topic was the problems and prospects related to ERP adoption.”
What is your favourite part about the job?
“I think that would be handling change management. Implementing a solution is not a cakewalk. If it is one, then it means there will be a big problem soon. So, you have to proactively anticipate situations and put systems in place with adequate training etc, so as to drive the effectiveness of the solution and reap its benefits quickly.”
If not IT, what alternative career would you have taken up?
“A role in accounting, probably. I’m a commerce graduate; 36 years ago I was working as a accounts clerk. At the time, commerce graduates were preferred for IT jobs. Actually, I accidentally moved into IT, otherwise I’d probably be a senior level finance professional or maybe a CFO right now.”
What do you do to achieve work-life balance?
“Teaching is a passion and it helps me lead a balanced life. I teach in business schools during my time off. Your success at work is dependent on how you lead a happy life outside through family engagements, hobbies and social engagements. This balancing will help you to succeed in both parts of your life with utmost satisfaction.”