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“We undertook a major tech base shift to create value for business”

Pawan Nijhawan, Vice President – IT, Wolkem India Ltd, and CIO Power List 2017 winner, discusses how he planned to migrate the company’s entire IT base to another business suite to streamline processes and increase productivity and transparency. By Satyaki Sarkar

After a long and successful stint at Hindustan Zinc Ltd, Pawan Kumar Nijhawan started a new innings at Wolkem India Ltd in June 2016. Since then he’s been working hard to revamp the company’s traditional, legacy IT systems and IT practices in a big way in a short period of time. This includes IT governance, establishing world class IT infrastructure and ERP applications duly integrated with plant systems, and using technology like mobility, analytics, and virtualization, to give the company an edge over the competition.

Recently awarded at CIO Power List 2017 as a Database Icon, Pawan is also using his experience to increase the company’s IT maturity by exposing it to new technologies, best practices, and industry benchmarks. He has migrated from the old legacy mailing solution to Microsoft Office 365 in just two months time. Office 365, besides a mailing solution, has brought various collaborative applications that were implemented within a short span of time, which otherwise would have taken a considerable time, plus cost associated with hardware, licenses, implementation and management. With this Wolkem has standardised it’s desktop software across the company, setup world class collaborative solutions, viz, Share point, Yammer, Skype for Business, One Drive, etc for better employee productivity at minimal cost and minimal time.

A current project that will have a significant impact is the migration from FoxPro to SAP S/4 HANA, undertaken over a short span of six months. Pawan tells us a little more about this on-going implementation and the benefits it will reap for the business.

What necessitated the shift from FoxPro to SAP S/4 HANA?
“Wolkem was running all its business application in FoxPro, developed and maintained in-house. As the company is growing and diversifying into different businesses, Wolkem wanted to have an enterprise-wide application that supports different product portfolios, across the group companies, geographies and different lines of business. We evaluated various ERP solutions available in the market and decided to go in for SAP S/4 HANA. The product was evaluated on different parameters and weightage was given to each parameters. SAP stood out as a clear winner for our requirements and we decided to start SAP implementation to gain our competitive edge in the market and provide best services to customers.”

How did you gain internal support from the business user community in this shift?
“We took several months to educate users about the benefits of ERP and exposed them to various ERP solutions available in the market through demos, presentations and even arranged visits to some of the implementation sites. We didn’t force our decision, rather encouraged them to take a decision by themselves. This worked well and most users participated in the whole evaluation and selection process for the right ERP solution. Once they were part of the team, it was not difficult to get the required support from each of them as they felt empowered and motivated.”

What were the factors and considerations for selecting the core team for the implementation?
“The quality of the core team was as important as the quality of the chosen solution and the implementing partner. We passed on this message to the management team loud and clear and requested them to release the best and most experienced people involved in various business processes. We wanted people who are critical to business and can’t be spared easily. Initially we faced a bit of resistance in getting the experienced people on full-time basis, but eventually everyone realised the importance of this project and agreed to release them. This way we could start the process of developing second lines in each of the businesses/departments.”

What was the thought process behind selecting the implementation partner?
“Looking at our organisation’s work culture it was important to have a partner who would gel well with it and also shows some flexibility in the overall scope and implementation. We also wanted a good balance of cost and quality. Accordingly we selected 10 partners to respond to our RFQ and finalised one who was most cost effective and has good quality consultants.”

What business benefits do you expect from this implementation?
“With this implementation, we will have a common solution across all group companies, along with a standardised processes, which will bring transparency and real-time visibility of information. We will be moving from people-depended processes to system-dependent processes. Process controls will be automated, which will increase productivity and efficiencies. We will also be able to optimise inventory levels, and increase machine availability and productivity to a great extent, which are vital for our kind of industry.”

Can you elaborate on facilitating the shift in just six months?
“We believe that if a tree is to be cut in six hours, spend at least four hours sharpening the axe. We did the same and took time to prepare the organisation for this shift. Various teams were formed; we educated and exposed them to the latest technologies and available solutions and empowered them to make the right decision. We made them understand the various phases of this journey and the preparation required from our side at each stage. We took a good look at our readiness for the implementation and addressed all the areas in advance. For example, first and foremost requirement was good IT infrastructure in terms of connectivity, data centre, servers, end-points, etc. We decided to go on the cloud for server requirements to save on capital cost, time and management of complex servers landscape. We further strengthen our connectivity and implemented Office 365 for better collaboration and sharing.”

What were the major challenges in collaborating with other departments for the implementation?
“A major challenge was convincing them of the need for this change. We formed cross-departmental teams to study the processes being followed and challenges being faced. We got great support from our Director and Managing Directors who encouraged people to collaborate and share their thoughts. Soon everyone was convinced that this change is needed for the company’s as well as employees’ growth, and they themselves vouched for this change.”

What suggestions do you have for others handling the implementation of such a major shift?
“My suggestions are simple. Manage the scope and expectations carefully. Don’t try to get everything in one go, rather do it in phases. Take the people/teams along and let them have the ownership. Start questioning the fundamentals to implement best practices. Communicate at all levels and take suggestion from everyone. Identify the training requirements well in advance and start executing the same. Give lots of emphasis to collecting and cleansing of data from day one.” 

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