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Digitalist Forum: Meet the top 10 digitalists

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-05-2017 Sanjay Gupta

Ensuring that your company is ready for a digital future is easier said than done. It involves modernizing your enterprise infrastructure, changing mindsets and introducing a new culture in the workforce, and avoiding the danger of not getting caught up with tech buzzwords that continue to confound many.

Rather, the focus should be on using appropriate technologies for better business outcomes. This new digital paradigm, hence, will require a fundamentally different kind of leadership and mindset. To address these challenges, Mint along with SAP, hosted the inaugural edition of the Digitalist Forum in Mumbai. The forum featured several eminent transformational leaders as panellists, speakers and part of the audience. At this event, we also recognized 10 digital business leaders from across sectors who have demonstrated significant business or social impact through application of digital technologies.

These leaders, who we believe will serve as shining beacons to guide CXOs on the digital path, were selected through a nomination and elimination process that involved senior editors of Mint and the top management of SAP India Pvt. Ltd. We have listed the profiles of the 10 winners and their views on what ‘digital’ means to them.

Ajay Pandey

MD and group CEO, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Co. Ltd (GIFT City)

A highly experienced CEO with general management and board-level expertise, Pandey has extensive start-up experience, and visible leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Prior to heading GIFT City, he was part of the Tata group’s communications business in different leadership roles. Pandey has completed a senior executive programme from the London Business School and holds a BTech from the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra.

Pandey spoke about digital in terms of a city—the much-publicized GIFT City in Gujarat. “For a smart city, a customer assumes multiple identities,” he said. “For me, the customer is the kid who comes to the school in a school bus as well as the parent who needs to track where the school bus is at a given point in time; my customer is also the stockbroker who trades shares on the BSE.” Given the varied profiles of all those who form or will form a part of the city in the future, GIFT City, according to Pandey, is “a perfect example of how you can integrate all of these pieces and portions” to provide a better citizen experience.

Mukesh Kripalani

Chief (business process transformation and IT), Marico Ltd

Kripalani currently leads transformation initiatives using IT and digital technologies at Marico, where he has also played key roles in collaborative efforts to help acquire viable firms in emerging markets. Kripalani has been with Marico since 2004, prior to which he had stints in various leadership positions at elevator maker Schindler and Asian Paints. He completed a Global Programme in Management Development from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and holds an MBA from National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai.

“What digital actually means, depends on the life stage of the company and the industry it operates in,” said Kripalani. Digital, he added, provides the “B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) company” an opportunity to listen to, engage with and reach out to consumers directly. Kripalani calls this the “first pillar of digital technologies”. The second pillar is about how the company sells—online or through traditional distribution. The third is “innovation”.

Nitin Chugh

Country head (digital banking), HDFC Bank Ltd

Chugh leads the process of digital transformation at HDFC Bank. His mandate is to work cross-functionally with various units, and build and deliver a comprehensive suite of digital solutions and products. Chugh holds a BTech from the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra, and an MBA from the All India Management Association.

“Being digital is just a reflection of our business model, our business philosophy,” he said. “For us, the value of digital is in three components,” said Chugh. One, the bank keeps simplifying the customer experience; two, the readiness of the bank to deliver the digital promise to the customer in terms of processes and technology platforms; and three, the “most important component”, according to him, is “enabling” the bank’s own employees. To keep upgrading HDFC Bank, Chugh said they need to “keep upgrading the skills of the employees and keep enabling them with the right tools, especially tech tools”.

Anish Shah

President, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd

Anish Shah.

Shah is a veteran in the technology space and is currently the president of Reliance Jio, which saw the fastest customer ramp-up anywhere in the world and is pushing the envelope in the telecom sector. Previously, Shah worked with the Mahindra Group as group president of strategy and prior to that, he was president and chief executive of GE Capital in India, where, in his long stint of over a decade, he played several key roles. His other stints include working with Bank of America, Bain and Co. and Citibank. Shah holds a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business where he wrote his doctoral thesis on corporate governance. He also received a Master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon and holds a postgraduate diploma in management from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. He completed his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Mumbai.

Jaspreet Bindra

Senior vice-president (digital transformation), Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd

Bindra is responsible for driving digital transformation across the $18-billion Mahindra Group. Earlier, he was the chief executive officer (CEO) of Getit Infoservices Ltd and before that regional director of retail, entertainment and devices at Microsoft India. Bindra holds an MBA in international business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and a bachelor’s in engineering from Gujarat University.

Talking about digital transformation, Bindra said, “Our chairman and managing director Anand (Mahindra) is probably the most digitally-driven conglomerate CEO on this planet. In the past one-and-a-half to two years, we at Mahindra have tried to bring in the philosophy of how a diversified industrial conglomerate can move from traditional, legacy businesses or models to the so-called digital business models.” The group, according to him, has learnt to focus on three things mainly: Customer experience; the business model shift with a platform approach taken by the likes of Uber and Airbnb; and the people’s mindset, how they can “unlearn what they have learnt.” “We call it the trinity of digital,” said Bindra.

Pramod Varma

Chief architect, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)

Varma is currently CTO of EkStep, a not-for-profit creating learner-centric, technology-enabled platforms to improve applied literacy and numeracy even as he continues to be the chief architect and technology adviser for the Aadhaar unique ID project. He joined UIDAI in 2009 as part of the founding team and has been pivotal in ensuring an open, scalable and secure architecture. Varma also sits on the advisory board of the National Payments Corporation of India, Goods and Services Tax Network, and several technology start-ups. Varma holds a master’s and PhD degrees in computer science along with a second master’s in applied mathematics.

“As a technologist, I feel what we are doing truly helps hundreds of millions of people have access and choice: access to information, products and services, and the choice of how they want to access them—anytime, anywhere,” Varma said. He added that technology can indeed play a large role in bridging the divisions that exist in society.

K.R.S. Jamwal

Executive director, Tata Industries

K.R.S. Jamwal.

Jamwal is responsible for the incubation of ventures as well as investments made by Tata Industries. He is also on the board of some Tata companies including Tata Advanced Materials and Tata UniStore. With a degree in petroleum engineering from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, he did his postgraduation from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

“I have a fairly prosaic definition of digital because it helps me focus on where I think the disruptions can happen,” he said. While enterprises have seen the first wave of disruption due to “digital-only platforms”, the second wave of digital will be “phygital”—a combination of physical and digital, commonly called “omni-channel”. He cited the example of Tata CLiQ, the group’s digital marketplace, which has connected close to 1,000 retail stores. He added, “We don’t have to make an effort in building inventory as, by reflecting the merchandise of all those stores, we have an inventory in the millions. The digital platform can be leveraged to ping up to 50,000 people, and inform them about an ongoing sale in a specified area, which can generate a huge traffic within 24 hours and make a difference”.

Manish Choksi

President (home improvement, international and IT), Asian Paints Ltd

Choksi joined Asian Paints way back in 1992 and has held various positions over the years in sales, engineering and marketing functions in the decorative and industrial paint businesses. He is a member of the management board of the Asian Paints group. He has played a significant role in the company’s foray into services such as painting and home improvement solutions as well as new IT initiatives. Choksi has an MBA from the University of Houston.

“I think digital is a disruption which is going be an opportunity for most of us,” said Choksi. He believes that even for a bricks-and-mortar business like Asian Paints, digital is going to “transform us into a click-and-mortar business”. He added: “So, we are marrying digital technology with the physical network we have built over the past 75 years, to really expand how we are going to be able to service our customer. I think customer engagement is key.” Choksi insists that winning in a digital world is all about how you “weave and create an ecosystem that is digitally connected”. This is what would separate true winners from also-rans.

V. Vaidyanathan

Founder and executive chairman, Capital First Group

Vaidyanathan founded Capital First in 2005 and has over the years nurtured it into a financial powerhouse. In his previous role, he grew ICICI Bank to 1,400 branches in 800 cities. An alumnus of Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, he completed his Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School, Boston.

“The way we think about digital is that everybody in this country can be given a loan,” he said. The trick, according to him, is to figure out the right amount, right interest and right tenure that are tailored for specific individuals. Capital First sought to differentiate itself using technology tools and more granular use of data. Explaining that most existing lending firms “left almost 50% of the market untouched”, Vaidyanathan said “digitalization makes sense if you open up the other part of the 50%, which most banks and financial companies have excluded,” he said. “If something can grow the market and add value, it is digital—the rest is just talk,” said Vaidyanathan.

Vijay Sethi

Chief information officer and head (corporate social responsibility), Hero MotoCorp Ltd

Other than his current responsibilities, Sethi is also chairman of the IT committee of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and co-chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII’s) core group on cybersecurity. Prior to joining Hero MotoCorp, Sethi worked with Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and Tata Consulting Services Ltd. He has a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai, and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Materials Management Bangalore.

“There is nothing like a digital strategy or IT strategy but it is a business strategy where digital plays a role,” Sethi said. He cited the example of the “digital twin” (online avatar of a physical asset) for Hero MotoCorp’s new factory at Halol in Gujarat. The manufacturing facility was “digitally visualized” using computer simulation—even before a single brick was laid. This helped them optimize the factory layout, logistics and inventory management.

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