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We view our digital transformation journey as primarily a cultural transformation: Pankaj Rai, Group Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Aditya Birla Group

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Pankaj Rai, Group Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Aditya Birla Group, sits down with Express Computer for a quick and insightful interview. With extensive experience and expertise in the realm of data and analytics, Rai sheds light on the digital transformation journey of one of India’s leading conglomerates. From leveraging digital twins for energy conservation to fostering a mindset of adaptability and openness, Rai offers invaluable insights into the challenges and opportunities encountered on the path to digitalisation. This dialogue provides a glimpse into the strategic initiatives and future endeavours of Aditya Birla Group under Rai’s leadership, emphasising the importance of data-driven decision-making in today’s dynamic business landscape.

Please share some of the recent important digital tech initiatives that your company is undertaking?

We are a large diversified conglomerate spanning various sectors, including fashion, finance, and manufacturing. Our team operates horizontally across these businesses. When it comes to significant initiatives, our focus naturally gravitates towards manufacturing, which contributes to 90 percent of our group’s revenues and profits. Within manufacturing, key areas such as energy and transportation take precedence. For instance, in our Hindalco business, energy accounts for a significant portion of costs. To address this, we’ve implemented numerous initiatives aimed at energy conservation, leveraging digital twins of smelters to optimise energy consumption and drive cost efficiencies. Similarly, in UltraTech Cement, logistics represents a substantial cost component. By optimising truck usage and route planning, we’ve realised significant benefits in this area as well. Our approach typically involves piloting initiatives in specific plants or regions before scaling them up across the organisation. Additionally, we are exploring opportunities in areas like product quality and procurement, recognising them as areas ripe for digital transformation. This ongoing journey in manufacturing underscores our commitment to innovation and continuous improvement. Our digital initiatives, such as digital twinning and route optimisation, exemplify our efforts to harness technology for operational excellence and sustainable growth.

What has been your digital transformation journey like?

When embarking on the digital transformation journey, it’s common to perceive it solely as a technological shift. However, we view it as primarily a cultural transformation. Within this cultural shift, we identify three key layers or levers that must undergo transformation for success.

The first layer revolves around our ways of thinking, encompassing strategic considerations and the identification of the right initiatives. Next, we address the ways of working, which involve refining our operational model, human resources practices, financial allocations for experimentation, and fostering a culture conducive to innovation. Lastly, we focus on the ways of doing, which entail the execution of projects aligned with our strategic objectives.

Throughout this journey, we continuously conduct experiments across all three layers, aiming to streamline our processes, identify pertinent challenges, and cultivate an operational framework that encourages collaboration and risk-taking. By integrating these three layers effectively, we believe we can truly achieve a transformative approach to digitalisation.

Are you currently leveraging the benefits of GenAI at the enterprise level?

What we’ve observed is a significant shift within our central team. Nowadays, virtually every member of our team is leveraging GenAI for various tasks, and there’s a growing enthusiasm to explore its capabilities further.

Those proficient in programming are using it to automate code generation, enabling them to streamline their development processes. Others, previously unfamiliar with application development, are now empowered to create applications with relative ease. Even individuals tasked with content creation are finding Gen AI invaluable, while those in the fashion business are utilising it to craft designs.

Every team member, regardless of their role, is integrating AI to simplify their tasks, acting as a catalyst for heightened productivity. This adoption of AI serves as an amplifier of their existing skills, leading to a collective sentiment that they can accomplish more than before.

Each team member is evolving into a sort of “Robocop,” enhancing their capabilities by incorporating Gen AI as a versatile tool to accomplish tasks more efficiently.

Are you encountering any technological challenges, and do you have specific areas of focus for improvement or plans for new innovations and technologies?

In general, I believe that when navigating change, the primary obstacle often lies within the mindset rather than the technology itself. Technological hurdles, while present, are generally more straightforward to address. For instance, if there’s a lack of appropriate data, we can strategise and implement solutions to rectify this issue. However, the crux of the challenge lies in the mindset of individuals who may struggle to embrace change or think innovatively. This resistance to change poses a significant barrier, as organisations are accustomed to operating in a specific manner. Encouraging experimentation and fostering a culture of adaptability becomes paramount in overcoming this hurdle. Therefore, the key to facilitating future changes lies not solely in technological fixes, which can be acquired, but in cultivating a mindset conducive to innovation and flexibility within the organisation.

Are there any digital or technological initiatives planned for the next six months to a year?

As I mentioned earlier, initiatives are underway across various domains such as energy, procurement, and customer engagement. However, the primary initiative that stands out is the concerted effort to foster a culture shift within the organisation. This involves conducting numerous training sessions and facilitating exposure visits to other companies to showcase innovative practices. The goal is to broaden the perspectives of our middle and senior managers, encouraging them to envision what is achievable. This emphasis on cultivating an open mindset is a pivotal focus area for us in the upcoming six to twelve months. It is only when individuals embrace a mindset of possibility and openness that they can begin to drive further progress.

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