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We’re establishing a digital lake to centralise data for AI initiatives: Rishikesh Singh, Head IT, Grasim Industries, Aditya Birla Group

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In an exclusive interaction with Express Computer, Rishikesh Singh, Head IT, Grasim Industries, Aditya Birla Group, sheds light on the organisation’s recent digital initiatives and the impact of AI on their operations. Singh discusses the implementation of chatbots and SAP S4 HANA, alongside their proactive approach to data management and security, emphasising the group’s focus on technological advancements while prioritising data privacy. The interaction also explores their predictions for the future of fashion retail and manufacturing, as well as the perceived impact of AI on the workforce.

Could you discuss any recent digital initiatives you have implemented?

We operate across manufacturing, retail, and e-commerce channels. Recently, we’ve made significant strides in enhancing our retail and e-commerce operations, particularly through the implementation of chatbots on our websites and WhatsApp platforms. This move has leveraged AI to streamline customer interactions and drive sales, capitalising on the widespread use of WhatsApp among consumers. With just a few clicks, customers can now easily place orders directly through our digital channels.

Now, let’s talk about the backbone of our operations – our ERP system. We’ve transitioned to SAP S4 HANA, the latest version, and have fully integrated its modules to maximise efficiency. These systems are hosted on the cloud, ensuring scalability and accessibility. Additionally, we’re augmenting our ERP setup with AI capabilities, focusing primarily on analytics. We’re currently in the process of establishing a robust data lake to centralise and analyse the vast amounts of data generated by our production units every minute.

Once the data lake is operational, we’ll implement various AI technologies to extract actionable insights and optimise our workflows. With such a wealth of data at our disposal, integrating AI into our analytics processes is crucial for driving informed decision-making and enhancing operational efficiency.

So, the chatbots that you mentioned, are they available in languages other than English?

Currently, our language support is limited to English. However, we do have plans to expand into other languages, both for our chatbots and our WhatsApp bot.

In terms of storage, are you on prem or on cloud?

We are 100% on cloud.

Are you using GenAI for internal operations?

Sure, as the Aditya Birla Group, we’re taking a proactive approach to data management and security, especially in light of increasing concerns around data privacy and the utilisation of cloud and AI technologies. We’ve opted to develop our own platform and establish a data lake within our premises to maintain control over our data flow, ensuring a conservative stance on data privacy.

Also, we’ve recently implemented our own GenAI tools, which have provided valuable insights by connecting to various websites in the textile industries. Through analytics, we’re able to track trends and anticipate future shifts, such as colour schemes for upcoming seasons.

The integration of AI, particularly GenAI, into our processes brings about tremendous automation benefits. However, alongside technological advancements, security remains a paramount concern. To address this, we’ve established a Security Operations Center (SOC) and recently upgraded to a more advanced version, known as the Command Defense Center (CDCC). These measures are crucial in safeguarding our data and ensuring comprehensive security across the group.

Aditya Birla Group, a decades-long industry leader, how has the digital transformation journey been progressing for you?

It’s quite similar to other conglomerates. Aditya Birla Group is an established group. I’ve got about 20 years of experience, so I’ve seen the evolution from the DOS system era. Back then, even a Pentium laptop was considered cutting-edge. Yeah, it puts you ahead of the curve compared to many others. We’ve witnessed those technological advancements firsthand.

Nowadays, new employees entering the workforce are already well-versed in data analytics and more. They’re not keen on working with outdated laptops sporting just 8GB RAM, struggling with basic Excel files. They want speed and efficiency. So, we’re constantly striving to keep pace with their expectations. That’s why we’re early adopters, always preferring to create our own tech ecosystem, prioritising data security above all else.

We’ve got a whole range of technologies at our disposal, but security is paramount. We can’t afford any data breaches. That’s why we’re pushing ahead with ERPs and proudly embracing SAP S4 HANA, among other cutting-edge solutions. Even in the textile business, we’re keeping up with the times, aligning ourselves with the latest trends in e-commerce and B2B ventures within the Aditya Birla Group.

Are there specific trends in the fashion tech or retail industry that you aim to capitalise on?

We’re essentially a fusion of manufacturing and other components, so overlooking the manufacturing aspect isn’t an option; it’s integral to our operations. One of our key differentiators lies in our approach to planning, which is where our focus lies. We’re exploring the development of a textile-specific planning tool leveraging the wealth of data at our disposal. Additionally, predictive maintenance and OT security are paramount considerations for us as we look to the future.

In retail, there’s a myriad of factors to address, including footfall count and technology integration such as Microsoft 365. Understanding how these technologies interact with our backend ERPs, like SAP, is crucial. It’s about streamlining processes, ensuring seamless online transactions, and providing real-time insights to senior management and our CEO. Having the ability to track retail sales effortlessly with just a click of a button is invaluable. These aspects are pivotal for our continued growth and efficiency.

What are your predictions for the future of fashion retail or manufacturing in the next few years?

Currently, our design team consists of individuals who rely on their creativity and expertise. However, I foresee a shift in the composition of our design team in the future. While designers will still play a vital role, they will increasingly leverage AI technologies for assistance and innovation. The desire for suggestions and fresh perspectives will drive this change. Observing industry trends, there’s a noticeable pattern of fashion styles from the early ’90s making a comeback, indicating a cyclical nature in the fashion industry.

Now people understand that trend. They want that something new has to be created and there I need that technology to play a bigger role in it.

Do you perceive any remaining technological limitations hindering desired outcomes?

Certainly, limitations do exist, primarily stemming from the implementing partners’ capabilities, the required expertise, and the accessibility of technology. Currently, if we focus solely on AI, we find that the expertise needed for its implementation is still evolving, and often comes at a considerable cost.

It’s essential to recognise that access to expertise is crucial. At present, the landscape is similar to when internet usage was limited due to high data costs. As data became more affordable, internet usage proliferated. Similarly, for AI adoption to expand, accessibility to expertise must improve, and costs need to become more manageable.

Thus, it’s not just about technological advancements but also about aligning business policies and ensuring that people understand the evolving landscape and the importance of expertise in driving technological progress.

How do you perceive AI, particularly GenAI, in terms of its impact on the workforce: as a threat or an enabler?

Look, I’m deeply immersed in AI technology myself. But honestly, I want to emphasise that it’s not something to fear. It’s all about adaptation. That’s the key here. Nothing more, nothing less. We’ve been constantly investing in reskilling and upskilling efforts.

You see, this whole concept of AI, GenAI, or whatever term you’re using, is developed by humans. Logic needs to be applied for it to function. So ultimately, the control is still in your hands. Don’t perceive it as a threat or a risk. It’s a facilitator, an enabler. 

What are your technology adoption or improvement priorities for the next 6 to 12 months?

Absolutely, our focus is squarely on refining our retail channel strategies. We’re already knee-deep in this area, leveraging the wealth of data at our disposal. Currently, we’re in the process of establishing a digital lake to centralise our data assets, which will serve as the foundation for our AI initiatives. By harnessing AI technologies, we aim to extract actionable insights that will drive informed decision-making in our retail operations. With the groundwork laid out, our next steps involve elevating these efforts to the next level. It’s all about building upon our existing foundation to unlock even greater potential.

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