To get the bull’s eye in blending tech to fetch the perfect flavour may be as tactical as it is to get the perfect blend of tea. But if the CIO running an organisation’s IT is one who is premium, then it will only brew gold for the company.
Who doesn’t know that digitisation is the way forward in modern business era. But its not only digitisation that a CIO looks for while designing a company’s IT fabric, but fuses the exact version and pieces of tech to bring up a solid core. And this is exactly what Balaji Rengachari, Global CIO, Tata Global Beverages (TGB) banks upon.
TGB as a company focuses on branded natural beverages — tea, coffee and water. It is the second largest player in branded tea in the world. Its brand portfolio consists, Tata Tea, Tetley, Jemča, Vitax, Eight O’Clock Coffee, Himalayan, Grand Coffee and Joekels. The two major joint ventures include NourishCo Beverages Limited and the other being Tata Starbucks.
“There are many areas in IT which comprises the digital core- it is the underlying database, infrastructure, the hosting, the data networks, even things like how you store your business data or your transaction data. Unless you get the digital core right you will never be able to drive transformation in terms of either sales or supply chain, or other aspects of the business. So our focus over the last year and a half or two has been to get the digital core perfect. It is the foundation. To draw a corollary; you might build a plush multistory building to everyone’s attraction, but if it is not supported by a deep and sturdy foundation, it will fail to sustain the structure for long,” he says.
The global IT endeavors of TGB is driven by a lean but robust team. “Along with the team we work extensively with partners. Also, the team expands or contracts depending on the kind of projects we are running,” Rengachari informs.
Driving cloud and network transformation
TGB’s IT motto is a solid infrastructure which can be flexed as the business grows. The company’s CIO banks on the idea that IT endeavours cannot be short sighted, but should have the ready bandwidth to accommodate the load when growth happens in new areas and categories.
Breaking down on TGB’s technological formula, Rengachari states, “Public cloud is really what we felt was a way to go because it truly offers a pay as you go option. For instance, earlier there were walkie-talkies where people spoke to each other on a private network. With the advent of mobile phones you now avail and pay for services of telecom providers like Airtel or Reliance or Vodafone etc, you do not set up the whole network infrastructure like the telecom company does. So, we do not want to be running servers nor do we want to go and buy storage space or processing or computing power from any company, we want the likes of AWS and Azure who are providing public cloud. We did not choose AWS because they have carved a name for themselves as a cloud provider but because as an organisation they were willing to work with us more closely and the partnership was working well. We also use Azure for some of our workloads and these are the two main players when it comes to public cloud.”
“Previously we were on a private data network- MPLS- which was very expensive. With the reducing cost of the internet and its increasing reliability and bandwidth, we have migrated to a more public internet based network which gives us more bandwidth at lesser cost. So the whole data centre hosted on cloud and the network go hand in hand,” he adds.
AI and ML, not AML
TGB as a consumer product company at this point of time focuses on natural beverages. “TGB is a brand sales focused company at the end of the day. Therefore, a lot of the requirements at least from a digital perspective, are from the sales part of it and there are two parts: One is in terms of data processing and trying to run sales transactions efficiently and also from mapping the entire sales chain in terms of sales force automation. Second is when we do demand planning and forecasting. The task today is not just trying to automate transactions, it is also to drive a step change in terms of doing it more efficiently,” explains Rengachari.
Previously for statistical equation models, TGB employed AML, but now the drift is towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. This solves the problem of forecasting demand and optimising the supply chain to be able to get the raw material from the right place and deliver at the right time.
On being asked, which vendors TGB is working with for new generation techs like AI and ML, Rengachari answers, “There is no one single vendor. The way the world is changing we work with multiple niche vendors and niche partners. For each of these initiatives there is a separate discovery session. Earlier there were monolith vendors everything from one company and it all integrates and works well. In today’s day and age there is work happening in startups, there is work happening in niche companies. For example, in sales area we are working with a company called Botree which is doing very well in the distributor management system,” said Rengachari. “It is not a very big company compared to Microsoft or SAP or Amazon but it is doing real great work in that area. So, the number of vendors we have are huge. The core work that we do in terms of software it is Microsoft and SAP, in terms of services it is with TCS. So we have got a set of strategic vendors but then depending on the need, depending on the kind of application we could go to any of these areas. A lot of work in the whole AI/ML area is happening in open source technologies using technologies like Python,” he mentions.
TGB came up with an application to manage the entire tea buying process. This application was of critical importance as tea buying is a one of the most crucial areas in the business.
“We buy raw tea from various parts of the country and the finished tea that you get has a consistent taste. Now, we do not manufacture tea, we only mix various blends. The quality of the blends change depending on the season, time of year, and geographical location. Our old system to manage the buying is a 15-year old system and was decentralised and ran separately at each buying sector,” Rengachari says. He further adds, “But now we have moved towards a custom developed in-memory centralised database solution on SAP HANA. It is a cloud based common platform running across all our buying centers. Also, it taps on the catalogs from the brokers; the list of tasted tea records which is required to identifying the quality of raw tea that we intend to buy; and the bids for placing orders. Once you place the order it comes into a transaction system, so the entire process from pre-purchase to post-purchase has become an absolute state-of-the-art modern system.”
TGB is moving towards a centralised approach and trying to build a digital buying war room where it is able to make data driven decisions and drive a lot of analytics and business insights. And all of that because, the company has a wealth of data by virtue of being there for the past 15 years.
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