Widely recognised as one of the most forward-thinking CIOs in the country, Vijay Sethi implements the Information Technology solutions that are critical for the smooth production and distribution of the lean-mean-speed-machines that Hero MotoCorp is famous for
By Anoop Verma
The position of CIO originated during the Jurassic era of Information Technology—that is, about two decades ago. Those were the days when many companies were being forced to have something or the other to do with those frighteningly smart machines – computers – and they needed a new breed of smart executives to shield them from the fast approaching technology-tsunami, which was determined to make computers omnipresent. “The tech-tsunami has already hit our world,” says Vijay Sethi. “Information Technology infiltrates every aspect of our business, from the plotting of the grand strategy to the logistics of frontline operations.”
“I am glad that I entered the field when IT was in its Jurassic era; today I find myself at the forefront of the technology revolution,” he adds with a smile.
Currently serving as the Vice President and Chief Information Officer and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at the world’s largest two-wheeler company, Hero MotoCorp Ltd., Sethi leads the innovation efforts at the organisation. He is also on the board of a group company – HMCMM Auto Ltd. He takes pride in the fact that every aspect of almost every operation at Hero MotoCorp is IT enabled.
“We use IT to enable Asia’s largest loyalty programme, Asia’s most automated warehouse and India’s largest dealer management programmes,” he says, “We make extensive use of mobility, social media, cloud, analytics, to bring efficiency to our operations and ensure better business outcomes.”
“Today we are having a huge focus on IT enablement and saving paper,” Vijay Sethi adds. He is also leading the largest industry wide initiative in automotive industry for EDI enabling data exchange between OEMs and auto component manufacturers.
Education is Power
A believer in the adage – education is power – Sethi prefers to go the extra mile for equipping himself with knowledge of the latest trends and technologies. He is also an avid reader, and maintains a well-stocked personal library. “Quite early in life, the realisation dawned on me that education is power,” he says. “You must not be under the impression that once you have passed from college, you don’t need to educate yourself further. If you end your education, the power to manage your life will immediately desert you. If you want to keep growing in life, you must ensure that your education is a continuous process. I always share my insights with the young trainees who join Hero.”
For most of us, a pen and a watch would be de rigueur, but not for Sethi. If you know him well enough, then you would surely know that he does not carry a pen or a watch. “When you have a smartphone with you, then you really don’t need to carry such addendum of modern attire,” he explains. You have to concede him the point because despite being watch-free for more than 17 years, he is known for his punctuality. Despite being pen-free for around the same number of years, he has a voracious appetite for knowledge. He writes a lot—on his computer.
The Sethi family believes in a life of simplicity. They (Sethi and his wife Manisha and daughters Vaishali and Vidhi) have not watched a movie during the last 20 years. Their favourite place to visit in Delhi is Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in Central Delhi. The programme that they prefer to watch every morning is the Satsang. The family also enjoys listening to Gurbaani.
The Making of a CIO
In 1982, when the 15 year old Sethi joined the NIT, Kurukshetra, which was then called the Regional Engineering College or REC, the idea of computers was still in infancy. A purely computer engineering course was not being offered by most colleges and, in any case, the vertical was not being regarded as a viable career option. Sethi decided to pursue a degree course in Mechanical Engineering. He was one of the youngest students in his batch, having joined the course right after passing the 11th standard examination. When he passed in 1987 after completing the five year course, he was ranked second in his class.
Sethi’s academic success was immediately noticed by the industry and three job offers came his way—from oil, power and machine tools companies. But he was in no hurry to embark on a career, preferring to spend some more time in educating himself further. With the idea of enrolling for M.Tech course, he appeared for Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE). He topped the GATE at his college, with 99.3 percentage percentile marks. The road to being an M.Tech was now open for him. But before he could take the final plunge into the M.Tech course, he had to make a difficult choice—should he opt for doing a computer science course in one of the IITs, or should be go in for Industrial Engineering at NITIE! He decided to go for Industrial Engineering, primarily because “I was inclined towards management,” as he says.
Finally in July 1987, he found himself in the NITIE campus in Mumbai, a part of 40 eager students embarking on the 18-month long Industrial Engineering course. Reminiscing of those days, Sethi says, “I think that was the most enriching period of my life. I learned about various aspects of management.”
In 1988, he cleared the examination for entry into the much coveted Indian Engineering Services (IES). At the end of 1988, when the recruitment season at NITIE was in full swing, Sethi was faced with a difficult choice—should he opt for the security of a government job, or should he join a private organisation! “Those were the days when a government job was considered to be the best possible option,” reminisces Sethi. Eventually he was able to overcome his concerns regarding security and he opted for a career in a private sector company—TCS.
Journey From TCS to Hero
It was not the affection for IT that bade Sethi to join TCS. He joined the organisation because he believed that the work that he would be doing at TCS would be similar to what he had learned in the Industrial Engineering course. He says, “I joined TCS because the work there did not involve IT, they expected me to do management consulting. Having never studied IT in my B.Tech or M.Tech, I was not trained as an IT professional. I had done a few IT courses, but I did not have any IT background at all.”
14th February, 1989 — Sethi’s first day at TCS! He has fond memories of the days that he spent at this organisation. “TCS provided me with ample opportunities for learning and professional growth. While I worked here, I could take up several professional courses and enhance my skills and knowledge.” He got enrolled in a distance learning MBA programme, which was being conducted by the Indian Institute of Materials Management, Bengaluru. He also took up several short term courses.
In 1996, he joined Ranbaxy, where he continued his educational journey and did a course on Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) at IIM Ahmedabad, and a Benchmarking course under the tutelage of Robert Camp, the world-renowned authority on the subject followed by another one in UK. While he was at Ranbaxy, Sethi also participated in a 6-week residential programme on IT Leadership at ISB, Hyderabad.
After moving to Hero in 2010, he did a course at Harvard Business School in India. “Having done so many courses, now I am left wondering what I should study next,” he smiles.
Making IT the Superhero
When Sethi joined Hero, the organisation was in a transitionary phase, it was moving towards becoming a global organisation from one where the manufacturing set-up was primarily centred around the Indian market. But Sethi had no problems in settling into his new job as the CIO. He immediately developed a close bond with the family-like setup at Hero. On the very first day when he joined Hero, Sethi found himself being inducted into the Enterprise Management Team. The work environment at Hero was really vast and there was ample scope for implementing new ideas and drive change through IT implementations. For almost two years, before Sethi’s joining, Hero didn’t have a dedicated person to head the IT vertical.
“With little attention being paid to IT, we were left behind in implementing IT for modernising various operations at the organisation.” Only a month into his new role, Sethi made a detailed presentation before the leadership team at Hero on the subject of all the benefits that could come from IT implementations. He pointed out to the management that it was necessary to have a significant hike in the IT budget to fund all the IT solutions and infrastructure that was critically required. Sethi says that the company’s CEO, Pawan Munjal, gave him a patient hearing and accepted the need for having a clear IT roadmap for the organisation.
“Mr. Munjal said that his vision was to have the best IT in Hero, and he told me that your job is to ensure that this vision becomes a reality. From that day, all the budget-related constraints vanished. The truth is that our IT budget has grown 20 times since the day when I joined Hero,” informs Sethi.
The five-year IT roadmap that Sethi developed has created significant value at Hero MotoCorp. The company has rolled out initiatives such as the state-of-art Warehouse at Neemrana, a top notch IT enabled loyalty programme, which is also Asia’s largest such programme, Governance and Risk Compliance system, Legal Compliance System, India’s largest Dealer Management System (DMS), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). A number of landmark technologies – be it social, mobile, analytics, cloud or shop floor automation – have been implemented to make the operations at Hero as technologically advanced as other leading two-wheeler companies. Sethi is also leading one of the most ambitious IT projects in Indian Automotive Industry – an EDI based integration of OEMs (Original Equipment manufacturers) and suppliers.
Role of a CIO in the Age of Innovation
Vijay Sethi is of the view that today the role of the CIO is quite different from what it was few years back. “There is so much change in technology, user requirements, user perception, and user expectation that the role that IT plays in the companies is undergoing a huge shift. When the technology is changing, the role of the CIOs must also change,” says Sethi. He says that SMAC is leading to a significant transformation in the way that the major organisations conduct their business. “Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud—these are not buzz words, they are forces of innovation capable of transforming the entire IT landscape.”
He says that it is not just the CIOs and the IT teams that are taking notice of SMAC, the CEOs, and other business leaders and the end users are are also becoming aware of the whole range of benefits that SMAC can bring to the organisation.
Are Indian companies ready to adopt SMAC? Answering this question, Sethi says, “It is not a question of “if”, but “what all”. The companies have no alternative except to adopt SMAC, which offers many advantages. Ultimately the CIOs have to deploy the technology that makes business sense. The CIOs can’t buck the trend.” But how does a company that already has legacy systems in place adopt SMAC? Sethi says, “The need of the hour is to look at the culture of the organisation, analyse the business case, and consider other aspects before creating a detailed roadmap for adoption.”
The other areas of technology that are now picking up are M2M Communication and IoT. “People are now exploring M2M space,” says Sethi. “This will be a space to watch out for in the automotive sector as we move forward.” He is of the view that MDM (Mobile Device Management) and MAM (Mobile Application Management) are two key areas for one to exploit the power of mobility.
“Traditionally most of the IT departments have been mainly focussed on setting up the IT policies and restrictions, but now with consumerisation of IT, and a very IT savvy and young workforce in most organisations, the CIOs need to be more collaborative while setting up these of policies. The IT policies must be contemporary and should to be constantly updated to keep pace with new innovations.”
On the issue of data centre, which is at the heart of any IT setup, Sethi says, “The way the data centre is designed, operated, managed will have significant impact on not just the cost but also the overall efficiency and effectiveness of organisation.” He says that in case of data centres, one needs to increase focus on reducing energy consumption, having greener data centre, which means reducing the footprint by virtualization or other means, efficient cooling, etc.
What areas of technology does Sethi see picking up in the next few years? He says, “While cloud computing, be it private, public and hybrid, does play a key role, another area that is about to pick up is SDDC (Software-Defined Data Center). As of now SDDC is a new concept, but in the next 2-3 years will definitely be part of the technology mainstream.”
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