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Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation: Leading The Pack... Winners Do Things Differently.

Author – Prakash Dharmani
20 May, 2021

Prakash Dharmani is the Global CIO of EPL Ltd. He has 28 years of experience working with Essar Group and Reliance Industries Ltd. During his tenure at Essar Group, Mr. Dharmani was CIO for various verticals such as Power, Shared Services, Engineering and Procurement. He spent 14 years with Reliance Industries in various businesses such as Refinery, Logistics and Petrochemicals, handling cross-functional roles like IT, Project Management and Manufacturing Operations.

"There is no alternative to digital transformation. Visionary companies will carve out new strategic options for themselves - those that don't adapt, will fail." Jeff Bezos, Amazon

The above quote from the founder of Amazon illustrates the importance of Digital transformation (DX) in today's context. A study done by MIT predicts that 40% of the businesses that don't adopt new technologies will get wiped out in the next 10 years.

The global COVID-19 lockdown has had unprecedented impacts on our personal and professional lives and whether we like it or not this pandemic is proving the above prophecy right. If you closely observe and analyse the annual results of companies which had adopted Digital technologies long back, they have not only survived but actually thrived. They have turned this adversity into opportunity.

And for others across the globe, this chaotic situation is forcing them to rethink their business strategies. In fact Covid 19 has been responsible for fast tracking Global Digital Transformation (DX) initiatives.

There are several ways to create differentiators in a competitive and a dynamic market, but above all, the establishment of Digital Enterprise' holds immense promise in bringing about the next wave of product innovation and business process transformation. The combination of next-generation technologies are slated to change the very basis of engagement across businesses. As our customers and their customers increasingly turn to digital technologies, organizations that make the most of this opportunity will be at the forefront of the industry. Similarly vendors are delivering new database and analytics solutions that can handle massive data volumes and deliver insights across the enterprise in real-time or near-real-time. Thus, in the near future, `digital' and `business' will be nearly synonymous for the manufacturing industry.

One could think what kind of IT platform classic B2B manufacturing organisation like ours (EPL Ltd) must have deployed. You will be pleasantly surprised to know that when it comes to implementing technology be it core manufacturing or IT, EPL is actually a bit ahead of the curve.

Our IT mission is to `SPRINT' which broadly stands for Simplify, Predictive, Robust, Innovative, Nimble and Transform. We have started our DX journey by adopting best practices of categorizing DX initiatives broadly into three areas i.e. a) customer experience, b) operational excellence and c) Enterprise wide solutions. Let me take you through some of the DX solutions which have been implemented and planned for the future.

Customer Experience:

We have implemented an eACT tool which stands for Art Work Collaboration wherein the complete process of capturing customer's requirement of artwork and approval process has been digitized. During the ongoing pandemic where it has become very difficult for customers to do on site proofing this tool has become a blessing in disguise as it is enabling online proofing and bromide approvals. Earlier we were using a host of applications to manage the process which has now become a single application thereby minimizing Artwork errors to very large extent, reduced TAT for complete process and brought in transparency at both at customer end and within organisation. Currently we are in the process of evaluating solutions to capture 360° view of customers and further simplifying the ordering process.

Operational Excellence:

Recently at Nalagarh we have gone live with one of the biggest DX initiatives in recent times i.e. ePAD. ePAD is the abbreviation of our Shop Floor automation project i.e. e­Process Automation and Digitization. We believe this will be a game changer in EPL's automation history and a big step towards Industry 4.0 along with complete digitalization of the shop-floor processes. This initiative is unique in nature as it seamlessly integrates many technologies like Edge Computing, Internet of Things (IoT) Gateways, Mobile Computing, Mobile Device Management, IoT and ERP on a single platform. All these technologies have been seamlessly integrated to deliver wow experience to our shop floor users and deliver MES++ kind of functionalities.

Taking DX further we have completely digitized Plant Maintenance Process and as a Pilot in of our US plant, we are automating our supply Chain processes by implementing Automatic Guided Vehicles.

Enterprise Solutions:

In today's uncertain and challenging business environment, digitized processes and procedures have started playing a pivotal role. We digitized our complete procure to pay process almost a couple of years back. That really helped us seamlessly navigate the pandemic year as it did not impact our vendor payments.

In our journey towards building a performance oriented organisation, the entire performance, planning and budgeting process underwent a radical change. The Finance & Accounts team has done away with the cumbersome process of collecting data in worksheets and consolidating them to prepare Budgets. With the advent of tools the entire planning and budgeting has been digitized. It has eased the process of budgeting by not only improving the accuracy of data but also in improving the efficiency of our people.

We are kick starting the process of migrating out from traditional ERP to in memory computing database architecture which I am sure would simplify many of business processes and lay the foundation for initiating DX in future.

Organizations are having a large amount of data like Customer details, Sales Orders, Production Orders, Shipment documents, Inventory, Lorry Receipts, A/Cs receivable and A/Cs payable. How to convert this sea of data into information is a challenge. With the help of good analytics applications this data can be converted into meaningful Reports, Dashboards, Data sheets and EWS (Early Warning Signals) to ensure that all processes are running to the best of its ability.

To enable slice and dice and quick dissemination of information we have developed dashboards using various open source tools and ERP data. Currently dashboards are displaying data pertaining to manufacturing and sales KPIs (key performance indicators) and the same is deployed on the shop floor users and regional leadership team. In future we will include other KPI's like inventory and safety incidents. In the future once our ERP is migrated to a new platform we will start migration to cloud data lakes.

I guess any CIO's article on DX is not complete without mentioning the cloud journey of organisation. At EPL we are leveraging Public, Private and Hybrid cloud extensively depending on criticality of applications. This also helps us to meet strict data compliance laid by various bodies like the EU's GDPR etc. For e.g. our complete HCM data is on SaaS based application hosted out of Europe. Similarly for most of other business application including ERP & email, we have gone with single instance architype hosted out of 3rd party data centre.

No amount DX can guarantee success unless and until you have buy-ins at all the levels. Whether it is CXO's approving your capex, business processes owners defining what they want or ultimately the end users who are going to use your system it's very important they are involved at each and every stage of the project. I know for many of colleagues and peers in the industry this would sound very basic, but then that's where we falter and many good initiatives die natural death for want of user buy in.

As 2021 unfolds into another difficult year due to the ongoing 2nd wave of Covid Pandemic, we have to continue our quest to provide business with more and more armours to win over VUCA times and achieve our goals.

It will be apt to quote John F Kennedy who said that "Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."


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