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We are aligning IT to benefit the business directly: Lanco Group CIO

Having worked with the Indian Navy for about 20 years and also being associated with a number of data security projects at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), KK Chaudhary has a highly disciplined and pragmatic approach to IT. Prior to his current role of Senior Vice President and Group Head (IT &IS) at power and infrastructure major Lanco Group, he was the CISO at NIIT Technologies.

Having worked with the Indian Navy for about 20 years and also being associated with a number of data security projects at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), KK Chaudhary has a highly disciplined and pragmatic approach to IT. Prior to his current role of Senior Vice President and Group Head (IT &IS) at power and infrastructure major Lanco Group, he was the CISO at NIIT Technologies. An MTech in Computer Science from IIT Kharagpur, Chaudhary also holds a management degree from Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. Here he talks to Sanjay Gupta about the IT consolidation effort at Lanco, how technology is being aligned with business and much more. Excerpts:

Lanco is going through some tough times like most others in the infrastructure and power sector. You are consolidating rather than setting up new projects. In this context, what is the mandate for the IT function from the management’s perspective?
As you rightly said, the power industry and the infrastructure sector have been in a bad shape for the past 2-3 years for various reasons. It is not particular to one company but a general phenomenon all across. The issues range from non-availability of coal and poor quality to costs related to imports, theft in the distribution chain and non-payment by various government bodies. However, all our operational plants are working, and it’s only the new projects that got affected due to shortage of funds, environmental clearances or delay in government decision making. Now, after our ongoing debt restructuring and asset sales get over, we will once again be restarting some of those projects.

As far as IT is concerned, you will appreciate that when the company’s core business is in need of funds, the money will first go to rejuvenating the core projects. So the mandate for IT is that, one, it operates at the level that it has been operating; two, put innovation in place so that much more can be done with no more [funds].

What have been the structural changes to the IT function at Lanco in recent times?
When I joined this company about two years back, what I noticed was that the entire IT infrastructure was fragmented among different businesses or units—each having its own IT team and infrastructure. So there was not much of a role that this Group IT Head was playing. Since resources were a constraint, the first thought that came to my mind was, Can I somehow integrate all those separate subsidiary IT infrastructures into one—and then see what can be re-used, better used, or optimally used. I integrated the entire IT into one function. So all IT heads of the different business units started reporting functionally to the Group IT Head.

Then policies were framed with respect to servers, printers, services, etc. With these changes we realised that we can better utilise the equipment and bring in better servers, switches, etc., that could perform better. We also put in place a lot of security products such as content filtering and DLP, among others. Through the consolidation and streamlined policy, the productivity of the people increased just as our bandwidth usage decreased. This also helped us meet the challenge of software licensing at all our locations across the globe.

Were these separate units in Lanco using different core business applications? What were the integration or management challenges there?
Fortunately, both the core business applications, email and ERP, were being run by corporate IT and were the same across the organisation. So we did not face any integration challenges there. The problem was at the IT infrastructure end. And when we optimised the IT infrastructure, even the core applications started performing better.

Have you done any RoI calculation or estimation to determine what kind of tangible and intangible benefits have accrued to the organisation from the entire IT consolidation exercise?
For one, our cost of operations has gone down drastically. This is because we saved quite a lot on bandwidth, server management, electricity and printing. As I said, there was no new fund available to IT. So what we did was we saved a lot of things for the organisation while, at the same time, improved the performance of the IT infrastructure.

How is the role of IT as an enabler or driver changing in the power business, which forms 80% of your overall revenue?
While we have thus far spoken about IT as operations, the second part of our job is to align IT to the business. Since our core business is power generation, the IT inside the power plant is important for us. So we focussed on our SCADA infrastructure. We also studied its vulnerability from the outside as well, because directly or indirectly, it is also connected. We have done a very extensive study for one of our power plants on a pilot basis and are working towards plugging the gaps that might exist in the system.

The second part of IT playing a role inside the plant has to do with improving how SCADA works. At the moment the system gives out alerts whenever a particular threshold is reached for something, so an engineer goes and takes corrective measure. The way forward is to put some IT in place that can analyse the patterns in various thresholds and the components associated with those processes, so that we are able to predict problems even before they happen. It’s like moving from reactive maintenance to a proactive approach. We have presented our case before the management and they are quite convinced that if we use IT for predictive maintenance, the earlier maintenance cycle for the power plants can be elongated and the abruptness of closure of a problem in case of problems will be minimised.

And finally, the third part of IT concerns the trucks that come loaded with coal and the storage of the same. With the automation of the storage system, we can be sure that if it is 100 tons of coal that has come in, it means 100 tons and not any reduced amount due to any manual error or pilferage. We have also connected this storage information with our SAP system.

So after our IT operations have been optimised, we are now peeping into the business and aligning ourselves accordingly so that the business benefits directly from IT.

Are you using any business intelligence or analytics solutions for your business?
Not right now. We wanted to have BI in place but could not do so earlier due to paucity of funds. However, going forward, analytics is going to be a priority area for us.

Sanjay Gupta is an editorial consultant and freelance writer based in Delhi. He can be reached at thinksanjay@gmail.com

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