From manufacturing to retail: A CIO's career change

Vinay Hinge, the new vice president of IT at Avenues Supermarts (P) Ltd (D-Mart) moved to retail after a successful stint at Raymond Ltd. Hinge shares his upcoming plans for D-Mart's IT strategy. What were the reasons behind your making the move to D-Mart?
I joined D-Mart in September 2009. During my three year stint at Raymond, I managed to successfully achieve the milestones that I had kept for myself. At Raymond (which is into textiles, manufacturing and retail segments), I developed an interest for retail and got acquainted with this as a vertical.

I started my research on the retail segment and interacted with my peers in the retail industry. As a result, I learned that D-Mart is among the most efficient players in the Indian retail industry. Fortunately, I got introduced to the senior members at D-Mart at this point. The entire hiring process took three months.

At Raymond, IT was not very critical for the business, although the IT head took part in crucial business decision meetings. The internal IT team was also very huge — almost 100 people. As an IT head, a lot of time used to be spent in managing the huge team. How much of a role does technology play, when it comes to the retail vertical?
Retail is highly dependent on IT. It is essentially the business of supply chains coupled with customer service. To provide a good buying experience, it is necessary to put in place a good IT setup. Checking out times at Point of Sale (POS) is the most crucial aspect in any retail store. Customers expect smooth and quick checkout processes. On this front, D-Mart has a good reputation for the fastest checkout times in the Indian retail industry. From an IT perspective, a delay of every minute and second is counted.

At my previous job, business losses would not occur even if the SAP ERP system was unavailable for an entire day. In a retail scenario, the CIO cannot even think of such an occurrence as the retail vertical is highly dependent on IT. What is the strength of your current IT team? Also, can you tell us about D-Mart's existing IT infrastructure?
Currently, I have just three people in my team. Two more team members will join shortly. Our main focus is to work with partners rather than have a large in-house IT team.

We have two basic platforms — these include our transaction system (based on SAP) and the POS systems. At the end of each day's transactions, the POS solutions connect to SAP for data exchange.

Most companies utilize the largest portion of their IT budgets for sustenance, and the next significant portion goes into growth. Innovation is an aspect that typically gets poor resources.

As far as hardware is concerned, we have an in-house data center at Powai in Mumbai, with 14 servers. The disaster recovery (DR) centre is currently located at our store in Panvel (Navi Mumbai). We plan to relocate our DR setup to South India — probable locations are Bangalore or Hyderabad. Our auditors feel that the DR site should be located at least 1000 kilometers away from our primary location to be safer from natural disasters. Can you share how you managed the transition to a completely different domain? How critical is this skill for success as a CIO?
I feel that domain expertise is very important for success as a CIO. I researched the retail industry for almost six months, after I decided to move to this industry. I also used to discuss industry trends with other retail industry leaders. Attending retail-specific events was also part of this process.

Raymond used to supply goods to many retailers. So as an IT head, I knew about the IT setups at different retail stores, which helped me utilize this knowledge at D-Mart. I also read quite a few books, one of which was a book on transition called "The first 90 days". This book helped me prepare for this transition. Reading helped me to develop a strategy and a roadmap for the next two years at my new job role. And how do you see D-Mart's IT roadmap for the near future?
I have divided my roadmap into four quadrants. The first quadrant is called sustenance, which talks about how to efficiently run D-Mart's IT operations. Second important component is growth — how IT can be used to support D-Mart's growth. Next comes risk management, and innovation is the fourth area.

Most companies utilize the largest portion of their IT budgets for sustenance, and the next significant portion goes into growth. Innovation is an aspect that typically gets poor resources. Though sustenance is very important, there should be an equal focus on innovation. A fine balance is necessary. Within these four areas, I have formulated strategies to outline areas that need work and what the company lacks. The focus is more on creating business value than buying new technologies. Can you tell us about the new IT projects initiatives that D-Mart plans to undertake?
Virtualization is a critical area that we will work on. We plan to consolidate our infrastructure using server virtualization. We are evaluating bids from different vendors, and will take a call soon.

We also plan to use tools to more efficiently manage our master database. These will be workflow applications and web-based systems (so that vendors can also connect to our systems). What are your tips for CIOs who need to deal with domain transition challenges?
You should understand the culture and power equations your organization. It is very critical to identify your key stakeholders and the people whose decisions matter. Alignment with the senior management's vision can work favorably for a new CIO. Apart from this, earn the trust of your team members. Understand their aspirations and take care of their needs.

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