CIO India interview: VVR Babu, ITC Group

ITC Group might be over 100 years old but it is at the forefront of enterprise IT in India. CIO VVR Babu tells about his role at a company where he has worked for 35 years.

ITC Group might be over 100 years old but it is at the forefront of enterprise IT in India. CIO VVR Babu tells about his role at a company where he has worked for 35 years.

Babu joined the company in 1979 following a couple of years in the Indian banking sector. In his years at ITC he held a variety of senior IT roles before taking the role of CIO of the entire group in 2003. He has been divisional CIO of ITC’s tobacco and agri-business divisions and was vice president of software services delivery at ITC Infotech. 

He has an MSc (Tech) from National Institute of Technology, Warangal, and an MPhil (Computer Science) from Central University, Hyderabad.

At ITC Babu shook up how the IT department was run. He conceptualized and implemented an IT management model that splits the department in two.

The supply-side IT comprises shared services teams that provide datacenter hosting services, network and security monitoring, mail messaging, application support and lifecycle management for SAP and Siebel to all business divisions.

The demand-side IT organization works closely with business users to identify and implement business-transforming IT solutions. This enterprise IT model has provided significant competitive advantage to ITC Group through process standardization, an IT management governance framework, infrastructure consolidation and operational synergy.

He also created a central IT infrastructure team for ITC Group that provides global-scale datacenters, enterprise applications and a fail-proof network linking over 600 operating locations.

“IT in ITC has been transformed from a backroom support function to an enabler for business, thereby making the IT function more relevant in the organization,” says Babu.  

Kolkata-based ITC is a diverse company and except for its IT business, ITC Infotec, targets the Indian market only. The India-focused businesses include fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), hotels, paperboards and packaging, and agri-business. Babu says they all have their own challenges depending on their sector but that FMCG presents perhaps the biggest for IT.

“The FMCG segment is fairly crowded with the presence of a large number of players,” he says. ITC is using IT to ensure penetration of its FMCG products in the rural and remote markets of India.

FMCG IT teams at ITC are focused on two major initiatives, according to Babu. They are extending the transaction processing backbone in each business beyond organizational boundaries to frontline teams and supply chain partners, and enabling data-based analysis through dashboards and analytics.

Babu says that almost 5,000 front-line sales staff have been given access to IT systems on their mobile phones. “These mobility applications, which range from sales order capture to outlet tracking and monitoring to route planning, have significantly increased their efficiency,” says Babu. “Dashboards and drill-down analytical reports are already being used by managers for data-based decision-making.” He says that predictive analytics-based reports are being piloted.

Although a company of ITC’s size has multiple large IT projects under way at any given point, there are some significant projects this year. On the business front, new ERPs are being implemented in retail and agri-businesses; and in IT infrastructure, migration to a new datacenter along with a complete technology refresh of the server and datacenter network infrastructure is in progress. 

“We have also introduced Linux OS in the SAP application stack to reduce the overall cost of ownership without compromising on performance and security,” says Babu.

The company is also busy when it comes to the new wave of technologies such as cloud, social and mobile.

ITC has set up a private cloud connecting over 600 operating locations and more than 13,000 users with two centralized datacenters. Its servers, network and storage are managed by an in-house team that provisions it per business needs. 

The company has also deployed standalone mobile applications widely across businesses and is experimenting with social media applications and dashboards. “An integrated strategy around social, mobile, cloud and big data will mature in ITC over the next couple of years once the individual technologies have been assimilated,” says Babu.

Babu adds that the IT team’s biggest challenge is getting good-quality connectivity as they attempt to “extend IT systems beyond organizational boundaries”. He says mobile technology-based applications, which do not require continuous data connectivity, are being used to circumvent this shortcoming. 

He also says that India-based IT teams face issues in terms of the business recognizing their contribution.


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