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Middle East CIO interview: Bob Mulumudi, RAK Ceramics

Bob Mulumudi faces the most complex task in his long career – bringing together 15,000 staff and globally disparate IT systems in the world’s biggest ceramics company

Bob Mulumudi has 28 years’ experience of major operations and consulting work, but his latest endeavour, which includes the reinvention of the IT systems at the world’s biggest ceramics company, is his most complex task yet.

As CIO of United Arab Emirates-headquartered RAK Ceramics, Mulumudi has been tasked with bringing together 15,000 staff and globally disparate IT systems and processes.

“Previously, our teams around the world have been used to working independently from the corporate headquarters, so it is a big change,” says Mulumudi. “Culture also plays a part and it is a challenge to manage geographically dispersed teams. It is also very challenging to source global IT services that comply with all the different local requirements in the countries where we operate.”

Mulumudi is a former management consultant and Warwick Business School MBA alumni.

RAK Ceramics specialises in tiles and sanitaryware, producing 110 million m2 of tiles and five million pieces of sanitaryware a year at 16 plants across the UAE, India, Bangladesh and Iran. Its annual sales are worth about US$1bn.

Mulumudi, who has been in his current role since 2015, is responsible for developing and managing the company’s global IT function in terms of budget and the day-to-day running of IT operations, including team mentoring.

He is currently managing the implementation of an IT helpdesk that can systematically process requests. He is also setting up specific IT governance structures, as well as managing and prioritising software changes for the business across the UAE, India and Bangladesh.

“We have an IT roadmap that supports the company’s strategic business plan,” says Mulumudi. “We are currently working to consolidate our IT costs across the group rather than spending at a local level.”

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Mulumudi says he is also responsible for SAP strategy. “I am managing our ROI [return on investment] for SAP,” he says. “By maximising our use of SAP, we are able to limit the use of additional third-party products and, at the same time, SAP helps us to improve our business processes.

“Security and risk management are a big part of my role and we work hard to proactively identify risks at various levels – such as enterprise, operation and project – and mitigate the risks using the appropriate tools and interventions.”

Mulumudi’s IT roadmap will help to improve internal business functions, such as the automation of business processes across departments, while other improvements will help to maximise the use of shared resources.

“Cost savings and system improvements at RAK Ceramics will be sought by standardising technologies into a small number of global platforms and going paperless through the implementation of a document management system,” he says. “We will also be working to enhance our end-user interface in showrooms so that we can improve our customer experience.”

Mulumudi says that when RAK selected SAP for the business, key objectives included improving efficiency, productivity and business integration. “There is a lot still to be achieved, but some of the key developments that have already been delivered include the optimisation of spares inventory purchase and automation of supplier payment processes,” he says.

Project Wahed

In 2016, Mulumudi oversaw Project Wahed, which involved the implementation of “one email, one domain, one solution”. He says the initiative is a good example of how cloud computing is being employed at RAK Ceramics. “Project Wahed brings in Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive, which enables secure storage in the cloud for documents, spreadsheets and images,” he says.

“We have also recently implemented a cloud-based spam and fraud detection system, ProofPoint. Project Continua – pragmatic disaster recovery – is also a cloud-based service providing near-real-time backup of all three SAP instances to a single external disaster recovery site.”

According to  Mulumudi, RAK Ceramics is implementing technologies such as QlikView to help with reporting and SolMan (Solution Manager) which automates workflows and serves as a knowledge base to access useful information across all business units.

However, RAK has a reputation for introducing industry breakthrough technologies, so IT is not only vital for the firm’s business processes, but to drive innovation. The company uses a wide range of technologies at its futuristic plants, including digital printing.

As CIO, Mulumudi is part of RAK’s senior management team and reports directly to the group CEO. He regularly attends leadership team meetings and provides IT updates, including reports on new and innovative technology and critical IT issues that affect the business.

User-friendly communication

Mulumudi says he enjoys communicating about the work he does in a user-friendly way. “There are various initiatives that the IT team undertakes that directly impact the end-users, for example the introduction of new software, or the launch of a new security policy,” he says.

“It is imperative to communicate effectively to our users who often don’t understand technical terminologies, to ensure the change management aspect is managed well.”

But he admitted: “As we continue to strengthen the group globally and develop a one-team philosophy, it is a challenge to bring together a wide range of diverse cultures.

“Also, managing a global pipeline of SAP developments with centralised resources means business users may not always understand the priorities.”

The CIO says he relishes the opportunity to improve and automate business processes through innovative design, as well as performing team coaching.

“I have a great team and they are enthusiastic and willing to learn,” he says. “As we change how we work across the group and manage our IT systems globally, it is very satisfying to watch them take on new responsibilities and grow professionally.

“After 28 years of managing teams, solutions consulting, operations improvement and IT implementation experience across a variety of sectors, I feel I can offer some guidance and coaching to younger team members to develop themselves professionally.”

Following a tenure of two years as CIO for RAK Ceramics, Bob Mulumudi is reported to have moved on to a new role as this article went to press.

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