Technology takes centre stage
“Being involved with so many businesses and industries certainly keeps me busy,” muses Chandra Shekhar Jajware, CIO at Oman’s Khimji Ramdas. “I learn things all the time and face challenges every day, but this keeps you going. No two weeks are the same.”
It is no surprise that no two weeks are the same, given the mighty portfolio of the organisation. One of the most established names in Oman, Khimji Ramdas has been in business for almost 150 years. Today, it maintains market leadership in four key business verticals: consumer products, infrastructure, lifestyle and projects and logistics. Within this, more than 50 different business units span across luxury retail, lifestyle products, appliances, restaurant services, telecommunications and educational services, fast moving consumer goods, food commodities, building and construction related services and supplies, shipping services and logistics, as well as defence products and services.
Backed up by some 3,500 distribution points, with a state-of-art warehouses, Khimji Ramdas serves as a key strategic partner for more than 400 different brands. These include long-standing partnerships with multinational organisations from Proctor & Gamble and Philip Morris to Bel Groupe and Rolex.
For Jajware and his team of 40-45 IT experts, day-to-day running of critical business processes is no mean task. “Our IT is centralised and provides support services across the group’s businesses,” he says. “On a day-to-day basis we deal with everything from information systems, infrastructure changes, upgrades, new innovations, partner communications and much more. Around 50 percent of the time we are doing the day-to-day keeping the lights on work, while the other half is dedicated to new project implementation, innovation for digital transformation.
“Today we are far more dependent on systems providing the right information than we were seven or eight years ago. Our systems are a lifeline to the business, they are a vital asset we must maintain and grow. IT is now a strategic function, it has transformed from a support function.”
And while the technology itself may be complex and subject to constant change, this is not the major challenge for Jajware and his team. Rather, it is engaging businesses strategies with group IT strategy and IT initiatives, convincing key decision makers across the whole group about the need for certain major change in technology for digital transformation.
“Business alignment and building consensus which marries with your point of view on how technology can transform a whole business and drive change – that is the challenge,” he says. “It is not always easy to convince very complex IT issues or new IT initiatives to everybody, you have to speak in a different language and build credibility. Communication is massively important, and we have great management support here and a team who understands how technology can take us all forward.”
The past year has seen the planning and execution of a landmark IT transformation project at Khimji Ramdas. This involved upgradation and migration of all KR SAP systems to SAP HANA on cloud and introduction of an enterprise mobile system with many apps.
That minimal disruption across the business was felt is testament to how well the delivery of the project went. None of the system users were aware of such massive change that happened after the cut over until they noticed the improvement in the system performance and were introduced to enterprise mobiles apps. For the business, it was the smoothest of transitions.
“The preparation work took slightly longer than we initially anticipated, but this has allowed us to deliver the project without any disruption to the business – it was amazingly clinical,” Jajware explains. “Downtime was a challenge for us and we had to align this on days like major public holidays when disruption would be minimal. This involved a lot of planning and working towards specific targets.
“SAP is our strategic partners for almost 10 years now. Last year, we also joined hands with Tata Communications and welcomed them as the strategic partner for IT infrastructure and Cloud services. While the idea was conceptualised with SAP, Tata Communications was brought on-board to provide the infrastructure support for the project execution. It was a complete in-house project however during this transformative phase both the partners offered strategic support whenever challenges were presented to them. Due to our system’s complexity and the need for very high stability, security and continuity, we got a unique system architecture with a detailed testing process and standard quality assurance in place. We witnessed few surprises as well as some challenges in this journey of digitisation. And since at the end of the day this is a new technology, we all learnt together - SAP HANA was not known five or six years ago,” Jajware adds.
Srinivasan C R, Senior Vice President, Global Product Management & Data Centre Services, Tata Communications explains the role Tata played in implementing the solution: “Khimji Ramdas required a trusted partner that could not only provide leading cloud, network, security and data centre services, but also act as an advisor to help them realise the full potential of its digital transformation strategy every step of the way. Subsequently, they chose Tata Communications for these reasons – our complete portfolio of services, our global infrastructure and ecosystem and our customer centric approach to power businesses to stay competitive in today’s digital age.”
The benefits have been tangible. Not only have ageing systems been upgraded to quicker in memory computing systems, SAP HANA has brought with it significantly improved performance. The upgrade bought many new functionalities and advantages, with high quality mobile apps to access backend ERP systems a truly transformational element.
Jajware explains: “Mobile previously was only used for our private and social communications, but in the next couple of years we are looking to get around 65-70 percent of enterprises systems & processes would be driven by mobile. Over the next 12 months 50-60 new mobile applications will be available on our users on KR enterprise mobile platform.”
Further to this, management and managers can now access critical business data via real time dashboards, allowing them to make important decisions quickly with up-to-date information.
Radwan Moussalli, Senior Vice President for Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, Tata Communications adds: “It is Tata Communications’ privilege to be associated with Khimji Ramdas as their preferred service provider and technology partner. We started with a mere two Virtual Machines opportunity on our cloud and over a period have helped them transform their IT operations with our wide service portfolio, innovative business models and total commitment to anticipating and serving their needs. Our objective was to keep them ahead on the curve of technology adoption and help them maintain their leadership position with the competitive advantage of our pay-as-you-go model offering instant cost savings while achieving organisational goals.”
The IT work does not stop, as Jajware and his team will be bringing more of the group’s business units onto the platform in the coming months.
Another project underway involves installing new systems in the hospitality business, looking at how to become more cost effective by optimising the supply chain and inventory management. Some projects are sizeable, some are small, but there are always several ongoing whether they be to keep the lights on or look ahead at wider strategy for the company.
“Businesses are now being driven by technology, as opposed to the other way round which may have been the case 10 years ago,” Jajware says. “10 years ago IT systems were a means of keeping information and records whereas now they are a vital engagement tool – every business activity involves some kind of engagement with technology.”
And with this in mind it is vital that Khimji Ramdas can draw on an IT team made up of the region’s best-in-class engineers and technological minds. The company boasts a strong record of finding bright graduates from Oman who then mature through the business via internal, external and on-the-job development.
“We have some of the finest minds who have done wonderfully well since joining us, and they are now a key asset for the company taking on a lot of responsibilities,” Jajware says. “We are blessed with great local people here, and you cannot just throw a book at them. Experience is everything, and there is not just one chart for everybody so we make sure we tailor each individual’s development.”
Keeping up with the consumer
Consumers across many of the sectors in which Khimji Ramdas operates are among the most tech-savvy in the world.
The Middle East region is among the highest for smartphone penetration rates, and Jajware is all too aware that the company must keep up with changing trends and consumer habits if it is to maintain its position as market leader in key industries.
“Something I keep telling my team is that if you don’t know more than your users, then you had better become a user yourself to stay ahead,” he explains. “We see a lot of changes coming – machines, automation and robotics will be dominating a lot of business processes in years to come. Mobile will be a much greater platform for us, not only in the sense we can be more mobile but also perform those functions quicker and more efficiently.
“Consumers are getting more and more digital savvy, and are well connected socially and through work. They are more knowledgeable than ever, and we must keep up with this.”