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Automotive Industry is Amazing us by Quickly Adapting to the New Normal

Sujith Vasudevan, Managing Editor | Monday, 22 March, 2021

Although the rate of adaptation of technology in the manufacturing industry has been slow traditionally, it has always had an appetite for technology. From big data analytics to Industrial IoT, robotic process automation, and smart manufacturing, the game-changing benefits of modern technologies are today indeed really changing the game for manufacturers by reducing human intervention, increasing plant productivity and helping them gain massive edge over competitors. The pandemic has been a tailwind to this trend. In the automotive sector, the industry owes thanks to a bunch of leaders like Manzar Abbas, the CIO of Rockman Industries Ltd, which is the auto-components arm of the $6 billion Hero Group. A true professional, Manzar has been associated with the IT industry since 1999 — starting from the Y2K technology boom. He boasts national and international experience in the technology industry, which includes his IT leadership roles across multiple industries in cities like Dubai and London. Manzar in the past has also been associated with sectors like publishing, software development, telecom, agritech, and FMCG. I recently got to talking with Manzar who is a constant learner and takes pride in his amazing team as well as the mentors around him.

Here are the highlights of the interview with Manzar Abbas, CIO, Rockman Industries Ltd

The pandemic has intervened in and intercepted the functioning of almost all industries across the globe. It engendered herculean challenges in the manufacturing sector as well. Where does the industry stand in terms of tackling them?
Pandemic hasn’t spared any industry. But with the timely intervention of the media towards creating and governments towards mandating covid-19 protocols, I would say that the damage to the industries was minimized big time.

But as far as IT is concerned, pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as many of the organizations went ahead of their 10-year IT plan within a year. The adopters are now ready even before the IT professionals propose the idea of implementation of new technologies. It was challenging because it was a paradigm shift in the industry. There are two perspectives to this. One enterprise IT and the other is operational IT, which means digital transformation on the shopfloor.

As far as IT is concerned, pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as many of the organizations went ahead of their 10-year IT plan within a year

When it comes to enterprise IT, the data and the data points were distributed all across in a swift manner and people started working from home as fast as they could. Now when it comes to shopfloor digital transformation, which organizations like us had to go through, our data and information security are focused on an on-premise model. So with the paradigm shift, we were shifted from an on-premise model to the at-source model. But thankfully, before the covide-19 pandemic became disruptive in our country, we were quite updated about the news and in February 2020 itself, we formed a core Emergency Response Team (ERT), which luckily I was a part of.

How did your ERT ensure business continuity, especially considering the nature of the sector?
We quickly chiselled our infrastructure to accommodate work from home with endpoint security in place. We went on to address the finest of details. For instance, since employees are taken out of the comfort of our inhouse IT team and their quick response to even the simplest of queries, we needed to provide them with comprehensive support. So, we anticipated their queries and created simple YouTube videos in such a way that it gives them step by step instructions with the support of screen activity. Those videos helped them adapt to the new norm by rendering help with everything from as simple as setting up a video conferencing to troubleshooting the PC.

It was a suggestion by our Managing Director Mr. Ujjwal Munjal, who is a pioneer in technology and the founder of Artificial intelligence company Hero Electronix. His idea was to foolproof the new paradigm and those self-help videos helped our employees big time. We have actually measured the increase in productivity of our employees in this new model.

Above all, while ensuring business continuity, the prime motto of our ERT was that we are not only responsible for our people, but also their families and the ecosystem around us. And I am proud to say that we have been able to hold on to that motto.

India is expected to displace Japan as the third largest auto market by 2021. What will be the kind of role that CIOs play while hacking these new opportunities?
As a technology leader in the automotive domain, I am really happy to be in this industry, contributing towards its success. It also implies a responsibility for CIOs to choose the right technology for their organization and optimize the outcome. However, the environment inside the organizations have changed dramatically in favour of the tech heads. If a CIO had to prepare lengthy essays to explain the benefits of deploying a simple technology, be it collaboration or even a firewall, today, the IT department is calling the shots. Previously, if only the sales and production departments were deemed as the profit centers, now the IT department is also considered a profit center rather than a cost center, thanks to the amount of consolidation and the speed of adoption of technology.

Let’s not forget that along with the covid warriors like doctors, nurses and police among others, the IT departments have also been true covid warriors. One of the sights that stuck in my mind during the pandemic was that of a man on a scooter with a few cartridges tied on to the pillion-seat. I am sure he was keeping a business alive during the hardest of times, ensuring seamless employment.

Rockman has also been at the receiving end of praises pertaining to its CSR activities during the pandemic. How would you describe that experience?
I take pride in the fact that we have been able to take care of the ecosystem around us. We were not only able to engage technologies and monitor & analyze the spread of the virus in particular areas and help them, but also our Chairman Mr. Suman Kant Munjal directed us to leverage our resources to serve the community. We turned our plants into kitchens, engaged with the city administration and the police department and thousands of meals packaged were prepared per day. We went to the remotest villages and places where labors were stuck due to the lockdown, and we distributed meals for months. This initiative indeed was also technology enabled — under the direction of our MD Mr. Ujjwal Munjal.

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