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CHEMICAL & PROCESS INDUSTRY Digital transformation goes beyond quick fixes

Sep 15, 2021

…says Atul Govil, Chief Transformation Officer & Head (SAP & IT), India Glycols, in this interview with Juili Eklahare. India Glycols is a leading company that manufactures green technology based bulk, specialty and performance chemicals. Govil explains the focus of the company’s tech initiatives, how educational institutions have to embrace radical, transformative change & what to remember when building an automation or digitalisation strategy. Excerpts…

How has your role as CTO changed from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic?

With technology becoming central to conduct operations, the role of the CIO/CTO has now become more important than ever. COVID-19 was an unexpected situation of a grave magnitude and we had to quickly reassess our operating environment, enable the team with necessary tools and technology for them to navigate the volatile, uncertain times. The biggest focus was to enable secure remote operations, remote transactions to ensure business continuity.

What kind of digital tools are you currently using at India Glycols?

Digital tools are important for us to achieve higher levels of efficiency and help build new business models. These can be categorised into five main buckets (CTAAS):

  1. Collaboration: Intranet portal with employee self-service apps, office apps, IP telephony, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing apps to facilitate engagement with team members, business partners enable remote working.

  2. Transactional: Transactional systems record our company’s daily transactions, which are required to manage our day-to-day operations like sales, inventories, accounting, financial, procurement, employee related data points.

  3. Automation: We use RPA for automating mundane, repetitive tasks. For our shop floors, we have deployed Industry 4.0 solutions including IIoT, cloud applications, data analytics, warehouse automation with track and trace features to monitor on a real-time basis the important operational metrics to improve & increase efficiency, find & solve problems faster and ultimately, improve our customers’ experiences.

  4. Analytics with information centralisation: With analytical tools, we are able to achieve faster speed and certainty of decisions to drive our focus in the right direction. This helps us survive in a tough macro environment.

  5. Security: Information security is critical to protect critical information from any data breach, unauthorised access and to maintain data integrity.

How have you divided automation into the main functional systems for the efficiency of petrochemical production in your factory?

The key levers considered in our automation/digitalisation journey are highlighted in the following aspects:

  • Spend optimisation: Raw materials, energy and other utilities are major expense items in our business. We are able to address production bottlenecks, optimise yield and energy consumption, increase throughput with right quality products with desired safety & compliance considerations through efficient conversion processes.

  • Inventory visibility & control: Ideally, all businesses seek quickest return on their investments, with lowest inventories. We have also set up a state-of-the-art, smart warehouse with shuttle-based dense racking system which facilitates organised storage of our FGs with FIFO features with efficient retrieval.

  • Workplace productivity (operational efficiencies): To remain competitive and lower costs, efficient processes and high productivity are critical, and in this regard, we got a 360° review by experts on the processes involved in the entire value stream – with a purpose to fine tune the workflows and also narrow down on automation opportunities.

You are a winner of several awards, including IDC insight award. What are some transformative initiatives you took that led you to winning this award?

The core focus of our tech initiatives and transformation projects is to increase agility & ability to scale, using the following levers:

  • Syncing with other business leaders on the business priorities and channelling our energies on the same

  • Eliminating islands of information with standardisation options

  • Setting up a robust core with surround applications

  • Identifying and suggesting automation opportunities

  • Building a cross-functional team for the prioritised interventions for detailed planning and execution

You have been a visiting faculty for India’s leading management institute. How do you see the education scenario changing towards exposing students to the shop floor and practical education?

With other attractive options available, most freshers do not consider the traditional manufacturing sector as their first choice for a job. It is an onus on manufacturing companies to invest in relevant, new digitally-enabled manufacturing tech to be able to attract and retain the digital natives. We should attract and empower the next generation of workers. Colleges, universities and institutions are a very important source of skill supply to organisations. For the skills supply to be in sync with industry demand, educational institutions have to let go of their legacy course material and embrace radical, transformative change to be able to participate in the fourth industrial revolution & remain relevant.

The term digital transformation has different connotations for different enterprises. What is your view of digital transformation? Do you believe that the term ‘digital’ itself has evolved in the past few years, and if so how?

Digital transformation goes beyond quick fixes. We need to take a step back and understand that any organisation operating in any vertical is essentially a unit that is run by people and tools/equipment/systems. These tools/equipment/systems will vary from one industry to another and there are always certain evolved organisations in each sector that strategically & holistically leverage the best of the breed systems/applications by making due investments and prioritising basis expected returns to continually achieve the objectives of the business.

What are some good practices to build an agile and effective automation strategy?

While building an automation or digitalisation strategy, we need to keep the total cost of ownership and the business impact in mind, both tangible and intangible. Rather than getting distracted with the ‘shiny object syndrome’ or getting immersed in tech hypes, it is pertinent to dig deeper with actual use cases, conduct pilots to get a hold of ground realities. There are always new technologies being talked about in the market. Which ones are ready for commercial grade scale up? Which ones are nascent? Are vendor partners equipped to implement and support the planned initiative? Are key stakeholders receptive to the plan? These are important questions one needs to have answers to in order to deliver on promises.

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  • Atul Govil is a graduate engineer with post-graduation in marketing & HR. He has a total of 22 years of work experience in different industry verticals and has held several leadership positions. He has also won several prestigious awards and recognitions, including IDC insight award.

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