Stepping up to the challenge of a global conglomerate CIO role
For IT leaders, mergers and acquisitions inevitably lead to complex challenges. IT systems and resources must be rationalized and unified, and differing cultures must often be maneuvered toward alignment to ensure success going forward.
But with these high-profile undertakings can also come opportunities for career growth.
When Reliance Polyester — a subsidiary of global conglomerate Reliance Industries — completed its acquisition of polyester business Shubhalakshmi Polyesters (SPL) in March 2023, Dr. Amrut Urkude, CIO of SPL, took over as CIO of Reliance Polyester. For now, Dr Urkude has his task cut out for him. He must integrate the IT infrastructures of the two companies by bringing Shubhalakshmi Polyesters’ technology up to speed with that of Reliance Polyester.
In a candid conversation with CIO.com, Dr. Urkude talks about his experience of confronting myriad challenges while transitioning from a small company to a large multinational enterprise, and how he has dealt with them thus far.
SPL has a total polymerisation capacity of 252,000 tonnes per year compared with Reliance Polymers’ capacity of 2.5 million tonnes per annum. As an IT leader, were you awed by this massive change in the size and complexity of business?
Dr. Urkude: The move from a promoter-led business to a one of the largest conglomerates in the world is definitely a big change. However, I wasn’t awestruck because of my involvement in the due diligence of the merger and acquisition process from day one. I was regularly interacting not only with the IT leadership but also with the other business teams such as SCM, HR, accounts and finance, strategy, and M&A of the Reliance Group. This familiarized me with Reliance’s style of working, and reporting structure, making it easier for me to adopt their culture and align SPL with the Reliance team in a short time.
How different is the IT infrastructure in the two companies? How are you planning to integrate them?
Dr. Urkude: Reliance is far ahead of SPL on the technology front, be it in the areas of networking, backup, security, and automations. It is only in ERP that SPL has an edge. SPL has implemented SAP S4/HANA while Reliance is still using the old version called ECC.
The IT in Reliance is not only cutting-edge, but it is also more organized. It is divided into three verticals — business IT, manufacturing IT, and central IT. Within these three verticals, there are different divisions focusing on specific areas of technology such as networking, security, and applications.
The acquisition process was completed only in March. To integrate SPL’s IT with that of Reliance, we need to follow certain norms and standards. We have already prepared the budget towards that end, which is in the process of approval. We will initiate work once we get the approval.
The starting point of upgradation of SPL’s infrastructure will be its connectivity. We will be leveraging Jio’s MPLS to enhance connectivity. The aim is to integrate the two infrastructures by September 2023.
Of the three IT verticals in Reliance, I have been interacting with manufacturing IT and business IT in the last two months and hope to interact with central IT also once the MPLS connection is in place. This has been a totally new experience for me.
So, how are you getting a grip on the cutting-edge IT tools and solutions deployed in Reliance?
Dr. Urkude: Continuous education is the only way forward. I have done more than 18 degrees, diplomas, and professional certificates in my folder and still I am learning. To keep myself updated and aligned with the latest in technology I attend seminar, webinars, and the physical events. I also upgrade myself by reading relevant articles daily. I am also a part of several CIO groups where I get to know what is happening in the market. With a larger IT team, I can now delegate my task to my team members so that I can focus on the new technologies, implementation, and new initiatives.
Interacting with the domain experts in different divisions of Reliance’s IT verticals is also a big help. Not only do I learn different skills from various domain experts, but I must also upgrade myself before reaching out to them. I must read up on the specific topics to understand what the expert is saying.
Coming from a promoter-led company to a large enterprise, what dissimilarities did you encounter in your working relationship with the top management in the two companies?
Dr. Urkude: My interactions in SPL were directly with the promoter. It was very easy to get budgetary approvals and decision-making was very fast. If the promoter took a decision, it was deemed final. In Reliance, there are a lot of approval processes. To get budgets for any new implementation, a lot of procedures and approvals are needed. As part of the budgetary approval process, the CIO must give the pros and cons of the solution, its cost, and ROI on the project.
The expectations of the top management in Reliance from the CIO are very high. There are a lot of requirements on the MIS [Management Information Systems] front, which is not the case with a small organization wherein the promoter knows the ins and outs of the company daily. To fulfil this requirement of MIS, I have to upscale the systems in SPL.
In SPL, systems were human-driven but in Reliance there is a clear-cut instruction to automate most things to reduce dependency on business users. The leadership in Reliance expects a CIO to work 24×7 as they don’t want any downtime in business. To ensure this, they also provide the requisite people, processes, and technology.
How are you managing the new expectations?
Dr Urkude: Besides handling IT at SPL, I was also heading the corporate HR function. This experience gave me the skills to balance people, processes, and technology. I knew how to engage with the leadership team. The Reliance leadership was very supportive of me. If they felt I wasn’t up to date on a particular skill, they would support me.
On my part, I told them that lots of change cannot happen overnight. They need to increase their expectations gradually because the two businesses were not familiar with each other’s working style, culture, reporting structure, and approvals processes. To fill these gaps, skill upgradation, motivation, and building of trust are required.
With respect to the budget, I will take a different approach. I will explain to the top management that if they expect something they have to spend something. I will tell them the previous management of SPL was not ready to invest in cutting-edge technologies and therefore couldn’t realize the business benefits accruing from them. We must match the business requirement as per the market trends.
If I still encounter any hurdles in convincing the leadership, then I will involve the IT leaders of Reliance because they know the advantages of the various technologies as they are already using in their premises.
From your experience, what would you recommend to a CIO who is looking to transition to a larger organization from a small company?
Dr Urkude: CIOs must be transparent. IT leaders from small organizations should acknowledge their limitations and capabilities. There is no point in hiding something because the new organization will find out sooner than later and then it will become difficult for the CIO to explain.
By being transparent and honest from day one, CIOs can hope to get better guidance and support as the larger enterprise will then share its knowledge with them.
Careers, Digital Transformation