CIO Talk News

COVID-19 Pandemic was a Good Thing for the Digital Disruption


As UAE market is becoming very competitive and CIOs are facing many challenges, we need to look at various aspects of the industry and technology trends and try to find out the solution. By speaking to Shailesh Mani, who is a Senior IT Executive and Seasoned Transformational Leader, Manufacturing Sector, UAE, we come to know many challenges, which are local to the region. An Excerpt.

“I believe that our team is the biggest asset for us. We should not be a micromanaging leader or a boss, we should be a true leader.”

Shailesh Mani, Senior IT Executive and Seasoned Transformational Leader, Manufacturing Sector, UAE

What is the post pandemic tech adoption?

As all of us know the pandemic has forced to make 360 degree change in the thought process of technology adoption in all the companies – starting from the smaller companies to multi-billion dollar companies. All are talking about IOT- enabled solutions, digital transformation solutions and automation solutions, etc. pre-pandemic situation was different. For example, my previous organization was quite reluctant to adoption of technology for remote working. We had many discussions internally to move to the remote work platform, but the management was not convinced to do so even though we operate around 33 countries globally. However, when the pandemic struck, they were forced to adopt the method of remote learning. It turned out to be a big success. It gave good confidence to that organization to adopt that method.

Same is the case with automation adoption. Earlier the thought process of the management was that everybody had to have a manual intervention to have a proper checking process to avoid the errors, but the COVID-19 forced the organizations to reduce the human intervention in many processes and brought the digitalization and processes automation to the organizers. The very positive side of this approach was that this had given improved technology adoption in most of the organizations and initiated to embrace digitalization process, which they were quite reluctant to do due to the fear of change management. 

Now they continue to adapt to change and embracing more and more technological adoption. It is not only the story of one organization, but many organizations have done this. So, COVID-19 pandemic was a good thing for the digital era to make more involvement in the organization process.

What are the real challenge CIOs are dealing with? 

Challenges are very many and it is purely dependent on the organization. It starts from the top level. What is the organizations’ vision and how far they want to take the organization into the new technology era? I have managed 2-3 organizations. One organization was of opinion that they are too small to adopt digitization, which is meant for the large organization. So put a cap into adoption of technology, which is a real challenge for the CIOs. If at all you crossed that stage of challenge and convinced the management to adoption digitization, there is an issue of change management. There is tendency of change reluctance in every organization. People are not so easy to accept any change as their state of comfort gets compromised. If at all you crossed this level also, in the end there would be difficulty to take the senior management on your side so that they are on single page while presenting to the board and pushing it further. 

Once you cross these hurdles of approvals, there comes resistance from the finance team. The CFO questions about ROI against the amount of dollar spent. To me, in some of the IT investments defining ROI is very difficult. However, once everything is sorted, there comes challenges of retaining skilled talents for that technology migration duration.

So, if you are starting a digital transformation and one of your team members who is very skilled and experienced and wishes to quit the organization in between the project development and execution, then it is a big challenge for the IT leader. It is his KPI to deliver the project on time on a given cost and as an individual, he cannot deliver the project. He needs to have right set of team members. So, by losing one key member means impact on the project completion. Today, finding resources on a particular budget very difficult.

Last but the most important challenge is data security. While implementing digital transformation, you will be involving many partners into the environment. They will have access to your data for various things and there is every possibility of data being breached.

How do you see technologies like RPA and AI being utilized to reduce dependence on human intervention?

It purely depends on the organization culture. For example, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company cannot put everything on technology. In each stage, there is a requirement of manual intervention. In a distribution industry, automation can work in the various applications. In general, technology implementation reduces the effort of the manpower and reduces the errors in the organizations. We can reduce the manpower intervention, but we cannot eliminate the role of manpower completely. Having said this, in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, we have implemented automation in the quality department. That helped us to reduce around three-member work.

Where does digital transformation stand as far as manufacturing industry is concerned in Middle East region?

As you said, Middle East was not known for manufacturing industry. There was a very limited manufacturing activities related to oil and gas sector. But from 2018 onwards, the thought process of the Lueders has been changed. They are encouraging more manufacturing units in this area. The biggest positive thing is that the time when they took decision to bring more manufacturing industries into this region, that was the time when digital transformation got introduced also. So, now the medicine manufacturing in the region is growing exponentially. All the Indian companies are setting up their plants here. What I see is that most of the manufacturing plants are getting automated from the inception itself with robotics, sensors, cloud computing, etc. And whatever industry and manufacturing was there earlier, they are forced to adopt digital transformation because in order to work with other companies including the suppliers and distributors, you need to digitize your infrastructure. Government is also encouraging the organizations to go paperless and adopt more technology. From 2022, complete government transactions are going to be digital. It has been paperless now in UAE.

Cyber security is a biggest challenge for the CIOs in their lifetime?

Cyber security in UAE is the biggest challenge. If I am not mistaken, around 5600 companies were attacked by the ransomware last year. It was reported in public platform. So, cyberattacks compared to the industry and the attacks which is happening in this region is also very high. The problem here is most of these organizations are quite old. They must have started 25 -40 years back. These organizations are running by the veterans and these people are not able to understand the importance of cyber security. Therefore, they are very reluctant to invest into cyber security. The other thing is that the misconceptions on the IT security. Many of these organizations’ top-level people are not technically qualified to understand the IT security. So, it is very difficult to make them understand about correct aspect of security.

Because of the acquisitions and mergers, many organizes are not able to comprehend about the cyber security challenges due to structural complexities. The challenges of cyber security or IT security has a lot to do with the change management from top to bottom.

But there is transition in the industries in terms of aggressive technology adoption

Yes, there is transition is the market. The old generation is transforming the business to the new generation, who are quite aware of the technology transformation because they have not studied from UK and USA. They know the world and known the technology developments in the various sectors. They are adopting RPA, Analytics and BI tools to take the decisions and have better visibility.

What is your advice to your peer group?

What I am believing is that our team is the biggest asset for us. We should not be a micromanaging leader, or we should not be a boss, we should be a true leader.  We should give comfort level to the team that if anything goes wrong, our team leader is with us. You should give freedom to your team member along with the ownership and the responsibility. This is something which I experienced and succeeded.

Another thing you should ensure that you are communicating properly to the team members about the management strategy behind implementing the technology. If your communication is proper, if you miss something, your team member can communicate with you. We should always initiate the activity of team building process. As human, every individual is having their own ego and their own problem. Therefore to ease out this, you need to have a healthy relationship between your team members by having periodic team building activities. You should also reward your team members upon completion of a project as start performer or with any other nomenclature. It can create a healthy competition among the team members. That is my advice to my peer, which is based on my experience.

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