Under Azim H. Premji's leadership, Wipro has grown from a fledgling Rs 9 crore hydrogenated cooking fat company to a Rs 8,000 crore organization serving customers across the globe. Premji firmly believes that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things and he's of the opinion that creating highly charged teams is the key to this. At Wipro, IT has , he says, played a strategic role, and without it, operational efficiencies would not have been possible during their expansion periods.
CIO: What role has IT played as Wipro changes and evolves as an organization?
Wipro has used IT strategically to address the rapid scaling-up of the organization. Five years ago, standardization on a single ERP platform was the first step towards this direction. The adoption of an Employee Self-Service portal around the same time was an important milestone for us.
It enabled us to handle the issue of the rapid increase in the employee headcount: In one stroke, we were able to eliminate paper-based processes and to crash cycle-times of employee services.
I would say that without the strategic deployment of IT, we would have struggled to cope with our pace of growth and to drive operational efficiencies. We have managed change by involving all key business stakeholders in both crucial IT decisions and their implementation.
CIO : Did you face mindset is-sues while integrating IT into a brick-and-mortar enterprise?
One factor that works in our favor is that we provide enterprise-scale IT services to our own clients. Hence the orientation to use IT is pretty high. We have not had any major issues of resistance to IT systems.
CIO: How has Wipro used IT to build a strong foundation as you pursue excellence?
We use IT in all facets of our business and IT is a key enabler of our strategic objectives. The success of all our major initiatives in excellence like Six Sigma, SEI-CMM and PCMM have depended heavily on corresponding automation programs. Starting from 'Prospect Management' right down to 'Accounting and Reporting', we have IT systems driving all our business processes. Going forward, our strategies for growth cannot succeed fully without the parallel scaling-up of IT systems.
CIO: How do you then define the success of IT projects?
That is ultimately determined by the extent of usage of the application by the users. While formal measures like Schedule and Cost overruns measure project-management skills, the value of an IT project is realized only over a period of time. I would say that if an IT application is used effectively by the majority of users for a minimum period of three years, it is a success.
CIO: Wipro runs on IT. What is your personal level of excellence for CIOs?
CIOs must be as savvy about the key drivers of business as they are of IT issues. CIOs must combine long-sightedness and vision with a strong operational drive that translates vision into concrete and effective solutions. CIOs must have the wherewithal to engage with key stakeholders in the organization and manage change over sustained periods of time. CIOs must have outstanding people skills.
CIO: What is your involvement with CIOs at Wipro?
I personally review the annual plan of the CIO group and thereafter review the progress every quarter and sometimes more frequently. I ensure that all key business priorities get addressed by the CIO's group and step in for decisions related to funding.
CIO: Do boards consider CIOs important? Do CIOs get adequately discussed at that level?
The strategic importance of IT has increased manifold in the last decade and has moved into the radar screen of most boards. While the dot com boom (and the subsequent bust) had its negatives, it also helped create a widespread awareness of the pervasiveness of IT. It brought IT to boards' attention and there has been no looking back.
CIO: In your mind, is an Indian CIO’s role driven by initiative or by the board?
As of today, the Indian CIO's role is still initiative-driven but it is just a question of time before it becomes board-driven. What will push this is the increased globalization of Indian companies, more ambitious growth targets and a need to comply with corporate governance norms like Sarbanes-Oxley.
CIO: Do you see CTOs moving into a CIO role?
CTOs can move into a CIO role provided they balance their strong technology capabilities with a robust understanding of business concerns. A CIO's impact is much larger as it affects all levels of the organization. A CIO's role requires very strong communication and people competencies. CTOs who measure up to this can definitely move in.
CIO: Do you see CIOs ascending to the board? What skill-sets would they require for this?
The CIO's role by default requires him to have a horizontal view of the entire organization. He needs to combine technology-savvy with a robust perspective of how business is run and what its key drivers are. There are many examples of successful CIOs who have a track record in sales, operations or finance and vice versa. A CIO's role requires him or her to balance a strategic perspective with strong execution skills. This qualifies them to ascend to the board.
CIO: Does the Indian industry gives credence to Business Intelligence? Is it the key to CIO ascendance?
The Indian industry has probably just woken up to the potential of Business Intelligence
(BI), but we are already a few years late. We embarked on a major BI initiative last year and invested in world-class systems. Effective BI or the lack of it can be a crucial differentiator and the CIO has to play a central role. The automation of transaction systems is relatively easy and the real challenge is in doing BI well. This separates the boys from the men.
CIO: Is there place for a supra-CIO in a multi-SBU organization like Wipro?
There is no standard formula and each organization has to work out its own best solution. A federated structure works well when there is a strong, central IS organization that sets policies, drives standards and runs the governance model but there have to be local execution teams to shorten implementation cycle-times and provide flexibility. A supra-
CIO is a good idea but he should be supported by strong SBU-level IS heads - without which he may not be very effective.
CIO: How do you choose, at an SBU-level, which technology initiative to fund?
Several of our technology initiatives are common across SBUs - from the point of view of standardization, we try to keep things common across. However, a decision to fund an SBU-specific initiative is made based on a formal ROI or benefit analysis and on whether that initiative's footprint can be extended to other areas of the organization. We also fund initiatives for solutions that are unique to a particular industry-model.