ITC, the century-old conglomerate that started out as a cigarette manufacturer, has reinvented itself multiple times, diversifying into fast-moving consumer goods, clothing, hotels, agriculture and IT. The $8.5-billion strong group is now also at the forefront of using emerging technologies to improve productivity across its businesses.
In an interview with TechCircle, Rajasekhar VV, the group's chief information officer, talks about how digital is disrupting traditional processes and how its Industry 4.0 initiative is helping it reinvent itself in the new world. He says that the company is either piloting or implementing emerging technologies like internet of things (IoT) and industrial IoT, data analytics, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), advanced automation and robotics. Edited excerpts:
How is the company using new technologies to speed up production across businesses?
Digital is a serious disruptor of traditional business models. Our businesses have adopted digital technologies such as ML, AI, advanced data science in areas such as robotic process automation (RPA) and chatbots. To leverage these emerging technologies, we are using Industry 4.0 initiatives to drive business excellence in the entire organisation. We have formulated a comprehensive business strategy to develop digital infrastructure across value chains.
What does digital transformation mean to you?
Digital transformation to us at ITC means reworking existing products, services, processes and strategies leveraging emerging technologies. These technologies can significantly transform our current business models while helping us keep pace and be ahead of evolving customer demands.
What are the major research and innovation areas for you at the group level?
We constantly undertake research and innovation in new product development and launches, smart and agile supply chain and in connecting with consumers to deliver better consumer experiences. To adapt to Industry 4.0, businesses have initiated pilot experiments involving IoT, data analytics and intelligence, ML, AR/VR, advanced automation and robotics, mobility and embedded integrated systems.
What challenges do you face in implementing these new technologies across a group as diverse as ITC?
Over the years, we have structured IT to ensure synergies across businesses. My central teams set group-wide directions with respect to technologies, products and standards. The business IT teams work with their users to ideate, co-create and deploy IT solutions in their respective businesses. Hence, the initiatives are owned by the business. Central teams step in to provide assistance and support where required.
When do you expect to see returns from your investment in these new technologies?
Some projects are in the pilot or proof-of-concept stage while others are in the process of production-scale deployment. We expect to see business benefits from these investments in about two years.
What are the group's immediate digital priorities? Where do you see the most disruptive trends?
We are looking at the emerging technologies mentioned earlier, apart from AI and blockchain, to provide us an edge in manufacturing, supply chain efficiencies, logistics planning and customer experience. In addition to that, we intend to use these technologies to improve internal operational effectiveness.
Have emerging technologies helped ITC move products to the market faster? Is the company using robots and automation for warehousing?
Our new upcoming integrated consumer manufacturing and logistics hubs will use state-of-the-art tools and technologies. In an era of changing business dynamics, intense global competition and increased complexity in operations, the industry-wide initiatives will create visibility across supply chain operations with system integrations, thereby improving overall productivity.
Similarly, these advanced technologies are being used to optimise core processes through intelligent analytics with real-time control and to enhance the capacity of resources in critical business processes.
Has ITC significantly streamlined its entire business process from supply to production to sales? Is AI being used for analysis?
We use software like enterprise resource planning and supply chain management for end-to-end transaction processing in each of our businesses. Data churned out from these systems is being used for decision making. AI-based pilots are in progress for cognitive learning and decision-making. Sales and marketing in all businesses have always been data-based over the years. The new technologies of data science and analytics result in speedier decision making and execution.
ITC has an Infotech division. What kind of tech are you developing internally for the group and for other enterprises?
ITC Infotech has created an innovative ‘Digitaligence@Work’ framework with tools, methods and use cases that help organisations take advantage of digital technologies and transform themselves into digital enterprises. We use this within the organisation.