Kapil Pal, Head – IT, United Breweries (UB) assumed his role when the times were tough for traditional industries. They had to undergo a cultural trasformation due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. There were multiple challenges to overcome as he had a change management exercise on hand which involved keeping his team motivated while they switched to a remote working environment. In this exclusive interview with CIO Dialogues, Pal talks about how he enabled the transition to remote working and what his mid-to-long-term priorities are at UB.
Tell us about your experience of adapting to a new organization in the middle of a pandemic that necessitated systemic changes?
My transition to the new organization happened right before the nation-wide lockdown was implemented. For the first three and half months, I had to work from my hotel room, while facilitating one the largest remote working projects that the UB group undertook. Work from home has never been part of the policy for the brewery industry.
Though we had the right technologies and the infrastructure in place, our leadership and the whole workforce was new to the concept. Besides, not everybody had the connectivity at home and we had to channelize things. Many of our plant locations were not equipped adequately to facilitate remote working. In the first 4-5 days approvals had to be obtained from the management, so it was very crucial. Nevertheless, we were able to stand up full-fledged remote working systems in 20 days. We had to provide very large numbers of VPN connectivity. To add to the challenge, I was facilitating a new system, working remotely from a hotel room myself and collaborating with my team who I have never had the chance to personally meet.
How challenging was the change management part?
We did virtual training for employees and the transition was indeed smooth. We did not have too many cultural issues as technology was already available and we just needed to get the teams to adapt. Besides, we had our ‘bridges’ across the organization. We are present across 150 locations in India and a lot more across the world.
We leverage cloud-based tools for collaboration and are looking at solutions connecting board rooms and connecting investors. We are ensuring everything happens from wherever the stakeholder is. Productivity or optimization of resources wasn’t really a challenge which came as a surprise for the leadership team.
Given that remote working now appears to be a long-term proposition, how do you keep teams motivated to work from home?
As I said earlier, I did not have the opportunity to personally meet my team or my leadership after joining the company. It was a challenge to keep myself and my team motivated. Nevertheless, my team got along well. In the following days, we used collaboration tools extensively to keep the communication flowing.
I was the first in the breweries to start evening 6-7 sessions on Microsoft solutions. We had some yoga experts, athletes and aerobics experts. We utilized their skills to start a virtual fitness program for the IT team, which became a huge success. It also helped connect with each other as a team—so much so that I could recognize almost everyone in my team when we met first after the lockdown. Making WFH a success requires change in mindset above everything else.
What are some of your mid to long-term priorities and what does the technology roadmap look like going forward?
Currently, we are evaluating moving disaster recovery to the cloud. We have a hybrid IT environment wherein some of the newer solutions like HR application, leave management and a few other applications are still on cloud.
Another huge line automation project is underway which is envisaged to be one of the largest automation implementations across industries. We are also looking at leveraging AI/ML in optimizing processes.
In my previous experience in Cement Industry i.e. large scale Infrastructure providers, our plants used go for maintenance twice a year. When one plant goes for maintenance it takes 12-15 days for it to resume and incurs almost a loss of Rs. 20 crores. Here in UB too by leveraging ML, we have the potential to bring down twice a year maintenance to once a year in 60 percent of the plants and that will help us make huge productivity gains. In UB we have 20 plants of our own, 20 breweries, 10 are contract breweries. Other than this we have regional and Unit offices across country. I believe AI and ML have the potential to make huge productivity gains while optimizing costs.