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CIO Of the Fortnight

 

My name is Arun Gupta. I was born on the same day as Sachin Tendulkar, but a decade earlier. While I was born in Kanpur (UP), I grew up in Kolkata, and moved to Mumbai during my schooling days. My father was a Paint Technologist in Ministry of Defense, while my mother is a home maker.

Started my education in Kolkata and completed it in Mumbai. While I was not too much into sports, but represented my school in Cricket. Then moved on to indoor games like Table Tennis (which I still like to play occasionally) and a bit of everything. As a kid I was passionate about Philately and used to collect every stamp that I could lay my hands on. This continued until late 80s after which time constraints prevented me from pursuing it. That is when I took up Photography, which I still dabble in. My favorite subjects are nature and kids. The other habit that my father inculcated in me was reading. Earlier it was comics like Phantom and Mandrake, moving on to fiction during college days and now the heavy management stuff. My English teacher recognized my flair for reading and the impact it had on my linguistic skills; so she encouraged me with books from her collection. Thus at an early age along with story books, I was also reading Shakespeare classics. Now apart from Photography, music keeps me relieved of stress and love English music from the 80s and 90s and Hindi olden goldies from 40s to 70s. My work has taken me to more than a score of countries and that is something I cherish. Vacations are typically twice a year across the country with an occasional international vacation with my family.

As I mentioned, I started my education in Kolkata, and moved to Mumbai in my 7th standard enrolling into SIES School; continued to complete my graduation in Science from SIES College in 1983. With pressures at home, started looking for placement after graduation. That's when I opted for a Computer course from NIIT, which was a residential curriculum in Delhi and completed the same by end 1983. Later in 1985 I joined National Center for Software Technology (NCST) to complete the Part-time Post Graduate course in Software Technology.

I used to be the opening fast bowler for my school, but could not continue this in college due to personal reasons. While in academics I was just above average, my calling came when I joined the computer course at NIIT, where I stood first in my batch. Again at NCST, I was amongst the top quartile of students.

I got my first placement while doing the computer course at NIIT, when I joined NELCO (National Radio & Electronics Company) in 1984 as a Customer Service Executive. The job involved traveling to customer sites to diagnose and repair mini computers of the company. It was a great experience interacting with many different customers and the joy of solving difficult problems which others could not. In those days there were no resident engineers, everyone was a field engineer, and that took me across the country meeting different customers and curious about how they plan to use the equipment we supplied. My work towards customer satisfaction was recognized by the company with a citation and award within one year. I envied the people in the glasshouse (EDP folks) as they sat in air-conditioned comfort while I trudged through sun, rain and traffic. My first coach and a senior engineer counseled me to take up software, which I did by completing the curriculum at NCST.

I joined Shoppers Stop in March 2007 as Group Chief Technology Officer managing the retail interests of K Raheja Corp, the parent and promoting company of Shoppers Stop, Crossword and HyperCity. In September 2009, I was given additional charge of Group Chief Information Officer for K Raheja Corp too spanning diverse interests like Hospitality, Construction, Shopping Malls, Commercial complex and Business Parks. In my current role I oversee the identification, deployment and sustenance of IT and telecom across the group. I am also assisting the management with various other initiatives beyond IT.

K Raheja Corp is one of the oldest and respected real estate companies in India with interests spanning retail, construction (residential and commercial), shopping malls, hotels and business parks. KRC promoted Shoppers Stop as a concept in 1991 with the opening of the first store spread over 4000 square feet. Today Shoppers Stop has 30 stores over 2 million square feet and online presence too. Shoppers Stop is a Department Store providing a wide range of branded and exclusive labels to customers across categories. We acquired Crossword Book Stores in the early 2000s and seeded HyperCity large format hypermarkets in 2005. With the aviation boom, Shoppers Stop also expanded into airport retailing and operates at Bangalore and Hyderabad airports. K Raheja Corp has always been synonymous with quality and affordable housing. More recently they expanded the portfolio into InOrbit Malls, Mindspace commercial complexes, and Servcorp business parks.

At Shopper Stop we invested in JDA suite of retail applications in late 90s for all retail activities of the business. Early 2000s we implemented Oracle eBiz suite for financial accounting and in 2008, we implemented PeopleSoft HR suite of applications. Our datawarehouse is enabled by Netezza appliance and we use SAS tools for reporting, mining and analytics. We also use Microsoft technologies for bespoke development and have invested in SharePoint for our B2B portal. We also use open source e-learning tools across the enterprise.

Awards and Achievements:
- K Raheja Corp has implemented SAP for its entire business.
- CIO Ingenious 100 Award at CIO 100 by CIO Magazine, IDG Media in 2009.
- Innovation Award 2009 at CIO 100 by CIO Magazine, IDG Media in 2009.
- The Global CIO 50: IT Leaders Changing the Business World by Information Week, June 2009.
- 3 PC Quest Enterprise Awards in May 2009 for 3 projects.
- 2 Network Computing EDGE Awards in May 2009 for 2 projects.
- Bold CIO 100 Award at CIO 100 by CIO Magazine, IDG Media in 2008.
- Storage Award 2008 at CIO 100 by CIO Magazine, IDG Media in 2008.
- Best Technology Usage award by India Retail Forum in 2007.
- Giant CIO 100 Award by CIO Magazine, IDG Media, in 2006.
- PC Quest Enterprise Award in 2005

I do not have a role model, but I pick different traits from different people to help me learn from them.

My wife acquired an MBA in HR & Finance and is a serial entrepreneur who is always exploring new ideas and opportunities. She has been a source of strength and my buddy to share and explore what's on my mind. Currently her primary focus is teaching Vedic Maths to children. My son is 14 and a typical teenager with a lot of energy and my daughter is 11.

To begin with there are no IT projects, only business projects. This is true even for basic infrastructure deployment or upgrades which are deemed IT projects. The big and important facet of managing projects is to understand the impact it creates on the organization and people. If this is expressed well, projects normally are successful; this cuts across industries as well as size of the company. There have been a couple of instances where the project suffered due to vendor limitations and these are the frustrating ones where the result did not commensurate the effort put in by everyone. As a CIO, I realize that the team needs to feel empowered to take risks and decisions, else IT remains within the framework of sustenance and IT lead innovation suffers.

Today, IT is an integral part of every business activity or process; efficiencies and scale are typically driven using IT systems. In a few cases it can also provide a competitive differentiator until competition catches up. Organizations recognize this based on the value perception and effectiveness of measurement. The IT leader plays an important role in ensuring how the function is treated by peers and others within the enterprise. Earlier IT was for the large enterprises whereas today Small and Medium Enterprises recognize the advantage offered by implementation of IT systems and this is visible by the SME focus of many IT vendors.

I cannot profess wisdom of the ages, but based on my limited experience I can say that, to become and stay successful, a CIO must engage with the internal business stakeholders on terms that make sense to the organization and not just the CIO. S/he has to manage expectations and balance conflicting priorities from across the company. Orchestrating the IT team and suppliers towards creating a resilient and sustainable IT framework is a basic necessity. Understanding of current and future trends and their relevance to the enterprise is a core competency expected of a CIO. S/he has to challenge status quo and seek opportunities for engaging beyond transactional meetings.

IT solutions by nature are complex; the ability to manage them is an essential part of the IT organizations deliverables. The cost is always relative to what the Organization is willing to pay and the perception of value the solution creates. This can be tied to the value statements and business case agreed to between IT and Business. A profitable company may demonstrate a lenient view towards hard data while a struggling company will spend significant effort to justify every investment including IT.

Business leaders today recognize the ubiquitous nature of IT and how IT enables business operations. IT leaders should proactively embrace change management initiatives within the enterprise and not wait for them to come to them. Explore and take risks rather than seek concurrence on every initiative; while there may not be directly visible benefits from this, the impact successful transformations can create are worth the effort. Multi-channel business engagement is the future with the next generation wanting to transact at their terms.

My early learning was that Business comes first, IT has to ensure that the linkages are well defined and understood; So every CIO should be as much of an expert in business as s/he is in IT. This contributes towards easier discussions with other CXOs on how IT and Business can work together to take the enterprise to the next level of efficiency or improvement. The other learning has been that work and life balance is achievable if one plans for it. The IT leader has to delegate and have faith in the team to deliver. Empowering the team is one of the key traits that needs honing without abdication of responsibility. I also believe that for the CIO to grow, s/he has to nurture talent within the team to move up and challenge the CIO's position. This healthy push from the bottom creates a big momentum for everyone to excel. I have pride in stating that amongst my team members over the last decade, more than a dozen have become CIOs in their own right. Work always creates pressures for every CXO including the CIO. While work pressures are a given, stress is optional. Lastly my philosophy towards my work life has been "Be willing to explore new avenues specially if they are in unknown territory. Don't be afraid of taking risks; accept failure if you face it, learn and move on".

Favorite sportsmen: Michael Schumacher, Sachin Tendulkar, Usain Bolt. They all are super-achievers and provide me with strength just by watching them

Musicians/Singers: Foreigner, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Queen, Def Leppard, Michael learns to rock,  to name a few

Food: Indian vegetarian food from across the country

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