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Taking Mahindra & Mahindra on the cloud

by Vivek on January 20, 2015

Cloud computing has made major strides in the Indian market with several multinationals adopting it. A recent addition to this list is Mahindra & Mahindra. V S Parthasarathy, CFO and Group CIO, along with Bishwanath Ghosh, CIO – Corporate, discusses how cloud computing can be a key factor in achieving Mahindra’s brand aspiration of ‘being amongst the top 50 most admired brands in the world’.

In 1945, the Mahindra Group started as a steel trading company. Today, it is one of India’s biggest multinational enterprises with USD 16.5 billion and more than 2,00,000 employees in over 100 countries.

The company believes in enabling people to rise through solutions that power mobility, drive rural prosperity, enhance urban lifestyles, and increase business efficiency. It thus, operates and leads the way in key industries that drive economic growth such as tractors, utility vehicles, information technology, financial services, and vacation ownership. It also has a strong presence in agribusiness, aerospace, consulting services, defence, energy, and industrial equipment, logistics, real estate, retail, steel, commercial vehicles, and two-wheelers.

This ever-growing multinational company based out of Mumbai was recently featured in the Forbes Global 2000, a comprehensive listing of the world’s largest, most powerful public companies. In 2013, it also received the Financial Times ‘Boldness in Business’ Award in the ‘Emerging Markets’ category.

Meet the Captain

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V S Parthasarathy started his career with Xerox as a Management Trainee. He was Financial Controller and Associate Director in his last role at Xerox, serving the company for 15 years. He joined Mahindra & Mahindra in 2000 as Head of Performance Management and IT. He worked his way through several key positions and currently holds the title of CFO and Group CIO & EVP-Group M&A. He also serves on the boards of 15 group companies and is a member of group’s supervisory board which is known as the Group Executive Board.

As CFO, Parthasarathy understands that Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity  or a VUCA environment will continue to pose daunting challenges for any organisation. But he is confident that his Finance & Administration (F&A) team is up for the task and will not only continue to protect and preserve the reputation  Mahindra & Mahindra has built in the market but also progress to newer milestones in the years to come.

Parthasarathy has made several changes as Group CIO. For efficient decision making, he has created a three-tier structure — Strategic Leadership Council (SLC), Technology Leadership Council (TLC), and Cross-Functional Teams (CFT). The SLC consists of a few CIOs & CFOs, whereas TLC includes all CIOs of the group companies. They also organise IT Connect which is an annual event of the Mahindra IT Fraternity where achievements are recognized and knowledge is shared with internal as well as external SMEs (Subject Matter Experts).

Triggering the motion

Mahindra felt the need for a ‘Mobility-Analytics-Cloud-Connected Enterprise’ to convert the ratio of routine to innovation from 70:30 to 30:70. Parathasarathy went about this by leveraging the company’s above mentioned three-tier structure. “Such a structure helps us make the right strategic decisions in adopting new IT trends from both technological and financial perspectives,” says Parthasarathy, who also set up the CIO Talent Council to promote on-the-job rotation and training for the IT department.

The era before the cloud

The adoption of a new technology is purely based on needs. Parthasarathy strongly believes that “the latest is not the best for you, if you don’t need it now”. “A business should keep looking out for things but only adopt what they can adapt,” says Parthasarathy in support of the company’s decision to go ahead with Office 365 and Azure.

Before switching to cloud solutions, the company was using different versions of Office and Directory. There was a constant need for managing various versions of Office across Mahindra’s geographically distributed set ups. The company was facing problems in terms of performance and network delays, especially while accessing from international locations. There was a need for necessary governance and compliance. “A private cloud platform could not meet the business needs in a short span of time, especially in the light of new infrastructure investment where negotiations and delivery time of six to eight weeks turns out to be a major hindrance to business.” explains Ghosh.

 

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They saw the cloud computing scenario from perspectives of flexibility, upscaling-downscaling of infrastructure according to business needs, and avoiding disaster recovery investments. With Office 365 and Azure, all of Mahindra’s seen and unseen requirements with regard to the number of users, hits, and scale of application were met. The need for high computing could be managed well using cloud whenever needed.

Making the right choice

Mahindra’s long association with Microsoft helped Parthasarathy and Ghosh make the decision to use the MS platform. The employees were accustomed to Office and Exchange, thus making the upgrade to Office 365 seem like a natural progression. Compared to Office 365, the other alternatives evaluated needed considerable change management and training. “Azure is one of the most stable platforms among competing offerings,” says Ghosh.

Gearing up for transition

At Mahindra, Azure was an IT-centric adoption. Before implementing the website hosting platform, the IT department tested it for technical and commercial robustness. During the adoption of Office 365, there were some key learnings in hindsight.

  • Mahindra worked on a hybrid model (on-premise and public) that resulted in replication issues.
  • A complete AD cleansing and replication on-premise and public cloud during initiation was required.
  • There was delay while configuring user access for first-time users of Exchange, Office, OneDrive and Lync.

Stabilizing these issues took time. “However, the increased understanding of Office 365 has resulted in a strong user experience,” says Ghosh.

Taking productivity to the next level

Ghosh explains that Azure and Office 365 proved to be a better investment decision as compared to other alternatives. With Microsoft, charges for support, future additional licenses, usage of new products, infrastructure, Asset Management Companies (AMC), and facilities management were lower. With Azure as the website hosting platform, they migrated from almost all external websites, resulting in faster performance.

With the use of Office 365, there was also an increase in internet bandwidth. However, all the business needs were met by using Exchange and Outlook for higher mailbox capacity, Sharepoint for document repository, OneDrive for cloud storage, and Lync for communication and collaboration. “Mahindra users can now focus their energy on business rather than upgrades and cost maintenance,” says Ghosh.

Implementation pointers/ learning and implementing

Mahindra’s adoption of cloud computing has proved to be a good case study for all companies planning to make the change themselves. Here are the key points as outlined by Bishwanath Ghosh to consider while switching to the cloud.

a) Understand your needs and estimate realistic benefits of the product. A professional version of Office 365 is available, but you may need it only for a section of users.

b) Have a clear picture of the end result. For example, it is technically possible to move your entire infrastructure to the cloud but you may choose to keep a part of it on-premise for various non-technical considerations.

c)  Conduct several pilot tests and increase the number of users gradually. This will help you predict possible issues in a complex environment.

d)  Assess the end-device compatibility in terms of OS and specifications.

e) Evaluate issues concerning migration from the existing to the latest version of the platform.

f) Calculate the impact of commitment period of the platform contract on your IT strategy.

“We would say Microsoft has a well-integrated product suite and in them we found a right cloud partner. We have a positive outlook towards cloud adoption and look forward to this journey,’’ sums up Ghosh.

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