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"IT adding more fizz to Coca Cola"

"To be a proactive and service oriented business partner for influencing change and contributing to increased share owner value through a dedicated, creative and energetic team." These words encapsulate the IT vision of Venkatesh Mahadevan, director, Information Systems, Coca Cola, India. His primary objective is to make information technology a planning tool and to work towards providing the management with the right information at the right time and in the right place.

Thirty-seven-year old Venkatesh Mahadevan hails from Kerala and has spent a large part of his life in Mumbai, the city he adores. After acquiring a degree in commerce, he completed an MBA program and P.G. degree in computers.

Speaking of his entry into IT, he says, "My initiation into IT was pure chance. As a teenager I wanted to join the aviation industry. But IT happened and today I have no regrets."

Mahadevan has a total of 14 years of work experience. He commenced his professional life with Lintas India Ltd., where he worked for the media and MIS departments. During his tenure in Lintas, he designed a media system and later developed MIS systems for the accounts department and also developed business systems and the 'Client Recoverables' system.

He subsequently joined Procter and Gamble (P&G) and was instrumental in implementing LANs and desktop standards in the corporate office at Mumbai. He then moved into the business applications area and led the warehousing and inventory control system project, which he implemented at all the depots across the country. Mahadevan spearheaded the implementation of data communication links between the key locations of P&G and to the head office in Mumbai to access the AS/400. He considers P&G as the college of his professional life, where he learnt a lot and added to his skill sets.

Thereafter he moved to the Dubai headquarters of Schlumberger and then to India, to set up the infrastructure for its all-India operations, including recruitment and training of the IT team, for an independent profit centre.

It was in 1994 that Mahadevan joined Coca-Cola India, as an Information Systems Specialist and has since then held positions such as Merchandising and Business Applications Manager and Operations Systems Manager at the Bombay office. After spending about four years in Mumbai, he moved to Bangalore in December 1997, to head the IT department for the bottling operations in the South. He worked for over two years in Bangalore, before moving to Gurgaon as director, Information Systems. "In bottling, it was more of an implementation and operational role, whereas now it is a bigger role in terms of strategy and planning," avers Mahadevan.

Coca Cola, a leader in the beverages industry has on its soft drink menu, brands such as Thumbs Up, Limca, Citra, Gold Spot and Maaza. The company also manufactures and markets Kinley soda and mineral water in India. The company has six regional offices at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. The company's bottling network of over 50 manufacturing locations, including 11 Greenfield plants, ranks as India's largest soft drink bottling and distribution infrastructure.

Coca-Cola India currently has over 200 odd systems across the country and Mahadevan's mandate is to identify specific business systems and bring the plethora of systems under a common roof. He has conceived a cohesive IS strategy that will leverage the current resources under one umbrella and over a period of time eliminate duplicate processes. "In today's scenario, corporates must move from a reactive to a proactive environment and thereby gain a competitive advantage in the market-place. An integrated system is much more than the sum of its parts. I believe in the philosophy — “Think Global, Act local,” points out Mahadevan.

"Currently, we have implemented the ERP package SCALA at a few of our locations, and have payroll and sales and distribution systems running at a few plants and depots. These are however interim solutions and will over the course of a year, be replaced by larger and standard business systems," says Mahadevan.

In lieu of this plan, Mahadevan will be spearheading a major ERP implementation across the country that will integrate the company's operations in India and will help achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace. There will also be major initiatives in the areas of infrastructure and telecommunications, which will essentially link up all the units, thereby leading to high speed and reliable connectivity.

Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP) is Madhavan's favorite area of interest. "I focus on the importance of a well planned DRP and its role in ensuring business continuity for an enterprise. DRP goes a long way in supporting and maintaining a profitable enterprise, which is essential for a business to survive in today's competitive world. DRP is the most critical component of a business and people tend to ignore it. It is like the insurance. You don't need it until something goes wrong," he elaborates.

It is also in this area that he ranks his best achievements. While leading IT for the south operations, he spearheaded the setting up of infrastructure at all the bottling units and put standards in place to elevate the company to be on par with the worldwide standards and guidelines. He put very strict audit controls in place and ensured 100 per cent compliance at all the units in the South.

In the area of business systems, he led the ERP implementation for all the bottling units. Mahadevan conceived a very structured approach for the business systems implementation and introduced a project planning methodology workshop to kick off the ERP implementation at every unit.

His general management experience includes strategic infrastructure planning and marketing communications. Mahadevan sees IT as a major player in the life of an organization and strongly believes that a good CIO can effectively contribute to the business by delivering appropriate IT solutions.

Mahadevan views the period between 2000-2002 as very critical for Coca-Cola India, from a technology perspective. He explains, "The company is embarking on a major implementation strategy, the roadmap for which is being put in place. To define a solid and pro-active IS strategy and to ensure that for all our operations, we have a standard system for business processes and seamless integration."

Mahadevan has a team of 25 personnel working in his department. He opines that his effective use of delegation to achieve the desired results has largely contributed to his success. He appreciates his team members who delivered consistently, despite various hurdles.

Mahadevan spends a lot of time with his wife and two children and says his success is chiefly due to the continuous support extended by his wife. He passionately follows the Formula 1 racing and adores Michael Schumacher. In his spare time he plays badminton and billiards.

There has been a paradigm shift from business based technology to technology based business. Mahadevan words, "The brick and mortar companies need not completely transform in to web companies, but they definitely need to embrace IT in the right proportion and use it to deliver business results. IT must be an "Enabler" to the other functions in an organization. A business systems strategy should be simple, effective, appropriate, practical and cost-effective to implement," reflect this change from business based technology to technology based business. NM

Shubha Murthy can be reached at shubha_m24@hotmail.com

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