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No need for speed

Just like his approach to driving, the VP-Information Systems of Hero Honda Motors lets his career take its time. S R Balasubramanian shares his journey through IT with Deepali Gupta.

Despite his scientific leanings, S R Balasubramanian entered the world of Chartered Accountancy because of parental pressure. This switch, he would later recall as testing time, was to be short lived. He worked as an accountant at Indian Oil Ltd (IOL). A team was assembled with members from every department to create an IT team. He was one of the two accountants picked for this team.

His first exposure to computers was when IOL sent him to IIT Mumbai for a three-month training stint for system analysts. Even though he had no prior IT experience, he took to it like a duck to water. "Accounting was a dry subject, while IT is more interesting, because it requires analysis and programming to improve the way things work," says Balasubramanian.

At IOL, he coded a payroll system, mostly in COBOL. The success of the deployment assured Balasubramanian that he had done the right thing by switching to IT. "That implementation gave me confidence," he explains.

S R Balasubramanian fact file

Fitness regime: He enjoys a solitary morning walk

Currently reading: ‘Principle Centred Leadership’ by Stephen Covey

Subject he enjoys: Quantum Physics

Preference in music: Light, Indian film music based on classical music

Choice of food: Indian, Chinese and all kinds of milk chocolates

Political leanings: The Congress; he is against the leftist philosophy

India's need of the hour: Bring order to the society, because that will result in less strain on people

The way it should be done: By example

Advice to parents: Plant the seeds and allow them to grow

Advice to IT people: Short-cuts don't work

Moving on

After four years at IOL, Balasubramanian moved to Ferguson, largely because of the slow IT adoption at IOL that was due to resistance from the union. At Ferguson, his role was that of an IT consultant. At the same time, he was exposed to organisational studies and he learned to define the organisational structure, job descriptions, market value and recruitment policies. It took a decade, but by the time Balasubramanian left Ferguson, he had encountered all the elements required for administration.

His next move was to Hero Honda Motors. After two-and-a-half years here, he decided to move to Gujarat Chemicals (GC).

Power in the hands

Balasubramanian was at Gujarat Chemicals from 1992-96. This was the period when Indian companies began tapping IT. He headed a team that connected all the offices of GC by e-mail (the infrastructure was not as freely available at that time as it is today) and set up a LAN at GC's factory.

It may sound like a small step from today's vantage; however, these initiatives saw a tremendous reduction in expenditure on STD calls bringing decision makers closer and empowering workers. One of the biggest advantages of the new system was that the head office could be bypassed while making an order letting branches directly access the factory and place orders.

In an MNC

After GC, Bala-subramanian moved to a British MNC named GKN Driveline (earlier known as GKN Driveshafts), where he was responsible for the implementation of an ERP system across the company's three locations in India. Although he successfully completed the project, he soon realised that GKN was not the right place for him. Perhaps because regulations in MNCs tend to be more stringent, and Balasubramanian found it too bureaucratic as it took too long to get projects approved.

Hero Honda again sought Balasubramanian for its IT team, and he returned as VP-Information Systems. His present role includes the alignment of IT deployments with the strategy and expansion plans of the company for the next three years. As IT is pervasive at the manufacturer, part of Balasubramanian's job is to see how he can give Hero Honda a competitive edge.

How does he do it?

Balasubramanian has a technique for ensuring profitability of an IT deployment. To begin with, he ensures that the imple-mentation is quick and impeccable from a technological standpoint. He deployed mySAP SRM in flat three months. This won him the Intelligent Enterprise Award 2004 from Network Magazine.

After the deployment is complete, he ensures the full utilisation of the new application by training users. Though this seems simple, Balasubramanian instills a sense of confidence and trust among users before initiating a project. Thanks to his commerce background, he also evaluates the benefits that new ERP components can bring to the business before he decides whether to deploy them.

It is generally believed that any new IT introduction that results in change in processes meets with user resistance. However, Balasubramanian begs to differ. He believes that people in the private sector are more than happy to learn new things.

Balasubramanian believes in exposing people to IT for personal benefit to heighten its acceptance. To this end, he has set up a touch-screen kiosk at Hero Honda that addresses HR queries for employees on matters such as salary and leaves. He says, "It's important to understand the (users') needs and think simply to create a user-friendly environment."

Values for life

There are three values that have governed Balasubramanian's life—rules that he hopes will also govern those of his sons—honesty, hearing and fairness. He always attempts to hear everybody before he arrives at a decision and tries to avoid hurting others. Although he agrees with the philosophy that the world needs to know about what you do, he identifies with the anonymity of fictional characters, for example, the protagonist in "The Day of the Jackal". Balasubramanian's most important tenet is "Love what you do and do it well".

Balasubramanian under-stands the value of abiding by laws set by authorities. As a manager in charge of business infrastructure, he understands the need for smooth operations. He combines these traits to make the engine purr when he drives his light-golden Accord. He ensures he is in the right gear, at the right speed and lets the car accelerate at an easy pace. "I follow rules, prevent myself from getting hurt due to other's mistakes, and am courteous to other drivers," he says with pride.

The road ahead

Balasubramanian does not plan too far ahead. He believes there is too much uncertainty in the world even though his family once rejected potential brides for him based on the horoscope matching system. He wishes to pursue teaching; he says, "I learned a lot from the world and that is my due to the society."

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