No need for speed
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.
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
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
liferules that he hopes will also govern those of his sonshonesty,
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."