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Issue of March 2006 

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Passion for all things technological

Photo: Mexy Xavier

With his passion for IT and business, he enjoys taking the responsibility and risks associated with major decisions. He finds partying a form of education, and loves interacting with customers. Shirish Gariba, VP, IT, Elbee Express, shares the secret of what drives a successful CIO with Kumar Dawada

When Shirish Gariba joined Elbee Express, it had a one-member IT team—himself. Today, Elbee Express is a leading logistics company with a nationwide footprint of 11,600 locations, 1,645 cities and 643 towns. Its greatest strength is the use of innovative technology solutions. This makes Gariba the key person behind Elbee’s success story.

The Early Days

Gariba started out as a commerce graduate with a passion for technology and business, which spurred him on to do a diploma in software development as well as in financial management.

A family friend invited Gariba, fresh out of college, to join his pharma company, Globin Pharmaceuticals. Gariba’s first question was, “Do you have a computer?” Only when the family friend replied in the affirmative did Gariba feel attracted to work there.

Getting An Overall Perspective

Gariba remained with Globin from 1986 to 1989. At first, he looked after production planning. Later he dealt in sales and marketing, and interacted with distributors and semi-wholesalers across India.

“I had to understand how and why the company’s product was moving and in which areas. I also had to analyse competitors in detail—why is his product selling better, what schemes and promotions is he using to promoting it,” reveals Gariba. Then he was put in charge of office administration including accounting and finance. “It interested me even more because I had a PC in front of me,” says Gariba with a twinkle in his eye.

Working with an SMB gave Gariba innumerable business insights. “I looked after every facet of business whether sales, marketing, production, planning, finance or technology. The head of the company mentored me. He corrected me when I went wrong. This training gave me a complete business perspective,” confides Gariba.

Part Time IT

During this time, he also started writing small applications for production, dispatch and billing to help his organisation. Here he worked part-time with a small development company.

“At first, I had to do software testing. Here my business experience helped. I was able to give insight as to what happens when people do not pay on time, what are the effects of billing error and how do you correct them. These added value to the application being developed and helped sell the product to many customers,” says Gariba.

Since Gariba stayed in Vile Parle, he was told to deploy the application in a Vile Parle-based company. It turned out to be Elbee. Here Gariba had to implement software and train users. He found out that many transactions were actually missing due to manual entry and large volumes. “I also noted that they generated bills only by the 12th or 13th of the next month and that too not fully accurate. So we worked out a timeline to generate bills by the fifth of each month and ensure immediate mailing to customers,” recalls Gariba.

Tackling Resistance

Gariba’s first major challenge was application implementation with a textile mill customer. The accounting department spent six out of eight working hours with the boss and had exclusive information access. They were totally against computerisation since it meant losing their power.

Gariba recalls that only one person supported IT implementation. All others were waiting for Gariba to make mistakes. However, his supporter convinced the management about the need for IT. The changes were made, the accounting department bypassed, and the reports given directly to management.

“Slowly the accounting team also realised IT’s power. They lacked the bigger picture on how to generate more funds or to profitably invest and lend. Thanks to IT they had the time for such value added services,” elaborates Gariba.

Birthdate: January 27
Family: He has two daughters. The elder one is studying engineering. The younger one is still in school but she happens to be good at event management, organising parties, and networking
Hobbies: Loves trekking, is fitness -conscious, loves partying and clubbing with friends from school and college as well as peers, enjoys reading and music
Ideal vacation: Hilly areas in good weather
Most memorable incident: Project implementation at his textile customer’s site made him realise that technology alone cannot win over everybody—soft skills are also necessary
Biggest challenges faced: Aligning technology to keep pace with growth. It was tough initially when Elbee was growing at 30 percent monthly.
Rates self on CIO scale: Still has a lot to learn
Describes himself as: Fun-loving, easy-going, mixes with people easily, no hang-ups, can meet anyone, loves meeting and interacting with CIOs and hearing their great one-liners
Career five years from now: To be an entrepreneur. Do something for the community and help make things easy for customers
If he gets as rich as Bill Gates: Will use his money to help uplift people, adopt students, and spend on quality education

The Big Break

While at Elbee as an implementer, Gariba got an offer to manage its IT. Gariba took the job because it gave him a chance to work with technology.

This was the time that United Parcel Service (UPS), a major global logistics company, entered India. They were evaluating strategic partnerships with Indian companies and Elbee was one of them. Gariba was assigned to talk to them on behalf of Elbee. “My boss told me in clear terms that neither I nor the company could afford anything to go wrong. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. IT was my area and I had to deliver,” Gariba recalls.

At the end of a six-hour marathon with 20 experts, Gariba managed to convince UPS. UPS was happy with the interaction as it conformed to its expectations from a strategic partner.

Then Gariba realised that a CIO’s job brings tremendous responsibility. “His decision not only places his career on the line but even the company’s future at stake. Later when we were selected as a strategic partner, I got a big raise and better responsibilities,” adds Gariba.

Catching Up With The Competition

To grow, Elbee had to move fast to catch up with established competitors who already used technology. At UPS’ regional headquarters in Singapore, Gariba learned how technology enhanced logistics.

However, Elbee decided not to use UPS’ application due to high deployment and customisation costs. Thus started the work on Elbee’s parcel tracking application. “The shell was ready in eight months. However, the application kept evolving for years due to changing customer and business requirements. It was flexible to adapt to all changes,” says Gariba.

Gathering information is the key in logistics so the next step was networking all India branches. Elbee also connected to the US office. This project went on for around two and a half years. At this time, the IT team also evolved to a 20-member team. Some of the other notable implementations that Gariba undertook included an enterprise-wide barcode system and developing Elbee’s sales and operation MIS.

“Then we focused on providing the best possible service levels. We wanted to provide anywhere, anytime 24X7 package status information to the customer so a web portal was implemented,” he says.

Future Considerations

According to Gariba, the logistics industry is awaiting RFID’s maturity. “The complete chain is not ready and so it can’t be implemented on a large scale. It will take some time and we are closely monitoring its progress,” he says.

Another aspect that the logistics industry is waiting to implement is on-field information capture. Though this technology is available today, costs are prohibitive.

Advice For Aspiring CIOs
Gariba outlines six measures for aspiring CIOs. Firstly, business exposure is critical for success. Being part of the management gives insight into aspects such as company plans, budget allocations, expansion plans, and safe investment areas.

Secondly, it is easier to start new implementations from scratch. To grow fast, select a small setup because in a large and set environment, it is difficult to bring change. “To excel you have to grab opportunities where you shoulder the entire responsibility. A wrong step not only ends your career, but also puts the company’s future at stake. You have to accept risks and take decisions, but be judicious,” cautions Gariba.

Thirdly, Gariba feels that technology is the place to be because CIOs are highly valued in organisations. “It provides good returns for the studies you have invested in. You can work miracles with technology if you just apply your mind,” he says.

Fourthly, a CIO must have leadership qualities like teamwork, communication skills and an eye for technology which can empower business. Regular interaction with the customers is necessary because they provide honest feedback on what is being done is right or wrong.

Next, CIOs must develop communication skills. “All the people you interact with are difficult. The person who always says yes to you is the most difficult. Try to understand why they come to you and their needs. If you understand this then you can break the ice,” counsels Gariba.

Finally, in order to bring about painless change management, CIOs must convince the management that change is a business necessity. “Talk their language and it will get done. Show change management’s benefits. This needs planning. Always ask yourself if it gives them what they want,” adds Gariba.

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